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The Buzz

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Issue: "Hurtling toward havoc," Aug. 1, 2009

Going her way

Senate Republicans, keenly aware they cannot stop confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, fought in televised hearings to air wider grievances with the Obama administration: "I fear that this empathy standard is another step down the road to a liberal, activist, results-oriented, relativistic world where laws lose their fixed meaning, unelected judges set policy, Americans are seen as members of separate groups rather than as simply Americans, where the constitutional limits on government power are ignored when politicians want to buy out private companies," said ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, plainly referring to fiscal as well as judicial policy.

Under questioning from seven Republicans on her left-leaning positions on racial preferences, property rights, and gun ownership, Sotomayor the nominee tried to distance herself from Sotomayor the 17-year veteran judge-and from President Obama's own criteria of empathy in selecting a justice. "The job of the judge is to apply the law," Sotomayor asserted.

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"If you had to sum up the week, the hearings were all about denial," observed Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice. "She's pretty much denied the plain meaning of everything she's said in the past." Even so, a Senate vote on her confirmation, expected in August, is likely to go her way.

Iraq church attacks

An orchestrated attack against Iraq's ancient Christian community began July 11, encompassing churches revived after targeted bombings in 2004 and 2008. In Baghdad's Dora district, where intense fighting between Sunnis and Shiites once took place, a bomb hit a church that in April held its first Easter service in three years. Here's how it unfolded:

Saturday, July 11, 10 p.m.: At St. Joseph's Church in western Baghdad two bombs placed inside the church explode; no one in the church at the time.

Sunday, July 12, 4:45 p.m.: Three IEDs detonate outside two churches in central Baghdad and one in eastern Baghdad. Eight wounded as worshippers arrive for evening service.

5 p.m.: Bomb explodes outside St. James Church in Baghdad. Three wounded.

7 p.m.: Car bomb explodes near Church of the Virgin Mary in central Baghdad, killing four and wounding 21.

7:05: Chaldean church bombed, wounding 21.

Monday, July 13, 8 a.m.: Car bomb explodes outside Our Lady of Fatima Church in Mosul, injuring three children and damaging both the church and a nearby mosque.

Muthafar Yacoub, a member of a Baptist congregation in Baghdad, said Christians gathered to pray following the attacks: "We trust the Lord who calls us to serve Him in Iraq will protect us."

Afghanistan offensive

July will mark the bloodiest month for Allied forces in Afghanistan's almost eight-year war. Halfway through the month, 46 military personnel had been killed-more than any other month-as U.S.-led forces began their first major offensive in Afghanistan under the command of U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Saudi-funded school expansion

Flanked by police officers keeping peace, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (Va.) met to hear citizens speak on the expansion of the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA), a 25-year-old school funded by the Saudi government and based in Fairfax, Va.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says school textbooks-also provided by the Saudi government-"do not conform to international human rights norms" and include "overt exhortations to violence." Saudi Arabia is one of the eight countries on the State Department's list of the most egregious violators of religious freedom. But Lynne Strobel, who presented the school's case to the board, defended it as "a private school of general education. It is no more nor no less than that." The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

ISA graduates-some now graduates of Ivy League schools-testified about the school's moderate education, but several have tangled with Homeland Security: Security officers stopped 2003 graduate Raed Al-Saif in the Tampa, Fla., airport in June after finding a butcher knife hidden in a seam of his bag. Another, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in 2005 of working with al-Qaeda and conspiring to assassinate former President George W. Bush. Ali was the valedictorian of his 1999 ISA class. The board may decide whether to allow school expansion by August. The county's zoning commission has already approved the expansion.

Gay bishops allowed

The Episcopal Church General Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution to open to "any ordained ministry" openly gay clergy. The resolution passed during the denomination's triennial gathering in Anaheim, Calif. It defies a de facto moratorium on the ordination and consecration of gay bishops instituted by the worldwide Anglican Communion following the ordination of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. It also goes against a plea from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who traveled to California the week prior to the vote to argue against it. While the move likely will create further schism within the church globally, Bishop of Iowa Alan Scarfe said the bishops who supported it "bring the church to transparency and remove any attempt at evasion; this is who we are."

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