News & Reviews

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1999," Dec. 18, 1999

NIH formally issues guidelines approving embryo research
'Glow of respectability'
When is an embryo not an embryo? When it interferes with the convenience of the government. Clinging to a convenient definition of terms, the National Institutes of Health last week issued federal funding guidelines for research using stem cells extracted from living human embryos. Federal law prohibits federal funding of "research in which an embryonic human being is destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death." But NIH hinged its new funding guidelines on its contention that using embryonic stem cells does not violate the law because, technically, the cells themselves are not embryos. Some medical experts believe that pluripotent stem cells-the building blocks of human tissue that reside in living human embryos-may yield treatments, and even cures, for debilitating and fatal diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. But pro-life groups-and at least 70 members of Congress who last spring signed a joint letter opposing embryonic stem cell research-don't believe the potential medical benefit of such studies justifies killing living embryos. Said Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.): "This is an attempt to give a glow of respectability to truly barbaric and grotesque experiments on human beings." Red planet: black eye for NASA
Lost in space
The Mars Polar Lander cost taxpayers $165 million and ended with NASA losing contact with the probe and investigators trying to find out what happened. That public-relations black eye for NASA follows reports that its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter crashed and burned because one set of engineers was working with metric measurements while another worked with English measurements. Now, NASA will reevaluate its entire Mars program. Upcoming missions, including a planned 2001 launch of an orbiter and lander and a mission to bring back to earth Red Planet rocks, could be delayed. Gay-bashing case ends in guilty verdict
Ft. Campbell nightmare
It was just a mistake, sir. I was really drunk," said sobbing 18-year-old Army private Calvin N. Glover as he offered a military judge a guilty plea to lesser charges of unpremeditated murder in the killing of fellow soldier Barry Winchell. But a military prosecutor pushed for premeditated murder charges and the jury, after hearing the evidence, took an hour to find Pvt. Glover guilty. The prosecution contended the attack, in which Pvt. Glover used a baseball bat to crush Pfc. Winchell's head as he slept, was motivated by anti-homosexual rage. Pvt. Glover showed no reaction as the verdict was read. His mother, Kathy Roundtree, started weeping moments later. A high-school dropout, Pvt. Glover earned his graduate equivalency diploma, then asked his mother to declare him an adult at age 17 so he could enlist. In the military, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence in prison. ama supports anti-assisted suicide bill
Good prescription
The American Medical Association voted to support federal legislation intended to prevent doctors from prescribing lethal doses of drugs to kill terminally ill patients. AMA delegates voted in favor of the bill despite concerns about federal regulation of medicine. "I strongly oppose federal intervention, but I'm so opposed to physician-assisted suicide that I support this action," said Donald Schroeder, a delegate from Eugene, Ore., where voters in 1994 legalized doctor-prescribed death. The No-Comment Zone

  • Exxon and Mobil merged and the combined company is ending Mobil's policy of "domestic partner" benefits for its employees' unmarried lovers. Both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual employees were covered. New employees won't have the benefits, but old Mobil employees will have theirs grandfathered in.
  • A Columbia University research group studied "Substance Abuse and Sex" and concluded, unsurprisingly, that teen-agers who drink or use drugs are much more likely than others to be sexually active. That includes starting sexual intercourse as early as middle school with a greater likelihood of multiple partners. It also found that adult heavy drinkers-those who down seven drinks a day over two weeks-are five times more likely than those who don't drink at all to have at least 10 sexual partners a year.
  • A U.S. District Court judge in Florida unilaterally eclipsed a sunshine law requiring annual public disclosure of judges' finances. Since 1979, judges and other high-ranking federal officials have been required by law to report all stock holdings and other family assets. Judge William J. Zloch in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ordered a moratorium, saying reports would get out on the Internet with "universal and anonymous access, raising security issues." Crime site requested the 1998 financial disclosure reports of some 1,600 active and semi-retired federal judges. Judge Zloch offered no specific examples of how releasing a judge's financial disclosure statement might lead to security risks.
  • An Alabama judge who spent four years fighting to keep a plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom now wants to be chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Roy Moore, 52, a two-term circuit judge, kicked off his campaign for the Republican primary in his courtroom, where his homemade plaque of the Ten Commandments hangs. If elected, he said, he will take his plaque to Montgomery. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed a 1995 ACLU lawsuit over the plaque.
  • Was a horror worse than the Columbine High School rampage prevented? In May, Holland Woods (Mich.) Middle School classmates told administrators they overheard talk of a massacre. Police arrested four boys. Of the four, two pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit assault. A third went free after the judge ruled a statement he made to police was inadmissible. The fourth, age 13, will be tried in juvenile court next month. Activist juror Rose Bird dies
    Judge knows not her time
    Former California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird, whom Republicans made the poster girl for judicial activism, died of complications from breast cancer at age 63. She galvanized a liberal court majority, helped it push feminist and environmentalist stances, and led a long-running fight against the death penalty. During her tenure, she gave a helping hand to the state's trial lawyers by pushing for so-called consumers' rights and helped broaden injured parties' right to sue. Appointed to the court's top job in 1977 by Gov. Jerry Brown, she was one of the first justices removed by voters at a confirmation election in 1986. Later, she traveled the country on a point-counterpoint speaking tour with noted conservative jurist Robert Bork, who like Ms. Bird had his career shortened by a political campaign. Investigator blisters gov't lawyers
    Shreds of evidence
    Confetti went flying in Washington last year when the Treasury Department shredded 162 boxes of potential evidence in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over American Indian trust funds. Court-appointed investigator Alan Balaran says officials covered it up for more than three months. Mr. Balaran reported the shredding and cover-up were "part of a greater pattern of obfuscation" by the government in the lawsuit over the mishandling of accounts for more than 300,000 Indians; the accounts are now worth about $500 million. In February, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth held then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court for mishandling other records in the case. The Indians' lawyers said last month that they would seek another contempt citation after Mr. Balaran found trust-fund documents dumped into a shed with used tires and other debris on a North Dakota reservation. Justice Department and Treasury Department lawyers tried to keep Judge Lamberth from releasing the findings, saying it "could result in severe and unfair damage" to the Treasury lawyers' reputations. He turned them down. ceausescu goes chic
    Retro dictator fashions
    Want to be a dictator-or just look like one? Dictator's caps are a big hit in Romania, according to the country's government, which is auctioning goods that belonged to leader Nicolae Ceausescu. "The caps are selling like hotcakes," government official Aurel Vlaicu said before a fourth auction of Ceausescu's possessions. Earlier this year, bidders shelled out up to $250 for each of 40 Ceausescu caps. In Bucharest shops, a similar cap not owned by Ceausescu would cost about $1.40, Mr. Vlaicu said. Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed in December 1989 during a violent anticommunist uprising. "He never threw anything away and things were piled on top of each other," Mr. Vlaicu said. Accused bombers to stand trial 11 years after 747 blown out of the sky
    Lockerbie trial to start
    Eleven years ago, an explosive device planted on Pan Am Flight 103 at London's Heathrow Airport blew the jumbo jet out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Dec. 21, 1988, explosion killed all 259 occupants, including 189 Americans, and 11 residents of the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Next year the suspects finally stand trial, long after the once-proud airline involved went out of business in the disaster's wake. Libyan defendants Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah are charged with murder, conspiracy to murder, and contravention of Britain's Aviation Security Act. A special Scottish court, set up inside an old sports gym on a former U.S. air base, is scheduled to begin their trial on Feb. 2. The accused terrorists are trying to attack the prosecutor's case with technicalities, arguing that activities that occurred outside Scotland are outside the court's jurisdiction. That means the construction of the bomb itself couldn't be covered at trial. The trial, once it begins, is expected to last a year or more. Scotland has no death penalty, so the suspects face up to life imprisonment in the country's highest-security prison. scotland roiled by teen-pregnancy debate
    Show some respect
    Scotland's Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Thomas Winning, said Scottish legislators "are mature enough to decide" the abortion issue themselves, and called for the British Parliament to stay out of the debate. Scotland had 9,000 unwanted teen pregnancies last year and 4,000 abortions, according to Reuters. The Catholic hierarchy is battling Scottish health minister Susan Deacon's campaign to reduce teen pregnancies by opening "safe-sex" clinics and distributing contraceptives. Cardinal Winning says Ms. Deacon's campaign shows "no respect for the young people of Scotland by offering them easy sex with no thought for the consequences." netherlands' gun control no match for enraged teenager
    Another American export: School violence
    Gun control doesn't wound people; people wound people. A 17-year-old in the Netherlands got a gun, took it to his school, and shot five people. The unidentified teenager was apparently bent on revenge when he fired more than 10 shots from a handgun before surrendering to police. After he critically wounded two students and injured a teacher and two other pupils, authorities started talking about installing metal detectors. TV cameras later showed the classroom floor smeared with blood, cluttered with papers, and littered with shards of broken glass. A bloodied book bag lay crumpled on the floor. According to students at the vocational school in Veghel, a quiet working-class town 60 miles south of Amsterdam, the boy was enraged over a relationship involving his sister and another student. The Netherlands is already known for super-strict gun control, but lawmakers vowed to further tighten its regulations.

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