Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Hail to the Fox," Sept. 15, 2001

FROM "WHETHER" TO "HOW MANY": HHS SECRETARY GRILLED ON CAPITOL HILL OVER STEM-CELL RESEARCH
Lined-up researchers
The Bush administration last week tried to gain some traction on the stem-cell slippery slope. Ever since President Bush announced that he would allow federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells-but only with the 60 lines of cells created from already-destroyed embryos-liberal critics have called the compromise too limited to be useful. Liberal senators focused on that complaint in the first Senate hearing since Mr. Bush's nationally televised announcement, grilling Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Mr. Thompson announced that his department had reached a deal with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which holds the patents on the method of isolating stem cells. The foundation waived any rights to discoveries made with the stem cells by government-funded or private-sector researchers. Under tough questioning, Mr. Thompson allowed that only "24 or 25" of the lines identified by the National Institutes of Health were fully developed, with the others in varying stages of development, and said he could not guarantee that those others would become completely useful to researchers. Opponents of embryo-destroying research had warned that Mr. Bush's compromise would move the debate in this direction. "As predicted, the debate quickly shifted from whether to allow research that involves the killing of embryonic human beings to how many and how much," said Family Research Council's Ken Connor. UN CONFERENCE SPLITS USUAL ALLIES
Racism Ruckus
The United States and Israel walked out of the UN World Conference on Racism last week after it became plain that the only country to be singled out for racism would be Israel. The two countries took drastic measures in protest over a conference declaration that would condemn Israel for the "racist practice of Zionism" and describe efforts to maintain a Jewish state as "based on racial superiority." Both countries had warned that they would vacate if a final declaration pointed fingers at Israel alone. But their move halfway through the one-week conference in Durban, South Africa, threw delegates and the proceedings into chaos. Protests outside were largely directed at the United States and featured everyone from American labor activists to Brazilian indigenous-rights groups. The normally buttoned-down proceedings inside the meeting hall turned sour too. By the final day of the conference, scheduled for Sept. 7, it appeared that the determination of Palestinian-rights groups and the Arab League to push forward with the Zionism language was splitting cozy UN coalitions: Holocaust survivors abandoned their European colleagues. France split with the Arab League. Desmond Tutu and his World Council of Churches delegation could not make headlines with calls for slave reparations. Even Fidel Castro had a hard time winning photo ops. "PRO-CHOICE" ATTACK ON PREGNANCY CENTERS
Shut 'em up, Shut 'em down
As students return to class, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) hopes that some will enroll in a crusade against pro-life pregnancy centers. In "Unmasking Fake Clinics" NARAL lays out a step-by-step strategy to damage the reputation of the thousands of crisis pregnancy centers that provide free counseling to women facing unplanned pregnancies. NARAL's offensive is the first major organized campaign against CPCs since a similar effort in the mid-1980s. Both campaigns charged that CPCs used deceptive practices to "lure" women into their centers. The first campaign was largely successful. Pro-abortion activists generated newspaper articles criticizing the pro-life centers. Under pressure, Yellow Page companies throughout the country dropped their Abortion listing, which combined abortion clinics and CPCs under the same heading, and segregated them. Congressional Democrats even held hearings. But the CPC movement did not die out. According to NARAL, the movement actually grew in numbers and credibility over the past 10 years. That's the reason for the new campaign. In the "Choice Action Kit" NARAL urges local activists to use these talking points: "CPCs are hazardous to women's health"; "CPCs misinform, mislead, and coerce women"; "Only legitimate reproductive health clinics provide women with the information they need to make a truly informed choice." At the heart of the guide are recommendations for local investigations into CPCs. The guide urges volunteers to pretend to be pregnant and go undercover into centers. Since that could be illegal in some states, the guide also urges local organizations to have volunteers sign a liability waiver "for any injuries, damages, claims, and losses I may incur as a result of my volunteer activities." The guide gives practical pointers on how "fake" clients can lie convincingly: "You do not have to respond directly. It is okay to repeat your fears over and over again.... Keep an eye on the clock and time your tape recorder. If possible, don't let the recorder turn off while CPC staff are in the room. It makes a distinctive noise." Once investigations are complete, the guide suggests that volunteers pressure school boards to bar abstinence educators from classrooms; recruit journalists to publicize charges of deception; find sympathetic attorneys general or staff lawyers willing to take action against CPCs; pressure doctors and healthcare plans to drop CPCs from their referral networks; and organize activists to write letters to the editor. -Susan Olasky INTERNET HOAX: JOURNALISTS FOOLED BY 'RAPTURE' SATIRE
Not so Independent
Ever hear the one about the woman who jumped to her death because she thought a man going to a toga party was Jesus ushering in the Rapture? Thousands of British readers have, because the London-based Independent on Sunday on Aug. 19 reported the Internet urban legend as fact. According to the newspaper and several Internet sites, a woman jumped out of the sunroof of her moving car when she thought she saw Jesus and his disciples ascending into heaven in Arkansas City, Ark. Someone named Ernie Jenkins, who was dressed as Jesus, had stopped on the side of the road when the tarp covering the bed of his pickup truck came loose, releasing 12 helium-filled dolls. Problem is, the story doesn't check out. Arkansas City's sheriff fielded 30 calls over the past two weeks from reporters asking about the story. Chief Deputy Edgar Stain, who patrols the tiny town, said: "Sounds to me like somebody doesn't have a whole lot to do but start some false Internet rumors." That somebody is a computer programmer who writes under the pen name Elroy Willis for the "Evil Atheist Press" on his satire website, Religion in the News. He says he pokes fun at what he calls "the ridiculous things that religion can cause people to do." Mr. Willis was surprised at the Independent's bungle but "got a kick out of it." A chagrined David Randall, who wrote the Independent story, told WORLD via e-mail: "If the story was a hoax, then I've been had. No complaints, no excuses." DANFORTH NAMED WHITE HOUSE SUDAN ENVOY; ACTIVISTS WORK TO KEEP CONGRESSIONAL PRESSURE ON KHARTOUM
Consensus slipping?
President George W. Bush announced new initiatives toward ending the war in Sudan in a Rose Garden ceremony long sought by Christian activists and human-rights groups. On Sept. 6 he announced the appointment of former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth as special envoy to Sudan. But many of those long-time activists were not in attendance. They had already scheduled a planning session to maneuver around White House opposition to the Sudan Peace Act. The bill, slated for approval in conference committee, could block foreign oil companies with holdings in Sudan from raising money via U.S. stock exchanges. The White House has sided with Wall Street in opposing that proviso. While pleased with the appointment of Mr. Danforth, coalition members confess privately that they believe enacting capital market sanctions could be the bigger stride toward ending the war. And they sense a softening of U.S. resolve to press sanctions. The UN Security Council, with State Department approval, has scheduled a meeting later this month to discuss lifting its sanctions against Sudan. Chains fear a slow Christmas season
Holiday blues
The thought may count for more than usual this Christmas. Some retail analysts are starting to predict this year will be the weakest holiday season in a decade. Retailers are busy trying to bolster their businesses in a sagging economy as pressure for lower prices continues. Target, for example, has had strong sales so far this year, but company executives revealed that its customers were moving toward cheaper merchandise. "You go to buy the $3 wastebasket instead of the $8 wastebasket" remarked Steve Paspal, an analyst with Sovereign Asset Management. The stress over low prices has even been pressed into a court battle. Target is suing Kmart over its "Dare to Compare" signs that posted competitors' higher prices in store aisles. It claims Kmart often cited outdated or inaccurate prices. Kmart calls the suit frivolous but suspended the campaign. Sears, which has been hit hard in recent months, is inching away from the discounting niche. It announced 89 store closings this year after being hit hard by competition from other discounters like Target and Wal-Mart. In the first six months of 2001, the retailer lost $21 million. Now the chain is trying a new image promoting quality over price, and emphasizing name brand products in an attempt to give its stores a new identity. One sure bellwether is the kids' market, where the dominant player lost $29 million in the second quarter of 2001. Toys 'R' Us is renovating 250 stores in hopes of restoring profitability. WENDY'S PLEDGES OVERSIGHT OF SUPPLIERS AFTER PROTESTS
'Unhappy meals'?
Where's the beef-before it's killed and cooked? With its campaigns against Burger King and McDonald's suspended, PETA activists targeted Wendy's, and last week the chain buckled. The group claimed that the burger chain bought meat from suppliers who abuse livestock by keeping them penned up so they can't move. The WickedWendys.com website featured the Wendy character wielding a bloody knife and the word murderers in the place of the word hamburgers. This summer, PETA protested Wendy's locations, complete with activists bearing signs reading "Closed for animal cruelty." Police arrested actor James Cromwell of Babe fame after a Virginia demonstration in July. "After Babe, people recognized that pigs and other animals abused on factory farms are sensitive, gentle animals," he said in a PETA statement. PETA's pressure worked: Wendy's has pledged to strengthen oversight of its suppliers. Past PETA crusades also have been partially successful. After activists passed out "Unhappy Meal" boxes with bloodied toy animals, McDonald's agreed to improve living conditions for its chickens and make other changes. Burger King made a similar announcement last June. Norton publishes obscure Mark Twain manuscript
A 125-year-old mystery
Mark Twain is back. W.W. Norton plans a September release of A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage, a yarn written in 1876. The tale concerns a farmer who plots to have his daughter marry into the richest family in a little Missouri town. A mysterious stranger and a murder are all elements in the "blindfold novelette," originally intended for an Atlantic Monthly contest. The magazine planned to have other famous writers submit conclusions to the tale, but the challenge was never consummated and the story was never published. Twain's Murder manuscript fell into obscurity, and copyright issues kept the story from mass circulation. Rights to the 89-page text wound up with the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, which announced publication plans last year. Booksellers expect Twain's story to light up cash registers this fall. Bob Wietrak, a sales executive at Barnes & Noble, predicts big sales for the "Four T's": Tiger, Twain, Theodore, and Tolkien. "Tiger" is Tiger Woods, whose new release is How I Play Golf. "Theodore" refers to Edmund Morris's Theodore Rex, his second Theodore Roosevelt biography. "Tolkien" refers to the ramp-up to the release of the first Lord of the Rings movie.

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