Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Politics Post 9/11," Nov. 17, 2001

AFGHANISTAN'S NORTHERN ALLIANCE READY TO RUMBLE THROUGHOUT RAMADAN
Give us the tools
Muslim nations petitioned President Bush to go easy on the Taliban during Ramadan, the Muslim season of fasting. But Muslims fighting the Taliban inside Afghanistan seem to want no such holiday. Northern Alliance officials said they were ready to launch attacks on the key cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul after a month's worth of U.S. assaults softened up Taliban front lines. If the United States would provide additional weapons, supplies, and air support, said spokesman Haron Amin, Northern Alliance fighters would begin the campaign just ahead of Ramadan's start this week. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured the perimeter of Afghanistan, as the military campaign entered its second month. His trip coincided with increased activity on the ground by U.S. special forces inside Afghanistan. With U.S. help, opposition fighters have opened two airports in northern Afghanistan, making it possible for more U.S. soldiers to disembark into the war zone. Those soldiers are finding ground fighting anything but a mop-up operation. Taliban fighters ambushed a Delta Force unit clearing its way from a compound sometimes used by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Mr. Omar was not there, but, as an officer put it to New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, it was "a tactical firefight, and the Taliban had the advantage" and 12 U.S. commandos were wounded, three seriously. Mr. Rumsfeld would not comment on the Delta Force operation. He acknowledged that the Taliban could still put up a fight but said it is no longer "functioning as a government." Problem is, the United States has never considered the Taliban a functioning government. Only three nations have ever recognized the Taliban as legitimate. Even the United Nations has denied the regime representation in the General Assembly since it took control of Afghanistan in 1996. INTELLIGENCE AGENTS UNCOVER DOMESTIC TERROR MANUAL
Jihad for dummies
Western intelligence agents have discovered a terrorist manual with lots of James Bond-style gadgetry. Only this how-to material, compiled into an 11-volume "Encyclopedia of Jihad," is for real. Diagrams in the manual show everything from how to create an exploding cigarette pack to how to blow up a suspension bridge. The instructions run to 7,000 pages and have been circulated on CD-Rom. The encyclopedia is dedicated to Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, an Islamic scholar considered by Mr. bin Laden and others to be the father of jihad teaching. The tomes first surfaced in 1999 when Jordanian police arrested Khalil Deek in connection with a plot to bomb Jordan's main airport in Amman. Mr. Deek received training at a camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, and shared a bank account with Abu Zubaydah, often described as Mr. bin Laden's chief of staff. "It gives us a very clear idea of what we are up against," Roland Jacquard of the World Terrorism Observatory told the Sunday Times of London. THREE-TIME LOSER: Former dictator loses Nicaraguan presidential bid
Ortega rejected>
It's a tough election season for guerrillas. Former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega lost in his third attempt to become Nicaragua's president after his opponent successfully "bin-Ladenized" the former rebel leader. Mr. Ortega was leading Enrique Bolanos in pre-Sept. 11 polls, but his popularity gradually eroded as Mr. Bolanos tied him to his terrorist-like past and warned voters that the former U.S. enemy would not be a well-regarded U.S. ally in wartime. Mr. Bolanos, 73, heads a pro-democracy party and spent his career fighting the leftist Sandinistas, who seized his family's business holdings during the civil war in the 1980s. Arizona's Brenly had his own big comeback in 1986
Following their manager's lead
Much has already been written about the 2001 World Series, one of the greatest ever. In games 4 and 5 the New York Yankees were one out away from defeat but each time rallied to win. In the seventh and final game on Nov. 4 the Arizona Diamondbacks came from behind in the bottom of the ninth inning against the paramount relief pitcher in baseball today, Mariano Rivera, and won 3-2. Such is the stuff that dreams are made of. Reporters noted the Diamondbacks' ability to recover from two devastating losses, but a Lexis-Nexis search of World Series coverage reveals no stories about the way their manager, Bob Brenly, had showed a resolve 15 years before that he evidently was able to pass on to his players. On Sept. 14, 1986, Mr. Brenly, then a player stationed at third base for the San Francisco Giants, tied a major league record by committing four errors in one inning. Reporter Scott Ostler at the time wrote that "If Brooks Robinson was a matador, teasing the bull with his cape, Bob Brenly was a trout fisherman, cleaning his catch with a chain saw." Mr. Brenly let an easy two-hopper bounce off his glove. Then he bobbled another easy chance for a second error. Then he retrieved the ball and threw it 20 feet over the catcher's head for error No. 3. Then another ground ball came his way and the reporter, imagining it as a live hand grenade, noted the dilemma: "Should Brenly throw himself on it and save his teammates, thereby salvaging a measure of honor in death, or turn and run? Courageously, he stood his ground, and the ball kicked off his glove." The next morning, Mr. Brenly told interviewers that he had felt fear, despair, and humiliation after error No. 4: "You know how you hear the old saying-if you make an error, you want the next ball? After the fourth one, I never wanted to see the ball again." When that embarrassing fourth inning ended with the opposing Atlanta Braves having scored four unearned runs because of those errors, he hid in a tunnel behind the dugout, trying to compose himself. His teammates helped him to laugh with comments like "Maybe you can get a glove contract with U.S. Steel," and, "If you're scared out there, Bob, you should get yourself a dog." Relaxed but also determined, Mr. Brenly hit a home run and a single his next two times up, and came up in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the score tied. From nightmare to fantasy: He hit a 3-and-2 pitch for another home run to win the game. "That's as close to total elation as any feeling I've ever had," he said the next day. "It's easy to laugh now, but I was ready to commit suicide. If I could've found something sharp, I would've slashed my wrists." Because he did not, he was able to relish how boos turned to cheers: "I was the comeback player of the year in one afternoon." And 15 years later, Bob Brenly's team also had the resilience to turn defeat into victory. -Marvin Olasky Salvation Army embraces S.F.'s pro-gay ordinances, taps into taxpayer funds
Army retreats
Having resisted compliance with San Francisco's official homosexual agenda since 1998, the Salvation Army this month caved. Its western branch, which covers 13 states, announced it will reverse course and begin offering workers' domestic partners the same benefits it provides married workers' spouses. The move will allow the church-based social service agency to compete again for taxpayer money from San Francisco. It severed ties with the city government in 1998 rather than comply with the city's controversial Equal Benefits Ordinance. The law, which has survived challenges in federal appeals court, applies to all city contractors. Salvation Army leaders at the time argued that the law encroached on the organization's Christian beliefs. Their decision cost them $3.5 million of city money used for drug rehabilitation, a senior meals program, and a homeless shelter. Lt. Col. Bettie Love of the denomination's Golden State division denies her group has compromised its theology. Rather, she says, the switch reflects "a new awareness of our world," changes in family structure, and a concern for the health and welfare of workers and those closest to them. Leaders say they expect 1 percent to 2 percent of the western branch's 10,000 employees to take advantage of the benefits. Catholic Charities also had objected to the law, but crafted a compromise that extended benefits to any "legally domiciled member" of a household. San Francisco officials say that more than 3,200 companies that do business with the city now offer domestic-partner benefits, up from 100 five years ago when the city enacted the law. Attorney general: Oregon physicians may not help end patients' lives with controlled substances
Ashcroft versus lethal doctors
Oregon's doctors may have to follow the Hippocratic Oath again. Attorney General John Ashcroft last week directed drug enforcement agents to take action against doctors who give patients the medical means to kill themselves under Oregon's so-called Death With Dignity Act. Physicians who use federally controlled substances for lethal purposes risk losing their license to prescribe drugs. The action reverses Janet Reno's June 1998 declaration that barred agents from moving against Oregon doctors. Under that rule, doctors could provide-but not administer-a lethal prescription to terminally ill adult state residents. At least 70 people have ended their lives since the Oregon law took effect in 1997, according to the Oregon Health Division. All have done so with a barbiturate or other federally controlled substance. The Oregon attorney general's office quickly filed suit against the federal government to block Mr. Ashcroft's directive. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called Mr. Ashcroft's order "undemocratic" and said "Americans in every corner of the nation are going to suffer needlessly." Assisted-suicide activists also complained that doctors would be afraid to prescribe large doses of drugs for legitimate ailments. But Al Weir, president of the Christian Medical Association, said Mr. Ashcroft's decisions protected the physician's ability to use controlled substances for pain relief. "A physician has two legitimate goals in caring for a patient," said Dr. Weir, a cancer specialist. "The first is to prolong a patient's life when possible. The second is to maximize the quality of a patient's life-always. When we as physicians can no longer prolong life, pain medicines will often allow us to relieve suffering by decreasing pain. To use the same drugs to purposely shorten the life of a patient in our care defeats both legitimate physician goals." Some states reject software deal
All settled?
With Microsoft and the Justice Department agreeing to an antitrust settlement, what happens next? Not much, at least not yet. The settlement requires the software giant to provide technical details to rivals to help them make products compatible with the Windows operating system. Microsoft also won't be able to make exclusive contracts with computer makers that put rival software vendors at a disadvantage. An oversight panel will have access to the company's books and plans for five years. The result: Computer buyers may start seeing subtle changes in their desktops. They may find it easier to delete Microsoft software without messing up their systems. Also, competitors' products like RealPlayer media player and the Netscape Web browser may start showing up pre-installed. In the meantime, Microsoft may have to remain in court. Nine of the 18 states suing Microsoft have refused to sign the deal and plan to press on to trial. EchoStar founder aims for a near-monopoly on satellite TV
Ergenomics
Charlie Ergen is the most powerful TV mogul you've never heard of. The founder of EchoStar, he outmaneuvered Rupert Murdoch to buy up DirecTV from General Motors. If the deal goes through, this former professional blackjack player will have a near-monopoly on satellite TV. Observers call him a hot-tempered workaholic who turned a tiny operation into a company worth $11 billion. Mr. Ergen has been an underdog for two decades, selling his pizza-sized Dish Network satellite dishes to customers in rural areas or people wanting an alternative to cable. If the government approves the deal with GM, his customer base will be nearly that of AT&T, which is the dominant cable provider. For years, satellite TV was typically found in rural areas where cable TV could not reach. It has slowly crept into urban areas where customers have demanded more channels. As a result of the merger, many households will have two choices for pay-TV: their local cable company or the combined Dish-DirecTV. Mr. Ergen said the combined company will be able to bargain for lower programming costs and accelerate delivery of high-speed Internet access. Critics worry that reduced competition will reduce the value of satellite TV as an alternative, giving customers fewer choices, higher prices, and declining service. Antitrust regulators are sure to scrutinize the deal.

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