Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Progress in Hollywood," March 23, 2002

Zimbabwe: Government hampers voting, incumbent declares victory
Mugged by Mugabe
Pastor Derek Carlsen faced a smaller-than-usual congregation on March10, as church members were forced to wait hours in lines at polling stations across Zimbabwe in the country's second day of voting for national elections. By Sunday night it was clear that forces under President Robert Mugabe-who faced his toughest opposition in 22 years-were conspiring to steal the election. In Harare, the capital, polling stations ran erratic hours or, in areas favoring the opposition, closed entirely. Voters were forced to walk to other stations, and some waited to cast their ballot in lines more than a mile long. Stations designed to accommodate 1,000 voters were managing over 5,000, according to the Norwegian Observer Mission, the principal international observer group. And the government refused to certify thousands of local observers. "The church was prevented from being involved in a major-and traditional-way," said Mr. Carlsen. "We tried to have 12,000 observers allowed, but only 400 were allowed to do so." A court ruled late Sunday that so many had been disenfranchised that the government had to extend elections another day. Record turnout did not keep Mr. Mugabe from declaring himself a winner, in what the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party called "daylight robbery." African states were quick to rally around Mr. Mugabe, but Western governments condemned the vote and promised new sanctions against his regime. The Norwegian Observer Mission said the elections "failed to meet key, broadly accepted, criteria for elections." Said President Bush: "We do not recognize the outcome of the election because we think it is flawed." Russia: court OKs salvation Army
Peaceful Army
In Moscow, the Salvation Army predates communism. Bolsheviks shut down its first mission in 1917. The Russian Orthodox Church and a local court failed to stop the Christian group's charity work again in a lengthy court battle that concluded on March 6. Russia's Constitutional Court overturned the lower court verdict, which ruled that the Salvation Army was a "paramilitary grouping" and banned it from Moscow last year. Russian Orthodox leaders backed a move to ban the group under a controversial law requiring minority religious groups to register with the government. The Salvation Army holds services at six sites in Moscow and has 4,000 members and staff across the former Soviet Union. Colombia: Rebels may set sights on missionaries
Terror targets
The U. S. Embassy in Bogotá last week warned missionaries and churches in rural Colombia that they may be the targets of guerrilla attacks. The warning followed the breakdown of peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and came in personal, late-night phone calls to heads of mission agencies stationed there. President Andres Pastrana scrapped 3-year-old negotiations with FARC on Feb. 20 after the rebels hijacked an airplane and kidnapped a senator. Since the talks collapsed, FARC has escalated its sabotage campaign. Army commanders blame the rebel army for detonating a car bomb on March 12, killing three soldiers, four civilians, and injuring 14 others. COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF RETAINS ENORMOUS PUBLIC SUPPORT AS OPPONENTS' BARBS FAIL TO DAMAGE HIM
Commanding respect
Last week marked the six-month anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and public support for President Bush's leadership remains high. His job-approval ratings are in the high 70s and low 80s. The latest ABC-Washington Post poll, taken March 7 through 10, found 82 percent approved (unchanged from January), and just 16 percent expressed disapproval. Even higher ratings come for the way he is handling the war on terrorism: 88 percent said he is doing a good job, a proportion that has remained unchanged throughout the fall and winter. The White House's attempt to somberly prepare the nation for a long battle on multiple fronts has become part of the public mood. In the ABC-Post poll, seven in 10 approved of sending U.S. troops to help capture terrorists in other countries such as the Philippines and Yemen. The same majority supported using military force to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Eight in 10 agreed that the United States "is doing all it reasonably can do to try to avoid U.S. military casualties." Some media stars remain noticeably patriotic. Dan Rather ended one of his CBS newscasts with a tribute to seven fallen servicemen in the fierce battle of Gardez. Over their photos, he told the story of their hobbies, their families, and their hopes. "Army Sergeant Philip Svitak told his mother, 'The terrorists have to be stopped. If anything happens to me, I'm proud to die for my country.' Svitak leaves a wife and two young sons." Rather ended his show with words of praise: "They were some of America's best. They gave this country everything. We close our broadcast tonight thinking of them and of their valor." All the war news has left Democrats frustrated. Democratic strategists James Carville, Bob Shrum, and Stanley Greenberg argued in their latest memo that "George Bush is still popular, but less so, which should be giving Democrats confidence that they can be heard." But Democratic attempts to lower the president's poll numbers with the Enron bankruptcy scandal aren't working. The Carville team-who co-wrote a January memo saying "Enron has the potential to shape the entire political environment for 2002"-now complains that Democrats have not been aggressive enough to make gains as "the party willing to take on the powerful special interests." CLINTON "MISUNDERSTOOD": JOURNALIST RELEASES BOOK PRAISING FORMER PRESIDENT'S LEADERSHIP
Klein dancing
Former Newsweek writer Joe Klein-who left the magazine after lying to editors and friends about his authorship of the novel Primary Colors-is back in bookstores with The Natural, a nonfiction account of the "misunderstood" Clinton presidency. In a round of TV interviews, he is back to hailing Bill Clinton's talents and flailing his enemies. "The '90s will be remembered more for the ferocity of their prosecutions than for the severity of their crimes. I think we all went a little bit berserk during that time," he told Tim Russert on CNBC. (In the book, Mr. Klein refers to Newt Gingrich as an "American mullah.") Asked how he thought Mr. Clinton would have run a war on terrorism, Mr. Klein asserted that Republicans would have never given Mr. Clinton the room that Democrats are giving George W. Bush: "The behavior of the Republican extremists in the '90s, who did not accept his legitimacy from day one, borders on being unpatriotic. You cannot run a country in a circumstance like that. You just can't." "BRAVE" ROSIE: TV TALKER EXITS THE CLOSET
Odes to O'Donnell
Talk show host Rosie O'Donnell's unfolding public-relations offensive surrounding her "coming out" announcement is being greeted with sympathy-and frustration that homosexuality is not more widely accepted. "Rosie's Brave Step" was the People magazine cover line. The story ended with her best friend Jackie Ellard asking, "Why do people care? It's just so normal [for Rosie and partner Kelli Carpenter] and their kids. They live life as a normal family." If People really thought people shouldn't care, why put the story on the cover? Perhaps it's explained by lesbian friend and rock star Melissa Etheridge, who told USA Today that Rosie could have announced her lifestyle at any time. "I think that we give that scary Middle America more power than we should." Afghan girl in famous photo found
Cover girl
Past Nasir Bagh refugee camp, over trails, through villages, and beyond a few dead ends, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry found his Mona Lisa. Seventeen years after Mr. McCurry shot his famous photograph of the young Afghan girl with the turquoise eyes, he rediscovered his cover girl, Sharbat Gula, now a wife and mother with three daughters living in a remote Afghanistan village. "It's miraculous that Sharbat Gula survived all these years. When I took her photo in 1984, Afghanistan was at war with the Soviet Union. The country was in a serious state of lawlessness, and the mortality rate among the refugee population was high," said Mr. McCurry. "Her survival is a testament to her courage and determination." Sharbat had no idea her face had become an icon; she has been photographed only twice, in 1984 and again after the National Geographic team found her earlier this year. The team was sure they had the right girl, but-just to be certain-used FBI iris-scanning and face-recognition technology to verify their find. Camps like the one where Sharbat spent most of her life are closing along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as UN convoys prepare to repatriate over 5 million Afghans displaced by civil war, the Taliban, and the most recent offensive from the United States. Nearly 5,000 Afghans returned to their country on March 11 alone, bringing to over 18,000 the number of refugees this month who have returned home-many for the first time in two decades. Financial Times: Iranians acquiring U.S. technology
Circumventing sanctions
Iranian businessmen are doing a brisk in-country trade in high-tech American equipment, according to the London-based Financial Times. The U.S. government in 1995 imposed sanctions preventing U.S. trade with Iran, but Times journalists attending the first annual International Police and Security Equipment Exhibition in Tehran earlier this month reported a plethora of American-made security items on display. Products included face-recognition systems by Visionics, satellite pictures by Space Imaging, Apollo Security access-control systems, and Motorola satellite telephones and wireless communications systems. Spokesmen for both Motorola and Apollo told WORLD they do not sell technology to Iran, either directly or through subsidiaries or brokers, and suggested Iranian merchants may be acquiring American products through unauthorized foreign third-party dealers. "Apollo has over 400 dealers worldwide in over 60 countries," said Apollo managing director Clifford Crane. "Iran, Iraq, North Korea and all the bad guys are not on that list and we aim to make sure that never happens." Obesity overtakes smoking as chief health enemy
Fat attack
Will candy bars and french fries become the cigarettes of the 21st century? Obesity is quickly emerging as public health officials' top concern, overtaking even smoking, and activists may be turning their guns toward junk food. The American Cancer Society says evidence exists that exercise and weight control reduces risk of colo-rectal and breast cancer-and it may help prevent other forms of the disease. Over 500,000 people die of cancer annually, and an estimated 55 percent of American adults are considered overweight or obese. Some observers predict a war on fat that resembles the war on smoking. In what many political analysts say is a precursor of things to come, the Kentucky House on March 7 passed a bill to ban high-fat snacks, candy, and soft drinks from stores, canteens, and vending machines in the state's public schools. Much of the emphasis on obesity may come from the decline of smoking in American culture and a rising belief that obesity strains the health care system. Rand Corp. economist Roland Sturm reported in the journal Health Affairs that obese Americans spend even more for health care and medications than smokers spend. Radical convicted as cop killer
Captured panther
Ex-Black Panther leader H. Rap Brown faces life in prison as a convicted cop killer. The activist was once a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the dominant radical groups of the 1960s New Left. In 1967, he said violence was "as American as cherry pie." Prosecutors proved to a jury that the 58-year-old activist, who now calls himself Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, pulled out a high-powered assault rifle and opened fire on a southwest Atlanta street in March 2000, when deputies Ricky Kinchen and Aldranon English tried to serve him with a warrant on minor charges. Mr. Kinchen was killed and Mr. English was wounded. Mr. Brown was captured four days after the shootings in White Hall, Ala., and authorities found a .223-caliber assault rifle near the area where he was arrested. Prosecutors said he shot Mr. Kinchen three times in the groin as he lay bleeding in the street. Mr. Brown's defense team called him a community leader who was a victim of mistaken identification and suggested he was framed as part of a government conspiracy. The jury didn't buy it. Mr. Brown's brother Ed said that the radical's defenders would work to overturn the conviction. "We will continue to struggle, we will continue to fight and we will try in the next phase to save his life," he said. "And we are certainly going to appeal." The jury that convicted Mr. Brown rejected the prosecution's call for a death sentence. Union organizing on college campuses heats up
Assembly-line educators
Union power may be in decline nationally, but organizers are gathering momentum on college campuses. Many schools over the last few decades have grown reliant on low-pay student assistants to teach classes and perform other duties, and now many of those student workers want collective-bargaining arrangements with their schools. Schools have traditionally seen such jobs as training and have fought unionization. But student organizers received a boost when the National Labor Relations Board changed its position on student unions in 2000, giving some New York University graduate employees the right to organize. Now the movement is spreading from one cadre of campus activists to another. Columbia University teaching assistants are set to vote this month on whether to join the United Auto Workers, and grad-student employees at the University of Illinois plan to strike next month (and start their second walkout this school year). Earlier this month, resident assistants at the University of Massachusetts agreed to unionize, marking one of the first times an undergraduate group has done so. Star to end show in 2006
Oprah exits
The queen of American television is preparing to abdicate her throne. Oprah Winfrey plans to end her TV talk show after the 2005-2006 season, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The trade paper reports that The Oprah Winfrey Show has been TV's most popular talk show for nearly its entire run and generates $300 million per year in revenue for King World, its syndicator. The show is widely considered one of the most influential programs in TV history, and the host has managed to brush off critics who call her overly sentimental or the beacon of squishy, politically correct norms. Numerous careers have taken off based on appearances on the show. Ms. Winfrey has not spoken about the future of other products branded with her name. The future of her book club, which regularly sends novels to the bestseller lists, is sure to draw attention. A minor backlash against the Oprah phenomenon came when author Jonathan Franzen, whose novel The Corrections won her seal of approval, criticized some of her book picks as "schmaltzy" and "one-dimensional." Last year, Forbes ranked Ms. Winfrey as the 280th richest American, estimating her fortune at about $900 million. She bought one of the most expensive homes in America last year, a 42-acre estate just south of Santa Barbara that went for an estimated $50 million. Facing huge losses, the postal service pledges to fix its operations
Planning ahead?
The Postal Service is quietly trying to dig itself out of its financial doldrums. Its governing board is set to issue a plan to Congress next month on how it will transform its operations. The proposal is supposed to increase business, reduce costs, raise revenues, improve service, and "keep postage costs affordable," according to Robert F. Rider, chairman of the agency's governing board. Details are sketchy, but the agency wants increased flexibility in setting rates. As it stands, the Postal Service is $550 million in the red and has had to eliminate 8,100 career jobs and 7,700 temporary positions this fiscal year. Up to 10,000 additional layoffs could follow. The 9/11 attacks added to the agency's woes, with overall mail volume dropping 5.5 percent during the Sept.-Nov. quarter, compared to 2000. Conservatives wonder: Will Bush go to the mat for judicial nominees?
Picking off Pickering
President Bush loved to repeat the story about how the folks in his hometown of Crawford, Texas, nearly fell off their chairs when he said nice things about Ted Kennedy. Sen. Kennedy-showing that no good deed will go unpunished-is still knocking people out of their chairs, or at least off the judicial bench. The Massachusetts Democrat and all his party colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week rejected the president's proposed promotion of Judge Charles Pickering to a federal circuit court. Good will and bipartisanship evaporated, and hot talk about extremism and obstructionism returned. But the primary question in Washington in the Pickering aftermath is: Will this happen again-and again? Liberals have already started picking next at D. Brooks Smith, charging that his nomination is clouded by appearances at conservative seminars organized by groups like Montana's Political Economy Research Center, a free-market environmental think tank. A pile of the president's circuit court nominees, many of them nominated early last May, are still waiting around without a hearing. While they wait, foes gather opposition research. Senate Republicans are angry at how the Democrats are treating Bush nominees. The GOP majority did hold up some of Clinton's nominees, they admit, but they didn't do what the Democrats did to Judge Pickering, accusing him in public hearings of racism and unethical conduct. In their few years in the majority in the 1980s and 1990s, they never killed a judicial nomination in committee, which the Democrats have now done four times since the late 1980s. Democrats under Majority Leader Tom Daschle are holding firm on their demand for judges who aren't "outside the mainstream," seen by most as an abortion litmus test. Senate Republicans told WORLD that President Bush is now "engaged" in pressing for his nominees. But conservative activists came away from the Pickering defeat questioning the strategic savvy and passion of TeamBush. Family Research Council leader Ken Connor said the lesson of the failed Pickering nomination was that "the Democrats concluded the fight is worth it, and they're willing to go to the mat. What message is the president sending?" Behind the heated headlines, Democrats are quietly increasing the speed of judicial confirmations, at least at the lowest level, the district courts, doubling their monthly pace to 10 confirmations in December and another 10 since they returned to town in late January. But only seven of the president's 29 circuit-court nominees have been confirmed, far below the more than 90 percent confirmation rate of early nominees during the administrations of Reagan, Bush the elder, and Clinton. Web casinos target women
Addiction equality
At a conference scheduled later this month in Miami, Internet gambling firms will "learn new ways to exploit an enormous untapped market," according to the Strategic Research Institute, a New York business research firm. The market: female gamblers, and exploit may be an apt word. Less than 2 percent of women are either problem or pathological gamblers, compared with nearly 4 percent of men, according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. But Maryann Morrison, president of GambleGoddess.com and CasinoWoman.com, plans to teach other Internet gaming moguls how to design gambling websites to attract women and advertise offline to promote Web gambling to females. Video poker and slot-style gambling, featured in abundance on the Web, may appeal to women who typically gravitate toward such games in casinos, said Focus on the Family researcher Ron Reno. Meanwhile, slot-style gambling has proliferated in recent years, and addiction experts have observed a spike in the number of women with gambling problems.

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