Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "The 2000 vote," Nov. 4, 2000

Violence continues in Israel as Palestinian leaders shun negotiations
Middle East street brawl
At a Madrid peace summit in 1991, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir warned that any peace accord with Palestinians must be airtight. "A peace accord that fails to bring peace will prove to be far worse than no agreement at all," he predicted. The decade-long sound of air escaping from what became known as the Oslo accords has turned into a rushing wind. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, with a supporting cast of Arab extremists, moved his rhetoric toward war footing with Israel as U.S. military forces in the Middle East went on high alert last week. October fighting in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and parts of Jerusalem has left at least 130 dead and more than 4,000 injured. Despite mainstream media coverage sympathetic to Mr. Arafat, an unusual array of Mideast watchers are crying foul at the Palestinian Authority (PA) leader's provocative play for war. The independent Middle East Media Research Institute said that Mr. Arafat has deliberately shunned negotiations in favor of a street brawl. He has used PA-run media to fuel Palestinian fury, according to MEMRI head Yigal Carmon, with repeated calls for intifada, or uprising, against Israel. The present trouble began during U.S.-brokered talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Mr. Arafat. Pressed by the Clinton administration, Mr. Barak offered to share with Mr. Arafat sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and Mr. Arafat wanted a hand over it. While Mr. Barak was under condemnation at home for the concession, along with an offer to give up further territory in the West Bank, Mr. Arafat abruptly balked. He left the negotiating table without an agreement, and called for violence. Hassan Al-Keshef, the head of Mr. Arafat's information ministry, wrote in a newspaper op-ed, "The only way to impose our conditions is inevitably through our blood." PA leaders say they want a Palestinian state and total control of the Temple Mount. Messianic Jews and Christians in Jerusalem have managed to remain apart from both the political and street fray. "Most evangelicals attach very little importance to 'holy sites,'" said Baruch Maoz, a pastor and former head of the Messianic Action Committee. "So long as they can tour these sites, they will be satisfied." Missionary Beverley Timgren said many parts of Israel remain calm in spite of the chaos. To get to work in Tiberias, where she ministers to refugees from south Lebanon, she has switched from taking a bus route through Nazareth-and conflict areas-to having a friend drive her along Israel's coastal highway. She said that moderates on both sides "have lived together for years and want to continue to do so." Even so, security forces throughout the region are on alert. Reports of Iraqi troop movements toward Jordan were coupled with threats against U.S. forces in Bahrain and Quatar. Troops there went on the highest possible state of alert after the Pentagon said it received specific terrorist threats. But the heightened sense of caution came too late, according to one Pentagon official. An unnamed Defense Intelligence Agency officer resigned the day after terrorists attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39. According to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who interviewed the unidentified official for six hours last week, he quit the day after the attack on the U.S. destroyer to protest lack of attention by his Pentagon superiors to terrorist threat warnings he had provided before the incident. In an Oct. 13 resignation letter, the official said he prepared an assessment in June that predicted a terrorist attack in the Persian Gulf region. It was not incorporated into a final report to military commanders in the Gulf. He also said his assessment indicated potential for other major terrorist acts in the near future. -Mindy Belz Did AT&T miss new economy opportunity?
Disconnected
Long distance prices are dropping toward zero, leaving AT&T in a financial mess and forcing the telecommunications giant to take the path of US Steel and Woolworth. The company's bold plan to become a New Economy giant by combining Internet, cable TV, and phone service must be scrapped. AT&T spent more than $100 billion trying to transform itself, gobbling up cable giants TCI and MediaOne. Lost revenue from long distance hurt the plans for a new service network. Now AT&T is breaking up-again. This is the third split since the court-ordered Bell System breakup in 1984 and the spin-off of Lucent and NCR in 1996. The current AT&T will become four different companies-for wireless, cable, business, and consumer phone services-but they'll all use the AT&T name and blue logo. Focus' trout "violated" principles
Dobson co-host admits to affair
Mike Trout, 53, who resigned last month "for personal reasons" as co-host of James Dobson's popular Focus on the Family radio show (WORLD, "Compassion & justice," Oct. 21), emerged from seclusion briefly and filled in some of the blanks. He admitted to Eric Gorski of the Colorado Springs Gazette that he'd had an inappropriate relationship with a woman other than his wife. He said the relationship was "not a long-term thing" and it is over. Mr. Trout, father of three, said he was still trying to figure out why he became involved with another woman, whom he declined to identify-though he told the newspaper she was not a Focus employee. The former executive said he had worked at Focus for 19 years "because I believed in what we were doing. I know that might sound strange, because I violated it." Orthodox court in N.Y. excommunicates Democrat veep candidate for "misrepresenting and falsifying" Jewish teaching on morals
Liberal Lieberman
As Joseph Lieberman entered the final days of the presidential election campaign, the other shoe dropped. Three rabbis said to represent tens of thousands of traditional Orthodox Jews convened a rarely invoked beth din (house of judgment, or court) in Brooklyn and excommunicated the vice presidential candidate. The rabbis found him guilty of "misrepresenting and falsifying to the American people the teachings of the Torah against partial-birth infanticide, against special privileges and preferential treatment for flaunting homosexuals, and against religious intermarriage of Jews." Since traditional Orthodoxy is the fastest growing branch of Judaism, and since the Jewish community has voted overwhelmingly Democratic in past elections, the action is no small matter. Democratic strategists were counting on Mr. Lieberman, the first Jewish candidate on a national election ticket, and his reputation for integrity to wash away the bad taste left by Clintonian standards of morality. Although he belongs to the so-called modern wing of Orthodoxy, he observes many Orthodox practices (including synagogue attendance on Fridays, no work or travel on the Sabbath, and the like). At first, the American Jewish community generally praised the selection of Mr. Lieberman as Al Gore's running mate. But soon the ranks divided. The Anti-Defamation League called on him to stop talking about religion so much during political appearances. Many religious Jews applauded his vow to keep talking about religion. (In his memoir, In Praise of Life, he wrote that the Democratic Party had moved too far to the left: "We cast out religion and faith as having virtually no presence whatsoever in politics and public life.") But nothing he said touched a rawer nerve among Jewish people than when he said on a national radio show that in traditional Judaism there is "no ban whatsoever" on intermarriage. He "told a lie," New York legislator Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew, wrote in the New York Post. Orthodox rabbis and leaders across the country echoed that sentiment. In Los Angeles, "mystified" modern Orthodox rabbi Yosef Kanefsky said that "he knows that we know that this isn't true." Bear market taps daytrading
Cashing in their trading chips
Is daytrading dead? Maybe not, but this year's stock market downdraft means the practice isn't as attractive as during the go-go days of 1999. Last year, the Electronic Traders Association (ETA) said that between 4,000 and 5,000 people daytraded full time. Another 225,000 dabbled in it part time. Analysts say that number is sure to have dropped. TheStreet.com reported late last month that daytrading firms that cater to this crowd are competing fiercely for the remaining traders, even as mainstream outfits like Charles Schwab and Goldman Sachs are entering this market. Daytrading takes the already risky business of stock trading and turns it into a casino game. Traders constantly buy and sell stocks, trying to catch every move of the market. They buy on a downtick, sell on an uptick, and hold stocks for minutes or hours instead of months or years. In a bear market, stocks discover gravity and those upward moves become harder to find. The ETA admits in its ethics statement that "most people lose money in their initial trading period and that many will not ultimately become successful day traders." Daytrading is perfectly legal; after all, the IRS collects taxes on income from sales, and the constant buying and selling of stocks help support the cheap commissions at discount brokers like Ameritrade. But for many players, millions of dollars were tossed into the markets, only to vanish in a puff of Nasdaq. -Chris Stamper Great Britain mulls a fat tax
Heavy levy
Ready for a fat tax? People pay extra for beer and cigarettes, so should they shell out more for those greasy double cheeseburgers? Mo Malek, an advisor to Great Britain's socialized medical system, wants just that. He has called for a 15-cent tax on hamburgers to keep Brits from getting as fat and out-of-shape as Americans. The obesity plague, he said, "is a combination of sedentary lifestyles and the ready availability of fast food." McDonald's, of course, vehemently denies that it deals in obesity. A big section of the company's website describes the nutritional content of its products. (The lowest-fat sandwich option is the grilled chicken sandwich ordered without mayo.) "It's the total diet that counts," the company proclaims. "There are no good or bad foods." In this era of Starbucks coffee and rampant vegetarians, fast food is now politically incorrect but not slowing down. McDonald's and Burger King combined do about $28 billion in sales annually, according to The Food Institute Report. And the burger wars are heating up again. McDonald's plans a new menu addition-the Big N' Tasty-that it hopes will keep back competitor Burger King. massive auto club goes high tech, becomes political
Not your father's AAA
AAA is a quiet gorilla. It phased out its full name, American Automobile Association, in 1997, and boasts 42 million members in 83 local clubs and 4,600 auto shops. Known to millions as just "the auto club"-the place to call when their cars break down-the organization is trying to adapt to the 21st century. One of AAA's new ventures is in telematics, which is a budding industry of gadgets that let people communicate from their cars using hand-held devices instead of conventional cell phones. The club wants to let drivers get travel information or call for emergency help without having to leave their cars, ending the nightmare of trudging through a snowstorm toward a pay phone. To the surprise of many members, AAA also takes occasional (often liberal) political positions. The group opposed Congressional plans earlier this year to reduce the federal gas tax by 4.3 cents. It issued a statement that said the cut would save "only $1 per week for the average consumer." Most recently, some AAA chapters have lobbied cities and state legislatures to ban the use of cell phones while driving.

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