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Dispatches The Buzz

The Buzz

(Associated Press/Photo by Gary Tramontina)

Man knows not his time

Jack Kemp, the former pro quarterback, U.S. congressman, HUD secretary, and vice presidential candidate, died May 2 of cancer. Self-described as a "bleeding-heart conservative," Kemp, 73, is best known for his work championing across-the-board income tax cuts, which President Ronald Reagan adopted during his 1980 campaign and later incorporated into the 1981 Economic Recovery Tax Act.

His family issued a statement saying, "Jack Kemp passed peacefully into the presence of the Lord shortly after 6 o'clock this evening, surrounded by the love of his family and pastor, and believing with Isaiah, 'My strength and my courage is the Lord.'"

Writing in Commentary (www.commentarymagazine.com), former White House aide Peter Wehner, who worked with Kemp as policy director of Empower America, said: "Kemp was an evangelist when it came to his ideas, and Reagan was his most important convert. By 1976, Reagan had not yet embraced supply-side economics. By 1980 he had-and Kemp was the main reason.

"Jack certainly had a healthy ego. But everyone knew, without question, that he was involved in politics not because he sought power for its own sake or in order to fulfill some deep personal ambition. He was involved in it because he believed in a set of ideas he thought would change the world. . . . In the late 1970s and 1980s, Kemp helped make the GOP an exciting and appealing party, bursting with ideas, hopeful and future-oriented, gracious and without a trace of bitterness. The spirit of a party, like the spirit of a person, is at once intangible and terribly important. And Jack Kemp was a man who possessed a capacious and indomitable spirit. As far as I can tell, Jack was a man who had no known enemies, which is a fairly extraordinary achievement in politics. He seemed incapable of personalizing policy differences. There was a certain guilelessness in Jack; he approached people as if everyone in politics cared as much about ideas and possessed as much good will as he did. He was wrong about that, but he, and we, were better for it."

Nigeria on notice

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report May 1, adding Nigeria to the notorious list titled "countries of particular concern," for violations of religious freedom, which also includes Iran and North Korea. The report argued that the Nigerian government's response to Muslim-Christian strife has been "inadequate and ineffectual." Two commissioners objected to the assessment, but the majority concurred that the oil-rich country "could, if it wished, muster the resources and capacity necessary to address communal, sectarian, and religious violence." By law the designation carries the threat of U.S. economic sanctions.

Abortion included

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., in Hillary Clinton's first appearance in April before the House Foreign Affairs Committee as Secretary of State, asked if the Obama administration is seeking "to weaken or overturn pro-life laws and policies in African and Latin-American countries," and second if the United States now defines the terms "reproductive health," "reproductive services," or "reproductive rights" to include abortion. Clinton said, "We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women's health-and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal, and rare." Promoting family planning reduces the abortion rate, she said. "We are now an administration that will protect the rights of women, including their rights to reproductive health care." And an administration that will, despite a lack of international consensus, apparently define "reproductive health care" to include abortion.

Sudan and UN

Less than two weeks after ethnic clashes in South Sudan killed at least 170 people, the UN Security Council announced it would extend its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan for another year. The 13,500-member team includes 10,000 military personnel and police. UN officials expressed concern over recent outbreaks of violence and said the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was at "a critical stage." Since then, thousands of southerners have returned to the region after spending years in refugee camps in surrounding nations. The return hasn't been easy, but southern officials say they plan to take part in national elections next February. The UN peacekeeping mission says it will stay in the region through April.

Redefining marriage

Opponents in Maine will fight a law passed May 6 to allow same-sex marriage. Under the state's "people's veto" provision, gay marriage opponents need signatures from 10 percent of people who voted in the last governor's election to force a referendum, and they began that process the same day. In Washington, lawmakers in Congress met with near-silence a D.C. city council vote May 5 to recognize same-sex marriages from states that approve them. The mayor must now sign the bill and Congress has 30 days to review it.

Confession

In a May 1 report the World Bank acknowledged that overemphasis on AIDS treatment and prevention has "stalled" many other programs to improve health, "pulling away" medical personnel and resources, and also hampering nutrition programs. It said only 29 percent of World Bank AIDS projects (and only 18 percent of AIDS projects in Africa) had a satisfactory outcome.

Presses stopped

The staff of Cedarville University's student newspaper Cedars did not publish the final issue of the year in a calculated move aimed at protesting the school's new policy requiring public-relations staff to review the newspaper prior to printing. University trustees and administrative officials reportedly directed the public-relations department to begin approving the content after controversial editorials appeared in the publication. Students say the review process breaks the paper's 2006 operating model and "undermines our ability to think critically and engage culture." The student newspaper will reportedly disband until spring 2010, at which time it will return under a new journalism program.

Banned Witness

The U.S. military last week made clear that the Great Commission cannot be part of any soldier's mission in Afghanistan. U.S. Central Command reported last week that it had confiscated Bibles in local languages from an evangelical soldier and destroyed them.

Controversy erupted earlier in the week when the Al Jazeera television network showed footage of a Bible study at a U.S. base near Kabul, during which a chaplain encouraged soldiers to witness for Christ. "You can't proselytize, but you can give gifts," said a chaplain's assistant during the discussion. (Centcom's General Order Number One prohibits troops from proselytizing.) A church in the United States had mailed local-language Bibles to a soldier.

Former prime minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai told the Reuters news service that the footage represented "a direct attack on our religion," and the U.S. military was quick to deny that it allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans. "I can now confirm that the Bibles shown on Al Jazeera's clip were, in fact, collected by the chaplains and later destroyed," Centcom spokeswoman Major Jennifer Willis told Reuters. "They were never distributed."

Transparent motives

"Transparency" has been a watchword of the Obama administration-but it recently rolled back financial transparency rules for labor unions, according to a report by The Washington Times.

The Labor Department rules, intended to guard against corruption of union leaders, required officials to report detailed compensation and travel expenses. The agency's explanation of the repeal said the rules that govern union officials' conflict-of-interest reports were not a "good use of resources." However, the Office of Labor-Management Standards at the department has restored $91.5 million in misused dues to union members since 2001.

Deborah Greenfield was a lawyer for the AFL-CIO last year who sued the agency to repeal the rules, and she is now a high-ranking official at the Labor Department, appointed by President Obama. Agency spokespeople declined to explain Greenfield's role in the decision but said she followed ethical guidelines.

Thug politics

Jestina Mukoko's supporters wept as a Zimbabwean judge ordered the prominent human-rights activist jailed on May 5, along with 18 other activists charged with sabotage and terrorism against the regime of President Robert Mugabe.

The ruling came two months after officials released the activists from a maximum-security prison known for its brutal conditions. The defendants-including several members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC opposition party-say officials tortured them into confessing a plot against Mugabe in December.

Some of the activists say jailers beat them, locked them in freezers, and hung them by their wrists to force confessions. The defendants appeared in court with bloodied and swollen faces late last year and remained in jail for three months before a judge issued bail. From the capital city of Harare, Magistrate Catherine Chimanda said she revoked the bail this month because the court issued formal indictments against the defendants.

Mugabe's opponents denounced the arrests as attempts to stamp out dissent. Tsvangirai-who visited Mukoko in jail on his first official day in office in February-said the ruling threatened the new unity government.

Mukoko heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a humanitarian organization that tracks human-rights abuses by Mugabe's government in the languishing country. During a nine-month period last year, the group reported 20,143 abuses, including 202 murders, 463 abductions, 41 rapes, 411 cases of torture, and 3,942 assaults.

Light out

After a 72-year run, CBS will pull the plug this September on the soap opera Guiding Light. Ranked as the longest-running television drama by the Guinness Book of World Records, Guiding Light began in 1937 as a 15-minute radio serial before making its television debut on CBS in 1952. The show's departure may signal the fate of other soap operas, which have faced slowly declining ratings since their primary audience-women-are often working outside the home.

Not buying it

A juicy new book alleging a long history of doping by Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez is not flying off the shelves with the rapidity many expected. A-Rod (Harper, 2009) chronicles attention-grabbing lowlights from the life of baseball's highest-paid player, including the insinuation that he may have taken steroids in high school. But lack of sourcing and the damaged credibility of author Selena Roberts, who famously misfired in her reporting of rape allegations about the Duke lacrosse team, render the Rodriguez exposé more tabloid than history.

The book debuted at No. 59 on the Amazon.com sales rank May 4 and has since dropped several slots. Compare that to the release of Jose Canseco's tell-all tome Juiced (William Morrow, 2005), which suffered from similar credibility issues but still debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.