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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "New faces of New Orleans," Aug. 15, 2009

Supreme fizz

Sonia Sotomayor's road to becoming the nation's first Hispanic justice was relegated to the media's back pages under a sense that her confirmation was a fait accompli-once the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared her 13-6 on July 28. But Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, believes that floor debate over the likely next Supreme Court justice "should be nothing less than magnificent." With five Republicans pledging support, Senate fireworks are unlikely to change the outcome. But Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, said Republicans deserve credit for putting principles above politics. Despite fears they might alienate Hispanic voters, Republicans asked tough questions about Sotomayor's commitment to the law. "The predictions that Republicans would roll over were proven wrong," Levey said. The fact that her answers seemed at odds with her previous statements left most Republicans confused: "I am not certain that Judge Sotomayor won't allow those personal beliefs and preferences to dictate the outcome of cases before her," worried Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. But Lindsey Graham, the one Republican senator on the committee who supported Sotomayor, spoke the words that may be the reason why this process has lost its heat: "She can be no worse than Souter from our point of view," he said, meaning that Republicans may be willing to replace one liberal justice (the retiring David Souter) with another-thus saving their gunpowder for another fight.

Afghanistan

The last time presidential elections were held in Afghanistan, George Bush was running for reelection and U.S. forces had been on the ground there for barely three years. Afghans prepare to go to the polls Aug. 20 amid rising violence and a U.S.-led war against the Taliban about to enter its ninth year. The resurgent Taliban is already at work disrupting the election, which includes 40 candidates challenging incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Gunmen last week opened fire on a campaign manager for former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is the lead challenger to Karzai, and have vowed they will not allow polls to open in Taliban strongholds.

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Another advance in stem-cell technology is reinforcing Dr. Mehmet Oz's statement to an Oprah audience: "The stem-cell debate is dead." Chinese scientists took mature skin cells from mice and reprogrammed them into an embryonic-like state, then injected those reprogrammed cells into mice embryos to create live mice offspring. This seems to prove that these reprogrammed cells have the versatility of embryonic stem cells: They can turn into any other cell in the body.

Change of script

President Obama, in his first remarks addressed to Chinese leaders, called on the government to respect freedom of speech and religion-an unexpected departure during the first meeting July 27-28 of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue: "That includes ethnic and religious minorities in China, as surely as it includes minorities within the United States," he said. Recent violence between the minority Uighur population and law enforcement in western China has brought the issue of religious freedom to the fore. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have soft--pedaled the issue of human-rights abuses in China on recent trips there.

Unambiguous toll

Five years after Congress declared in a resolution that genocide was unfolding in Sudan's western region of Darfur, lawmakers met on Capitol Hill to learn what a new administration would do about a problem still threatening millions of lives. But top Obama officials display marked differences over Sudan policy: UN Ambassador Susan Rice has spoken of ongoing genocide in Darfur, while Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, Obama's newly appointed U.S. envoy to Sudan, called the situation in Darfur "the remnants of genocide." Rice told a House committee last month that the government in northern Sudan must allow more aid to flow into Darfur, after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled a dozen aid groups after his indictment by the International Criminal Court in March. The UN says that action could cut off food aid to as many as 1 million people. Roger Winter warned Congress to remember South Sudan in addition to the western province of Darfur. The former U.S. special representative to Sudan said the government continues to violate the terms of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan, and to be complicit in massive casualties without being held accountable. "Surely 3 million deaths is unambiguously a Holocaustic number," Winter said in testimony before the same House panel July 29, referencing the deaths at the hands of government forces and government-backed militias in recent years.

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