Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Welfare to work," March 16, 2002

Al-Qaeda forces shoot captive, and six other Americans die on deadly day
No quarter given
As the United States launched its most serious ground offensive in Afghanistan, one thing about the rules of engagement became clear: The Geneva Convention may protect the Taliban at Guantanamo Bay but not U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Remnant Taliban and al-Qaeda forces quickly captured and shot Navy SEAL Neil Roberts, 32, after he fell from his Chinook helicopter. It came under attack from an al-Qaeda-launched missile and pulled away before crew members realized Petty Officer Roberts was missing. An unmanned Predator hovering over the battle provided commanders realtime videotape of the soldier's summary execution-all before Europeans and human-rights officials had their say in his POW status. Mr. Roberts and six other U.S. soldiers died on March 4 in the deadliest day of fighting for U.S. forces. The six were killed after their chopper crash-landed when hit by enemy fire. Remaining crew members fought al-Qaeda forces for 12 hours before they were rescued. The soldiers were part of the war's largest offensive-over 1,000 American, 800 Afghan, and 200 coalition fighters-to surround and eliminate al-Qaeda and Taliban holdouts in a high mountain region south of Kabul. Despite enemy resistance and firepower, the United States sent commandos in to retrieve the body of Mr. Roberts. "We don't leave Americans behind," said Brig. Gen. John Rosa, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Irish pro-lifers disagree on vote
Clear as mud
Divided pro-lifers and confusing ballot language contributed to the narrow defeat last week in Ireland of a referendum touted as strengthening the Roman Catholic nation's protective abortion laws. "I do not want to see a pro-choice, liberal, abortion regime in this country," Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said as voters prepared to vote. "This is an honest, clear, pro-life proposal." But for pro-life leaders in Ireland the referendum was anything but clear. Catholic Church leaders announced support for a measure that allows abortion in certain medical emergencies, while overturning a court decision allowing abortion for suicidal mothers. But right-to-life activists said the measure would actually encourage abortion. A letter to Irish priests from the activists said the referendum would permit use of abortion pills and allow abortion for vague medical conditions. "This pretext is the backdoor through which liberal abortion has been introduced in several countries," wrote eight pro-life leaders, including International Right to Life Federation president Jack Willke. Muslim mob ignites riots across India
Burned alive
What began on Coach S-6 in the western Indian state of Gujarat ignited the deadliest riots between Muslims and Hindus in over a decade. As the train, loaded with Hindus, rolled on Feb. 27 into Godhra, a poor Muslim neighborhood, a Muslim mob set it afire. In only minutes 58 people, mostly Hindu women and children, were burned alive. Riots erupted all over the state between Hindus and Muslims; one week later, over 600 people were dead and 40 cities in the state under curfew. Tensions between Muslims and Hindus historically run high. Tensions between India and Pakistan, which borders Gujarat, have heightened since war began in Afghanistan. "HARD RIGHT," "EXTREMIST": NEWS MEDIA SPIN ON CALIFORNIA'S RACE FOR GOVERNOR-SIMON VS. DAVIS-FALLS ALONG PREDICTABLE LINES
Let the attacks begin
Within 24 hours of Bill Simon's dramatic victory in the Republican gubernatorial primary in California, the first political reporter suggested that Mr. Simon was doomed to lose to Gov. Gray Davis in November. UPI national political analyst James B. Chapin predicted: "Tuesday's California primary shows how little the core of the Republican party, even in very Democratic states, is willing to adapt to the numerical realities that have preoccupied Bush strategist Karl Rove. The victory of hard-right conservative Bill Simon over the moderate former mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan, reveals the increasing weakness of the Republican Party." Reporters enhance the internal divide by insisting that social conservatives are "hard right," but a candidate like Mr. Riordan, who endorsed abortion and the recognition of gay marriage, is not on the "hard left," but is a "moderate." (Democrats who oppose abortion or gay marriage aren't labeled; they're left off convention podiums and ignored by reporters.) Mr. Chapin is the first, but look for many national media figures to echo his belief that the religious right is a political loser for the GOP: "The national Republican Party spent a generation wooing socially conservative voters, and it got them. Now comes the downside-the same voters who lifted them to national power are now driving away the swing voters they need to win elections." Michael Finnegan and Nicholas Riccardi of the Los Angeles Times made the same point on a page-one piece, but cloaked it in objective-journalism speak: "The struggle to define Bill Simon Jr. started just hours after the polls closed Tuesday night. Is he a former prosecutor and successful businessman who can pull the state from its fiscal morass and fix its broken school system? Or a rich, right-wing extremist who opposes abortion rights and gun control? The battle over which portrait of Simon voters embrace" will determine the outcome of the election. Having emerged from a "hotly contested Republican primary," the Times reporters say, Mr. Simon faces a "classic problem": "He appealed to the party's conservative base to get the nomination" and now his "main task" is to keep the general election focused on anything but "hot-button social issues." Pundits like Mr. Chapin will cite Republican failures in New Jersey and Virginia last year caused by "picking a hard-right candidate." But neither Bret Schundler nor Mark Earley stressed social conservative issues in their fall campaigns. In New Jersey, bitter moderate Republicans pledged not to help the party nominee. In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner spent a huge war chest and suggested he was pro-gun and dismissed the idea he was a social liberal. Unlike California, which political reporters see as a bellwether for the rest of America, the 2001 governor's races only drew coverage in the waning days of the general election. Mr. Simon should hope they stay away with their doomsday coverage in the months to come. But reporters might take a look at their months of predictions of a Riordan cakewalk before they become too confident. NEWS SHOWS MILK ENRON COLLAPSE
Object lesson
The Media Research Center reports that since Jan. 9, the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC have pumped out 198 stories on the bankruptcy and political connections of Enron. It began with lots of questions about the Houston-based energy company's closeness with President Bush, but once it became clear that TeamBush didn't do much to save the company from folding, the networks turned it into a parable about the way Big Money ruins politics. "Fueled in part by the Enron shame, House leaders announced that they will allow a vote on long-blocked legislation for serious campaign-finance reform," announced CBS star Dan Rather before a Feb. 5 story. CBS led the networks in focusing on Enron-71 stories on Evening News, compared to 64 on ABC's World News Tonight, and 63 on NBC Nightly News. But the MRC found that only six of those 198 stories hinted at Enron's connections with the Clinton administration. AS CLONING DEBATE HEATS UP, EXPECT REEVE ON MULTIPLE TV APPEARANCES
Star gazing
Expect to see a lot more of movie star Christopher Reeve leading the battle for cloning as the political debate heats up. The paralyzed Reeve appeared before a Senate committee hearing put on by Ted Kennedy, and he's also making the TV news rounds. On March 4, he told CNN's NewsNight that we need to be "a courageous society, not worried about this slippery slope." He said "therapeutic cloning" wouldn't necessarily lead to "reproductive cloning," but allowed: "Somebody in a laboratory someplace might do something weird, but that's probably a very minor concern.... Risk is part of the fragile adventure of life." Free-enterprise group calls on the IRS to revoke animal-rights group's nonprofit status
PETA: public enemies?
Is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) more than just a loud nuisance? A group that tracks crimes against businesses claims the high-profile organization encourages people to break the law. The group-the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDF)-wants the IRS to revoke PETA's nonprofit status. Among other charges, CDF claims that PETA supports the extremist Animal Liberation Front, steals company trade secrets, and advocates arson and assaults on businessmen. CDF officials say the most egregious example of PETA extremism is the animal-rights group's alleged ties to Rodney Coronado, who was sent to prison for torching the Michigan State University animal laboratory. Alan Gottlieb, president of CDF, claims PETA has connections to various unlawful acts throughout the 1980s and 1990s: "The IRS has been slack in its oversight of this dangerous group." According to the filing, PETA collected about $13 million from supporters in 2001, but spent only about $100,000 on efforts to influence legislation and public opinion. It also said the group spends little on sheltering animals, about $4,000 in 1995 and $6,000 in 1996. IRS officials won't discuss the matter, and PETA president Ingrid Newkirk says CDF is preying on people's post-9/11 fears of terrorism. But CDF points to PETA's protests that result in arrests and statements issued by the group or its leaders that seem sympathetic to criminal acts. The group quotes Ms. Newkirk telling the Chronicle of Higher Education, "If I had more guts, I'd light a match," referring to labs that conduct animal research. Islamic Rebels holding Americans ready to deal?
'This is a good sign'
Islamic rebels holding kidnapped American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham in the Philippines may be trying to strike a deal for their release, according to family members who are in contact with the U.S. State Department. "This is a good sign," Oreta Burnham, mother of Martin Burnham, told Compass Direct news service. Separately, Filipino police arrested on March 6 eight people accused of giving food and aid to the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas holding the Burnhams since last May. Only the Burnhams and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap remain out of a group of 20 hostages taken from a resort on the southern island province of Basilan last May. The three are reportedly suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion. The United States is assisting in the fight against Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the al-Qaeda terror network. U.S. special forces are deployed alongside Philippine army units in the region where the hostages and their captors recently have been sighted. NARAL urges officials to harass CPCs
Merely a retreat
When New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer early this month announced that he was withdrawing subpoenas that targeted 10 crisis pregnancy centers in his state for providing "deceptive" medical information to women, pro-life groups celebrated. But the battle isn't over yet. Mr. Spitzer had issued the subpoenas in January, demanding that centers hand over personnel lists, training materials, and information on policies and procedures. As WORLD reported on Feb. 2, he and his pro-abortion backers were pushing for even more: Any non-doctor who advised on abortion could be viewed as practicing medicine without a license. Public outcry and the prospect of lengthy court battles led Mr. Spitzer to change course for now, but the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) is still prodding politicians beholden to it to attack crisis pregnancy centers. One NARAL booklet lists lots of ways to harass CPCs and praises one in particular: "Persuade state attorney general to bring litigation against targeted CPCs," with the goal of requiring "new operating guidelines" to limit CPC outreach. ABC courts Letterman show
End of the Nightline?
ABC may soon turn out the lights on Nightline. The network is trying to lure late-night comedian David Letterman from CBS, a move that could oust the popular news show hosted by Ted Koppel from its perch. ABC officials haven't said much about the proposal. CBS, the network that took Mr. Letterman from NBC in a super-publicized deal, is still negotiating with the star. In the meantime, ABC's interest in Mr. Letterman amounts to a vote of no confidence for a show considered a flagship of TV news. The trade paper Variety reported that ABC could wind up paying over $30 million in license fees to grab Mr. Letterman, even though he consistently lags behind NBC's Tonight Show hosted by Jay Leno. "Should Letterman decide to stay put-still the more likely option-ABC could find itself staring down a black hole in latenight next September," wrote Josef Adalian. "Bill Maher and Politically Incorrect are now history, while ABC executives have all but told Ted Koppel and his Nightline staff they're just taking up space until something more profitable comes along." Nightline dates back to 1980, when ABC began running Mr. Koppel's nightly update on the Iran hostage crisis. The network, now owned by Disney, faces sagging ratings and a familiar demographic problem: Nightline's viewers are older and less attractive to advertisers than the younger people who watch Mr. Letterman. Airline proposes equipping pilots with stun guns
Armed and less dangerous
Future hijackers may be in for a shock. United Airlines officials announced that they will start training their pilots to use stun guns, and some observers expect that such nonlethal weapons eventually will become standard on most flights. If federal regulators approve the idea, United pilots will keep Taser stun guns in locked boxes in the cockpit, said Joe Hopkins, spokesman for the airline, which lost two planes in the Sept. 11 attack. United paid about $1 million for 1,300 of these less-than-lethal weapons. According to manufacturer Taser International, these weapons fire cartridges that propel about 15 feet and deliver electrical charges through up to two inches of clothing. It claims the weapon can stop an attacker once he is hit on any part of the body. Disability lasts from 30 seconds to a few minutes. The company claims that no deaths have been reported in 20 years of use. While the airlines are considering stun guns, many pilots want more than voltage to defend themselves. Earlier this month, the Air Line Pilots Association asked Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to allow firearms in cockpits. Under their plan, pilots would be deputized as federal law-enforcement officers. Last week, Mr. Mineta rejected that proposal. Reagans mark anniversary
The Gipper and his bride
Ronald and Nancy Reagan marked their golden anniversary on March 4 with a quiet celebration, sharing a cake at their Bel-Air home. As the former president struggles with Alzheimer's disease, his wife said she celebrates on the "inside." Mr. Reagan is now 91 years old, while Mrs. Reagan -who remains his chief caretaker-turns 81 on July 6. "There's no way to celebrate," she said. "But I can celebrate the fact that we had 50 years, which still, I can't believe it." The former first lady remarked that her husband once sent her lots of love letters, including special ones on their anniversary. Now that his condition has worsened, the tradition must end. The ex-president announced his illness in a 1994 statement and has made only scant public appearances since then. Mrs. Reagan and his chief of staff Joanne Drake say little about his current condition. Ronald Reagan proposed to then-actress Nancy Davis in January 1952. (The restaurant booth where they dined has been preserved at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.) They were married on March 4, 1952, at a small chapel near Ventura Boulevard in the Los Angeles area; movie star William Holden was best man. The future president had divorced Jane Wyman in 1948.

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