Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Social Security breach," Feb. 19, 2005

White House

President Bush continued his national campaign for Social Security reform, barnstorming through Pennsylvania and North Carolina on Feb. 10 to drum up enthusiasm for his plan. But despite last week's stops in four additional states, no new Democrats have yet announced their support for partial privatization-and even some Republicans publicly questioned how best to reform the ailing system.

One reason for the skepticism: the president's 2006 budget, delivered to Capitol Hill on Feb. 7. Despite a 1 percent cut in domestic discretionary spending, the plan forecast deep budget deficits at least through 2009, not including the estimated $750 billion cost of a transition to private retirement accounts (story, p. 20).

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Middle East

For the first time ever, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced on Feb. 10 that he was willing to release Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands" in order to advance the peace process. He also agreed to return control of five West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority within three weeks and to lift a travel ban that has decimated the Palestinian economy.

The moves followed the Feb. 8 announcement of a ceasefire between Israeli and Palestinian forces, aimed at halting four years of bloodshed that have claimed some 4,500 lives. In Paris, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed what she called "the best chance for peace" in the Middle East. Days earlier, she had visited Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters, delivering $40 million in aid and promising American help in rebuilding Palestinian defense forces.

European leaders, too, praised the breakthrough and pledged to support the peace process. All across the continent, Ms. Rice's first international tour elicited glowing reviews and a growing sense of old wounds being healed. "History will surely judge us not by our old disagreements, but by our new achievements," Ms. Rice told an audience in Paris.

Iraq

Secretary of State Rice also used her Europlatform to declare that there is "no inherent conflict between Islam and democracy." In the week following mass voter turnout in multiparty elections, Iraqi voters learned how debris-ridden the road to democracy can be. Officials announced a delay in the vote results, scheduled for release on Feb. 10, for the election commission to recount votes from about 300 ballot boxes. Another 40 boxes and 250 bags have been thrown out because of alleged tampering.

Early returns showed the Shiite-led slate endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani far ahead of a "secular Shiite" slate led by current prime minister Ayad Allawi. But spokesmen for the lead United Iraqi Alliance did not rule out the possibility that Mr. Allawi could be picked for the top job; as a Baathist Party member before he was forced into exile under Saddam Hussein, Mr. Allawi may be able to bridge Shiite-Sunni and religious-secular divides. The top three vote-getting slates are expected to choose top officials in a new government.

North Korea

"We . . . have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the [North]," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Feb. 10-the country's first public acknowledgment that it has nuclear weapons. The weapons "will remain [a] nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances," the ministry said, withdrawing from six-party talks designed to defuse threats from the communist regime. Pyongyang has not permitted nuclear inspectors into the country since 2002, but experts have long believed it has at least two nuclear bombs and enough fuel for several more.

Science

Hundreds of scientists from around the world are downloading an article on Intelligent Design despite the Smithsonian's move to dismiss the editor who published the paper. "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories" successfully made it through the peer review process to appear in a Smithsonian scientific journal. But leading Darwinists-and other major academic publications-are working overtime to stifle the latest creation-evolution debate messengers. "You don't resort to authoritarianism," said author Stephen Meyer, "if you can answer it."

Sudan

Longtime foes in Sudan's 22-year civil war met before the UN Security Council to request international help to implement a peace agreement. Sudanese First Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha and John Garang, leader of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, asked UN leaders to send a stabilizing force to Sudan and extend debt forgiveness as steps to cementing a north-south pact signed in January. Mr. Garang, who is in line to become vice president under a new unity government, said the current accord could also be used as a model for ending bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region and its eastern provinces.

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