Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Life after Clinton?," Aug. 26, 2000

SYMBOL OF A REEMERGING RUSSIA ENDS IN OLD-WORLD DISASTER
Anguish at sea
What was meant as a naval exercise showcasing the modern might of Russia's military ended in disaster on Aug. 12 when a Russian submarine sank to the Arctic floor. The nuclear submarine Kursk listed 350 feet below the surface for nearly three days before Russian naval officials determined to launch a rescue effort. On board were 116 navy seamen. Ten high-ranking officers from Russia's Northern Fleet, on hand to observe the exercises, supplemented the regular crew. In unfolding scenarios more out of 20,000 Leagues than the 21st century, rescue crafts-hampered by heavy storms and falling temperatures in the Barents Sea-made futile attempts to reach the downed sub. From inside the hull, crew members hammered SOS signals to the outside world. Even as the tapping ended last week, a British rescue ship headed toward the Kursk. In a PR campaign reminiscent of Cold War days, Russian officials first said the submarine had "a technical problem"; then announced it had collided with a foreign vessel; and finally acknowledged that a torpedo tube may have exploded and flooded the sub. Military officials in the United States denied contact with the Kursk, although at least two U.S. submarines were in the area patrolling Russia's military exercise. NATO officials said they took "at face value" Russia's assertion that the sub was carrying no nuclear weapons and that its crew had shut down two onboard nuclear reactors. The Kursk was a showpiece for Vladimir Putin's new Russia-both the youngest and the longest submarine in the Russian fleet. But Igor Baranov, chief designer of the submarine, said his creation sank because of "something extraordinary beyond the imagination of an engineer." INS LAUDS BRAVERY IN SECRET CEREMONY
A happy reunion
Immigration officials headed inland to Glynco, Ga., for an Aug. 15 celebration honoring INS agents involved in the storming of the Lazaro Gonzalez home in April. "Operation Reunion," as INS called it, employed 114 agents and was staged as a "rescue" of Elián Gonzalez. INS chief Doris Meissner told honorees the raid was a "tactical enforcement operation" that was necessary to "hold the rule of law." Under her plaudits, the storming of a modest home in Little Havana took on shades of Omaha Beach. She commended specialists "who breached the door of the residence" and a reconnaissance team for developing "a picture of the target area and local security arrangements." In something less than an act of bravery, Ms. Meissner held the ceremony in Georgia, even though all the agents involved were from Florida (75 percent from the Miami area). INS tried to downplay the event, issuing no customary advance press notice, but the Miami Herald used an anonymous tip to report the event. An INS spokesman said the agency budgeted $25,000 in travel, housing costs, and per diem expenses for the event. The Miami district office also awarded 93 employees an extra week's vacation. NEW PRO-LIFE LAWS PROPOSED IN MEXICO
Clever like a Fox
Legislators in Guanajuato, the home state of Mexico's president-elect Vincente Fox, say they will propose a stronger local law prohibiting abortion, even in cases of rape. Fox opponents and overseas media predicted the move by his party colleagues would spell controversy and doom for Mr. Fox. But most states in Mexico already have laws outlawing abortion, except in cases of rape, serious birth defects, or health risks to the mother, and most Mexicans oppose abortion. Mr. Fox ran on a pro-life plank and ousted the long-ruling PRI liberals by an overwhelming margin in July elections. WHO'S-NEXT WATCH: CAFFEINE COPS SAY COLA MAKERS-A LA BIG TOBACCO-TRY TO HOOK CONSUMERS
Kicking the cola habit
First smokes, now Cokes? Along the lines of tobacco companies allegedly using nicotine to create a market of addicts, a new medical study claims that caffeine is added to colas to hook consumers. Soft drink manufacturers, said lead researcher Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins, are "adding a mildly addictive, mood-altering drug, one which surely accounts for the fact that people drink far more sodas with caffeine than without." In the study of 25 adult cola drinkers, participants consumed cola samples in six different settings; only two participants could distinguish between the caffeinated and non-caffeinated sodas based on taste alone. The National Soft Drink Association called the results flawed and irresponsible: "Too few people were tested, too little science was used in the testing and too much opinion is contained in the conclusions." Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which helped fund the study, agreed the study was too small to draw sweeping conclusions: "I don't agree with the conclusion that caffeine should be lumped with nicotine." For now. REFORM PARTY CRACKUP
Half the party can't stand Pat
Will the real Reform Party nominee please stand up? The two competing candidates will likely remain standing until the judge orders them both to sit while the court decides the lawful winner. Protectionist Pat Buchanan and Transcendental Meditation aficionado John Hagelin plan to be running in the meantime-both as nominees of two branches of the Reform Party, whose nominating convention ended in tatters on Aug. 13 in Long Beach, Calif., with the Buchanan and Hagelin factions accusing each other of destroying the party. Mr. Buchanan named as his running mate Ezola Foster, a black woman who worked in the Los Angeles public-school system for 30 years and had served as president of the California chapter of the John Birch Society. "And the press says I'm hard-core," Mr. Buchanan quipped after his running mate defended the display of the Confederate flag and said U.S. immigration policy should "cease being stupid," which is to say it allows in too many immigrants. Mr. Hagelin also named a running mate, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Nat Goldhaber. The competing Reform Party nominees register barely a blip in most polls, but the real competition between the two is for the Reform Party's federal entitlement to $12.5 million in federal campaign matching funds. Under federal election law, the Reform candidate must certify that he is on the ballot in at least 10 states and then formally ask the FEC for the federal funds. The six-member commission has 10 days to decide, with four votes needed to release the money. A candidate has 15 days to ask for reconsideration of an unfavorable decision, and can then appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the only member of the Reform Party to win statewide office, left the party in February. After the weekend slugfest in Long Beach, Gov. Ventura appeared on NBC's Today Show proclaiming his prescience: "I look like a genius today." NEW JERSEY PARENTS DON'T HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW ABOUT DAUGHTERS' ABORTIONS
Parenthood is 'Insubstantial'
New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman is the first lady of Republican pro-abortion activists. But the GOP chief executive last year signed into law a measure requiring that pregnant teenagers notify-not obtain the permission of-their parents before hiring an abortionist to kill their unborn children. Gov. Whitman explained that she signed the bill "to increase parental involvement in a minor's decision to have an abortion." But last week, even that small amount of involvement was too much for the New Jersey Supreme Court. "We acknowledge that the state has a substantial interest in preserving the family and protecting the rights of parents," Chief Justice Deborah Poritz wrote for the court majority. "When weighed against the right of a young woman to make the most personal and intimate decision whether to carry a child to term, however, the insubstantial connection between the notification requirement and the interests expressed by the state is not sufficient." Justice Poritz was attorney general in the Whitman administration before being appointed to the high court. RELIGION BANNERS BURN CAMPFIRE SONG
Hitting a low note
Kum Ba Yah" is one of the least challenging religious songs in human history, but it was way too much for the North Port Boys & Girls Club, which banned an 8-year-old Florida girl from singing it in the talent show. Samantha Schultz had prepared to perform the song, but organizers said it violated their ban on religious songs because it repeats the word Lord. Explained Bill Sadlo, director of operations for the club: "We don't want to take the chance of a child offending another child's religion." Added club director Randy Bouck: "We just can't allow any religious songs. You have to check your religion at the door." Naturally, Samantha's relatives were livid. "I learned that song in Girl Scouts, not in church," said Pam Schultz, Samantha's mother. "It's a campfire song, for goodness sake." WALKOUT AGAINST ADVERTISING INDUSTRY FAILS TO SLOW PRODUCTION, BUT A LARGER FIGHT LOOMS
Actors strike out, so far
What if they called a strike and nobody noticed? Two big unions representing 135,000 actors have walked the line for more than three months against the advertising industry. So far the outside world has scarcely noticed, though it might lead to a bigger strike hitting Hollywood in the months to come. The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists want actors to receive "pay-per-play" residuals for commercials, while advertisers want to pay flat fees for both. The strike started May 1, but production carried on since nonunion performers were brought in as replacements. So far there have been a few high-level squabbles. Tiger Woods ignored the whole thing in July, filming an ad for General Motors. His agent claimed the golf superstar got around the controversy since the spot was filmed in Canada. Shaquille O'Neal came under fire after he did one of those "I'm going to Disneyland!" bits following the NBA championship in June. Protesters picketed the Bush campaign after it used nonunion actors to film an ad last month. The real threat is down the road, if film actors decide they want the same deal commercial performers want. A strike in that situation could turn Hollywood upside down. Variety reported earlier this month that studio chiefs are "stockpiling films and scripts" in case a strike shuts down Hollywood next year, leaving nothing on the release calendar for 2001. Movies and TV shows must be in the can by next June or they might be delayed for months or years. Hollywood's nightmare: no new TV shows in the fall of 2001 and theatrical release of only independent films, B-movies, and imports. -Chris Stamper CREDIT CARDS FOR KIDS
Will Buxx stop here?
The new teen status symbol may be a Visa card. Visa's new offering is called Buxx, a debit card for kids aged 13 to 17. Instead of using a credit line or a bank account, money must be deposited in advance (usually by Mom or Dad) for the card to be used. The card itself looks just like a standard Visa card, complete with Junior's name embossed on the front. Visa USA calls Buxx "a parent-controlled, re-loadable payment card designed to help parents provide spending money for teens and to help teach teens practical money skills." It's an alternative to the practice of listing a child as an authorized user on a conventional credit card-like a savings account with a check card, except that it doesn't collect interest. With this system, parents can keep an eye on what their kids spend, without worrying that their plastic will be maxed out. Jeff Kann, executive vice president at Visa U.S.A., said that teens "spend more than $153 billion a year-mainly with cash." So now kids have a chance to use a card with training wheels while member banks have a chance to collect more from transactions. ANOTHER NEW NEW THING
The latest bells and whistles
To Playstation or not to Playstation? That will be the question for some this Christmas as PS2 (Playstation 2) systems hit the stores. The latest console from Sony promises all the latest bells and whistles, plus two extras. The PS2 plays regular DVDs from the video store and also all the original Playstation games. The units will sell for about $300 starting on October 26, but it could be weeks after that before they are shipped. Even stores that will take preorders can't say when the PS2 actually will arrive. What of the system itself? Those who are used to video consoles of the last 15 years won't find anything different except that the sound is a notch better, as are the graphics. Unless you're an avid gamer, looking for a Christmas present, or planning to buy a DVD player anyway, there's no reason to try to beat the crowds right now. Once the initial fervor dies down, stores will start offering sale prices and the purchase will be much less stressful.

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