Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "View from the Axis," March 9, 2002

Tools of an evil trade
For reporters a trip to Pakistan begins with a journalist visa, Form-A issued by the Pakistan embassy. In addition to the usual demands, it asks foreign correspondents to declare "Programme in Pakistan"; "Cities and Places to be visited"; "Dignitaries to interview"; and "Name of contact in Pakistan." In this way, many believe, Pakistani terrorists found their way to Daniel Pearl. When the 38-year-old reporter for The Wall Street Journal was kidnapped on Jan. 23, word among fellow reporters was that a list of American journalists-courtesy of the Pakistani government-was handed off to Pakistani militants looking for American targets. Although President Pervez Musharraf has adopted a strident stand against terror groups, the government itself, particularly the intelligence agency, carries a history of chumminess with al-Qaeda and related networks. With Mr. Pearl's vital stats, abductors spent two weeks leading the reporter, described by colleagues as "tenacious," to his death. He was investigating Pakistan's militant Islamic underground. U.S. officials confirmed his death on Feb. 22 after learning his abductors filmed his murder in 50 seconds of videotape. Investigation of Mr. Pearl's murder may yield as much about connections among the region's terrorists as his reporting might have. Aided by an al-Qaeda laptop another Journal reporter purchased in Afghanistan, Mr. Pearl was chasing down more details on Robert C. Reid, the almost-bomber aboard a Paris-to-Miami flight last December. That led to a proposed rendezvous with Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani, who heads a faction known as Al Fuqra with 3,000 members in the United States. Many of them live in secluded compounds in California, Virginia, and New York. Pakistani police questioned Mr. Gilani shortly after the kidnapping but he has since disappeared. The slaying of Mr. Pearl is a fresh reminder that terrorists excel at conscripting everyday articles into combat duty. Leading suspect Ahmed Omar Sheikh communicated demands via a Hotmail account (kidnapperguy@hotmail.com). And for days after U.S. officials confirmed Mr. Pearl's death, his accomplices continued to issue threats using Mr. Pearl's cell phone. Americans in the international press corps may find comfort knowing that the FBI is covering their beat. An FBI undercover agent posing as a journalist in Pakistan was the first to receive the Pearl videotape. Solace for family and friends is another matter; Daniel Pearl may be one more victim of 9/11 to be eulogized without bodily remains. AFRICAN REBEL SAVIMBI GUNNED DOWN IN ANGOLA
Career warrior
In Africa it was sometimes said, "the Government steals and Savimbi kills." On Feb. 22 the killing came home to Jonas Savimbi, perhaps the continent's most durable rebel. Since 1966 he led Angola's UNITA, a movement for democratic independence, until Angolan troops gunned him down in a remote jungle province. Mr. Savimbi was once regarded as a freedom fighter. President Reagan welcomed him at the White House in 1986. Addressing the Heritage Foundation, he called Angola "the Munich of Africa" and pleaded for U.S. support to oust Cuban and Soviet forces trying to secure a base in Africa. The Cold War ended without resolving Angola's civil war. Resisting peace proposals, he was increasingly regarded as autocratic and cruel. Mr. Savimbi soldiered on without U.S. support. AFTER SIX MONTHS, ONE-THIRD OF AL-QAEDA LEADERSHIP IS BELIEVED TO BE WIPED OUT
Making progress
As the war in Afghanistan entered its sixth month, U.S. intelligence officials say the U.S. campaign has killed one-third of Osama bin Laden's terrorist leaders, including six of his top advisers. The named dead include: Muhammad Atef (Egyptian), Abu Hafs (Mauritanian), Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian), Muhammad Salah (Egyptian), Abu Jafar al-Jaziri (Algerian), Abu Salih al-Yamani (Yemeni). Afghan warlords working with U.S. forces say they are finding valuable caches in al-Qaeda's now-abandoned mountain hideouts, including bomb manuals, satellite telephones, and Stinger missiles. But the mastermind of it all, Mr. bin Laden, remains at large. Contrary to reports from Pakistan claiming he is dead, U.S. intelligence officers believe he is still hiding in the caves of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Also on the lam: Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. PARTISAN ROW OVER FEDERAL APPEALS COURT NOMINEE GETS NOTICED; IS IT A "DRESS REHEARSAL" FOR BUSH'S FIRST SUPREME COURT BATTLE?
Picking on Pickering
Democratic partisans have spent months responding to complaints about congressional foot-dragging on the confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominations by counter-complaining that Bill Clinton's court appointees were frustrated by Senate Republicans. In other words, Do unto others what they've done unto you. Nearly everyone addressing the failing nomination to promote Federal District Judge Charles Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals described it as a prelude or "dress rehearsal" for the next epic battle over a Republican pick for the Supreme Court. His defeat was declared not in the Senate, but on NBC's Meet the Press on Feb. 24. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told host Tim Russert that all 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote to deny the nomination because he wouldn't put aside his "very strong right-wing views." Nominations to lower federal courts are still an inside-the-Beltway phenomenon, unnoticed by the network stars. But it might seem extraordinary that Judge Pickering's entire nomination process-from its announcement by the White House last May through two Judiciary Committee hearings-commenced without a syllable's notice on a newscast of ABC, CBS, or NBC. ABC and NBC did stories the evening after Sen. Feinstein declared the nomination dead. Time and U.S. News & World Report also ignored the process, while Newsweek carried one small item. While liberal groups held news conferences denouncing Judge Pickering as insensitive to civil rights, major newspapers actually softened the portrait. Capitol Hill took notice when New York Times reporter David Firestone went to Judge Pickering's home town of Laurel, Miss., and found local blacks were supportive, in part because of his leadership of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the 1980s. The Washington Post editorial page denounced the charges of the anti-Pickering forces as an "ugly affair" and "the latest example of the degradation of the confirmation process." When the network reporters finally arrived for the preliminary post-mortems, they reverted to their usual pattern, labeling Judge Pickering "conservative" but casting his opponents as nonideological. NBC's Joe Johns reported Judge Pickering was opposed by "powerful interest groups" like NAACP and NOW. ABC's Carole Simpson called the judge "conservative," but his accusers were "a coalition of 50 civil-rights, human-rights, and women's groups." (In Newsweek, Eleanor Clift atypically called them "liberal groups.") With precedents like Roe vs. Wade on the bubble, some media stars sound like strict constructionists. NBC's Tim Russert quizzed Pickering supporter Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) on Meet the Press about how some decisions of Judge Pickering were reversed because he "did not accept well-settled issues of law," which "indicates ... personal opinions are being thrown in." None of the TV analysts noted that the American Bar Association rated Judge Pickering "well-qualified"-even as Democratic senators protested TeamBush's decision to downplay ABA's former make-or-break role on judicial picks-or that senators like Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and Pat Leahy voted for Judge Pickering when he was unanimously approved for his job at the district court level in 1990. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND KING
Condit's confessions
On the verge of losing his House seat, Gary Condit sat down with CNN's Larry King on Feb. 25 and quickly put blame on the media for his problems, not on his lying to police and the parents of Chandra Levy about his sexual relations with the missing intern. In the midst of some easy treatment, Mr. King asked Rep. Condit what he himself did wrong. "I probably didn't anticipate the gravity of what the media was going to do, how they were going to respond to this. I actually thought I had done what I was supposed to do. And that is, you know, report and tell everything that I knew to the law enforcement people. But I never imagined in my wildest dreams that the media would take off on this like they did. I mean, I actually, Larry, I thought I knew about injustice." When Rep. Condit told Mr. King he'd be pleased to answer any questions as long as his answers were respected, Mr. King said, "This ain't a court." Rep. Condit replied: "You're not the court and you're not the church." BROADCAST BOOSTERS DIDN'T LIKE ONE ASPECT OF CAMPAIGN "REFORM"
Business as usual
New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli is angry that the gung-ho TV coverage of campaign "reform" left out any enthusiasm for his amendment-to force TV to lower its advertising rates for political candidates. Faced with intense pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters, the House killed any attempt to mandate lower TV ad revenues, but the networks didn't find it worth reporting. TeamBush AIDS policy point man defends federal funding for obscene workshops
Forever Evertz
Colin Powell may have set tongues wagging with his comments on MTV urging kids to "forget about conservative ideas" when it comes to condoms, but White House "AIDS czar" Scott Evertz is still the administration's leader in socially liberal remarks. The latest evidence comes after a new report from Citizens Against Government Waste released a graphic report detailing the millions of taxpayer dollars appropriated to battle HIV/AIDS that are instead wasted on homosexual propaganda, sexually explicit conferences, and fraud. For example, San Francisco's "STOP AIDS" program used funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hold workshops on gay practices, as well as a seminar on "The Basics of Sadomasochism." HHS regulations require that programs supported by the department do not promote sexual activity or drug use, and in the latest HHS appropriations bill, Congress required an audit of all federal HIV-prevention programs and a report on any sexually explicit workshops. What about the White House's reaction? Mr. Evertz, the administration's point man on AIDS issues, shrugged off the controversy. In an interview with the Washington Blade, a gay activist newspaper, he admitted the programs were "a little provocative" but advocated a confused big-government version of federalism: "As a Republican, I strongly believe local communities should have a say. I'm not sure we should be telling an organization in the Castro [the San Francisco gay district] that we know more about how to reach out to people who are increasingly at risk for HIV." Feds fire security company after airport breaches
Airtight Argenbright?
Argenbright Security, the firm that until February controlled about 40 percent of the U.S. airport security market, is on its way out. The federal government, which last month took over responsibility for hiring and screening airport security workers, will replace Argenbright with one or more of about 60 other private security companies. As recently as late January, transportation secretary Norman Mineta said the government would not sign any new contracts with Argenbright, but that the firm could continue to operate. That's changed now: The Feds don't want the company handling airport security at all. Argenbright workers in November allowed a man carrying knives and a stun gun to slip through a Chicago security checkpoint. Last month, the firm allowed a man whose shoes bore explosives residue to disappear into the crowd at San Francisco International airport. Argenbright may hang on, at least temporarily, to one airport gig: Federal aviation officials asked the firm to stay on at Denver International Airport because no other screening companies expressed interest in the job. Study: Most seniors are at risk for hypertension
Rising pressure
People between age 55 and 65 have a whopping 90 percent chance of eventually developing high blood pressure. That's the conclusion of a study released last week, and it has health officials-including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson-warning about the problem. The report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is not necessarily bad news for everyone; experts say many people can still beat hypertension through diet and exercise. Right now, an estimated 50 million Americans have the health problem. "Ninety percent is a staggering statistic and cause for concern," Mr. Thompson said. "This finding should energize Americans to take steps to protect themselves against high blood pressure." According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which partially funded the study, doctors can easily diagnose hypertension and usually prevent it by keeping down certain risk factors like sodium intake and alcohol consumption. Study co-author Dr. Ramachandran Vasan of Boston University said that weight was is critical factor -and that one major reason that so many Americans are at risk is due to obesity. Coin-changing company estimates that Americans keep $7.7 billion in spare change stashed away
Mountain of cash
Got any spare change? Most Americans do, and as many as 77 percent keep from $30 to $50 in coins stashed away. That adds up to $7.7 billion sitting in jugs and jars-enough to keep the war in Afghanistan going for nearly eight months, according to Coinstar, a company that places coin-changing machines in supermarkets. Also, 139 million Americans are collecting the new quarters featuring different states. Coin collecting is common around the world, according to Steve Bobbitt of the American Numismatic Association. "Change becomes something that they like to have, but it also becomes a nuisance because of its weight," he said. Surprising amounts of coinage simply wind up in the trash. Stanford archaeologist William Rathje said he studied one Massachusetts incinerator, which serves a million people, and found that residents threw away about $8,000 in change every day. "I think it tells us that we're pretty well off," he said. "Number two is that we're often pretty careless about the way that we handle money." Recently, America has had a coin surplus, due to people spending less money on cash transactions. The U.S. Mint has cut back production and began laying off workers last November. Only 15 billion coins will be made in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, compared to 24 billion in 2000. Beth Deisher, editor of the weekly newspaper Coin World, said that more buffalo nickels, early quarters, and other unusual coins have appeared in circulation recently. "People are going back into that stash or cache of coins," she said. "When they start the penny-pinching, if you will, they start looking at those coins they've discarded and realize 100 of them make a dollar." Historian proposes a return to nature
Prehistoric approach
Stephen Ambrose is changing careers. The historian, plagued by plagiarism accusations, plans to finish one last book about World War II and then become an environmentalist. His announcement came not long after he apologized for including material in some of his books that closely resembles passages written by other authors. Mr. Ambrose already has poured millions of dollars in royalties from his 25 books into various environmental causes. At a speech to The Nature Conservancy's awards luncheon, he predicted that the focus of the 21st century would be restoring nature. He also avoided plagiarizing Genesis 1:28: Instead of advocating mankind's dominion over the earth, he talked about a world with natural medicines, fewer pesticides, and no shopping malls. "It is going to be expensive, first of all," he said. "It is going to be hard emotionally and mentally because we are going to have to undo some of the advances our fathers made." Tourists bid on flights, propping up programs
Space cadets
Lance Bass wanted to be the first teen idol in space. The 'N Sync member announced he wanted to buy a ride on a Soyuz spacecraft next fall, but the Russian space agency brushed aside his $25 million bid. The singer would have been the most high-profile space tourist to date. Instead, Polish businessman Leszek Czarnecki is scheduled to make the trip in October. Mr. Bass's attempt raises questions about the purpose of space programs and whether it is proper to let civilians buy a ride into space. NASA officials have long been critical of space tourism, but such programs help the Russians replace funding lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. "The earnings provide serious support for the industry, the cosmonauts' training center, and mission control," said Yuri Koptev, Russia's space chief. Two space tourists have gone up already. California investment banker Dennis Tito reportedly paid $20 million to visit the International Space Station last year. South African tycoon Mark Shuttleworth reportedly is spending the same amount to go up in late April. The Russians have built a new rocket to train amateur cosmonauts and are considering a new idea to raise money: A game show in which the champions win a blast into space.

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