The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
Dispatches The Buzz
ENRON When the jury was done with them, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were forced to trade in their golden parachutes for striped prison jumpers. After almost four months at trial and nearly five years after Enron collapsed in an insider-trading and accounting scandal, a jury convicted Mr. Lay, the founder, of six counts of fraud while dealing out 20 convictions to Mr. Skilling, the former chief executive, on a range of offenses from fraud to insider trading and conspiracy. While sentencing comes later, legal experts say that both Mr. Lay, 64, and Mr. Skilling, 52, could face between 20 and 30 years in prison for their part in the corporate scandal.
IRAQ Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won parliamentary approval for his cabinet even though he failed to fill the critical posts of defense minister and interior minister. Shiite militia leaders overruled the naming of Ahmed Chalabi to the interior post, a blow to those seeking nonsectarian cabinet members. Mr. Maliki, instead, plans to run the ministry himself, a key position with oversight of internal security. The new cabinet does include old standouts able to win a stamp of approval from President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair when they met to discuss Iraq May 25: Deputy prime minister Barham Salih and foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, both Kurdish leaders who are pro-U.S. and widely recognized abroad, will remain at their posts.
DENMARK Denmark will open more embassies in the Arab world as it seeks to repair its tattered image following the crisis sparked by the Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Morocco, which currently does not have a Danish embassy but had hundreds of angry protesters in its streets earlier this year after a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons of Muhammad, is reportedly one candidate on the list.
DATA THEFT Personal data, including Social Security numbers of 26.5 million U.S. veterans, was stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee this month after he took the information home without authorization. Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said May 22 that there was no evidence so far that the burglars who struck the employee's suburban Maryland home had used the personal data-or even know they have it. The unnamed employee has been placed on leave pending a review.
CRIME In Baton Rouge on May 21, Anthony Bell, 25, burst into the Ministry of Jesus Christ church during services and shot five people, all members of his extended family. Mr. Bell then forced his wife, Erica, 24, and their three children-one an 8-month-old baby-to leave with him in a car. After dropping the older children with relatives, he murdered his wife, according to police, then called 911 and told an emergency operator she had committed suicide. Among those killed were Mrs. Bell's grandparents, her great-aunt, and a cousin. Claudia Brown, Mrs. Bell's mother and founder/pastor of the church, was injured. None of the children was harmed. Relatives said the Bells had been having marital difficulties.
NEW ORLEANS Days after incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin edged out Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to keep his seat and return to the business of rebuilding storm-wrecked New Orleans, citizens were ready to hold him accountable. "I hope [the mayor] and his staff will immediately let us know . . . how many housing units can we expect, how many new well-paying jobs, how great of an increase in high school graduation rates, how great of a decrease in functional illiteracy, how great of a decrease in crime," wrote Big Easy resident Lisa Moss in a May 24 letter to the Times-Picayune. "Tell us exactly what you're going to measure, how you're going to measure and on what regular schedule you will be reporting to us on your progress." The nationally watched mayoral race broke largely along racial lines: Mr. Nagin and Mr. Landrieu, both Democrats, garnered 80 percent of the black and white vote respectively. But with many blacks now displaced from the city, the final margin of victory was only 4 percentage points, with Mr. Nagin winning 52 percent to 48 percent.
UN Officials will inaugurate the newly reconstituted UN Human Rights Council June 16. But human-rights watchdogs already are warning that the new panel looks to be pouring new wine into old wineskins: China, Cuba, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia stand among its charter members. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the world body his country would not join the council until it set higher hurdles for membership.