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Less Time for Drugs May Trim Prison Rolls

Crack cocaine offenders will receive shorter prison sentences under more lenient federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect on Thursday.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a government panel that recommends appropriate federal prison terms, estimated that the new guidelines would reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 in 15 years.

The new guidelines will reduce the average sentence for crack cocaine possession from 10 years, 1 month to 8 years, 10 months. At a sentencing commission hearing in Washington on Nov. 13, members will consider whether to apply the guidelines retroactively to an estimated 19,500 crack cocaine offenders who were sentenced under the earlier, stricter guidelines.

The changes to the original 1987 guidelines could also add new impetus to three bills in the Senate, one sponsored by a Democrat and two by Republicans, that would reduce or eliminate mandatory minimums for simple drug possession.

Obama Promises a New Relationship With Iran

Sen. Barack Obama said he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran if elected president and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise not to seek “regime change” if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues.

In an hourlong interview on Wednesday, Obama made clear that forging a new relationship with Iran would be a major element of a broad effort to stabilize Iraq as he executed a speedy timetable for the withdrawal of American combat troops.

Obama said that Iran had been “acting irresponsibly” by supporting Shiite militant groups in Iraq. He also emphasized that Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and its support for “terrorist activities” were serious concerns.

But he asserted that Iran’s support for militant groups in Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration’s policies in the region, including talk of a possible American military strike on Iranian nuclear installations.

Ambitious Everglades Rescue Is Losing Initial Momentum

The rescue of the Florida Everglades, the largest and most expensive environmental restoration project on the planet, is faltering.

Seven years into what was supposed to be a four-decade, $8 billion effort to reverse generations of destruction, federal financing has slowed to a trickle. Projects are already years behind schedule. Thousands of acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat continue to disappear, paved by developers or blasted by rock miners to feed the hungry construction industry.

The idea that the federal government could summon the will and money to restore the subtle, sodden grandeur of the so-called River of Grass is disappearing, too. Supporters say the effort would get sorely needed momentum if a long-delayed federal bill authorizing $23 billion in water infrastructure projects, including almost $2 billion for the Everglades, were passed.

But President Bush is expected to veto the bill, possibly on Friday. And even if Congress overrides the veto, which is likely, grave uncertainties will remain.