Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

ISRAEL Saying his opponents had made life "unbearable," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon quit the conservative Likud Party he helped found to form a new centrist party, unofficially called "National Responsibility." The dramatic Nov. 21 exit came because harder-line party colleagues criticized his Gaza Strip withdrawal this year, and Mr. Sharon feared they would block further peace attempts. His likeliest successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, had harsh words: "Many of the voters who ostensibly are following Sharon don't believe in running amok and handing over land with your eyes closed. . . . That is not how you make peace." He also said Mr. Sharon was "setting up a party of puppets." With Mr. Sharon's exit, parliament voted to dissolve itself and call general elections for March next year, eight months ahead of schedule. Likud could now face an uneasy future without Mr. Sharon.

Meanwhile, Arab Bedouins in the Negev desert also face an uneasy future. The reason: The government expects to make the Negev home to Israelis expelled from Gaza, meaning the often nomadic Bedouins will have to move to designated villages. Tensions are high and have erupted into violence once before (See "Trading spaces").

IRAQ Iraqi leaders, in an effort to reach out to the nation's Sunni Arab community, agreed in principle last week to a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. The statement-which fell short of actually setting such a timetable and also calls for "an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces . . . [and] control the borders and the security situation"-came in a communiqué from a reconciliation conference in Egypt. U.S. officials reiterated that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq only as long as they are needed. "The coalition remains committed to helping the Iraqi people achieve stability and security as they rebuild their country," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside. "We will stay as long as it takes to achieve those goals and no longer."

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TERRORISM A federal grand jury in Miami indicted Jose Padilla on three counts that he conspired to "murder, maim and kidnap" people overseas. The indictment alleges that Mr. Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad. The military had held Mr. Padilla, a U.S.-born convert to Islam, for three years as an enemy combatant on suspicion that he had plotted a "dirty bomb" attack on the United States. The indictment does not contain any charges related to those suspicions.

POLITICS Lobbyist and GOP operative Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty in U.S. district court on Nov. 21 to conspiring to bribe public officials. Mr. Scanlon, who is cooperating with prosecutors in a criminal probe of members of Congress, said he and a partner "provided a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts." He was ordered to pay restitution of $19 million to Indian tribes that he had represented and admits he defrauded.

BUSINESS Reeling from sluggish sales and backbreaking pension and health-care costs, General Motors chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced last week that the company would eliminate 30,000 jobs and nine plants in North America. "The decisions we are announcing today were very difficult to reach because of their impact on our employees and the communities where we live and work," Mr. Wagoner said. "But these actions are necessary for GM to get its costs in line with our major global competitors." GM is coming off of a disastrous nine months in which it lost $4 billion and saw its bond ratings downgraded to "junk" status. The company hopes the cuts will save $7 billion annually.

CULTURE Harry Potter proved magical for a struggling movie theater industry, as the latest film in the children's series-Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-garnered $101.4 million in its opening weekend (Nov. 18-20). The film contains all of the elements that have made it controversial among Christians, plus PG-13 language and horror, but it also displays a moral theme that previous movies in the series did not have (See "Movie review").

RELIGION Michael Newdow, the Sacramento doctor and lawyer who has for four years tried to excise the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, has turned his attention to money: He is suing Congress to have the phrase "In God We Trust" stricken from U.S. currency. Congress required all American money to carry the motto beginning in 1955, after the director of the U.S. mint requested that the nation's currency reflect a "distinct and unequivocal national recognition of the divine sovereignty." Mr. Newdow, who argues that the placement of the phrase on currency "was clearly done for religious purposes," filed suit five days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the same inscription on a North Carolina government building (See "Beginnings and ends").

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