Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Fighting words," Jan. 12, 2002

Moussaoui does not "have anything to plead," Reid jailed without bail
Terror on trial
"In the name of Allah I do not have anything to plead. I enter no plea. Thank you very much," said a bearded Zacarias Moussaoui last week in the opening of the first court case directly connected to Sept. 11. A judge interpreted that as a not guilty plea for the 33-year-old French citizen. He was jailed a month before the attacks for suspicious activities in the United States, including paying $35,000 in cash for flight training. Federal authorities suspect Mr. Moussaoui was the missing 20th hijacker of 9/11 and charge him with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, to murder U.S. employees, and to destroy property. Prosecutors have until March to decide if they will seek the death penalty in his case, which will not go to trial until October. A judge ordered another would-be hijacker, Richard Reid, jailed without bail in Boston after he tried to light explosives in his shoes on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. The case of Mr. Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen of Jamaican descent, is prompting yet another review of airline security. When it comes to metal detectors, experts say airports are using 30-year-old weapons to fight the war on terrorism. Detectors don't catch plastic explosives like those Mr. Reid was preparing to light on Dec. 22. Beginning Jan. 18, all U.S. airports must have a system to inspect checked bags for explosives, and airports are adding 90 bomb-sniffing dogs to the current army of 180. Mr. Reid made it through one of the world's tightest flight security systems last summer. Israeli national carrier El Al said he underwent a rigorous body check and had to remove his shoes for special screening before boarding an El Al plane in July. Even after the airline found no explosives, it seated him next to an armed sky marshal in the second to last row, far from the cockpit. El Al security agents believed he was trying to find weaknesses in the airline's vaunted security system. Church leader sentenced to death
Chinese crackdown
A court in China sentenced to death the founder of one of China's largest independent church groups. Gong Shengliang, 46, was convicted of "using a cult to undermine the enforcement of the law" in a secret trial on Dec. 18. Government officials banned the South China Church, with 50,000 members spread across 10 Chinese provinces, last spring for what they call cult activities. In 2000 the church organized a conference for "all those pastors, elders, and evangelists of every denomination within China who hold the Bible as their ultimate authority, as well as those who are concerned overseas for the Chinese church (cults and heresies excluded)." The open invitation may be what landed the leadership in hot water. Fifteen church members also received sentences, ranging from two years to life in prison. All plan to appeal. Judge upholds consent law
Parents count
Idaho's parental consent law regulating abortion survived a federal judge's ruling, but two key elements were ruled unconstitutional. The law requires a minor to obtain consent from a parent or a judge before receiving an abortion. A provision had required judicial consent to come from a judge in the girl's home district or the county where the abortion would be performed. U.S. Magistrate Mikel Williams struck that down. The issue is important because Idaho has only six abortionists located in three of its 44 counties. The judge also struck down a rule that ordered doctors to notify parents within 24 hours after performing abortions on minors in medical emergencies without parental or judicial consent. AT&T may be broken into pieces
Cracking Bell
Is it time for Ma Bell to retire? With AT&T's pending sale of its cable operations to Comcast, one of America's most familiar corporate names will slip closer to history. Soon it may be just another company gobbled up by a competitor. AT&T has been hurt by problems in the phone, Internet, and cable industries. As long distances rates dropped, the company bought up cable companies hoping to provide an all-in-one package of the three services over fiber optics lines. Those dreams were delayed, putting the company in massive debt. The company has predicted significant revenue drops in the coming months, which makes it vulnerable to being absorbed. AT&T dates back to Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone and once had an iron grip on telecommunications. Now so many pieces of its giant empire have broken off, some wonder how long the company will survive. The AT&T "death star" logo and name will likely remain, regardless of what happens to the mother company. AT&T Wireless, an AT&T spin-off, still uses the branding, and Comcast plans to use the name AT&T Comcast after the merger. The Comcast deal will leave the company with a long-distance phone division and a Business Services unit that would be an attractive acquisition for another company, perhaps one of the Baby Bells that spun off from AT&T in 1984. "It'll get gobbled up," Giga telecom analyst Lisa Pierce said last month. One of the most powerful corporations of the 20th century may not survive long into the 21st. AOL Time Warner pulls the plug on Turner's Goodwill Games
Goodbye games
One of Ted Turner's most extravagant creations is now history: AOL Time Warner has quietly discontinued the Goodwill Games-an Olympics-style competition that lost tens of millions over the last two decades. The first three Goodwill Games-in Moscow, Seattle, and St. Petersburg, Russia-lost a combined $109 million. No figures were released for the 2001 Brisbane games, but some company officials admitted it no longer made financial sense to continue the games. One likely catalyst for the cancellation was Mr. Turner's loss of power within AOL Time Warner. After the company made the announcement, the Atlanta maverick hinted he might try to keep the games alive by paying for them himself. The Goodwill Games attracted a following among some Olympics fans who tuned in to see such athletes as Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Michelle Kwan, but the events never received anything close to the audience and attention received by the Olympics. That the Games debuted in Moscow put a bad taste in many mouths. Mr. Turner launched the Goodwill Games in the 1980s, saying that he wanted to ease Cold War tensions after U.S. and Soviet boycotts had tarnished the Olympics. Euros hit Europe's streets
Au courant currency
Farewell, franc. Goodbye, guilder. Europe's currency is now officially the euro. The new cash is legal tender as of the beginning of the year, and more than 300 million people must adjust to strange new denominations. The new euro is worth about 89 American cents, which is sharply below the $1.17 exchange rate in 1999 when it was introduced for non-cash transactions. Merchants will still accept the old currencies for up to two months; after that residents of the 12 euro countries must go to a bank to change their local currency. The system is supposed to make trade from one country to another as simple as trade between American states. The 12 countries-Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain-anticipated the switchover by selling "starter kits" with coins. The currency itself is designed with a generic European image on one side (mostly windows, doors, and bridges) and a national symbol from one of the 12 countries on the other side. The British have yet to vote on whether to switch from the pound. Sweden and Denmark stayed out of the euro altogether. Meanwhile, the dollar remains the most powerful currency in the world, even with the United States in a recession. The euro zone makes up 16 percent of the world economy, compared to the United States' 26 percent.

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