This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Down Syndrome = Death Sentence?," Jan. 18, 1997

God and country

Calling on state-controlled Protestant churches in China to continue to "[hold] high the banner of patriotism and socialism," a high-ranking Communist Party official said unauthorized Christian activity in the nation must be restricted. Speaking at a national congress of two state-run church groups, Li Ruihan apparently was aiming his remarks at clerics in the official church suspected of secretly supporting underground churches. Officially, China has fewer than 15 million Christians, but unofficial estimates of believers run as high as 90 million. Persecution of Christians in China is widespread. Authorities have arbitrarily detained, harassed, and even tortured believers in their campaign to shut down unofficial churches.

Killer regulations

Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) demanded in a hearing Jan. 8 that the head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Board move more quickly to lift government rules requiring the equipping of automobiles with airbags so powerful that they kill children and small adults even in slow-speed crashes. NHTSB chief Ricardo Martinez said the agency would by February decide how to &quotdepower" the airbags. Automakers are required to equip their cars with airbags capable of restraining a 170-pound male not wearing a seatbelt during a 30-mph crash into a wall. The force required to protect the unbelted male is so powerful that to date airbags have killed 32 children and 20 adults who otherwise would have survived the low-speed collisions in which their airbags deployed. Sen. Kempthorne told Mr. Martinez he wrote the agency last month--after the infant daughter of a resident of his state was decapitated by an airbag-- suggesting the crash test be scrapped. He received no reply.

Weathering the storms

While the news media were captivated by political machinations in Washington, many Americans spent the week focused on something more pressing: the weather. Winter storms battered parts of the Southwest, Midwest, and South--covering some areas with either ice or snow. Up to two feet of snow fell in Northern Arizona, while in North Georgia an ice storm knocked out power to 250,000 people. Westerners, meanwhile, were trying to keep their heads above water. Floods and mudslides continued for a second week--the result of snow runoff and heavy rain. Especially hard hit by the western waters were California farmers, who saw barns and farm machinery destroyed and hundreds of animals drowned. Also inundated: thousands of homes and businesses. Forty-two of California's 58 counties were declared disaster areas, as were parts of Idaho and Nevada. At least 29 people died as a result of the Western storms. Another 29 lost their lives Jan. 9 when a commuter plane headed from Cincinnati to Detroit went into a spiral and nose-dived near dusk into a snow-covered field about 25 miles short of its destination. The immediate cause of the crash was unknown, but investigators were looking at the possibility of icing on the wings.

Yeltsin ailing

Russian president Boris Yeltsin, still recuperating from heart surgery, was hospitalized Jan. 8 with early signs of pneumonia. Mr. Yeltsin had returned to work on a limited schedule in late December, six weeks after a quintuple bypass operation. His political opponents--including 1996 election rival, Gen. Alexander Lebed--were quick to seize the opportunity afforded by Mr. Yeltsin's latest illness, calling on him to resign.

Gulf War syndrome

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association contradicts the findings of a Jan. 7 presidential commission report. The JAMA article reports some soldiers did indeed suffer neurological damage from chemical-weapons exposure during fighting in the Persian Gulf. Medical research shows some Gulf vets suffer from three primary syndromes caused by subtle brain, spinal cord, and nerve damage--not stress, as the presidential commission suggested. President Clinton accepted the panel's report, which also criticized the Pentagon for failing to respond adequately to soldiers' illnesses, but ordered the commission to keep working nine months longer.

Murder mystery

Criticizing &quotcareless speculation" by the news media, Boulder, Colo., Police Chief Tom Koby said his department was proceeding with &quotdiligent and careful police work" in the mysterious murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey. The child beauty queen, winner of the Little Miss Colorado contest, was found slain in her home the day after Christmas, hours after her parents say they discovered a three-page ransom note demanding $118,000. The note had been written using a legal pad found in the home. A Boulder newspaper quoted a &quotfamily friend" as saying the note came from a &quotforeign group" that had a vendetta against the girl's father--the owner of a computer graphics company--related to several business deals. Police did not confirm that report. In New York, police concluded that a package bomb that severely burned a 10-year-old girl on Christmas Eve had been sent by a family acquaintance bent on revenge. Authorities found the alleged bomber, who police say had been fired from his job by the girl's uncle, shot to death Dec. 29 while on a hunting trip. Authorities have not determined whether his death was an accident or suicide.

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