Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Midwest's middle men," Oct. 21, 2000

Gore returns to untruths at the end of second debate
The fudging continues
Vice President Al Gore had some serious repair work to do in the second of three debates last Wednesday night (Oct. 11). He was only partially successful. Stylistically, Mr. Gore had a different hairdo and his makeup was better. Gone were the sighs and eye rolling that characterized his reactions during the first debate. He apologized for the exaggerations and personal embellishments of the past ("lies," William Bennett called them in a damning indictment in The Wall Street Journal). Mr. Gore mostly avoided untruths until near the end. Mr. Gore denied that he is in favor of increasing taxes on energy, yet in his book, Earth in the Balance, he advocated higher gasoline prices for the express purpose of discouraging energy use. He is part of an administration that boosted the federal gas tax to help "balance the budget" but opposes its repeal even in the face of huge projected surpluses. The vice president still wants credit for his wife's brief campaign in the '80s against filthy and violent song lyrics. But he virtually apologized for that earlier position as he, and more recently, his running mate, Joseph Lieberman, have placed their snouts in Hollywood's campaign cash trough. In 1987, Mr. Gore said that Senate hearings he had endorsed two years earlier were "a mistake" that "sent the wrong message." Was it more wrong than the messages the entertainment industry is sending children? On "hate crimes" laws, Mr. Bush said that the white killers of James Byrd, the black resident of Jasper, Texas, who was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck, had been convicted and sentenced to death. He didn't see how a "hate crimes" law could impose a stricter sentence than death. Mr. Bush added he opposes a bill by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) because it does not allow for the death penalty in capital crime cases. Mr. Bush is in good company: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) opposes the Kennedy measure for the same reason. Mr. Gore claimed his prescription-drug proposal for seniors kicks in faster than Mr. Bush's. In fact, the Bush plan would begin, pending congressional approval, almost immediately for the poor until Medicare modernization is completed. The Gore plan is phased in over a six-year period starting in 2002. I wish Mr. Bush would support means testing on prescription drugs. Wealthy people should not be getting a government check for things they can well afford. One of Mr. Gore's biggest whoppers came when he again stated that he had been at the forefront of "reinventing government." According to his Web page, Mr. Gore's ideas have reduced the number of federal employees by 350,000, saving taxpayers $137 billion and leading to the smallest government since John F. Kennedy was president. But last year, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed Mr. Gore's reinventing-government initiative and found that his claims were inflated and unsubstantiated. The GAO selected at random $33 billion worth of spending and could not verify two-thirds of it. The GAO also cited a number of "creative accounting" techniques used to make the claim, including double counting, in which credit was taken for cost-cutting that had been well underway before Mr. Gore got involved, and a failure to factor in "offset costs," such as employer buyouts. Mr. Gore also misstated Mr. Bush's position on a Child Health Initiative in Texas. In fact, Mr. Bush signed a measure that covers 423,000 Texas children and provides an additional $25 million so that children of legal immigrants might also be eligible. Mr. Gore tried to again sell the public on his "support" for the Persian Gulf War when former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole has said that Mr. Gore "shopped" his vote in order to get TV face time. And Mr. Gore admitted that while he once supported sending U.S. troops to Somalia to quell violence and feed the starving, he now opposes that decision. Mr. Bush again said he would return some of the surplus to people who pay the bills, and that he believed in empowering people, not government. The traditional Republican tax-cut message seems to be resonating with more voters. -Cal Thomas, © 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate Paulk loses chairmanship of ministry, Trout leaves Focus
'Compassion & justice'
Two bombshells recently rocked Colorado Springs-based ministry Focus on the Family. First, fallout from a Focus staffer's visit to a Washington, D.C., gay bar: John Paulk, a former homosexual and head of Focus on the Family's homosexuality and gender department, was spotted at Mr. P's on Sept. 19. Gay activists recognized and confronted Mr. Paulk, and attempted to photograph him as he fled the bar. The ex-gay ministry Exodus International voted last week to remove Mr. Paulk as chairman of its board of directors. Then, on Oct. 11, Focus on the Family broadcast announcer and co-host Mike Trout resigned. Focus spokesman Paul Hetrick said Mr. Trout resigned for "personal reasons" but would not elaborate. Mr. Trout joined the organization in 1982, then joined James Dobson on the organization's worldwide daily radio broadcast in 1986. Mr. Hetrick commended Mr. Trout's professional performance, adding, "We will miss Mike and we will continue to pray for him and his family." Mr. Paulk has been at the forefront of the ex-gay movement for more than a decade. He and his wife Anne, a former lesbian, were the focus of a 1998 Newsweek cover story on the movement. Mr. Paulk also leads "Love Won Out," a program that helps people who are struggling with homosexuality. After the bar incident, Mr. Paulk said initially that he had not known the establishment catered to homosexuals. He later admitted that he lied. In an Oct. 10 Focus on the Family radio broadcast, he said, "I was not honest ... because I was terrified. I was ashamed, I was humiliated ... I didn't want the message [that homosexuals can change] to be discredited." His fears proved to be warranted. By early October, major newspapers were quoting gay activists who said Mr. Paulk's presence in a gay bar proved false his message that homosexuals can change their behavior. On the Focus radio broadcast, Mr. Paulk expressed remorse, and affirmed his heterosexuality and his commitment to his family. Focus president James Dobson, by turns tough and compassionate during the broadcast, said the incident "had hurt the cause of Christ." He also said his organization would stand by the Paulks. "Christians have a reputation for shooting their own wounded," Mr. Dobson said, noting that while Mr. Paulk visited a gay bar, there is no evidence that he returned to homosexual behavior. "We at Focus on the Family have not and never will tolerate unrepentant sin ... [but] we won't abandon those who are wounded and hurt by their sin." Mr. Paulk will remain on staff at Focus. He will also remain on the Exodus International board in a probationary status, a measure Exodus director Bob Davies called "a balance of compassion and justice." -Lynn Vincent Boat carrying explosives hits American destroyer in Yemen port, killing five
U.S. warship attacked
Five U.S. sailors were killed and at least 12 were left missing last week when an apparent terrorist attack ripped a 20-foot by 40-foot gash in the side of an American warship. Pentagon officials say a small rubber Zodiac loaded with explosives struck the side of the destroyer U.S.S. Cole. The Cole had pulled into port at Aden, Yemen, for a four-hour refueling stop. The blast was powerful enough to shatter windows and send television sets crashing to the floor in a nearby hotel. It was not clear whether the Zodiac was manned. The U.S. State Department considers Yemen a safe haven for international terrorists. The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two groups the Department said are known to launch terrorist attacks, have official representatives in Yemen, according to a State Department report issued in April. Violence escalates in Israel
Middle East boil
Outside diplomats tried to keep the lid on the Middle East boil by calling for restraint and ceasefire after Palestinians and Israeli forces last week escalated the violence in the West Bank. "I appeal to all-leaders and citizens alike-to stop and think about what they are doing today and what kind of tomorrow they want for their children," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But insiders suggested that the finger-wagging should be pointed westward. Natan Sharansky, former Soviet dissident and now a member of Israel's parliament, said Clinton administration peace-brokering was at the heart of the violence. "Instead of pressuring Arab tyrants to free their own peoples from the yoke of oppression, the West prefers to view them as a 'stabilizing' force," he wrote. Milosevic forced from office
Bloodless revolt
More than a decade of wartime conditions, along with years of international sanctions, began crumbling along with the regime of Eastern Europe's last great communist, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The apparatchik-turned-nationalist-turned-dictator was forced from office after half a million people turned out in the streets of Belgrade-and thousands more throughout Yugoslavia-to demand his removal. Mr. Milosevic fought four wars (with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and against Albanians in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo) but in the end could not beat the ballot box. He conceded defeat in nationwide elections Sept. 25 but used the government's electoral commission and even the Supreme Court to try to force his opponent, Vojislav Kostunica, into another runoff round. Yugoslavians took to the streets in a nationwide strike, shutting down transportation, coal mines, and local businesses. The decisive turn came Oct. 5, when protesters stormed the parliament building and set fire to state-run television. The station was forced off the air for several hours and, when it returned, was broadcasting democracy slogans and independent news. Soon after, the core of Yugoslavia's secret police forces defected from Mr. Milosevic and began supporting the crowd. On Oct. 6 Mr. Milosevic announced that he would step down. He has not been seen since, and many believe he is holed up in an official compound. Western democracies moved quickly to dismantle sanctions against Yugoslavia. French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine met with Mr. Kostunica and promised to lift European Union restrictions. He also said the EU would grant a near-instant aid package. It will assist in rebuilding bridges over the Danube destroyed by NATO bombing last year and in clearing debris for river traffic. The United States will move more slowly to ease sanctions, with U.S. envoy James O'Brien meeting Mr. Kostunica on Oct. 12. Author opposes trying to beat the stock market
Indexes fingered
Burton Gordon Malkiel took A Random Walk Down Wall Street in 1973, and he's been a living terror for stock pickers ever since. Now the Princeton economics professor is back with a seventh edition (Norton), unapologetic for one of the most controversial statements in the history of high finance. Mr. Malkiel's charge: "A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper's financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts." He pointed out that most mutual funds consistently underperform the overall market and that professional investors don't necessarily have an advantage. Why? According to what is called the Efficient Market Hypothesis, so many people are competing for stocks that any change in a company's value is automatically included in the current price of the stock. Thus "beating the market" is hard to do and becomes harder over time. This inspired the rise of index funds, which take investors' money and put it into broad swatches of the stock market. Instead of trying to outperform the market, these funds buy and hold a number of companies that represent the whole market. The biggest of this bunch, the Vanguard 500 Index, is a monster that holds $110.5 billion from people who bet their investment on the market instead of the managers. "Indexers always win," bragged John C. Bogle, founder of Vanguard (Mr. Malkiel sits on its board). Mr. Malkiel's book, written for laymen, surveys the various ways people use to pick stocks, from crazy investment bubbles to chart reading to valuation. His arguments that the average person can manage his own money have been picked up by popularizers from Andrew Tobias to Motley Fool. Many investors disagree with him, but his influence is immense. -Chris Stamper Unclaimed luggage online
Lost but not found
Ever lose your luggage? Ever wonder where it went? It might be sitting on a shelf in northern Alabama. Businessman Bryan Owens has a deal with several airlines to resell unclaimed luggage and its contents for half the original value. Everything from cameras to cough drops is unloaded at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, which even has an online store (unclaimedbaggage.com). Mr. Owens's stock comes not only from unclaimed passenger bags, but air freight and items left behind at airports or on airplanes. That Palm Pilot left behind at JFK may be one of the thousands of items added daily. Once something sits unclaimed for 90 days, the airline can legally dispose of it. Unclaimed Baggage keeps a low profile. Mr. Owens, whose father started the business 30 years ago, has a written agreement with airlines not to disclose from whom he buys merchandise or for how much. He can't even say how much money he makes annually. The company doesn't promote itself and relies instead on word-of-mouth and free listings in tourists' guides to attract customers. The U.S. Department of Transportation says counting the amount of luggage that goes missing every year is impossible. Often the identification tag either isn't there or somehow gets ripped off--or the bag goes to the wrong airport. During a nine-month period last year, 2 million travelers who flew on the 10 largest airlines reported lost or mishandled bags. Airlines eventually returned 98 percent of them to their owners. Jr. chess gains popularity
Coming soon: chess moms?
With its adult membership down and its finances dwindling, the U.S. Chess Federation nearly canceled this year's national chess championships. But a pair of Seattle philanthropists, Erik Anderson and Scott Oki, saved the day: They founded the Seattle Chess Federation and bought the rights to hold the national championships in Seattle for the next 10 years. Yasser Seirawan, Joel Benjamin, and Alexander Shabalov tied in this year's championship on Oct. 6. But don't think the game's popularity is subsiding. The U.S. Chess Federation may be losing adult members, but its scholastic membership jumped from 4,000 to 60,000 in the last decade. Online chess is on the rise as well, with the Internet Chess Club featuring thousands of dues-paying members from 70 countries going head-to-head. Interest seems especially high in Washington state, which now draws several hundred players to its state junior championships. "It's kind of a phenomenon, the way soccer was 20 years ago," said Lori Osseward, chess club coordinator at two schools in Seattle.

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