Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Abolition of C.S. Lewis?," June 16, 2001

ACLU ATTACKS VMI'S 162-YEAR-OLD PRAYER POLICY: GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE DEFENDS MILITARY SCHOOL
What took them so long?
It's said you'll find no atheists in foxholes, but American Civil Liberties Union officials are working on that. The Virginia Military Institute (VMI), as part of its training of future foxhole-dwellers, holds a pre-dinner prayer six nights a week that makes no reference to Jesus Christ, but does quote from the Bible: One night's prayer offers thanks "that we are fearfully and wonderfully made." Last week the ACLU went after the 162-year-old tradition, suing on behalf of two cadets who say VMI violates their constitutional rights by prescribing the prayers. One of the ACLU's plaintiffs, Neil Mellon, says pre-meal prayer "promotes religion over non-religion and fosters an environment in which non-participants can feel like or be treated as outsiders." Superintendent Maj. Gen. Josiah Bunting III countered, "The supper prayers said at VMI are much like prayers and statements found in Congress, in our courtrooms, on our nation's currency, in numerous patriotic songs, and in other aspects of our national life. VMI cadets are not compelled to participate in this prayer, nor stand at attention ... [T]o offer thanks at the close of a busy day, particularly at a military college, is a practice that we believe is constitutional and should continue at the Virginia Military Institute." Mark Earley, who stepped down from office to run for governor of Virginia, made his last official act as attorney general a defense of the state-run school. He filed the state's response to the lawsuit in federal court: "[The] ACLU contends that these prayers-so clearly compatible with the Constitution's establishment clause in the eyes of the Founders-must now be banned as unconstitutional. The ACLU is mistaken. Not every expression of religious sentiment in a public setting involves an establishment of religion." Just two days prior, Mr. Earley won the Republican nomination to defend his party's claim to the governor's mansion. A Christian conservative who's made inroads with union voters and minorities, he begins the general election as the underdog. With relatively little cash on hand, Mr. Earley faces multimillionaire Democrat Mark Warner, who has $3 million to spend. Each campaign is expected to raise $10 million for dueling television commercials in the fall. AFTER SUICIDE BOMB, ARAFAT'S LAST CHANCE?
'Defend your people'
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had barely had time to grandstand about his unilateral ceasefire declaration before it ended in war. A suicide bomber mingling with a crowd on a Tel Aviv beach blew himself up, killing 17 Israeli teenagers. It was the bloodiest incident yet in months of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded dozens, many seriously, in a popular spot on a festive evening before Jewish Sabbath began. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas said it was responsible. Israel responded with gun battles aimed at strongholds of the Palestinian Authority, which it says has condoned and incited the terrorist behavior. Israel's housing minister and former Soviet dissident, Natan Sharansky, said: "I think that for many years we have made great efforts to turn Arafat into a partner. I think now we are at the end of the road; it is the last chance for Arafat to prove that he can still be a partner. I don't have a lot of hope. At some point we have to be willing to say we did not succeed, he is not willing to be our partner. Then you have to know how to fight and defend your people." PUSH COMES TO SHOVE: THE WHITE HOUSE DETAILS VANDALISM OF CLINTON STAFFERS
Fighting words
To draw the Bush White House into a fight with Capitol Hill Democrats requires provocation bordering on the extreme. Rep. Anthony Weiner, an in-your-face Democrat from Brooklyn, succeeded last week where others had failed. He held an impromptu press conference outside the White House armed with a letter from ex-Clinton aides demanding an apology for "false allegations" of vandalism by outgoing administration staffers. At first, spokesman Ari Fleischer mildly replied: "No apology is merited. They are well-advised to leave it alone." Later, Mr. Fleischer responded to the Weiner challenge with a list that detailed graffiti in six offices, 10 sliced phone lines, profane voice mails on 15 other phone lines, and 100 inoperable computer keyboards. Aides also said they had some photographs of the damage. Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said the probe had been held up by Bush administration reluctance to provide evidence. "We went over there in a good faith effort and asked for the written documents," Mr. Nelligan said. "And the GSA [General Services Administration], at the same time, did the same. And the White House apparently told us there was nothing." Rep. Bob Barr, who demanded the original GAO probe, said he'd meet with the GAO to explore what new options to pursue after the White House "fortunately" released their list of damages. "This vandalism by outgoing Clinton administration officials is unacceptable to me, and unacceptable to most law-abiding Americans," Mr. Barr told the GAO in a letter. "The American taxpayers deserve to know what taxpayer property was damaged or unaccounted for during the transition process." -Tim Graham, at the White House RELIGION REPORTER TO SIGN OFF: NETWORK LETS WEHMEYER GO
Know your ABCs
The only TV news network with a regular religion correspondent is letting her go. ABC announced that, in a cost-cutting move, Dallas-based Peggy Wehmeyer would not receive a new contract after her current one expires in October. CBS, CNN, NBC, and Fox have no religion reporters, and studies by the Media Research Center have found less than 1 percent of network news air time devoted to coverage of overtly religious activities. In an era of bleak TV news coverage of religion, with reports often left to general-assignment reporters whose lack of knowledge about the subject is exceeded only by their prejudice, Ms. Wehmeyer has provided intelligent and accurate reports. But recently she has been rarely used, appearing about once every two months on ABC's "World News Tonight." Her last prominent report was in January, when she explained the Pentecostal beliefs of attorney general nominee John Ashcroft. Despite the move, ABC congratulated itself for being "a pioneer in covering religion" and announced it would join forces with the website Beliefnet.com, operated by Steven Waldman, a former Newsweek reporter and Clinton White House aide. Last year, Peter Jennings and Beliefnet jointly promoted the ABC special "The Search for Jesus," which relied heavily on academics who deny the divinity of Christ. Mr. Jennings has announced he's working on a new special on the life of the Apostle Paul. L.A. MAYOR'S RACE: LOBBYIST FOR CLINTON COMMUTATION FALLS
Voters won't pardon him
Bill Clinton is forgotten but not gone, as former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee said the day he left office. In Los Angeles, he's not forgotten. Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa lost the mayor's race last week to fellow Democrat James Hahn, whose ads hammered Mr. Villaraigosa for lobbying (successfully) for a presidential pardon for a cocaine dealer. Mr. Clinton, in the last hours of his presidency, commuted the sentence of Carlos Vignali. Villaraigosa supporters criticized the Hahn ad as racist, but their candidate first tried to deny writing the letter pressing for the commutation, then tried to play down the issue instead of fighting back. Internet pundit Mickey Kaus blamed the loss on Mr. Clinton: "Do you doubt that if Clinton hadn't commuted Vignali's sentence, Villaraigosa would today be mayor-elect of L.A.? In this sense, Villaraigosa isn't the victim of racism. He's the latest (last?) victim of Bill Clinton." ANGRY ONLINE SEX-CLUB MEMBERS PRESS RETAILERS TO CUT OFF DONATIONS TO CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS
The Chicago way
If he pulls out a knife, you pull out a gun," growled Sean Connery in The Untouchables. "If he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue-that's the Chicago way." Online porn enthusiasts and gay activist groups didn't like it when the American Family Association (AFA) convinced Yahoo.com to remove several pornographic websites from its servers. So they went after KingdomBuy.com, an online Christian shopping mall that generates donations for over 10,000 nonprofits, including AFA. They persuaded 11 big retailers, including Nordstrom and JC Penney, to pull away from the Christian dot-com. Hey, it's the Chicago way. The website has agreements with more than 200 retailers that donate 5 percent of profits earned, when e-consumers buy products via the site, to Christian organizations designated by the shoppers. Donation recipients include churches, international charities like World Vision, and pro-family groups like AFA. It was the beneficence to AFA that prompted the Yahoo! sex clubs to launch a two-week e-mail campaign against KingdomBuy retailers (AFA receives less than 1 percent of the donations). On May 13, an 11,000-member sex club called "Don't close adult clubs" posted a sample e-mail threatening retailers that consumers would no longer purchase products from "a company that chooses to associate itself with an organization so adamant in their desire to strip people of their freedom of speech." Although all 11 retailers severed their relationship within two weeks of the e-mail campaign, none admitted that the campaign affected its decision. "We canceled the relationship after a routine performance review," said JC Penney spokesperson Jeanine Connolly. Nordstrom cited a company policy against forming affiliations with religious or advocacy organizations. Asked why the company's logo is still displayed on websites that support Jewish, Buddhist, and gay advocacy groups, spokesperson ShaSha Richardson said Nordstrom was also discontinuing those relationships: "We want to ensure we are not offending any group." Two companies-Avon and FTD-were reconsidering their decision to withdraw. LEFT BEHIND AUTHOR SHOWERS BIG GIFT ON LIBERTY
Going swimmingly
It's no secret the runaway success of the Left Behind novel series has made its co-authors, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, multimillionaires. Jerry Falwell, founder and head of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., couldn't be more pleased. Rev. LaHaye, 75, and his wife, Beverly, founder of Concerned Women for America and a Liberty trustee for 10 years, were on campus last month. Mr. LaHaye was baccalaureate speaker. Liberty announced the LaHayes had given $4.5 million as a matching gift to build a $9 million student center, complete with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. U.S. CHARITABLE GIVING REACHES A NEW MILESTONE
Billions and billions
Charitable contributions in the United States rose to $203 billion last year, double that of 1990, when Americans first surpassed the $100 billion mark. The figures are reported in Giving USA, published by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel. But the report notes that the rate of increase last year was the smallest in five years. Sources of the money: individuals, $152.1 billion; foundations, $24.5 billion; bequests, $16 billion; corporations, $10.9 billion. Where it went: religion, $74.3 billion; education (including libraries), $28.2 billion; health, $18.9 billion; arts and culture, $11.5 billion; international, $2.7 billion. AFTER THE APPLAUSE, JUDICIAL WATCHERS EXPECT THE JEFFORDS LEGACY WILL BE ONE OF BITTER BATTLES WAGED OVER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEES
Defection, not election
Flower bouquets flooded the Senate office of Vermont's Jim Jeffords as his desk was unscrewed from the Republican side and attached on the Democratic side. On his last day before abandoning the GOP to become an independent voting with the Democrats, Jeffords had lunch with his newly made majority. Democrats cheered heartily and gave him a standing ovation for his historic first: changing the majority in the Senate with a defection instead of an election. "I was a little bit numbed," claimed Jeffords, who stayed away from the Senate chamber as the power shifted. At the first committee meeting led by the Democrats, Sen. Joe Biden joked, "We understand it's better to be lucky than to be good." Conservatives worry that judicial nominations will slow to a trickle. Thomas Jipping of the Free Congress Foundation noted that since President Bush has taken office, senators have cast 42 votes against Attorney General John Ashcroft, 43 against Undersecretary of State John Bolton, and 47 against Solicitor General Ted Olson; those votes "signal an unprecedented and concerted attack on presidential nominees." He noted the Senate has taken 144 roll call votes on nominees to all positions in the last dozen years and these three rank in the top five receiving the most "no" votes. Republicans tried to push Democrats into assurances that judicial nominations would make their way to the Senate floor, but Sen. Daschle wouldn't make any promises. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the new judiciary committee chairman, said, "We already have a mechanism to get nominees out of committee, and it's called a majority vote." FROM WELLNESS TO WORK: GOVERNMENT CLOSES LAUGHABLE "ALTERNATIVE THERAPY" BOONDOGGLE
What's that aroma?
The nation's "wellness trainers" and aromatherapists will have to buckle down and find work in the private sector. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has eliminated the $860,000 Creative Wellness HELP program, which sought to reduce stress and drug addiction among public housing tenants through "alternative therapies." Just how alternative? The program's "holistic" approach included wellness trainers who probe people's glands to diagnose personality problems. Meditation, aromatherapy, and soothing color schemes were among the program's treatments. "Clearly this program is far afield from HUD's mission," HUD spokeswoman Nancy Segerdahl told The Washington Post. "I think it speaks for itself." HUD began the program a year ago, under then-Secretary Andrew Cuomo. The Post reported that Gloria Cousar, the career bureaucrat who originally approved the program, has been ordained by the Las Vegas-based International Metaphysical Ministry. HUD has reassigned her to a job that doesn't have grant-approving authority. "There's plenty more where that came from," said Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste. He cited several other "ridiculous" examples of wasteful spending, including $100 million to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to study how soy and sour cherries reduce cancer pain, and how children with asthma can obtain relief from "guided imagery," a New Age relaxation technique. GOVERNMENT PULLS THE PLUG ON A BAD INVESTMENT
Something ventured, but nothing returned
Whatever his other virtues, Uncle Sam is just not a good venture capitalist. The latest proof: the government-run Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization Corp. (AARCC), which last month lost its federal funding due to a lack of success. The idea behind AARCC was to have the government fund start-up firms that would produce plant-based products from agricultural waste, a concept the free market had somehow neglected. When the companies became successful, the government would reap a return on its investment. As it turns out, private investors had good reasons to shy away from the idea: To wit, it isn't profitable. AARCC has only $1.2 million in returns to show for the $40.3 million it has doled out since its inception in 1993. Companies have turned sugar cane waste into furniture and sunflower seeds into motor oil, but few have turned taxpayer investments into profits. Federal auditors found just 18 of the 62 AARCC-supported companies are producing returns or are expected to do so soon-most of them small. Investigators also found corruption in the program. Nine of the 11 companies interviewed had misused AARCC money. Several lied about their operations. "AARCC was aware of many of these problems, or should have been," USDA's inspector general concluded. AARCC now joins synthetic fuels, the supersonic transport, and other taxpayer-funded boondoggles on the ashheap of history. POLITICS OF TAX CUTTING: BUSH COULD DO FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY WHAT FDR DID FOR THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
How to transform American politics
"The beginning, not the end," House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said about the tax cut bill President George W. Bush signed last Thursday. But the beginning of what? Republicans last week, instead of pointing out press bias, could relish lines like this one at the start of an Associated Press story: "Now and for years to come, every American who pays income taxes will benefit from the $1.35 trillion tax cut bill that reflects the major goals President Bush outlined during his campaign for the White House." That identification (Bush = money in your pocket) is the GOP's best hope to begin a political upheaval as long-lasting as that of the 1930s. Back in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt transformed American politics. The need for action was real: One-fourth of American workers were jobless. FDR could have created programs with incentives for businesses to hire more people and religious groups to expand their anti-poverty work. Instead, his brilliant political strategy was to have Democratic political workers pass out jobs and take credit for new schools, hospitals, and roads. Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect became the Democratic theme (WORLD, Oct. 28, 2000). For example, Roosevelt gave Chicago Mayor Edward J. Kelly control of 200,000 federally funded jobs. Between 1933 and 1940 federal funds enabled Kelly to build an airport and many other projects, with the city paying only one penny for every dollar of job costs. Kelly gained reelection time after time and delivered Illinois to Roosevelt in presidential elections. FDR followed the same practice in other cities. Democrats became America's dominant team, politically. But the ultra-closeness of last year's presidential election and the current Senate intrigues show that control of American politics is now up for grabs. That's why the GOP has so much to gain if millions of voters see it as "the party that puts money in your pocket." Politically, that's why Republicans should keep pushing tax cuts and why, in fighting poverty, they should promote tax credits rather than government spending. It's harder to gain votes by cutting taxes than by passing out jobs: More people are helped, but the loyalty created isn't as great. That's why the GOP needs a clear message based on the preamble to the Constitution: "Provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare." Republicans should say to voters: "We'll spend money when we are obligated to provide, we'll create good conditions for voluntary effort when our job is to promote, and the result will be trillions in savings-and more money in your pocket." If Republicans get into a bidding war with Democrats to see who can curry favor by expanding federal programs, they will be playing into the Democrats' strength. But if they stick to principle, they can break the current logjam and dominate American politics for a generation or more. -Marvin Olasky FRIENDLY CRITICS: BUSH SLAMMED FOR ADOPTING A "GAY REPUBLICAN AGENDA"
GOP: Gay old party?
Early this year, two of the Family Research Council's best-known experts on homosexual activism left FRC to form a new Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America. Robert H. Knight and Peter LaBarbera made waves quickly by charging in a report that President Bush "has not only failed to take any steps to overturn [Clinton administration] policies but actually is supporting a 'gay Republican' agenda." To make their case, Mr. Knight and Mr. LaBarbera noted that in the first 100 days, the Bush administration:

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