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Newt Gingrich (Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/AP)

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Campaign 2012 | and more news briefs

Issue: "All tied up," Sept. 24, 2011

Moderator Robby George and historian Newt Gingrich won a Sept. 5 GOP presidential candidate forum in Columbia, S.C., that gave candidates significant chunks of time to answer often complex questions. Hosts at the forum organized by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., didn't ask the five invited candidates if they preferred American Idol or Dancing With the Stars (à la the CNN debate); instead, George, Princeton's conservative professor, asked tough questions about religious freedom and whether Congress should abide by Supreme Court decisions that violate the 14th Amendment's guarantees of due process and equal protection. Along the way Michele Bachmann said she would try to abolish the Department of Education, and Ron Paul said he would end income taxes and close all U.S. military bases overseas. Mitt Romney assessed the Obama presidency: "I don't think I've seen an administration that has gone further afield from the Constitution." The forum was supposed to be Rick Perry's debate debut, but the new frontrunner and Texas governor withdrew from the event to tend to a wildfire crisis in his home state.

Qaddafi's arsenal

NATO warplanes struck the hometown of Muammar Qaddafi 52 times on Sept. 4 in an apparent effort to flush out the deposed dictator as rebels cemented control of the northwestern sector of the country, once Qaddafi's stronghold. More quietly, officials say U.S. intelligence officers are working with rebels to locate Qaddafi's weapons of mass destruction arsenals. Last February a UN chemical weapons watchdog group reported tracking 9.5 tons of mustard gas in an army facility south of Tripoli. "Libya has a large stockpile of chemical weapons and explosives that must not fall into the wrong hands," said Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger, D-Md., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Smell a rathole?

Solyndra, a California-based solar panel producer that received more than half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees, closed its doors last month and filed for bankruptcy protection in a major setback for the Obama administration's renewable energy initiatives. Key financial backer and billionaire George Kaiser is a top Democratic donor, and Solyndra was the first company to receive federal loan guarantees under the Obama administration.

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Lawmakers are investigating the White House's involvement in awarding the Department of Energy funds to Solyndra, a company they say was at high risk of failure. "For an administration that parades around the banner of transparency, they fought us tooth and nail all summer long in turning over relevant documents related to the credit approval, and today we found out why," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., after the company announced its closure. The Obama administration has awarded more than $38 billion in loan guarantees to other renewable energy companies, but the Government Accountability Office found last year that the administration hadn't properly assessed the risk of five of the companies, Solyndra among them. Taxpayers are unlikely to recover the $535 million in loan guarantees.

Pessimism polled

More than half of Americans disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of 1,000 adults taken Aug. 27-31 showed. It found that 44 percent of Americans approve of Obama's work as president, with 51 percent disapproving-for the first time since his inauguration. About 73 percent polled said the country is headed in the wrong direction, a level of pessimism not found since late 2008, as the financial crisis struck. And over 70 percent of those surveyed said the economy hasn't yet hit bottom.

Indiana vouchers

More parents are choosing to send their children to private and parochial schools in Indiana after it enacted the nation's largest school voucher program this year: Over 3,200 students received vouchers to attend private schools, with nearly 70 percent of them attending Catholic schools. The government-issued certificates allow parents to pay private school tuition with tax money that would have gone to public schools-and that upsets Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, who told the Associated Press that "public money is going to be taken from public schools, and they're going to end up in private, mostly religious schools." The teachers union is suing: It claims the voucher program violates "the separation of church and state" since only six of 240 private schools in the voucher program are secular.

Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice called the lawsuit a "misdirection" and said parents are simply choosing available schools: "We're giving aid to students, not aid to religion."

Take it outside

If the mayor of a western Indonesian town has his way, authorities will ban Christian churches from opening on streets with Islamic names. The effort signals escalating persecution against religious minorities in the world's largest predominantly Muslim nation.

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