Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "The 2007 Books Issue," June 30, 2007

North Korea

In a breakthrough, Pyongyang says it is ready to play nuclear disarmament, after months of stalling over a banking dispute. In mid-June the United States found a Russian bank willing to take the tainted, laundered $25 million in North Korean funds that had been sitting in a Macau bank blocking Pyongyang's access to the international banking system.

Now negotiations may be in gear: North Korea invited International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to monitor the shut down of its nuclear Yongbyon reactor, which will reportedly close completely by July. South Korea is poised to ship heavy fuel to the starved nation. Diplomats hail the movement as a success, but the North-which was supposed to close Yongbyon in April-is likely to issue new conditions as it extorts more aid out of the West in exchange for compliance.

Middle East

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved his unity government with Hamas after the militant group took Gaza by force. Abbas' Fatah faction has long walked a line between legitimacy and militancy-and now has a new opportunity to govern in the West Bank with U.S. and Israeli backing. But Mahmoud Zahar, the leading Hamas figure in Gaza, warned that Hamas could take the fighting to Fatah in the West Bank-a more economically prosperous Palestinian area and more strategically vital for both Israel and Jordan.

Politics

Presidential hopefuls Rudy Giuliani and John McCain announced they would not compete in the Iowa straw poll next month in order to focus on primary races ahead. Those races took on new significance after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stoked speculation that he will enter the presidential race as an independent candidate when he officially left the GOP on June 20. The now-unaffiliated Bloomberg insists he isn't running, but added: "I do think the more people that run for office the better." Meanwhile, all eyes remained on Republican Fred Thompson, who was expected to announce his candidacy on July 4.

In the Democratic field, frontrunner Hillary Clinton reclaimed a 10-point lead over Barack Obama in national polls, but Obama gained ground in politically important South Carolina, where he shored up support on a recent visit to the state.

NBA

If the NBA holds a championship series and nobody outside San Antonio and Cleveland watches it, does it make any noise? Ratings for this year's NBA Finals featuring a four-game sweep by San Antonio over Cleveland were the worst ever for an NBA Finals series. For sports fans, it was a perfect storm of disinterest: The highly favored but boring Spurs swept the series of two small-market teams as expected. Neither team showed much offensive flash-only one game featured scores above 90-and not even the candle power of Cleveland's LeBron James could light up the stage.

Disaster

Nine firefighters in Charleston, S.C., died of smoke inhalation and burns while fighting a massive blaze that swept through a furniture store on June 18. The deaths marked the nation's worst loss of firefighters in a single day since 9/11, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

The fallen ranged in age from 27 to 56, and included three captains. Three of the men had more than 20 years of firefighting experience. Charleston mayor Joseph P. Riley called the loss "difficult to fathom or quantify. . . . This is a profession we must never take for granted."

Medicine

President Bush vetoed a bill June 20 that would have allowed federally funded embryonic stem-cell research. It was the second time Bush vetoed stem-cell legislation and only the third veto of his administration. "The president does not believe it's appropriate to put an end to human life for research purposes," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. "That's a line he will not cross."

Democrats vowed to schedule an override vote-though passage is unlikely-and to attach a new measure to vital appropriations bills. But the president also threatened to veto those, including bills that contain "excessive levels of spending"-something he has not done before.

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