Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Keep the faith," June 23, 2001

BUSH GENERATES CONTROVERSY IN 1ST EUROPEAN VISIT
Hostility or hospitality?
Protesters moved quickly to ink new placards denouncing the United States as President George W. Bush arrived in Spain on June 12 for his first European tour. The demonstrators turned out in front of the U.S. embassy in Madrid even before the president's arrival to voice opposition to the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In addition to the president's support for the death penalty, Europeans are upset with his decision to push a missile-defense program and his opposition to the Kyoto international treaty on global warming. Street reaction to Mr. Bush's visit revealed just how out of step the new administration is with the left-leaning, internationalist establishment of the European Union, which outlaws capital punishment for all its member states. Death-row disturbances are likely to be short-lived. Topping the president's agenda is selling NATO allies in Europe on a U.S.-based missile-defense plan. France, a historic non-contributor to NATO's defense component, leads the opposition to the plan. Mr. Bush arrives at a summit of European leaders determined to make his case for the plan and to downplay protests from environmentalists. Bad press in Europe over the U.S. pullout from Kyoto global warming standards notwithstanding, Green Party activists will have a hard time pressing their cause beyond the picket lines. No European country has ratified the protocols for the treaty, either. Mr. Bush's case against the Kyoto treaty received an additional boost from Richard Lindzen, an MIT meteorologist who, along with 10 other researchers, prepared a National Academy of Sciences report on climate change. Mr. Lindzen last week challenged the media's depiction of the report as an endorsement of a global warming treaty. "We are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future," Mr. Lindzen wrote in The Wall Street Journal (which also carried the column in its European edition). While the report found that global mean temperature has risen in the last century (by 0.5 degrees Celsius), the scientists could not conclude that the increase was due to gas emissions and other pollutants: "The Kyoto Protocol would not result in a substantial reduction in global warming." -Mindy Belz in Paris BUSH: WE STILL DON'T KNOW ENOUGH ON WARMING
Global uncertainty
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill declared in a speech years ago that leadership on global warming would include not just underlining what we know, but also admitting what we don't. The White House took exactly that approach in the initial report of a Cabinet-level review of global warming. The president's task force outlined all the uncertainties contained in the latest report from the National Academy of Sciences, and then responded to Europe by noting that "the United States leads the world in climate change research." President Bush summarized the report with this observation: "No one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided. The policy challenge is to act in a serious and sensible way, given the limits of our knowledge," and to develop new knowledge. -Tim Graham at the White House SUPREMES RULE BIBLE CLUB HAS A RIGHT TO MEET AT PUBLIC SCHOOL
Now that's good news
To advocates of religious liberty, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 11 in Good News Club vs. Milford Central School should have been a slam dunk unanimous judgment. It wasn't, but the high court nevertheless ruled 6-3 that officials cannot ban religious groups from meeting in public schools after class hours while allowing nonreligious groups to meet. (The three dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.) The case dates from 1996, when Milford, N.Y., school officials rejected an application from a Good News Club to use school facilities after hours for "a fun time of singing songs, hearing [a] Bible lesson, and memorizing Scripture." (Good News Clubs are affiliated with Child Evangelism Fellowship.) The officials said their facilities could not be used for religious instruction or worship. Good News turned to the courts. A federal judge and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the school district. Many evangelical and religious-rights groups supported the club's appeal to the Supreme Court. In oral arguments before the high court last March, Good News attorney Thomas Marcelle asked why other groups that teach moral content, like the 4-H Club and the Boy Scouts, may use the school but the Christian group could not. "This is a free-speech case," he argued. "We're not asking for unique access, just equal access." During those oral arguments, several justices expressed surprise that the lower courts ignored the landmark 1993 unanimous verdict in the Lamb's Chapel case. In that case, the court ruled a New York school district had violated the free-speech rights of an evangelical church. The district prohibited Lamb's Chapel from renting high-school space to show a film series on the family but allowed other groups to use its facilities. Writing for the majority in the June 11 decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the Milford school district had created a limited public forum by allowing other groups to use the facilities. In denying access to that forum because the club was religious, wrote Justice Thomas, "it discriminated ... in violation of the free-speech clause of the First Amendment." Milford school officials said they likely will ban all groups or set the earliest meeting time to 5 p.m. If they do, Steven Fournier, pastor of Community Bible Church, which sponsors the club, will continue to have the club meet at the church. Most of the kids are available right after school is out, and he wants to reach as many as he can. NEW FINANCIAL WATCHDOG ORGANIZATION HELPS DONORS UNDERSTAND WHERE THEIR DOLLARS ARE GOING
Quantifying quality
Donors to evangelical causes received a gift of their own last week when a website called "MinistryWatch.com" went online. The free service-which not all the ministries whose financial details are highlighted will appreciate-is designed to help donors sort out which organizations are using their resources well, and which ones may be deficient. Included in MinistryWatch's first round of reporting was this summary of what it says are the 20 biggest ministries in the United States, with a total of $2.6 billion in contributions in the last reporting period and holding some $2.2 billion in net assets. Philippine hostage update
Bargaining with life
Philippine rebels say they beheaded one of 20 hostages, leaving only a missionary couple among three American hostages who have been held since May 27. On June 12 the group said it had "executed" Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., because of government failure to comply with rebel demands. Philippine officials at first suggested the murder had been carried out but later suggested the rebels had lied. Yellow ribbons remained posted at Mr. Sobero's East Los Angeles neighborhood, where he lived with his wife and four children. Abu Sayyaf rebels have also threatened Martin and Gracia Burnham, workers with Florida-based New Tribes mission, who were seized at an island resort along with Mr. Sobero. The group seized 15 more hostages on June 11 in an attack on a coffee plantation that led to a clash between rebels and government troops. U.S COURT: CUBAN AGENTS WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR KILLING U.S. CITIZENS
Castro's proxies guilty
A federal jury in Miami found five Cuban agents guilty of conspiring to spy on the United States in connection with the 1996 shootdown of two private U.S. airplanes by Cuban Air Force MiG jets in international airspace. The jury deliberated five days at the conclusion of a six-month trial that has remained largely out of the national spotlight. But the verdict could send at least one of the defendants, Gerardo Hernandez, to jail for life. The jury also found Mr. Hernandez guilty of contributing to the death of the four Brothers to the Rescue members whose planes were shot down Feb. 24, 1996, by Cuban MiGs (see WORLD, Aug. 3, 1996). The exile group patrols the sea between Florida and Cuba looking for refugees. Prosecutors accused Mr. Hernandez, who had infiltrated the Brothers to the Rescue group, of knowing about the plot to shoot down the planes because he warned two other agents who infiltrated the group not to fly during a four-day period. The defense argued Mr. Hernandez was a scapegoat for the Cuban government. Brothers to the Rescue founder Jose Basulto said, "This is justice. This is an act of God ... I'm glad the jury saw through all the lies given to them." The five men are to be sentenced in September. PENTAGON CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR MOST OF $1.1 BILLION SPARE-PARTS BUDGET
Hey brother, could you spare a part?
Maybe it's more of those $640 toilet seats. But it would have to be about two million of them. Congressional investigators last week found that the Defense Department could not account for most of the $1.1 billion that lawmakers appropriated for military spare parts in 1999. The auditors could trace only 8 percent of the money specifically to purchases of spare parts. The appropriation came after repeated Pentagon complaints that parts shortages were compromising readiness. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) requested the audit when Pentagon officials continued to grumble about spare parts even after Congress earmarked the money. "Planes and helicopters are still unable to fly because of a shortage of parts, and we need the services to tell us why," said Mr. Lewis. Military officials did not dispute the investigators' findings, and they pledged to begin providing to Congress a yearly breakdown of spare-parts purchases. Authors: prepare for the worst
McGuyver chic
Ever need to escape an alligator? Land a plane? Escape from a burning hotel room? Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht have burned up the bestseller charts (to No. 5 this month on the New York Times paperback list) with answers in two volumes of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Citing the Boy Scout motto ("Be prepared!"), the pair's books give tips on how to be your own McGuyver. "You never really know what curves life will throw at you, what is lurking around the corner, what is hovering above, what is swimming beneath the surface," they write. "You never know when you might to be called upon to perform an act of extreme bravery and to choose life or death with your own actions." You might never need to fend off a shark, escape quicksand, or jump from a building, but who knows? (Samples of their advice are online at worstcase scenarios.com.) You may have to take a punch, survive a mugging, or avoid lightning or a fallen power line. The authors say they aren't survivalists, but regular guys with desk jobs who want to believe they can foil danger. They say they take inspiration from TV shows and movie characters ranging from Gilligan's Island to Mission Impossible to James Bond. "We wanted to put in some instructions from the bomb squad about whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire," Mr. Borgenicht said last year. "But strangely enough, no one was willing to tell us which one to cut. In the movies, whichever one you choose to cut is the right one." The authors tracked down experts and found that there were real ways to survive action-movie situations: delivering a baby inside a cab, leaping from a motorcycle to a car, or identifying a bomb. But they added a disclaimer, saying that they "shall not be liable for any errors in the content, or for any actions taken based on information provided here." -Chris Stamper Studio invents a reviewer for its movie advertisements
Sony's favorite 'critic'
Who was David Manning and why was he reviewing Sony Pictures' movies? In movie ads, he declared Heath Ledger of A Knight's Tale was "this year's hottest new star" and said the lowbrow comedy The Animal was "another winner!" However, Mr. Manning didn't see those movies because he doesn't exist, and now Sony is in some legal trouble. The ads billed "David Manning" as being from the Ridgefield Press, a small weekly newspaper in Connecticut whose staffers had never heard of him. So the state attorney general announced an investigation into possible "deceptive and misleading advertising." Meanwhile, two moviegoers filed a class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles claiming the fake quotes duped them into seeing A Knight's Tale. Sony apologized for the hoax and suspended two advertising executives for 30 days without pay. Variety reported that Matthew Cramer, director of creative advertising, cooked up the quotes, using the name of a college friend. The David Manning affair was extreme even for the Pravda-esque world of Hollywood hype. The sheer number of critics virtually guarantees that studios can find some reviewer who will recommend even the likes of Battlefield Earth, Showgirls, and Santa with Muscles. What does it say about Sony that they had to make somebody up? Cartoonists develop a strip for Mr. and Mrs. Potato head
Cartoon spuds
Mr. Potato Head is jumping out of the playroom and into the funny pages. Garfield creator Jim Davis plans to start a new comic strip based on the Hasbro toy. Developed with fellow cartoonist Brett Koth, it begins next month. The toy started out in 1952 as a collection of facial features-eyes, noses, mustaches, mouths, and hats-that children could spike into real spuds. He got a wife in 1953, gained the plastic potato in 1964, then doubled in size in 1974. Interest in the toy recently boomed after it appeared in the Toy Story movies. Overall, more than 75 million Potato Heads have been sold in various incarnations. Mr. Davis spent two years preparing the strip, which will feature Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head plus their kids Chip and Julienne. "A potato is hysterical," he said. "Carrots? They're OK. Cabbage? Not at all. Potatoes? Hysterical."

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