This Week

Issue: "Veggie Mania," Dec. 12, 1998

Breathe deeply

Oprah Winfrey is expanding her politically correct media empire. She's a partner in a new cable channel called Oxygen, which will debut in 2000. Ms. Winfrey calls it a "network that will focus on women and treat us like the busy, smart, and complex people we are." This means that like its competitor Lifetime, Oxygen will avoid traditional homemakers and target younger working women and teen-age girls. For example, the midday block of programs will be called "Working Lunch." Oxygen's backers-including America Online, Disney, and the production company behind Roseanne-say women control 70 percent of consumer spending and the network wants a slice of that economic pie.

Dangerous database?

The National Rifle Association sued the FBI to block it from maintaining records of gun owners based on Brady Bill background checks. The group says the FBI could invade innocent people's privacy and would violate federal law by keeping lists of law-abiding gun buyers. A permanent provision of the Brady gun law, which went into effect on Nov. 30, replaces the five-day waiting period on firearms purchases. Instead, government agents perform computerized background checks that take from three minutes to three days. State officials have the option of running the system themselves or having the FBI do it at no charge. Each of the 12.4 million firearms purchased every year (and 2.5 million pawn-shop transactions) will go through this system. James Brady, the former Reagan press secretary after whom the law is named, says the statute is too lenient because it doesn't access enough background information. The NRA's Wayne LaPierre says it goes too far. "Lists on law-abiding people have never been a good idea," he said. "This is about privacy and freedom from government snooping in our lives." He said the Brady Act requires the government to destroy all records of eligible gun buyers. But the Justice Department says FBI records on new gun buyers will probably be kept for six months or less.

Erasmus returns

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The 15-nation European Union is swamped in a sea of acronyms. From ERASMUS (the European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) to EUREKA (the European Technology Initiative) to SPRINT (Strategic Program for Innovation and Technology Transfer), the list goes on as the EU's rulers try to build the United States of Europe. There's also EURO CONTROL (European Air Traffic Control Organization), MANPADS (man-portable air defense system), and TIES (Trans-Atlantic Information Exchange Service). While more imaginative than America's three-letter soup of FBI, CIA, FCC, DOJ, and EPA, they show that with unity comes bureaucracy -and with every bureaucracy comes an acronym.

Students unite!

Thousands of University of California teaching assistants from Berkeley to San Diego went on strike last week for the fourth time in six years to demand collective bargaining rights. More than half of the 9,000 assistants, readers, and tutors authorized the strike; many have affiliated with the United Auto Workers. The administration does not recognize the union, since teaching assistants are defined as students, not employees. The strike exposes how much of higher education has been turned over to those who are still studying themselves. "Our members provide 60 percent of undergraduate instruction," says union leader Ricardo Ochoa. "We know that by withholding our services at such a critical time in the term the quality of education throughout the UC system will be seriously eroded."

Casting off restraint

Red ribbons came out of mothballs for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. The festivities were bizarre. In New Delhi, hundreds of schoolkids marched beside prostitutes waving banners declaring "Together Against AIDS." In Ivory Coast, thousands more children marched through the streets of Abidjan bouncing inflated condoms like beach balls. A Moscow contraceptive company dressed up employees in "condom suits'' and passed out samples in Pushkin Square. Meanwhile, American activists complained President Clinton failed to support needle exchanges for drug abusers. In New York City, sharpshooters, steel barricades, metal detectors, and scores of police held back mayhem near City Hall. In Florida, Miami-Dade County officials on Dec. 1 narrowly approved a law granting special protections to homosexual citizens.The area had been one of the first to pass a gay-rights ordinance-and one of the first to repeal it, after Anita Bryant's widely publicized 1977 "Save Our Children" appeal. Some children were saved on AIDS Day eve, when El Cajon, Calif., policeman Charles Merino lost his appeal to the Supreme Court after his ousting as a Boy Scouts leader because he is a homosexual. The Boy Scouts' ban on homosexuals survived. AIDS Day's UN backers say the disease is skyrocketing among young people; of the more than 6 million new HIV infections every year, over half are of those aged 10-24. Yet the UN's AIDS Day hype emphasized not self-restraint but getting youngsters to demand their rights to services, skills, and "supportive environments."

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