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News Briefs

New Panamanian President Pledges to Improve State of Poorer Citizens


Mireya Moscoso, a secretary who married a three-time president, became president herself on Wednesday, four months before the United States is to turn over the Panama Canal to her nation.

Elected on a promise of change, Moscoso emphasized how different she is from her aristocratic predecessor, Ernesto Perez Balladares, by shunning the formality of a ceremony in the National Assembly auditorium and taking the oath of office in Panama’s new 20,000-seat baseball stadium.

Accompanied by her 7-year-old adopted son, Ricardo, Moscoso was greeted by a cheering crowd waving Panamanian flags. “I promise today that together we will wipe out poverty in our Panama,” she said as she began her five-year term. “I know quite well that it will not be easy ... but we also know that we have the Panamanian people on our side.”

Her inauguration recalled the style of her late husband, Arnulfo Arias Madrid, who was sworn in at the old national stadium. Panama’s first female president has ably played up both her husband’s populist legacy and the contrast with Perez Balladares, whose free-market economic reforms and attempts to cling to power left him tremendously unpopular.

Moscoso, 53, proved herself a relentless campaigner in two runs for the presidency, walking the neighborhoods of every province to ask for votes.

Podesta Blasts GOP Move to Cut Research and Technology Funding


The White House said Wednesday that efforts in Congress to reduce federal spending on high technology and other advanced research not only threaten future scientific breakthroughs but jeopardize economic progress in America.

In a sharply honed and unusually public complaint, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, more often a behind-the-scenes player, said the Republican-led Congress has produced “a 19th century budget for a 21st century economy.”

“One has to wonder whether the people designing these budgets spent too much time watching Fred Flintstone and not enough time watching the Jetsons,” Podesta said to the National Press Club.

Podesta’s remarks were aimed at building pressure on Congress by drawing the attention of both the scientific community and the public to what it views as the negative impact of spending reductions in seemingly esoteric research programs. The House and Senate return next week from their August recess to complete work on the fiscal 2000 budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

Overall, proposed cuts under consideration in the House would total $1.8 billion, or 8 percent to 10 percent of the amount President Clinton has requested for civilian research and development programs, which exclude military projects.

Specifically, according to the White House, this would result in the elimination of federal funding for 14,000 jobs in research and in science and mathematics teaching at the college level.

Researchers Create Smarter Mice


By adding a single gene to fertilized eggs, Princeton University researchers have been able to create smarter mice, a feat that could lead to the development of more intelligent animals and that hints at the feasibility of producing so-called designer babies with enhanced intelligence.

The accomplishment demonstrates for the first time that a complex trait such as intelligence can be genetically manipulated in mammals. It also reveals a common biochemical mechanism at the root of all learning, a discovery that could eventually be translated into new drugs and treatments for the prevention of memory loss in the elderly, researchers said.

The added gene enabled the otherwise ordinary mice to learn new tasks more quickly and to remember them longer, a team from Princeton, MIT and Washington University in St. Louis reports in Thursday’s edition of Nature.

It also made the brains of older mice perform more like those of juveniles, which are generally better at grasping large amounts of new information.