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Sunday Briefing

May 21, 2006|Andrew Malcolm and Ellen Alperstein | Times Staff Writers

Border's `black hole'

Tighten border security around San Diego and this creates an opportunity for the criminals of Jacume, Mexico, a "black hole" where authorities have very little authority.

In the forbidding valleys and mountain passes east of San Diego, Jacume thrives as a free-flowing transit point for drugs and illegal immigrants. Mile-for-mile, more drugs are seized in this area than almost anywhere along the California line.

From the high ground, the criminals can monitor the movements of U.S. border agents. And Mexican police won't enter the town without heavily armed backup. "They own the place," says one police director.

During one run-in, the criminals even pelted U.S. border agents with stones from across the boundary. Page A1

From gofer

to a top plotter

Ammar al-Baluchi has been considered a peripheral Al Qaeda functionary, someone who merely wired money around and helped with travel arrangements.

But hidden within the last documentary evidence in the recent Zacarias Moussaoui trial are four pages that for the first time officially identify the six top Al Qaeda figures captured in the 9/11 plot.

And there, positioned at No. 4, is Baluchi. Further investigation found his name and work cropping up in all sorts of plots.

He was mother hen for at least nine of the 19 hijackers. He was instrumental in acquiring a Boeing 747 flight simulator and a Boeing 767 flight-deck video. "He was turning up everywhere we looked -- like a chameleon," recalls one federal agent. Page A21

School auctions bring big bucks

Once, the arrival of spring meant the sprouting of flowers and school rummage sales to round up a few extra dollars for some educational organizations' coffers.

Now, spring has become the predictable high season for a wide array of fundraisers held by some of the area's most elite private schools. They offer one-of-a-kind enticements arranged by well-connected parents and alumni.

How much would you bid for a walk-on role in a Will Ferrell movie or for a ticket to an "American Idol" finale? Or how about a private poetry reading by stars of "Desperate Housewives"?

The offerings provide a unique window into this part of L.A. culture that now means the addition of hundreds of thousands of dollars in new money for private schools. Page A1

Political parties need larger ideas

Energy, healthcare and immigration reform are three of the United States' most complex domestic problems.

Each presents unique political and policy challenges, columnist Ronald Brownstein writes.

But each also offers opportunities for the Republican and Democratic parties to think about larger ideas than their current penchant for driving only narrow ideological favorites, which fail to solve the problems and neither side finds acceptable.

Comprehensive solutions offer the best approach, Brownstein suggests. Page A9

A cure-all from Korean gardens?

There is a notion among Koreans and gasping foreigners who've actually tried their kimchi that the spicy, fermented cabbage is a homemade panacea for whatever ails you.

Got a cold? Kimchi will sear the germs away. Getting wrinkled? Something worse? Try kimchi, according to old wives' tales passed between generations.

But now South Korean scientists have decided to put the dietary staple under the microscope to determine if its alleged health benefits are fact or fable. Page A30

Like mining for gold, only not

They work around the clock on a parched hillside in central Mexico, mining the precious commodity as if it were gold valued by the ounce. It isn't.

It's cement, that mysterious and essential mixture of iron oxide, clay, gypsum and limestone that through its own natural alchemy holds much of the modern world together and up.

There on that hillside and elsewhere around the world sits Cemex, a Mexican corporate powerhouse that made $2.2 billion last year on $15.3 billion in sales, becoming the world's third-largest cement maker. Page C1

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New refugees

Members of four large Korean church congregations gather at LAX to welcome six North Korean defectors to their new lives in the United States. Church members have pressed for admitting more North Koreans. The refugees -- four women and two men -- wore brand-new clothes, brightly colored sweat gear that would be forbidden back in isolated North Korea. Page B1

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BOOK REVIEW

New Yorker state of mind

All publications evolve or wither, but in the last 15 years, the venerable New Yorker magazine has undergone changes no longtime reader would have fathomed for the lofty, cosmopolitan city book. A too-hip female editor! Photographs!

One constant over the last couple of generations, however, has been Roger Angell's luminous, elegant tales of baseball and the annual funny, name-dropping holiday ode.

In his 80s, Angell remains a trenchant observer and craftsman. His new book, "Let Me Finish," is a collection of memories, some that originally appeared in the magazine.

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