Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Attack and dissent," May 19, 2001

Bad company
Eleanor Roosevelt first chaired the 57-year-old UN Human Rights Commission, and the United States has kept a seat among the commission's 53 members ever since. Until now. The U.S. seat was up for rotation this year, and when fellow members met in New York on May 3 to cast votes, Uncle Sam was odd man out. Usually first among what is known as the Western Working Group, the United States finished dead last behind France, Sweden, and Austria-who will take the three seats open to the Western bloc for 2002. Sudan and Sierra Leone-verifiable human-rights violators-won three-year seats on the commission. Pundits blamed the Bush administration for failing to put in place key diplomats at the United Nations. The ambassador it named in February has yet to be officially nominated. But most likely the problem is the U.S.'s political incorrectness on the panel. At the commission's six-week session that just ended, U.S. delegates were repeatedly upended in efforts to condemn China, Sudan, and other human-rights violators. The forum adopted a lukewarm European Union resolution that criticized both sides fighting in Sudan. U.S. representative George Moose called its language "a misleading and inaccurate description of the Sudanese government's deplorable policies and overall poor human-rights record." The U.S. delegation abstained from the final vote. So did Sudan. The tilt toward the European resolution may have more to do with Sudan, where European conglomerates are tapping into an oil and natural-gas bonanza. France, which won its seat with 41 votes, has a stake in Sudan's energy resources through its oil giant Totalfina. Sweden, tallying 32 votes (to 29 for the United States), has oil stakes in Sudan via Lundin Oil. Carl Bildt, UN envoy to the Balkans and Sweden's former prime minister, is a member of Lundin Oil's board. In addition, China and Canada have large tracts of oil operations in Sudan. Who voted against the United States? No one knows; votes are by secret ballot. Perhaps a better question: What's a human-rights commission that is open to human-rights abusers and closed to vote inspection good for? WORLD'S QUESTION TIME: JUDICIAL NOMINEES
Staying on message
Asking a question from the seventh row of the White House briefing room seems rude-like butting in at the front of the school lunch line-except that at briefings, if you don't butt in, you don't get lunch. As President Bush announced his first judicial appointments, my interruption of one of spokesman Ari Fleischer's answers was badly timed. I could almost hear my mother insisting I wait my turn. But in this room, a little rudeness pays off. White House judicial vetters had scratched three conservative nominees from liberal states off their initial list. While most reporters were asking how the president would accomplish his goals, I thought someone should ask about the gridlock that Senate Democrats (see cover story, page 24) were promising, so I blurted out a convoluted question: "The question of the nominations in California and Maryland, and the liberal Democratic senators in those states, is there the perception here that the president is going to have a problem, that these judicial nominations may be held up not merely on the basis of qualifications-I don't think anyone is going to try to question, for example, the qualifications of [California Rep.] Christopher Cox-but that these are going to be nominations that are contested on the basis of ideology alone?" Mr. Fleischer answered: "Well, the president hopes that the bipartisan traditions of the United States Senate will be maintained. The president will view it as unfortunate if people tried to block nominees simply because somebody from the other party is in the White House. That would not be healthy and that would not be good for the courts. Presidents have earned and deserved latitude in their choice of making appointments to the court. The Senate has an important advise and consent role to play, which the president will be very respectful of." Other reporters followed along this line of questioning. ABC's Terry Moran announced a "new school of thought" that claims that it's fair for senators "to take ideology into consideration, just as the president did, as a co-equal branch of the government." But like a gyroscope, Mr. Fleischer stayed on his less-partisanship message and said simply that senators could vote as they see fit. The old tradition of voting on competence, not ideology, may be vanishing without any protest from the White House. -Tim Graham, at the White House AFTER MISTAKEN DRUG-WAR DOWNING, MISSIONARIES STAY BUT WON'T FLY, YET
Grounded, but not broken
Missionaries for ABWE, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, have not stopped work in Peru, even though missionary Roni Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter Charity were killed when an ABWE plane was shot down on April 20. A Peruvian Air Force jet fighter crew errantly shot down the Cessna, ending flight service for mission workers stationed in the remote upper Amazon because it was the only plane there. "The only thing we are not doing right now is we are not flying in Peru," said ABWE spokesman E. C. Haskell. Mr. Haskell said ABWE also wants to make sure, before resuming flights, that "clear and proper channels" will be used to identify civilian aircraft. Mrs. Bowers's husband Jim and their 6-year-old son Cody, along with the pilot, survived the shootdown. Kevin Donaldson left a Pennsylvania hospital May 8 after surgery for multiple leg wounds. He told reporters he had sent a Bible to the Peruvian pilot. "We heard [he] is really broken up about it and we don't want him to feel guilty," his wife, Bobbi Donaldson, said. Mr. Haskell said ABWE is cooperating with U.S. and Peruvian officials in their investigations of the shootdown. So far, he said, no one has discussed compensation for the downed plane. Nor have government agents formally questioned pilot Donaldson. ABWE is an independent mission agency, receiving 10 percent of its support from the General Association of Regular Baptists (an earlier report in WORLD indicated "most" support came from GARB churches) and the majority of its support from independent churches. RESPECTED PSYCHIATRY PROF'S STUDY SAYS GAYS CAN CHANGE
A matter of choice?
Some gays really can go back to being straight. That's the word from a new study that has homosexual activists spitting bullets. Robert L. Spitzer, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University who led the study, said he began his work as a skeptic: "Contrary to conventional wisdom, some highly motivated individuals, using a variety of change efforts, can make substantial change in multiple indicators of sexual orientation." What makes Dr. Spitzer important is that he helped lead the 1970s campaign to have homosexuality deleted from the American Psychological Association list of mental disorders. Now he's being deleted from polite company. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation says Dr. Spitzer's work is "unscientific" and will be used to spread "exclusion and intolerance." The Human Rights Campaign blamed "close ties to right-wing political groups and lack of objective data." David Elliot, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, claims the survey pool was loaded with Christians or groups that treat homosexuality as a disorder. Dr. Spitzer studied 200 men and women who shifted from homosexual to heterosexual attraction and stayed straight for five years. Reasons cited included burnout over promiscuity, unstable relationships, the desire to marry, and religious issues. He found three-quarters of the men and half of the women had married after giving up the gay lifestyle. Much of the gay-rights agenda hangs on homosexuality being a purely genetic function as natural as right- or left-handedness. If sexual orientation can be changed by choice, gay civil-rights-style arguments are less effective. CONSERVATIVE CONGRESSMAN MOVES TO ADMINISTRATION
Hutchinson will head DEA
President Bush could be cutting into the House Republican majority by tapping Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson, best known as one of the Clinton impeachment managers, to serve as the new head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. A former head of the state Republican Party and federal prosecutor first elected to the House in 1996, Mr. Hutchinson is familiar with DEA issues from his years on the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime. He was whispered as a possible deputy to Attorney General John Ashcroft before the DEA appointment. His brother Tim is running for reelection to a second term in the U.S. Senate next year. The 50-year-old Mr. Hutchinson would succeed acting DEA head Donnie Marshall, who was surprised to be asked to step aside after being confirmed last May. President Bush has yet to nominate a new "drug czar," but the administration is preparing to nominate Philanthropy Roundtable leader John P. Walters, who was top deputy to William J. Bennett, drug czar for the first President Bush. TOO MANY CHURCHES, SUBURBAN NEW YORKERS COMPLAIN, AS CITY FATHERS USE EMINENT-DOMAIN LAWS TO SEIZE A CHURCH PROPERTY
There goes the neighborhood
Fred Jenkins and half a dozen others began praying weekly in each other's homes in 1978. The meetings grew, and the next year Pastor Jenkins formed St. Luke's Pentecostal Church in North Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island 15 miles east of Manhattan. The median home costs about $300,000 in that area, so faced with pricey real estate the 140-member church rented space for nearly two decades, most recently a basement that holds around 100 tan metal and plastic folding chairs. In 1997, though, the church found a semi-constructed church building on a neglected property. After conducting a title search and examining property documents, St. Luke's bought the Westbury, N.Y., property for $130,000 and obtained building permits-only to receive a Community Development Agency notification that government officials were grabbing the property for $80,000. It turned out that the existing building had been slated for condemnation in 1994. The Washington-based Institute for Justice filed suit last October on behalf of St. Luke's and two other plaintiffs, challenging the constitutionality of New York's eminent-domain procedures-that's how government takes private property against the owner's will. "New York is a procedural nightmare," said Dana Berliner, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice. "This law is set up to trap the unwary and that's exactly what happened with St. Luke's." Under New York's eminent-domain procedures, owners may find out only from a small newspaper legal notice that their property is being condemned, and are given only 30 days to appeal. "If they're going to take somebody's property, the owner should be the first one to know," insisted Pastor Jenkins, 72, in a deep, booming voice. "This law is used irresponsibly. Your property could be in jeopardy and you, as the landowner, don't even know it. All of a sudden, wham-o, you don't own the building." After a district court judge ruled against St. Luke's, town officials took title to the property and demolished the building, with the intent of using the property for commercial development. But St. Luke's was not dismissed from the case, and the church's lawyers hope for a favorable decision in July. However, demolishing the building also blasted away at church membership, which has declined from 140 to 90. "They were so enthused and excited about the building," said Pastor Jenkins. "And then they were so disappointed-some just couldn't take it." That's too bad, say the town and business owners. "No one wants to be accused of being against religion, but we have about 20 churches in the New Cassel area," John Brown, president of the local business association, told The New York Times. "There are two or three on a block. The symbol of poverty is an abundance of drinking establishments and churches, and we're fast approaching an excess amount of churches." -Leah Driggers Inquiring reader
Driving straight
August 2000 was a big bump in the road for those committed to families. In that month all of the big three automobile manufactures (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors) began offering domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners of employees. When inquiring reader J. S. Marks (soon to be the proud possessor of a WORLD wear cap) inquired whether any manufacturers still drive straight, WORLD asked around and found two holdouts. According to the Human Rights Campaign, a tracker of company policies regarding homosexuality, Toyota and Honda do not offer domestic partner benefits. PBS tries to stop its decline
Tax-funded but viewer-spurned
Is PBS slipping away? Public television faces an uncertain future with an aging audience, declining viewership, and heavy competition. Today's PBS is virtually the same as it was during the 1980s-highlighted by fare like Masterpiece Theatre, Nova, and Nature. Today, similar programs can be found all over the cable dial on networks like A&E, Discovery, and BBC America. For years PBS has given the impression of an entity drunk on self-importance and addicted to anything with a British accent. When PBS took a tiny step away from its own ossification, it received a storm of protest from hardcore fans. President Pat Mitchell announced that PBS was cutting back the money used to buy imported programs for Mystery and called for American-made dramas to lead the anthology in future seasons. Part of PBS' problem is that its typical viewer is 56.4 years old, which is very old compared to the rest of broadcast TV. The network grasped for a younger audience by picking up a Fox castoff called American High, which followed some Chicago high-school students during their senior year. Ratings did not live up to PBS hopes; The New York Times reports that the show's audience was only half the PBS average. So where does PBS go now? The future will likely be more of the same: little-watched dramas and documentaries about obscure subjects supposedly intended to open viewers' minds. PBS may die from entropy before it ever gets cut off from government funding. -Chris Stamper School officials react as teen dances grow more explicit
Dirty dancing
This year's prom season is causing turmoil at schools across America: Dancing has become so sexually explicit that some officials call it sex with clothes on-and many want it stopped. Some teenagers call "booty dancing," "freaking," and "sandwich dancing" just another form of flirting. And the phenomenon has been accompanied by the typical teens-will-be-teens rhetoric. Georgia State University sociologist Elisabeth Burgess told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that "It's really a post-industrial revolution thing that kids rebel, and also very American." She said that since teens aren't as reliant on parents, they try to push the envelope further. But some schools have issued strict rules controlling such dancing. Others canceled all dances except the prom. Kathy Leboeuf, development director at Gabriel Richard High School in Riverview, Mich., says she requires students to pass a quiz about behavior before attending a dance. Three teen girls at a chaperoned school dance there had jokingly stuffed dollar bills in their shirts and performed bump-and-grind routines for their boyfriends. "They emulate the MTV and dance videos, and we feel that's not appropriate," Ms. Leboeuf said. Since she instituted the new rule, such incidents have decreased. Cute twins build an empire
Olsen mania
Move over, Barbie. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sit at the top of a massive multimedia empire covering everything from clothes to movies to video games. The two 14-year-old icons are now starting their own self-titled magazine, which puts them in a league with Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, and Rosie O'Donnell. They also have a cable-TV sitcom and a Saturday morning cartoon in the works. Mary-Kate and Ashley started in Hollywood as babies and shared the role of Michelle on Full House. Since then, clever marketing has built them into a phenomenon, with the twins projecting a hyper-cuteness that little girls seem to love. USA Today reports that parents have bought about 22 million tapes of the pair's various made-for-video movies. Wal-Mart now sells a line of clothes bearing their names. One striking thing about the twins' pop image is how unfeminist it is: Mary-Kate and Ashley adore horseback riding, clothes, and shopping malls. The twins are devoid of teen rebellion and dosed heavily with inoffensiveness (at least by today's standards). But this whole empire looks to be a temporary phenomenon. What happens when the Olsen twins grow up and little girls no longer identify with them? Mary-Kate and Ashley have the "tween" (age 6-12) audience wrapped up, but there's always a steady stream of teen idols.

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