Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Who'll be king of the Hill?," Oct. 7, 2000

FDA approves abortion pill, despite health risks
In a major victory for the abortion movement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week approved RU-486, an early-abortion pill, for U.S. use. "For those who choose to have an early termination of their pregnancy, this is a reasonable medical alternative," said FDA Commissioner Jane Henney. Pro-life groups disagreed. The FDA's move "will result in more abortions and new risks to women," according to Laura Echevarria, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). "This method involves administration of two potent drugs, and frequently produces profuse bleeding, in order to kill a human embryo who is two to five weeks old." The NRLC and other groups vow to continue the fight against RU-486, also known by the chemical name mifepristone. The pill, first introduced in France in 1988, kills human embryos by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is essential to embryo growth. But the entire abortion-inducing process can take days, and even weeks. Two days after taking the pill, the pregnant woman must return to the doctor for another pill, misoprostol, to cause uterine contractions to flush out the dead child. In some cases, a surgical abortion is needed to finish the job. And often, pro-life advocates point out, unborn children aren't the only victims. The pill's side effects for women can include nausea and bleeding, in some cases severe enough to require a transfusion. "American women deserve more from the FDA than to allow a drug with serious known side effects to be marketed as a safe 'chemical' abortion," said Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics policy analyst for Focus on the Family. "The FDA knows better and sadly, soon so will some American women." In America until 1900, those who sought abortions turned to pills and potions more frequently than surgical means. The first conviction in America for intention to abort was of Capt. William Mitchell of Maryland, who in 1652 forced his pregnant servant to ingest a substance that-according to court records-caused her to "break into boils and blains, her body being scurfy, and the hair of her head almost fallen off." Yugoslavia's socialist ruler concedes loss, but calls for runoff election
Math by Milosevic
A constitutional lawyer who translated the Federalist Papers into Serbian took the lead in polls throughout Yugoslavia in an apparent ouster of the country's long-standing socialist ruler, Slobodan Milosevic. Although Vojislav Kostunica finished first in nationwide elections on Sept. 24, his takeover of the troubled country, ruled by the former communist for 13 years, was not assured. Mr. Milosevic called for a runoff election Oct. 8, claiming Mr. Kostunica did not win a majority. Yugoslavia's federal election commission-dominated by Milosevic cronies-conceded victory to Mr. Kostunica but claimed he won 48.2 percent while Mr. Milosevic earned 40.2 percent. A 50 percent majority is needed to avoid a runoff. Independent monitors and Mr. Kostunica's Democratic Opposition of Serbia challenged the official results and demanded that local polling stations make their tallies public. Election monitors showed Mr. Kostunica winning with 55 percent of the vote. His party won landslide victories in local elections in Belgrade and other large cities. The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Mr. Milosevic's officials announced official results "in a highly suspicious manner." While the United States and the European Union took a carrot-and-stick approach, pledging to lift sanctions in exchange for Mr. Milosevic's ouster, Great Britain has been bolder to demand an end to the Milosevic era. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook denounced the planned runoff, saying, "Milosevic is beaten ... all that is necessary is for Milosevic to get out of the way. He has been knocked out, he has been counted out, now he should get out." Belgraders agreed, vowing to rally in the streets until Mr. Milosevic steps down. Opposition workers handed out 10,000 baby rattles for a Sept. 27 vigil demanding the president's ouster. Mr. Kostunica became a formidable opponent by combining old and new Yugoslavia. He calls himself a liberal democrat, while at the same time holding onto many tenets of Serbian nationalism. He supported Serbs over ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo conflict. He called NATO's bombing campaign over Kosovo last year "criminal," and he has criticized the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. He says he will not turn in Mr. Milosevic, who was indicted by the tribunal. During the campaign, Mr. Kostunica was a bitter critic of Mr. Milosevic's reign, but he accused the West of creating a "cult of Slobodan Milosevic," first by promoting him as an architect of the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, and then by vilifying him as a war criminal. On Monday, Mr. Kostunica said Yugoslavia must not become "anybody's protectorate," alluding to Kosovo, now jointly administered by a United Nations and NATO-led peacekeeping force. Yugoslavians, he said, want to live in a state "that is not a vassal." Chaldeans come to U.S.
From Saddam to San Diego
Over 200 Chaldean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq made their way to the United States last week-via Tijuana. Many of the immigrants said they had traveled for months or even years to reach Mexico and that their ultimate destination was the United States. They hope to settle in Chaldean communities in nearby San Diego or Detroit. U.S. authorities briefly detained at least 72 Iraqis in the group, which included women and children, after they tried to enter the United States without visas. Many had been staying in a Tijuana hotel for weeks or months, while awaiting assistance from relatives in America to apply for asylum in the United States. Chaldeans live primarily in northern Iraq, where they face persecution from both the Saddam Hussein regime and surrounding Kurds, who are mostly Muslim. Sydney limits sport chaplains
Drive-by pastors
The athletic facilities in Sydney were top-notch, but religious counseling during the Olympics was purely drive-by. For over 20,000 athletes, the chaplain service for the Olympic village in Sydney had about 80 volunteer chaplains on call. The Christian pastors, as well as representatives of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, accepted six-hour shifts every three days but were prohibited from being on call at times outside their shift. They could not even enter the religious services center unless it was their turn. So an athlete who met with a pastor one day might return the next to find an imam in his stead. Chaplains dealt with major incidents at the Sydney Games, including the death of Nigerian sprinter Hyginus Anayo Anugo, killed in a car accident just prior to the Games' opening. Nigerian team members were the largest group to use the religious service center. low-power FM battle looms
FCC repents
The Federal Communications Commission backed away from a proposal that would have discriminated against religious groups attempting to obtain TV licenses. The agency reversed itself amid a storm of protest from the nation's religious broadcasters and Republican lawmakers. In order to get special noncommercial, educational TV channels, broadcasters must devote half of their schedule to educational programs. The FCC's original action declared that religious programs did not meet its definition of "educational." The commission had said that programming "primarily devoted to religious exhortation, proselytizing or statements of personally held religious views and beliefs generally would not qualify as 'general educational' programming." In a footnote, it said church services also normally would not qualify as "general educational" programming. While the decision only affected a small part of the religious broadcasting world, it drew charges that the government was trying to control the content of religious TV. After massive complaints from broadcasters and legislators, the FCC backed down. "Regrettably, it has become clear that our actions have created less certainty rather than more, contrary to our intent," the commission said in a new statement. The lone dissenting commissioner, Gloria Tristani, turned nasty: She called critics witch hunters and accused her colleagues of caving in to "an organized campaign of distortion and demagoguery." A separate fight over low-power FM spectrum lies ahead. Hundreds of religious groups want licenses for small radio stations that will run between 1 and 1000 watts. Many in mainstream radio heavily oppose competition from this cheap broadcasting tool. Florida attorney named FRC president
Connor takes command
The Family Research Council (FRC)-a 17-year-old Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization with a 110-member staff-has a new chief. Kenneth L. Connor, a 53-year-old Tallahassee trial lawyer and father of four, will replace former FRC president Gary Bauer, who left his post in an unsuccessful bid for the White House. Mr. Connor in 1994 sought the Republican nomination for governor of Florida; this year, he was considering a bid for attorney general when offered the FRC post. Mr. Connor, a Baptist who currently attends a conservative Presbyterian church, gained a national legal reputation for successfully suing some nursing homes for "scandalous" neglect and practices in caring for the elderly and infirm. Unborn and handicapped children aren't the only ones jeopardized by a "diminished ethic that trivializes human life," he told reporters. He has served as chairman of Care Net, president of Florida Right to Life, and vice chairman of Americans United for Life. The "extraordinary opportunity to influence public conversation" as the new FRC president won out over political ambitions, he said at a Sept. 25 press conference. The chances of him leaving FRC to run for political office are "slim to none," Mr. Connor told The Washington Times. He said that he hopes to expand FRC's issues portfolio by adding more emphasis to judicial activism and adoption. (He and his wife, Amy, are adoptive parents.) He also advocates a type of voucher system that would reimburse families for the costs of caring for a senior. Inquiring reader: Bush's gaffe
Blame it on Sousa
One WORLD subscriber was 40 feet from the platform at the Labor Day speech in Naperville, Ill., where George W. Bush launched his off-color critique of a New York Times reporter ("Bush-league judgment," Sept. 16). Phil Bramsen of Wheaton, Ill., writes that WORLD and other publications got the story wrong, for neither he nor those with him heard the comment: "It did not go out over the sound system." WORLD initially went with wire service reports. Some of the microphones on the podium clearly were open, as all three network evening newscasts worked the item into their leads and included videotape with the vulgarity. But a further search of press accounts found newspapers giving conflicting accounts of what happened. USA Today said most of the audience did not catch the remark, but reporters' tape recorders picked it up. The New York Daily News said it "was picked up by the public-address system but was audible only near the stage, so most of the crowd of several hundred didn't hear it." The Boston Globe, however, said it was "accidentally broadcast over loudspeakers" and "audible to most of the audience." And U.S. News and World Report stated that "both the crowd and the press heard the off-color remark," but gave a detail that suggests why many did not hear it: A band was starting up a Sousa march. For raising a question that provoked some staff research, WORLD is sending Mr. Bramsen a WORLD magazine cap. Currency falls hurts some U.S. companies
Euro trash
Is the euro ready for prime time? The much-hyped unified European currency has shown as much stability as a wet noodle (WORLD, Sept. 23). Now some observers fear the falling euro is hurting the global economy. To the embarrassment of the European Central Bank and the 11 European nations that plan to make the currency their legal tender, the euro has shed nearly 27 percent of its value against the dollar since its January 1999 launch. It hit a record low of 84.38 cents on Sept. 20. (It had edged up over 88 cents by the middle of last week.) The new currency isn't in public circulation yet. Coins and bills won't show up until January 2002. Some economists believe that the weak euro, by eating into the overseas profits of U.S. businesses, is partly to blame for the sagging prices of some U.S. stocks. "It won't go on forever, but it's going to impact those businesses that produce things in dollars and sell them in euros," said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. Concerns about approaching third-quarter profit reports have driven down the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite Index in recent weeks. Microsoft wins in court, but may lose in the market
Furious battles
Bill Gates may be breathing a sigh of relief. Microsoft won a tactical victory in the Supreme Court that could stall any breakup of the company for years. The justices granted the software giant's request to send the government's antitrust case to the federal appeals court, which squashed the Justice Department's hope for a final decision by next spring. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson deemed Microsoft an abusive monopoly in June, ruling that the company used anti-competitive tactics to maintain its dominance of PC software. The judge ordered that the company be split into two smaller entities, nicknamed "Baby Bills," one for the Windows operating system and one for other products. But the computer market is changing. The issues in the government's lawsuit (such as the battle with Netscape over Web browsers) are less important today. Microsoft is fighting furious battles with competitors over software that runs corporate servers, handheld devices, and other computers that aren't traditional PCs. Plus, for most websites it doesn't matter whether users run on Windows, Mac, or something else. "It's a different Microsoft and a different industry environment," said Bill Kovacic, antitrust expert at the George Washington University School of Law. "That's a powerful argument against the remedy Judge Jackson imposed." studios promise marketing changes
A lapse in conscience?
A lapse in judgment." That's what Mel Harris, president of Sony, last week called his company's marketing of a violent movie to children. Mr. Harris, joined by other movie executives, testified at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, held in response to a federal study showing that the entertainment industry regularly targets children in marketing violent material. The moguls pledged to review such practices. Earlier in the week, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced that the industry would stop "inappropriately specifically" targeting children in advertising for R-rated movies. "I think we are starting a new era that didn't exist before," said MPAA President Jack Valenti. "We're going to take a fresh look at the way we market our films." But committee Republicans were not impressed. They accused the studio executives of using vague, evasive language. "I don't understand this language. It's filled with loopholes," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the committee. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) warned that if the industry doesn't take concrete steps, then "you're going to see some kind of legislation." Lennon's killer seeks freedom
Imagine there's no justice
John Lennon's killer wants out of prison. And last week he told Court TV that his famous victim would have wanted him out. Mark David Chapman has almost finished his minimum sentence of 20 years for gunning down Lennon in 1980, and he faces a parole hearing this month. Elliot Mintz, a spokesman for Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, said he has no idea whether Lennon would have supported Mr. Chapman's release. "John would have loved to have been here to speak for himself," he told the New York Post. A new eastern superstition hits American shores
Furniture as the Force
Don't say we don't live in a superstitious age. The feng shui superstition is a raging phenomenon, luring upscale consumers with promises that rearranging your furniture brings spiritual peace. This belief has been popular in the United States for a few years and may join martial arts, acupuncture, yoga, and other Eastern imports to be assimilated. Feng shui (pronounced "fung shway") is a Chinese philosophy that teaches that the placement of objects releases a force called chi, a magic energy that brings good tidings like heath, success, and prosperity. Think of it as if the Jedi masters in Star Wars practiced interior decorating. A small army of feng shui "consultants" charges hundreds and even thousands of dollars to dish out advice about someone's property. According to CBS News, there are over 300 such consultants in Southern California alone. But feng shui has a competitor: vastu. This watered-down derivative of Hinduism encourages people to redecorate their homes and offices, this time along the lines of a pagan temple. Veteran travel writer Kathleen Cox has taken up this cause, promoting it in her book Vastu Living: Creating a Home for the Soul (Marlowe & Co.). "Nothing exists in isolation; we are all interconnected," she proclaims at Vastuliving.com. "By celebrating our connection to nature, we celebrate our connection to the divine force that created the universe. This is the true nature of existence." Decorating requires less soul-searching than religious study. The inanimate objects obsessed about by these teachings won't hold people accountable for their actions. You may have to buy new furniture, but you won't have to change yourself at all.-Chris Stamper Company develops e-baseball cards
Virtual collecting
Topps, finishing off its 50th season selling baseball cards, is considering the strangest bit of memorabilia ever. The New York company developed the 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 card size and format people know today. For fans, these are either a cool toy or an investment opportunity. Collectors gobble them up by the pack or by the case. But next year, Topps is coming out with eTopps, a series of cards that will move around like stock certificates. Instead of selling the cards in stores, Topps will announce an IPO (Initial Player Offering, get it?) of a new card at a certain price and limited quantity. Card shops are cut out on this deal; cards are only available from the company's website. The collectors buy them and have them added to a special portfolio on eBay's site. Then the cards can be bought and sold on the open market. An owner may never see his cards as they are bought and sold. Topps only delivers them on request, but once they arrive they'll be in mint condition. "Consumers will want to 'make investments' in the cards of players they think will appreciate in value," a company spokesman told Sports Collectors Digest. Upscale retailers lose sales
The day the Macy's died?
Are department stores still necessary? Every mall has a few big anchors, but can they keep up in the era of deep discounts, e-commerce, and niche markets? This year, department store sales have fallen while sales at more specialized merchants are up. Retail Trend Report, a trade publication, reported that department stores posted a 1 percent decline in same-store sales from January through August while retailing overall was up 7 percent. Major retailers like Dillard's, May, Nordstrom, and the like find it harder and harder to compete with well-targeted, smaller stores like Banana Republic and J. Crew or mass-market discounters like Target and Wal-Mart. The mall anchors may be more upscale, but the discounter is where the action is. Americans nowadays either want specific items that match their exact needs or the best price on ordinary items. Department stores have a hard time providing either.

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