Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Illegal siblings project," Feb. 2, 2002

AS AFGHAN WAR TURNS INTO MEDIATION OF INTERTRIBAL CONFLICT, U.S. WARNS IRAN NOT TO INTERFERE
'America will not rest'
Defenders of the nation may be absorbing hits for strict security around Afghan prisoners. For Americans in Afghanistan, no security is strict enough. "You can never let your guard down. Never!" said Colonel Frank Wiercinski, commander of the third brigade of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division. His forces repeat that slogan every day. While the campaign looks finished to Americans at home, the colonel says Kandahar-once home to the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists-is still a dangerous place. The troops guard prisoners remaining at the airport as well as smoke out terrorist elements lurking on Kandahar's outskirts. That action led to an overnight firefight on Jan. 24. Special forces covered by army fighters raided an al-Qaeda hideout, killing 14 al-Qaeda fighters and capturing 24. One U.S. soldier was wounded. Tribal clans supposedly aiding the U.S. forces in the hunt for fugitives are causing problems, too. Last week U.S. special forces confiscated 2,000 weapons from local warlord Haji Bashar in Kandahar because they believed his faction was undermining the interim government. U.S. soldiers arrested 18 members of another tribal faction on suspicion of harboring Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader. Victory over the Taliban puts the United States in league with Afghan factions who are predominantly allied with Iran. Last week it became apparent to Pentagon strategists that Iran was inciting intertribal disputes, and the United States warned Tehran against undermining U.S.-built security. "Our fight against terrorism began in Afghanistan, but it's not going to end there," said President George W. Bush in proposing a $48 billion boost in military spending for 2003. "Dangers and sacrifices lie ahead, yet America will not rest." INQUIRING READER: AN E-MAIL TALE THAT'S TRUE
Prayers for a president
With new Internet hoaxes seeping into daily e-mail, what's a surfer to believe? Reader Alex Vance of Apex, N.C., asked WORLD about a widely circulated account by Lindsey Yeskoo detailing a conversation she had with President Bush at an Oct. 19 reception in Shanghai. It turns out this Internet story is true. WORLD tracked down Mrs. Yeskoo, wife of a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, to confirm her story. According to Mrs. Yeskoo, President Bush was quickly shaking hands but stopped "dead in his tracks" when she told him her family had been praying for him daily. He then told her how much it meant "waking up every day of the crisis and knowing within himself that he is being faithfully prayed for," and asked her to please keep praying for "the shielding of America" and "wisdom" for him as he leads the country. Mrs. Yeskoo originally sent her story to immediate family, but soon requests for copies poured in. It's now circulating all over the Net. Mrs. Yeskoo was surprised, but told WORLD that it shows that "from every corner people were simply starving to hear that the president himself is a man with sincere and viable faith in God, a man who himself lives on bended knee, and [who is] not ashamed to acknowledge it." MAILING KILLER ANTHRAX IS NOT A TRADITIONAL VALUE: NPR speculates conservative group is a suspect
Morning sedition?
The Symbionese Liberation Army. The Weather Underground. The Unabomber. To this list of domestic terrorists, you may now add the Traditional Values Coalition. That, at least, was the insinuation of a Jan. 22 report on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." To mark the reopening of the anthrax-plagued Hart Senate Office Building, NPR science reporter David Kestenbaum aired a long piece suggesting that the anthrax letters mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy might have come from a conservative political group such as TVC. Why TVC? Based on the "victimology" investigative technique pioneered in the Unabomber case, Mr. Kestenbaum looked for people who had gripes with the victims. While that list would have to include almost any self-identified Republican, the reporter zeroed in on TVC because it had recently issued a press release criticizing the two senators for seeking to remove "so help me God" from the oath witnesses must swear to before giving testimony to Congress. "I blew up at him," said TVC executive director Andrea Sheldon Lafferty of her Jan. 3 phone interview with Mr. Kestenbaum. "I said nobody I know would send anthrax through the mail." She later issued a press release blasting NPR as "a taxpayer-funded employment program for left-wing reporters" and hyperbolically claiming the network's "radio scripts are being written at" the Democratic National Committee-a point duly noted in Mr. Kestenbaum's report. Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center found NPR guilty of shoddy journalism. "A good journalist wouldn't let an allegation this damaging hang out there without any shred of evidence. To just trot out the name of the group as a suspect, the only suspect, and leave that dangling out there, is an extreme disservice." NPR did not return WORLD's calls for comment. Mrs. Lafferty says she will pressure congressional appropriators to remember stories like these when the public broadcasting budget comes up for debate. AT URGING OF CLERICS, GERMAN GOVERNMENT KILLS EVANGELISTIC TV SPOTS touting POWER FOR LIVING
Power outage
German clerics are protective of their turf, so when the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation unveiled its Kraft zum Leben TV campaign-offering for free a German-language version of the evangelistic book Power for Living-they moved quickly to have the government shut it down. Last month, government broadcast regulators blocked private stations from carrying the ads, citing rules that bar broadcast advertising by political, religious, and ideological groups. The ads, part of DeMoss' months-long, multimillion-dollar German outreach campaign, offer viewers a free copy of the 138-page German-language paperback. The ads feature faith testimonies of prominent athletes and have appeared on billboards and in publications. As in America and other countries where the campaigns have run, the ads' sponsorship is cloaked in anonymity, a tactic aimed at keeping the appeal broad and the focus on the evangelistic message. But the anonymity gave rise to suspicions that it was a Church of Scientology or Jehovah's Witnesses ploy; both have battled in German courts for greater freedom. But when liberal church leaders discovered the evangelical connection, they piled on with criticism. One cleric labeled the campaign an "attempt to establish American religious culture in Germany." Publicist Mark DeMoss, son of the late Arthur DeMoss and a director of the foundation, appeared at a press conference in Hamburg Jan. 22. He urged German regulators to reconsider their decision but said there'd be no court challenge. He also said the campaign would continue for "several months." STOP THE PRESSES: AMAZON.COM TURNS A PROFIT
Penny for your stock
Kmart may be bankrupt, but Amazon.com is reporting a profit-for the first time ever. The bellwether of dot-coms earned a whopping 1 cent per share in the fourth quarter. The announcement came too late to encourage the horde of e-commerce followers who invested in Amazon.com during the heady days of the 1990s tech bubble. The $5 million the company earned last quarter is small compared to a $545 million loss in the same period a year before and the company's $1.2 billion in revenue. Chief financial officer Warren Jenson said Amazon.com was affected by the stagnant economy "like everyone else," but the company hopes to continue to lure shoppers by cutting prices. GIVING MORE, BUT GIVING WELL?
Self-loathing philanthropy
Businesses are giving more, but are they giving well? The Conference Board, a leading business research group, last week touted an uptick in corporate charity in "Giving USA," its annual report on corporate philanthropy. Through 2000, the last year for which data were available, cash and non-cash charitable contributions by large and mid-sized U.S. businesses totaled nearly $11 billion, according to the study. It's still too early for a full accounting of post-9/11 corporate giving, but according to the Capital Research Center (CRC), a charity watchdog in Washington, D.C., only about a fifth of pre-9/11 business largesse went to groups hostile to business. CRC has studied corporate giving for 14 years. According to the group's 2001 report, Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy: A Mandate for Reform, many major corporations fund nonprofit political advocacy groups that work against lower taxes, smaller government, and the free market. "Many support groups whose missions are inimical to the very system that allows businesses to thrive," wrote Patterns author Christopher Yablonski, a CRC associate researcher. Radical and "establishment left" groups received more than 72 percent of all corporate giving to political nonprofits. Each year, CRC rates the "Ten Best Givers" and "Ten Worst Misgivers." Bottom-ranked PNC Bank seems to have carved out a permanent spot on the "Ten Worst" list, with a long history of doling donations to groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which stumps for government-enforced solutions such as the so-called "living wage." Meanwhile, most major corporations have what Mr. Yablonski calls "a blind spot" when it comes to faith-based organizations. The 10 largest American corporations gave less than 5 percent of their total donations to faith-based groups. But there was an exception: Wal-Mart. CRC found that every other grant Wal-Mart gives goes to a church or ministry. ENRON: Ammo against free debate?
Death sentence
Enron's collapse has left a long trail of victims (see "Reluctant hero," page 36) and now that Congress is back in session, another appears to be emerging: free, vigorous, unregulated political debate. Supporters of stricter campaign-finance regulations are hitching their wagons to congressional Enron hearings, hoping to discredit corporate soft-money political contributions. Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland ("sentence first, verdict afterwards"), Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts last week pronounced the sentence: Pass campaign-finance legislation now. "At every hearing ... every day will be significant and substantial evidence of why we need campaign-finance reform." Supporters certainly have the votes, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert has conceded. The campaign-finance reform sentence seems a matter of when, not if. But lost in all the talk of sentences and verdicts is the evidence. Columnist Marc Levin notes the free market is motivating large companies to curtail their political beneficence: Allied Signal, AOL Time Warner, General Motors, and Monsanto no longer make soft-money donations. Why? Mr. Levin says executives are seeing political contributions are a bad investment-which, at least recently, is well illustrated by Enron's failure to secure a bailout. NRB president under fire
Identity Crisis?
A firestorm is raining down on Wayne Pederson's head, and the smoke has many members of National Religious Broadcasters coughing. Mr. Pederson is the NRB's new president and a former chairman of the group-whose membership includes more than 1,300 evangelical radio and TV stations, program producers, and related organizations-and some prominent broadcasters want him booted. It all started Jan. 5 when Mr. Pederson's hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, published an interview with him about his new post. Among other things, he decried the reputation Christian communicators have gained as "the political right." It would be better for NRB members not to be known for their public-policy orientation, he suggested. "We get associated with the far Christian right and get marginalized." Offended, some prominent broadcasters went on record criticizing Mr. Pederson. They included Tom Minnery of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Don and Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association and its radio network, and bestselling author Tim LaHaye. Mr. Pederson told WORLD the NRB executive committee has instructed him to refrain from public comment on the controversy. That committee was slated to meet Jan. 28 to try to figure out a way to douse the flames. After living through civil war and malnutrition, residents of Eastern Congo face a volcano
One more thing to survive
Children hiked babies onto their backs and treaded across a warm lava flow in flipflops. Many residents of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have already lived through civil war, ethnic bloodshed, homelessness, and malnutrition; a volcano was one more thing to survive. Mount Nyiragongo erupted in eastern Congo on Jan. 17, sending a river of lava through the heart of the region's largest city. "The primary lava flow was down the main commercial street of the city. It would be like Michigan Avenue in Chicago being wiped out," said World Relief's Dave Larson, who was on hand at the time. In addition, earthquakes accompanied the initial eruption and continued through the week that followed. "With the screaming and shrieking, and the fire and the lava, it [seemed] like Hades itself," said Mr. Larson. Aid workers say probably 300,000 people need help, but no one really knows the number killed because so many thousands have fled the disaster area. Aid groups rushed to set up refugee camps in nearby Rwanda, but Goma residents instead chose to return to their homes after the initial flow subsided. Supplying the region is complicated by Congo's ongoing civil war. Relief workers cannot fly directly from the capital, Kinshasa, to the region due to fighting. Most must enter rebel-controlled eastern Congo via Uganda or Rwanda. Goma has fallen far from its glory days when it was a popular resort area for Belgian colonialists. Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko once built a palatial compound just outside of town. In 1994 over a million refugees encamped there to escape genocidal war in Rwanda and the area became a cauldron of fighting between Hutus and Tutsis in Africa's Great Lakes region. Judge nixes funds for FaithWorks
Freedom from success
FaithWorks, a Milwaukee addiction-recovery program for fathers, may have worked a little too well. A federal judge in Madison, Wis., ruled unconstitutional the giving of state grants to the program. Judge Barbara Crabb agreed that the program, which George W. Bush has specifically lauded, has "secular purposes" that courts have said can qualify religious organizations for public funds. However, she added, religion permeates the program's content; it includes Bible study, prayer, religious counseling, and a "faith-enhanced" version of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Supreme Court has ruled that taxpayer funds can go even to such "pervasively sectarian" programs if safeguards ensure government funds aren't used for "proselytizing." Judge Crabb said the safeguards were insufficient in the FaithWorks program, making it hard to tell if public or private funds were used to pay the salaries of religious counselors, for example. Her ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Culture war fuels 9/11 victims' fund fight
Back to abnormal
Even the federal government's attempt to compensate victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks isn't exempt from the culture war. In a letter to Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the federal government's fund for victims and their families, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton protested that proposed rules lack specifics for "same-sex partners of victims" and do not protect "the families of undocumented workers," who could be deported when they apply for benefits. Mr. Feinberg's response: He said he would allow funding for same-sex partners if the home state of the victim allows it and that illegal immigrants would not be deported if they applied. The letter came as more than 800 people eligible for compensation criticized the fund's "pain and suffering" limitation of $250,000 per victim, with an additional $50,000 per surviving spouse and dependent (including unborn children), as being too low. Mrs. Clinton, along with liberal Sens. Charles Schumer, Patrick Leahy, and Ted Kennedy, joined them in insisting that Mr. Feinberg loosen the limits. Celebrity mag folds after this month
Talk silenced
Talk about collapse. The celebrity magazine Talk abruptly announced on Jan. 18 that it will fold this month, ostensibly due to the lagging economy. The venture between Miramax Films and Hearst Corp. was famous as much for its high-society schmoozing as for its articles. Talk gave a star spot to controversial ex-New Yorker editor Tina Brown. It amassed a circulation of 665,650 but lost a whopping $55 million over three years, according to the New York Daily News. The magazine's backers gave up trying to make the title turn a profit. Meanwhile, some parts of Talk will continue in a book-publishing venture called Talk Miramax Books. The magazine launched to huge fanfare three years ago with a lavish party on New York's Liberty Island and a profile of Hillary Clinton. Despite the hype surrounding Talk and its founder, it was just another in a crowded line of celebrity-addicted general-interest magazines. "It cannot be anything but sad for all of us," Ms. Brown said in a statement. "Unfortunately we had to be realistic about the fact that 2001 and 2002 to date represent the worst period in memory for general-interest magazines." Yet Talk had actually improved its advertising revenues in 2001, bringing them up 6 percent from the year before. The Talk demise resembles last year's closing of George magazine. Both were fashion titles that tried to mix glamour with serious topics-typically with a standard-issue liberal tilt. Just as George tried to mix politics and personality, Talk tried to glitz up the literati. Both had celebrities at the helm, but both collapsed under losses. Producers end The X-Files' nine-year run
Closing the Þles
Was the truth really out there? The X-Files won't be looking for it after this season. After nine years and 201 episodes, the long-running sci-fi show is slated to fold in May. Producers plan a two-part finale to tie up loose ends. Show star David Duchovny departed last season and ratings began to slip this year. "It's the ninth inning," creator Chris Carter told Daily Variety. "We want to go out on top." The show may become a series of feature films. The first X-Files movie was a modest success in 1998, and a sequel is in the works. The X-Files succeeded because the audience saw its bizarre storylines as more than camp silliness. The show won 15 Emmy Awards since its 1993 debut and became a Fox network cornerstone. It also gave star status to the previously obscure Mr. Duchovny and co-star Gillian Anderson. The show followed tangled lines of plots involving strange events, aliens, and assorted phenomena, all with a straight face, and it reached enough young people to help start two TV trends. One was the boom in supernatural dramas like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dark Angel. The other was a new generation of spy programs like Alias, The Agency, and 24. Arthur Andersen faces an uncertain future
Counting the cost
So what happens to Arthur Andersen? Enron fired the accounting giant in the midst of scandal over questionable bookkeeping practices ("Enwrong," Jan. 26). The firm's future could change the way corporate America keeps its books. Arthur Andersen, one of the "Big Five" accounting firms, does the books of some of America's top publicly traded companies. The firm's history dates back to 1913, and it maintains a staff of 85,000 people in 84 countries. Its officials must convince federal regulators, politicians, and its customers that it deserves its former reputation for integrity. "Andersen is committed to continuing to address the issues related to the collapse of Enron in a forthright and candid manner," a company spokesman maintained in a statement. The firm released a review conducted by a competitor, Deloitte & Touche, which reported that the company's work provides "reasonable assurance of compliance with professional standards." The company even defended its Enron work before a House panel in December, but CEO Joseph Berardino admitted, "our system of regulation and discipline will have to be improved."

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