Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Daniel of the year 2001," Dec. 22, 2001

Military, locals guess at bin Laden's whereabouts
Where is he?
With al-Qaeda forces facing capture or flight, the $25 million question in Afghanistan is once again, Where is Osama bin Laden? After the fall of Kandahar, Taliban turncoats and other locals were guessing at his whereabouts much like everyone else. Vice President Dick Cheney said intelligence revealed that Mr. bin Laden is hiding in the caves of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, where American forces concentrated heavy bombing runs last week. But a flurry of U.S. military activity in the south, including U.S. Marine roadblocks around Kandahar, suggested a little less certainty. If "daisy cutter" bombs don't get him, Mr. bin Laden could survive underground for two years, according to the Taliban's former intelligence chief, Mohammed Khaqzar. The al-Qaeda network, meanwhile, is readying its post-Taliban, even post-bin Laden strategy. The group's abandonment of its stronghold in Kandahar is a signal of more than defeat. Some al-Qaeda fighters have escaped, with personal arms, to their homes in places like Pakistan and Algeria where they can blend into established cell organizations. Al-Qaeda's mouthpiece, the Qatar-based al Jazeera television station, is broadcasting the organization's next cues. Bulletins cite a central "jihad command" decision to withdraw and await what they hope to see: a pullout of American forces and the disintegration of an interim government. The Taliban/al-Qaeda forces "will withdraw to the underground, form a guerrilla force, and come back to the scene after the withdrawal of the American forces," said Middle East expert and Florida Atlantic University professor Walid Phares. "It means for the United States that we can win the first round, but they will try to find another battlefield." -Mindy Belz China enters WTO, investors salivate
Hong Kong Disney
China and its 1.3 billion people joined the World Trade Organization last week, culminating a 15-year quest that is expected to bring hardship as well as opportunity to the Communist-ruled nation. The country marked the moment with no ceremony or fanfare, but foreign investors salivated. China instantly awarded the U.S. insurance firm New York Life Insurance Company a license to sell policies, and gave four insurance licenses to American International Group Inc. Both have long lobbied against trade sanctions over China's repressive human-rights policies. Universal Studios said it may construct a theme park in southern China to compete with a Disney park set to open in Hong Kong in 2005. Annan rejects further action
'Indecent' proposal
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan accepted the year's Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo and told his audience that "it seems almost indecent to be accepting a prize for peace when peace and security are denied to so many people in so many parts of the world." But Mr. Annan avowed more concern for the security of jihad states than the United States, where the UN has its headquarters. He warned the Bush administration against planning further attacks on terrorists. "Any attempt or any decision to attack Iraq today will be unwise and could lead to a major escalation in the region," Mr. Annan said. Delay moves to succeed Armey
Take me to your leader
With the announcement of Rep. Dick Armey's retirement at the end of his ninth term in Congress, Washington wondered who will emerge to replace the No. 2 Republican in the House leadership. Majority Whip Tom DeLay, now the third highest-ranking Republican, is the likely successor. If GOP leadership elections were held next month, Mr. DeLay would likely be invincible. He would need only 112 votes to win; Mr. DeLay routinely delivers far more than that for controversial votes. But those elections won't be held until January of 2003, and could very well hinge on whether the current GOP leadership holds and expands control of the House in November 2002. A year is a lifetime in politics. Meantime, Democrats are sure to savage Mr. DeLay. Other contenders: Chris Cox (Calif.), John Boehner (Ohio), David Dreier (Calif.), J.C. Watts (Okla.), Jennifer Dunn (Wash.), and Rob Portman (Ohio). Moderate Republicans could decide to support their own candidate for majority leader-not necessarily to win, but to gain exposure and leverage. One possible candidate: Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee is raising money with the goal of reelecting every incumbent and dozens of first-timers. That could give him unexpectedly close relationships and clout for a leadership showdown race in 2003. Also, look for Rep. Roy Blunt-currently the GOP's chief deputy whip-to be the front-runner in the race to replace Mr. DeLay as majority whip. -Joel Rosenberg Buzzitorial: Must we "buy, buy, buy" to be good Americans?
Saving money without guilt
Is saving money unpatriotic? Every year around Christmastime, Americans hear about how much the economy depends on strong consumer spending. This year, with the economy struggling and America fighting a war, many leaders are saying that Americans should splurge out of sheer patriotism. "I asked the president, 'What can we do?' to show support for America," former First Lady Barbara Bush recently said of her son. "He said, 'Mom, if you really want to help, buy, buy, buy.'" Mr. Bush's sentiment has bipartisan support. After Thanksgiving, San Francisco's Democratic mayor, Willie Brown, distributed posters that depict an American flag with shopping bag handles and carry the phrase, "America: Open for Business." In joining the campaign, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said, "We want people to spend more money. We don't want it at home stuffed in a mattress." As politically appealing as this advice may be ("Go ahead, indulge yourself!"), it amounts to saying that what's bad for America's families (consumer debt) is good for America, and that sound stewardship harms society. A number of economists have always challenged such ideas. The mistake the anti-savers make, according to Henry Hazlitt's classic Economics in One Lesson, is they assume that saved money doesn't make its way into the economy. When people save money, they generally don't stuff it in a mattress, as Mr. Webb fears, or dig a hole in their back yards and bury it. They either invest it or put it in a bank that then invests it. Companies then spend this invested money on capital goods-the tools that make workers more productive. "'Saving,' in short, in the modern world, is only another form of spending," wrote Hazlitt. The only real difference, he pointed out, is that capital spending (saving) adds to the nation's productive capacity. This is how economies advance, and many economists argue that there's really no other way for them to do so. "Saving and the resulting accumulation of capital goods," wrote economist Ludwig von Mises, "are at the beginning of every attempt to improve the material condition of man." While individual retailers in the short term might be hurt by a lack of overspending, the economy in general would be helped. The upshot: During this Christmas season, we can heed both biblical wisdom (Proverbs 6: 6-8) and common folk wisdom ("A penny saved is a penny earned") and still be good Americans. -Timothy Lamer Democrats try to corner commission
Very uncivil
The White House thinks it's bad enough that the Senate drags its feet on its appointees, but the U.S. Civil Rights Commission is taking the foot-dragging to a whole new level. Commission chair Mary Frances Berry, a Clinton appointee, wrote White House Counsel Al Gonzales, informing him that he would need federal marshals before she would seat Bush appointee Peter Kirsanow. Miss Berry wants to retain Clinton appointee Victoria Wilson for a full six-year term after she briefly served out the term of the late Leon Higginbotham, but Ms. Wilson's appointment expired in November. When Mr. Kirsanow attended the commission's Dec. 7 meeting to claim his seat, Miss Berry refused to acknowledge him as a commissioner, referring to him as a "member of the audience." The new appointment would even out the commission with four Democratic appointments and four Republican appointments. The president appoints half the commissioners, and Congress appoints the other half. Democrats are now rumored to favor replacing commissioner Russell Redenbaugh with a Democrat, even though then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott allowed the Democrats to fill the last vacancy. Republicans have strongly criticized the commission, created in 1957, for its politicized actions during the last two years. In the spring of 2000, as New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani prepared to battle Hillary Clinton for a Senate seat, the commission released a highly critical report on New York police brutality. A few months later, as George W. Bush ran for the White House, it condemned efforts in Texas and Florida to end race-based college admissions. This year, the commission released a strident critique of alleged voting discrimination in the presidential election in Florida without allowing the commission's Republicans to read the report or file dissents. -Tim Graham New DNA tests help nab alleged Green River killer
Caught by technology
Authorities had been watching Gary Leon Ridgway for almost two decades, but now the only place he can be seen is behind bars. Police suspected him of being the "Green River killer," who left as many as 49 people dead from 1982 to 1984. Then a new method of DNA testing gave prosecutors what they needed, and on Dec. 5 police finally arrested him. Prosecutors charged Mr. Ridgway with four of the killings. The 49 victims, most of whom were strangled, were typically prostitutes, drug addicts, or runaways in Washington and Oregon. In 1987, a judge ordered Mr. Ridgway to chew on a piece of gauze to collect a saliva sample. Only now are tests able to match his DNA to fluids found on three of the victims. Authorities intend to press hard for the death penalty. "Justice is a concept that never gets old," said King County, Wash., prosecutor Norm Maleng. High court won't hear anti-prayer case
Still OK to pray
High-school students in Jacksonville, Fla., can keep religious content in their graduation ceremonies. The Supreme Court last week decided not to hear a case that challenged the practice as unconstitutional. The school district allows seniors to choose someone from their class to act as a chaplain and give an inspirational address at graduation, and school officials do not screen the two-minute speeches. A group of students and parents sued to stop the activity, but the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals twice ruled against them. Both rulings stated that a lack of censorship does not mean an endorsement of private religious speech. "We emphasize that under Duval County's policy school officials have no power to direct that a message (let alone a religious message) be delivered at graduation ceremonies, or control in any way the content of any message actually to be delivered," wrote Judge Stanley Marcus in the majority opinion last May. Billionaire to make Narnia films
Celluloid C.S.
Move over Frodo, and make room for Aslan. Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz plans to bring Narnia to the big screen. His Walden Media announced it had optioned the rights to the C.S. Lewis fantasy books and plans to make a new series of movies. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will hit theaters in 2004, according to Variety. The trade paper reports that producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall held the rights until last month, but let them expire. So Walden snatched them. The author's stepson, Douglas Gresham, will oversee the project. "It has been our dream for many years not simply to make a live-action version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but to do so while remaining faithful to the novel," he said. The Times of London reports that Mr. Gresham was looking for someone who would retain the book's Christian ethos. Lion has been adapted for TV three times over the last three decades, including a 1998 BBC version and a 1979 animated adaptation. That the Walden version may be faithful to the original contrasts with reported attempts by book publisher HarperCollins to de-emphasize Narnia's religious themes ("Off with his head," June 16). Mr. Anschutz, founder of Qwest Communications, has been taking advantage of troubled economic times to build a media empire. He started Walden Media last May and hired ex-Miramax executive Cary Granat as its head. The investor has also been buying stakes in troubled theater chains United Artists, Edwards, and Regal Cinemas. Firms battle over proposed Philip Morris name change
Latin lovers
What's an Altria? It could be a company that makes everything from cigarettes to Oreos-if Philip Morris stockholders and the courts approve the proposed new name for the conglomerate. The new moniker is a derivative of the Latin word altus, which means to "reach higher," and it's part of an ongoing trend of businesses adopting unusual, Latin-based names. AT&T, for example, spun off telecommunications operations into Lucent, and the former Minnesota Power is now Allete. Meanwhile, three drug companies, Sandoz, Ciba, and Geigy, merged into Novartis. What's behind the classical resurgence in corporate America? A Latin name seems to add an aura of permanence and can help a company build a new image. Classically inspired names are also easy for companies to trademark and protect, since they are less common than English names. But in the case of Altria, somebody already had thought of the name. Birmingham, Ala.-based Altria Healthcare Corp., which provides billing, data management, and other services, hired an attorney to fight Philip Morris. Another company with a slightly different name, Altira, a venture capital firm in Denver, also filed suit this month, claiming Philip Morris' proposed name change would cause confusion and potentially tar the firm with Philip Morris' tobacco image. Selig defends contraction
Playing hardball
Joe Marble and David Hoch aren't typical baseball fans. They're more like activists fighting a publicity war to save their favorite team, the Minnesota Twins. With Major League Baseball hoping to cut two teams, probably including the Twins, they've kicked into high gear. Their stunts include camping out on the steps of the Minnesota capitol, protesting the contraction vote, and dressing up as the grim reaper for opening day. Some analysts think the Twins will never play another game. Right now the team is operating in limbo, interviewing candidates for a managerial job that may never exist. The Twins and the Montreal Expos are the most likely candidates for extinction. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig claims owners lost $232 million this year-$519 million with interest payments and depreciation. Even so, the players union and others dispute the need for contraction. "Simple numbers don't tell you much," said players union executive director Donald Fehr. Mr. Marble and Mr. Hock have some hope that the Twins will survive. Twins owner Carl Pohlad has said he would listen to offers to buy the team-and Alabama businessman Donald Watkins expressed interest. A state court has told the Twins to play in 2002; an appeal is scheduled for later this month.

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