1. Archive


TRIUMPH A PHANTOM IN RUSSIA: President Boris Yeltsin of Russia had enough trouble last week even without the United States' arrest of a CIA agent as a traitor and the re-emergence of espionage as a troublesome issue between Moscow and Washington. Returning to action after a prolonged absence (due, it was said, to a bad cold), Yeltsin quickly found himself caught up in a recurrence of his, and Russia's, long-running nightmare.

The newly elected Parliament voted to grant amnesty to an assortment of his old foes _ including the men who last October instigated an uprising that ended with Yeltsin's order to bombard the old Parliament building.

The October events, as they are called in Moscow, were supposed to have ended in an unvarnished victory for the president, but triumph has proved a phantom. The new Parliament looks just as defiant as the last one, and the new constitution _ which supposedly gave the president broad new powers _ has allowed his opposition to free his archenemies, former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi and former parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov. (See story, 2A) The amnesty vote is now being studied by the president's staff, some of whom question its legality. There are few signs of the new era of political cooperation that Yeltsin called for so poignantly Thursday in his state of the nation speech.

GOOD DEAL FOR COUCH POTATOES: It's pretty rare that a single government action reverberates through both the corporate board room and the family rec room, but one did last week.

In ordering cable television companies to roll back the fees they charge customers by an average of 7 percent, the Federal Communications Commission not only did couch potatoes a favor, it also gave the executives arduously hashing out the largest merger in history another reason to develop cold feet.

The costly rate cuts, effective in May, were cited as one of the reasons for the failure of merger talks between the nation's largest cable company, Tele-Communications Inc., and Bell Atlantic.

If successful, the $33-billion merger likely would have radically altered the telecommunications industry by quickening the development of new technologies for home entertainment and information.

But the would-be deal makers gulped when they looked hard at the financial markets and tighter government controls on cable rates, and decided the numbers weren't breaking their way.

Couch potatoes could take heart, though. The FCC rollback comes on top of the rate cut it ordered last fall, one supposed to reduce cable bills by an average 10 percent. Turns out a third of consumers saw their bills go up, and weren't pleased. This time, it is said, 90 percent of all cable systems will have to cut at least some of their rates.

INS MAY BE FORCED TO DIVERSIFY: As it has tried to stem a tide of illegal immigrants _ many of them black and brown _ the Immigration and Naturalization Service has had a reputation as one of the whitest of federal agencies, especially in the supervisory ranks. An internal report last June noted that despite efforts at diversity, the service "has been unsuccessful with respect to the recruitment, employment and advancement of African-Americans."

It soon may be forced to change: A judge's ruling, made last month and disclosed last week, makes INS the target of the largest discrimination case ever filed against the federal government.

A judge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that 550 black INS agents and supervisors and black former employees could join in a class-action bias suit against the agency. The employees alleged that the service routinely blocked promotions of blacks and created a hostile climate for those who sought to have their claims investigated.

The ruling clears the way for the plaintiffs to press their claims before the EEOC or in the federal courts. It also presents President Clinton with a civil rights headache.

The administration has 30 days to decide whether to appeal. It could seek a settlement, but that might not be cheap.

TIMBER PLAN LEAVES AXES GRINDING There's no way to tell how many trees were felled to print the 1,600-page document containing the Clinton administration's plan for the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

But the blueprint, delivered last week in the form of an environmental impact statement, would drastically reduce the number of trees that could be cut from 24-million acres of public land in Washington, Oregon and California.

Environmentalists say it may be too late, with only about 5-million acres of old-growth forest left. Still, the new strategy is a big departure: Logging levels will be only about 20 percent of what they were in the peak years of the 1980s.

ASIAN FOSSIL CONFOUNDS THEORY Few sciences are so dogged by controversy and so dependent on enigmatic scraps of evidence as paleoanthropology: the study of mankind's distant roots. Last week scientists put a new cat among the anthropologist pigeons by disclosing that human bone fragments found in Java are much older than previously thought.

One of the fragments, unearthed in 1936 and once thought to be 1-million years old, has turned out to be more than 1.8-million years old, said Dr. Carl C. Swisher III of the Institute of Human Origins.

That's about as old as the oldest comparable human fossil ever found in Africa _ an indigestible fact for adherents to the theory that after our Homo erectus ancestor first appeared in Africa it took nearly a million years for the species to migrate as far as Asia.

So was it some predecessor of Homo erectus that began the migration to Asia, giving rise to separate Homo erectus branches in Africa and Asia? Are the fossils in Africa and Asia really members of the same species? Stay tuned.

DR. ELDERS VS. JOE UNCOOL The old admonition to kids used to be that smoking stunts your growth. Now a new admonition is increasingly being directed at tobacco companies: Stunt your kiddie advertising.

The surgeon general, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, last week accused tobacco companies of employing deviously clever advertising to seduce teens into a lifetime of smoking addiction.

Issuing the latest surgeon general's report on smoking, she called for a ban on ads targeted at teens while urging that the focus of anti-smoking efforts be shifted to youth.

In particular, she challenged the Federal Trade Commission to throttle what she and other critics have assailed as one of the most egregious campaigns _ R.J. Reynolds' Joe and Josephine Camel cartoon ads, which place smoking in hip, fashionable settings.

Thomas Lauria, an industry spokesman, disputed Elders, saying peer pressure is a more likely culprit. But his argument rang hollow to many as a new study concluded that in the 1960s and '70s the tobacco industry had successfully gotten teenage girls to smoke by promoting women's brands.

Tobacco ads and promotional tie-ins are taking the heat because smoking rates remain stubbornly high among the young, even though the dangers are now widely known, cigarettes are expensive and smoking increasingly is being banned in public spaces, including McDonald's.

Potentially worse news for tobacco came Friday from the Food and Drug Administration. It said evidence is mounting that cigarettes are made and sold to satisfy and maintain addiction, and therefore can be subject to regulation as a drug _ even banning as unsafe. Congress plans hearings, but seems unlikely to take on the tobacco lobby anytime soon. (Carol Gentry column, 4A)

THE BAT WORLD'S SUPERDAD: He may be the ultimate model of the devoted father, though he is a bit webbed of paw: He's a bat with breasts.

Reporting in the journal Nature, scientists last week said they have discovered the first example of a wild male mammal that lactates: a fruit-eating bat called Dyacopterus spadiceus.

Upon capturing a group of the bats from the Malaysian forest canopy, the researchers were shocked to find that the breasts of all of the adult males were swollen with milk _ a glandular state seen before only in human men suffering from diseases like mammary tumors, or in inbred and possibly mutant domesticated animals.

The researchers have yet to learn whether the male bats actually suckle their young. Alternatively, the milk could be the incidental byproduct of a diet rich in the plant version of estrogens.

In any case, said Dr. Thomas H. Kunz of Boston University, who led the team, "this does not mean that a man can eat something, start lactating, and stay home to nurse the kids."

_ New York Times