Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "President Bush?," Nov. 18, 2000

Around the world: Violence in Israel, concern in Russia
While we were voting
While WORLD writers focused on the U.S. election, we watched these overseas developments as well:

  • Violence preceded a key meeting last week between President Bill Clinton and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. Israeli forces killed a local Palestinian militia commander in the West Bank, along with two female bystanders, in a helicopter raid. While Palestinians vowed retaliation, their Arab allies called on Mr. Arafat to turn the tables by accepting Israeli proposals for peace. Pro-Palestinian analyst Raghida Dugham suggested Mr. Arafat "accept what he rejected in September," when he turned down Israeli offers of control over holy sites in Jerusalem and expanded territory in the West Bank.
  • Russian authorities ended a short exploration of the sunken sub Kursk after retrieving only 12 bodies and two notes left by stranded sailors. The notes, written by sailors as they suffocated in the submarine, told of poison gas from fires and pressure mounting in the compartment. All 118 men aboard the Kursk died after it exploded and plunged to the Barents Sea floor Aug. 12.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin chastised his deputy, Sergei Prikhodko, who, like other overseas leaders, congratulated Texas Gov. George W. Bush when it appeared he won the election in the early hours of Nov. 8. Mr. Putin and his deputies reportedly preferred a Bush presidency, in spite of Mr. Gore's recent experience dealing with Russia. By contrast, Chinese government officials reportedly favored Mr. Gore. In a mock election, Communist Party officials picked the Democrat, 762 to 396. "I think Clinton has been good to China, and I think Gore will continue that," said one pol. Nasa gets hacked
    As secure as a sieve
    A 20-year-old computer hacker who called himself "Shadow Knight" plead guilty last week to federal charges of infiltrating sensitive computer systems. Prosecutors say that Jason Allen Diekman hacked into NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and 24 computer systems at Stanford University-including two owned by NASA that contained flight control software for the agency's satellites. They said that he broke into computers at the "root level," which allowed him to alter security codes, but that he didn't disrupt NASA operations. Authorities say that over the past two years Mr. Diekman hacked into "hundreds, maybe thousands" of computers, including those at UCLA, Harvard University, and Cornell University. Judge: Industry can pay $145 billion
    Is he smoking something?
    The anti-tobacco gravy train survived another bump. Florida Circuit Judge Robert Kaye last week upheld the record $145 billion verdict that smokers in the Sunshine State won against cigarette makers. Mr. Kaye ruled that the award was reasonable and in accordance with a state law that prevents punitive damages from bankrupting a defendant. A Florida jury determined that the five largest tobacco companies had engaged in industry conspiracy, fraud, and misrepresentation. The industry promised to appeal the judge's decision. "No industry in the world could pay a $145 billion damage award," said Philip Morris vice president William Ohlemeyer. Martin Feldman, a tobacco stock analyst with Salomon Smith Barney, agreed: "A brief perusal of the companies' balance sheets and accounts would indicate that they simply cannot pay $145 billion in a single payment." FDA warns against ingredient in popular drugs
    Cold comfort
    Drug stores last week pulled Dexatrim, Tavist-D, and dozens of other over-the-counter medicines from their shelves after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned that an ingredient in them could cause strokes, especially in young women. The ingredient targeted by the FDA: phenylpropanolamine, or PPA. Dr. Charles Ganley, the FDA's nonprescription drugs chief, said people should check the ingredients of both brand names and generic or store brands and choose decongestant pills with the safe alternative pseudoephedrine or use nasal sprays. Rite Aid, CVS Pharmacy, and Walgreens all said they would start warning customers about PPA. PPA also is the only nonprescription appetite suppressant sold-in such diet pills as Dexatrim and Acutrim-so the FDA said dieters should call their doctors about prescription-only alternative drugs. Some products contain PPA in a specific version but not in others. For example, only one of the six versions of Contac contains PPA. Some stores sell two versions of Robitussin-CF, one with PPA and one without. Also, some versions of Triaminic, Tavist-D, and Alka-Seltzer Plus contain PPA, as do numerous generic and store brands. Is PPA dangerous? The FDA claims that it has enough evidence to merit banning the drug, but some dispute that conclusion. Regulators cited a Yale University study that linked the drug to rare cases of bleeding strokes in adults under age 50. FDA officials estimate that PPA might cause between 200 and 500 hemorrhagic strokes per year in patients age 18 to 49. U.S. consumers bought about 6 billion doses of PPA last year. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents makers of nonprescription drugs, claims the Yale findings are inconclusive and is funding its own research. Abortionist may be evicted
    Take your business elsewhere, doc
    One of the country's most notorious partial-birth abortionists may soon be evicted from the building in which he practices. Nebraska state Senator Paul Hartnett and two other pro-life advocates bought the Bellevue, Neb., building that houses Dr. LeRoy Carhart's abortion clinic and have moved to evict the clinic. Dr. Carhart, one of only three known abortionists in Nebraska, had earlier challenged in court the state's partial-birth abortion ban and won in the U.S. Supreme Court (WORLD, "Supreme arrogance," July 8). Now he is in court arguing that his lease gives him the right of first refusal to buy the building. Dr. Carhart, who performs more than 1,200 abortions a year, has won eight awards in the last month, including two from Planned Parenthood. The group also has offered to lend him money to buy the building that he currently leases. But Jerry Ryan, mayor of Bellevue, which is about 10 miles south of Omaha, told The New York Times that "It would be one of my greatest accomplishments if he left. I hope that no one would give him another facility in Bellevue." A pro-life group has sent letters to 13 mayors in the Omaha area, asking them to oppose Dr. Carhart if he tries to move to their cities. Last month, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which receives fetal tissue from Dr. Carhart's clinic, announced that it would drop Dr. Carhart as a volunteer faculty member. Authors want homework abolished
    Can parents be bothered?
    Is homework bad for children? Two liberal education researchers say so. Etta Kralovec and John Buell argue that it puts an unnecessary burden on young people. Their book The End of Homework (Beacon) calls for "homework reform," claiming that schoolwork outside the classroom induces family conflicts, reduces kids' leisure time, and creates hardships for poor families that have trouble providing a clean, well-lit place to study. "Homework takes time, space, study aids, and very particular academic skills, resources that are by no means equally distributed across American communities," they write. In a society filled with single parents, they argue, adults no longer have time to help kids study. Ms. Kralovec and Mr. Buell note that progressive education types fought homework for years. California banned the practice in 1901, and doctors made sensational statements warning of homework's health risks. At one point in the 1930s, there was even a Society for the Abolition of Homework. The anti-homework movement died in the 1960s when the space race prompted schools to press for more math, science, and evening studies. In today's era of low expectations, Ms. Kralovec and Mr. Buell want the movement revived and "the imposition on our family lives" rolled back. They assume parents are unable or unwilling to help their kids study-or even clear off the kitchen table. Education belongs to the experts, they suggest. Mom and Dad need not worry themselves. -Chris Stamper Companies try to acquire power drink
    Thirsting for Gatorade
    One of the hottest drinks around right now is ... Gatorade. Companies in the food and beverage industry-most notably Pepsi-are trying to acquire Quaker Oats, the maker of Gatorade, mainly because of the drink's super-strong sales growth over the last decade. Earlier this month, Quaker Oats turned down a $13.7 billion buyout bid from Pepsi, even though the bid was over 25 percent above its stock price. Some analysts predicted that Coca-Cola would make a bid for the company. Normal soft drinks aren't as popular as they used to be and coffee, juice, water, and other noncarbonated fluids are becoming more profitable. Gatorade is doing especially well because it doesn't have a tooth-and-nail competitor like Coke has Pepsi and Sprite has 7-Up. "The biggest enemy is tap water," Quaker Oats CEO Robert S. Morrison said. Gatorade's sales have skyrocketed from $97 million in 1993 (when Quaker bought the rights to the drink) to $1.83 billion last year. The funny-looking drink was originally concocted as a secret weapon for college football players. Doctors at the University of Florida tried it on the school's team, the Gators. Intended to fight dehydration, it gave the Gators a reputation for coming on strong in the second half. This apparent performance boost made it a sensation. Some of the players didn't like the taste, but these days Gatorade is looking delicious to companies thirsty for profits. Overweight former soldiers can sue the Pentagon
    Pay us anyway
    Taxpayers may soon have to pay thousands of would-be soldiers and sailors for not serving in the armed forces. A federal judge ruled that overweight former soldiers and sailors can sue the Pentagon for taking away their enlistment bonuses when it kicked them out of the military for being out of shape. A plaintiff's attorney says as many as 10,000 people could join a class action suit against the armed forces. Michael Feldman, who represents 15 plaintiffs currently named in the lawsuit, says the government's action was illegal because his clients were not dismissed for misconduct; all left the military with honorable discharges. The disputed bonuses range from $1,000 to $35,000, according to Mr. Feldman. The Justice Department has declined to discuss the case. The lawsuit does not challenge the dismissals themselves, just the practice of taking away bonuses of those who fail to meet military standards.

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