Netanyahu would ‘consider’ taking call from Rouhani


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. media he would not initiate contact with the new Iranian president, but would not turn down an overture out of hand.

“Yeah, we’re not the first to call,” Netanyahu told Piers Morgan, a CNN host who asked him in an interview broadcast Thursday if he would take a call from Hassan Rouhani.

Separately, Netanyahu told NPR in an interview broadcast Thursday that he would consider an offer to engage directly with Rouhani, but also suggested such engagement was beside the point. More urgent was the need to get Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program, he said.

“If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he told NPR. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the enrichment.”

Israel opposes any resolution to tensions with Iran that would allow it to continue enriching uranium at any level. The United States and other Western powers reportedly are ready to allow Iran to continue to enrich at levels well below those needed for weaponization.

Netanyahu this week took his concerns about engagement to the United Nations, President Obama and the U.S. Congress.

Rouhani, who insists Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, spoke with President Obama by phone last week, the highest level engagement between the United States and Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Returning Friday to Israel, Netanyahu said he would continue to make an issue of Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program.

“We are engaged in a comprehensive international struggle against the Iranian nuclear program,” he said.

“Next week I will meet with leaders of European countries and I will speak with other world leaders,” Netanyahu said. “I will emphasize the fact that the sanctions on Iran can achieve the desired result if they are continued. The world must not be tempted by the Iranian stratagem into easing sanctions as long as the Iranians do not dismantle their military nuclear program.”

Wendy Sherman, the third-ranking official at the State Department, told a Senate committee Thursday that the “fundamental large sanctions” that have crippled Iran’s economy would “not disappear any time soon,” even with the launch of formal negotiations.

She asked Congress, however, not to initiate any new sanctions before a meeting between Iran and world powers later this month.

Obama speaks by phone to Iran’s Rouhani, sees chance for progress


U.S. President Barack Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a historic phone call on Friday, in the highest level conversation between the estranged nations in more than three decades.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said both men had directed their teams to work expeditiously toward an agreement on Iran's nuclear program. He said this was a unique opportunity to make progress with Tehran over an issue that has isolated it from the West.

“While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution,” Obama said.

Rouhani, in a Twitter account believed to be genuine, said that in the conversation he told Obama “Have a Nice Day!” and Obama responded with “Thank you. Khodahafez (goodbye).” He added that the two men “expressed their mutual political will to rapidly solve the nuclear issue.”

The telephone call, the first between the heads of government of the two nations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, came while Rouhani was heading to the airport after his first visit to the United Nations General Assembly, according to a statement on Rouhani's official website.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been asked to follow up on the Obama-Rouhani conversation, the statement added.

As president, Rouhani is the head of the government but has limited powers. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the ultimate authority in Iran with final say on domestic and foreign policy, though Rouhani says he has been given full authority to negotiate on the nuclear issue.

Rouhani was on a charm offensive during his week in New York, repeatedly stressing Iran's desire for normal relations with Western powers and denying it wanted a nuclear arsenal, while urging an end to sanctions that are crippling its economy.

In his speech to the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama cautiously embraced Rouhani's gestures as the basis for a possible nuclear deal and challenged him to demonstrate his sincerity.

However, the failure to orchestrate a handshake between the two leaders that day, apparently because of Rouhani's concerns about a backlash from hardliners at home – and perhaps Obama's concerns about the possibility of a failed overture – seemed to underscore how hard it may be to make diplomatic progress.

Rouhani, who took office last month, told a news conference earlier on Friday he hoped talks with the United States and five other major powers “will yield, in a short period of time, tangible results,” on a nuclear deal. But he was less specific than he had been on Tuesday about the time scale.

He said Iran would bring a plan to resolve the decade-long dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, which Western powers and their allies suspect is aimed at developing an atomic weapons capability, to an October meeting with the six powers in Geneva.

He offered no details about that plan, but emphasized that Tehran's nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful.

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and John Irish.; Writing by Louis Charbonneau.; Editing by Christopher Wilson

We are Carlos Danger


By last Wednesday, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I had seen as much of Anthony Weiner’s private parts as if I had spent the afternoon with him in the shvitz.

The former congressman and New York mayoral hopeful had sexted the pictures to his 23-year-old crush, Sydney Leathers, and she, either disillusioned by his newly crafted family guy image, or just aching to get at least as much airtime as a congressman’s genitals, posted them for all to see.  

By Thursday, I got the whole story from Leathers herself, when she sat for an interview with Howard Stern. For me the telling moment came when Stern asked Leathers why Weiner used the screen name “Carlos Danger.”

Leathers said she never asked; she just assumed it played into his fantasy that he was living some exotic, adventurous double life.

“I think he thought we were in some sexy telenovela together,” she said.

This has been one Wet Hot American Jewish Summer, with an I-405-worthy pileup of Jewish sex scandals.

Weiner is the most late-night worthy, but right behind him is San Diego Mayor “Headlock” Bob Filner, whose female co-workers and colleagues, past and present, have accused him of very inappropriate touching.

Oh, and Eliot “Black Sox” Spitzer is back. After he was caught consorting with expensive prostitutes in 2008, he shamefacedly resigned as governor of New York. Now he’s running for New York City comptroller.

Spitzer claims he is a new man — which would be much more believable if Weiner hadn’t claimed the same thing after he was caught, the first time.

In a New York Times essay this week, Jodi Kantor wondered with great portent how the Jewish community was facing all the salacious news. When Jews go down to scandal, it’s usually of the financial sort — Madoff, Abramoff, the Spinka rabbis, etc. Weiner, Filner and Spitzer — which sounds like the name of the world’s creepiest law firm — have shown that Jews can also excel in an area once reserved for hypocritical televangelists and deeply closeted congressmen. 

Kantor’s thesis is that the hyper-sexual Jew depicted in Philip Roth’s 1967 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” has, finally, dybbuk-like, inhabited the bodies and upended the careers of our erstwhile political heroes.

“Nearly half a century after the publication of ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ politics is finally catching up with fiction,” Kantor wrote, “as libidinous, self-sabotaging politicians are causing grimaces among fellow Jews and retiring outdated cultural assumptions — that Jewish men make solid husbands and that sex scandals belong to others.”

That’s her thesis, and I think before it enters the culture as some kind of fact — this is The New York Times, after all — it bears some unpacking.

Yes, some Jews are indeed feeling embarrassed by the improprieties of their landsmen. That we would utter a small, collective “oy” really isn’t that much of a mystery if you think of Jews not as a religion or a race, but as a family. We take undue credit when one of our own achieves fame — 187 Jewish Nobel Prize winners and Scarlett Johansson! — and we feel unwarranted embarrassment when a Jew, like any human, stumbles. 

But let’s be honest, it’s a pretty low-grade sense of shame — mixed with a shpritz of schadenfreude. Weiner was a cocky congressman — his own brother once called him the d-word (look it up, this is a family newspaper) — so his comeuppance isn’t exactly heartbreaking.

And as to Kantor’s assertion that somehow these scandals now dispel the idea that Jewish men make solid husbands or are above sexual scandal — those are two very different points, and the response is, yes, Jewish men make solid husbands, and no, we’re not above sexual scandal. 

Statistically, Jewish marriages last longer, according to demographer and jewishjournal.com blogger Pini Herman.

In a study of divorcing couples, each partner was asked to list their religion at the time of the divorce. Jews married to Jews had the longest median time married before divorce, according to the study.

“That is a [one-]third longer marriage among couples where both were Jewish, who eventually filed for divorce,” Herman wrote. 

Of course, that might just suggest that Jews suffer longer in bad marriages than others — but, hey, we try.

As for sex, Roth’s Portnoy merely gave free voice to the desires  that every American male, Jewish and not, secretly harbors.

“The perfect couple,” mused Portnoy about a lover, “she puts the id back in yid, I put the oy back in goy.”

That cri de crotch has been echoed by successive generations of Jewish entertainers, from Woody Allen to Howard Stern to Sarah Silverman to Lena Dunham, all of whom have unleashed their libidos through their art and, in the process, made what was dark, secret and forbidden the stuff of stand-up and sitcoms. The difference between the Jewish libido and the gentile one is we talk about ours.   

So, yes Ms. Kantor, like all men, every Jewish man fantasizes, at one time or another, about being a seductive man of mystery — Carlos Danger! — in a sexy tryst. But the vast majority of us know we do much better to take that fantasy and turn it into comedy — before our lives become the punch line.

Bette Midler sings to dying fan over the phone (VIDEO)


Hope you have a tissue handy.

In this heartbreakingly sweet video, Bette Midler makes a special phone call to superfan Anna Greenberg, who is dying in the hospital with cancer. Midler thanks Greenberg for her support and praises her for her courage. “You're such an angel,” Midler tells Greenberg in the tearful exchange. “Such a wonderful soul.”

Read more on HuffingtonPost.com.

Greenberg passed away shortly after the video was filmed. She was 29.

NOTE: We're aware that the video in this post is upside down. That is the way the video was filmed, it is not an error.

The death of your privacy


Singles at Passover saying so long to cell phone, Facebook contacts


While Passover is the time to clean out chametz, single Jews apparently will be cleaning out their social lives.

Jewish singles will use the holiday as an excuse to clean out their cell phone and Facebook contacts, a poll conducted by the Jewish dating site Jewcier found.

In a poll of more than 1,120 Jewish singles, 68 percent of women and 65 percent of men said that cleaning out their cell phone and Facebook contact list was the most important thing to do before Passover.

“When it comes to Passover priorities, Jewish singles have traded the traditional priorities with modern, non-traditional ones,” said Shira Kallus, relationship adviser for Jewcier.

According to the poll, single men prioritize cleaning out their cell phone contacts, while single women prioritize cleaning out their Facebook friends list. Both said that ex-boyfriends and girlfriends should be the first to go.

Let Your Fingers Do the Gift Shopping


When it comes to the High Holidays, festive meals aren’t complete without turban-shaped challahs, pomegranates and apples and honey. As a dinner guest, supportive family member and friend, you may be on the lookout for thoughtful gifts. Turns out, in Israel, Rosh Hashanah is a traditional time to exchange presents.

To simplify your shopping, here are creative buys and unique ways to enhance your holidays. With plenty of options for online and phone purchases, you’ll also save precious time for the more spiritual preparations of the holidays. What’s more, your shopping for gifts is dual purpose if you also like the idea of supporting the Israeli economy.

Create a soulful environment in preparation for the Days of Awe with awesome Jewish melodies. If you don’t yet know the inspiring music of Yosef Karduner, listen in at www.breslov.com/music. Groove with Israeli folk, rock and other favorites at www.NMC-Music.co.il, including the “Best of David Broza,” “Chava Alberstein: The Early Years” boxed set, and much more. Although the NMC site doesn’t always translate well into English, particularly with pricing icons, the site’s offerings are extensive and delivered worldwide.

Sometimes the best gift is a nongift. Bring justice to the world while supporting Web sites for terror victims in honor or memory of your loved ones. Reliable organizations include www.OneFamilyFund.org, and ” target=”_blank”>www.JewishUniverse.net/fly_cake/index.htm, (877) 359-2225.

Support the volunteers who provide emergency on-site first aid, rescue, recovery and identification of terror attack victims to ensure proper burial at www.Zaka.org.il. Help Israel’s hungry at ” target=”_blank”>www.OneIsraelFund.org, provide humanitarian assistance to Jews living in the territories and those displaced by the Gaza pullout.

If a contribution to the table is in order, and you haven’t yet sampled sweets from Max Brenner, the self-described bald man, your tastebuds will delight in these gourmet kosher chocolates. Nuts are classic caramelized pecans smothered in rich milk chocolate. Chicao are bittersweet or milk-chocolate discs dotted with roasted cocoa bean pieces. There are many other choices, as well.

Prices range from $4.25 for a single chocolate tablet; $6.25 for hot chocolate mixes in white, milk, dark and dark blended, with orchid oil or orange peel oil; and $7.25 for milk-chocolate hazelnut pralines, dark chocolate cognac truffles and other specialties.

Unique Max Brenner serving utensils, including a hot chocolate cup that features a tea light heating element in its base, are also available. ” target=”_blank”>www.JudaicaGiftStore.com.

If you prefer a more modernist look to your gifts, www.AnatMayer.com offers a variety of unique honey dishes and spoons for $55 and up. Her hand-painted creations are sold along with holiday challah covers, wine trivets and other gifts.

For yourself or the love of your life, Israeli jewelry designer Michal Negrin celebrates the “pleasure of being a woman” with elaborate Victorian and art nouveau-inspired jewelry. Packed with crystals, vintage-looking elements and plenty of whimsical details, pieces are available in both classic and outrageous color combinations. Although her work is viewable at her namesake site, ” target=”_blank”>www.mavrikjewelry.com or call (877) 885-1828. Mavrik also offers other intricate earrings, necklaces and other pieces incorporating beading, crystals and unique designs by fellow Israeli designer Ayala Bar.

After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, decorate a friend’s sukkah with stunning Israeli posters, postcards, silk screens and fine art prints with kabbalistic themes direct from Tzfat. Peruse David Friedman’s online portfolio at ” target=”_blank”>www.KabbalahArt.com. Both offer intriguing designs, overseas shipping and payment by credit card.

Prepare your loved ones for the fun of the intermediate days of Sukkot Chol HaMoed with excellent Israeli film releases on DVD. The Sukkot-inspired “Ushpizin” turns this traditional term for sukkah guests into a laugh-out-loud look inside the traditionally closed world of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Available in Hebrew with English subtitles, this best-selling DVD is currently on sale for $13 through Oct. 3 at ” target=”_blank”>www.ShopinIsrael.com, which offers everything from fine foods to art work. Artist Shraga Landesman, for instance, showcases his pomegranate-themed “Ner Tamid,” a beautiful adornment for any High Holiday table.

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Super Sunday Calls Raise $4.6 Million


Frank Ponder put in a long, fruitful day at the Feb. 13 Super Sunday annual fundraising campaign, helping gather the phone-driven dollars that became part of more than $4.6 million pledged that day for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Last year, the Federation raised about $4.5 million at Super Sunday 2004, about $800,000 more than 2003’s Super Sunday success. The money will fund agencies such as Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service, as these two critical-needs agencies join other non-profits in bracing for state and federal cutbacks.

“My goal is just to see if I can make about 100 calls,” said Ponder, 62, describing what turned out to be an easily achieved objective in the large phone bank room at The Federation’s headquarters. “I’ll take a dollar, anything. The hardest part is the noise in the room, but it also provides the energy.”

A Beverly Hills household’s polite brush-off was a request to call at year’s end, but minutes earlier, a Westside doctor and his wife pledged another $1,000, as they did a year ago.

Ponder’s Super Sunday was like that: a little donor gold struck here, an answering machine encounter there. But throughout five hours he maintained his drive to plow through the stack of salmon and yellow sheets containing donor data. Reaching a criminal defense lawyer known for her Court TV analysis during the O.J. Simpson trial brought a $500 pledge.

“People give every conceivable reason not to give,” said Ponder, prior to calling a reliable donor, a retiree who lives in a swank area of Wilshire Boulevard.

“Can we raise that to $1,500?” Ponder asked.

With his pencil marking a form-of-payment box, Ponder clicked off that under-a-minute call and said, “You just took $1,500 out of someone’s pocket, and they want to get off the phone as fast as possible.”

Ponder has spent two decades participating in Super Sundays. Great Southern California weather and answering machines are his enemies. His allies are an old-pro demeanor and the phone bank room’s camaraderie.

L.A. Federation staffers this year decided against Super Sunday T-shirts and instead donated several thousand dollars of planned T-shirt production money to Asian tsunami relief efforts.

Celebrities and politicians visited the main Super Sunday phone room, with prominent names also popping by the event’s Valley Alliance phone room in West Hills. The smaller South Bay Council phone bank volunteers worked in Torrance.

The Los Angeles mayoral candidates each made a cameo appearance at Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, along with other politicians. Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s phone pitch perseverance specifically impressed Ponder, whose seat was across from where the politicians each took a stab at phone pitching.

“Voicemail, voicemail, voicemail,” Garcetti exclaimed after another fruitless call, with Ponder nodding approvingly at his efforts.

“He’s been here longer than any other politico,” said Ponder, a retired retailer, who looked over at the young councilman and said, “Your father used to be a customer of mine.”

“Oh really?” said Garcetti, the son of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and a grandson of Federation pioneer Harry Roth.

“I used to run Bel Air Camera,” said Ponder, as Garcetti’s phone luck turned and he began getting real voices instead of answering machines.

The councilman’s personalized donor pitch included the phrase, “You probably know my grandfather, Harry Roth.”

By early evening on Super Sunday, a doctor took over Ponder’s spot, and other phones were taken over by members of the Federation’s Young Leadership and Women’s Campaign divisions.

“I’ve heard every make and model of answering machine,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hirsch, a Beverly Hills internist and the husband of Sinai Temple’s Rabbi Sherre Hirsch. He admitted to some culture shock due to growing up in a much smaller Jewish community in Baton Rouge, La.

“In L.A., a $3,000 giver just gets a phone call on Super Sunday,” he said. “A $3,000 giver in Baton Rouge is like, ‘God, we need that person.'”

Seated next to Hirsch was Diana Fiedotin, a fellow Jewish Southerner and Brown University alumnus who now handles West Coast development for The Federation-supported American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The college pals recognized the donor card of a 40ish doctor.

“He was at my birthday party,” Fiedotin said.

Beverly Hills real estate financier Eric Erenstoft kept his headset filled with call after call, his scribbled list of $1,000-$1,500 pledges becoming a testament to how he used his salesman’s energies as a closer to The Federation’s benefit.

“I’m closing!” Erenstoft said, finishing another call.

Sins the Rabbis Left Out


The writers of the machzor were pretty comprehensive in listing the multitude of sins we commit as a community over the course of the year. Some of them — such as foul speech, unscrupulous business affairs, sexual immorality and fraud — are remarkably relevant today. But the authors couldn’t have envisioned some of the temptations offered by contemporary society.

So here are some modern infractions for which you might need to atone:

For the sin of forwarding dumb jokes via e-mail;

And for the sin of forwarding e-mails which insist that you forward them or suffer the consequences.

For the sin of watching shows where people vote other people off the show;

And for the sin of watching shows where mothers admit to stealing their daughters’ boyfriends.

For the sin of cutting people off on the freeway;

And for the sin of flipping off the person who cuts you off on the freeway.

For the sin of talking on your cell phone while driving.

And for the sin of having cell phone conversations in public during which you broadcast graphic details about your love life or medical symptoms.

For the sin of using the Internet at the office to work on personal business.

And for the sin of neglecting to exit the ESPN Web site before your boss walks into your cubicle.

For the sin of buying things you don’t need because there’s a really good sale.

or the sin of paying $3 for a $1.50 cup of coffee.

For the sin of talking during High Holiday services;

And for the sin of rating the rabbi’s sermon as though it were an Olympic sporting event ("I’ll give it a 6.5").

For the sin of leaving a whole package in the cupboard with just one cookie in it (you know who you are).

And for the sin of using family members’ exploits as fodder for newspaper articles (I know who I am).

For all these sins, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement. — NSS

Hello, Israel Calling


Phones will be ringing in at least 5,000 Jewish homes around Orange County on March 14, when volunteers pitch in to help raise money for O.C.’s Jewish Federation, the umbrella fundraising organization that helps support a dozen Jewish agencies.

This year, though, Super Sunday dialing will be divvied up between about 75 local volunteers punching numbers in the morning from the Costa Mesa campus and Israelis, who will take the afternoon shift from across several time zones.

"It’s very special to get a call from Israel," said Marc Miller, who is campaign chair for the Federation, which develops programs to foster ties between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. "I think it will change the dynamic of conversation."

"There is a substantial cost savings between using the Israel call center and renting extra lines for the Federation," campaign director Alissa Duel said. Several other federations have also tapped the call center provided by the IDC Corp., which is based in Newark, N.J. The 14-year-old company provides international phone service at a flat rate.

"Here’s an innovative way to build bonds with Israel" and give support to its ailing economy, Miller said.

Miller’s fundraising goal is to surpass last year’s record $2.25 million Federation campaign by 10 percent.

Jewish Research Calling


If you get a phone call in the next few months from a stranger with lots of questions, don’t assume it’s a telemarketer.

The person on the other end of the line may be more interested in hearing about your Jewish identity than telling you about the latest credit card deal.

Researchers for the long-awaited National Jewish Population Survey 2000 — the first large-scale national study of American Jews in 10 years — will start ringing phones in mid-May. If all goes according to schedule, the field work will be completed by November and findings released by mid-2001.

The 1990 population survey grabbed headlines primarily for its finding that 52 percent of respondents who wed between 1985 and 1990 had married non-Jews.

Although the statistic was subsequently critiqued by various sociologists who felt the study over-counted Jews on the fringes of communal life, “52 percent” became a battle cry in a decade of soul-searching and “Jewish continuity” initiatives.

Like its predecessor, this decade’s study is charged with providing data on everything from intermarriage rates to levels of Jewish identity to philanthropic habits, and it is expected to shape the priorities of Jewish organizations and scholars for the coming decade.

Sponsored by the newly formed national fund-raising and social service umbrella organization, the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the approximately $5 million study plans to survey 5,000 U.S. Jews, more than double the number reached in 1990.

Reflecting the changing priorities of the American Jewish community, the survey will focus more heavily on questions of Jewish education, identity formation and philanthropy and less extensively on questions concerning social service needs than the 1990 study did.

Originally scheduled to start interviewing in January, the study was postponed until May, ostensibly so that UJC’s newly appointed leaders could have time to review the process and add input.

Planning for the study had begun under the auspices of the now-defunct Council of Jewish Federations, one of the two organizations that merged to become the UJC.

According to Don Kent, UJC’s vice president of development and marketing, the input from UJC leaders about their priorities will ensure that the study is more relevant and useful than the 1990 one.

“One of the greatest failures of the vast majority of studies in the Jewish community is that research gets done and sits on the shelf,” he said. But because UJC leaders helped to prepare the survey, they will have a vested interest in seeing the results used in developing new programs, he added.

The survey has snagged its share of controversy, mostly stemming from dissatisfaction with what happened in 1990.

Several Orthodox leaders have claimed their community was undercounted in 1990 due to methodology that may have disproportionately emphasized Jews living in areas where Orthodox Jews are less likely to cluster.

Five Jewish social scientists — some of whom were involved in the 1990 study but not in the 2000 one — sent a memo last summer urging the UJC to, among other things, add focus group research, change the staffing and determine the intermarriage rate in a different way.

NJPS planners say they have made some modifications in response to those critics and have attempted to engage them in the process.

Steven Cohen, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and one of the people who drafted last summer’s memo, declined to say whether he thinks the study is still flawed, but noted that it has been “significantly improved” and praised its planners for seeking the input of UJC leadership and making it more “policy-oriented.”

In addition to the disputes over methodology, the logistics of devising a study that will pack a decade’s worth of information into only 30 minutes of questioning — the estimated attention-span time limit for phone interviews — poses a challenge.

“How much can I ask about how many subjects before the person at the other end says ‘Dayeinu’ and hangs up?” said Egon Mayer, director of the Center for Jewish Studies of the Graduate School of the City University of New York and one of the volunteers serving on the study’s National Technical Advisory Committee.

The original draft questionnaire, said Mayer, was over 100 pages long, and his committee has spent a lot of time cutting.

Stephen Solender, UJC’s president and CEO, recently announced that, given the study’s limitations, it will be followed up with a series of smaller national surveys addressing specific issues. However, no budget or timetable for the future studies has been determined.