Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "The fewer and the proud," April 23, 2005

Iraq President Bush traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, the largest U.S. military base, to mark the two-year anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and to thank those who contributed most to his ouster. Members of the base's armored divisions helped topple a statue of the Iraqi dictator in central Baghdad on April 9, 2003, marking the end of the first phase of the war. And Fort Hood has lost 146 soldiers in Iraq. "Your work isn't over," the president told 25,000 soldiers who greeted him. Terrorists "will remain under constant pressure from our armed forces."

But a lengthened Middle East conflict may be taking a toll on military recruits. Sign-ups are down for the third straight month for the U.S. Marines, traditionally the strongest branch when it comes to winning enlistments. U.S. Army sign-ups were over 30 percent below target for March. Obstacles to service aren't hurting the enthusiasm for Marine newcomers at boot camp in Parris Island. "This recruit is thinking about 20 years in the Corps and then a pension," said Vincent Vasiliades.

United Nations Federal prosecutors unsealed on April 14 their first indictments in conjunction with the UN's Oil for Food scandal. They charged a Texas businessman, a Bulgarian, and a Briton with involvement in a scheme to pay millions of dollars in secret kickbacks to the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Also named in the indictment are two companies operated by the Texan defendant.

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The unravelling scandal that has already implicated Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his son Kojo did not deter Senate lawmakers from wanting a go-along man in New York. Key committee Democrats delayed a confirmation vote set for April 14 of John Bolton, the president's nominee for ambassador to the UN. The lawmakers pushed for the delay after State Department employees opposed his nomination because he questioned WMD assessments and intelligence. But wait-isn't that what Democrats have been doing all along?

Persecution A judge in Vietnam upheld on appeal a three-year sentence of a pastor and a two-year sentence of an evangelist on April 12, despite 200 Christian protesters who showed up outside the Ho Chi Minh City courthouse to show solidarity with the Mennonite prisoners. The church leaders were sentenced last year for "resisting officers of the law." They challenged undercover agents posted outside their homes and churches.

Unknown assailants in Pakistan kidnapped and brutally killed Protestant pastor Babar Samsoun and his driver and fellow evangelist, Daniel Emmanuel, on April 7. Mr. Samsoun has been accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, according to colleages, and both men received telephoned threats. But police attributed the killings to a "family dispute," prompting church leaders to organize protest marches demanding an investigation.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government plans to introduce a bill in parliament that will outlaw "unethical" or coerced conversions. The measure would make life hard for faith-based aid groups in Sri Lanka, where December's tsunami killed more than 31,000 and over 4,000 remain missing. Even giving food or a blanket to someone of another faith could earn fines and imprisonment of up to seven years.

Politics House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) came under increasing fire last week for alleged ethics violations involving overseas travel, campaign jobs for his wife and daughter, and corporate fundraising in Texas. Mr. DeLay and numerous defenders in the House insist that he has done nothing wrong and is a victim of a Democratic smear campaign.

Marriage The Oregon Supreme Court on April 14 threw out nearly 3,000 marriage licenses that Multnomah County issued to same-sex couples last year. In November, state voters passed an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. But the court noted that even before the amendment state law had banned same-sex marriage and counties had no authority to issue such licenses. The court left open the door to civil unions, however, a concept supported by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Law Eric Rudolph, who had appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner for others, faced a real judge last week. Mr. Rudolph pleaded guilty to the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta and to bombing two abortion clinics and a homosexual nightclub, accepting a sentence of four life sentences without parole. In all he killed two people and injured more than 120, but he avoided the death penalty himself by disclosing the location of his large stockpile of explosives in Western North Carolina.

In a statement after the guilty plea, Mr. Rudolph denied being a drug dealer or a racist, saying he was a Roman Catholic motivated by his opposition to abortion and the federal government. He expressed sorrow only for injuries his bombings caused to those who do not perform abortions or work for the government. "I was born a Catholic," said the unrepentant killer, "and with forgiveness I hope to die one."

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