San Francisco NewSpeak
One day after threatening to sue over San Francisco's heavy-handed new "domestic 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 "domestic partners"--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: "Domestic partner benefits" are out; "spousal equivalent benefits" are in. A "spousal 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.
"Comity 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 "Contract" 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 "there's tension in the room" whenever Mr. Gingrich gathers with other House GOP leaders. "Privately," the magazine reported in its Feb. 17 issue, "some think he won't be Speaker a year from now," and rank-and-file Republicans are "no 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
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 "bring greater public exposure to those advocating a democratic change" on the island. Cuba termed the U.S. action "interventionist," part of a policy "aimed 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.
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 "safe and effective"--still must OK the council's plan for manufacturing and marketing. Target date for full-scale release: late this year.
China wrestled with a diplomatic nightmare--caught between a communist ally and a lucrative trading partner--when a top-level architect of North Korean policy defected, seeking asylum at the South Korean embassy in Beijing. Hwang Jang Yop, 72, had a stopover in China on his way back from Japan, where he had spent two weeks giving speeches and interviews promoting North Korean ideology. In an official statement, Mr. Hwang said he hoped his defection would help reconcile the two Koreas and "save our nation from misery."
The first major test of pro-life strength in the 105th Congress ended in defeat Feb. 13. Pro-abortion forces eked out a 220-209 vote to release--no strings attached--$385 million in federal "family planning" funds to allow abortion-promoting organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation to buy and distribute contraceptives in developing countries. The organizations cannot use the money to perform abortions or to agitate for liberalized abortion laws overseas, but pro-lifers argued that every dollar IPPF doesn't have to spend on condoms is another dollar freed up to promote abortion. On Feb. 12, the House failed to approve 12-year term limits on congressmen. The measure won a 217-211 margin, but that was well short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.
Under pressure from Congress, the Army suspended its top-ranking enlisted soldier, who stands accused of sexual assault harassment. Gene McKinney, sergeant major of the Army, denies the allegations. Florida's Supreme Court said a terminally ill AIDS patient can't have a doctor kill him after all--at least not until a further hearing is held. The court agreed to hear the state's appeal in the case. Earlier, a state circuit court judge had ruled that 35-year-old Charles Hall had a "constitutional right" to doctor-assisted suicide. Oral arguments are slated for May 9. While awaiting trial on a charge of murdering his newborn son, Brian Petersen almost got a job coaching youth soccer. The 18-year-old New Jersey teen, who along with his high school sweetheart Amy Grossberg stands accused of killing the child and dumping him into a Delaware trash bin, had an offer from the Wyckoff, N.J., Torpedoes Soccer Club. A few days later, after a storm of bad publicity, the club withdrew the offer.
Two taxicab receipts discovered last week tied controversial former Democratic fundraiser John Huang to the latest development in the campaign-finance scandal engulfing the Clinton administration and the Democratic National Committee. Justice Department sources leaked to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward the news that the agency is investigating evidence the Chinese embassy in Washington was used for planning contributions to the DNC. Mr. Huang's connection? On Oct. 11, 1995, when as a Commerce Department official he was barred from raising political funds, Mr. Huang's expense report lists a $5 taxicab ride from his agency office to the Indonesian embassy. Mr. Huang did not return until the next day, when his expense record shows a $5 taxicab trip from the "residence of the Chinese ambassador" to the Commerce Department. The Feb. 13 Woodward scoop quoted "officials familiar with the [Justice Department] inquiry" who said federal agencies obtained the evidence pointing to the Chinese embassy by use of electronic eavesdropping. The evidence, Mr. Woodward's sources say, elevates the level of seriousness of the fundraising scandal, because it now may have what government lawyers call a "foreign counterintelligence component." Chinese embassy officials, of course, deny the report. But the usually categorical White House spokesman Mike McCurry hedged big-time: "To the best of my knowledge, no one here [at the White House] had any knowledge of" the Post's allegations. Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted Feb. 13 to issue 52 subpoenas for information related to the panel's campaign-finance probe. Most of the subpoenas were to Clinton administration officials and Democratic donors with access to the White House. From a Washington-area halfway house Feb. 12 the one-time number-three man at the Justice Department, Webster Hubbell, emerged a free man. But after 16 months in federal prison, Mr. Hubbell likely will have more contact with Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr--and could face additional charges if he doesn't cooperate with Mr. Starr's probe. Another key witness, who's vowed never to sing for Mr. Starr, is Susan McDougal, imprisoned since last fall for contempt of court because she refused to cooperate. She accused her ex-husband last week of lying to prosecutors about Bill Clinton's role in the securing of an illegal loan for her; she said he is motivated by the prospect of receiving a lighter sentence for his conviction last summer for Whitewater crimes. New Yorker magazine reported Feb. 9 that James McDougal was prepared to recant his sworn testimony that Mr. Clinton was not involved in the loan transaction. Mr. McDougal also said his former wife had an affair with Mr. Clinton. Mrs. McDougal denies there was any affair.
THE TV RATINGS CANARD
If television's new ratings are vague, at least the ratings' critics aren't: "Hopelessly confusing, inconsistent, contradictory, and meaningless," declared the Media Research Center's qualitative and quantitative analysis of the ratings' first weeks. MRC analysts viewed 150 hours of prime-time programming in January and found that the ratings, assigned voluntarily by each network, were not only inconsistent from network to network; the ratings were not even consistent among programs within networks. MRC found that some programs rated G contained crudities and sexual jokes. PG television contained slightly fewer vulgarities than TV-14 programming: 52 percent of PG shows contained crude language, compared to 68 percent of those carrying the TV-14 rating. But the PG rating, applied to more than three-fifths of programming, was applied to shows that contained more violence than some programs earning the more restrictive TV-14 rating. Analysts from MRC reported: "While slightly more TV-14 than TV-PG shows contained sexual references, PG shows included more sexual references per hour." In other words, the industry's age-based system is worthless, proving what WORLD cultural editor Ed Veith has said all along: Only content-based ratings will be of value to parents. The MRC analysis is sure to make the Feb. 27 hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, scheduled to assess the new system, much more interesting. You can read the analysis on the Internet at www.mediaresearch.org/mrc/ptc/wratcov.html. Although it details merely what was on TV, parts of the report are not suitable for children.
Kemp vs. Gore
One day after the Democrats' presumptive standard bearer in the year 2000--Vice President Al Gore--stumbled badly with key swing voters in Chicago, one possible GOP counterpart announced on NBC's Meet the Press that despite his dismal campaign in 1996 he had the "appetite" for another run. Mr. Gore, in Chicago Feb. 8 with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, took a private tour of a Chicago auto show, freezing out other eager ticketholders who were blocked by police and Secret Service agents from entering the show for some 40 minutes. The angry car fans shouted, "Refund! Refund!" as the two politicians toured. The next day, Jack Kemp--Bob Dole's number two--told NBC he would formally decide after next year's congressional elections whether to seek the White House. Mr. Kemp, whose 1996 performance left a bad taste in many conservatives' mouths, said of a 2000 bid: "I'll tell you this, my appetite is whetted."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Clinton in Washington Feb. 13, the first of a series of White House meetings aimed at working toward a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East. Mr. Netanyahu will be followed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan's King Hussein. Not on the agenda so far: a hoped-for meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Crime doesn't pay
In his heyday as a sportscaster, actor, and pitch man, O.J. Simpson earned $2.5 million a year. The same California civil jury that found him liable for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend ordered him Feb. 10 to pay the victims' families 10 times that much--$25 million--in punitive damages. At a post-trial news conference, jurors explained their reasoning: "[It's] a deterrent for other murderers." Meanwhile, red-faced Justice Department officials are advising some 50 federal state and local prosecutors that contamination of evidence at the FBI crime lab in Washington could negatively affect their cases. The crime lab troubles came to light last month when FBI scientist-agent Frederic Whitehurst blew the whistle, claiming that lab procedures aren't up to snuff and that lab supervisors don't have proper scientific training. Mr. Whitehurst's allegations are backed up by documents obtained by The Washington Post, which show that outside experts have questioned the lab's most basic practices for more than 15 years.