Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Humanity Under the Microscope," Dec. 8, 2001

Ashcroft, Chertoff defend detentions and military tribunals
Least-kept secret
The success of the war against terror has been matched by new battles in Congress over the civil liberties of suspected and detained terrorists and President Bush's plan to prosecute foreign enemies in secret military tribunals. In response to congressional questions about the detentions, Attorney General John Ashcroft last week released a list of 93 people charged with crimes arising from the government's investigation, as well as an accounting of the 548 people (without names) remaining in custody on immigration charges. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a leader of House liberals, plans legislation banning the use of government money to set up the trials. Mr. Kucinich and 38 others, including conservative Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), sent a letter protesting the prospect of "secret arrests, secret charges using secret evidence, secret prosecutions, secret witnesses, secret trials, secret convictions, secret sentencing and even secret executions." So far, the public isn't all that concerned: A Washington Post/ ABC News poll found six in 10 Americans support the tribunals. Associate Attorney General Michael Chertoff argued that business-as-usual won't defeat terrorism. "We could continue as before and hope for the best," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Or we can pursue an investigative approach that uses every available lawful technique to try to identify, disrupt, and if possible incarcerate or deport sleepers," terrorists who may be planning a new attack. ACLU, Falwell challenge law
Common cause
The ACLU says it wants to help out an old opponent-Rev. Jerry Falwell. The group offered to file a brief in his lawsuit against Virginia and the city of Lynchburg. Both oppose laws that restrict the amount of property a church can own-in this case Thomas Road Baptist Church. The church wants a new sanctuary and 60 acres of property for construction. That would violate Lynchburg's 50-acre limit. The suit challenges the law on First and 14th Amendment grounds. "We're not filing this suit just for Thomas Road Baptist Church," Rev. Falwell said, "but for every church in Virginia." "This is an instance we believe Rev. Falwell is absolutely right," said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU. Media giant buys Christian label
Warner's new brother
AOL Time Warner is now a giant in the Christian music business. Gaylord Entertainment announced last week that it was selling its Word Entertainment division to Warner Music Group. Word will now join a stable of secular labels like Atlantic, Elektra, and Rhino Records. This means Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, and Point of Grace are all joining the AOL Time Warner empire. The $84.1 million cash deal includes a massive library of 75,000 master recordings and 40,000 songs ranging from traditional hymns to Christian rock. Warner CEO Roger Ames said he wanted to capitalize on the current growth in Christian music. "Over the last five years, the Christian/Gospel genre has grown more than 12 percent a year while the overall music industry has grown at 3 percent a year," he said. Gaylord execs said they sold Word in an effort to narrow the company's focus to the hospitality industry. Group undermines ballot initiative
Every vote counts?
After the 2000 presidential election, the American Civil Liberties Union complained that the "terror-ridden election" in Florida was ruined by "racial and partisan efforts by the state to purge the rolls of politically unfriendly voters." But on the day before Thanksgiving, ACLU lawyers succeeded in purging an entire referendum in the state of Maryland. After a bill adding homosexuals to the state's list of protected minorities passed in May, a citizens' group using the moniker TakeBackMaryland.org collected more than 50,000 signatures to put the "gay rights" bill on the Maryland ballot for an up-or-down vote in 2002. The state board of elections approved the referendum, finding that organizers had 1,411 more signatures than were required. But the ACLU and other homosexual-left groups sunk the weight of their professional resources into copying thousands of petition sheets and arguing in a lawsuit that the volunteers collecting petitions must personally witness every signature that goes on the petition they sign. They deposed not only signature collectors, but people who signed the petitions, and even some the state elections board had already disqualified. Faced with the imbalance of legal resources, and the threat that petition circulators could be charged with perjury if they hadn't witnessed every signature, TakeBackMaryland.org conceded it would not prevail, and the law went into effect. Petition drive leader Tres Kerns said the threats of legal costs and charges are ruining the referendum process for citizens. "We have other jobs and did this in our spare time. Now the average citizen will ask, 'Why would I risk legal costs to try and change this?'" Judge okays Florida's Choose life license plates
Clean plates
Just because the phrase "choose life" is in the Bible doesn't mean it can't also be on a state license plate. So ruled Leon County circuit judge Nikki Ann Clark in throwing out a suit last month against Florida's optional Choose Life license plate. The National Organization for Women, a Palm Beach County synagogue, and two other plaintiffs brought the suit. They argued that the slogan was unconstitutional because it's a citation from Deuteronomy. Florida has sold about 25,000 of these bright yellow plates since August 2000, and the $668,000 raised goes to counties to promote adoption. Planned Parenthood of South Carolina has asked a federal judge to block the plates in its state. The group had requested its own design that said "Choose Choice," but the state rejected the plate. South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon has vowed to fight the suit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Alabama has also approved "Choose Life" plates. Gay group's plan backfires
Low fives, high fives
They meant to win with counterfeit charity. A Flint, Mich., group-Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays-Genesee County (PFLAG)-is so upset with the Salvation Army's decision not to give domestic-partner benefits to homosexual employees that it's shoveling out fake $5 bills for supporters to throw into the army's kettles. The homemade bills read, "I would have donated five dollars, but the Salvation Army decision to discriminate against gay and lesbian employees prevents my donation now and in the future." PFLAG's Washington headquarters spread the "kettle protest" idea to its 460 affiliates. But the phony-five campaign is spurring real giving. The American Family Association of Michigan (AFA-M) announced that it will buy back each fake five deposited in Flint kettles with a genuine $5 bill, up to $1,000. "What homosexuality advocates intend for harm, with God's grace at this Christmas season, we will turn to good," said Gary Glenn, AFA-M president. Other local individuals and groups are linking arms with AFA-M with additional pledges. So far kettles have caught around 30 fake fives. Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV) is offering to do the same in its community. Pentagon proposes a four-star commander for America
Out of CINC?
Should the Pentagon consider U.S. soil a military theater? Prior to Sept. 11, the Pentagon divided the world into five geographic chunks-Europe, the Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia-and put a four-star commander-in-chief (CINC) in charge of each. Now, a consensus has emerged among top military brass that a sixth region, the United States, needs a CINC of its own. Pentagon officials are considering appointing a new commander-in-chief of homeland security, a stateside four-star general who would coordinate the defense of American soil and oversee troops assigned to the continental United States for that purpose. The notion of a homeland CINC (pronounced "sink") ascended to high-level Pentagon consideration under President Clinton, but was jettisoned after civil liberties and survivalist groups complained that it would threaten citizens' freedoms. Today, civil libertarians and some conservatives are still wary of the idea. "We have no objection in principle to the creation of a homeland commander in chief," Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post. "But ... we'll have strong objections if he's authorized to act in areas better handled by civilian law enforcement." Defense officials say that's exactly the point: Both the 9/11 attacks and follow-on response have blurred the lines between military action and law enforcement. While Tom Ridge's new Office of Homeland Security took charge of federal homeland-defense activities immediately after the attacks, the assignment of a stateside CINC, Pentagon officials say, would clarify a terrorism response structure that includes the president, the secretary of defense, and any troops assigned for the mission. But Michael Scardaville, a homeland-defense analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it isn't clear how a homeland CINC could have improved the country's response to the 9/11 attacks. "On Sept. 11, the system worked-why are we spending time and money trying to fix it?" Mr. Scardaville said. The mission of the National Guard, he explained, already includes civil defense, and the guard already has commanders-in-chief-the governors of each state. Instead of adding a CINC and new layers of military bureaucracy, Mr. Scardaville suggests overhauling existing communication barriers between response agencies and strengthening the National Guard by using it solely for homeland defense, not for "cleaning up garbage and walking kids to school in Bosnia." Researchers study vaccine stock
Dilution solution
Manufacture, import, or dilute? All three are potential options for increasing the supply of smallpox vaccine available to combat potential bioterror in the United States. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson last week finalized a deal with Baxter International and Acambis, the U.S. arm of a British firm, to produce fresh supplies of smallpox vaccine. The Baxter/Acambis partners agreed to sell the government 155 million doses of the vaccine for $428 million, or about $2.76 per dose. The companies outbid GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, which wanted up to $8 per dose. The 155 million doses does not include the 54 million doses that Acambis was already under contract to make for HHS. Meanwhile, the U.S. biotech firm American Biogenetic Sciences (ABS) may beat the drug-makers to market. The firm announced last month that it has inked a 10-year deal with the Russian Ministry of Health for global distribution of smallpox, anthrax, and botulin vaccines already stockpiled in that country. Under the terms of the agreement, ABS can immediately make the vaccines available for clinical evaluation. Twelve million doses of smallpox vaccine already reside in the U.S. drug stockpile maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has directed top research institutions to study ways to dilute full-strength vaccine doses in order to turn 12 million doses into 90 million, according to a Copley News Service report. "We want to see exactly how much we can dilute the vaccine," said Joel Ward, director of the UCLA Center for Vaccine Research in Torrance, Calif., which will study how children react to diluted smallpox vaccine. Researchers at Saint Louis University are preparing to study diluted vaccines' effects on adults. Using their tactics on them: FBI develops software to snoop on tech-savvy suspects
Crime-fighting virus
The FBI wants to use a "Magic Lantern" to catch terrorists, gangsters, and other crooks who use computers. The agency has been secretly developing this special software to eavesdrop on high-tech communications without the suspect's knowledge. Magic Lantern uses some of computer crooks' own tactics against crime. Today, agents must physically access a suspect's computer to plant a bug. With Magic Lantern, the wiretap attacks a computer like a computer virus, hiding in an e-mail attachment or exploiting the weaknesses in commercial software. Once installed, Magic Lantern records every keystroke on a person's computer. Agents want to use it to capture the security codes that suspects use to protect their hidden files. Pre-Magic Lantern technology wasn't up to the task: Since the software used to scramble data today is so advanced, it foils most efforts to crack the codes. The FBI admitted the problem by noting in a statement that "encryption can pose potentially insurmountable challenges to law enforcement when used in conjunction with communication or plans for executing serious terrorist and criminal acts." The new anti-crime software, which is part of a broader FBI project called "Cyber Knight," raises unsettled legal questions: Is this considered a wiretap under federal law? Does it require a search warrant? What if this software winds up attached to the computer of someone who isn't a suspect? Experts say that if successfully installed, Magic Lantern could be a valuable way to watch suspects. "Once they have the keys ... ," said James E. Gordon of Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, "they have complete access to anything that individual is doing." Prosecutors expand jurisdiction
Internet dragnet
The new anti-terrorism law, which provides expanded law-enforcement powers, gives U.S. prosecutors authority to pursue foreign computer criminals without having to deal with uncooperative governments. The new law allows the government to prosecute suspects if any part of a crime takes place within U.S. borders-and most of the Internet's traffic flows through American servers. Over 80 percent of Internet access points in Asia, Africa, and South America are connected through U.S. cities, according to Jessica Marantz of the Internet statistics firm Telegeography. So messages from South Africa to Singapore or from Tokyo to Tel Aviv may be routed through California, which puts both parties under U.S. jurisdiction. "It's a massive expansion of U.S. sovereignty," said Mark Rasch of the computer security firm Predictive Systems. But supporters say the new powers are necessary to fight terrorists. FBI agents have long complained about the difficulty of computer crime investigations that venture overseas, requiring the cooperation of foreign officials. Unmanned planes help take risk out of dangerous missions
Empty cockpits
Today's fighter pilots sit in cockpits, looking for enemies to destroy. Tomorrow, their successors may sit on the ground as computers control their planes via remote control. The Top Gun mystique soon could be consigned to history. Unmanned planes are already flying the front lines. During the Afghan war, the United States has used Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (traditionally a reconnaissance tool) in an attack role for the first time. CIA personnel controlled one that fired missiles at al-Qaeda and Taliban targets and killed dozens. The plane used for the job, the U.S. Air Force's $2.5 million Predator, was built for espionage but retooled to drop bombs. The Air Force this month plans to test the Boeing-built UCAV, or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, the first drone designed specifically for combat. The manufacturer says it can fly 650-mile round-trip missions and drop 3,000 pounds of guided bombs. Glenn Buchan, a defense air power analyst for the RAND Corporation, says he thinks the days of people sitting in cockpits over enemy territory are numbered. He said planes work better without the "biological shortcomings" of humans. For now, however, the Pentagon is still focused on putting pilots in the air. It already plans to purchase up to 3,000 of its next-generation combat aircraft, Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter. Man knows not his time: Mary Kay Ash
Pink lady
Mary Kay Ash was the original Mary Kay lady, building a corporate empire known for diamond bumblebees, pink Cadillacs, and a throng of salespeople. She died at age 83 of natural causes, according to a company statement, after years of bad health following a 1996 stroke. Ms. Ash said she started her company in 1963 after quitting another direct-sales job when the company promoted her male assistant above her and gave him twice her salary. "I had worked for 25 years in sales," she told the Dallas Morning News in 1974, "and nothing would make me angrier than training some man only to have him become my superior." Thousands of her followers attended Mary Kay's annual convention, where she would pontificate on the virtues of her business. Mary Kay, Inc., claims more than 150 women have made $1 million or more through the company-and the founder flaunted her own wealth. At one point she had a 19,000-square-foot pink mansion with a gigantic pink marble bathtub. Her company currently reports over $2.4 billion in annual sales. Company executives said last summer that they plan to maintain the direct-sales approach-along with their 750,000 "Independent Beauty Consultants." A man, Richard Rogers, Ms. Ash's son, now runs the empire. He became chairman in 1987 and took over day-to-day operations last June. California's power crisis turns into an energy glut
Overpowered
Crank up the Christmas lights! California's notorious electricity shortage may soon become a surplus. A state analysis reported that residents will have to pay up to $3.9 billion to cover the cost of unused energy. The power panic of a few months ago is all but forgotten. Last year, California urged homeowners to turn off their Christmas lights because the state's power reserves dropped to about 1 percent. But in its effort to fix one problem, Gov. Gray Davis's administration apparently created a new one. The state signed long-term contracts for electricity at higher-than-normal prices. Since then, consumption has dropped sharply and the power market has tumbled. A survey by the state's Department of Water Resources (which buys the state's power) found that the agency will have to resell at a tremendous loss about a third of the electricity it acquired. What it bought for $75 per megawatt hour this year it will unload for just $16 in 2002. Gov. Davis's defenders argue the contracts stabilized the energy market and credit declining consumption to successful conservation measures. Critics say California's regulated power industry has been the victim of constant meddling that created fiscal woes. Many say Mr. Davis should renegotiate over 50 contracts signed to buy power for customers of three utilities. Did Brit want to become a millionaire a little too much?
Game-show hacker
Did Charles Ingram create a few too many "lifelines"? British authorities arrested him and two others late last month on charges of cheating on the original, U.K.-based version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Mr. Ingram won the million on the game show, but his episode never aired. The Times of London reported that producers became suspicious, stopped his check, and called Scotland Yard. While the contestant, a major in the British army's Royal Engineers, denies wrongdoing and wants an apology, police believe an audience member fed him the right answers by coughing at appropriate times. Mr. Ingram's wife and brother-in-law had appeared on the show before him, and Mrs. Ingram even wrote a book about the show called Win a Million. She was one of three people arrested in the case. Meanwhile, the American version of the show seems to be running out of steam-to the chagrin of ABC. While the edition with Regis Philbin is free from scandal, the former ratings powerhouse has lost 37 percent of its audience this year. The network has cut the show from four to two airings per week.

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