This Week

Issue: "Drawing the Line," Feb. 22, 1997

San Francisco NewSpeak

One day after threatening to sue over San Francisco's heavy-handed new &quotdomestic partner" ordinance, the city's Roman Catholic archdiocese struck a compromise with the Board of Supervisors. As originally worded, the ordinance required all groups and businesses that contract with the city to provide spousal-type benefits to &quotdomestic partners&quot--often homosexual companions--of employees. The archdiocese, which receives city money to do benevolence work in San Francisco, did not want to embrace city-approved immorality. But at the heart of the compromise is Orwellian NewSpeak: &quotDomestic partner benefits" are out; &quotspousal equivalent benefits" are in. A &quotspousal equivalent" can be a spouse, a sibling, other relative, or unmarried partner. Apparently, the change was enough to satisfy Archbishop William Lavada. The Board of Supervisors also struck a deal with United Airlines. United, which is planning a $90 million expansion at San Francisco International Airport, agreed to phase in health benefits for same-sex partners of its employees over 20 months. Other city contractors must comply as of June 1.

Contract with D.C.

&quotComity central" is how one Democratic congressman describes the new bipartisan attitude that lately surrounds President Clinton and congressional leaders. Breaking the usual custom of lawmakers' coming to the White House for meetings, the president Feb. 11 traveled to the other end of Pennsylvania Ave. for a huddle with Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. They emerged with a nonspecific agreement to cooperate on five issues: improving education; moving former welfare recipients into jobs; cutting taxes; attacking juvenile crime; and dealing with the virtually bankrupt government of the District of Columbia, which is under the jurisdiction of Congress. Embattled House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at a GOP fundraising function in Ohio Feb. 12, said Republicans would work with the president, but he still wants to enact unfulfilled provisions of the Contract with America. Oddly, the previous day's cooperation agreement with the president on D.C.--not exactly a &quotContract" provision--was the brainchild of Mr. Gingrich, who continues his courting of liberal black leaders, much to the chagrin of conservatives in his party. The Weekly Standard, a political journal with Republican sympathies, reported &quotthere's tension in the room" whenever Mr. Gingrich gathers with other House GOP leaders. &quotPrivately," the magazine reported in its Feb. 17 issue, &quotsome think he won't be Speaker a year from now," and rank-and-file Republicans are &quotno longer in awe" of the Speaker. The bipartisanship ran aground Feb. 13 when a Congressional Budget Office analysis found President Clinton's budget off by $66 billion. CBO said the Clinton budget does not reach the promised balance by 2002, and projects a $49 billion deficit by then. The White House stood by its projection of a $17 billion surplus by 2002.

Coming and going in Cuba

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President Clinton gave the go-ahead for American news organizations to open bureaus in Cuba, representing a significant change in the longstanding U.S. policy of isolating the communist-led nation. The White House said allowing U.S. news organizations to report directly from Cuba would &quotbring greater public exposure to those advocating a democratic change" on the island. Cuba termed the U.S. action &quotinterventionist," part of a policy &quotaimed at destroying the Cuban revolution." Still, President Fidel Castro has approved a CNN bureau for Havana. While other news organizations laid plans for getting into Cuba, a Cuban court sentenced six Cubans who tried to get out. The court gave terms ranging from 8 to 20 years to six people who hijacked a tugboat last year in an attempt to flee the island. Meanwhile, European officials, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the United States, postponed a legal challenge to a U.S. law that punishes outside companies doing business in Cuba. But barring some other resolution, the European officials say they're prepared to go ahead with their World Trade Organization challenge to the Helms-Burton Act. Helms-Burton is designed to put economic pressure on Cuba--and it seems to be working. So far, 12 foreign companies have pulled out of Cuba or refrained from doing business there as a result of the law.

At-home abortions

Do-it-yourself, non-surgical abortions are one step closer to reality. The American group holding the rights to sell the abortion-inducing drug, RU-486, cleared a legal hurdle Feb. 12, settling a lawsuit against the man chosen last year to set up a distribution network for the drug. After selling the RU-486 distribution rights to California businessman Joseph Pike, the Population Council discovered Mr. Pike had been less than honest about his background: He's a disbarred lawyer who has a criminal conviction for forgery. The council sued for fraud. Now that the suit is settled--Mr. Pike agreed to take himself out of the distribution picture and reduce his financial stake in RU-486--the drug is all but cleared for takeoff. The Food and Drug Administration--which last year deemed the baby-expelling pill &quotsafe and effective&quot--still must OK the council's plan for manufacturing and marketing. Target date for full-scale release: late this year.

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