Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

A quick look at the biggest news stories of the week

Issue: "Johnny Carson: In memoriam," Feb. 5, 2005

Iraq

At least one U.S. base in Iraq issued a regiment-wide order for Saturday night prayer services preceding Sunday's historic elections. But that did not prevent the run-up to polling from turning bloody.

U.S. forces had their deadliest day in Iraq ever on Jan. 26, when 31 U.S. Marines were killed in a helicopter crash and six other service members died in combat. At least 11 other Americans died, along with dozens of Iraqis, in a wave of last-ditch violence before voting centers opened.

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Debate continued over just how widespread the violence extended. British Prime Minister Tony Blair argued that 14 out of 18 provinces were stable, while a front-page survey conducted by The New York Times asserted that more than two-thirds of all Iraqis live in districts targeted by insurgent attacks in the past month. U.S. and Iraqi forces defused several bombs in Baghdad and Najaf, and continued to round up suspected insurgents-including 25 followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr-but that did not prevent political offices and schools where polls would open from being attacked. The vote tally-expected to take a week or more-will include nearly 36,000 Iraqis in the United States who were scheduled to vote.

Capitol Hill

It's barely one mile from the White House to State Department headquarters in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood. But thanks to a lengthy detour to Capitol Hill, it took Condoleezza Rice more than a week to make the journey.

On Jan. 27, Ms. Rice finally arrived for her first day of work as America's first black female secretary of state. President Bush planned to travel to Foggy Bottom the following day-minus the Capitol Hill detour-to show his support for the woman credited with crafting many of his foreign-policy positions over the past four years.

If the president's visit was an unusual show of support, Senate Democrats offered an unusual show of hostility. In nine hours of floor debate on Jan. 25, they blasted Ms. Rice for misreading intelligence and misleading the American people on the need to topple Saddam Hussein. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) accused Ms. Rice and other administration officials of "lying to Congress, lying to our committees, and lying to the American people."

In the end, Ms. Rice was confirmed by a vote of 85-13-the most "nay" votes since Henry Clay's nomination in 1825.

Courts

They say silence is golden. But it can also be deadly. On Jan. 23, the Supreme Court refused, without comment, to hear two appeals important to pro-life activists.

By turning back an appeal from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the court effectively ordered a death sentence for Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman whose husband wants to remove her feeding tube. The court also endangered millions of dollars in funding for abortion alternatives when it refused to reconsider the constitutionality of "Choose Life" license plates in South Carolina.

There are signs the Democratic Party may budge on pro-life issues before the courts do. Sen. Hillary Clinton, angling for a presidential nomination in 2008, shocked a pro-abortion crowd on Jan. 23 by arguing the government should do more to decrease the abortion rate. Several more moderate Democrats with mildly pro-life voting records also are emerging as top challengers for the 2008 nomination. And former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, despite his well-known pro-life beliefs, is considered a top contender when the Democratic National Committee elects a new leader on Feb. 12.

Life

Couples are having fewer children and having them later, according to a UN report on world fertility. Of 192 nations analyzed, the average number of children per woman dropped to 2.9 from 5.4 in the 1970s. Fertility in developing countries dropped less, from 5.9 to 3.9 children on average. Nearly a quarter of all women ages 25 to 29 are single, compared to just 15 percent in the 1970s. More than 40 percent of men that age are single.

Tsunami

India, China, and other Asian nations approved a plan for a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian region, to begin with new seismographic equipment to detect underwater earthquakes before they spread the kind of devastating tidal waves that claimed 200,000 lives in the region.

In the United States, senators from Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state have introduced legislation to upgrade current U.S. tsunami-warning capabilities. Western lawmakers say that three of six tsunami-warning buoys in the Pacific Ocean are broken.

Early warning systems won't help devastated fishing villages on Sri Lanka's southeastern coast, where 31,000 died in the Dec. 26 disaster. Six thousand people remain missing and only half of a million homeless have found substitute shelter.

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