Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Rathergate," Sept. 25, 2004

CAMPAIGN Presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry vied for the favor of National Guardsmen meeting at their annual convention in Las Vegas. A place at the podium became a must-have for the contenders, whose military service 30 years ago has become a central campaign theme.

The president received five standing ovations and boasted to conventioneers: "Nineteen individuals have served in both the Guard and as president of the United States . . . and I'm proud to be one of them." Mr. Kerry's reception two days later was more subdued, but the challenger bored in, saying Mr. Bush is "living in a fantasy world of spin" on the toll of war in Iraq.

The candidates avoided the elephant in the room: controversy over a 60 Minutes II broadcast, where CBS paraded documents purportedly written by a Texas Air National Guard lieutenant colonel showing then-Lt. Bush used connections to earn a coveted spot in a Guard unit and then disobeyed a direct order to show up for a physical. CBS cited a "preponderance" of evidence to prove the authenticity of the report. But a growing body of experts says the documents look like amateur forgeries.

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WEATHER In the early hours of Sept. 16, Hurricane Ivan crashed into the U.S. Gulf Coast, chewing up coastline from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana. The storm, which forecasters had predicted might submerge low-lying New Orleans, quickly lost much of its furor, dropping from Category 3 to Category 1. Millions of Gulf Coast residents spent a frightening night in shelters and boarded-up homes but emerged the next morning to find that Ivan was not the catastrophe they had feared-for those, that is, who did not lose loved ones.

Despite its rapid fizzle, Ivan's U.S. landfall claimed at least 12 lives, adding to the death toll of 68 suffered in Jamaica and Grenada during the hurricane's fatal trek through the Caribbean. Last week relief groups began assessing what one official called the "incalculable damage" to Grenada, where nearly every home was destroyed. Said Carol Phillips of Operation Mobilization, "I don't think there's going to be anything like 'normal' in Grenada for the next couple of years."

RELIGION In a huge surprise, the United States named Saudi Arabia as one of the world's worst religious persecutors Sept. 15, a distinction that carries the threat of U.S. sanctions. For the first time, the kingdom joined the "countries of particular concern," along with newcomers Vietnam and Eritrea. Religious freedom advocates have long believed the world's largest oil exporter had long stayed off the list due to its wealth and supporters within the U.S. diplomatic community. Iran, North Korea, China, Sudan, and Burma remain on the list of religious freedom abusers, but post-Saddam Iraq dropped off.

RUSSIA Using a wave of terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered on Sept. 13 the biggest overhaul of the post-Soviet government in a decade. His proposals will consolidate power in Moscow-and in his hands. Local parliaments under the Putin plan will nominate and elect Russia's 89 regional governors, and only after the president has nominated the candidate. Seats in the lower house of parliament, the Duma, would be drawn entirely from party lists, eliminating district races where half the chamber's members are elected by popular vote.

The power grab prompted former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, 73, who had anointed Mr. Putin as his successor, to break a silence that has largely characterized his post-Kremlin years. "The strangling of freedoms, the rollback of democratic rights-this can only mean that the terrorists won," Mr. Yeltsin said. "Only a democratic country can successfully lead a fight against terrorism."

IRAQ Civilian contractors and journalists working in Baghdad sought walled compounds in respectable neighborhoods for work and rest after militants targeted the city's prominent hotels housing Westerners. Now those sites of refuge are open to attack. Gunmen abducted two Americans and a Briton on Sept. 16 from their residence in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood housing many embassies and foreign companies. The three, all employees of Gulf Services Company, a Middle East-based construction firm, were seized from a two-story house surrounded by a wall in the al-Mansour neighborhood. U.S. troops fanned out across the neighborhood to investigate the latest in a wave of kidnappings in Iraq. At least four other Westerners are held by militants, including two male French journalists and two female aid workers from Italy. Iraqi police also discovered three beheaded bodies on a road north of Baghdad.

Violence in Iraq reached the highest level since last April, with over 50 U.S.-led coalition deaths by mid-September and over 200 Iraqis killed in four days of bomb blasts. U.S. intelligence agencies offered President Bush a bleak view of future stability in Iraq in a classified intelligence report that warns of "trend lines that would point to a civil war."

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