Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "No man's land," May 10, 2003
declaration day
President Bush joked with reporters that they'd better "stay clear of the landing pattern" of the Navy S-3B Viking anti-submarine aircraft headed for the USS Abraham Lincoln. The former Texas Air National Guard pilot had the co-pilot's seat and he issued a playful warning that "the urge" to seize the controls could "kick in." All the jesting came a day before two solemn events were scheduled: The president would announce aboard the Lincoln the end of the combat phase in Iraq, and the secretary of defense would announce in Afghanistan that combat operations were concluded there and reconstruction could begin. Before heading out, Mr. Bush marked the May 1 National Day of Prayer at a White House ceremony. Guests included NDP chair Shirley Dobson, evangelist Luis Palau, and St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, among others. The president said the last month had been "another time of testing for America and another time of intense prayer." Meantime, the State Department's annual report on terrorism noted a sharp decline in international attacks over last year-and listed seven nations that sponsor terror: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Congress to end U.S. anti-terror sanctions against Iraq; the coalition military victory means that sanctions no longer are necessary.
roadmap or detour?
The swearing in of Mahmoud Abbas on April 30 as the new Palestinian prime minister was the cue for the engineers of the Middle East "road map" for peace to unveil details of their plan. Diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations presented the plan separately to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem and Mr. Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The United States had refused to move ahead with the road map until the Palestinians approved a leader other than Yasser Arafat to share his power. The plan calls for a Palestinian state by 2005, following drastic changes from both sides. Among the requirements: The Palestinians must immediately stop all violence and issue a clear statement recognizing Israel's right to exist, and the Israelis must halt construction on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and ease restrictions on Palestinians. The immediate general reaction was not encouraging: Even before the road map came to light, the leader of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas vowed not to end attacks, and promptly ordered a suicide bomb in Tel Aviv that killed three and wounded 55. The next day, Israeli troops raided a Hamas stronghold and exchanged fire with dozens of masked gunmen. Ten Palestinians were killed, including two boys ages 2 and 13. It was the most intense gun battle in Gaza in 31 months of fighting. All eyes are now on Mr. Abbas to see whether he can deliver on his promise to stanch "armed chaos."
improvement but disbelief
There was more good economic news near the end of April, but not everyone was buying it. While the war in Iraq wound down, some investors turned upbeat about the economic outlook. Earlier in April, a host of companies reported strong earnings. Then as April gave way to May, the three main gauges closed a second month of gains. Both the Dow and S&P 500 in April posted their best month since October. The Nasdaq finished higher in April by 9.2 percent. Even Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan seemed cheery, telling the House Financial Services Committee he believes an economic acceleration is forthcoming. The economy grew during the first three months of 2003 (albeit by a measly 1.6 percent) despite war jitters, higher energy prices, and sinking consumer confidence. But not all the news was good news. Manufacturing in the Midwest slowed to a creep. And some analysts are now yawning at Mr. Greenspan's predictions. "Greenspan suggested the U.S. economy should grow faster, but I don't think many people are viewing his comments with a whole lot of conviction," said Todd Clark, head of listed equity trading at Wells Fargo Securities. "The bottom line is, because we've had no meaningful [economic] upturn in the past, the market is kind of muted."
out of the gray and into the red
The recall effort to oust California governor Gray Davis isn't dead; it just isn't going anywhere yet. Recall organizers say they don't even have enough money to hire people to gather signatures; they're relying on talk radio and the Internet to fuel the drive. Organizers have until Sept. 2 to collect and verify 900,000 signatures-in late April they had just 70,000 unverified signatures. Further solace for Gov. Davis: All 31 recall efforts in California have failed. But perhaps no California politician has ever been distrusted more. A recent poll showed only 9 percent of Californians have confidence in Mr. Davis to right the California economy. Mr. Davis has bottomed out in approval ratings too-his 24 percent rating is the lowest of any California governor in half a century. And if the recall found its way to the ballot, polls show that up to 46 percent of voters would approve recalling him. How serious could the recall effort get? As serious as California's $35 billion deficit over the past two years.

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