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.
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.
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.
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."
World in brief
Is yeltsin unfit?
In the old days, Soviet dictators could just fade away. But Russian lawmakers, capitalizing on a more civil government, demanded the release of President Boris Yeltsin's medical records last week and asked the country's highest court to clarify how to determine when a president is no longer fit to govern. Members of the State Duma overwhelmingly approved the written request on Mr. Yeltsin's 11th straight day in the hospital with what aides described as pneumonia. His frequent illnesses amid the country's economic crisis have sparked doubts about his ability to carry out his term, which ends mid-2000. Yeltsin aides say the request has no legal standing. The Russian Constitution says the president may be dismissed from office due to "lasting inability to exercise his duties." It does not spell out who must determine that or how.
Bosnian Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic was arrested on Dec. 2 and charged with genocide by the war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Gen. Krstic is the highest-ranking official to be charged with war crimes stemming from the Bosnian war. He is charged with committing genocide during the fall of Srebrenica between July and November 1995. That period is considered one of the war's most gruesome, when 7,000 Muslim men and boys were marched away to their deaths. A secret indictment cited the general for "direct personal involvement in the commission of these crimes." American forces in the U.S.-held sector of northeast Bosnia arrested him.
Frank Loy, the State Department official who oversees population issues, says he will fight to restore U.S. funding for UN population control programs, including those in China. The congressional ban on United Nations Population Fund funding prevents 200,000 abortions annually, estimates Mr. Loy. Mr. Loy cheered China's planning efforts, saying communist officials promised not to force women to have abortions. "We don't expect to see radical changes everywhere overnight," he said. The Clinton official argued that the United States "risks becoming the biggest Cairo deadbeat'' by not meeting pledges made at the 1994 Cairo conference on population.
Ready or not
A new House report card on the Y2K computer bug gave the Feds a "D" for their efforts to fix it. Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), who issues a quarterly rating on how Washington is managing Y2K problems, says that at the current rate, nearly one-third of "mission-critical" systems will not be ready by the March 1999 deadline. President Clinton's Y2K point man, John Koskinen of the Year 2000 Council, downplayed the Horn report and predicted that almost all critical federal computer systems will be ready on time. He admitted that some departments, however, face "significant challenges." In the Horn report, eight agencies had improved since last quarter, but the Defense Department fell from "D'' to "D-.'' The departments of Justice, Energy, State, and Health and Human Services all failed. Also, the General Accounting Office reports that welfare, Medicaid, unemployment checks, and other transfer payments will be snarled unless states speed up computer repairs. Perhaps the most serious Y2K problem involves America's nuclear weapons stockpile. The Defense Special Weapons Agency is testing its most critical computers after Pentagon inspectors discovered no one had verified whether they could withstand Year 2000 problems. Lt. Col. Patrick Sivigny says not to worry. Any computer failure by the nuclear stockpile agency would have "nothing to do with command and control of nuclear weapons.'' But Rep. Horn says the Defense Department needs to ramp up the war on the bug. Overall, the Pentagon runs almost 40 percent of the government's mission-critical systems. "There is zero tolerance for error when you are dealing with the defense of our nation,'' he said.
The Beanie fix
A California judge says 25-year-old Tamara Dee Maldonado must stay away from Beanie Babies. She also received a six-month jail sentence and five years' probation after she used stolen credit card numbers to feed her cravings for beanbag toys. "It was like a drug," Ms. Maldonado told authorities. "Once I started, I couldn't stop. It was like being addicted." Police say she had 206 Beanie Babies, mostly stored in a plastic container in her bedroom. Her "addiction" started when she worked at McDonald's and had to stuff Beanie Babies into Happy Meals. She then ordered them herself. Her ex-husband says Ms. Maldonado even threatened to run off with their child unless he brought home discarded charge slips from his job at a hotel. She used them to buy $8,000 worth of rare Beanies.
Hoosier PM in Lebanon
Salim Hoss, named prime minister of Lebanon last week, promised "austerity in the extreme" to combat high interest rates and a slow comeback from more than a decade of civil war. Mr. Hoss, 69, holds an advanced degree in business and economics from Indiana University. He has held the prime minister post four times, surviving a 1987 car bombing that killed his bodyguard. Mr. Hoss is a Sunni Muslim, like every prime minister under the power-sharing arrangement enacted to end the war. The president must be a Maronite Catholic, and the parliamentary speaker is a Shiite Muslim. In southern Lebanon, Israeli cabinet ministers toured the volatile Israeli-Lebanese border area after seven soldiers were killed in a 10-day wave of attacks by Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim "Party of God." The Israeli government is under pressure to pull out of its controversial nine-mile-deep zone of occupation in southern Lebanon. Israel has agreed to a troop withdrawal, but with conditions for guaranteeing the region's security. Lebanon and Syria insist that the withdrawal be unconditional.
Frenzy of hate
Press reports said purportedly Christian mobs set fire to several mosques and burned a Muslim school in Kupang, West Timor. The attacks are apparently in retaliation for Muslim mobs burning seven churches and ransacking 16 more in Jakarta on Nov. 22. "Indonesia is very close to a bloodbath and civil war, with extremists from the so-called Christian community and Muslim communities often more anxious to settle old scores than keep the peace," said a Protestant pastor in Kupang who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. "But we have so many areas where Christians are a vulnerable minority, and also areas, like here, where Muslims are a vulnerable minority, that if there is no religious toleration established, there will literally be thousands of deaths as minority communities are off the map in frenzy of hate." The Indonesian Christian Communication Forum (FKKI) in Surabaya released initial findings on the extent of damage to Christian churches and schools as a result of the Jakarta riots. The FKKI confirmed that 23 churches were attacked. Five of the 23 churches burned were in central Jakarta. Three burned churches suffered between 30-50 percent damage. Six Protestant and Catholic schools were also attacked, one totally destroyed by fire. The only mention of casualties in the report: Two Batak youths sustained wounds as they fought the mob that tried to burn the speaker's stand and Bibles in their church. No churchgoers were reported killed.
-from Compass Direct
The no-comment zone
- Exxon agreed last week to buy Mobil for $77.2 billion in a deal that would create the largest corporation in the world and put back together two of the biggest pieces from the 1911 breakup of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.
- The US Postal Service announced it will hike postage rates to 33 cents on January 10 and print new stamps with tributes to Ayn Rand and Malcolm X.
- Vice President Al Gore billed the Democratic National Committee $110,000 for his family's Christmas cards.
- A congressional audit says the IRS hired employees with criminal pasts and used unarmed couriers to transport millions in taxpayer checks.
- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) characterized the Democratic Party's willingness to spend billions on public schools without demanding accountability as "defending the indefensible."
- Female Air Force lieutenant Eva Gutierrez Logsdon faces a potential court-martial for nine charges, including fraternization, lying under oath, being drunk and disorderly, and groping male officers.
- Dow Corning's stock went up after a court-appointed scientific panel found no link between breast implants and illness.
- Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was acquitted on all 30 federal corruption charges stemming from his acceptance of $30,000 worth of gifts from companies his department regulated.
- Rep. Edward Pease (R-Ind.) said, "I wish I were back in Indiana," after he was mugged near a Metro stop on his way to deliver presents to friends in Washington.
Just saying non
Voters in Switzerland turned down a referendum that would have decriminalized "the consumption, cultivation, or possession of drugs." A surprising majority set the proposed constitutional amendment aside; 74 percent voted no. The vote was a defeat to organizers who support Swiss experiments with needle parks in Zurich and free heroin giveaways.