Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Earthquake in Bam," Jan. 10, 2004

Iran As survivors of Iran's earthquake scavenged for clothes and jostled for handouts, President Mohammad Khatami thanked those who have offered help-"including the Americans"-but played down talk that Washington's contribution might thaw frosty relations. "Humanitarian issues should not be intertwined with deep and chronic political problems," President Khatami said after Secretary of State Colin Powell noted a "new attitude" in Iran that could lead to a restoration of ties between the United States and the Islamic republic that President Bush has called part of an "axis of evil." As the rescue phase ended and relief work began, a team of 80 U.S. medical specialists set up a field hospital in the devastated ancient city of Bam; at least 12,000 people from the southeastern city were injured in the 6.6-magnitude quake that left at least 30,000 dead (story, page 14). The projected death toll of 50,000 would put the December quake among the worst in terms of loss of life (see chart).

Libya Not satisfied with a mere United Nations inspection of Libya's weapons-of-mass-destruction program, the Bush administration and Britain announced plans to send their own inspectors to the newly cooperative Moammar Gadhafi's nation. Mr. Gadhafi assured UN nuclear-weapons chief Mohamed ElBaradei that Libya would cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and eliminate its nuclear program, saying he wanted to turn Libya into a "mainstream" nation. Mr. ElBaradei, the UN nuclear chief who met with Mr. Gadhafi, said he thought Libya's nuclear efforts were not particularly advanced and he said he didn't want U.S. and British involvement: "We intend to do it alone." But the CIA and British intelligence believe Libya's weapons programs are more extensive-they expect to find 11 sites connected to weapons work-than the UN agency presumes. Less than one week after Saddam Hussein was pulled out of a hole near Tikrit, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Mr. Gadhafi had admitted trying to develop weapons of mass destruction but planned to dismantle them. Mr. Bush said the United States and Britain would make sure Libya kept its word, given its "troubled history," but he added: "Old hostilities do not need to go on forever."

Orange terror alert As part of the heightened holiday terror alert, President Bush ordered certain cargo and passenger flights to, from, and over the United States to carry armed sky marshals. Some international airlines said they already were using armed marshals while others promised cooperation.

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Presidential politics Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, who told a TV interviewer over the holidays that he finds the "extraordinary example" of Jesus Christ "pretty inspiring," was found to have a plank in his eye: He has criticized the Bush administration for refusing to release the deliberations of its energy policy task force, but as governor of Vermont Dr. Dean convened a similar panel that met in secret and angered state lawmakers. The Dean task force held one public hearing and after the fact volunteered the names of industry executives and liberal advocates it consulted in private, but the then-governor refused to open the task force's private deliberations. In 1999, he offered the same argument the White House uses today for keeping deliberations of a policy task force secret: "The governor needs to receive advice from time to time in closed session. As every person in government knows, sometimes you get more open discussion when it's not public." Dr. Dean leads in many polls as the date of the Iowa caucuses (story, page 18) draws near. Current underdogs John Kerry and Dick Gephardt must finish strong in Iowa to keep their campaigns alive.

Abortion laws U.S. District Judge Joseph DiClerico on Dec. 29 struck down a New Hampshire law requiring parental notice before a minor can obtain an abortion. The judge ruled the law unconstitutional, saying it lacked a health exception. At the urging of conservative lawmakers, state attorney general Peter Heed said he would appeal the decision rather than ask the legislature to weaken the law to please the judge. Judge DiClerico's ruling came two days before the law was to have taken effect-and on the eve of a new report by Americans United for Life (story, page 20) that ranks the states according to abortion-related safety. New Hampshire falls near the bottom of the pack.

Mad-cow scare After days of insisting the U.S. beef system is safe and that no regulatory changes were needed, the Bush administration reversed course and announced major steps to boost confidence in the beef supply at home and abroad. More than 30 countries have banned American beef products since "mad-cow disease" first surfaced in Washington state. The first hint that the changes were imminent came by way of Japan. A Japanese government official said U.S. agriculture officials, who were in Tokyo trying to persuade the Japanese to lift their country's ban on American beef, assured their counterparts that stringent safety measures were in the pipeline. The new measures ban meat from all so-called downer cows (those too sick or aged to stand) and create a nationwide animal-tracking system. A spokesman for the meatpacking industry said beef prices could increase "pennies per pound." The projected cost for the tracking system that would allow rapid response to a disease outbreak is more than $500 million for the first six years. But the cost of lost exports could be greater.

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