Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Cool hot spots," May 17, 2003
1,600 pages of confusion
It's been 14 months since Congress approved a new law regulating political campaigns, political fundraising, and political advertising. A special appeals court spent the last five months trying to decide whether that raft of new regulations violated anyone's free-speech rights-and last week, the court reached a decision. Problem is, no one quite knows what exactly the three-judge tribunal held, let alone how to follow the court's order. So complicated was the task that the court, among its more than 1,600 pages of legal opinion, issued a four-page spreadsheet to summarize its 20-part decision. One of the judges complained in a footnote that another judge's reasoning was so faulty, she was left with "the definite and firm opinion that a mistake has been committed." The court confused not only lawyers on both sides of the issue, but political pros and pundits who eat, breathe, and sleep campaign regulations, and even one member of the Federal Election Commission, whose task is to enforce the law. All the parties agree on this: It's going to take the Supreme Court to clarify things before the 2004 election. Bottom line: The court left intact a provision of the law barring activist groups, unions, and corporations from using their own money to purchase advertising that targets specific candidates for public office. That's the provision that groups like the National Right to Life Committee fought so vigorously and will ask the Supreme Court to strike down.
iraq roundup
While the first week of May brought more media reports of Iraqi resentment against American troops, the United States made progress on its post-war fronts: American forces took five more Iraqi leaders into custody. One was Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash-also known as "Mrs. Anthrax"-an American-educated top biological-weapons scientist. Another was Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish, the head of Iraq's weapons development program. Dr. Ammash was No. 53 in America's list of 55 most-wanted members of Saddam's regime; Mr. Huweish was No. 16. They brought the tally to 19 as of May 7. American forces tested a trailer that appeared to be a mobile biological-weapons laboratory, the kind Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined in his report to the UN Security Council last year. U.S. customs agents and Iraqi experts recovered 700 artifacts and almost 40,000 manuscripts that were either stolen or hidden in vaults. American officials estimate that only 38 pieces are now missing. The Bush administration named L. Paul Bremer as the new civilian administrator of Iraq. A former assistant to Henry Kissinger, he will lead the country's transition to democratic rule.
back from the brink
A year after almost plunging into nuclear war, India and Pakistan ended their diplomatic freeze and decided to work toward peace. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made the overture at the beginning of May, pledging to his parliament that he would make a "third and final bid" for peace. His Pakistani counterpart, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, responded in kind by reinstating full diplomatic and transportation links. Suicide attackers stormed the Indian parliament in December 2001, killing 12 and triggering last year's escalation of hostility. The United States dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the countries to encourage the detente. Their stability is pivotal in the war against terror: Pakistan has been accused of supporting Taliban militants launching attacks in Afghanistan, which could be symptomatic of its concern that India is exercising too much influence in the region. But even before Mr. Armitage's arrival in Pakistan, violence from both sides in the disputed state of Kashmir killed about 20. Kashmir, controlled by India but populated by a Muslim majority, has been the main sticking point since the countries' independence in 1947. India accuses Pakistan of backing Muslim militant insurgences into its territory, while Pakistan would like a referendum on Kashmir's future. While the talks signal an open door after many months, making peace last will be difficult. Kashmir has been the root of three wars between the countries.
bursting bubbles
The nearly $1 billion in cash Saddam Hussein's sons stole from Iraq's central bank before the war began is already losing its luster. In the world market, the dollar has lost almost 19 percent of its value against the euro, Europe's currency. The American currency declined in value by 6 percent compared to the Japanese yen. In fact, one euro is now worth more than one dollar. On May 6, the euro hit a four-year high as traders in New York City valued the European currency at $1.13. Even as the U.S. economy has shown signs of life, the dollar continued its slide. Many analysts cite the trade deficit-now reaching $500 billion-to account for the dollar's decreased value. Whatever the cause, the sliding dollar cuts both ways: It should help American exports by lowering prices abroad, but a declining currency could also scare away foreign investors from U.S. assets like Treasury Bonds or American stocks. The chief concern of Fed chairman Alan Greenspan: deflation, especially of real-estate values. Conservatives argue that the Fed's monetary policies can affect only so much and that economic stimulus is urgently needed, thus the push for the president's proposed tax cuts (see p. 11).

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