Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Street theater," Sept. 30, 2006

Religion

The Muslim world fiercely condemned Pope Benedict XVI for quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who called Muhammad's religious contributions "evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Angered over the implication of Islam's proclivity to violence, some Muslim extremists broke out in violence, burning Palestinian churches and holding rowdy demonstrations that called for the beheading of all those who insult Islam.

The pope quickly apologized, explaining that he never intended the quotation to serve as his personal stance. Nonetheless, militant Islamic groups continued to express rage similar to that over Danish cartoons of Muhammad published earlier this year. Al-Qaeda in Iraq swore that its war with Christianity would not cease until Islam had taken over the world. Benedict is still slated to visit the predominantly Muslim nation of Turkey in November.

United Nations

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Normally the anti-U.S. current swims beneath the strait-laced deliberations marking the September opening of the UN general assembly. After all, the United States is paying most of the bill and hosting the dignitaries from 192 member states. But this year's Sept. 19 opening-while costing New Yorkers more in headaches and increased security costs-overflowed with outbursts against the United States from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

The proceedings were more confrontation than conciliation, coming as the United States presses for sanctions against Iran and for stepped-up UN reform. While Chavez received extended applause for a speech calling President George Bush "the devil," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters afterward, "We're not going to address that sort of a comic-strip approach to international affairs."

Latin America

Chavez followed up his UN outburst by speaking at other New York events, where he was treated as a celebrity. At the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Chavez drew a standing ovation when he said Bush has committed genocide in Iraq. Visiting a Harlem church, Chavez announced that a program begun last year to sell discounted heating oil to poor New Yorkers in the South Bronx would now expand to all five boroughs. The "oil gift" is similar to Chavez's social programs in Venezuela and abroad, and show the radical leftist is increasingly styling himself as a leader of the world's poor.

Thailand

When the prime minister was away, the military came out to play in Bangkok-and it won. On the night of Sept. 19, while Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York, tanks rolled into the city and seized control of the country in a bloodless coup. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the army's commander-in-chief, promised that the six-man junta that took power would choose a new prime minister within two weeks, and scheduled elections for late 2007.

Billionaire businessman Shinawatra has endured protests this year over cronyism and alleged corruption. He called and won early elections in April, but opposition parties boycotted the poll. This is Thailand's first coup in 15 years, though they have been frequent in the nation's history.

Politics

A growing list of GOP lawmakers called on Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio) to resign after the six-term congressman pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Ney stepped down from two House committee positions on Sept. 18, but did not indicate plans to resign his House seat. The congressman is not seeking reelection this year, and he faces up to 27 months in prison when he's sentenced next month.

Business

Wal-Mart last week announced a plan to begin selling nearly 300 generic drugs for $4 per prescription. The price will be for regularly prescribed dosages and "covers 291 generic medications that are commonly prescribed to treat conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, cold viruses, and infection," the company said in a statement.

The policy was scheduled to take effect in Tampa, Fla., on Sept. 22 and in the rest of Florida by January, before spreading to other states next year. Stock prices for other pharmacies dropped on the news, as analysts predicted that the program will force down prices for prescription drugs nationwide.

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