Mixing religion and politics

The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think-tank, billed the event as a "frank discussion about faith and the public square". And so it was, if by "frank" they meant contentious and rude.

Jim Wallis, the liberal author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It tried to find some "common ground". He sportingly mocked efforts by fellow Democrats for their awkward attempts to appeal to religious voters. "It is not all learning a few bible verses and learning when to clap in black churches."

Joe Loconte, a Heritage fellow, however, launched into a critique of Wallis, saying he reduced "all questions of alleviating poverty to the question of government spending".

Wallis, looking queasy, protested. "I made a mistake. I started out to find some common ground and held off talking about how Joe has misrepresented me. Don't caricature me as saying it's all about government."

He abandoned talk of common ground. "Grover Norquist [head of the anti-tax movement] has said he wants to drown government in a bath tub. I don't think those hermeneutics square with biblical politics. I don't think your view is biblical."

Loconte: "I don't think your view of government is un-biblical. But it is unsound."

After some back-and-forth over President Bush and Iraq, Wallis seemed to have had enough: "The monologue of the religious right is finally over."

That may be so. But it has hardly been replaced by a genuine dialogue.

Donald's plan

Donald Trump, the ubiquitous TV personality and businessman, unveiled plans on Wednesday to re-build the two World Trade Center towers.

Never mind that Trump does not own the land (the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey does) nor the lease (developer Larry Silverstein holds it).

That has not stopped Trump from adding his voice to the critics of the Freedom Tower, the recently-scrapped design by David Childs and Daniel Libeskind, whom he seems to delight in insulting.

Not long ago, he told the New York Post that the Freedom Tower "is an egghead design, designed by an egghead".

No doubt some would agree with him. Many New Yorkers have stubbornly held on to the idea that the proper thing to do is re-build the towers.

Where Trump's campaign will ultimately lead is uncertain. But Trump is a master of self-promotion - he is famous for slapping his name in big gold letters on all of his buildings - and he is guaranteed to at least make life difficult for Silverstein and the rest.

Boys in the hood

A novel plan by owners of Britain's biggest mall to ban youths from wearing hooded tops or baseball caps seems to be paying off.

The number of visitors to the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent has leapt in the week since the ban. Foot traffic was 22.6 per cent higher over the weekend than on the same period last year, according to the centre.

It makes sense that the publicity surrounding the controversial "hoodie" issue would lead to a spike in traffic. Tony Blair, prime minister, and his deputy John Prescott both backed the mall last week when it made its controversial stance.

Youths in hooded tops or baseball caps have been blamed for everything from vaguely intimidating behaviour to muggings and theft. It is much harder for cameras to pick up people whose heads are covered.

The Bluewater ban captured the public's imagination, prompting a stream of letters to newspapers and widespread public debate. Some criticised the move, saying it scapegoats people who dress in a certain way. But the move may be a commercial winner, said one retail expert. "It is not surprising that more shoppers, especially families and older people, will want to go to Bluewater as a result," he said.

Gallows humour

George Galloway, the independent British MP, has turned from villain to hero overnight in his home country's riotous press after his savaging of US senators.

"Gorgeous" George was once pilloried for his combination of champagne lifestyle and hard-left political views, and his alleged association with Saddam Hussein. But the Brits love an underdog, and his savaging of lawmakers who accused him of profiting from the UN's oil-for-food programme has catapulted him up the popularity charts.

"George Spanks Yanks" shrieked the Daily Record, the popular paper of choice in Galloway's native Scotland. The Daily Mirror compared him to a Daniel who went into the den and ended up mauling the lion.

Even the staunchly rightwing Daily Telegraph, which had to pay him libel damages after accusing him of treason, trumpeted his fighting performance.

Rupert Murdoch's Sun said the senators "failed to land a single blow". And its sister paper in New York, the Post, proclaimed: "Brit fries senators in oil".


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