Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "TNIV makes its debut," Feb. 23, 2002

Bush heads to the Far East, despite threats against U.S. embassies
Wild, wild East
In Malaysia the Year of the Snake ended with relief when residents of the town of Tawau rescued a 16-foot python from a drainage hole. The snake was donated to a local zoo. Across the region ethnic Chinese welcomed the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, with celebrations edged by warnings of a lingering serpent-terrorism. A 15-page document discovered in Indonesia outlined plans to blow up U.S. embassies in Singapore, Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital. The scheme came from the outlawed group Islamic Jemaah Islamiyah and put Pacific nations on alert even as the United States issued its most detailed terrorist alert to date. Readiness will likely continue as President George W. Bush visits the region in late February. Mr. Bush travels to Japan and South Korea before meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The meeting is their second. They are set to meet at least two more times this year in an increasing dialogue between the two heads of state. Mr. Bush has spoken by telephone once a month with Mr. Jiang since Sept. 11, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review. Talks are promised to include disagreeable topics, however. Secretary of State Colin Powell assured a congressional committee that Mr. Bush would raise China's policy of coercive abortion and birth limits during the visit. Mr. Bush has set aside in a reserve account $34 million approved by Congress for the UN Population Fund because of its involvement in China's program. In addition, the president's 2003 budget contains no request for money for the Fund. Church advocates also want the president to confront Mr. Jiang about China's crackdown on Christians. Official Chinese documents, released last week in the United States, detail an ongoing, top-down effort to crush organized Christian activity. The Ministry of Public Security and local government security bureaus issued the seven documents, marked classified, between April 1999 and October 2001. They order increased surveillance and "complete demolition" of some church groups. Hu Jin Tao, viewed by many as a possible successor to Mr. Jiang, endorses in one document a drive against the Real God church, ordering Public Security Bureau toughs to "smash the cult quietly." "These documents provide irrefutable evidence that China remains determined to eradicate all religion it cannot control, using extreme tactics," said Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea. Dutch officials pull the plug on abortion trawler
Unmaking waves
Dutch health officials sunk the efforts of a feminist group to perform offshore abortions. Women on Waves, an Amsterdam-based foundation, could not pass health and safety inspections for a fishing trawler it hoped to convert into an abortion clinic. The group planned to use the vessel just off the coasts of countries where abortion is illegal. It drew protests when it sailed to Ireland last year but actually has performed no abortions. Dutch Health Minister Els Borst refused to issue a permit for the vessel because health inspectors could not make regular visits, and women with complications could not be easily transferred to a hospital. The House votes to restrict Americans' political activity
Speak now or for two months hold your peace
Would it be good for democracy if people would just keep quiet? Yes, according to 240 members of Congress, who last week voted to make it illegal for corporations, labor unions, and nonprofit groups to run television or radio ads that mention a federal candidate two months prior to an election. Also in the name of advancing democracy, the House bill would limit the amount of money that groups can give to political parties. Spurred on by the public-relations fallout from Enron's bankruptcy, 40 Republicans voted with all but 12 Democrats to pass the bill, sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.). Action on campaign-finance restrictions then headed to the Senate, where Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened a filibuster. But many opponents also hold out hope that the Constitution may stand in the way of politicians silencing their critics. The National Right to Life Committee, a leading opponent of the legislation, warned that if a group ran an ad stating simply that a congressman was pro-life, it could lead to a costly investigation by the Federal Election Commission. If the bill passes the Senate and the president signs it into law, it faces an immediate court challenge. Will President Bush back the bill? During the House debate, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer remained cryptic but sounded like Mr. Bush wanted a bill: "If campaign finance reform is enacted into law, I believe that you can thank President George W. Bush, because he changed the dynamic of how this phony debate has finally ended in Washington, D.C." Panel investigates White House gifts
Giving to receive?
Bill and Hillary Clinton underreported the amount and value of gifts they received when they left the White House, according to a new report from a House Government Reform subcommittee. The subcommittee's chairman, California Republican Doug Ose, said the study showed the need for new legislation since the current system of tracking gifts to the president and first lady is "broken and needs to be fixed." The investigation found many gifts to the Clintons were not reported in White House gift records, including 22 gifts to President Clinton from former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, including a $1,200 Oriental rug and a $270 silver Tiffany box. The undervaluation of several gifts was also a concern, including a chic Yves Saint Laurent suit valued at $249. "I have trouble going to J.C. Penney's and buying a suit for $248," said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio). Online group pressures car company into dropping TV ad
Million man mail
Can average citizens change corporate behavior? Last month they did, with the help of a grassroots Internet campaign. OneMillionDads.com, a project of the American Family Association (AFA), mounted a successful e-mail protest against a sexually suggestive Daimler-Chrysler Corporation advertising series. In one television commercial, a man approached his next-door neighbor and nervously asked, "Do you and your wife ... er ... ever think about swapping?" The surprised neighbor nodded his head yes as the camera panned to his attractive wife standing nearby. Viewers learn that the first man was interested in "swapping" car keys-not wives-so he could try out his neighbor's new Chrysler minivan. OneMillionDads.com users bombarded Chrysler with e-mails denouncing that ad and others in the series. Under electronic pressure, Chrysler on Jan. 31 decided to yank the commercials. The AFA launched OneMillionDads .com last month-along with a sister site OneMillionMoms.com-to fight television "trash." The strategy: organized deployment of e-mail. Though the group has for years waged war against unwholesome viewer fare, AFA president Don Wildmon said, technology is improving results and providing instant feedback. Astros try to shed Enron label
Name shame
Imagine playing baseball in "Titanic Stadium" or "Edsel Arena." The Houston Astros face something like that as they try to change the name of Enron Field, the team's home stadium, before the 2002 season begins. But the name "Enron" not only denotes bad business but scandal and corruption, and the team has asked a New York judge whether their stadium-naming agreement must continue now that Enron is bankrupt. "The Houston Astros have been materially and adversely affected by the negative public perception and media scrutiny resulting from Enron's alleged bad business practices and bankruptcy," said Astros vice president of business operations Pam Gardner. The now-embarrassing name is displayed on everything from the scoreboard to tickets to paper napkins at the stadium. Enron's former CEO Kenneth Lay was a big booster for the new taxpayer-funded stadium back when it was a hot political issue in Houston. Voters passed a $265 million referendum to build the facility in 1996. Mr. Lay, once the toast of Houston, threw out the Astros' ceremonial first pitch during the first game of the 2000 season. The Lay-less Enron is still current on its payments in the $100 million, 30-year contract that started in 1999. As part of its contract with the Astros, the company has spent $108,000 on a suite and $90,000 for box seats since filing for bankruptcy. Enron officials have hinted that they would accept a buyout to end the deal. Stockbroker allegedly swindled wealthy for $300 million
Accounts receivable
Frank Gruttadauria may go down in history as one of America's great stock swindlers. The former stockbroker allegedly took up to $300 million from clients in a scam that lasted 15 years. Once detected, he spent a month on the run before he walked into the FBI's Cleveland offices and surrendered. Mr. Gruttadauria is suspected of falsifying the account statements of about 25 wealthy clients and inflating the values of their accounts. Investigators still don't know where the money went. Officials believe the former Lehman Brothers employee ran a giant shell game. He allegedly transferred client money into other accounts, which he controlled under fictitious names. Whenever a client needed a withdrawal from an account that was empty, Mr. Gruttadauria would transfer the money from someone else's account. Mr. Gruttadauria allegedly had account statements for about 25 wealthy people mailed to his post office box. The clients were sent forgeries containing false, inflated balances instead. During his disappearance, Mr. Gruttadauria sent a letter to his mother saying he didn't "know how to live as a fugitive" and apologizing for the whole ordeal: "I'm really terrified, but please remember me as a happy young boy." In another letter, left behind when he fled, the suspect said he acted alone and that lax supervision made the scam possible. Krishnas file for Chapter 11
Dirty Hare
Hare Krishnas are a bit harried these days. About a dozen congregations in the flamboyant Hindu sect plan to file for Chapter 11 reorganization because of a $400 million lawsuit alleging sexual and emotional abuse of boarding school students. A Texas lawsuit alleges that instructors terrorized young children at Krishna schools in India and the United States. It claims young girls were given as brides to older men who donated money. The children also were allegedly deprived of medical care, scrubbed with steel wool until their skin bled, and prevented from leaving the schools. Windle Turley, the Dallas attorney who filed the lawsuit, claims the abuse dates back to 1972 and that the Krishnas knew sex offenders were working in their schools. When the Hare Krishnas boomed in the 1960s, leaders taught that children as young as 5 should be sent to boarding schools for Hindu indoctrination. About a dozen schools operated in North America by the late 1970s, but all have since closed. The group, officially known as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, is trying to settle the suit and announced plans to start a fund to compensate victims. The group also claims that the legal battle will cost millions to fight, so bankruptcy is necessary.

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