What to watch for in the weeks ahead


Brokaw's Final Broadcast

Tonight America's most trusted anchor (according to a 2003 TV Guide poll) presides over the NBC Nightly News for the last time. Executives at the network say they are not worried about the long-term impact on ratings, but a certain amount of nervousness may be in order: Brokaw's successor, Brian Williams, finished last in the TV Guide poll. Critics have faulted Williams for being, in their view, a florid speaker and "perpetually tanned."


(Another) Report on UN Reform

A panel appointed last year by Secretary-General Kofi Annan submits its findings today on how the UN could better cope with global security threats. Although attempts to reform the UN have been perennial failures, some observers believe this effort has a better chance: it comes in the wake of the Iraq War and is a priority of Annan's. The panel is expected to advocate, among other things, expanding the Security Council—a topic of discussion virtually since the founding of the UN. Currently knocking on the door: Japan, India, Germany, and Brazil, among others.


NATO Troops Leave Bosnia

Some 7,000 European Union soldiers take on the task of Bosnian peacekeeping today. The Union is eager to prove that it can play a role in regional security independent of nato; the Bosnian mission is its first major test. The EU is also establishing a combined European military headquarters, the European Defense Agency, in Brussels. The United States, which has voiced reservations about the effectiveness of the EDA, will most likely keep troops in Bosnia.


Turkey Tries Again

EU members vote on whether to begin negotiations to allow Turkey to join their ranks. Turkey first applied for membership in 1987. Its chances are now greatly improved: a recent EU report recommended a "yes" vote, stating that Turkey has met the criteria outlined—economic growth, reduced military influence in politics, and improved human rights. However, Europe remains as uneasy about admitting a large, poor Muslim country to the EU as the United States is enthusiastic about having a moderate Islamic state become part of the West. The report also recommended a special "emergency brake," allowing the EU to end negotiations if Turkey's human-rights record lapses.


Boston Churches for Sale

By year's end the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is slated to close eighty-two of its 357 parishes—the most sweeping set of closures ever by the Catholic Church in America. Many of the parish properties, collectively valued at $400 million, will be put up for sale. The action is attributed mainly to dwindling attendance and the increasing scarcity of clerics. It occurs against the background of the sex-abuse scandals, which have taken a huge financial toll.


Musharraf and His Epaulets

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has until today to make good on a deal he struck last year with opposition Islamist parties in the parliament, which agreed to give him wide-ranging constitutional powers in exchange for his promise to step down as head of the military by the end of the year. Musharraf has indicated that he may renege and has gotten some legislative backing to do so.


Soviet-Era Subsidies End

Russian war veterans, pensioners, and invalids take their last free bus ride today: starting tomorrow free and subsidized services for these groups, which covered transportation, housing, and medical care, will be eliminated in favor of monthly cash payments. At least 30 million of Russia's 143 million citizens will be affected, and they are not happy about the change: last summer, when it was introduced in the parliament, President Vladimir Putin's approval ratings fell below 50 percent for the first time.


New Reconnaissance at Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers will begin using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags this year. The companies must affix the tags to cases of products headed for certain distribution centers in Texas, where the technology—intended to replace bar codes and scanners—will be tested. The tags can be read by a remote device, allowing stores to track inventory more quickly and accurately. (According to some estimates, retailers lose as much as four percent of sales because items are out of stock.) RFID tags are not new (for example, they are used to allow drivers to pass through toll booths without stopping to pay cash), but this marks their major debut in the retail sector. The tags could eventually be attached to individual items, raising concerns about potential invasions of privacy.