Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

Burma villages attacked

On Oct. 7 a Burmese army unit shot and wounded Karen villagers in Nya Mu Ki, including a pastor named Baw Pae. A day later the army attacked another village, burning down houses, and in subsequent days attacked multiple villages in the area, sending thousands of Karen, who are predominantly Christian and have historically mounted a movement for independence from Burma's ruling junta, into hiding in nearby jungles. Schools in the area are closed and food and medicine are scarce, according to a watchdog team from Free Burma Rangers that visited last month. Rice paddies have been destroyed by flooding since August, and more recently by an infestation of rats.

Blockbusters need not apply

Remember Iraq? Now it's the other war, but film critics haven't forgotten. In early polling by The Los Angeles Times of 16 leading film critics, The Hurt Locker was one of two films to receive nods from all 16 as most likely to garner a Best Picture nomination in upcoming Oscars. The film, which follows the work of a U.S. bomb disposal squad in central Iraq, was never released widely and stars no name actors (Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce have small cameos). Invictus, the other film to draw best odds from the critics, is a look at Nelson Mandela's quest for the World Cup in post-apartheid South Africa. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it's not due in theaters until next month.

But what about those jobs?

A White House report Oct. 30 acknowledged that some jobs created by the $787 billion stimulus program were overcounted, but stood by a claim of 640,000 jobs created.

Observers continue to find big questions with the numbers. In a sample of the 9,000 federal contracts under the stimulus program, the Associated Press found errors in one in six jobs credited to stimulus spending-or 5,000 of the 30,000 jobs it examined. At Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, officials claim to have saved 935 jobs-but only 508 people work there. In another, a Colorado business claimed that its stimulus contract created more than 4,200 jobs. But the review found that the firm hired most of them for five weeks or less. According to Onvia (recovery.org), only 5 percent of jobs reported are for contracts actually awarded-meaning only 31,080 actual jobs thus far. Obama officials have said the stimulus would create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.

Hate crimes

President Obama on Oct. 28 signed into law the defense spending bill, which contained sweeping new hate crimes legislation. Controversy ensued when the hate crimes legislation became tied to the $680 billion defense spending bill, forcing lawmakers to choose between supporting the nation's troops or their belief that the hate crimes act could interfere with the freedom of religious beliefs. The law expands the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability; it was pushed by an alliance of Jewish and gay-activist groups.

Receding recession

The Commerce Department's Oct. 29 report that U.S. GDP rose at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter signaled an end to the recession that saw four quarters of U.S. economic decline. Arriving on the 80th anniversary of the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression, the good news was the best indication yet that the longest recession since then has ended. Even business investment and real fixed residential housing investment (for the first time in 14 quarters) rose. But the third-quarter improvement was fueled overwhelmingly by consumer spending, much of it driven by stimulus programs. More than 1 percentage point of GDP growth in the third quarter came from car sales, driven by the temporary "cash for clunkers" program. But after spiking in July and August, retail car sales dropped 10.4 percent in September, once the program ended. For recovery to continue, said former Clinton adviser William Galston, "within two years at most, the private economy will have to wean itself off public stimulants and find its own internal sources of energy." Excessive consumer debt, high unemployment, and the likelihood of rising taxes all mean that the good news may not feel good for awhile.

Who's counting?

The Census Bureau will be sending temporary workers to the homes of Americans next year to gather personal information, and lawmakers want to make sure none of those workers are criminals. An Oct. 7 GAO report found that a flawed fingerprinting system may have led the bureau to hire up to 200 workers with criminal records. Four congressmen-Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah., Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., John Mica, R-Fla., and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.-wrote an Oct. 26 letter to Census Bureau director Robert Groves asking for his "commitment in writing" that nobody with a criminal record would serve as an enumerator, which not only would undermine public confidence in the census, but "the safety and security of Americans in their own homes are at stake."

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