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News Briefs I

European Central Bank Drops Rates


In an aggressive move designed to provide an economic stimulus to an embattled region, the fledgling European Central Bank lowered interest rates by a half point to 2.5 percent Thursday.

The first major policy dictate of the bank’s short life reflected growing concern about a broad slowdown in economic activity across Europe. If successful, the rate cut will stimulate Europe’s economies by increasing investment and spurring growth.

“The European economy overall has been underperforming and this cut should be very welcome,” said Jeffrey Schott, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Aside from the United States, Europe has been the world’s only region-wide bastion of economic growth. Flagging strength here increases the pressure on the United States to carry the fragile global economy as the world’s only healthy market for other countries’ products. And as the largest regional market for U.S. exports, Europe’s health is important to sustaining the American economic boom.

“The concern of industrialized nations is that the U.S. economy will slow before Europe, Japan and the rest of Asia pick up,” said Eckhart Schulte, senior economist with the Industrial Bank of Japan in Frankfurt, Germany, who hailed the rate cut as positive.

Ethics of Stem Cell Research


Federally funded scientists wishing to conduct experiments on human embryo cells would first have to document that the cells were obtained from women in an ethical manner, according to draft federal guidelines discussed publicly for the first time Thursday.

But the idea that human embryo cells can be obtained or experimented upon ethically was immediately attacked as oxymoronic by critics of such research, setting the stage for a legal, scientific and political debate that is expected to stretch through the summer and could become part of congressional budget deliberations this fall.

The rules are being drafted at the request of National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus as part of a broader effort to grant federal researchers access to human embryonic “stem cells.” The cells, which can be taken from the core of young human embryos created in laboratory dishes, have the potential to grow into all kinds of tissues such as blood, muscle, tendon and nerve. Scientists suspect they may someday be able to use the cells to grow replacement parts for people with various degenerative diseases.

Human embryonic stem cells were discovered last year by privately financed scientists, and many experts believe that useful applications would come more quickly if federally funded researchers could pursue the field as well. For the past four years, however, Congress has banned the use of federal funds for research in which human embryos are “destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

NY Killing Birds on Protected List


Ten men who played roles in the slaughter last summer of over 850 protected birds on an island in Lake Ontario will pay thousands of dollars in fines and spend up to six months confined to their houses.

Yet the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation last year received federal permission to shoot and kill about 300 of the same birds -- double-crested cormorants -- because they feed voraciously on fish and their numbers have skyrocketed. And last month it announced plans to kill 300 more and to coat thousands of newly laid eggs with oil to prevent them from hatching.

As a result, state officials Thursday found themselves in the awkward position of defending their own killing of the cormorants while condemning those who did the same thing without authority.