Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Iraq: Fallujah's fallen," Nov. 27, 2004

WHITE HOUSE On Nov. 17 President Bush nominated his domestic policy adviser, Margaret Spellings, to succeed Rod Paige as secretary of education. The appointment followed earlier nominations at the departments of Justice (Alberto Gonzales) and State (Condoleezza Rice), and left Mr. Bush with three Cabinet vacancies: Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy. Though not a favorite of social conservatives, Ms. Spellings is a longtime confidante of the president. Indeed, all of the nominees announced so far have been drawn from the president's White House staff, indicating Mr. Bush's desire to tighten control of the Cabinet during his second term. After a remarkably stable four years in which only one Cabinet secretary left the fold, Mr. Bush's reelection has triggered resignations at six out of 13 departments. At least two more departures-at HHS and Homeland Security-are expected soon, and political pros believe Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will probably leave within the year.

CAPITOL HILL House and Senate negotiators, facing a one-week deadline during a lame-duck session of Congress, met behind closed doors on Nov. 16 to flesh out the job description of a new, Cabinet-level national intelligence director. Though both parties in both chambers agree on the need for the new post, House members and their allies at the Pentagon want to limit the intelligence director's budget control. Both the Senate and the president envision more sweeping powers for the new Cabinet secretary. In a weekend phone call to key negotiators, President Bush pressured the two sides to send him a final bill before adjourning for Thanksgiving. That wasn't the most pressing deadline facing the lame-duck session, however. Treasury officials warned that unless Congress acted immediately to raise the nation's $7.4 trillion debt limit, within days the government would be unable to pay its bills. Lawmakers scrambled to authorize an additional $800 billion in borrowing, handing the Democrats a potent issue for future campaigns.

FLIGHT NASA's 12-foot-long supersonic combustion ramjet-or scramjet-screamed into the record books high over the Pacific Ocean on Nov. 17, reaching speeds of almost 7,000 mph, a feat that renewed hopes that humans might one day be able to fly across a continent in minutes instead of hours. Initial data indicated the aircraft flew at about Mach 9.6-or nearly 10 times the speed of sound.

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ABORTION Government officials said the abortion pill RU-486 is safe enough to remain on the market, albeit with a new black-boxed warning, despite a third U.S. death following use of the drug. Officials gave no details of the latest fatality since the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in 2000. California teenager Holly Patterson died from a severe infection brought on by the abortion drug in September 2003. Brenda Vise, a 38-year-old nurse, died in 2001 after the abortion drug masked her ectopic pregnancy. Over 600 "adverse events" following use of the drug prompted the FDA to strengthen warning labels on RU-486, also known as mifepristone. But critics predict more scrutiny: "I think you'll see the opposition, but not just from people who are pro-life," said Wendy Wright, senior policy director at Concerned Women for America. "This is a dangerous drug."

IRAQ A two-week siege in Fallujah ended with U.S. forces in control of the city but not fully defeating the enemy. U.S. Marines stormed the terrorist stronghold in central Iraq house by house, freeing kidnapped Iraqis and discovering tunnels linking hideouts and weapons caches. At least 37 U.S. military personnel were killed in the offensive, including six 19-year-old Marines. American and Iraqi forces captured hundreds of insurgents and estimate enemy casualties at 1,000-1,200. But commanders acknowledge they face rapidly evolving-and overtly brutal-threats in other cities. They sent a 1,200-strong force to retake control of Mosul in the north, where guerrillas overran nine police stations. U.S. and Iraqi leaders want to stamp out the insurgency in Sunni regions of Iraq ahead of elections scheduled for January. Friends and family of Margaret Hassan, a British humanitarian worker in Iraq for 30 years and head of CARE International in Iraq, believe a videotape obtained by Al Jazeera shows her murder at the hands of insurgents. Unlike male civilian captives who were beheaded on camera, captors apparently shot Mrs. Hassan in the head while she was blindfolded. The most well-known civilian casualty in the war, Mrs. Hassan was married to an Iraqi and was a vocal opponent of the war.

IRAN Iran agreed to suspend all uranium enrichment activities pending long-term negotiations with Britain, France, and Germany over the purpose and scope of its nuclear program. But in a closed-door session in Tehran, conservative mullahs took the chief negotiator to task for acceding to Western demands. "It is not up to the Europeans to decide over our nuclear program or grant us the right to pursue nuclear projects," said Ahmad Tavakoli, member of parliament and a leading critic of the agreement.

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