Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Trial and terror," Sept. 1, 2001

A merciful resignation
John J. DiIulio, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, announced on Aug. 17 that he would leave that position for personal reasons. A smart and funny University of Pennsylvania professor, Mr. DiIulio (according to an Aug. 20 Washington Post editorial mourning his resignation) "presented his faith-based initiative as if it were a Gore-style reinventing-government program." That did not thrill many conservatives. Washington being what it is, liberal journalists wrote fulsome eulogies while privately trading rumors of resignation-under-pressure like kids trade baseball cards, or used to. The most popular cards among reporters: The White House inner circle had had enough of Mr. DiIulio's loose lips, disorganized management, and ineffective lobbying (in terms of obtaining more Democratic support for the initiative). It's true that some of Mr. DiIulio's disparaging comments about evangelicals earlier this year (for example, "Bible thumping doesn't cut it") broke what could be called the Rove Doctrine of "Do not alienate your base." But the Bush White House includes many kind people, and top Bush aide Karl Rove and others had real concerns about their colleague's health. Football fatalities around the nation during August turned some sports pages into obituary reports. In Washington, a dedicated but heavily overweight John DiIulio was doing the equivalent of two-a-days under intense political heat and personal stress. Something had to give, and it was best for this good man to leave with his shield rather than on it. The resignation was Mr. DiIulio's decision, and associates said it grew out of a clear recognition that the heat in the philanthropic kitchen would grow even more severe over the next few months. Part of that heat was the result of his own decisions; as gutsy critic Michael Horowitz has been shouting for months at high decibels, Mr. DiIulio's "personality has its charms. His strategic vision was a disaster." John DiIulio's success at selling his direct-grants emphasis to TeamBush almost flat-lined what was a multi-dimensional concept. In a July 1999 speech that defined his sense of the governmental role in compassionate conservatism, candidate George W. Bush emphasized first the importance of tax credits and deductions, and second the prospect of direct grants. Mr. DiIulio ignored the tax-credit proposal, downplayed deductions, and tried to soothe concerns on the left by proposing rules for grantmaking that discriminated against evangelicals. Professor DiIulio, though, has given us all an education. In 1999 some Bush advisers claimed that a direct-grants program could establish a "level playing field" for all religious groups. In the past seven months, though, some evangelicals have fumed about potentially subsidizing Scientologists, some Jewish groups have hollered about funding evangelical anti-poverty activities, and so on. We've now seen, given our cultural and theological differences in America, that a level-playing-field direct-grants bill can't get through Congress, and a politically feasible bill will discriminate against effective programs that President Bush himself has highly praised. TeamBush is also boxed in because of controversy concerning two key provisions in the faith-based bill passed by the House of Representatives. One clause (inserted because of conservative pressure) would give administration officials the option to use vouchers within many programs, and the other would continue to allow religious groups to say no to hiring homosexual or heterosexual adulterers. The Senate is unlikely to support a bill with those two clauses, but key conservative groups and members of Congress are likely to oppose the bill if those two provisions are stripped from it. As John DiIulio leaves office, an initiative that at first had enjoyed public support is now mired in controversy and attacked by both left and right, with Sen. Joe Lieberman awarded a large role in its future development. Speculation concerning a new faith-based office head is now rampant. Former frontrunner Steve Goldsmith, or DiIulio associates Don Eberly or Don Willett, would be good choices, but a surprise choice would be unsurprising. How about Harry Houdini? -Marvin Olasky BUSH TO TAX-CUT LOSERS: "THAT BATTLE'S OVER WITH"
Get over it
President Bush may have wanted an easy week at the ranch, but Democrats planned a full blitz (including TV commercials) attacking him on his budget. The Office of Management and Budget announced on Aug. 22 a budget surplus estimate of $158 billion for this fiscal year, which ends in September. (That's $123 billion less than the agency forecast this spring; the tax cut took $70 billion out of Washington hands, and the rest of the dip is due to the slowing economy.) While that marks the second largest surplus in American history, it's also only $1 billion above the surplus from Social Security taxes. So the Democrats are hitting Mr. Bush hard about using the Social Security "trust fund," even though it's something politicians of both parties did for many deficit-plagued years. Over images of senior citizens, the Democratic National Committee ad displays the White House phone number and urges viewers to call and "tell George Bush to stop raiding our Social Security and Medicare." President Bush told reporters in Kansas City that seven of the last eight budgets have used money from the Social Security "trust fund," and defended his tax cut: Liberal congressmen "are upset that we passed money back to the people because they wanted to spend it on pet projects, on bigger appropriations. And what I am saying is, that battle's over with." He called the ads the product of "a lot of highly partisan people that really didn't like the tax cut to begin with. They want the government to have the people's money." Republicans will also brandish the Clinton administration's 2000 Economic Report to the President, which admitted, "The existence of large trust fund balances … does not, by itself, have any impact on the government's ability to pay benefits." NATO TO ENFORCE PEACE PACT
Back in the Balkans
The first contingent of 3,500 NATO soldiers, including several hundred soldiers from the United States, arrived in Macedonia. They will enforce a political agreement signed on Aug. 13 aimed at ending a 6-month-old conflict between ethnic Albanians and the government. The NATO force will collect arms from rebels under the terms of the new pact. The clock will be ticking on achieving that goal, with NATO having put a 30-day limit on the deployment. The United States did not veto the plan, despite a campaign pledge from President Bush to disengage from the Balkans. Roughly 9,000 American servicemen are already on patrol in the Balkans: 500 in Macedonia, 5,000 in Kosovo, and 3,500 in Bosnia. YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: BIG AGRICULTURE GETS BIG BUCKS
Lactose intolerance
Taxpayers are being milked, and corporate farmers are holding the bucket. According to a study released last week, the big $5.5 billion farm bailout that President Bush signed this year is going mainly to wealthy agricultural interests, not family farmers. The liberal Environmental Working Group raised questions about where the money was going. The study pointed out that Arkansas-based Tyler Farms received $1.7 million to help operate its 40,000 acres. Big Agriculture has long been a big taker of taxpayer money. "Most small farmers have off-farm income and they're not as dependent on it," said Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock. "It's the big farmers, crop farmers, that have developed a culture of dependency." Groups promote vacations in war zone
Tour of duty?
While suicide bombers turn fast food restaurants in downtown Jerusalem into bloodbaths, Christian tour groups and friends of Israel still want Americans to make a pilgrimage there. Malcolm Hedding, director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, called on Christians worldwide "to rally behind our call to stand up for Israel" and "visit Israel as a personal statement of solidarity with the Jewish state." His comments came at an emergency conference of the group's overseas affiliates held, not surprisingly, outside Israel. Delegates meeting in Switzerland seek to rally support for a Feast of Tabernacles event in October that normally draws tens of thousands to Jerusalem's International Convention Center. Understandably, many potential visitors realize wartime is not tourist-time. Mr. Hedding said Palestinian violence is "harming Israel tourism and fueling global anti-Semitism." Store revenues in Jerusalem's commercial center have indeed plummeted since the August attack by a Palestinian terrorist inside a Sbarro restaurant in the heart of the capital city. Shopkeepers report an average 70 percent drop in sales. Owners of jewelry stores frequented by tourists in the area say their sales fell 92 percent. At the same time, El Al Airlines says it expects to lose $105 million this year due to the effect of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians on the tourist trade. END OF AN ERA: CONSERVATIVE LEGEND SAYS HE'LL RETIRE
A senator at the helm
At the end of 30 notable and often turbulent years of service, legendary conservative Sen. Jesse Helms told his North Carolina constituents he would retire when his term ends next year. When Sen. Helms first won election to the Senate in 1972, Republicans were a much more liberal band than they are today. This increasing conservatism among Capitol Hill Republicans came not only from his dogged policy battles, but from his national organizing through the Congressional Club, including use of advanced organizing techniques, especially direct-mail fundraising. Before reaching the pinnacle of his power as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1995, Sen. Helms became famous for blocking liberal foreign-policy nominees and for plain-spoken criticism of abortion and leftist cultural trends, particularly the homosexual agenda. In 1995, he drew liberal howls when he protested that AIDS received much higher spending per death than cancer or heart disease: "We've got to have some common sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts." The retirement of Sen. Helms, who will turn 80 in October, is spurring assessments that he was the second most important conservative figure of his time-behind Ronald Reagan. FBI under fire for mix-ups in espionage investigations
Spies like us
Next time look for the mole in your own backyard. FBI agents launched an investigation of a 20-year veteran of CIA covert operations when the traitor they were looking for could have been found on their home turf. The CIA officer spent 21 months on paid leave and his daughter, also a CIA employee, lost a promotion. Family members underwent repeated interrogation sessions with the FBI where they were told that the father of three and winner of five medals for service to the United States was a spy. He was not cleared until agents learned that the real spy was one of their own, Robert Hansen, a high-level FBI counterintelligence officer. Mistaken identity is only one of the mix-ups now landing the FBI on the receiving end of investigations. Congress and the Justice Department's Inspector General are looking into why the FBI failed to turn over documents to lawyers for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and how it lost track of hundreds of guns and computers in its inventory. They will also ask the agency why it kept in solitary confinement for nine months nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, suspected of espionage at a U.S. nuclear weapons lab, only to have all but one of 59 felony charges against him dropped. Tarot reader's promoters fined
For months, TV screens have been bombarded with the smiling face of Miss Cleo pitching tarot card readings. With her Caribbean accent, she promises supernatural advice to those concerned about love, money, and other personal issues. Now a St. Louis court has slapped her promoters with a $75,000 fine. Access Resources Services Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company, allegedly violated Missouri's no-call law, which allows residents to sign up on a list that bars telemarketers from calling them. Violators face fines of up to $5,000 per violation. Attorney General Jay Nixon, who filed the suit, has a separate, unresolved claim that people were billed for supposedly free services; the company insists it did nothing wrong. "It doesn't take a crystal ball to realize that ripping off consumers isn't without consequences," said Mr. Nixon. He claims the company misrepresented reduced rates and waiver fees. For example, customers were charged for time spent on hold waiting to speak with a psychic. He said people (including some deceased) were billed for Miss Cleo's services even though they never requested them. Also, the company allegedly charged for calls made by minors without parental consent. Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor also sued Access last year. He claimed the company "used just about every trick in the book to mislead and overbill consumers." Miss Cleo herself is still in business, billed as a "devoted Shango Shaman" on her website. She claims to believe in a deity called Olorun whose "spiritual energy" can be tapped through "ritual, prayer, divination, and ebo, or offerings." The readings, however, are "for entertainment purposes only," according to a disclaimer. Man knows not his time
Illusion buster
Derek Freeman, the anthropologist who challenged Margaret Mead's scholarship about teenagers in Samoa, died of congestive heart failure at age 84. He leaves behind two major challenges to a celebrated academic study that influenced debates on human sexuality. Two years ago, he published The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead, which updated criticisms from a previous book in 1983. He said her study "is marked by major errors, and her account of the sexual behavior of Samoans is a mind-boggling contradiction." Mead was only 23 in 1925 when she went to the tropical island. Modern-day Samoans deride her description of a society of promiscuity without emotional inhibitions. Freeman, who spent several years there, responded that people there "value virginity highly and so disapprove of premarital promiscuity as to exercise a strict surveillance over the comings and goings of adolescent girls." Mead was a student of Frank Boas, who argued that environment took precedence over biology in determining human behavior. Freeman claimed that she wanted to please her mentor and therefore was fooled by her subjects' responses and passed over contrary evidence. He used testimony from one of Mead's Samoan companions, Fa'apua a Fa'amu, to boost his case. Her book, however, remains prominent on college reading lists. Airlines scale back the saturday night stay-over rule
Home for the weekend
The airline industry is scaling back one of its most intrusive rules, at least temporarily. United Airlines suspended its Saturday night stay-over requirement on discounted fares on a handful of flights, with American matching the offer. Business travel has dropped off severely due to a weaker economy. Major corporations are cutting back on flights and airlines have been forced to cut rates. Eliminating Saturday night stay restrictions is a major step, though it may not last long. It may mean a few less lonely weekends away from home for business travelers. Cheap business fares beat empty seats, according to Tom Parsons of the Bestfares.com travel agency. "It's a war out there," he said, noting that other major carriers like Continental, Delta, and U.S. Airways also have followed United's lead. Mr. Parsons said that travelers are in a buyer's market, but still may face a seven-day advance purchase requirement. American Airlines, the world's largest carrier, announced that business travel in the second quarter fell 15 percent from a year earlier and was "trending down," said Tom Horton, the airline's chief financial officer.

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