Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP's Latino outreach," Sept. 28, 2002

The nation's drug policy director says many Americans are misguided about the substance, believing pot is harmless and nonaddictive or has few long-term health consequences. His office last week announced a new publicity campaign against marijuana use, including announcements on TV, radio, print, and at sporting events.

"For too long our nation's teens have been getting the wrong message about marijuana. Youth popular culture has trivialized the real harm of marijuana in kids," he said.

According to Surgeon General Richard Carmona, the idea that a joint is safer than a cigarette is an urban myth. He reports that marijuana contains three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide than a comparable amount of tobacco. It attacks the brain in ways similar to cocaine and heroin. Dr. Carmona said one out of five eighth-graders has tried marijuana, double the rate of a decade ago. Also, about 60 percent of young drug users use marijuana only.

Mr. Walters's new effort runs head-on into another crusade-to legalize marijuana in Nevada. A measure on the ballot would allow adults to possess up to 3 ounces of the drug.

Aching arches

McDonald's, the chain that is almost synonymous with fast food, may be losing its dominant status in the industry. Changing tastes and new competition have battered the company's sales and market share, and its stock hit a seven-year low this month after the company reduced its profit estimates.

The company that served billions and billions is trying to stop a sales slump by boosting its 13,000 U.S. restaurants. That means more low-cost items, better service, and restaurant renovations. New signs, new drive-throughs, and even complete overhauls are popping up throughout the country.

One recent image-boosting effort is a new McDonald's cooking oil for french fries that reduces trans-fatty acids. All U.S. restaurants will use the oil by February. Health activists-who blame fast-food burgers and fries for American obesity-brushed off the move, saying it may make customers more complacent about eating junk food.

Over the years McDonald's became a global power-and much of the company's woes are due to a slump in European sales, particularly in Britain and Germany. Yet the company will plant more Golden Arches around the world. Most of the chain's over 30,000 restaurants are located overseas, and of the 1,300 to 1,400 openings planned this year, all but 350 are abroad.

Numbers racket

The big worry about e-commerce-whether it's secure-became bigger this month when an online scam compromised more than 60,000 credit-card accounts.

Thieves somehow obtained thousands of credit-card account numbers and tried to verify those accounts' existence by obtaining authorization codes. Spitfire Ventures, an online seller of novelty items, was hit with 140,000 credit-card orders in 90 minutes on Sept. 12. On a good day, the company would normally see 30 transactions.

Online Data Corp., an online credit-card processor, gave authorization codes for 62,477 of the transactions. Spitfire discovered the scam when concerned credit-card holders called the company about the strange credit-card charges. The scam was thwarted before any money was transferred.

All the affected credit-card numbers have been deactivated, and federal authorities are investigating the scam. "People have nothing to be concerned about," said Online Data's John Rante. "We are cooperating with the authorities and we will catch the people behind this."

Yet the fact that some crooks were able to verify so many credit-card numbers shows a serious security weakness. "The bigger story is where the thieves got this information," said Dan Clements, who follows credit-card fraud for Cardcops.com. "It's possible that the thieves found a hole in a database that still needs to be plugged. They could still be mining for credit-card numbers."

Informed choice

A federal appeals court last week upheld an Indiana law that may save hundreds of children each year from being aborted. The 1995 law requires abortion clinics to counsel women-in the presence of a physician or nurse-about alternatives to an abortion 18 hours before their scheduled procedures.

The abortion industry fought the rule in court, and U.S. District Judge David Hamilton held in March 2001 that mandatory counseling unfairly forced women to make two trips to a clinic. He wrote that the law "is likely to prevent abortions for approximately 10 to 13 percent of Indiana woman who would otherwise choose to have an abortion-roughly 1,300 to 1,700 per year."

But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, in a 2-1 decision, overturned Judge Hamilton's ruling. Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana, said the group is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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