Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Dr. Laura: Taking static," April 8, 2000

Elian drama: Feds want the boy, Miamians say no
Down to the wire
With demonstrators filling the streets of Miami's Little Havana, and federal agents mobilizing south of the city, combatants in the battle over Elián Gonzalez were plainly ready to get physical. Tension in Miami went into orbit after the U.S. Justice Department issued the boy's temporary guardian, Lazaro Gonzalez, an ultimatum: Sign a statement agreeing to hand Elián over to immigration officials, or watch the boy face forcible deportation. The order came before Mr. Gonzalez, Elián's great-uncle, had exhausted his right to appeal a March 21 federal judge's ruling, which upheld the government's handling of the case. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in May. Pending that, Mr. Gonzalez refused to agree to turn over Elián to U.S. marshals. Immigration officials did not deny reports that federal agents were gathering at the now-defunct Homestead Air Force Base just south of Miami, awaiting orders to apprehend 6-year-old Elián. But as high-level diplomatic conversations about the case proceeded in Miami, Washington, and Havana, it became plain that Ms. Reno's Waco tactics would not prevail in Miami. Hundreds of Cuban-Americans formed a round-the-clock cordon at the Gonzalez family home in Little Havana. As many as 30,000 people turned out for a prayer vigil the night of March 29, and organizers believed up to 10 times that many could be mobilized if federal officials looked ready to claim the boy. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a Democrat and Gore supporter, surprised the Clinton administration by announcing that local enforcement would not aid federal officers in the case. "They are provoking this community to an extent that I nor anyone else can control," said Mr. Penelas. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush said it was time for Ms. Reno to "reconsider her plans to send Elián back to Cuba." He said state courts, rather than "a Clinton-Gore Justice Department whose record of putting politics ahead of the law does not inspire confidence," should be allowed to rule on custody.

Ups & Downs of the Week
Consumer confidence: After months of steady pressure from Alan Greenspan's Fed, the economy finally came out with its hands up. The Conference Board, a privately funded research group that tracks attitudes about consumer spending, reported a larger-than-expected drop last month in consumer optimism about the economy. Higher interest rates thanks to Mr. Greenspan and higher fuel prices-which were supposed to stabilize after OPEC nations agreed to boost oil production 7 percent-are credited (or blamed) for the economic cooling. Consumer spending is responsible for two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, revised government figures showed 4th-quarter 1999 GDP cooked along at an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent, the strongest performance in 15 years. Conservatives have long hoped that Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a President George Bush appointee who generally votes with court liberals, would change his mind about key issues. Now he has about one-nude dancing. The Supremes ruled 6-3 last week that cities and states may ban nude dancing as part of an attempt to fight crime and other "negative secondary effects" associated with that business. But Mr. Souter, who voted for such a ban in 1991 but against this ban, now says, "I may not be less ignorant of nude dancing than I was nine years ago," but "I have come to believe that a government must toe the mark more carefully than I first insisted." Clintonian chutzpah: After he was found in violation of the Privacy Act by a federal judge (for releasing letters written by Kathleen Willey, who accused the president of making unwanted sexual overtures), Mr. Clinton explained that he had no choice. He broke the law "reluctantly, only because it was the only way I knew to refute allegations that were made against me that were untrue." The No-Comment Zone

  • The federal budget must be from another planet. For fiscal year 2001, a $1.83 trillion proposal is before the Senate-and that's the Republican version. Stack that many $1 bills and you have a pile of cash big enough to encircle Saturn's 120,000 mile diameter. It contains some tax relief-$150 billion worth over five years, which is way too much for Hill Democrats-but that's far smaller than the five-year $483 billion reduction proposed by George W. Bush on the campaign trail.
  • Vanquished presidential candidate and millionaire publisher Steve Forbes endorsed former GOP opponent George W. Bush, hoping that the nominee-to-be will embrace parts of his platform in the White House. The magazine magnate's campaign was high on vision but low on popular support. Mr. Forbes's key points included tax cuts, renewed attention to family values, and the use of the free market to solve the coming crisis of government indebtedness to retirees.
  • Three sets of bone fragments were discovered near the Colombia-Panama border where three New Tribes Mission workers were kidnapped in 1993. But the fragments turned out not to be human remains, according to the Colombian government. It was another false lead for New Tribes Mission, which has not been able to confirm the whereabouts of Richard Tenenoff, David Mankins, and Mark Rich, nor whether they are dead or alive, since the Florida-based mission lost contact with kidnappers six years ago. "We have to continue to work with the idea that they have survived until we have some kind of credible evidence that they haven't," said NTM spokesman Scott Ross.
  • Nearly 700 members of a doomsday cult in Uganda have been found dead. Authorities initially believed the massacre was a Jonestown-like mass suicide (where 900 cult members died after Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones convinced them to drink cyanide-laced punch), but signs of strangulation are leading them to conclude that the victims were murdered in large groups. Ugandan officials are looking for two leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, but the men may be among the dead. The pair predicted that the world would end last Dec. 31. When that did not happen, authorities speculate that cult members demanded the return of possessions they had surrendered to join the sect, then rebelled and were slaughtered.

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