Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Soldiering on," May 27, 2006

WAR In Iraq, progress on the political front-the confirmation of Iraqi Prime Minister Jawad Maliki, for example-has "insurgents" revealing themselves more fully as rank terrorists: More than 3,400 Iraqi civilians have died so far in 2006-three times as many as in the first five months of last year. On May 29, the fifth Memorial Day since the war on terror began, Americans will remember their own war dead. As of May 17, 2,455 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq. The tally of U.S. casualties so far in 2006 tracks roughly with the number killed January-May 2005. But even a decrease in fatalities might prove cold comfort to the families, friends, and brothers-in-arms of those who have already paid the ultimate price for American security.

IMMIGRATION Maybe it was because President George W. Bush took to the airwaves to deliver a prime-time speech May 15. Whatever the cause, a thaw broke out in what had been an icy stalemate in the Senate over immigration reform. The measure includes both provisions to stiffen enforcement (including erecting a border fence) and provisions to create a guest-worker program with paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But Mr. Bush, who has championed the guest-worker measure, may need a miracle to get such a measure through the House, where he faces an unlikely obstacle: House conservatives who object to a guest-worker program many decry as amnesty.

CIA Imagine that: Senate Democrats and media elites blasting President Bush's choice for the next CIA director almost from the time his name was leaked. At the center of the controversy is an NSA program to monitor phone records of potential terrorists that the nominee, Gen. Michael Hayden, helped administrate. USA Today reported that cellphone service providers Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T provided the NSA with phone records beginning shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Verizon and BellSouth have vigorously refuted the claim, while AT&T now faces an invasion-of-privacy class-action lawsuit over possible cooperation. In an opening statement at his Senate confirmation hearing, which began May 18, Gen. Hayden said, "The American intelligence business has too much become the football in American political discourse." Gen. Hayden insisted that the administration's warrantless surveillance program was legal and designed to nab terrorists-not spy on normal Americans.

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LIBYA The United States established full diplomatic relations with the Libyan government of Muammar Gadhafi, a dictator Ronald Reagan once called "an unpredictable fanatic" and "a madman." Connected to the shootdown of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 (killing 270) and a Berlin discotheque bombing in 1986 that killed a U.S. soldier, Mr. Gadhafi in 2003 renounced terrorism and his pursuit of nuclear weapons, paving the way for the U.S. government to drop Libya from its list of terror-sponsoring nations and prepare to open an embassy in Tripoli.

FLOODING Thousands of New England residents evacuated their homes as driving rains produced the worst flooding in the region in 70 years: More than than 17 inches fell in some areas, or three months' worth of rain in less than a week, according to the National Weather Service.

In Lawrence, Mass., emergency workers evacuated 243 residents of a flooded nursing home using a plywood bridge laid over the rising water. In Haverhill, a burst sewage pipe dumped tens of millions of gallons of waste per day into the Merrimack River. Two days after the rains subsided, officials had reported a single flood-related fatality-a 59-year-old man found trapped in a submerged car near Boston.

ECONOMY Sixteen consecutive interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve in the last two years apparently haven't been enough to keep inflation from picking up speed. The Labor Department reported on May 17 that the Consumer Price Index rose a strong 0.6 percent in April, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to retreat from a near-record high earlier this month. "The CPI data really kicked the market in the teeth today," Ken Tower, chief market strategist for Schwab's CyberTrader, told the Detroit Free Press. The inflation news makes it more likely that the Fed will raise the federal funds rate again at its June 28-29 meeting.

KOREA Former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung is planning a historic visit to Pyongyang for late June, and chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill is due in Seoul late this month-both desperation moves aimed at reviving six-party talks. The fifth round, aimed at dismantling Kim Jong Il's nuclear weapons, fizzled late last year. But settlement of six North Korean refugees in the United States has renewed focus not only on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions but its human-rights abuses as well.

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