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The Buzz

Oil for food probe Corruption is one thing but murder is another, and Iraqi leaders increasingly believe that insurgents are bankrolling terrorism with skimmings from the tainted Oil for Food program. The connection became more apparent after killers on July 14 picked off another Iraqi auditor, Sabir Karim. The head of the Supreme Audit Board and Oil for Food investigator Ehsan Karim (possible but unconfirmed relation) died in a bomb blast outside his home early this month. "Tens of millions" of dollars from smuggled oil and imported goods likely stolen under the UN's "humanitarian" program are financing suicide and other attacks, says one former Governing Council member, but Iraqis have been roadblocked by U.S. and UN officers when it comes to investigating the $65 billion program. Vaunted ex-Fed chairman Paul Volcker is continuing the Kofi Annan party line, refusing to divulge progress in his $4 million investigation of UN mismanagement even as documents dribbling out via an array of investigations are turning up millions in cost overruns and kickbacks for Saddam and Oil for Food insiders. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter the UN was "not mandated to police the contractors" -- a line that will be hard to apply when congressional investigators and New York's U.S. district court ask what happened to compounded interest on the account (estimated at $3 billion or more) and other cash that should belong to Iraqis. Iraq Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed to fight "naked aggression" by terrorists, arresting 500 suspected militants in a Baghdad sweep on July 13. The next day a suicide attack outside Iraq's government headquarters killed 10 and wounded 40 people. Insurgents are looking for Iraqi leaders to kill: Nineveh Gov. Osama Youssef Kashmoula died after hand grenades were lobbed into his car, and Mr. Allawi has been the target of repeated attacks. Iraqis are dying in the streets, but to hear European Union authorities tell it, Iraq's bigger problem is from law-and-order officials who want to reinstate the death penalty. The EU's 25 foreign ministers "made clear their opposition to the restoration of the death penalty," according to a statement following a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Brussels on July 12. Mr. Zebari said he has opposed the death penalty, but "there is a need for the new government to be more decisive and tougher in its actions to bring the security situation under control." The interim government moved to reinstate the death penalty, suspended under U.S. occupation, one day before Saddam Hussein appeared in court last month. Politics The Democrats landed a marquee name when Ron Reagan Jr. announced he would speak out for stem-cell research during the party's national convention, scheduled for July 26-29 in Boston. While the late President Reagan might be turning over in his grave, most viewers will likely be turning the channel. Aside from the shock of seeing a Reagan cheered by throngs of Democrats, the convention promises little real news or controversy. Even the normally contentious task of crafting a party platform was handled with a minimum of fuss. Kerry supporters crafted a middle-of-the-road party platform, shooting down a proposal by some left-wing Democrats to label the Iraq War a "mistake" and call for the withdrawal of American troops. The prime-time speaking lineup for the four-day convention in Boston included former Presidents Carter and Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Christie Vilsack, wife of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. A small dustup came when the former chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party called it "a total outrage" and "very stupid" that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was not offered a prominent speaking role at the convention. Judith Hope, a major party fundraiser, thundered, "To include the wife of the governor of Iowa, who I'm sure is a wonderful woman, and to not include Hillary Clinton is just such a glaring injustice." Gay marriage "I don't think it's going away after this vote," predicted Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), as the Federal Marriage Amendment went down to defeat on July 14. "I think the issue will remain alive." Republicans once thought they had a chance at mustering the 67 votes needed to send constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. But thanks to a Democratic filibuster and Republican infighting, they never got to find out. With 60 votes required to bring the measure to the floor, Majority Leader Bill Frist could find just 48, effectively killing any hope for passage this year. The complexities of a procedural vote could make it harder for Republicans to make a campaign issue of the gay-marriage controversy, since Democrats can argue they never actually cast a vote against the amendment. Still, the issue is sure to surface in tight Senate races, as it already has in South Dakota. Despite the Senate setback, defenders of traditional marriage agreed with Sen. Sessions that the issue was not about to go away. "This, like other great social debates, is bigger than any one election cycle," said Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, the drafter of the bill. Noting that the civil-rights movement also endured repeated setbacks in the Senate, Mr. Daniels predicted the outcome would be the same. AIDS Injecting $15 billion into the worldwide AIDS fight -- more than all other countries combined -- held no preventative medicine for President Bush at this month's biennial International AIDS Conference in Bangkok. About 1,000 protesters jeered President Bush, one carrying a red-spattered Bush photo reading "Wanted: AIDS accomplice," at the July 12 opening session. Activists dislike Washington's policy favoring abstinence and faithfulness as a way to prevent AIDS. Only one world leader came to the United States' defense: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose "ABC" approach -- abstinence over condom use -- has stemmed his country's epidemic. Meanwhile, the president's AIDS treatment policy is also under attack. Activists want Bush officials to use supposedly cheaper copy drugs to treat the more than 2 million AIDS sufferers. The White House wants to check the quality of such drugs with the Food and Drug Administration first, a delay activists say is killing people. The long-term cost of using substandard drugs, however, may be thousands of drug-resistant patients who don't respond to treatment years from now.