Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Power struggle," May 26, 2001

Holding the line
The floor of the House of Representatives is usually a pretty empty place, but legislators piled in and debate time was extended on May 16 for the latest flash point on abortion. After the smoke cleared, pro-lifers had prevailed, 218-210. All the action centered around one of President Bush's Day One decisions. The newly minted president by executive order reinstituted the so-called Mexico City policy, which denies federal aid to international groups that perform or promote abortions. But Democrats and moderate Republicans on the House International Relations Committee forced last week's floor action by amending a spending bill to overturn the Bush order. Democrats and abortion enthusiasts called the Mexico City policy-implemented by Ronald Reagan in 1984 and kept in place by George H.W. Bush-a "global gag rule." Republican International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde insisted, "Nobody is being gagged. If you want to talk about abortions, talk away. But not on our dime." Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee noted that after President Clinton repealed the policy, the government shoveled big bucks to groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, whose 2000 strategic plan calls for their affiliates to "increase the right of access to safe, legal abortion" and "bring pressure on governments to remove barriers to access." The close tally may have sounded like a party-line vote, but 32 Democrats crossed over to the pro-life side, and 33 Republicans (including five of the 12 GOP members from New York) voted with the abortion advocates. The White House lobbied hard in the House to retain the pro-life policy, and spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president could support the overall State Department spending bill now that the pro-abortion amendment was removed. PULLED OVER FOR PRAYER?
Ashcroft rapped for staff prayers
Anonymous career lawyers at the Department of Justice complained to The Washington Post that Attorney General John Ashcroft was committing a daily offense: hosting a prayer group. "It strikes me and a lot of others as offensive, disrespectful, and unconstitutional," said one. "He's using public spaces to have a personally meaningful event to which I would not be welcome, or would not feel welcome," said another. Ashcroft spokeswoman Mindy Tucker explained that no one is pressured but everyone is welcome to attend the daily half-hour devotional sessions, which begin at 8 a.m. Mr. Ashcroft's top two aides have not attended and reported they felt no pressure to attend. Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union and Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State were quick to protest. Mr. Lynn claimed the attorney general is "running the department like a church, complete with rituals and forbidden words." The Post reported Mr. Ashcroft's style guide for correspondence bans the phrase "no higher calling than public service." CONSERVATIVE BECOMES ITALY'S P.M.
Play it again, Silvio
Italy's richest man became its prime minister, turning parties of the left out of government with a convincing majority for the first time in five years. Silvio Berlusconi, who owns a media empire, a leading soccer team, and a 70-room home, will lead a center-right government promising to cut taxes, reduce unemployment, and curb violence. He also promises to rattle the European Union status quo, challenging a German proposal to create a new European parliament. Mr. Berlusconi campaigned on a pledge to push "for a more convinced defense of life," and Catholic bishops quickly asked him to repeal the country's abortion laws. But Mr. Berlusconi's center-right government will first have to live down its past: The 65-year-old head of state was elected in 1994 and turned out of office seven months later on a no-confidence vote. WORLD IN BRIEF
KEEPING WHAT PEACE? Despite assurances of protection from NATO's security force in Kosovo, ethnic Albanians have vandalized and either damaged or destroyed over 100 Orthodox churches, monasteries, monuments, and graveyards in the last 18 months. Church leaders complained to the peacekeeping force, known as KFOR, after the most recent attack by Albanians, who are mostly Muslim, on a Serbian Orthodox church in Susica. They stoned, broke into, and burglarized the church on May 6, according to Keston News Service. "KFOR joins the church in its condemnation of the past destruction of patrimonial sites," KFOR spokesman Roy Brown told Keston. He said the NATO force guards 146 Orthodox sites; most are in the multinational security zone controlled by U.S. troops. Some have round-the-clock patrols, others are watched "on a less frequent basis." Local churchgoers say the only security force they have seen in Susica, a village under Swedish KFOR control, consists of a few soldiers driving through town once or twice a day. MAST CONFUSION: During one of the heaviest weeks of recent fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, the embassy in Tel Aviv was nearly drawn into the fray. Local journalists swamped the embassy with phone calls after one reporter noticed that the U.S. flag was flying at half-mast. Reporters figured the sign of mourning could be in sympathy to the May 15 commemoration of al-Nakba, when Palestinians mourn Israel's creation. But in the United States it was Peace Officers Memorial Day, and President George W. Bush had ordered government flags around the world to be flown at half-mast in honor of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. TAKING LIBERTIES: The Kremlin is threatening to cool Russia-U.S. relations if Radio Liberty follows through on a plan to add a Chechen language program to its daily broadcast. Lawmakers in Washington funded that initiative as part of a plan to expand the radio station's programming in the Caucasus. Russian authorities, who have waged a brutal campaign against separatist guerrillas in Chechnya, have taken a hard line toward the station, which was allowed to open offices in Moscow under President Boris Yeltsin. If Vladimir Putin, the current president, decides to close the station or block its programming, U.S. lawmakers are ready to retaliate. Already, plans are in the works in the U.S. Senate for hearings on Russian atrocities in Chechnya. Last week Human Rights Watch issued a detailed report on mass graves uncovered near Russian military bases. Locals say many of the victims were last seen as they were taken into custody by Russia's federal forces. BUSH NOMINEE FACES DEMOCRAT DELAYING TACTICS
D.C. waiting game
Ted Olson just keeps waiting to be confirmed as solicitor general, the government's legal advocate before the Supreme Court. First, his nomination was held up when Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats walked out over judicial nominations. Then the committee's ranking member, Patrick Leahy, started insisting that Mr. Olson may have misled the committee about his role in the "Arkansas Project," an investigative-reporting effort by The American Spectator magazine to look into Bill Clinton's past. Mr. Olson was a member of the magazine's board of directors and did legal work for the Spectator, but insisted he had no knowledge of the journalistic work. Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch insists that the public record, including an exhaustive audit of the Spectator by an independent counsel that cleared the magazine of any legal wrongdoing, shows no evidence of Olson lies: "There is a growing public perception that the delay and partisan rancor ... is an effort to seek retribution for the results of the Supreme Court's decision in Bush vs. Gore, which Mr. Olson skillfully and successfully argued" for the Bush campaign. Sen. Leahy's staff put out a six-page document laying out potential misstatements in Mr. Olson's Spectator testimony. Republicans noted that the committee's Democrats, who voted in lockstep not to impeach President Clinton for perjury and tolerated secret Clinton administration foreign policies, suddenly became interested in charges of lying to Congress. CENSUS DATA: LIVING IN SIN OUTPACES MARRIAGES
The co-habit habit
The number of unmarried couples living together skyrocketed in the 1990s, according to census data. Such arrangements rose 71 percent between 1990 and 2000, while the number of married-couple households rose only 7 percent. The number of moms living without a husband rose 25 percent. More details, such as the number of homosexual couples, are expected later this year. Those figures could mean more pressure on government and business to provide special privileges for "nontraditional" households-such as expanded employee benefits for domestic partners and official recognition for same-sex couples. The data also show that Americans, collectively, are growing older. The median age of 35.3 is the highest ever. The number of those age 85 and older grew 38 percent. MOM WHO WOULD'VE ABORTED DOWN SYNDROME CHILD NOW COUNTS HIM A BLESSING
Change of heart
In 1997, Joyce Shull gave birth to Elliott, a Down syndrome baby she said she would have aborted had she known of his medical condition (See WORLD, "Lifewatch," Nov. 8, 1997). Six weeks later, Mrs. Shull and her husband sued a doctor, a nurse practitioner, and a medical practice, saying they had misdiagnosed the pregnancy as normal, and were therefore responsible for the financial burden resulting from Elliott's "wrongful birth." In court, the defense attorney for the medical team asked: "Is [Elliott] a burden or is he a blessing? I think the evidence will show the latter." As it turns out, the attorney was right. In a letter to WORLD last month, Mrs. Shull revealed a mother's changed heart: "My son is now 7 years old and I love him very much. At some point I realized that mistakes can and do result in terrible circumstances at times, and at the other end of the spectrum, mistakes can also yield wonderful results." Mrs. Shull told WORLD that she and her husband were "in shock" when, a few hours after Elliott was born, doctors told them their son had Down syndrome. The news sent them plummeting into a cold reality following a pregnancy that had been an emotional rollercoaster. Mrs. Shull explains medical staffers first told the couple that tests showed their unborn child might suffer from Down syndrome. Then the couple was told that a doctor and a nurse had misread the test: Their baby did not have Down syndrome. Later in the pregnancy, another doctor "confirmed" this with a sonogram. After Elliott was born, the Shulls learned that sonograms are not effective in diagnosing that particular abnormality. Before his birth, though, the results of the procedure reassured them, and the Shulls went into the delivery room expecting to welcome a normal child. But hours after Mrs. Shull delivered, doctors told the couple Elliott did suffer from Down syndrome after all. "We were devastated and we were overwhelmed at what his care might mean to us financially," Mrs. Shull wrote. So the Shulls went to court, sought $5 million to help defray the cost of Elliott's medical bills, and lost the case. Meanwhile, they struggled through difficult hospital stays as Elliott struggled through serious setbacks brought on by his medical condition. In time, though, the baby bounced back, then grew into a little boy. Now, seven years later, Mrs. Shull's change of heart is complete. "Elliot is supposed to be here," she wrote. "God knew at that time in my life that I certainly would have aborted, so people were blinded to the test results before them to ensure that Elliott would live. I count Elliott a blessing in my life." -by Lynn Vincent Third volume of popular book on dating and marriage hits bookstores as co-author gets divorced
Rules of engagement?
Ellen Fein made herself a relationship guru selling millions of books detailing The Rules. Yet her own marriage is ending after 15 years. With co-author Sherrie Schneider, she proposed simple solutions for catching and keeping Mr. Right with two volumes that started a late 1990s fad. The Rules III: Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work hit bookstores just as Ms. Fein's divorce from pharmacist Paul Feingertz was announced. The pair teach that a successful "Rules girl" traps her man through controlled aloofness. By acting like she doesn't care about her target, she can play on his thrill for a challenge. Feigned inattention can supposedly drive a man to accept a committed relationship and, ultimately, marriage. This sort of advice mixes the you-go-girl style from women's magazines with the heavy-handedness of a sales manual. What The Rules lacked was a sense of reality, that marriage is a serious goal that must be approached with openness and honesty. While most counselors-even the wimpy, mushy ones-say communication is key, Ms. Fein and Ms. Schneider treat love as a kind of psychological warfare. Ms. Fein still stands by her teachings, in spite of her divorce. "I don't think it ruins my credibility at all," she told ABC News. Ms. Schneider told the network that "we have a gift for helping women with dating and marriage, and that is going to continue regardless of what happens in our personal lives." Warner Books is apparently bracing for lackluster sales. The publisher inserted a paragraph discussing the Fein divorce into the new book. While the first Rules book put over 2 million copies in print, the press run of Rules III is only 75,000 copies. -Chris Stamper BBC focuses on Internet, FM radio
Shortwave goodbye
For decades, shortwave radio has been the world's medium of last resort, but satellites, the Internet, and other technologies are making it obsolete. Now the most influential station on the dial, the BBC World Service, is scaling back. The BBC announced plans to stop broadcasting its shortwave transmissions to Australia and North America on July 1; it will continue to provide news on the Internet and through simulcasts on FM radio. In the United States, public radio stations also often run World Service programs late at night as filler material. Shortwave broadcasts will continue to the rest of the world in 43 languages. BBC shortwave broadcasts began in 1932 as the Empire Service. Programming focuses on world news, along with radio dramas and documentaries. BBC World Service claims an audience of 151 million worldwide and says it is editorially independent of the British Government, which pays its bills. As new cookie hits stores, Philip Morris spins off its owner
New Oreo, new IPO
Don't like Oreos? Nabisco is rolling out a new breed of these classic cookies with a cocoa-flavored filling. "Chocolate crème," the first new variety in a decade, contains 50 percent more "stuff" and 50 percent more fat than the regular Oreo cookie. It joins mini, reduced fat, double stuff, and chocolate-covered Oreos. The old National Biscuit Company introduced Oreo in 1912, though the origin of the name is lost to history. On the other hand, successor Nabisco's recent history is a story that lights up the business pages. The new Oreo rollout comes as its parent's ownership goes through yet another change. Nabisco Brands merged with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco in 1985 to form RJR Nabisco. Four years later-during junk bond mania-came the historic buyout by the takeover artists at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, made famous by the bestseller Barbarians at the Gate. Throughout the 1990s, constant behind-the-scenes battles left RJR Nabisco's future uncertain amid attempted takeovers and tobacco lawsuits. In 1999, RJR and Nabisco split, and then last year Philip Morris's Kraft unit gobbled up Nabisco, making Kraft America's biggest food company. Now, to pay down debt, Philip Morris plans to spin off Kraft in perhaps the biggest public offering on the stock market since the dot-com collapse. The IPO is expected by early July, just as the new Oreos hit stores nationwide. BUSH'S JUDICIAL NOMINEES
Confirmation confrontation
Democrats in Congress know what's at stake; is the president ready to fight?

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