Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Don't have a cow," Aug. 11, 2001

Israel launches West Bank missile attack, mulls more strikes on Palestinians
Rumors of wars
"The chances are high for a major military explosion in the Middle East," said intelligence analyst George Friedman after Israel launched a missile attack in the West Bank. The July 31 strike on a Palestinian office building in the town of Nablus sent the clearest signal that, for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the time to talk is over. Mr. Sharon, a bulldog army commander often remembered for directing Israel's bloody invasion of Lebanon in 1982, made no public statements after the attack. Instead, he put out front his dovish foreign minister, Shimon Peres. Mr. Peres said the strike was necessary to prevent a fresh wave of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks by Hamas terrorists. The attack killed two top Hamas officers believed responsible for a long series of deadly attacks, most prominently a Tel Aviv disco suicide bombing that killed 21 Israeli young people on June 1. It also killed six others, including two young boys, brothers aged 5 and 8, who were walking in front of the building at the moment of the attack. Secretary of State Colin Powell slammed the Israeli strike as "too aggressive," and told CNN it "just serves to increase the level of tension and violence in the region." But how much Mr. Sharon and his inner cabinet are listening to the United States-after Clinton-brokered accords and a ceasefire arrangement from CIA director George Tenet failed-is an increasingly important question. Mr. Sharon has tried negotiations without success, lived with low-intensity urban conflict for 10 months, and now appears poised to target and eliminate Palestinian hardliners. A move to crush the Palestinian Authority would bring international condemnation, but it is unlikely that the Bush administration would ask Israel to forfeit its $3 billion in U.S. military aid or other support. U.S.: New satellite is for espionage
Chinese checkers
Beijing's first high-resolution imaging satellite is a military reconnaissance weapon disguised as a civilian earth-monitoring system, according to U.S. intelligence officials. "What has been described as a civilian earth sensing satellite is actually a military bird," an unnamed U.S. official told The Washington Times. China's official news agency said the satellite would be used for such civilian purposes as city planning and crop yield assessment. U.S. experts say they have enough data to dispute that claim. The satellite is delivering high-speed images at more than three times the resolution of previous Chinese satellites, allowing China to target missiles at U.S. forces in Japan and elsewhere, and prepare for strikes against Taiwan. DNC: Relief for workers is a GOP idea
If the slogan fits ...
As the Postal Service delivered the first 7.9 million tax-rebate checks, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe protested that each check carried the words "Tax Relief for America's Workers." He demanded an investigation into what he considers improper politicization: "The Bush administration's apparent inclusion of a Republican campaign slogan on tax refund checks is unseemly." Treasury Department spokesman Rob Nichols responded that the phrase "is an appropriate explanation of the checks' purpose so recipients can distinguish this from other federal payments," like annual tax refunds or Social Security benefit checks. Was the bland phrase on the checks a GOP slogan? Neither the Bush campaign nor the Republican Party was ever reported to have used "Tax Relief for America's Workers" in their 2000 campaign literature. House passes cloning ban, fight moves to Senate
Send out the clones
Cloning humans might still seem like science fiction-"like a bad B-movie from the 1960s," said Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.)-but the House of Representatives took a strong stand against it anyway. By a margin of 265-162 (including 63 Democrats), legislators passed a bill by Reps. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that would make all human cloning a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If the cloning were commercial, it could lead to a fine of at least $1 million. It also prohibits the importation of cloned products. In a statement, President Bush commended the House action: "We must advance the promise and cause of science, but must do so in a way that honors and respects life." The cloning fight carried echoes of Mr. Bush's impending decision on embryonic stem-cell research, and political strategists suggested the wide margin against cloning was a way for some legislators to appear moderate while supporting research destroying currently stored embryos. Liberal Republican Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania protested the religious overtones of the debate. "I would be mightily surprised if when you took a stem cell and put it in a petri dish and it divided, that God would choose that moment to put a soul in it," he said, adding that religious objections to embryo research were "unconstitutional." The cloning fight now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle won't be leaping to schedule a vote. But Sen. Sam Brownback, whose bill echoes Mr. Weldon's, says he's optimistic and is working with strange bedfellows to push a vote-Ralph Nader and left-wing opponents of the biotechnology industry. Indonesia: back to the future
Mega challenge
Transfer of power in Indonesia has not measurably changed the climate for Christians persecuted in the archipelago's Moluccas Islands. In just the past month, according to International Christian Concern, rescuers discovered nearly 300 Christians from locations where earlier reports led workers to believe that Islamic fighters had killed all Christian believers. Those recovered described forced circumcisions and forced conversions to Islam. However, they also described stepped-up efforts by Indonesia's military to protect Christian hideouts. In July Indonesians ousted their first democratically elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, on corruption charges. Mr. Wahid, a popular Muslim cleric, was inept at managing Indonesia's nose-diving economy and high-flying unemployment. Indonesians went back to the future, however, replacing him with "President Mega," or Megawati Sukarnoputri. She is the daughter of Indonesia's founding president, Sukarno, who also fathered the country's reputation as a kleptocracy. After long-standing dictatorships and a brief reign of democratic mayhem, the test for Mega will be whether she "will spread more disease or start to heal the patient," according to Asian analyst Scott Thompson. Mt. Etna erupts during Italy's tourist season
Fountains of ash
Fiery lava poured from Mt. Etna toward Italy's mountain resorts at the height of the summer tourist season. Police closed cable-car rides and mountain trails after the 500-foot-wide lava flow swallowed a cable-car station in three minutes. Bulldozers erected earthen barriers that slowed the molten flow from Europe's most active volcano, but fountains of ash, rock, and sand continued raining from Etna's southern slopes. Enviro-SUV: A more fuel-efficient death trap?
Mourning CAFE
Does SUV stand for Shameful Unregulated Vehicle? A battle is brewing on Capitol Hill over environmental standards. It could result in more fuel-efficient vehicles, but they may be smaller and less safe. At stake is the first increase in the federal corporate automobile fuel economy, or CAFE, standard in 25 years. Under the current rules, passenger cars must meet a fleet average of at least 27.5 miles per gallon, and small trucks, SUVs, and minivans 20.7 mpg. Since SUVs and vans comprise more than 40 percent of the passenger vehicles on the road today, environmentalists are up in arms. The Bush administration expressed openness to changes, but has not yet endorsed a specific measure. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would eliminate the "loophole" and make light trucks meet the same fuel standards as cars. The auto industry called that impossible. The Energy and Commerce Committee accepted a compromise plan that would mean a 3 mpg average fleet increase for new SUVs. General Motors protested any possible change in the rules, saying the SUV would be endangered if new rules pass. But last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that automakers presented a less-than-united front on the CAFE standards and lost their working majority in Congress. Lost in much of the politicking, though, is the concern that smaller cars with less metal are less safe than the so-called gas guzzlers: "Take the most high-tech car imaginable, one with the most advanced fuel and safety technologies conceivable. If you then make that car a bit larger and heavier, two things happen: You end up with a car that is safer than it was before, but that is also less fuel-efficient," argued Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. USA Today ran an investigative piece in 1999 that claimed 46,000 people had died in crashes since 1975 who would have survived in heavier cars. Smaller cars simply cannot absorb the shock of impact as well. The survey of crash data concluded that the cost of fuel efficiency was "roughly 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained." -Chris Stamper When you care enough: Hallmark enters the family television fray
Cable cards
Just as Disney is preparing its takeover of Fox Family, yet another new contender is coming to compete for the family TV audience: the Hallmark Channel. The cable network promises shows intended for adults that aren't considered inappropriate for kids. Think "Hallmark Hall of Fame," 24/7. "It's not family programming per se but programming that is OK if your whole family sees it," said Margaret Loesch, the channel's president and chief executive officer. Examples of programming include miniseries like The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells, Lord Jim, and Hans Christian Andersen. The Hallmark Channel already exists overseas. The Hallmark Channel originally was a network called VISN, a religious channel run by a coalition of mainline Christian and Jewish groups. Few watched it. Over time, the programming grew more secular and the name changed to the Faith and Values Network and then Odyssey; it became known for reruns of fare like Christy, My Three Sons, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Under the new regime, the nondenominational religious shows will be exiled to a few hours on Sunday morning. Cable TV today is being dominated more and more by certain large players that control channel space carried by local companies. Now, a venture like Hallmark has to pay from $3 to $5 per subscriber to a cable operator, and in return receives a small license fee of perhaps 6 cents per subscriber, said industry analyst Derek Baine of Paul Kagan Associates: "Most cable networks take five years to break even. In that time it's easy to run up $200 million or $300 million in losses." I bounce, ergo I'm Airgo
The new, new toy
The pogo stick is making a comeback. The people who sparked last year's scooter fad hope to start a new craze. The adjustable, air-powered model is called the Airgo, a name that sounds like "ergo." The squeaky springs that give a pogo stick its bounce are gone. Instead, a built-in pump moves air through a chamber for better springiness and less noise. It has adjustable handle bars and folds down to 22 inches. Last month, Razor USA began shipping thousands of the shiny, aluminum retro toys to stores around the country. It will sell for $79.99 and compete with more conventional models. The pogo stick first boomed in the 1920s when it was used as a gimmick in stage shows by chorus girls. It became a standby over the years, but sales started jumping in the mid-1990s when manufacturers started adding new colors, jump counters, and noisemakers.

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