Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "War in the shadows," Oct. 6, 2001

U.S. builds massive coalition, but the cost may be high
Lateral moves
What a difference a day makes. Before Sept. 11, Uncle Sam was the lone man out, castigated for abandoning international treaties, vilified for walking out on a UN conference on racism, and tossed off the UN Human Rights Commission. Now, even though not everyone is on America's side, much of the rest of the world is making a surprising show of solidarity in President Bush's worldwide war on terrorism. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates took steps to end diplomatic relations with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, leaving only Pakistan with an open door to the radical Islamic regime in Kabul. Former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakstan offered to assist the United States in military operations. They join Uzbekistan, which has already housed U.S. warplanes. At an Interpol meeting in Budapest, representatives from 135 countries unanimously passed a resolution condemning the 9/11 attacks and promising worldwide police cooperation. Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said the agreement was "historic" and quickly followed it with an international warrant for Aiman Al Zawahri, leader of Al Jihad and Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man. The support comes in part as a result of a White House campaign to woo world leaders, particularly in the Middle East and central Asia. It is also a result of the global nature of the attack itself; 80 nations have casualties from the World Trade Center attacks. But coalition building can only take the United States so far, warn many foreign-policy experts. They say the United States should continue to hold the so-called "condemnation process" in the UN Security Council at arm's length. The Bush administration may later regret making too many friends. Already the Bush administration has sought and received pledges of cooperation from Syria, Iran, and Sudan. "The notion that terrorist-sponsoring nations can be our allies in the war on terrorism," said Frank J. Gaffney Jr., director of the Center for Security Policy, "is dangerous foolishness." Vigils continue for Taliban's captives
Americans held
Vigils continued last week from Texas to Pakistan for Americans Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, aid workers imprisoned in Afghanistan. Antioch Community Church in Waco, where both young women attended while students at Baylor University, has been holding a round-the-clock vigil for them since the 9/11 attacks. In Islamabad, Christians gathered at Protestant International Church to pray for the women and six other Western workers for Shelter Now, who were arrested on Aug. 5 for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. Under the ruling Taliban's Islamic extremism, that is a crime that can be punishable by death. Diplomats said last week they had been informed by Taliban officials that the Westerners have been moved to an undisclosed "safer place" in case of a U.S. attack. Bush proposal gains ground
Missile defense's moment?
With Americans suddenly aware of their vulnerability to attack, the Bush administration's aggressive approach to national missile defense is gaining ground. Days after the attack, administration officials informed their Russian counterparts that they still intended to withdraw within weeks from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so they can continue their testing program. Sen. Carl Levin, a prominent Democratic opponent, felt forced by the circumstances to postpone a proposal that would require the president to inform Congress before conducting tests that might violate the treaty. Mr. Levin will still push for a $1.3 billion cut in the administration's $8.3 billion missile-defense proposal. SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE THE FATE OF CLEVELAND SCHOOL-VOUCHER PLAN
Final showdown
Is this their final answer? After years of conflicting lower-court rulings on tax-funded school vouchers, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to deliver what may prove to be a landmark set of decisions on school choice. The court said it will hear three cases related to the embattled Cleveland Scholarship Program, which provides tuition aid to parents of nearly 4,000 students who have left failing public schools in that city. "This is a huge day for the kids in Cleveland and all over the country. We're delighted that the Supreme Court will finally have a chance to remove the constitutional cloud from school choice," said Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice, the law firm representing families in the program. Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson, whose wife Barbara perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, filed an unsolicited friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to take on the Cleveland dispute. He argued the program is constitutional because it provides the same amount of cash help to parents, whether they choose parochial or secular schools for their children. The court struck down a school-voucher program in 1973, saying some public money was used to "subsidize and advance the religious mission of sectarian schools." The court has since let stand lower court school-choice decisions involving indirect aid to religious schools. A high court ruling on the Cleveland cases is expected by June. Affiliates, sponsors drop ABC satire Politically Incorrect
Bill marred
Is Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect in trouble? WJLA, Washington's ABC affiliate, and 11 others have suspended airing the show and major sponsors like Sears and FedEx have fled. Trouble began for the ABC host after the Sept. 17 broadcast, in which he claimed that the United States-not the terrorists at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon-were cowards. "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away, that's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, [that's] not cowardly." While ABC continues to carry the show with bargain-basement sponsors, frequent panelist Arianna Huffington is urging signatures on an online petition to prevent "censorship" of Mr. Maher's views. In the same show in which he uttered the "coward" comments, Mr. Maher also blamed religion for the terrorist attacks: "Religion is extremist. It's extreme to believe in things that your rational mind knows are not true." When challenged, he added people believe "a lot of stupid Muslim tricks and ... stupid Christian tricks, OK? They believe a lot of things, and it's such a fundamental belief, that if the other guy doesn't agree with you, he's got to go, and we're guilty of the same thing." Cult proselytizes rescuers
A little Dianetics?
At least 800 Ministers of Scientology flocked to the World Trade Center disaster site after the Sept. 11 terrorist bombing. That's according to The New York Times, which reported that other volunteers were cleared away from the ruins but Scientologists, dressed in distinctive yellow T-shirts, were allowed to stay and labor alongside volunteers from the Salvation Army and Red Cross. According to the Times, the Scientologists used mind techniques like localization-look at the clouds-to help exhausted and overwhelmed rescue workers regain focus. One rescue worker described the "nerve assist" given to her by a Scientologist who ran his fingers over her to unblock nerve channels and restore energy flow. Afterwards came proselytizing: She was asked if she'd like a "little Dianetics session." Scientology is the brainchild of L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer. Along with volunteering at the disaster site, his followers have run ads on the Fox News Channel with the message, "Flourish and Prosper!" The Scientologist anti-terrorist message (also available on the Web at flourishamerica.org) is, "Let's show them that all they have succeeded in doing is make us more productive.... Do more than you've ever done and with each action know you are delivering the ultimate blow against these wretched vermin." INTERNET HOAX HELPS SPUR INTEREST IN 16TH-CENTURY SOOTHSAYER; SALES OF NOSTRADAMUS BOOKS SPIKE
Profits without honor
More evidence that those who won't believe in God will believe in anything: The World Trade Center attacks have launched a Nostradamus boom in America. Right after the attacks, books about the 16th-century French soothsayer became bestsellers. Garbled versions of his sayings started flying around the Internet, some of which were complete hoaxes. The Lycos search engine reported that Nostradamus received more searches in one week than any other topic over the last two years. He beat World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden, and even New York on Lycos' top-50 list of most popular topics (the Bible only ranked No. 23). "Two metal birds would crash into two tall statues in the new city and the world will end soon after," read one supposed saying. "In the city of York there will be a great collapse/two twin brothers torn apart by chaos," read another. Nostradamus buffs say these aren't genuine. Nostradamus's sayings consist of a series of cryptic rhymes that are supposed to foretell events in the future. Since they are so vague, they have been interpreted after the fact as predicting such events as the 1970s oil crisis, the Persian Gulf War, and Princess Diana's death. "If Nostradamus was such a profound prophet, then why is it that not one person in the world was able to decipher his 'prediction' in time to sound a warning about the horrors of 11 September 2001?" remarked Barbara Mikkelson on the Urban Legends Reference Pages. Even as the dubious references became obvious, books still flew off shelves. "We still sold all of our Nostradamus books, despite the fact that we were telling people that we thought it was a hoax," Kelly Lamb, a manager at a Borders in Tulsa, Okla., told Reuters. BYE-BYE, ANEMIA; Fashion goes red, white, and blue
Retailing patriotism
Flags are everywhere-on front stoops, on car antennas, taped to windows, in pixel form on computer screens, even on clothing. Everywhere, it seems, except the stores that sell them. For days after the Sept. 11 attacks, retailers taped up signs in the windows apologizing that they had no more stars and stripes. Merchants with some in stock rushed to sell what they had, often at a substantial markup. Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, sold out of 500,000 flags immediately and scrambled to replace them. Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and other major apparel makers reported a sharp increase in sales of red, white, and blue merchandise. Often these displays have created unintentional breaches of protocol. The Flag Code, adopted in 1923 as part of federal law, governs the stars and stripes. The rules say that a flag should be displayed at night only if it is illuminated-and that only those made of weather-resistant material should be displayed during inclement weather. The code carries no penalties for violators, but flag devotees urge people to use proper decorum. The flag boom has short-circuited the fashion industry as national unity subsumes personal disenchantments. Retailers are rushing to make room for more patriotic merchandise. "This is going to make ... cool fashions look passe," said David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group, a buying office in New York. "All of this black clothing making people look anemic now almost looks dangerous. People now want to look healthy and strong, and are going to go with classic American looks." TOURISM DECLINE SENDS INDUSTRIES REELING
The 'what-if' factor
Who wants to go on vacation? Not many Americans nowadays, and the result is thousands of workers laid off in the airline, tourism, and hotel industries. Initial reports also show a marked decline in leisure activities. Travel agent Mike Palyok in Columbia, S.C., said people are canceling trips in numbers he hasn't seen in 25 years. "It's the 'what-if.' It's hard to fight that in a person's mind." Behind the show of unity and hope in Manhattan, hundreds of restaurant tables, theater seats, and hotel beds are empty. Open talk of closing Broadway shows is just part of a downturn in the Big Apple's $25 billion annual tourism industry. Hotel executives hold some hope on the lack of mass cancelations for November and December. Tourism promoters are trying to bring in visitors from nearby Connecticut and New Jersey. The decline stretches far beyond New York. Las Vegas saw hotel occupancy drop to half, then begin to recover. In Florida, tourist spending has dropped by more than a third-about $20 million a day-since the attacks, according to economic consultant Stan Geberer. Economists say the effects will reverberate throughout the economy. "You cut 20,000 jobs at Delta, you better believe the guy who sells shoes is going to feel that," said Roy Bahl, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. "He just hasn't felt it yet."

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