Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest news on the week's biggest stories

Issue: "Faculty follies," April 29, 2006

WASHINGTON It didn't take long for new White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to create a stir in Washington. Mr. Bolten took over the top job on President Bush's staff on April 14. Five days later, GOP political guru and Bush confidante Karl Rove was no longer chief policy coordinator and Scott McClellan was on his way out as press secretary. The White House depicted Mr. Rove's move as a redeployment rather than a retreat: The architect of Mr. Bush's two presidential victories will now spend more time on politics and fundraising as congressional elections in November approach. Mr. McLellan, meanwhile, said he had been thinking about leaving, and the arrival of a new chief of staff marked a good occasion to do so: "I am ready to move on."

CHINA Chinese president Hu Jintao visited the United States last week, dining with Bill Gates in Seattle and meeting with President Bush in the White House. Mr. Bush discussed with his counterpart the $200 billion annual U.S. trade deficit with China, but Mr. Hu rejected calls for his country to revalue its currency to close the gap. The overdue summit, postponed last fall after Hurricane Katrina hit, meant human-rights advocates packed a brimming barrel of grievances. At Capitol Hill hearings held the day of Mr. Hu's arrival, Reporters Without Borders revealed that 48 journalists are in prison in China (of 121 jailed worldwide)-and fingered Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and others for turning over e-mails and other information used to incriminate journalists and dissidents. Earlier in the week, human-rights activists protested Mr. Hu's arrival in Seattle, but well-organized well-wishers lined the streets as Mr. Hu's motorcade made its way to the dinner with Mr. Gates-where human rights was likely not on the menu.

ISRAEL After a Tel Aviv suicide bombing last week killed nine people, Israel announced it will revoke Jerusalem residency rights for Hamas lawmakers. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, but Israeli officials say they hold the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority responsible. "Hamas can choose to sacrifice its ideology for the sake of its people or sacrifice its people for this murderous ideology," said government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin.

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ITALY Silvio Berlusconi's colorful but politically conservative tenure as prime minister of Italy seems to be coming to an end. Italy's highest court last week upheld the election victory of Mr. Berlusconi's challenger, former European Commission president Romano Prodi. Mr. Berlusconi had been a strong supporter of the war on terror, and he sent about 3,000 Italian troops to fight in Iraq. Mr. Prodi has pledged to bring those troops home. His governing coalition includes Socialists, Communists, Greens, and center-left parties.

AIDS Ahead of an African summit on AIDS May 2-4 and a June session on AIDS at UN headquarters in New York, UNAIDS director Peter Piot admits that the Bush administration may be onto something in pushing behavior change as a way to combat the disease: A drop in HIV prevalence rates in some African countries, he said, has "been due to changes in behavior, including increased use of condoms, people delaying the first time they have sexual intercourse, and people having few sexual partners." If that's the essence of the ABC approach modeled by Uganda and supported by faith-based organizations, it's a model under fire even in Washington. An April report from the GAO said an ABC emphasis "is undermining other AIDS-prevention strategies" and called on Congress to make abstinence-based programs optional, even before the 2-year-old program requiring them is fully funded.

Education A coalition of conservatives and moderates pushed an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) through the U.S. House last month. The "sense of Congress" measure contains no enforcement power, but it seeks to focus attention on academic freedom for a group not often considered in such discussions-students. ABOR stresses that professors should not intimidate or grade down students because of their political, religious, or ideological beliefs. As incidents of political grandstanding and indoctrination continue on campuses across the country, more than 20 state legislatures are considering their own versions of ABOR.

Health Death is still as certain as taxes, but it happened a lot less frequently in the United States in 2004. The National Center for Health Statistics reported last week that 49,945 fewer Americans died in 2004 than in 2003, a dramatic 2 percent drop. The decline, which occurred despite an aging, growing, and overweight population, was the largest since at least World War II and the first since a drop of 445 deaths in 1997. "We were surprised by the sharpness of the decrease," researcher Arialdi Minino said. "It's kind of historical."

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