Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Elaine Chao: Unlikely star," Nov. 3, 2001

Congress tries to go about its business as poisoned letters shut down office buildings
Nothing to sneeze at
Who knows a ghost town better than a saloon keeper? Tim Caggiano keeps the books at Bullfeathers on Capitol Hill, a saloon and restaurant one block south of the row of House office buildings. Business had been relatively steady since Sept. 11, a day when Capitol Hill evacuations "just packed the place all day." But since an anthrax scare cleared out congressional staffers, Bullfeathers is bringing in only about "25 percent of normal business," Mr. Caggiano said. Once a letter arrived for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle filled with anthrax spores and tests revealed that 28 staffers tested positive for anthrax exposure (not infection), congressional leaders shut down their office buildings for environmental tests. House Speaker Dennis Hastert closed the House side first, while the Senate remained for another day, which led to mockery of the House. "WIMPS," screamed the front page of the New York Post. "Another chapter in Profiles in Courage," joked Sen. John McCain on the David Letterman show. The events that followed put a stop to the ridicule. By the weekend of Oct. 21, investigators found anthrax spores on a bundling machine in the mailroom of the Ford House Office Building. Then two postal workers from the post office in northeast Washington that processes Capitol Hill's mail checked themselves into emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms, and both died within hours. The killer was inhaled anthrax. The White House also announced a positive test for a "small concentration" of anthrax spores on a slitter machine that opens letters at its mail-screening facility six miles away. Meanwhile, Congress is trying to mobilize and get back to business. Most senators set up office in the Capitol building, and the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, cleared two floors and displaced 1,200 employees to make room for 435 House members and skeletal staffs. Lobbyists complained that they couldn't find legislators to lobby. Earlier plans to finish the year's legislative business by the end of October have been put aside, and now members hope to be finished by Thanksgiving, when a dearth of Capitol Hill restaurant business isn't such a surprise. Congressmen haggle over stimulus
Fading bipartisanship
Government power always grows during wartime, and the war on terrorism is no exception. The House last week approved by a margin of 357 to 66 a package giving police new powers to conduct secret searches, to wiretap, and to monitor Internet use by suspected terrorists. The Senate has promised to follow suit. House opponents argued the bill gives the government too much power, but supporters believed authorities need new powers to fight the new threat of terrorism. The GOP-controlled House gave up its insistence that money-laundering legislation be passed separately and not loaded into the anti-terrorism legislation. Senate leaders threatened to kill the bill if the House removed the money-laundering provisions. But other signs indicate that congressmen, like other Americans, are "getting back to normal"-which for them means slow and partisan deliberations. The House last week narrowly passed a $100 billion tax-cut plan to stimulate the economy, by a paper-thin 216 to 214 vote. But the Senate will drastically shrink that. Senate Finance Committee leaders are consulting with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill on a much smaller tax cut of $35 billion and new spending, such as a 50 percent federal match on COBRA health plans for the newly unemployed and raising the income limits to add people to Medicaid. President Bush has already proposed extending unemployment benefits from 29 to 36 weeks for workers who lost their jobs because of the terrorist attacks. THE HO-HUM SUMMIT? BUSH-JIANG MEETING IN CHINA TAKES A BACK SEAT TO THE WAR ON TERRORISM
Give them something to talk about
In days of yore, the long-awaited summit between President George Bush and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin would have focused on trade relations, human rights, and last spring's mid-air collision of an American spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter. Instead, the two leaders held a restrained meeting outside Shanghai where Mr. Bush focused single-mindedly on "the magnitude of the threat posed by international terrorism." Once seen as potentially the thorniest foreign-policy challenge facing the incoming president, U.S.-China relations seemed a mere distraction, with Mr. Bush appearing tired and tense throughout his trip. Thorns do remain. Less than a week after the presidential summit, a court in Beijing placed on trial American Fong Fuming, an electrical engineer from West Orange, N.J. He is the latest in a long line of U.S. citizens and residents tried by China this year on security charges. China accuses Mr. Fong, 66, of obtaining secret government documents from a power official and paying $245,000 in bribes. A U.S. citizen since 1994, Mr. Fong was detained last February as he arrived in Beijing to meet representatives of a U.S. power firm bidding for a contract. The trial adjourned after seven hours, with another hearing promised. WORLD IN BRIEF
Lutheran clergyman Kjell Magne Bondevik won elections in Norway on a platform that's one part American conservatism, two parts Scandinavian liberalism. The center-right coalition Mr. Bondevik will head promises tax cuts and privatization, along with improved welfare, health, and education programs. Norway keeps its 4.5 million people on a fat dole with government surpluses accrued as the world's second largest oil exporter. Mr. Bondevik is an adviser to the Religious Liberty Commission, a persecution watchdog of World Evangelical Fellowship. HOSTAGE STANDOFF IN COLOMBIA ENDS UNHAPPILY
New Tribes Mission closed a sad chapter on a long saga for the Florida-based agency and families of three missionaries. Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, and Rick Tenenoff, all captured by Colombian rebels in 1993, were declared dead, ending an 8H year crisis that repeatedly whipsawed family members and mission investigators between Washington and Bogota, and between hope and despair. Dan Germann, director of New Tribes Colombia at the time of the kidnapping, met with a guerrilla in September who provided a convincing account of the missionaries' captivity. "They are dead," said the insurgent, now in prison. He reported that the men were killed by rebels in 1996 after they were nearly discovered by Colombian troops. His story, said New Tribes, validated other recent accounts provided by guerrilla defectors. TALES FROM BENEATH THE SEA
They said it could not be done. Dutch salvage experts raised the Russian submarine Kursk from the bottom of the Barents Sea, where it had listed for more than a year after sinking from an apparent explosion, killing all 118 seamen on board. Workers tested the vessel for signs of radioactive leaks from its nuclear reactors before commencing a full autopsy. But the raised vessel may not tell the whole story, since its mangled first compartment was cut off and left behind. It may be raised next year. EX-CIA HEAD: "SUSPICIOUS" OF IRAQ
Telegraphing the next punch?
There is not enough evidence yet to convict, but there is enough to be "highly suspicious" of Saddam Hussein as the master of terrorist attacks on the United States, including the anthrax scare. Former CIA director James Woolsey used a speaking engagement at the national convention of the American Jewish Congress on Oct. 22 to outline the case against Iraq. "There are too many things, too many examples of stolen identities, of cleverly crafted documentation, of coordination across continents and between states," he said, "to stray very far from the conclusion that a state, and a very well-run intelligence service is involved here." The Bush administration appears to be using the former Navy admiral, who is serving on post-9/11 advisory panels for both the CIA and the Pentagon, as a front man to hint that Iraq may be next when Afghanistan is finished. Are Internet taxes on the horizon?
Tangled Web
Internet taxes may be around the corner, now that a 3-year-old measure has quietly expired. Now the federal government may lawfully tax online access, services, and purchases. This adds a new worry for tech companies and the upstart e-commerce industry, which have been thrashed by the economic downturn. Legislators in both parties had worked to extend the moratorium, but time ran out as the war on terrorism took priority. As the ban was expiring, Congress was in recess due to the anthrax threat. Some tech leaders say they are concerned that America's nearly 7,600 state and local governments will impose taxes on online sales and Internet access as a way to boost faltering revenues. "Our economy is already in a substantial stall," said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America. "This is going to be one more bad break." Legislators have debated Internet taxes for years. Many states complain that they lose needed revenue when residents make purchases on out-of-state websites. E-commerce companies have complained that collecting taxes will drive away business and become a logistical nightmare. Lurking behind the moratorium is a proposed streamlining of local and state sales tax systems into a national system. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) said this would prevent hassles for business, which would like "one form, one place to send your check, and one audit." For consumers, this would likely mean paying sales taxes on out-of-state purchases. Polaroid tries to sell assets after declaring bankruptcy
Photo Þnish
What happens when an innovator runs out of innovations? It struggles to survive, as is the case with Polaroid, which popularized instant cameras. Once a darling of Wall Street, the company is trying to sell itself off after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. Founder Edwin Land, who died in 1991, was considered one of the great inventors in American history. His work in optics helped boost Polaroid into a booming business from the 1950s through the 1970s. In 1972, Polaroid introduced the first self-developing camera, the SX-70. It flew off store shelves, and some investors thought the company could do no wrong. Polaroid was caught up in the "Nifty Fifty" craze, which drove up the stock prices of a group of companies thought in the 1970s to be safe, dependable, and always growing. Such enthusiasm turned out to be misplaced; after the bubble burst, Polaroid never rose to such heights again. After Land retired in 1982, the company went into deep debt trying to fight off a hostile takeover. In the 1990s, Polaroid invested heavily in an unsuccessful camera called the Captiva. Then the company was stuck with huge management costs maintaining its instant camera business while losing step with digital photography. Abercrombie & Fitch cancels "magalog"
'A little too fun'
sThe war on terrorism left a strange casualty: Abercrombie & Fitch has canceled its winter catalog. The chain announced last month that it would nix the holiday issue of A&F Quarterly, which is notorious for its offensive tone and use of naked models, because its content would be inappropriate after the 9/11 attacks. "We always have been a little irreverent, but this magalog [combination magazine and catalog] seemed like it was a little too fun and wouldn't be appropriate," said company spokesman Hampton Carney. A&F Quarterly is targeted to college-age youth and boasts a circulation of about 350,000, half of which are from subscriptions. The rest go out through the chain's stores, where buyers must show ID proving that they are 18 or older to receive a copy. Abercrombie & Fitch dates back to 1892 and originally sold goods to outdoorsmen. For decades, it was upscale and adventurous, boasting of having outfitted Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, and Howard Hughes. The stores went through years of decline, went bankrupt in 1977, and were retooled in the 1990s as a "lifestyle brand" for 18- to 22-year-olds. A&F Quarterly debuted four years ago and quickly raised a storm of controversy. The catalog has featured strippers, porn stars, and an array of nude models.

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