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Briefs (left)

Senate Confirms New Chief of FDA

By Stephanie Saul

The Senate confirmed Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, with some lawmakers expressing hope that his leadership would bring stability to an agency hobbled by turnover and criticized for poor oversight of the nation’s drug supply.

Dr. von Eschenbach, 65, a surgeon who has been treated for melanoma and prostate cancer, became acting FDA commissioner in September 2005 following the abrupt resignation of Dr. Lester Crawford. Previously, he had served as chief academic officer at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and had led the National Cancer Institute.

In the past 10 years no commissioner has served more than two years. A report released in September by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, deplored a “lack of stable leadership” at the agency. The report said that turnover at the helm would compromise efforts to improve the effectiveness of the agency, which the report criticized as hobbled by internal squabbles, poor management and outdated rules.

Top Asian Economist Sees a
Further Dollar Decline

By Keith Bradsher

A senior Asian Development Bank official said on Thursday that the dollar was likely to decline further, and he called for East Asian countries to make sure that their currencies rose in unison and did not gyrate.

The remarks by the official, Masahiro Kawai, represented the first time that the bank — or for that matter, any important monetary institution in Asia — had urged collective action by East Asian nations to manage the current slide of the dollar. National monetary authorities in the region together hold more than $3 trillion in foreign reserves, most of it in dollars, and their huge purchases of dollars this year have played a crucial role in limiting the American currency’s decline until now.

“We believe that some U.S. dollar depreciation would be necessary, and collective joint appreciation of the East Asian countries could be needed” to manage the decline, Kawai said. “It’s very important for the East Asian currencies to appreciate collectively against the U.S. dollar.”

Labor Hopes New Congress Will
Support Right to Unionize

By Steven Greenhouse

Claiming a major role in the Democrats’ victory last month, labor leaders are pressing congressional Democrats to enact a measure to make it easier for workers to unionize.

Labor leaders see the measure as pivotal to stop a slide in union membership that has lasted decades. But many businesses and Republicans oppose the bill, which would allow employees at a workplace to unionize as soon as a majority sign cards expressing support to join a union.

The AFL-CIO plans to flex its muscles for the bill by holding a rally Friday on Capitol Hill that it expects to include the incoming Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House labor committees, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California.

Even before the Democrats won control of Congress, the bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, had 216 co-sponsors in the House, including 14 Republicans, just two short of a majority.

With the Democrats capturing both houses, labor and its allies voice confidence that the bill will pass in the House, but they fear a formidable battle in the Senate, where some foresee a Republican filibuster.