Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "One nation under God," June 26, 2004

CHURCH/STATE When a unanimous court preserved the Pledge of Allegiance on a technicality, what could have become a landmark decision turned out to have very little legal significance. In a non-decision decision that preserved the Pledge of Allegiance and its language of "one nation, under God," the high court concluded that the plaintiff had no right to bring the case on behalf of his daughter. He didn't have legal custody (cover story, p. 20). But that won't keep other actual parents from filing other cases against the pledge. Legal experts believe those cases wouldn't make it to the Supreme Court until at least 2006. That may be too late. Congress is edging closer to approving legislation that would remove the jurisdiction of the federal courts from religious free-expression cases, and turn them over exclusively to the states . Full story POLITICS On June 16, Sen. John Kerry met for an hour and a half with Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri in one of Sen. Kerry's not-so-secret running mate interviews. As the Massachusetts Democrat approaches decision time, each candidate presents something that might hurt or help Sen. Kerry in November. Mr. Gephardt could swing Missouri into a Blue State, but comes across as angry on television. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is telegenic, but maybe too much so: He could easily upstage the Democratic nominee. Wesley Clark may have been a general, but he's a buck private when it comes to politics. And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson could deliver Latino votes and the state of New Mexico, but among the voting public he's an unknown quantity. Full story IRAN The International Atomic Energy Agency prepared to censure Iran for providing contradictory information or withholding it altogether on its 20-year secret nuclear program. Iran insists its program is for peaceful energy use alone. The IAEA, however, has uncovered suspicious activity. Tehran bought 150 magnets for centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium, but apparently sought tens of thousands more on the black market-enough magnets to equip several nuclear weapons a year. Meanwhile, IAEA's member countries seem content for now to stick to a strongly worded diplomatic censure, and the United States, despite skepticism about Iran's intent, seems ready to go along. WAR ON TERROR Iraqis will mark the end of U.S. rule with fireworks not of their choosing. Insurgents trained deadly firepower on Iraqis who support the new interim government, which will take over from the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority on June 30. A sport utility vehicle packed with artillery shells exploded on June 17 in a crowd of people waiting to volunteer for the Iraqi military, killing at least 35 people and wounding 138. Another car bomb north of the capital killed six members of the Iraqi security forces. The Baghdad explosion was the deadliest since February. Kidnappings and attacks on Western workers look likely only to increase as the interim government takes charge. Attackers killed three General Electric employees and two bodyguards on June 14 in a suicide bombing in Baghdad. The next day, insurgents opened fire on a U.S. convoy, killing two more civilian workers. U.S. contractors and relief workers, like coalition forces, aren't going anywhere after the handover, even though they are paying an increasing price to work in Iraq. The death toll among contractors and other independent workers in Iraq-including faith-based workers-reached 23 in May and 12 halfway through June. But even small humanitarian efforts without bodyguard budgets are finding ways to send in goods and services in spite of the threats. Full story A U.S. businessman held hostage by Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia won allies in strange places even as he faced the final hours before his kidnappers reportedly killed him. A Saudi colleague of Paul Johnson, 49, a Lockheed Martin employee in Riyadh, wrote to Mr. Johnson's captors, warning that Mr. Johnson had been granted Muslim protection and they would be violating Islamic law to kill him. The letter of Saad al Mumen was widely published on Islamic websites and satellite television channels. So was a CNN interview with Mr. Johnson's son, Paul Johnson III, who gave a tearful interview saying, "I plead with the Saudi government, and the group of men that are holding my father, to please let him return home safely." STATE DEPARTMENT The decline in terrorism reported by the government seemed too good to be true. It was. Instead of terrorist incidents declining sharply last year (as was reported), they intensified. But no one at the State Department double-checked their math. "I'm not a happy camper over this," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters. Still, other critics of government terror accounting complain of its "body-count" emphasis. Congressional researcher Raphael Perl told WORLD: "Whether X number of people are killed is not necessarily the goal of the terrorists-they want to cause economic damage to society. It's an ideological battle." Full story MEDIA If the public became bored with the O.J. Simpson trial 10 years ago this summer, the TV nation never did. So completely did the O.J. trial fill up CNN's 24-hour news hole, producers at cable channels must consider this year's slate of celebrity trials to be a bonanza. With the trials of Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake, Phil Specter, Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, and possibly even a retrial of Martha Stewart, CNN, MSNBC and others must be delighted. Full story AIR MARSHALS Defense systems against terrorists do no good if the bad guys can predict the defense system. That's why agents with the Federal Air Marshal Service have decried new rules that make them stick out like a Secret Service agent. New dress codes require air marshals to maintain military grooming, wear suits and ties, and board the plane first. And if passengers can easily spot air marshals, the terrorists can too. Homeland security chief Tom Ridge says he's working on changing that. Full story

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