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Pentagon Considers Delaying Missile Shield Deployment Date

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Pentagon may delay its target date for deploying a national missile shield -- possibly by as much as two years -- because of mounting technical problems, including delays in development of a new booster rocket, defense officials said Tuesday.

The Pentagon had been hoping that the system would be operational as early as 2005 to protect the 50 states from the threat of a long-range missile attack by “rogue” countries such as North Korea and Iran. The system would employ interceptor rockets, radar and satellite sensors to find and destroy enemy warheads as they streak toward the United States.

But the new booster rocket, which is being developed to lift an anti-missile “kill vehicle” into space, now may be a full year behind schedule, officials said. Also complicating the schedule was the failure last month of the system’s fifth flight test, a failure that in turn has raised other technical issues, officials said.

The new complications will require Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to take an additional month, until early September, to issue his long-awaited recommendation to President Clinton on whether to take the first steps to build the controversial anti-missile shield.

Whether to postpone the target deployment date “is exactly the type of question the secretary is considering now,” said Kenneth H. Bacon, the Pentagon’s top spokesman. He stressed, however, that the 2005 target date has not been officially changed.

Missile defense advocates, led by congressional Republicans, have been pushing hard to build a missile shield as soon as possible because of what they believe is a growing threat.

If the target deployment date is postponed, “I think you’ll hear some complaints from Capitol Hill that the Clinton administration isn’t as concerned about this as (it) should be,” said an aide to one Republican lawmaker, who asked to remain unidentified. “This is a real threat.”

The anti-missile program is highly controversial, however, and others dispute that the United States needs additional deterrent, given its vast superiority in arms.

GOP Plans to Raise $100 Million for Get-Out-the-Vote Ads

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Republican Party leaders say they will raise an unprecedented $100 million to mobilize voters for the November general election with a mix of television and radio advertising, direct mail, phone banks and door-to-door politicking.

The effort -- which Democrats plan to combat with a multimillion-dollar organization drive of their own -- marks a bid by the GOP to bolster its in-house turnout operation after years of counting on groups such as the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association to mobilize the conservative base. It represents a staggering 50 percent jump over the party’s spending in 1996, GOP leaders said.

Fred Meyer, a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party and a friend of GOP nominee George W. Bush, said the shift is modeled on an effort in Bush’s 1994 run for governor. In that race, strategist Karl Rove worked to identify swing voters and had the campaign pursue them with phone calls, mail and door-to-door visits. The combined effort raised turnout about 14 percent, Meyer said.

Compelling registered voters to show up at the polls on Election Day is key in any campaign, but particularly in this year’s White House race, where the outcome could turn on a sliver of the electorate.

Democrats, who so far have outspent the GOP on television advertising, plan to spend about half the Republican amount on mobilization. In part, the Democrats will be relying on organizations such as the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club to propel their Democratic-leaning and independent members to the polls to back Vice President Al Gore.

Fire-Walking Nudists Find That Baring Their Soles Is a Bad Idea

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Their feet were bare. It was, after all, the annual convention of a North American nudist organization. But the fire-walking didn’t go quite as planned.

Seven people are recovering from burns suffered when they marched across hot coals as part of a weekend fund-raising event for the American Association for Nude Recreation in eastern San Diego County.

“It’s very unfortunate that a wonderful weeklong convention ended this way,” said Robert T. Page, the association’s general counsel. “Obviously, I think something went wrong.”

Page said the seven -- two women and five men -- suffered second-degree burns on the bottom of their feet Saturday, but that all are recovering.

One man, who went into shock, was taken by helicopter to the University of California, San Diego Medical Center. The others were taken to hospitals by ambulance.

The weeklong convention, the association’s 69th, attracted about 900 people to DeAnza Springs Resort near Jacumba.

Page said he believes this was the first time the group had staged a fire-walking event.

Two couples and three men, including former or current officials of the association, walked the coals to raise funds for the group, which Page said has about 50,000 members in the United States and western Canada.

In addition to conducting association business, the group holds a number of clothing-free social and recreational activities at its conventions.

This year there was volleyball, painting and pottery. Last year, Page said, a team went skydiving, wearing parachutes, boots and nothing else.

Normally, members only have to worry about are sunburns. “We encourage liberal applications of high-value SPF,” Page said.