Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Casualty of 'peace'," March 24, 2001

Gone with the wind?
What a confusing period! One day the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is hinting strongly, in response to criticism from the right, that it is dropping the idea of making direct grants to religious organizations and moving to vouchers. The next day the grants are back-maybe. Why the confusion? One reason is that a Democrat is orating about a Republican idea. "Compassionate conservatism" is conservative, with an emphasis on deregulation, decentralization, and individuals helping others one-to-one. Steve Goldsmith, Republican mayor of Indianapolis for eight years, and a pioneer in trimming bureaucracy and helping small faith-based groups, was a key domestic policy adviser to George W. Bush during the campaign. He understands compassionate conservatism very well. Mr. Goldsmith was a 10-1 favorite early in January to head the faith-based office, but several informed sources have told WORLD that some inner-circle Bush advisers had soured on him during the course of the campaign. Mr. Goldsmith, understanding bureaucratic opposition to change, wanted a White House office with enough firepower to go head-to-head with potentially recalcitrant cabinet secretaries. When the offer to head a very small office did come to him via Bush adviser Karen Hughes, he reportedly said, "I'll make a counter-offer," to which Mrs. Hughes is said to have responded, "You don't counter-offer the president." Mr. Goldsmith was soon out of the running, and White House sources tell WORLD that on Jan. 24, with the faith-based office publicly scheduled to be introduced in a presidential ceremony five days later, no decision had yet been reached as to the person who would head the office. On Jan. 29, President Bush announced the sudden and surprising pick: John DiIulio, a registered Democrat, informal adviser to both the Bush and Gore campaigns, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In the absence of another strong candidate, Mr. DiIulio's profile was attractive in several ways. President Bush had succeeded in bringing one Democrat into a minor cabinet position, and here was another he could point to as evidence of a bipartisan spirit. Mr. DiIulio is Catholic, and that could assuage concerns that the faith-based plan would favor evangelical Protestants. He has good contacts with some Washington media honchos who tend to prefer big-government approaches. Those press contacts helped the faith-based program get off to a positive public-relations start. In recent weeks, though, Mr. DiIulio's apparent preference for a discretionary grants approach that gives officials great power-with eligibility defined in a way that excludes many of the most committed and effective evangelical groups-has alarmed Republican core constituencies. Mr. DiIulio has spent too much time talking about the grants he would like to hand out, and too little time explaining the need for regulatory reform, tax-code reform, and the problems of religious discrimination among many corporate and foundation grant-making programs. (For related stories, see pages 27 and 66.) The result could be called Gone with the Wind: It has taken not even two months to dissipate two years of effort to build up conservative Christian support for the faith-based initiative. "JESUS FREAKS" REMARK LAST STRAW
And good night
"Good night from New York. Crossfire is next ..." And with that, CNN anchor Stuart Varney had had enough of life in Ted Turner's crosshairs. The New York Daily News reported last week that Mr. Turner's latest slap at Christianity was the final straw for Mr. Varney. After Mr. Turner told CNN employees with ash-smudged foreheads on Ash Wednesday that they were "Jesus freaks" who ought to be working at the Fox News Channel ("Quotables," March 17, 2001), Mr. Varney quit "in a huff," the News reported. Mr. Varney, an economist and award-winning journalist, had also been struggling with CNN brass over the direction of the show he anchored, Moneyline NewsHour, wanting to bring broader political and economic coverage to the show's focus on stocks. His relationship with Mr. Turner soured last year after Mr. Varney asked Mr. Turner on the air about reports that ex-wife Jane Fonda was a born-again Christian. A few weeks later, Mr. Turner embarrassed Mr. Varney by publicly inviting longtime CNN financial news boss Lou Dobbs to come back and anchor Mr. Varney's show. HIP RETAILER'S NEW CATALOG REACHES A NEW LOW
Abercrombie & porn
If you have a teenage daughter, she probably learned much of her fashion sense from them. She probably picked up a good bit of her taste for hip-hugging Capri pants, skimpy tank tops, slouchy cargo khakis, high-riding plaid boxers, form fitting and midriff baring T-shirts, and frayed nylon surf wear from the doyens of cool at Abercrombie & Fitch. But the Spring Break 2001 edition of the clothing retailer's slick quarterly catalog moves from those small steps to the large leaps of group sex, homoeroticism, exhibitionism, and pornography. Really. I'm not making this up. The new edition, appropriately entitled "XXX," features 275 pages of fresh-faced, clean-cut, and innocent-as-the-dawn teen models cavorting in various stages of dress and undress-mostly the latter-in an exotic Bermuda beach-front setting. Mixed with the spring line of logo wear, jeans, polos, cargo shorts, and ball caps are profiles of various porn stars, angry lesbians, embittered author-ingrates, and grizzled rock-and-rollers offering their best advice on how and where to indulge in the joys of privileged promiscuity and pompous perversity. The flagrant flaunting of moral convention evident in the catalog's nudity, group sex scenes, wild wave raves, and flirtatious drug use is really nothing new in the world of high fashion. Calvin Klein and Benneton have toyed with such mores for years. What is shocking about Abercrombie's porn is that no one seems to notice. No one seems to care. This mainstay of the American mall culture appears to be able to prance about in its Fellini-like debauchery with total impunity. The young models-many of them sporting the oh-so-haute piercings, tattoos, and tribal markings of modern college barbarians-appear to be having a swell time. They strip off one another's clothes, skinny dip together, envelop one another in sensuous group poses, and receive the counsel of their elders on just the right porno books, videos, and "toys" to buy to get themselves in just the right frame of mind, body, and soullessness. The Abercrombie porn demonstrates not only the depravity of the New York fashion industry. When wickedness is protected, a culture is corrupt. But when the wickedness is defended by rationalizations about personal autonomy and lawless relativism, has the culture collapsed, and does it remains in place only out of habit and convenience? Abercrombie porn is thus not just one more outrageous example of how we happily rush to the malls in order to buy the rope to hang ourselves. It is a sad demonstration that America has fallen into the hands of the revolutionaries-and many of our daughters have giddily joined the ranks of the enemy. -George Grant MAN KNOWS NOT HIS TIME
Morton Downey Jr.
The big mouth is closed for good. Morton Downey Jr. died of pneumonia at age 68 after a long bout with lung cancer. His TV talk show lasted only two years, but it paved the way for the trash that litters daytime TV today. Mr. Downey's flash-in-the-pan success from 1987 to 1989 came by putting on a show that was like the old Phil Donahue program on steroids. Unlike his successors, he tried to talk about serious issues, but in a vulgar, lowbrow fashion. Mr. Downey would call guests "slimebuckets," "scum," and "pablum pukers." "It got out of control because the producers … wanted me to top myself every night," he said in the early 1990s. "If I did something outlandish on Monday night, on Tuesday night we'd have to think of something even more outlandish." Before he started blowing cigarette smoke in people's faces, Mr. Downey had been a more serious man. His website resumé includes stints as a pro-life lobbyist and a Democratic organizer. The son of a famous bandleader, he once attended Valley Christian University, a tiny, now-defunct Bible college in Fresno. Mr. Downey is also known for the early 1980s Sacramento radio talk show that was replaced by Rush Limbaugh's debut. Through the 1990s, his comeback attempt fizzled. Downey spent his last days playing bit parts in movies and campaigning against tobacco, openly renouncing his decades-long smoking habit once his cancer was found. ARAFAT, SHARON SQUARE OFF, DESPITE EARLY PLEDGES OF GOODWILL; MIDDLE EAST PEACE IN SERIOUS JEOPARDY
Holbrooke: Most serious crisis since '73?
No one expected the honeymoon between Israel's new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to last. In the same week, Mr. Sharon finally succeeded in forming a coalition government after winning elections over Ehud Barak, and Mr. Arafat opened a new session of his legislative council. It was the first since Palestinians began the latest intifada, or uprising, against Israelis last September. Both leaders agreed to reexamine their approaches to the peace process, and to try to meet face-to-face soon. But violence in Palestinian territories and Israel's response quickly led instead to talk of more war. Thirty people were killed in the West Bank during the following days, and violence intensified as Israeli Defense Forces kept a seal on some Palestinian cities. Israel's forces say the blockade has been necessary to prohibit Islamic militants from carrying out threats to bomb key sites in Jerusalem. The ongoing strife caused former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke to warn, "The Middle East is on the brink of the most explosive crisis it has faced since 1973." He said the Bush administration could not afford to disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and warned other nations not to underestimate the danger posed by Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The Iraq regime announced March 11 that several thousand Iraqis had begun military training to fight alongside Palestinians. MASKED REBEL FEELS "HUMILIATED"
Shadowy Zapatistas stage public protest, make demands of Fox
Rebel leader Subcommander Marcos rode into Mexico City March 11 with a caravan of 23 Zapatista commanders to demand recognition from the government of Vincente Fox. It was the most prominent public protest ever staged by the normally reclusive Marcos. The rebel contingent, completing a 15-day march to the capital from its base in Chiapas, received a thunderous reception from gathered crowds. Response from Mexico's legislature was more tepid. The Zapatistas demand Indian rights legislation and withdrawal of troops from Chiapas. The masked Marcos demanded to address a full session of Congress, calling a proposal to meet with a legislative commission "humiliating." He vowed to stay in the capital until the government recognized the rights of indigenous Indians. EUROPE FACES NEW LIVESTOCK SCARE; 215 OUTBREAKS REPORTED
Something's rotten
Europe's second livestock epidemic could prove more costly than its first. A widespread outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain was confirmed on March 14 to have spread to French cattle. European livestock owners have already weathered quarantines due to mad cow disease. Meat buyers worldwide, including the United States, moved to ban the importation of animal products from the European Union after the disease was discovered among sheep in northwest France. American travelers who have visited European farms may be required to have feet, shoes, and luggage disinfected upon entering the United States. The highly contagious disease, although not dangerous to humans, strikes cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, pigs, and cows, either killing the animals or reducing their production of milk and meat. In Britain at least 215 separate outbreaks have been discovered, and thousands of cattle have been slaughtered as a result. Rural leaders are asking Prime Minister Tony Blair to postpone nationwide elections expected in May because many of those regions are closed to traffic. NETS: RATINGS WARS, AFFILIATE BATTLES
High Finance
Big-money TV shows are a lot like big-money athletes. Which explains why NBC is willing to ink a three-year contract worth $5 million per episode to keep Frazier-in part, to keep the show off other networks. Even though Frazier finishes second to ABC's Millionaire game show on Tuesday night, it remains an important franchise. The Frazier character aired on Cheers for 11 years and the spin-off will have lasted that long once its current contract runs out. This latest big-money deal comes as the foundation of network TV feels a tremor of affiliate revolt. More than 600 TV stations complained to the FCC that the major networks have too much influence over what local viewers see. At stake are rules that require affiliates to carry almost all programming on the network feed or risk losing their contract. This effectively keeps local stations from dumping low-rated national shows for homemade or syndicated shows. Another problem is the way networks promote ancillary services. On-air promotions tout cable networks like MSNBC or websites that draw viewers away from the affiliates. If the station isn't a network O&O (owned and operated), it loses revenue. But if the FCC forces a change in network-affiliate relations that strengthens the hand of affiliates, local TV may regain the personality it had a generation ago. Through the 1980s, stations were likely to supplement national programming with local and regional fare, including specials, talk shows, documentaries, and even dramas. As costs went up and ratings went down, this dwindled to simply the local news and some sports programming. APRIL 15 LOOMS; SOME LOOK TO MAKE THEIR OWN TAX CUT
IRA: Invest right away
With the IRS' 1040 filing deadline approaching fast, thousands of Americans are scrambling to get their share in the Great Middle Class Tax Shelter: the Individual Retirement Account. The rush is on to deposit up to $2,000 in a traditional IRA in time to deduct the contribution from last year's taxes. With this sort of account, taxpayers can deposit $2,000 in their IRAs every year until they turn 72 H. The money goes in tax-free and the government only collects on withdrawals. The IRS allows people to deduct deposits for a year up until they file their tax returns. This produces a rush to write checks that many say gives the stock market a boost in March and April. Tax-and-spend types may grumble about this, but the IRA stands as the lone major alternative right now to Social Security. Supporters say it not only holds back the tax collector, but also encourages people to invest wisely. The financial industry loves these accounts, with banks and brokers begging for the attention of account-holders who will keep their money in one place for years. With retirement approaching, aging baby boomers are giving lots of attention to IRAs. Yet even college students are trying to get in early, so that their money has a longer time to grow. GETTING WIRED: STARBUCKS TO ZURICH AND TO CYBERSPACE
Swiss bliss?
Get ready for a double shot of culture shock. The people who made espresso mass-market already have an empire reaching from Seattle to Shanghai to Dubai-and now they're heading into Switzerland. Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz says he picked Zurich because it mixes German, French, and Italian culture. If he can make it there, he reasons, he can make it anywhere: "The Europeans, in particular, are quite pleasantly surprised when they taste Starbucks for the first time, because American coffee has had a bad reputation for so long." But the good reputation of Starbucks-4,000 locations strong-is all about uniformity: The skim milk cafe au lait you order in Seattle is almost exactly the one you'll get in St. Louis. Will it play in Zurich? After all, European countries have their own tastes in coffee. Meanwhile, as Starbucks' patrons get wired on caffeine, the cafes may be getting wired to the Internet. Starbucks announced a deal with Microsoft back in January to bring high-speed Net access to their stores.

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