Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

A quick look at the latest news and this week's top stories

Issue: "Superheroes strike again," Aug. 6, 2005


Discovery launched a new chapter in space shuttle history only to descend into old and familiar anxiety. Minutes into the July 26 takeoff of the first U.S. space mission since Columbia's mission ended in disaster 25 years ago, a foam tile near the landing gear fell off. Tile damage is believed to have caused the 2003 explosion of Columbia that killed all seven astronauts. NASA grounded future shuttle flights until the tile problem is solved but proceeded with the 12-day Discovery mission after a new probe combed the affected area and found no damage. On July 28 Commander Eileen Collins successfully docked Discovery at the international space station, where U.S. astronauts were greeted with Russian hugs, bread, and salt-a tradition meant to bring good luck to guests.


Police detained 15 men they say are linked to the July 24 bombings at Sharm el-Sheik and say they are connected to previous attacks. Triple bombings in the Red Sea resort killed 88, making it the largest terror attack for Egyptians. President Hosni Mubarak vowed to "besiege terrorism, uproot it and drain its resources." Despite his pledge, the president faces his strongest opposition ever in elections next month (see "No charm in Sharm").


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Bombay residents know monsoons, but no one ever saw rain like this. In less than 24 hours on July 26 over 37 inches of rain fell on the financial hub, also known as Mumbai. It was the largest rainfall ever recorded in India, breaking a record 33-inch rainfall in Bombay in 1910 and killing over 500 people due to flooding, landslides, and electrocution. Commuter Rajesh Nair left his office at 5:30 to head home by taxi, and 24 hours later he was still stuck in traffic. "It was frightening. The water rose to eight feet high then subsided finally to around two feet,' said resident Prakash Deshmukh.


A heat wave smothered much of the United States, causing at least 28 deaths in Phoenix and killing 1,200 cattle in Nebraska. High temperatures will not put an end to the global-warming debate. But even as leading evangelical groups join the environmentalists' cause, scientists have yet to reach consensus on the cause and extent of global warming (see "Love thy neighbor, love the neighborhood").


The vote could not have been closer, but the House approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), opening up markets in six Latin American countries to U.S. goods, services, and investment. With only 15 House Democrats supporting the trade deal, President Bush and Vice President Cheney made enough personal visits to wavering Republicans to eke out a 217-215 vote victory in the early hours of July 28. The Senate approved CAFTA in June by a vote of 54-45. CAFTA foes say the agreement will hurt U.S. sugar growers and some textile workers while not doing enough to protect labor and the environment in Central America. "Certainly CAFTA doesn't fix all the problems facing Central America," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. "But increased integration can only add jobs and help alleviate poverty, reduce the flow of migration northward, and make the region more competitive in world markets."


In an ominous move for Democrats, two large unions broke away from the AFL-CIO on July 25 and cut the labor organization's membership by almost a fourth. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union said the AFL-CIO spends too much time and resources on politics and not enough on organizing non-union workers. "The AFL-CIO idea is to keep throwing money at politicians," said Teamsters president James Hoffa. "We say no. We are going to do something new."

That message was a shock to Democrats. "It's the worst thing that could happen to us as a party," said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf. "We're in uncharted waters," said consultant David Axelrod. "Obviously, you have to believe a unified and coordinated effort is better than a disparate one."

The two dissident unions, which represent 3.2 million workers, have been frustrated at AFL-CIO president John Sweeney's inability to stop a long-term decline in union membership during his 10 years in office.


A UN report condemned the demolition of housing for the poor across Zimbabwe and called for criminal prosecutions of those responsible. But the report was silent on who that is, refusing to point fingers at President Robert Mugabe, who defends a campaign that has made over 700,000 people homeless. The clearing operation, which began in May, forced at least 1,200 squatters into nearby churches. There they found no sanctuary. Police in full riot gear stormed churches last week (see "No sanctuary") and forced the homeless into holding camps.


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