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News briefs, part 2

Brown's Success Raises Questions

The Washington Post


After a short, successful career as a Senate staff member, Ronald H. Brown decided in 1981 to change course. He went to work as a lobbyist and soon was representing corporate clients before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he had served as chief counsel.

The move launched Brown on a political shuttle between the worlds of power and money, a path he has traveled regularly on the way to becoming a highly paid partner in Washington's largest lobbying firm, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and most recently, President-elect Clinton's choice for commerce secretary.

Wednesday, as he becomes the first Clinton Cabinet nominee to come up for a Senate confirmation hearing, Brown seems a fitting choice to mark the return of the Democratic establishment. The ascent of Brown as premier power broker even obscures his milestone as the first African American nominated to head the Department of Commerce.

But the key ingredients of his success raise questions about Brown's appointment. He is far from the first politician with corporate ties to be named to the post. But after an election in which Clinton declared war on special interests, Republican senators are compiling questions that go to the heart of Brown's lobbying connections, including:

* Will his past solicitation of campaign contributions from large corporations influence the department's choice of companies to receive technology development grants?

* Will he recuse himself from dealing with business clients represented by partners of his old firm?

* Will his past lobbying for Japanese electronics companies soften the department's resolve to crack down on foreign-subsidized imports and the dumping of foreign products?

More general questions of Brown's judgment may come up in connection with his lobbying work for the Republic of Haiti during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier; a $250,0 0 fund he used to campaign for party chief in 1989 without disclosing contributors, and the contract negotiations between his political allies in local government and companies in which he has a financial interest.

Brown, 51, declined to be interviewed for this article. When his appointment was announced Dec. 12, he brushed off such questions, saying, "I obviously will do everything that is proper and ethical in my role as secretary of commerce."

Pointing to his 20 years of practice, he added, "I am proud of my skills as a lawyer and my skills as an advocate."

His supporters say Brown has always been aboveboard in his political and lobbying work, and that he has demonstrated a willingness to mediate differences and rise above self-interest for the larger good.

"He is very skillful in understanding what constituency he represents, the interest of that constituency and when it's important to separate personal and constituent interest one from the other," said Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Clinton's transition chairman who hired Brown for his first job at the National Urban League.

"I don't know any instance where they've conflicted," said Jordan. "Ron Brown is a man of the highest integrity and character."

Bush Gives Guidelines For Military Intervention

The Washington Post


A lame duck president's last days in office are a series of final acts, and President Bush, who gives every appearance of having come to terms with this new role, engaged in another "last" here Tuesday, delivering his final major policy address on the proper use of military force in the post Cold War world.

Some 4,000 appreciative West Point cadets engulfed an emotional Bush in waves of applause as he took the stage to put into a policy context the issue of when, why and how a president should send Americans into harm when there is no direct threat to the United States.

Bush is the expert -- having sent forces to Panama, to the Persian Gulf first to eject Iraqi invaders from Kuwait and then to protect the Kurds, and finally to feed the dying Somalis when there was no threat at stake. Even in these final days, military force is threatened in Bosnia.

America, Bush said, cannot be policeman to the world and the fact that it is powerful enough to act does not mean it should act. The nation's fundamental role abroad, he said, is to "marshal its moral and material resources" to promote peace. "There is no one else," he said, who can lead the way. In selected cases, that means military force, but "there can be no single or set rules" to define when military force should be used.

But Bush laid out guidelines: Before the military is used, other policies should have proven unsuccessful; force should be likely to achieve a set goal; the use of the military should be limited in scope and time, the benefits justifying the likely sacrifice; the mission should be "clear and achievable," the military's way out as defined as its way in.

FDA Orders Proof of Safety For Saline Breast Implants

Los Angeles Times


The manufacturers of saline-filled breast implants -- the only breast implant still generally available -- must prove that their devices are safe enough to remain on the market, the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.

The decision means that the agency intends to put saline implants through the same intense scrutiny given silicone gel implants last year. Both reviews are part of the FDA's continuing study of medical devices sold before 1976, when Congress gave the FDA the authority to regulate them.

The FDA said that it also would investigate the safety of testicular implants, which are used for cosmetic purposes, and inflatable penile implants, used to treat impotence.

Last year the controversy over the health consequences of silicone gel breast implants inspired an intense, emotional national debate that resulted in tight restrictions on their availability. As a result, saline implants became the only alternative.

Silicone gel implants are permitted now only for reconstructive surgery after breast cancer or to correct other deformities. In either case, they must be employed in connection with a large-scale research project. They also are available on a limited basis for cosmetic purposes within small, closely controlled studies.

"As with the silicone implants, we recognize the benefits as well as the potential risks, and we understand the need to balance both," FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler said in an interview. "The one thing that we care about is getting the safety information to patients. It is absolutely essential that, after 20 years of use, the patient has this information."

Kessler said that the review process would last about a year.

Possible risks associated with saline implants include infection; hardening of scar tissue around the implant, known as capsular contracture; and interference with mammography.

The implants also can rupture and deflate rapidly, necessitating further surgery. The FDA said that it has received numerous reports of rupture, leakage and deflation associated with saline implants.

Saline implants are considered safer than silicone gel when they rupture because they contain salt water -- a naturally occurring body fluid -- that is believed to be harmless. More serious concerns, including auto-immune and connective tissue disorders, as well as cancer, were raised in connection with the rupture of silicone gel devices.

The FDA noted, however, that the saline solution is contained in a silicone rubber shell that may not be entirely without risk to users, the FDA said.

Although there is not enough scientific evidence to establish whether women who have saline implants are at risk for immune-related diseases or cancer, the dangers cannot be ruled out, the agency said.

Saline implants have been on the market for about 20 years and have been used by about 10 percent of the estimated 1 million women with breast implants. It is unclear how much the market for them has grown since restrictions were imposed last year on silicone gel implants.

"The advertising that we are seeing by plastic surgeons certainly are trumpeting the saline implants, so the numbers have to have jumped," Kessler said. "But we don't have the exact numbers."

The saline implants are manufactured by Mentor Corp. and McGhan Medical Corp., both of Santa Barbara, Calif. Company officials did not return repeated calls Tuesday.