The Bush Administration revealed that it is preparing a comprehensive strategy of political and economic measures to pressure North Korea into backing down from its aggressive pursuit of additional nuclear weapons, though Secretary of State Colin Powell refused on television to characterize the situation as a “crisis.” Administration officials privately admitted that it was difficult to explain why it is necessary to go to war with Iraq, where United Nations weapons inspectors have the run of the country, while counseling patience and diplomacy with North Korea, which has threatened “uncontrollable catastrophe” and “merciless punishment” for the United States and which just announced the expulsion of U.N. inspectors. The Bush Administration promised to give Japan a missile shield to protect it from a North Korean attack. Iraq shot down an American Predator drone, and allied jets bombed a command-and-control post near Tallil. “The evil criminals in the evil American administration and its humble servant Britain added a new crime to their black record against civilization and humanity and the houses of God,” said the official Iraqi news agency. A coalition of Canadian peace groups announced that it will send weapons inspectors to the United States. Saddam Hussein, Burmese opposition leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were among the top foreigners deserving British citizenship, according to the audience of the BBC’s Today radio program. Serbia’s prime minister promised to extradite Serbia’s president to the United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The Israeli army briefly withdrew from Bethlehem but ordered Yasir Arafat to stay away from Christmas services at the Church of the Nativity. Residents of Bethlehem prayed for tourists.
Senate Republicans selected Bill Frist of Tennessee to be their new leader; Frist is a relative newcomer whose main qualifications for Senate leadership are his close ties to the White House and his ability to raise money. Holiday sales were not encouraging; experts said that the growth of retail sales was the worst since 1970. White House officials were pushing for a 50 percent cut in dividend taxes; economists said that such a tax cut would do little to help the real economy but that it might help the stock market. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency announced that it will solicit proposals for a device to identify people by means of smell; the scheme is based on a theory, so far unproven, that every person has a unique, genetically determined odor. A Delta Airlines copilot was arrested shortly before takeoff in Norfolk, Virginia, for being under the influence of alcohol. The Federal Communications Commission granted Kevin Mitnick, the famous computer criminal, a ham radio license. A federal judge ruled that Microsoft must include Sun Microsystem’s Java programming language in its operating systems, and compared Microsoft’s behavior to the kneecapping of Nancy Kerrigan shortly before the 1994 Olympics. Fidel Castro revealed that he was recovering from a serious staphylococcus infection that had required bed rest. “It was my duty to protect my beloved left leg,” Castro said. Thailand’s public-health ministry announced that it will distribute condoms to boy and girl scouts who visit the country for the 20th World Scout Jamboree. Syphilis was on the rise in California.
The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Boston filed a motion to dismiss all sexual-abuse lawsuits pending against it on the grounds that the suits violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. People in Malawi beat up three Roman Catholic priests suspected of being vampires. Another suspected vampire was stoned to death. There were rumors that Malawi’s government was conspiring with vampires to trade blood for food from international aid agencies. The pope denounced war and human cloning. President Charles Taylor of Liberia let murderers, including his brother-in-law, out of prison under a Christmas amnesty but refused to release rapists or prisoners of war. President Bush pardoned seven petty criminals, including a man who once stole $10.99 out of the U.S. mail and a man who was convicted of turning back the odometer on a car. A bus was bombed in Colombia. Gunmen in Mogadishu, Somalia, attacked a schoolbus and killed five children. Suicide bombers attacked the headquarters of Chechnya’s pro-Russian government, killing more than 50 people. The American Peace Corps was told that it is no longer welcome in Russia. Clonaid, a company founded by the Raelians, a free-love cult with peculiar notions about space aliens, claimed that a seven-pound baby girl clone was born by cesarean section. The baby, nicknamed Eve, is allegedly a clone of her mother, a 31-year-old American. Walmart stopped selling “Happy Family” Barbie, which comes with a wedding ring and a detachable stomach with a baby inside, after customers complained about the doll. Iran abolished stoning as a punishment for female adulterers, and 47 Iranian video dealers were sentenced to be lashed for renting obscene films. Malaysia banned an advertisement featuring Brad Pitt on the grounds that the image of the actor is humiliating to people with Asian features. A town in California was sold on eBay for $1.78 million. China banned piranhas.