Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "A legal coup?," Nov. 25, 2000

Election dispute increases American security risks
While Rome burns
The crippled USS Cole limped into port after a three-week voyage from Yemen aboard a Norwegian dry dock vessel. The Cole, stomach-punched by a bomb attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors, will be repaired at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. Repairs to the $1 billion destroyer will take one year at an expected cost of $150 million. Over a month after the terrorist attack, U.S. military in the Persian Gulf remain on high alert. Defense Secretary William Cohen was forced to delay a trip to the Middle East because of the security risks. Those risks increased with prolonged uncertainty about U.S. presidential elections. Preoccupation with the electoral process makes for a ripe time to compromise U.S. interests in the Gulf and Israel, signaled some Arab observers. Foreign-policy experts say closure on the vote won't quickly restore confidence overseas. "The place where the president has tremendous authority is foreign policy," writes George Friedman, chairman of Stratfor, Inc. "At a time when other great powers are rising to challenge the United States, one can be certain this strange outcome will come under careful study in foreign capitals." At a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Qatar, Muslim leaders approved a resolution to "maintain the Arab and Muslim character of Jerusalem and prevent it from being wiped out." The resolution won approval after Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat pled for financial aid. He told summit leaders that seven weeks of Palestinian-led intifada had caused material losses of $900 million. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, key U.S. allies in the region, announced pledges of $400 million to the Palestinians but resisted channeling the funds through Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Man knows not his time
Loss of a leader
Guy Condon, president of CareNet, a nationwide umbrella group for 600 crisis pregnancy centers, died on Nov. 11, when a car broadsided him on a highway not far from his northern Virginia home. He was returning from a speaking engagement at a fundraiser for the Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center in Washington, D.C. Mr. Condon was 46 and had been active in the pro-life movement for nearly two decades, serving as president of Americans United for Life from 1988 to 1993, when he moved to CareNet. A graduate of Gordon College and Wheaton Graduate School, he met his wife Linda on a mission trip to Belgium, where he played guitar at tent meetings and talked with teens about Christ. At meetings of pro-life leaders a decade ago, he pushed for the "all or something" policy-support a Constitutional amendment, but in the meantime concentrate on saving as many unborn children as possible-that is now dominant in pro-life thinking. He also emphasized the need, concerning both unborn child and sad, unmarried mom, to "love them both." Mr. Condon's four daughters range in age from 12 to 19. ABC radio fires Matt Drudge
Bad mouseketeer
ABC Radio last week decided to drop conservative Internet columnist Matt Drudge's syndicated talk show. The network claimed the show wasn't profitable enough, while Mr. Drudge said he was being punished for being "a bad Mouseketeer." He said ABC News officials are unhappy with his show because he has been critical of network analyst George Stephanopoulos and reported on political stories that the network was reluctant to run. Philippine president faces impeachment
Slick Joey
With a government styled after the United States and a presidency styled after Bill Clinton, it is no surprise that Joseph Estrada stands on the brink of impeachment. Philippine lawmakers followed through on Nov. 13, bringing impeachment charges against President Estrada, the first impeachment in the country's history. Congress charged Mr. Estrada with taking more than $10 million in payoffs from illegal gambling, with favoritism in awarding government contracts, and with violating the constitution-which bars outside business interests while in office-in family-controlled real-estate dealings. Mr. Estrada won a landslide election in 1998, even though the former actor had never held public office. He is widely regarded as a womanizer and heavy drinker, and has been stalked by corruption charges nearly since taking office. In October Vice President Gloria Arroyo resigned, citing a loss of confidence in Mr. Estrada. She joined former Philippine presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos in calling for his resignation. Austria mourns lost skiers
Disaster in the Alps
The deaths "leave us speechless," Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told a church gathering at the foot of the cable car tracks leading to an Alpine tunnel where 159 would-be skiers perished after the train caught fire. "Consolation can come only from our faith and our church," he said, as Austrians tried to come to grips with their worst peacetime disaster. The blaze, which may have begun after a flammable lubricant leaked onto the track, turned a weekend outing into an inferno inside a 10,000-foot mountain. Eight Americans, all servicemen stationed in Germany or family members, were killed, along with European skiers and a group of Japanese schoolchildren. Dow, Nasdaq fall during election dispute
Uncertainty doesn't sell
Investors famously dislike uncertainty: With the identity of the next president in doubt, all of the major stock indexes fell sharply. Throw in bad earnings reports and slipping consumer confidence, and the technology-oriented Nasdaq composite index tumbled 12.2 percent for the week ending Nov. 10, its third worst weekly drop ever. The Dow Jones industrial average slumped 2 percent over the same week, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index shed 4.25 percent of its value. The slide continued into the next week, with the Nasdaq closing below 3,000 for the first time this year on Monday, Nov. 13. The markets began to rebound slightly the next day, with news that a Florida judge had affirmed a 5:00 p.m. deadline that day for certification of election results. "This is a consumer who is already thinking things are not as good as they once were," said Charles White, portfolio manager at Avatar Associates. "You lump on top of that the political uncertainty and you just have a consumer who is already shaky and getting shakier in an economy that really depends on the consumer." Woods takes on the PGA, SAG takes on woods
Tiger's tale
Golfer Tiger Woods took a swing at the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, and even hinted he may leave the tour over a power struggle with PGA commissioner Tim Finchem. The 24-year-old superstar wants the PGA to stop companies affiliated with the tour from running commercials with his image. Mercedes, for instance, runs weekly congratulatory advertisements to show who qualified for the Mercedes Championship tournament. This amounts to an "implied endorsement," argues Mr. Woods, and conflicts with his $30 million deal to endorse Buick. "Do you think it's fair that they can use his name like that because they're affiliated with the tour?" asked Mark Steinberg, Mr. Woods's agent. "It's about rights," he added. "It's not about money." When asked at the American Express Championship on Nov. 8 whether he would ever leave the tour over the controversy, Mr. Woods shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Other golfers have complained about the practice, but none have Mr. Woods's star power. "What Tiger has tried to do, a lot of guys have tried to do," said golfer Nick Price. "Let's see what happens." Meanwhile, Mr. Woods has also found himself at odds with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Many SAG activists want the union to expel the golfer for shooting a nonunion Buick commercial in Canada during SAG's strike this year against advertisers. Instead, SAG fined Mr. Woods $100,000, suspending $50,000 of the fine unless he makes a commercial during any future strike. Mr. Woods defended his actions. "I have relationships to uphold with my sponsors who have supported me over the years," he said. "This is in no way a stance against the union." Reading, writing, and RU-486?
Pragmatic victory
So much for RU-486 as the easy-to-use, do-it-yourself abortion in a bottle. Reports in The Pro-Life Infonet and the University Wire detail how college campus medical clinics are declining to offer the abortion pill because they lack the facilities and medical staff to provide all the care necessary to support RU-486 use. Universities in larger cities are shying away from RU-486 because their student clinics can't offer the drug and care regimen any cheaper than local abortion businesses. When the FDA approved the abortion pill for use in the United States, the agency issued regulations requiring that before abortionists prescribe RU-486, also known as mifepristone, they must first determine that the pregnancy is earlier than 49 days and is complication-free. In addition, abortionists must be able to give medical attention to the mother 24/7 in case the drug fails to fully expel a dead child or causes hemorrhaging. That's way too much responsibility for most on-campus medical clinics. At Louisiana State University, for example, the Student Health Center lacks ultrasound equipment needed to pinpoint the stage of pregnancy. That's not all. "Some women will have excessive bleeding that will require surgery to correct," health center Chief of Staff Timothy Honigman told the University Wire. "We are not a surgical facility." At Big Ten schools, the decision-making surrounding mifepristone involves the presence of commercial abortion facilities in the urban areas such schools generally call home. "Most Big Ten schools are in big cities and so universities won't be able to provide a lower cost or significant advantage to students by distributing mifepristone," said Scott Spear, clinical director at University Health Services, University of Wisconsin at Madison. Still, while most other Big Ten schools have declined to offer RU-486, Wisconsin is still considering it. Mr. Spear said the school would probably dispense the abortion pill if enough students want it. -Lynn Vincent Congress delays abortion aid
Welfare for abortion advocates
Even unborn babies in other countries may be affected by the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Congress last month approved a $14.9 billion foreign aid bill that lifted a ban on U.S. aid to groups that, under the "family planning" rubric, perform or promote abortions in foreign countries. The bill includes $425 million for funding family planning, but pro-life lawmakers included a delay in funding until Feb. 15. They hope that a new presidential administration will issue a new order to stop funding for pro-abortion groups. In 1984, using an executive order known as the Mexico City Policy, President Ronald Reagan eliminated federal aid for such groups. Mr. Reagan's successor, President George H.W. Bush, continued the policy, but Bill Clinton revoked the pro-life executive order upon taking office in 1993. New theme park dedicated to breakfast-cereal mascots
Cereal-box heroes?
Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids! Breakfast-cereal mascots are leaving the TV screen and entering a theme park, making the line between marketing and entertainment a little blurrier. Cereal Adventure opens in June at Minnesota's Mall of America. The 16,000-square-foot shrine to General Mills' cast of characters will feature the Trix rabbit, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and the Cocoa Puffs. Kids will be able to play in the Cheerios Play Park and the Lucky Charms Magical Forest, and to see the Wheaties Hall of Champions-and parents will be able to buy branded merchandise. Critics say that the downside of this is that marketing schemes take the place of classic heroes and stories in kids' minds. And critics have long claimed that kids can't tell the difference between commercials for cereal and the cartoon shows wrapped around them. That's why TV stations run "We'll be back after these messages" disclaimers before the ads on kids' shows. Yet many who know the difference don't care and like the mascots anyway. The owners of today's iconic brands often have tourist destinations dedicated to them. M&Ms, Cocoa Puffs, and Lego all have their own attractions, built to bring in tourists and inspire customer loyalty. Author chronicles hedge fund's fall
Geniuses' poker
John Meriwether was a "Master of The Universe" who nearly caused a Wall Street debacle. His 1980s shenanigans helped inspire two bestsellers: Bonfire of the Vanities and Liar's Poker. In the 1990s he founded the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. That operation tanked in 1998, leaving the Federal Reserve to bail it out to avert economic shockwaves. Roger Lowenstein explains it all in his book When Genius Failed (Random House). Mr. Meriwether wanted to combine his trading prowess with some of the greatest intellects on the planet. By jumping in on small market inefficiencies, he thought he could reap enormous profits for himself and his investors. LTCM was only for the wealthy and therefore faced less regulatory scrutiny. Mr. Meriwether collected a cabal of geniuses-including two Nobel Prize winners-to help fuel his speculation. LTCM was so sure of itself that it borrowed over $1 trillion from numerous investment banks. This ship was "unsinkable" and Mr. Meriwether's eggheads had the probability charts to prove it. "Long-Term's secretive, close-knit mathematicians had treated everyone else on Wall Street with utter disdain," Mr. Lowenstein writes. Then these financial jugglers started dropping their balls. The fund was left begging billionaires like Warren Buffett and George Soros for cash to keep going. Ultimately the Fed decided to get involved. Mr. Lowenstein tells this fascinating story in detail, showing how greed, fear, and arrogance can cause nasty downfalls. Could another giant emerge, promising to turn millionaires into billionaires? What happens if it fails? -Chris Stamper America's new richest company faces a big challenge
Move over, Microsoft
In the aftermath of this year's high-tech stock shakedown, General Electric (GE) is left standing as America's most valuable company. The behemoth, which dates back to a company Thomas Edison helped start in 1878, is a powerhouse with a big challenge ahead: Superstar CEO John F. Welch Jr. is preparing to retire. Mr. Welch, who turns 65 next month, plans to leave the company at the end of 2001. He oversaw radical changes in the corporate giant, shaking up GE's management structure, buying NBC, and selling major divisions including housewares, air conditioning, and semiconductors. Now GE's stock is worth about $540 billion and profits have skyrocketed from $1.6 billion to $10.7 billion during the boss's 20-year tenure. Mr. Welch's last big play may be GE's upcoming purchase of Honeywell International. The company is almost as old as GE and is known to millions by its uniquely designed round thermostat that dates back to the 1950s. Today's Honeywell makes equipment for aerospace systems, power generation, transportation, and factory automation, as well as specialty chemicals, plastics, fibers, and other industrial materials.

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