Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Breaking the term limit," Sept. 16, 2000

The prayer rebellion
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) probably didn't plan on spurring spontaneous prayer when it sued the Houston-area Santa Fe school district. But that's the latest reaction to June's Supreme Court decision banning Santa Fe and other schools from allowing student-led prayer over football stadium loudspeakers. The prayer protests kicked off last month when high-school students in Hattiesburg, Miss., joined hands in stadium bleachers and recited the Lord's Prayer. Most of the 4,500 fans joined with the students. Inspired by the Hattiesburg protest, a group of ministers in Asheville, N.C., formed a grassroots group called "We Still Pray." The organization's first event-a rally held at the Reynolds High School football stadium-drew an unexpected crowd of over 12,000 and backed up traffic for miles. Participants pledged to initiate prayers at their own high-school football games. Inspired by the rally, Hendersonville, N.C., carpenter Terry Schultz promptly fulfilled his pledge at the next local high-school game. After initiating a stadium recitation of the Lord's Prayer, he found himself labeled a local hero and hounded by national media. "I'm a little overwhelmed, to tell you the truth," Mr. Schultz told WORLD. "I'm used to pounding nails." Crowd-initiated prayer is gathering steam in other states with strong football traditions. In Texas, a group called "No Pray, No Play" plans to have representatives at over 100 games during this fall. To accomplish this, the group's founder-27-year-old business owner Kody Shed-is traveling the state recruiting local church ministers and distributing "No Pray, No Play" T-shirts. "Many believe that pre-game prayer is gone forever. This fall we will prove that prayer is here to stay," proclaims Mr. Shed's website. Emboldened by grassroots movements, some schools districts are finding creative ways to skirt the Supreme Court prayer ban. School officials in West Virginia, for instance, have allowed a local radio station to broadcast student-led prayers. Instead of using stadium speakers, students at Spring Valley High School now stand on the field and recite their prayer through the radio station microphone. ACLU representatives accused the school of committing a backdoor violation. "School officials are breaking the law by being involved," complained local ACLU representative Hilary Chiz. "It is very much a plan that involves the school, whether it involves the PA system or not." School-board members on a Cherokee Indian reservation have also found a way past the Supreme Court: They say their North Carolina tribe is independent from the U.S. government and therefore can continue pre-game prayers. "We've always done it and we always will.... It's a sovereignty issue," said Kathy Wolfe, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians school board. Most of the tribe's 12,500 members claim Methodist or Baptist affiliation as a result of missionary work once supported by the U.S. government. Now tribe members say the government is opposing the results of its own work. "I believe some things are more powerful and important than a Supreme Court ruling. Prayer is good medicine," said Teresa McCoy, a member of the reservation's governing Tribal Council. -Candi Cushman NO RAIN, NO RELIEF: SUMMER SWELTER
Hot as Texas
Legend has Union general Phil Sheridan, stationed in Austin one summer, muttering (with rational climatology but foolhardy theology) that if he owned both Texas and Hell, he would "rent out Texas and live in Hell." Last week temperatures in Dallas hit 111 degrees; Austin made it to 112, and other cities also fried or boiled. Many have had over 40 days of 100+ temperatures and more than 60 straight days without rain. The continuing drought increases the threat of wildfires. A 4,000-acre fire forced the evacuation of 92 homes in Liberty County, northeast of Houston. UNITED NATIONS CONVENES FOR MILLENIUM SUMMIT; MAYOR WELCOMES EVEN THE 'DESPICABLE, HORRIBLE'
From Afghanistan's Burhanuddin Rabbani to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, heads of state from 167 countries made their way to New York for the annual opening of the United Nations, this year dubbed the "Millennium Summit." The opening of the UN's 55th session marked the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. The session's agenda will be all-encompassing as well, with plans to ratify a record 514 multilateral treaties covering everything from Albanian refugees to zinc mining. Speechifying about unity and peace abounded, but human-rights groups refused to play along. Protesters outside the UN halls awaited the arrival of China's Jiang Zemin and called for his arrest. Anti-slavery activist Curtis Sliwa announced his group's intention to conduct a citizen's arrest of Omar Bashir, president of Sudan, if the group spotted the Sudanese general and head of state walking the streets of New York. Abuk Bak, a 23-year-old native of southern Sudan who says government militiamen abducted her as a slave at age 10, joined Mr. Sliwa. A first-ever "spiritual summit," featuring more than 1,000 religious leaders, preceded the session. Cardinals, rabbis, and patriarchs joined shamans, bodhisattvas, gurus, and other "living gods" in a bid "to encourage the faiths to bury ancient enmities and cooperate in resolving world conflicts," according to a press statement from World Evangelical Fellowship. Groups in attendance are pushing the UN to set up a permanent advisory council of religious leaders to deal with religion-based conflicts and persecution. Peacekeeping will be the main issue in the coming session. A report from a special advisory group to Secretary General Kofi Annan said the UN's peacekeeping department should be "augmented" by an interdepartmental panel responsible for "more continuous planning." In short, the UN wants more bureaucracy at headquarters to match its growing operations. Currently 32 officers in New York oversee 28,000 peacekeepers worldwide. But as Bill Clinton was stepping to the podium to speak in favor of such plans, the UN was in the process of evacuating UN workers from Indonesia, where an embattled peacekeeping mission is reaching its one-year anniversary this month. UN forces on Sept. 6 flew into Indonesia to evacuate aid workers after rioters stormed a UN office and killed three staff members. The helicopters landed in Atambua, West Timor, where an angry pro-Indonesian mob and militiamen had attacked and burned the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. That crowd beat three workers to death. From a U.S. perspective, Mr. Clinton's endorsement of the peacekeeping proposal, scheduled to cost $50-100 million, is a status quo pledge: The United States does not send its own soldiers to ill-fated missions; it only pays for others to do so. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had his own peace to keep. With 170 motorcades and 1,300 limousines ferrying world leaders between UN headquarters and 32 hotels in Manhattan, he put 8,000 extra police officers on duty. He also warned New Yorkers to walk or use public transportation. The mayor approved 90 permits for UN-related demonstrations. Making use of his own free-speech rights, Mr. Giuliani welcomed world leaders this way: "They'll get protected better than any place else in the world, but as far as I am concerned some of them, I think, are despicable, horrible human beings, and you should always make that point every time you get a chance to make that point." -Mindy Belz WILL CORPORATE CASH HELP OBSCURE HUMAN-RIGHTS VIOLATIONS?
China's charm tour
The arrival of President Jiang Zemin at the UN Millennium Summit capped a whirlwind cultural tour designed to create good press for the Asian power. Chinese orchestras, art shows, and dance troupes are on a 10-city American tour as part of a $7 million cultural extravaganza. Mr. Jiang, along with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Vice Premier Qian Qichen, is trying to further the good vibes during his New York visit, which includes a meeting with President Clinton. The personal touch is part of a campaign-funded in part by U.S. corporations-to counter negative press on China. It coincides with a key vote in the U.S. Senate to clear the way for permanent normal trading relations. Little, however, has changed at home. After expelling three American missionaries earlier this month (WORLD, Sept. 9), China last week indicted 85 members of a Christian house church in Henan Province for "using an evil cult to obstruct justice." China added the "evil cult" law last year as part of the government's crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement. It is gaining wider use against other groups, even though Chinese officials said it would not be used against house churches. An indictment almost guarantees a prison sentence in China. Underground Catholic church members are also taking heat. Last month, officials arrested 24 Catholics-a priest, a seminarian, 20 nuns, and two churchgoers-in Fujian Province, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation. The priest was beaten, and the nuns were released after paying a "large amount" of cash to police. CRITICS: RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM REPORT SOFTPEDALS ABUSES
Looking the other way?
The State Department issued its second annual report on international religious freedom, naming Afghanistan and Iraq the worst offenders in restricting religious expression. The report also noted that religious freedom in China has "deteriorated markedly." But freedom experts criticized the report for soft-pedaling violence and genocide against Christians in Sudan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The shift is "most likely in deference to the Middle East peace process," said Nina Shea of Freedom House. Other experts believe the shift on Sudan is part of a Clinton administration plan to normalize relations with the largest sub-Saharan African nation prior to Mr. Clinton's departure from office. The State Department is quietly planning to increase the number of embassy personnel in Khartoum, according to Roger Winter, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, while seeking to avoid anything that could be characterized as opening the embassy. "They realize that announcing it in this political season would have a powerful downside," Mr. Winter told WORLD. U.S. diplomatic relations with Khartoum ended after airstrikes in 1998 against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan suspected of manufacturing chemical weapons. CAMPAIGN MISSTEPS BY BOTH BUSH AND GORE CAMPS
Bush-league judgment?
Former major-league baseball owner George W. Bush last week made a major-league error in vulgarly describing a biased New York Times reporter and compounded it by muttering the word near an open public-address microphone. Mr. Bush's insult, whispered to running mate Dick Cheney behind the podium at a suburban Chicago high school on Labor Day, made all the big network (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN) TV news shows. Mr. Bush never apologized, but merely told NBC he regretted that the microphone picked up his words: "I said what I said. I'm a plainspoken fellow." Editorialists charged Mr. Bush with hypocrisy for using such "plainspoken" language to insult a journalist after having promised to "change the tone" of politics. The Gore campaign messed up-in a different way; it did not accommodate a wheelchair-bound Flint, Mich., reporter assigned by his paper to cover the vice president's Sunday campaign stop. Chad Swiatecki of the Flint Journal recounted that a "pert assistant" to the Gore campaign explained "with as big a smile as possible" that the staff had no wheelchair-accessible press van and would not allow him to follow the motorcade in his own car: "We've never run into a situation like this before." Reporter Swiatecki later received an apology from the state director of Gore-Lieberman 2000: "These things are put together at the last minute. I'm sorry about how it went down. We've put together a checklist to make sure these things do not happen in the future." That's excellent, but under the Americans with Disabilities Act, big smiles and apologies aren't sufficient. The law provides for the awarding of civil penalties up to $50,000 for the first violation. Janet Reno has trumpeted her Justice Department's strenuous push for enforcement: "We have fought this battle in over 40 courts nationwide, winning in almost every case, and we will proudly defend the ADA this October before the U.S. Supreme Court." In July, Vice President Gore said he wanted to expand the reach of the ADA and, in an address to members of a disability-rights group, warned that a George W. Bush presidency would threaten the ADA: "Ask yourselves what the future of the ADA would be at the hands" of a Bush-appointed federal judiciary and Supreme Court. They might ask Chad Swiatecki instead: "They say the squeaky wheel is the one that gets greased. Well, Al, I've got four of them. Can you hear them yet?" A Lexis-Nexis news database search turned up no major newspaper, network, or wire-service references to the incident. Only the specialty fax publication "The Bulletin's Frontrunner," cable's Fox News Channel, and the Flint Journal carried stories. BOTH CANDIDATES PROPOSE MEDICARE EXPANSION-BUSH OFFERS SOME CHOICE
Prescript drug habit
The bidding war in campaign 2000 heated up last week as GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush unveiled his plan for adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Mr. Bush proposes spending $158 billion over 10 years on prescription drugs. He would provide a full drug subsidy for poor seniors and force taxpayers to pay at least 25 percent of premium costs for all other seniors, including the wealthy. Mr. Bush's major innovation: He would allow the elderly to choose a drug plan through a private provider instead of through Medicare. Al Gore's proposal, in contrast, would plow $253 billion into the current centralized Medicare program, while also providing drug subsidies for all seniors, including the wealthy. Tom Miller, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, praised Mr. Bush for "beginning to talk about changing the structure of Medicare" and for discussing "not just how much but how" in relation to Medicare spending. But Mr. Miller criticized both nominees for "providing another care package" to the wealthy elderly, and he worried that the Bush/Gore universal subsidy would inflate drug prices and open up the door to government price controls. Left out of the debate between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore: whether there is an actual need for a prescription drug subsidy that covers all seniors. According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, 51 percent of Medicare recipients pay less than $200 per year out of their own pockets on prescription drugs. Fully 72 percent pay less than $500. Critics of the candidates' plans last week noted that seniors spend far more eating out in restaurants ($1,193 per senior per year) than they spend on prescription drugs ($637). CAN A 24-HOUR NEWS NETWORK SURVIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE?
Troubles at CNN
CNN isn't the miracle baby of the news business anymore. The cable network ousted head honcho Rick Kaplan, after three years of trying to bring up sagging ratings. He came on board to bring in viewers on days when there's no breaking story-and it didn't work. Instead, CNN's viewership kept dropping- from an average daily viewership of 463,000 during the third quarter of 1997 (when Mr. Kaplan started) to 288,000 from April to June of this year. CNN hasn't seen numbers this bad since the Reagan administration. Mr. Kaplan's efforts-notably the Time Inc.-crossover program Newsstand-fizzled. Running off popular anchor Lou Dobbs was another strike. And being friends with Bill Clinton didn't help Mr. Kaplan during years of scandal either. Mr. Kaplan wasn't the real problem, however. Cable and news are changing. Upstarts Fox News Channel and MSNBC gave the news with more sparks and drew away some viewers. In a raging bull market, CNBC became the choice of some news junkies. Local cable news stations sprang up, offering coverage no national network could ever provide. Plus, dozens of new channels distract people from news altogether. And, of course, there's the Internet, which sends many in old media into fear and fits. For day-to-day coverage, readers can get a quick grasp at the headlines and then drill down to the facts they want. With fewer cultural gatekeepers, news consumers can find a spin that fits any point of view from sane to strange. So why use CNN, except as something to turn on when disaster strikes? In the 1980s and '90s CNN took viewers from traditional news stations, but plenty of alternatives to CNN have emerged. With new owners from AOL coming soon, cable TV's gray lad could be in for a major makeover. -Chris Stamper NIKE ADMITS GOLF BALL ISN'T EXACTLY LIKE WOODS'S
Tiger's trademark?
Is a celebrity endorsement still an endorsement if the celebrity doesn't use the product? When Tiger Woods hits the court he uses a Nike Tour Accuracy golf ball, but it isn't the run that recently has been selling in sporting goods stores. After a lawsuit accused the manufacturer of reaping "ill-gotten gains," the manufacturer admitted the star uses a custom-made model. Mike Kelly, marketing director for Nike Golf, says such tweakage for the pros is par for the course in the industry. The company is preparing to release the exact ball Tiger uses to the public. "Where do you draw the line?" he said. "This ball has the same cover, core, mantle, dimple construction, but Tiger's ball has a 5 percent harder core and cover." The appeal of a Tiger Woods golf ball is compelling: If he can knock those things 300-plus yards on TV, why can't Joe Duffer play better at the public course? The fantasy can get golfers to shell out $45 for a dozen Tour Accuracy balls, which (according to Nike.com) is $10 to 20 more than other Nike varieties. SURVIVOR II IS ON THE WAY
'Reality' repeat
Who will be kicked off the island this time? Survivor II: The Australian Outback will air after the Super Bowl. The finale of the first Survivor didn't even score half the audience of the record-setting 1983 M*A*S*H farewell, but ratings were high enough to keep bigwigs happy. The big TV networks love this stuff because it costs much less than regular series. Cable TV, websites, and video rentals can't build the audiences necessary to give America a regular infusion of fodder for water cooler chatter. Critics call Survivor a cross between Gilligan's Island and Lord of the Flies, but it drew a younger audience whose spending money excites advertisers. Small wonder that Ad Age reports CBS tripled the price for running commercials on the sequel.

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