UN approves ambitious new depopulation plan
Pro-abortion groups and feminist organizations got more than they dreamed of last week when the United Nations General Assembly agreed to an aggressive plan for increasing access to contraceptives and abortion services among poor women the world over. If pro-life groups thought the first UN population conference, held in Cairo in 1994, was shameful, "Cairo +5"-as this year's New York conference was known-was another summer bummer. Buoyed by the ascendance of pro-abortion governments in key countries like the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, the zero-population- growth crowd agreed that rich countries should spend even more to make sure that poor women won't multiply. Feminist groups campaigned to strip the Vatican of its accreditation for the conference. They hardly needed to bother. The Vatican was joined by only two countries, Argentina and Nicaragua, in formally protesting the plan to spend more on population programs. Conferees at the three-day event also agreed to emphasize in their funding increased access to abortion and sex education for adolescent girls. But during the UN gathering, the UN statisticians reported some ironic figures. Separately from the conference, the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs issued its "Population Aging 1999 Wall Chart." It shows that 1 out of 10 people in the world today is over the age of 60. That will increase to 1 out of 5 in 2050, and 1 out of 3 in 2150, given current declining birth rates worldwide. In addition, it projects that, worldwide, people over 60 will outnumber children under 15 by 2050. Said American Life League's Jim Sedlak: "It is absolutely incredible. While one UN agency is spreading the hysteria of the myth of overpopulation, another UN agency releases data which clearly demonstrates that the real population problem is the fact that we have too few children." World in brief
- Uneasy allies
Russian troops arrived in two-hour intervals at the airport near Pristina, Kosovo's capital, after resolution of a dispute with NATO over the terms for their involvement in the multinational force. Moscow plans to increase its presence to 3,600 troops. Last month, NATO officials became wary of Russian cooperation when Russian troops unexpectedly arrived in Pristina hours before the first NATO troops entered Kosovo.
- Missionary hostage rescued
American missionary Herbert Gregg became a free man on June 29 after seven months of captivity in Russia's breakaway Chechnya region, one hand bandaged where his captors had cut off a finger to press their ransom demands. Mr. Gregg had taught English and worked with Wheaton, Ill.-based TEAM mission agency since moving to a border area of Chechnya in 1995. Officials gave few details of the rescue operation, and Mr. Gregg was equally stilted in describing his ordeal. Moscow officials denied that ransom had been paid but did release a stomach-churning video made by Mr. Gregg's captors in April. It showed the missionary's right index finger being sawed off and Mr. Gregg, his hand then bandaged up, appealing to colleagues for payment of ransom.
- Trust not in princes
Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Barak, assumed office last week and began instant preparations for a trip to the United States. Will the rise of Mr. Barak, who beat Benjamin Netanyahu in May elections, help negotiations for Mideast peace? Not so fast. Leaders in his coalition government may stand in the way of Mr. Barak's giving Palestinians some control over Jerusalem, a sticking point in negotiations. The No-Comment Zone
- Starting this fall, Louisiana students must call their teachers "ma'am" or "sir" or use titles like Mr., Miss, or Mrs. The "School Respect Law," which was passed earlier this year with bipartisan support, is believed to be the first in the nation requiring respectful conversation. The rules will be phased in through the 2006-2007 school year and each school system will determine its own punishments for violators.
- Former 2 Live Crew leader Luther Campbell, who was acquitted of obscenity charges nine years ago, is back in trouble again: He was charged with aggravated battery last week after he allegedly smashed a bottle of Jack Daniels whisky into the face of a man who was blocking his view of a nightclub show. The victim suffered cuts and a broken nose as Mr. Campbell was taken to Miami-Dade County Jail and later released.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton launched her campaign for a Senate seat from New York, amid charges that she is a "carpetbagger" seeking election from a state where she has never lived or worked. The First Lady said that "we've moved beyond" the Whitewater scandal and that she cares about "good quality" public education and health care. Recent polls show Mrs. Clinton either tied or trailing liberal Republican Rudy Giuliani.
- Delta Air Lines leads the airline industry in bumping passengers from overbooked flights, according to government data. The Atlanta-based airline had 8,144 involuntary bumpings from January through March, nearly as many as the other nine major carriers combined. (Southwest had the second highest with only 1,938). Passengers are bumped when airlines can't find enough people willing to give up their seats on overbooked flights.
- The NCAA placed Purdue University on two years' probation for major rules violations in its men's basketball program, including recruiting infractions, extra benefits, and unethical conduct. The school admits that Boilermakers assistant coach Frank Kendrick lied to investigators and told a former player to do likewise. It denies allegations that Mr. Kendrick, who is still on staff, helped secure a loan for a former player and that a booster helped a player's mother secure housing in Indianapolis. Fla. liability case socks big tobacco
Hitting it big
Two Florida lawyers last week won what could be the Powerball of the liability lottery: a successful verdict in a 500,000-member class action lawsuit against six major cigarette makers. The jury will next deliberate punitive damages against the tobacco companies and two tobacco industry groups; the punitive-damages jackpot could exceed $200 billion, more than twice the annual budgets of the federal Departments of Education, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development combined. The jury found the tobacco industry concealed information about the risks of smoking and did not inform smokers that cigarettes were addictive. cultural change
A homemaker's place
The Future Homemakers of America decided that the term "homemakers" is passé, so they voted to become the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America. The group, started in 1945 to teach teenage girls how to keep house for their future husbands, has 220,000 members (including 45,000 boys) and its leaders say the change can help stave off declining membership. They announced in a statement that "what was an appropriate name after World War II, when the organization's focus was on homemaking, could not hold up against the sweeping societal changes of the past five decades." wild, wild west and south park
Two wrong turns: West and South
The 1996 and 1997 July 4th weekends were ruled by actor Will Smith. Independence Day and Men in Black were clever and generally family-friendly films; each brought in $50 million over the Friday-Sunday period. But this year's effort, Wild Wild West, grossed only $28 million over the three days. Critics with high expectations have not been kind-but Wild Wild West does have its good moments. Will Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kenneth Branagh do fine as Reconstruction-era hero, gadget-mad sidekick, and gadget-mad villain, respectively. The movie has enough action to fascinate children, but not so much that it dissolves into a series of explosions. The violence is not severe, and special effects include use of an 80-foot-long, flame-spewing, steam-driven, mechanical tarantula. Another reason for the film's relatively poor showing: It is peppered with sexual innuendo and bad language. Wild Wild West could easily have been a mildly enjoyable PG action film, but parents who take children to the PG-13 movie after seeing commercials or Burger King tie-ins are making a mistake. Dissertations in abnormal psychology could be written on why filmmakers feel a compulsion to make a product like this inappropriate for one of its prime audiences. But there's worse news: Pity the parent who says OK to the animated South Park because its commercials seem cute. Here's how The Washington Post applauded the July 4th weekend second-place box-office finisher among new films: "Only those who have never seen the delightfully vulgar Comedy Central cartoon on which this feature-length satire of censorship and popular culture is based will be surprised by the torrential barrage of obscenity and crudely-drawn grotesquerie that greet the ear and eye." The Post liked the film's leftist politics and was downright jovial about its "flood of creative profanity, a smattering of sacrilege, plus animated vomit, flatulence, surgery, warfare and nudity." Enough said. embryo experimentation advances
"Someday," goes the popular prediction, "scientists will clone a human." As it turns out, "someday" was last November. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the private U.S. biotechnology firm American Cell Technology (ACT) last fall cloned the first human embryo, then let it develop for 12 days before killing it. Scientists destroyed the embryo at 12 days, said ACT director of tissue engineering Robert Lanza, because an embryo cannot be seen as human before 14 days. He was referring to the earliest appearance of the nervous system, which some scientists say constitutes the first possible signs of human consciousness. ACT's aim, a spokesman said, is not "reproductive cloning," but "therapeutic cloning." The firm hopes that cloned human embryos will someday provide a rich source of embryonic stem cells. Such "master cells," first reproduced in U.S. laboratories late last year, can develop into any type of human cell-and may lead to treatments for currently incurable diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Meanwhile, a White House advisory panel studying the ethics of embryonic stem cell research two weeks ago seemed to emerge from Wonderland and discussions of the issue with the Mad Hatter over tea. In a preliminary report, the commission agreed that it is morally inconsistent to let federally funded scientists do research on stem cells that federal law says those same researchers may not derive from human embryos. Therefore, the panel concluded, those scientists should be allowed to do both. The panel's final report is due out this month. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research, including National Conference of Catholic Bishops activist Richard Doerflinger, are unsure whether they can muster enough congressional votes to ban the proposed research. Said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.): "The prospect of government-sponsored experiments to manipulate and destroy human embryos should make us all lie awake at night." pro-life legislators see some success in the states
NARAL sounds alarm
Pro-life activism is on the rise in many state legislatures, an abortion industry group noted with alarm last week: The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) counted 408 pro-life proposals so far this year, compared to 335 for all of last year. Of those, 45 bills have become law this year, although only two states, Missouri and North Dakota, banned partial-birth abortion. Several states passed new protections for unborn children for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court took away states' rights to outlaw abortion in 1973. Florida, New Jersey, and Texas enacted laws requiring parental notification before minors receive abortions, while many others passed laws for greater regulation of abortion businesses. NARAL's "five worst states": Texas, Virginia, Arizona, Iowa, and Florida. Pro-life legislators were most active in those states. Now, nearly every state has some level of protection for the unborn. The most common measures are parental notification laws, pre-abortion counseling requirements or waiting periods, restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion, and limits on partial-birth abortions. Only Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia have each one of these protections.