Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Iraq: Unity in adversity," Feb. 12, 2005

Scandal

Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, head of the lead UN investigation into Iraq oil sales under the UN's Oil for Food program, declared the $60 billion program "tainted" from top to bottom in a first report released Feb. 3. Mr. Volcker found that UN program director Benon Sevan, who was hired by and reported directly to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, engaged in "an irreconcilable conflict of interest" by choosing companies that bought Saddam Hussein's oil.

Iraq

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Shahar Smooha, an Iraqi Jew living in Israel, traveled to Jordan to cast his vote along with millions of other Iraqis. That an exiled Jew could vote in an Arab country for a democratic government in the Middle East was just one hint as to why Iraqis turned out in overwhelming numbers to vote in the country's first multiparty elections since 1924. In some areas, 90 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls in spite of half a dozen suicide-bomb attacks. Insurgents killed 36 Iraqis on Election Day, most with purple-inked index fingers signifying that they had cast their vote. Among them were two Christians, a father and son.

Evangelical church leaders said their congregants were allowed to vote freely despite their minority status. But over 150,000 Assyrian Christians gathered Feb. 2 north of Mosul to protest their exclusion from Sunday's balloting.

White House

Fresh off his State of the Union address, President Bush began a national barnstorming tour to promote the signature issue of his second term: Social Security reform. Mr. Bush planned to visit a handful of Republican-leaning states where Democratic senators will face reelection next year.

As the president made clear in his speech on Feb. 2, reforming Social Security will be his top priority. Mr. Bush devoted about a quarter of his 55-minute address to the Social Security problem, arguing that without fundamental reform the program will be bankrupt within 40 years.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada-a Red State Democrat himself-accused Mr. Bush of playing "Social Security roulette." Mr. Reid has signaled he will block any reform that includes personal savings accounts, the president's preferred fix. Anticipating a Democratic filibuster, Republicans branded Mr. Reid an obstructionist, the very label that doomed his predecessor, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle.

High Court

In response to the president's speech, Sen. Sam Brownback told WORLD that pro-life conservatives should take advantage of the "dramatic breakthrough" with pro-choice Democrats. Citing the recent rhetorical shift of Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Brownback said pro-lifers have a "real opportunity" to enact targeted bills to increase public awareness of abortion and to battle for the Supreme Court: "That will be the whole enchilada."

Congress

Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's choice to head the Justice Department, avoided a Senate filibuster as lawmakers, after three days of bitter debate, scheduled a confirmation vote for Feb. 4. The White House initially expected an easy confirmation for Mr. Gonzales, who is regarded as more moderate than outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft. But his nomination bogged down over memos from Mr. Gonzales that appear to justify torture. Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada predicted at least 30 Democrats would vote against the nominee. Four years ago, Mr. Ashcroft's nomination set a record for opposition, with 43 senators voting "No."

Tsunami

Even with 8,000 deaths and thousands more struggling to regain their livelihoods, India continues to reject outside aid to help victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami. Protests last week from farmers and fishermen belie the government's assurances that it has the situation under control.

Middle East

Israel approved a troop pullback from West Bank cities and the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners ahead of a summit with Palestinian leaders in Egypt and a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Both sides hoped to declare a formal halt to violence at the talks in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, which would mark a dramatic return to peacemaking that began last week with a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Hollywood

With a big budget and with promises to remain faithful to C.S. Lewis, Disney and Walden Media are moving ahead with plans to bring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to movie theaters late this year.

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