Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Darwin's meltdown," April 3, 2004

9/11 hearings In an election-year shot at President Bush, former White House counterterrorism director Richard Clarke last week accused the administration of scaling back efforts to stop al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and of focusing too much attention on Iraq. &quotYour government failed you," he told family members of 9/11 victims during testimony before the government commission investigating the attacks. &quotThose entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you."

But Mr. Clarke's new views represent a dramatic change. In a 2002 background briefing for reporters, he said the Bush administration had stepped up efforts against al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. He also had defended the Clinton administration for failing to stop far less sophisticated terrorist attacks (story, p. 18).

Middle East Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the Middle East to protest Israel's March 22 helicopter attack that killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin and seven Hamas members. The terrorist leader, who had said that &quotMuslims should threaten Western interests and strike them everywhere," had presided over suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israeli citizens. The State Department, meanwhile, issued new cautions for U.S. citizens traveling to or living in the Middle East and North Africa (story, p. 23).

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Courts The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard arguments in the Pledge of Allegiance case in which parent Michael Newdow argues that it is unconstitutional for the Elk Grove School District to include the phrase &quotunder God" in its morning recitations of the Pledge. With Justice Antonin Scalia recusing himself from the case, court watchers say the vote could end in a 4-4 tie (story, p. 26).

Uganda A pair of American missionaries from Wisconsin may be the latest victims of a Ugandan rebel group with ties to the Islamic government in Sudan. Warren and Donna Pett were killed during a March 18 overnight raid on the technical school where they worked. Investigators have not concluded that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was behind the attack, but the group has been stepping up attacks in northern Uganda recently, despite a 1999 agreement between Uganda and Sudan to end support to one another's rebel groups. The LRA opposes Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a key U.S. ally in Africa (story, p. 28).

Taiwan A gunman's bullets grazed President Chen Shui-bian's stomach and hit his vice president's knee a day before that country's March 20 presidential elections, in an apparent assassination attempt. Neither was seriously wounded, but the election didn't get any easier from that point.

Mr. Chen won only 50.1 percent of the vote, and his challenger Lien Chan is pushing for a recount. Mr. Lien's supporters gathered in thousands for days outside the presidential office protesting the election results.

Mr. Lien may have narrowly lost the election, but his campaigning against Mr. Chen's same-day referendum paid handsomely: It was voided after less than 50 percent of voters cast ballots. The referendum asked whether Taiwan should pump up its military defense against China if Beijing didn't redeploy hundreds of missiles pointed at the island (column, p. 64).

Malaysia Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi's secular coalition routed Islamic hardliners in March 20 general elections, grabbing 90 percent of the seats in parliament. The moderate Muslim country is a valuable U.S. ally in Southeast Asia: The Heritage Foundation notes that it receives 15-20 Navy ships a year, allows 1,000 military overflights, and has arrested dozens of militants from Jemaah Islamiyaah, a regional terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.

El Salvador A pro-U.S. free trader won out over a hardcore Marxist in El Salvador's March 21 presidential election. Salvadorans elected Tony Saca as president, rejecting one-time guerrilla Schafik Handal, who wanted to review free-market policies and resurrect relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro. Mr. Saca, who replaces outgoing President Francisco Flores, warned voters that Mr. Handal's proposals would endanger the $2 billion Salvadoran immigrants in America send home every year. He also promised to keep El Salvador's small band of 380 troops in Iraq.

Religion In a United Methodist church trial last week, a jury of 13 ministers voted 11-0 (with two abstentions) to dismiss charges against Rev. Karen Dammann despite her open involvement in a lesbian relationship. Some jurors said the case was really about inclusiveness and justice, not church law, which restricts practicing homosexuals from the ministry. Methodist conservatives said the verdict could split the denomination (story, p. 29).

Economy The economy grew at a healthy 4.1 percent annual rate in the final quarter of 2003, the Commerce Department reported last week, and some analysts expect an even stronger showing for the first quarter of this year. Coupled with the growth rate of 8.2 percent in the third quarter, the two quarters registered the strongest half-year of growth since 1984.

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