Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Showing the alternative," April 21, 2001

Death and taxes
The founding fathers may have given the House of Representatives the power of the purse, but the White House still has to produce a budget, which the congressional opposition then annually declares "dead on arrival." But when TeamBush released its first budget, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle announced: "This may be the first budget in history that wasn't just dead on arrival, it was dead before arrival." White House budget director Mitch Daniels didn't mince words when he took the podium in the White House briefing room to defend the spending blueprint. When ABC's Terry Moran forwarded the liberal line that TeamBush is making "painful cuts" to create room for the "tax cut for the rich," Mr. Daniels said such a comment is "completely fallacious. I think fatuous might be a better word." After the tax cut and plans to add a new prescription-drug entitlement for the elderly, he said the Bush budget projects more than $800 billion lying around uncommitted over 10 years. Mr. Daniels hopes the Senate's budget becomes dead on arrival in the House-Senate conference committee, which will work out a compromise between the two bodies' versions of the budget. While the House passed the president's tax cut intact, the Senate set aside $300 billion out of the $1.6 trillion tax-relief plan for more government programs, creating an annual spending growth rate of 8 percent. In Washington, this qualifies one as a "moderate," the sensible appellation mainstream reporters gave Senate Republicans who joined Democrats in watering down the tax cut. But that 8 percent spending growth rate is hardly moderate: At that rate, Congress would spend $3 trillion of the projected surpluses over the next 10 years, almost twice as much as the projected "cost" of the Bush tax-cut plan. -Tim Graham, at the White House DIULIO CHANGES COURSE: ANTI-DISCRIMINATION NOW THE NORM AT WHITE HOUSE FAITH-BASED OFFICE
A new start
It was a different John DiIulio who spoke on April 11 at a press conference called by the Coalition of Compassion. Some 30 organizations have joined this ad hoc group (see WORLD, April 7) formed to support compassionate conservative principles and to press the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to hold firmly to them in the face of criticism from the left. Mr. DiIulio, embattled head of that office, on April 11 praised Teen Challenge, a thoroughly religious program of the sort that he had previously labeled as ineligible for government grants, and said, "that's a program that has as much right to apply as any other program." He emphasized the need to "do away with the discriminatory governmental rules and regulations that ... frustrate rather than foster effective street-level responses to social problems." His appearance came after behind-the-scene efforts that produced an agreement between Mr. DiIulio and conservative critics in several crucial areas:

  • Faith-based programs, to be eligible for federal support should they seek it, will not have to separate their faith from their teaching and counseling, so that some hours of the day are "religious" and some "nonreligious."
  • There will be no discrimination against groups that stress proselytizing, as long as individuals in need have the opportunity to choose secular alternatives.
  • Government funds will not be used to pay for religious instruction or instructional material, but faith-based groups with pervasively religious approaches will be eligible to receive funding for other expenses equivalent to what other government grantees receive. In practice, this means that an evangelical or Orthodox Jewish class teaching about budgeting and saving by citing biblical verses as normative will receive treatment equal to that of a secular program. Or, a group that believes addicts and alcoholics have holes in their souls that should be filled by Christ will be evaluated by its results on the same basis as an organization that follows another treatment model.

With an anti-discrimination plank now in place, the major remaining topic for discussion among conservatives concerns the advantages of tax credits over grants. -Marvin Olasky IT'S OFFICIAL: EUTHANASIA NOW HAS FULL PROTECTION OF THE LAW IN THE NETHERLANDS
Dutch (mis)treat
The Dutch Senate on April 9 made the Netherlands the first country to legalize euthanasia. That gives doctor-assisted suicide full protection under law, though it's an open secret that "mercy killings" have gone on for years. Even without the law, Dutch doctors dispatched some 5,000 patients a year and were rarely prosecuted. Still, sanctioning the practice in law marked a significant departure from civilized standards and brought Christians out in droves to protest: "Euthanasia is still murder," read some of the demonstrators' placards. "We don't have the right to decide about matters of life and death, but God does," said 19-year-old Henrico van der Hoek as he walked past parliament. Health Minister Els Borst cheered the decision, saying that some 90 percent of the population backed the changes. Amsterdam's daily Trouw took issue with Mr. Borst's reading of public opinion and said being the first nation in the world to approve medical killing "is nothing to be proud of." Under the new law, slated to take effect this summer, a commission composed of at least one lawyer, one doctor, and one expert on medical ethics will review each case. The bill says that the doctor must terminate the patient's life or provide assistance with suicide "with due medical care and attention." SCIENTISTS SAY THEY'VE FOUND A SUBSTITUTE FOR FETAL STEM CELLS
Baby-saving fat?
Hey, Pudge: Put away that ab glider you received for Christmas. Your love handles may be a big asset to science. Researchers from UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh think ordinary fat may be a new source for stem cells in medical procedures, and if they're right, it will give pro-lifers another argument against the use of fetal stem cells taken from aborted babies. The team of scientists reports it has grown bone, cartilage, and muscle from fat tissue. The journal Tissue Engineering reports that scientists hope to repair patients' bodies with cells from their own fat tissue. It's too early to say how well tissue derived from fat will work, but laboratory-engineered tissue, the team hopes, could come within five years. On the other hand, fat is so abundant that it could spark a new wave of biotechnology. "We hope one day to be able to remove diseased tissue or organs, harvest stem cells, and replace the lost tissues on the same day during the same operation," said Dr. Marc Hedrick of UCLA. "There is potential for regenerating a lot of different tissues, perhaps some day solid organs, glands, nerves, or brain tissue." This discovery comes as pro-lifers are trying to convince President Bush to block federal funding for studies that use embryonic or fetal cells. If fat cells work, adult cells will be easier to harvest and the option of using them becomes easier. PRESS CENSORS B.C. EASTER STRIP
Newspaper Christophobia
Some leading newspapers are once again banning a B.C. comic strip (see WORLD, April 20, 1996). As cartoonist Johnny Hart observed about his experiences with Christmas and Easter strips, where he customarily has a message that focuses on Christ, "whenever I try to honor this man of men for whom these days are set aside, hackles go up." This year's Easter strip first shows a lamp with seven lit branches, along with the words: "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do." As the strip continues, the fire in each branch goes out until only one is left. Next to it is a cross lit by a smoldering fire. The last frame shows a cross in the distance; nearby is a cave with a flask of wine and a loaf of bread. The caption states, "Do this in remembrance of me." This year's rationale for excluding this particular strip seems to be that it might offend some Jewish readers, who might see it as suggesting that a Christian cross has replaced a Jewish lamp, or that Jews are particularly responsible for the death of Christ. But Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor in chief of JewishWorldReview.com, noted that "the message contained is one of love, not hate." He said that Mr. Hart, as a person serious about belief in God, "has lots of fans who are Orthodox Jews." FCC issues new television guidelines
Cleaner air?
What can't be said on television? The FCC on April 6 issued guidelines for broadcasters about what is or is not considered indecent programming. While intended to clarify policy, it may open the door to more explicit content on the air. For a TV or radio program to get in trouble, its content must fit within the FCC's standard of indecency: programming that describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities and is patently offensive to an average viewer or listener. Programming that breaks this rule is only banned within certain hours when the FCC expects children to be awake: between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The new ruling supposedly clarified what "patently offensive" means. It replaces the old "seven dirty words" rule of thumb that dates back decades. Sexual innuendo or double-entendres may be allowed if they are used only in passing. If the references are audible, unmistakable, or used repeatedly, they may be indecent. Also the type of programming is considered; thus a shock-jock radio show faces tougher scrutiny than Oprah Winfrey. Commissioner Gloria Tristani, who frequently scolds the FCC for dismissing indecency complaints without investigation, said the guidelines are unnecessary and could become a "how-to manual for those licensees who wish to tread the line drawn by our cases." She said the agency should toughen its approach to indecency and broadcast standards. The loopholes here are enormous. Since the FCC doesn't monitor for content, it relies on complaints from viewers or listeners. While the agency has the power to fine or even revoke a license over content, enforcement is sporadic. These new rules may make it harder for people to demonstrate that what they saw on TV or heard on the radio is indecent. -Chris Stamper Once-popular clown falls victim to cable competition
Bozo bows out
Say goodbye to the big red nose. After 40 years on TV, Bozo the Clown goes off the air in August. Chicago's WGN plans to drop what was once one of the most popular shows in television history. The Bozo Show was the dominant example of the local kids' shows that ran all over the country, with a host-surrounded by an audience of kids-who performed antics in between cartoons. The character was syndicated to various TV stations around the country that created their own version with local performers. Bozo's owner, Larry Harmon, trained 200 different actors to play Bozo for 183 different versions; Willard Scott was Washington's Bozo before being hired for the famous part of Ronald McDonald. Over time, the WGN version was left as the only survivor and was seen nationally on cable TV. With Bob Bell (who died in 1997) and later Joey D'Auria, the show boasted waiting lists for tickets that were booked several years in advance. The station blamed the final demise on the popularity of Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, along with the popularity of morning news shows. Mr. Harmon wants to use the cancellation as the chance to update his product. "On a national scale, we've wanted to launch a new kind of production of Bozo for some time now," he said, "but our commitments in Chicago have prevented us from moving forward." As the economy slows, Americans continue to pile up debt
Living large
Charge it! Even in a potential recession, Americans still spend heavily with credit cards and have a harder time paying those monthly bills. Recent economic numbers show consumers shopping up a storm this year. Total consumer credit increased by a seasonally adjusted $13.5 billion in February, according to the Federal Reserve. That's considerably more than the $9.3 billion increase expected by analysts. Some economists point out that rising debt in a declining economy means some people are borrowing money to meet current needs. The news also suggests that some people may not be prepared to handle hard times. "If you are the slightest bit hesitant about your financial future, you don't accumulate credit card debt at a 19.9 percent annualized pace," said Richard Yamarone, an economist for Argus Research Corp. Even if no recession comes, things could get tougher for people with heavy obligations. According to a report by David Wyss, Standard & Poor's chief economist, the average American household now owes 107 percent of its annual income.

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