Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Summer Travel 2001," May 12, 2001

Taxes and nukes
White House officials could have spent last week suggesting: Why don't we review the first 105 days instead of just 100? Days after celebrating the 100-day mark by lunching with almost 200 members of Congress, President Bush announced he'd struck a deal with Capitol Hill on a plan to cut taxes by $1.35 trillion over 11 years, and to hold spending to a 5 percent rate of growth. "The agreement is the largest tax cut in a generation," said Mr. Bush, whose goal was a tax cut of $1.6 trillion over 10 years and spending growth of 4 percent. Last week, the president also went anti-ballistic, outlining the case for building a defense against nuclear attacks from rogue nations: "No treaty that prevents us from addressing today's threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interests or in the interests of world peace." Mr. Bush was referring to the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the former Soviet Union, a relic of the Cold War era, when the threat of mutually assured destruction kept the two superpowers from launching nuclear missiles at each other. That era would appear to be over. The president announced he would dispatch top aides to capitals in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Canada to discuss a new framework based on developing missile-defense systems that could be deployed on land, at sea, in the air, or in space. He promised to give allies "real consultations," not finished plans: an attempt to build support for his new strategic vision. The Pentagon may begin its joint missile-defense plans with sea-based systems, primarily the Aegis anti-missile technology recently denied to Taiwan. TV news anchors described missile defenses as "controversial," but did not note any poll numbers to support their claims. A CBS News/New York Times poll released in March found 75 percent favoring the missile-defense concept, with 81 percent saying building such a system is either "very important" or "somewhat important." A Los Angeles Times poll also discovered that by 59 to 31 percent the public "approves" of building a missile-defense system. -Tim Graham, at the White House CHENEY: NEW NAT'L ENERGY POLICY TO EMPHASIZE SUPPLY, NOT DEMAND
Energy in the executive
Up in Canada, "sweater weather" persists into spring. But in Toronto last week, when Vice President Dick Cheney previewed the White House's new national energy policy before a group of journalists, he offered no Jimmy Carter-esque talk of cardigans and conservation. Facing an oil embargo and long lines at gas stations, President Carter famously appeared on television in a sweater, urging Americans to turn down the heat and dress warmly. The current White House faces high gasoline prices and is warily keeping an eye on the energy crisis in California. But even though the vice president's panel investigating a new national energy policy isn't finished yet, Mr. Cheney made it clear the major problem is supply, not demand. Speaking to the annual meeting of the Associated Press on April 30, Mr. Cheney outlined the need to "get moving" on more energy development-declaring the need for an estimated 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants in the next 20 years-and wrapped up his remarks with some notes that weren't music to liberal ears: "The aim here is efficiency, not austerity. We all remember the energy crisis of the 1970s, when people in positions of responsibility complained that Americans used too much energy." The vice president insisted that the environmentalist mantra of "doing more with less" is not exactly a populist response to the latest energy-price shocks: "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy. People work very hard to get where they are. And the hardest working are the least likely to go around squandering energy, or anything else that costs them money. Our strategy will recognize that the present crisis does not represent a failing of the American people." FROM ONE SOLDIER TO ANOTHER
War is hell, but it's not forever
The past two weeks have produced much second-guessing of former Sen. Bob Kerrey's combat decision made 32 years ago, on a dark night deep in enemy territory, when the slightest sound could have been the one-second warning of violent death. Nearly every combat veteran of every war lives with some variation of this story-especially if he fought in a war where women and children were used as shields and combatants. The underlying lesson here concerns the depravity of man. During the Vietnam War I wielded an even blunter killing instrument than a knife and an M-16: I delivered napalm at jet speed and treetop height. I have always assumed that in the 268 combat missions I flew in an F-100, hundreds, maybe thousands of people died by my hand-including some of God's innocent women and children. World War II pilots feel the same about their endeavors. My fear of killing friendly troops, sometimes hunkered in a foxhole within 50 yards of the boiling avalanche of my napalm, far exceeded my fear of incinerating women and children. May God have mercy on my soul. Worst of all in my experience, I witnessed the spectacular death of my best friend in a massive mushroom-shaped fireball in a horrific midnight gunfight with anti-aircraft artillery. It stemmed entirely from my decision in the heat of battle. That personal tragedy is, too, utterly unexceptional in the appalling annals of warfare. I have just the slightest glimmer of what Generals MacArthur, Patton, and Eisenhower must have endured in the middle of the night, and I am anxious to talk some day with that mighty warrior, David. Living with awful memories is part and parcel of the price of freedom for those who fought for it. It's a key component of the deep unspoken bond among all patriots who have been trained to kill in war, who have experienced the terror and ecstasy of being shot at and missed for God and country. But war does not have to be hell for life. That same God has spelled out the requirements for forgiveness, and for the peace that passes all understanding. -J. D. Wetterling DEMOCRATS GNAW AT BUSH RECORD WITH ADVERTISING BLITZ
Pass the arsenic
Remember last fall, when journalists found that a fraction of a Republican TV ad highlighted the word "RATS" in bureaucrats? Democrats cried foul, and the Bush campaign quickly pushed the ad off the air. If that fracas was the height of incivility, how will the referees judge a recent ad put out by the Democratic National Committee? A little blond girl asks with a smile, "May I please have some more arsenic in my water, mommy?" A little boy asks, "More salmonella in my cheeseburger, please?" The ad then charges that Bush policies are bought by the chemical industry, the meat industry, and the oil industry. The White House mostly stuck to its change-the-tone mantra and refrained from a strong response: Spokesman Ari Fleischer merely decried "excessive partisanship" and Vice President Cheney called the ad "a bit of a cheap shot." When Bush political strategist Karl Rove called the ad "almost laughable" on NBC, interviewer Tim Russert shot back, "Well there's nothing inaccurate in that ad." But the ad's claim of an arsenic standard "rollback" ignores that the standard-50 parts per billion-remains the same as it's been for 50 years. Angela Logomasini, a water policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, explained: "In reality, scientists have not been able to produce a single study demonstrating that the current arsenic standard is not safe. If there is any risk, it's so low that it is virtually undetectable." HOUSE BIDS TO UNDO PRO-LIFE ORDER
Veto bait?
A House committee last week rebuffed pro-lifers and the Bush administration by approving a measure to give foreign aid to groups that promote abortion. Three Republicans-Reps. Benjamin Gilman and Amo Houghton of New York, and Jim Leach of Iowa-joined with all 23 of the Democrats on the House International Relations Committee to attempt an overturn of President Bush's first act after taking office. He issued an executive order banning the use of taxpayer funds to promote abortion in foreign lands. The pro-abortion initiative is one small part of the $8.2 billion bill that funds the U.S. Department of State. Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) denounced the measure, and warned his colleagues that gutting the pro-life policy would place the entire State Department funding bill at risk, because he expects a presidential veto. PHILIPPINES' POWER STRUGGLE: CORRUPT EX-PRESIDENT SITS INJAIL AS HIS PAID-FOR AGITATORS RIOT IN THE STREETS OF MANILA
Rent-a-mob crushed
Supporters of former Philippine President Joseph Estrada stormed the presidential palace in the early hours of May 1, vowing to take back the presidency. Police stopped the angry mob, according to one press account, only "a breath away" from the office of President Gloria Arroya, who replaced Mr. Estrada after he resigned over criminal charges. Violence has surrounded the Philippines' turbulent presidency since Mr. Estrada left office in January to face charges that he pocketed $82 million in kickbacks and payoffs since taking office in 1998. But this wave of unrest was the worst yet. Four people, a policeman and three Estrada supporters, were killed. Demonstrators smashed police barricades in downtown Manila and threw rocks and bottles at police, firemen, and military personnel called in to restore order. Dozens were injured, and more than 100 Estrada supporters were arrested. Mr. Estrada, who faces criminal charges of graft and bribery, was jailed in a heavily fortified police camp. A former actor who has been compared to Bill Clinton in ability to talk his way past criminal conduct, Mr. Estrada continues to hold sway with the Philippines' masses of poor. Demonstrators poured largely from Manila's slums, and several journalists reported that the people were paid with food and 500 pesos ($10) to march on the presidential palace. High-level allies of Mr. Estrada, including the current president, have turned against him as evidence of bribe taking and money laundering mounted in recent months. Mrs. Arroyo, who resigned as Mr. Estrada's vice president late last year, vowed to take a hard line against the Estrada forces. "Strike now, so I can crush you," she told one Estrada emissary. She also warned coup plotters she would "beat them to a pulp" if they tried again to take over her office. The 4-foot-11 chief executive was a classmate of Mr. Clinton's at Georgetown University. But all of her cues seemed to be coming from her female counterparts, former Filipino President Corazon Aquino and Britain's "iron lady," former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. WORLD IN BRIEF
IF IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR A KENNEDY: They went to Puerto Rico to be arrested, then decided they did not like the accommodations. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said the U.S. Navy mistreated him during an overnight stay in a concrete-floor holding pen. Naval security officers detained Mr. Gutierrez, along with 180 others (including actor Edward James Olmos, labor leader Dennis Rivera, and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.), for trespassing on federal land and protesting U.S. naval bombing exercises on the island of Vieques. Mr. Gutierrez said he was kicked and thrown by U.S. sailors, but a Navy spokesman at Vieques said that account was "absolutely false." He said Mr. Gutierrez was "rude, obnoxious" and threatened to use his position in Congress to have the naval officers fired. (Mr. Kennedy told reporters his treatment "was good.") SUDAN UPDATE: U.S. PANEL RIPS 'GENOCIDAL ATROCITIES'; ACTIVISTS HIRE STAR-QUALITY ATTORNEYS FOR CIVIL-DISOBEDIENCE TRIAL
Public enemy
Sudan is "the world's most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion" and is committing "genocidal atrocities," according to the second annual report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The May 1 document, submitted by law to the president, secretary of state, and members of Congress, comes as the Bush administration is wrestling over how to address civil war in the African nation. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Appropriations Committee on April 28 he was looking at "a number of alternatives" toward Sudan, including naming a special envoy or restoring diplomatic ties. Restoring relations with the government in Khartoum is not in the playbook of most advocates for Christians in southern Sudan. They see reopening the embassy as rewarding bad behavior, which includes persecution, indiscriminate bombing, and terrorism. Many have called for appointing a special envoy, as have a number of House lawmakers, including Majority Leader Dick Armey. But according to Faith McDonnell, spokeswoman for Church Alliance for a New Sudan, no one has yet come up with a serious name for Mr. Powell to consider. Alliance members did write in protest to Mr. Powell when they believed he could name former president Jimmy Carter to the post. One credentialed name not yet publicly tested: former UN ambassador (and presidential hopeful) Alan Keyes. Meanwhile, activists are not waiting for policymakers to climb aboard. A trio of designated troublemakers-syndicated radio talk show host Joe Madison, former Reagan aide Michael Horowitz, and former D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy-handcuffed themselves to the entrance of the Sudanese Embassy on April 13 and were arrested on trespassing charges. They have now hired a high-powered, bipartisan dream team to argue their case: Ken Starr and Johnnie Cochran. Mr. Starr appeared in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of all three defendants in a hearing May 2. The former Whitewater special prosecutor will represent Mr. Fauntroy and Mr. Madison. Mr. Cochran of O. J. Simpson fame will represent Mr. Horowitz. Mr. Starr argued for a jury trial, likely in July, as a way to bring wide public attention to the civil-disobedience case. -Mindy Belz Children injure themselves by imitating television stunts
Teenager see, teenager do
Are people really this dumb? Reebok pulled a TV ad showing a basketball player jumping over an oncoming car because a kid in Kentucky hurt himself imitating it. The producers used computers to generate the stunt, but some adolescents in Independence, Ky., tried to do it in real life. "We don't want to be seen as encouraging any kind of this behavior," Reebok spokesman John Wardley said after the company yanked the spot from Survivor. The 16-year-old would-be stuntman broke his leg and ankle-and his two accomplices (a 17-year-old driver and a 16-year-old passenger with a video camera) face felony charges of wanton endangerment. The incident follows a handful of copycat stunts from fans of Jackass, which is MTV's most popular program. The show features a stuntman who has done everything from sitting in a portable bathroom when it was tipped over to lying on a barbecue in a fire-resistant suit hung with steaks. MTV spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas said it's "incredibly upsetting" when young people hurt themselves, but that the network bears no responsibility. Jackass runs a disclaimer at the top of the show and also announces that it refuses stunt tapes submitted by fans. Still, imitators show up, perhaps inspired by the program's low-budget presentation. A 19-year-old in Minnesota stopped traffic by running around with a chain saw in the rain, dressed in a hospital gown. A 13-year-old Connecticut boy suffered second-degree burns imitating the steak stunt. An 11-year-old boy, also from Connecticut, was burned copying a stunt where he soaked a rag with engine degreaser, wrapped it around his leg, and set it on fire. Is Buffett vindicated?
The old old thing
Warren Buffett was a Wall Street joke last year as investors avoided his rigorous investment strategies for the "New New Thing": high-risk tech and dot-com stocks. Nobody's laughing now. The "Oracle of Omaha" holds to his policy of avoiding such startups, saying their business models are problematic and it's nearly impossible to predict which will be successful. Many investors in his Berkshire Hathaway holding company (which includes GEICO insurance, Dairy Queen, and Benjamin Moore paints) thanked him for sticking to his guns at last month's annual meeting. Mr. Buffett told Berkshire investors that many people expect too much return on their investments, thinking they can make 15 percent or more annually from the stock market. "It just can't happen over time," he said. Realistic growth, he argues, is 6 or 7 percent. "He's been largely vindicated, but not entirely vindicated," said Andy Kirkpatrick, author of Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett. "He's also got Coke and Gillette, which you can't say have done well in the past five years." FTC: record companies market trash to teens
Targeting kids
Major record labels push explicit content at kids and don't care about accountability. That's the message gleaned from a Federal Trade Commission report last month that criticized music marketing. The FTC found that the major record companies place ads for "explicit content music" on TV shows and magazines largely or mostly watched and read by teenagers. It said the parental advisory label (pop music's equivalent of an R movie rating) appeared only about one quarter of the time. The FTC also found that promotional websites increasingly post lyrics, and said that allows parents to read transcripts of what their kids are hearing. Due to First Amendment issues, the FTC pushes for "self-regulation" on content and typically gets a tepid response. FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said the agency issued another report last September and industry reaction was "disappointing in its failure."

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