This Week

Issue: "Midterm elections 1998," Nov. 14, 1998

Yes, we have no bananas

The world's largest banana producer became a soup kitchen for victims of Hurricane Mitch. Dole Food Company Inc. fed 20,000 Central Americans a day and ferried in medical supplies and drinking water to Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. One-fourth of Dole's worldwide banana production was in Mitch's path, and the company expects its losses to go as high as $70 million. That means high-priced bananas and a bleak winter for some Third World farmers.

Making waves

Christian broadcasters in the Middle East say that, in spite of turmoil on the ground, radio waves continue to reach their widening audience unfettered. Trans World Radio and Back to the Bible broadcast more than 20 hours of Christian programming a week over the Middle East from a powerful AM transmitter on Cyprus. The BBC says its surveys show the station is the most listened to among international broadcasts in the Arab world, covering a 10-million-square-mile area. Trans World Radio puts out three weekly programs in an Egyptian Arabic dialect, in addition to the regular programming of Back to the Bible.

The showdown show

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Iraq went beyond challenging the United Nations, to downright disregard for terms of the Gulf War peace settlement that call for arms inspection. President Saddam Hussein and his top advisers announced they were suspending all cooperation with UN arms inspections. They say they will close down the monitoring of weapons production at Iraqi sites suspected of making chemical and biological weapons. If allowed to stand, Iraq's nose-thumbing means Mr. Hussein's outlawed weapons production could be up and ready to threaten the Persian Gulf again within six months. Weapons inspections were imposed by the UN as a precondition to lifting economic sanctions on Iraq following the Gulf War. Iraq issued its most defiant challenge to the inspections after the UN Security Council rejected an Iraqi proposal for dropping inspections in exchange for a "comprehensive review" of Baghdad policies. Although Defense Secretary William Cohen threatened to use force against Iraq during an 11th-hour campaign through Gulf capitals, U.S. ships actually pulled back from their positions in the Gulf. Baghdad papers were unimpressed by the U.S. government's response. "Empty threats ... and vicious behavior there will not force Iraq to reverse its victorious decision," the weekly al-Ilam said in a front-page editorial. Iraq's behavior made a prophet out of Scott Ritter, the American weapons inspector who resigned from the UN mission in August, declaring its efforts "hobbled ... by unfettered Iraqi obstruction and nonexistent Security Council enforcement of its own resolutions." Mr. Ritter charged Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others on the Clinton national security watch with thwarting surprise weapons inspections and undermining the work of UN inspectors. At the time of his resignation, Ms. Albright countered, "He doesn't have a clue about what our overall plan has been."

Explaining the unexcusable

Melissa Drexler, the infamous "Prom Mom" who gave birth in a catering hall bathroom and threw her baby into the trash, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a New Jersey court. She received the maximum sentence, but could be released in less than three years for good behavior. "I'd like to tell you I'm really, truly sorry for what I've done, OK?" she said tearfully in court. Miss Drexler made headlines after she strangled her baby during her senior prom, then returned to the dance floor. Janitors came later to clean the blood off the floor and found the dead body. She pled guilty last August to killing the boy on June 6, 1997. "I knew I was pregnant,'' Miss Drexler said. "I concealed the pregnancy from everyone. On the morning of the prom, my water broke." Her lawyer, Steven Secare, said Miss Drexler had a developmental and learning disability and couldn't cope with being pregnant. She told the court that such an incident will "obviously never occur again." Superior Court Judge John A. Ricciardi called Miss Drexler's actions "explainable but not excusable." Another New Jersey teen who performed a post-natal abortion, Amy Grossberg, and her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter in a similar case. They killed their son in a motel room and tossed the body into a trash bin. Miss Grossberg got 2H years; Mr. Peterson received two.

Domino effect?

As observers expect the global economic crisis to worsen, the Federal Reserve Board reduced short-term interest rates last week. This is good news for people looking for a mortgage or car loan, but can it hold off the domino effect from abroad? Alice Rivlin, the Fed's vice chairwoman, says the Fed keeps watching financial markets for any signs of a credit crunch. She says the U.S. economy was strong when the Fed last lowered interest rates in September but that "things have gotten a little worse since then.'' Speculation is rampant about more bad news ahead. American businesses are feeling the impact from a financial crisis that began in Asia 15 months ago, then leveled the Russian economy, and now threatens Latin America. Government reports say exports have fallen for five straight months, sending the U.S. trade deficit to a record high of $16.8 billion in August. American farmers, for example, are facing their worst crisis in a decade. Employment in manufacturing firms has dropped by 150,000 since April. "The chief concern among manufacturing executives was the credit crunch. They felt we were about to go off the cliff with growth slowing globally and a credit crunch at home,'' explains National Association of Manufacturers president Jerry Jasinowski. "With the Fed rate cut, we feel we have dodged a bullet.'' Despite the problems in manufacturing, however, the overall economy continued to grow last month, according to a NAM report. October marked the 90th straight month of expansion, but the rate of growth was slower. While many are bracing for the worst, many analysts say a recession is not guaranteed. "Even though the U.S. cannot escape the impact of falling demand in the world economy and cheaper imports competing with U.S. businesses," says Vernon Winters, chief investment officer at Mellon Private Asset Management, "our economy enters into this global crisis as well armored as it can be. We believe the U.S. economy will slow because of global problems but will not experience a recession.''

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