Dispatches > The Buzz
Yoav Lemmer/AFP/getty images •

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

One campaign ends...

. . . And another begins. Dressed in a black suit and a somber expression, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced on Oct. 27 the end of her failed attempts to form a coalition government and set national elections for Feb. 10. To win, Livni will need to vanquish a tough competitor: Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The former prime minister has a growing base of support among Israel's right-wing voices, and a victory for Netanyahu could alter the course of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process launched by the Bush administration a year ago in Annapolis. Netanyahu is strongly opposed to land-for-peace initiatives and has a history of supporting policies that strengthen Israel's grasp of current territory. Recent public opinion polls show Netanyahu and Livni in a dead heat.

China melamine

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China will widen its investigation into contaminated food-and so will the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-amid growing evidence that the toxic industrial chemical melamine has leached into the country's animal feed supplies, posing potential health risks to consumers throughout the world. Food safety tests in three provinces in China last week found that eggs were contaminated with melamine, which is blamed for causing kidney stones and renal failure in infants. Already melamine-tainted milk supplies in China have sickened over 50,000 children and caused at least four deaths. In the United States, email rumors about Chinese-made candy threatened to dampen some Halloween activities, but few of those goods actually reach the United States. "Thus far, most of FDA's testing of milk and milk-derived ingredients and products from China focused on human foods, but have included animal feeds as well," said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek. "The FDA is currently re-evaluating its overall approach to keeping these products out of the U.S. market."

Pounds off

Need good news for your wallet? Here's some: The dollar is suddenly worth a lot more in Europe. A year ago Europhiles were decrying $8 cups of coffee in London and thinking about heading to Argentina next time. But in the last few weeks, the $2 it once took to buy £1 has dropped to $1.60, and financial experts say it may go as low as $1.40 in 2009. Harrods, anyone?

Which Obama?

The defense industry is wondering which Barack Obama it will get. A year ago, Obama promised the Caucus for Priorities, a liberal, anti-defense spending group, that he would slash the Pentagon's budget by "tens of billions of dollars." His campaign website, however, didn't mention cuts but focused on increases-upping, for example, the number of U.S. ground troops by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines. Part of that increase could include female ground troops, who may be thrust into forward combat roles under the incoming commander-in-chief. In October Obama national defense spokeswoman Wendy Morigi told reporters that current Pentagon prohibitions on women in combat should be "updated to reflect realities on the ground" in Iraq.

Rained out

The worst flooding to hit Honduras since record-setting Hurricane Mitch struck nearly 10 years to the day later. Three weeks of torrential rains created Mitch-like mudslides in late October, forcing more than 20,000 people from their homes (Honduran newspapers say over 670,000 are affected) and killing at least 29. While the devastation is nowhere near the 10,000 death toll recorded in Central America during Mitch, the slides have created the same widespread need. Operation Blessing International and MAP International combined forces with shipper DHL to rush $150,000 worth of medication, followed by emergency supplies, including MRE meals, blankets, and cans of vegetables. As dozens of families remained in shelters in the capital of Tegucigalpa, even nearby hills are subject to more devastation. "Certain areas of our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods are at risk of greater damage in the days to come," reports Michael Miller, head of the Tegucigalpa-based Micah Project. "Because many houses are built with substandard practices and are literally clinging to the side of hills, the rain is saturating the foundations to the point that they give way."

Waiting game

Even though a jury found Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, guilty Oct. 27 on seven counts of lying about receiving thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil contractor, the day after the election he was still leading by a slim margin in the race against Democrat Mark Begich, 46. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Stevens, 84, was ahead 48 percent to 47 percent. Stevens' precarious future will come down to more than 40,000 absentee ballots, which officials were set to count within 10 days of the election. Spokesman Aaron Saunders said the long-serving senator was cautiously optimistic about the outcome, while many in the GOP have called for him to step down.

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