Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Tax man's terror," April 14, 2001

Perfect crisis
A collision between an American spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter has handed China a rich opportunity to assert its growing military prowess, to pluck U.S. intelligence data from one of the most sophisticated planes in the world, and to reshape U.S.-China relations. The U.S. Navy EP-3E reconnaissance plane and its 24 crewmembers made an emergency landing on Hainan Island after a Chinese F-8 bumped the belly of the plane. For months the Chinese fighters have been shadowing U.S. surveillance planes, sometimes flying as close as 50 feet, prompting a protest from the United States last December. Defense experts say the U.S. Navy had stepped up its surveillance of the waters off China in anticipation of the introduction of one, possibly two, new classes of Chinese subs, with the capability of threatening U.S. aircraft carriers. The incident cost China the fighter aircraft and its still-missing pilot, but yielded a lode of highly classified U.S. military technology. Navy pilots safely guided the plane (roughly the size of a Boeing 737) onto Hainan's military airstrip, without landing flaps, after the plane plunged 8,000 feet. Chinese guards surrounded and boarded the craft, bringing out the crew of 21 men and three women at gunpoint. Later, according to U.S. intelligence satellite images, soldiers of the People's Liberation Army were seen removing equipment. U.S. officials believe the crew destroyed the most sensitive data during the 26 minutes between the accident and landing, but the successful capture of the EP-3 is an unprecedented windfall for China's military. As the Bush administration weathered its first international crisis, one trend emerged. Even with the Pentagon at the center of this storm, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the five-star general and former chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs, emerged as the president's spokesman. Mr. Powell issued a carefully worded apology for the death of the Chinese pilot while refusing to take full responsibility for the incident. Resolution to the crisis and future U.S.-China relations will hinge on where blame comes to rest. But as the crisis appeared likely to enter a second week, defense analysts worried about Mr. Bush's handling of China. "Ronald Reagan had fired the air traffic controllers by this time," noted Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, "and it sent a signal around the world that his was a get-tough presidency." Mrs. Donnelly, who also served on the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, told WORLD that Americans should not overlook the significance of women among the EP-3's crew members. At least one of two service women captured during the Persian Gulf War was sexually assaulted. And military training exercises have shown that when women are taken captive, male co-captives are more vulnerable to intimidation and torture for the sake of their female counterparts. Chinese officials noted that they had separated crew members for questioning. Mrs. Donnelly said: "For the whole nation to be desensitized to the idea of women in a combat situation would be a step backward for women's rights, not forward." WHITE HOUSE BRIEFER TAKES BREAK, ENJOYS OPENING DAY, AS HIS PINCH HITTER WHIFFS ON TOUGH QUESTIONS
I'll be brief
The joke at the White House on baseball's opening day was whether the National League should have a "designated briefer" rule. As hard news broke out on the collision of U.S. and Chinese aircraft and Chinese detention of the American plane's crew, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was in New York with Mayor Rudy Giuliani watching the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals. Mr. Fleischer insisted White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had urged employees to take occasional three-day weekends, and this trip was long planned. The high and tight pitches brushed back Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan. He took the podium for only 20 minutes!51;about half the usual allotted time!51;but took so many questions on the fast-evolving China story that he had time to declare "I have no information on that" seven times, and referred reporters to the State Department or the Pentagon 10 times. !51;Tim Graham, at the White House WORLD IN BRIEF
Yugoslavia to UN: We'll handle our own thugs, thanks very much
After an intense 36-hour standoff outside the home of Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslav police arrested the former dictator on April 1. His successful detention proved that a properly motivated democracy could succeed where United Nations peacekeepers had failed. Mr. Milosevic was indicted by the United Nations in 1999 for war crimes stemming from ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians, but never apprehended. Now that the dirty work is done, the tribunal, along with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is demanding the headline defendant. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is saying not so fast. He told a tribunal team, which showed up in Belgrade last week with a warrant for Mr. Milosevic, that the former president will be tried in his own country by his fellow citizens first. Mr. Kostunica's stand is likely to get support from Washington. Although former President Clinton moved to endorse an international criminal court system, Mr. Bush's State Department!51;unlike its European counterparts!51;clearly prefers back-channel pressure to get the Yugoslav regime to take care of its own thugs. Holland: there they go again
"There are two reasons to rejoice," Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen told newlyweds in a civil ceremony at City Hall in the Dutch capital. "You are celebrating your marriage and you are also celebrating your right to be married." These were the first to be wed under the Netherlands' new same-sex marriage law. Homosexual activists around the world also joined the gathering, which marked a milestone in their attempts to redefine marriage. The U.S. Congress and 34 states have reaffirmed marriage as the union between a man and a woman. David Orgon Coolidge, director of the Marriage Law Project, said the new law is only one more sign of Dutch extremism: "This is the country that has legalized drugs, prostitution, and euthanasia. Why are we surprised if same-sex 'marriage' joins the list?" YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: EDUCATION DEPT. LOSES $450 MILLION
Government the 'Third World' way
Where did all the money go? The Education Department's chief inspector said the agency lost track of $450 million through waste, fraud, and errors. In one case, federal education bureaucrats paid $250 million in grants twice before the recipients sent back the extra payments. The department lost an estimated $200 million through unauthorized purchases and fraud. Education has a $44.5 billion annual budget and manages billions more in student loans. The inspector reported that money was stolen, improperly spent, never distributed, or sent twice. "In many ways it starts to look like a Third World republic that we're dealing with here," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) about the revelations. Congress has been scrutinizing the department's books since discovering a pair of theft schemes in which $3 million in grants was stolen. An audit found that $23 million in unsupervised checks were written between May 1998 and September 2000. It also found that credit cards were used to buy items that could be used for personal purposes, including computers, software, cell phones, and Internet service. Department policy lists computers, for example, as items that shouldn't be purchased on credit cards. "Does that rise to the level of a scandal for any of you?" said Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.). "I know I'm not in charge, but if I were I'd shut that department down" until the financial problems were resolved. HOW LOW WILL IT GO?
Wall Street limbo
That's gotta hurt. With stocks still tumbling and earnings declining, the stock watcher's game of calling a bottom has become a cruel joke. The first three months of 2001 made up one of Wall Street's worst quarters in decades. Numerous companies were cut in half and bargain hunting has barely begun. Earnings warnings from blue chips like American Express and P&G add to the problem. Analysts say investors are either running for the exits or waiting for equities to get even cheaper. "There is just no reason to be a buyer," said Richard E. Cripps, chief market strategist for Legg Mason of Baltimore. "Even though stock prices are low, investors don't feel they are low enough." Market psychology makes stocks more attractive when prices are high and less so when they fall. People tend to expect recent performance to continue indefinitely. This tendency also tempts stockholders to load up the truck at all-time highs and dump everything in bear markets. The financial world is also feeling pain; Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, and Citigroup all announced layoffs. Ameritrade also announced maintenance fees of $15 per quarter for accounts holding less than $2,000 or which have not made at least four trades over the last six months. Last year E*Trade announced a similar plan, a sign that the industry is shying away from smaller investors. An impending recession also has some worried about global ramifications. Fed chairman Alan Greenspan complained that the downturn could make protectionism popular again: "That would create some very significant problems for the American economy." Mr. Greenspan is still regularly criticized for fueling the downturn by ratcheting up interest rates through last year. Now observers expect the Fed to make more cuts in the near future to pump more liquidity into the American economy. CONTROVERSIAL NOMINEE SAILS THROUGH PANEL UNCHALLENGED
Bush's James Hormel
Conservative groups held their fire when President Bush gave liberal Republican Christie Todd Whitman a cabinet job. But now they're up in arms over the president's pick for ambassador to Canada: liberal Republican Paul Cellucci, governor of Massachusetts. So what's the big deal, eh? Boston Herald columnist Don Feder points out that Republicans opposed gay activist James Hormel when President Clinton named him ambassador to Luxembourg, and "when it comes to pushing the gay agenda, no governor has gone as far as Cellucci." Mr. Feder noted that the state, on Mr. Cellucci's watch, funded a homosexual how-to conference at Tufts University last March, and has increased funding for the Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth from $250,000 to $1.5 million. "No other state earmarks public funds for homosexual activism," said Mr. Feder. None of this came up in a 40-minute hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 4. Mr. Cellucci faced only six questions. "Short is good," the Massachusetts governor commented as he headed back to Boston, his confirmation all but certain. Committee chairman Jesse Helms didn't even attend the hearing; the senator has submitted written questions. Richard Lessner, executive director of American Renewal, the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council, told WORLD his group began privately opposing the nomination to White House officials when the intention to nominate Mr. Cellucci was announced in February. "These questions go to the very core of what the Republican Party and what this president stands for, and what he said as a candidate." Pressure from the White House to proceed is intense, since officials there want Mr. Cellucci installed in time for the Summit on the Americas in Quebec City from April 20 to 22. THAT'S MY BUSH! DEBUTS: "Laura, I'm going to punch you"
This is toned down?
Can anyone imagine Hollywood creating a TV comedy series featuring Bill Clinton threatening his wife with violence and overseeing an execution in the White House to entertain college buddies? We didn't think so. But that's what Comedy Central is doing to President Bush with the new show That's My Bush! Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the minds behind the obscene cartoon South Park, created the new sitcom. Protests from outside groups preceded Comedy Central's vetoing of plans to include the Bush daughters in the lampoon ("Comedy conscience," Feb. 10). The first episode has the president telling the first lady, "One of these days, Laura, I'm going to punch you in the face!" In the second show, the Bush character presides over what he thinks is a prank execution for his Yale buddies. As the man is mistakenly killed, he sings "Another One Bites the Dust" and makes flatulence jokes about the gas chamber. We suppose Comedy Central expects applause for toning it down. PT Cruiser is a hit with baby boomers
Dad's car
Is the PT Cruiser the start of a trend? The retro-style model is a happy spot in a lousy year for DaimlerChrysler, which is ramping up production to meet demand. It also is the forefront of a growing style: the crossover utility vehicle (CUV), a marriage of car, truck, and SUV. Merrill Lynch research estimates that such models will account for 15 percent of new cars sold in the United States between now and 2004, though most won't have the retro design distinctives. The PT (for Personal Transportation) Cruiser is a tall wagon wrapped in sheet metal shaped like something from the street scenes in an old movie. The grille and triangular nose are a stark contrast to many of today's blob-like cars and SUVs. Popular Mechanics editor in chief Joe Oldham last year called the car "just too darn cute." The retro sensation is like that of the New Beetle, which became a fad item during the late 1990s. The PT Cruiser's look may remind aging baby boomers of the post-war cars their dads drove decades ago. It was intended to drive a new group of owners toward Chrysler!51;and it may have succeeded too well. Critics say the manufacturer didn't realize it had such a hit until it was breaking sales records, and then it had to scramble to meet demand. With cars selling for about $22,000, the PT Cruiser certainly fits the inexpensive-luxury category. At one point Chrysler stopped taking new orders and canceled some old ones. Many owners report waiting weeks and even months for delivery. The PT Cruiser is succeeding with a retro design just as DaimlerChrysler is killing off the venerable Plymouth line. An entire generation has grown up since the 1970s oil shocks killed the muscle cars and tamed car design. Now the pendulum is swinging back. !51;Chris Stamper Fox hunting under attack in Britain
Hounded into extinction
One of the English-speaking world's oldest sports, fox hunting, may soon be washed out by the leftist tide. The push is on to get the once-honored aristocratic tradition banned in Britain. Letting hounds chase and kill foxes doesn't fare well in the era of animal rights. Prime Minister Tony Blair himself supports a ban and polls say most Brits today oppose the sport. After years of debate, the House of Commons early this year passed an anti-hunt bill by a 387-174 vote. The House of Lords, which can delay legislation, soundly rejected two different versions. That may be enough to stall the ban before the election of a new Parliament in May, which would force supporters to resubmit it. Considering the political climate, however, the days of horsemen galloping after a pack of hounds are probably numbered. Fox hunting's defenders say that opponents understand neither centuries-old customs nor country life. "It has everything to do with liberty and the freedom to do what you want on your land as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else," hunter Philip Marcq said. The sport is still legal in the United States and a small, devoted core dons the red coats, white breeches, and black boots. According to the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, 171 organized clubs exist in North America, and they boast George Washington as a forebear. Man knows not his time
An old-school newsman
"They don't make 'em like 'Rowlie' anymore." That's what Robert Novak wrote about his deceased partner Rowland Evans. Perhaps the greatest team in op-ed history ended after 38 years when the senior half died of cancer last month at age 79. The duo did more than simply riff on the latest headlines. They did serious, original reporting about Washington's inner worlds. Their first appearance together was a column about Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign; their last was a CNN program grilling Dennis Hastert about the capital-gains tax. Mr. Evans was an old-school newsman, constantly talking to sources and hitting them with questions; his contacts ranged from Robert Kennedy to Yitzhak Rabin. He was born into Philadelphia's high society, but WWII and a stint in the Marine Corps cut off his Ivy League grooming at Yale after the freshman year. When he returned from duty he went into journalism and never looked back. Mr. Novak took over most of the team's work when Mr. Evans went into semi-retirement in 1993 and will continue under a solo byline. Evans & Novak showed that reporters could work hard and break solid news stories while admitting that they had a worldview.

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