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Dispatches The Buzz

The Buzz

(Porfirio Lobo/Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

Honduras' new start

Hondurans elected Porfirio Lobo, a wealthy rancher from the conservative National Party, to succeed former President Manuel Zelaya, who was arrested and turned out of office June 28. In the Nov. 29 poll, voters rejected Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos, who represented the party of both the ousted Zelaya and the interim government led by Roberto Micheletti. For most, Lobo's victory represents not only a break with the recent past but a triumph of the country's democratic system and its 27-year-old constitution. "We won. Just by having the freedom to vote, we won," said a hotel desk clerk in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close friend of Zelaya, is widely believed to have exerted his authoritarian influence over the former Honduran president, who tried single-handedly to force a change in the country's constitution, prompting his ouster by Congress and the Supreme Court. "Hondurans are not just electing a president. Their participation is a vote for freedom over Chavez-style socialism," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America and an official international election observer.

On Dec. 2 Congress voted to reject Zelaya's temporary return to serve out his term before Lobo takes office in January. The focus throughout, said Wright, was on the legitimacy of the election: Hondurans expect Zelaya to "either leave the country, or serve a prison term then leave. But no one we talked with wanted or thought he would return to power."

Viral truth

South African President Jacob Zuma is acknowledging a fact that his predecessor denied: The HIV virus causes AIDS. Zuma, elected in a landslide in April, announced on World AIDS Day Dec. 1 that the government would provide treatment for HIV-positive babies under the age of 1. Nearly 59,000 babies are born with the virus each year in South Africa, which has the highest number of people living with HIV.

Former president Thabo Mbeki denied the link between HIV and AIDS and lagged in supporting funding for treatment. The rate of HIV infections in South Africa has stabilized, but doctors expect a steep increase in AIDS-related deaths as long-time patients succumb to the disease. South African relief workers say that could lead to a deeper crisis: Nearly one-third of all the children in the country could lose one or both parents to AIDS in the next five years.

Monday surge

It's not quite time for Black Friday to move over, but this year's Cyber Monday-the kickoff online sales day of the holiday season-saw traffic jump 8 percent from last year. Retailers have latched onto the idea of extending the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree by enticing buyers with online sales, and nearly 100 million browsers took the bait. Workplace productivity perhaps did not suffer: Most of the traffic occurred from 5 p.m. until midnight, according to the National Retail Federation. Online retail sales are expected to grow 3 percent this holiday season to $28.8 billion.

Untruth in advertising

Government may regulate crisis pregnancy centers for the first time, now that the Baltimore City Council has passed a measure that would fine CPCs $150 a day if they fail to post signs stating they do not "provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services." Since the bill, which has yet to be signed into law by Baltimore's mayor Sheila Dixon, has no similar requirements for abortion providers, pro-life organizations say it unfairly targets pro-life centers and implies they are dishonest.

Detainee transfers

Lawmakers from Illinois held what Sen. Dick Durbin described as a "spirited" discussion Dec. 2 about turning a nearly empty state prison in western Illinois into a new supermax home for Guantanamo Bay detainees. While the congressional delegation is divided, the Thomson Correctional Center is reportedly the lead option for the Defense Department. "The 250 remaining terrorists being held at Gitmo represent the worst of the worst," said House Republican Aaron Schock. "We should not put our national security at risk by bringing these terrorists into our state."

Four Guantanamo Bay detainees were transferred to France, Hungary, and Italy at the beginning of December. Tunisians Abel Ben Mabrouk bin Hamida Boughanmi and Mohammed Tahir Riyadh Nasseri, now in Italian custody, are expected to face prosecution. Algerian Sabir Lahmar, 39, was released upon his arrival in France after seven years in the U.S. military prison. Guantanamo still holds 211 detainees, with 29 having been transferred out of the detention center since Obama took office, and over 500 released since 2002.

Message from Dubai

Ripple effects of tiny's Dubai's loan defaults began just before Thanksgiving but will continue through Christmas, as European, and in particular British, banks discover what they've lost. Dubai's bad loan scenario, a further chapter in the saga that began with last year's real estate bust, say experts, likely means a period of falling prices driven by Dubai failures as well as panicked consumers hanging onto their cash. Believing the deflation scenario will play out, what should an investor do? Do the opposite of Dubai-get out of debt, save, and conserve cash.

Turf dearth

Home Depot CEO Frank Blake got a nostalgia tour as one of 130 private sector business executives invited to a White House jobs summit Dec. 3. Blake once worked for Vice President George H.W. Bush. But few execs have an inside track with the Obama administration, according to a comparative study by Michael Cembalest, chief investment officer for JPMorgan Private Bank. Starting with the secretary of commerce in 1900, Cembalest examined the prior private-sector experience of 432 cabinet members in every presidency and discovered, "One thing is clear: The current administration, compared with past Democratic and Republican ones, marks a departure from the traditional reliance on a balance of public- and private-sector experiences." While other administrations of both parties were dominated by cabinet members with firsthand experience in hiring and firing and running a business, President Obama's cabinet has less than 10 percent with such expertise. "The private sector is the dominant engine of job growth and needs to be the centerpiece of a 'solution,' to the extent there is one," said Cembalest.

Sex doesn't sell

Most films with sexual content perform worse at the box office than films with little or no sexual content. That's the conclusion of a new study published in November in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Using data from 914 films released between 2001 and 2005, researchers Dean Keith Simonton from the University of California-Davis, and independent Vancouver-based researcher Anemone Cerridwen discovered that explicit sex and nudity actually hurt a film's performance: On average, gross sales were 31 percent lower than films without the content.

Write the authors: "It is manifest that anyone who argues that sex sells or impresses must be put on notice. At present, no filmmaker should introduce such content under the assumption that it guarantees a big box office, earns critical acclaim, or wins movie awards. On the contrary, other forms of strong film content appear far more potent, either commercially or aesthetically."

Auto woes

The government takeover of the struggling auto industry took a setback with the unexpected resignation of the federally appointed General Motors chief. Fritz Henderson's departure from the nation's largest automaker came just a day before he was to give a major speech at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Henderson became GM head eight months ago after the Obama administration forced the resignation of his predecessor, G. Richard Wagoner Jr. The federal government owns 61 percent of GM after a $50 billion rescue. "This was not supposed to have happened," Gerald C. Meyers, the former chair of American Motors, told The Washington Post. He said it would take 18 months to evaluate whether Henderson "could move the needle on sales and profits." November GM market share was 20.1 percent, down from 20.4 percent in November of last year.

Keep that Bible out

The New York State Senate rejected same-sex marriage legislation on Dec. 2, voting against it 38-24 and ensuring the bill's final defeat after the Assembly passed it earlier that week. Manhattan Democratic Sen. Thomas Duane-a gay man and the bill's chief proponent-said he felt betrayed: Not a single Republican voted for the bill and eight Democrats voted against it. During the debate preceding the vote, the bill's advocates emphasized that the question was not religious and that churches would still have the freedom to reject same-sex marriage. "When I walk through these doors, my Bible stays out," said Sen. Eric Adams, a Democrat from Brooklyn. But Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat and the only senator to speak against the bill, said: "That's the wrong statement. You should carry your Bible all the time."

High anxiety

Japan topped a survey of 11 nations to measure nationwide "anxiety index"- with 90 percent of the Japanese population confessing a sense of anxiety. Russia and India took the next two spots in the survey, conducted by New York advertising firm JWT, while the least anxiety-ridden nations were China (35 percent), France (42 percent) and Canada (55 percent). The major causes of anxiety cited by Japanese were "state of the economy," "political leadership," and "cost of health care." Ironically, one of the factors that drove the Japanese scores so high was anxiety over "quality of products imported from China."

Mother wars

In a potentially precedent-setting case, a Vermont judge ruled Nov. 20 to transfer full custody of Lisa Miller's 7-year-old biological daughter Isabella to Miller's former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins ("Are you my mother?" May 12, 2007). Judge William Cohen said the decision, which is due to take effect Jan. 1, resulted after Miller failed to deliver Isabella to Jenkins for court-ordered visits. Miller's attorney, Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel, said they will request a stay of enforcement on the custody transfer while Miller appeals the decision to the Vermont Supreme Court. Meanwhile on Dec. 9, the Virginia Court of Appeals will hear arguments about whether Virginia must enforce the Vermont orders.