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  THE WEEKLY RUNDOWN FOR MARCH 14.  
   
   
 

THE FRONT:

Because I said no, that's why. International diplomacy continues at a fevered pitch this week as the U.K. and the U.S. attempt to gather nine votes in the U.N. Security Council favoring war in Iraq. Tony Blair, who is quickly losing popularity in his own country, has proposed a six-point plan for Saddam Hussein to prove that he is disarming in order to sidestep an invasion. Critics of the plan say it is not diplomacy, just a stalling tactic that will avoid war for about a week under the guise of seeking peace. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, said the Bush administration will accept "a very, very brief extension" of the March 17 deadline for Iraqi compliance. France has rejected the British proposal because the French are now rejecting anything they didn't think of first. How do you say "nyahhh!" en français?

NATIONAL:

She was with the crazed handyman the whole time. Elizabeth Smart returned to her Salt Lake City home Wednesday, nine months after being kidnapped at gunpoint from her bed. Elizabeth was abducted by a vagrant handyman know to the family as Emmanuelle that the Smarts hired to do chores around the house (Note to the Smart Family: Next time, pony up the cash for a guy with a permanent address. Seriously.). Elizabeth's younger sister, Mary Katherine, who witnessed the abduction, had first mentioned the man last October. The Salt Lake City police, however, did not publicize the tip until February. Brian David Mitchell was identified by two Utah couples who saw the man on "America's Most Wanted." Elizabeth was picked up with Mitchell and his wife walking down a street in nearby Sandy, Utah. Several witnesses have since reported seeing the trio several times over the past months, but none recognized Elizabeth because she was usually covered in a veil or wearing a wig. Mitchell's stepson, Mark Thomson, speculated that Mitchell kidnapped Elizabeth to replace his 14-year-old daughter, Lou Ree, who had gone to live with her mother 13 years before. (No wonder she ran away.)

Like Muslims need anything else to worry about. The FBI announced Wednesday that war with Iraq or another terrorist attack could trigger increased hate crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans in the United States. Since September 11, 2001, the FBI has investigated 414 potential hate crimes against Arabs or people who were mistaken for Arabs. The majority of these crimes occurred in the three-week period immediately following the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The Black Table would like to remind you that, for the most part, the Arab guy in your neighborhood is only trying to get by, just like you. Though you likely listen to better music.

Conan the Librarian. Ten branches of the Santa Cruz County Library have posted notices to patrons saying records of their book-borrowing habits may be monitored by the federal government under the USA Patriot Act. The library referred questions about the policy to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Section 215 (no one in Congress made it past Section 117, apparently) of the law allows FBI agents to obtain a warrant from a secret federal court for library or bookstore records of anyone connected to a terrorism investigation. The Black Table has run out of fingers with which to count how many things are wrong with that.

WORLD:

Isn't this how WWI started? Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated Wednesday outside Belgrade's main government building. The murder has stunned Serbs, who, somehow, have not become desensitized to violence. Djindjic was instrumental in deposing ousted Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and did not hesitate to ship him off to The Hague for a war crimes trial. The Serbian government declared a state of emergency and blamed the assassination on the Zemun, a criminal group. Djindjic's death is another roadblock to peace and freedom in the Balkans, which has been an unstable trouble spot for well over a hundred years. Authorities have not commented on rumors that Djindjic was assassinated by disgruntled copy editors exhausted from triple-checking the spelling of his name.

Bus bombs: They're not just for Israel and Palestine anymore! Four people are dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir after a bus exploded Thursday. Angry townspeople protested in the streets following the explosion, shouting anti-government chants and tossing rocks at security forces. No group has claimed responsibility, but police are guessing Muslim separatists (that's what the Black Table was thinking, too; that, or O.J.). The bus bomb was the second blast to hit the border town of Rajouri this week; one person died in a market area on Tuesday. Is there anyplace in the world not to worry about right now? (We're gonna just hope it's safe under our desk.)

MONEY:

Abandon plane. War in Iraq could cost the airline industry 70,000 jobs and $10.7 billion in losses, domestic carriers said Tuesday. The Air Transport Association, a trade group, offered this dismal forecast and requested more government help for fuel costs and tax breaks in a recent report. The airlines have already laid off 100,000 employees since September 11, 2001, and expect to lose $6.7 billion this year. Air traffic fell 8 percent during the Gulf War in 1991, and the ATA believes that number will fall farther with any future Iraqi conflict. Not helping: the cost of jet fuel, which has doubled to a $1.30 a gallon. And you thought you were paying for the comfortable seats, the excellent entertainment, the delicious food, and the lack of flatware.

ELSEWHERE:

We warned you not to blink. A 22-year-old Detroit man was murdered last week after losing a staring contest. The cause of death (besides a gunshot wound to the chest) was listed as "stupid."

The networks rejoice! Taping for the fifth season of The Sopranos will be delayed because of stalled contract talks with the series' star, James Gandolfini. TV's sexiest fat bald guy sued HBO claiming that the cable channel didn't give him proper notice for a fifth season and therefore was in violation of his contract. Gandolfini is budgeted for $400,000 an episode, but wants more milk from the cash cow of a show. In response to the potential lethal blow the delay could inflict on the New Jersey economy, Bruce Springsteen is playing Giants Stadium seven times in a week and a half. No, really, he is.

 

*BT*

 

By day, Aileen Gallagher is a private investigator. By night, she sleeps.