The numbers racket
Although the committee room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was packed with reporters, one story didn't make it out of the room when a joint Senate and House committee took up the issue of partial-birth abortions March 11. During that hearing, pro-life members of Congress indicted the press by showing portions of a PBS documentary that criticized reporters for "parroting the line of the abortion lobby" two years ago, when they "reported" the false story that as few as 500 partial-birth abortions are performed each year. The myth put forth by pro-abortion lobbyists such as Ron Fitzsimmons was taken as fact by many journalists, until one reporter in New Jersey thought to verify it. When she contacted abortionists in her state, she found that at least 1,500 partial-birth abortions had taken place in New Jersey alone that year. Later, the Washington Post and other newspapers admitted what they'd reported was false. "It took more than 14 months for the facts to emerge," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter said in the documentary. "For news organizations to allow months to pass before they try to go out and do their own independent assessment of the facts, was a real problem. They let themselves substitute political reporting, what was going on on the Hill, which was just a lot of unreliable advocates shouting at each other. That drove out the real reporting about how many of these abortions were taking place, and where and at what time in a woman's pregnancy." Also in that PBS documentary, Forbes MediaCritic Online editor Terry Eastland added, "In the case of this particular story, reporters tended to accept as true the assertions of the abortion-rights side, despite evidence calling into question their claims." The hearing was otherwise a repeat of hearings held two years ago. The difference this time was that the pro-abortion side was on the defensive. Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and Renee Chelian of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers said numbers--and therefore lies about those numbers--don't matter. "Whether the number is five, five hundred, or five thousand a year, each one of these numbers represents the real life of an individual woman," said Ms. Michelman. And the real life of an individual baby, female or male. The House votes first on the matter, then the Senate. A finished bill is expected to be ready for the president by Easter. Mr. Clinton has again vowed to veto it.
He said, she said
Journalists last week provided much of the fodder for Senate questioning of CIA director-designate Anthony Lake. "It's always nice to get the morning paper these days so we have new stories to follow up with more questions," said Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). He wasn't kidding. On March 10, officials at the White House and FBI spent the day dueling over the previous day's Washington Post report that revealed a 1996 FBI briefing of National Security Council staffers about possible Chinese government influence of congressional and presidential elections. The two officials kept the information to themselves. Mr. Lake, then head of the NSC, was responsible for the conduct of the staffers. In Senate testimony, he insisted he was kept in the dark about the FBI briefing, as was Mr. Clinton. Mr. Lake conceded that he and the president should have been informed on "a matter of extraordinary importance such as that," but defended his staff's silence: "They had to make a decision based on the information they had and on any strictures put on them." Whether there were any "strictures" was at the core of the dispute. FBI officials said the briefing information was indeed restricted, but to White House personnel with appropriate security clearances; that, the FBI maintains, should never have been taken to mean the president and national security adviser should be kept out of the loop. Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry appeared before the White House press corps three times March 10 on the matter; once, he claimed an FBI statement was "in error." That evening he backed off, and the next day Attorney General Janet Reno claimed it was all just a misunderstanding. As to his fitness for handling the government's intelligence-gathering agency in light of the bungled operations at the NSC, Mr. Lake said he is capable of providing "unvarnished and unprejudiced" information to the president and policymakers.
Is the tide turning?
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll March 13 found public attitudes toward President Clinton are changing. Three-quarters of respondents said they had "major concerns" about foreign influence in the Democratic Party. Fifty-three percent said they believed contributions influenced policymaking, despite Mr. Clinton's insistence they did not. "The China connection is what bothers most people," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who with Republican Robert Teeter conducted the poll. President Clinton's approval rating dropped slightly, but it remains above 50 percent. But the poll came before further scandalous revelations last week: Newly released White House documents, turned over to congressional investigators March 10 under threat of subpoena, show a deliberate attempt by presidential aides to use a government computer database to "recreate the general campaign structure." A November 1994 memorandum from aide Marsha Scott to deputy chiefs of staff Harold Ickes and Erskine Bowles (now chief of staff) said the computer could help "identify by March 1, 1995, key financial and political folks who will work with us in '96." Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.), who is heading the congressional probe, said the memo "shows the intention to misuse government resources was there from the beginning." The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, agreed March 12 to return $107,000 to the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indians of Oklahoma. Tribal officials had hoped the contributions would buy them the president's support for a return of oil- and natural gas-rich lands. The morning of a scheduled luncheon with Mr. Clinton, a DNC fundraiser hit up the Indians for a $100,000 check. Tribal leaders say they would rather have the land than the money returned, but said one: "If they persist in offering the tribes their money back, we will have no choice but to accept it." The $107,000 came from a tribal welfare fund that helps needy families with home heating bills. The home heat is rising around Vice President Gore as well. The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel quoted one-time Senate aides to Mr. Gore saying that their former boss made at least two dozen presidential fundraising calls from his Senate office; the calls came in the spring of 1987, when Mr. Gore was running for president. Federal law prohibits members of Congress from using their offices to raise campaign money.
Washington in brief
Sheep cloner says human cloning would be "inhumane." In testimony before a Senate panel March 12, Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut denounced the idea of human cloning, but cautioned policymakers against writing laws to regulate the practice too hastily. Dr. Wilmut said he sees humane benefits of animal cloning, suggesting genetically altered animals could help in fighting human diseases. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, had a different view: "Human cloning will take place in my lifetime and I don't fear it. I welcome it." Kentucky Democrat to retire. Quipping that his wife wouldn't let him have generous donors as overnight guests in their spare bedroom, Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) said he will not seek another term in office. "I do not relish, in fact I detest, the idea of having to raise $5 million for a job that pays $133,000 a year," the 72-year-old assistant minority leader said March 10. Ohio Democrat John Glenn announced two weeks ago he would retire after his term expires next year. Former transportation secretary travels to Energy Department's top post. Federico Pe¤a won near-unanimous Senate approval March 12 to become Secretary of Energy. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman rips chemical weapons treaty. North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms, speaking at a conservative political conference, vowed March 8 that the proposed chemical weapons treaty will die in his committee without changes that the Clinton administration has refused to support. Mr. Helms says the treaty provides a false sense of security.
Tensions heightened in the Middle East after Jordan's King Hussein--considered Israel's closest ally in the Arab world--accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of following policies that amounted to "continued deliberate humiliation of your so-called Palestinian partners." In a forceful letter to the Israeli leader, Mr. Hussein warned that if Mr. Netanyahu pressed ahead with plans to build a new Jewish housing settlement in East Jerusalem, it would push Palestinians to "inevitable violent resistance." Several Middle East newspapers printed the Hussein letter. Days later, a Jordanian soldier--described later by his mother as mentally ill--grabbed an M-16 rifled and opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls touring a border outpost on the Israeli-Jordanian border. Seven of the girls were killed. On March 13, the United Nations General Assembly voted 130-2 to condemn Israel's plan to build new Jewish housing in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem. The "no" votes came from Israel and the United States. U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson complained that UN is not the proper forum for dealing with the Middle East peace process.
Civil unrest sparked by a failed get-rich-quick scheme reached epidemic proportions in Albania, prompting a helicopter rescue of American citizens by U.S. troops. Albanian street protests began in late January after a string of pyramid investment schemes collapsed, leaving thousands of people penniless in what is already Europe's poorest country. By last week, anarchy reigned. Gangs ransacked military armories and civilians navigated captured tanks through the streets. Albanian President Sali Berisha, whose ouster is being demanded by protesters, appealed to NATO for military help. As missionaries fled the country, Baptist Press reported the violence could undermine progress on what it called "one of the most responsive mission fields in Eastern Europe."
CALGARY-From the U.S. perspective it sometimes seems that the name of our great northern neighbor should be Canaria, land of canaries, rather than Canada. Miners took canaries into mineshafts to warn them of poisonous gases; U.S. conservatives read stories about, say, the recent Ontario court ruling that legitimizes "gay" marriages (WORLD, July 27), and we nod mournfully about the poisonous ideologies wafting south. It's helpful that some Canadian trends push Americans either to duck, or to suck it up and fight back-but let's not forget the good news from the north. School choice has been in the news since the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 green light earlier this summer, with anti-choicers asserting that studies showing the positive effects of vouchers come only from small-scale programs. They assert that there's no evidence of large-scale voucher effects, so we shouldn't hurry into something untried. They should visit Canada, where 92 percent of the population enjoys a variety of publicly funded school choices. In four of Canada's provinces-Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia-independent schools receive direct subsidies from the government, correlated to the number of students attending them. (Subsidies began as a way to assure Catholics that they would have an alternative to public schools once controlled by Protestants.) Ontario also has had a subsidy system but, beginning this fall, parents in that most populous Canadian province will be able to use a refundable tax credit. The results of Canadian school choice, according to a new study from British Columbia's Fraser Institute, are striking. School choice has been particularly advantageous for poor and middle-income families. Achievement test scores have gone up, particularly among low-income students, in the provinces that offer school choice. Independent schools tend to be more socially diverse than public schools, which often draw from economically homogenous neighborhoods. Let me emphasize this: Canadian school choice has helped all students, and particularly the poor. The correlation between socioeconomic status and school achievement has dropped in provinces that fund independent schools; this result suggests that school choice contributes to the pursuit of educational equity rather than takes away from it. Educational choice has gone the furthest here in the province of Alberta, which instituted it in the 1960s. Independent schools now receive per student about 60 percent of what public schools spend; special-needs students receive 100 percent of what the government would spend on a similar child in a public school. Homeschooling families receive about one-sixth of the public-school costs. Fears that government would dictate to Christian schools have diminished over the years. Given all the fears about religious schools voiced in the United States, it's instructive that support for school choice in Canada has grown even as animosity toward Christianity and biblical principle has flourished among Canadian media and academia folks. Just before I gave a lecture at the University of Calgary, a friendly conservative warned me that many members of the academic audience would be dismayed if I stated that Christianity was true. Of course I did just that, and received criticism for not being "inclusive." Later, another friendly conservative wistfully said, "Two-thirds of the objections would have vanished if your talk hadn't had religion in it. I'm not saying that you should have changed what you said, but ..." I mention these comments both to report on Canadian views and to note a danger: Secular conservatives in the United States who favor school choice are being tempted to jettison evangelical allies and go for approaches (like expanded charter systems) that exclude "religious" schools. The Canadian experience shows that there is no need to fall into that trap. In a country with less Christian influence than the United States, school choice is thriving because it is seen as basically the right way to go, and Christian schools are not the objects of discrimination. We can be successful here, as long as Christians and conservatives stick together. The problems of President Bush's faith-based initiatives show what happens when secularized conservatives squirm out of an alliance with conservative Christians and try to make a deal with liberals. The White House lost crucial allies early in the process by agreeing to policies that would discriminate against evangelical groups. We should not make that mistake in a revived school-choice movement. Canaries that warn of poisonous gases can also, if unharmed, drive away the darkness with their melodies. Canada offers us not only warning but hope.
San Francisco's attempt to impose its pro-homosexual views on private businesses and church groups notched another victory: Bank of America, one of America's largest financial institutions, agreed to offer "extended family" benefits to its 80,000 employees nationwide. In an apparent attempt to mute negative reaction, the new B of A benefits will apply not only to homosexual "partners" and unmarried heterosexual "partners" of employees, but also to adult dependents, such as a parent or grandparent. B of A, headquartered in San Francisco, said its action was prompted, at least in part, by the city's new ordinance which penalizes city contractors that refuse to provide health benefits to partners of homosexual employees.
Was it a missile that caused the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 last July, killing all 230 on board? That possibility resurfaced March 9 when the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise reported that newly disclosed evidence gave additional weight to the missile theory. Three days later, former ABC newsman Pierre Salinger repeated his claim--first made in November--that a U.S. Navy missile accidentally shot down the Paris-bound plane. This time Mr. Salinger released a 69-page document and a set of radar images which he claimed offered proof of the alleged accident. He also claimed the Navy and other government agencies instigated a coverup of the shootdown to avoid revealing that the Navy had been illegally testing a type of missile banned by an international treaty. James Kallstrom, head of the FBI's investigation into the crash, dismissed Mr. Salinger's story, saying it was filled with "just plain false information" and included "absolute unadulterated nonsense."
Crime and time
Los Angeles police, responding to a tip given to the National Enquirer, arrested and charged Mikail Markhasev, an 18-year-old Russian emigrant, with murder in the January shooting death of Bill Cosby's son. The young man allegedly shot Ennis Cosby, 27, who was changing a tire along a secluded stretch of Southern California freeway. Florida freed 300 murderers, rapists, and other violent felons March 12, the first wave of a court-ordered release of more than 2,500 serious offenders. The early releases are the result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling forcing the state to restore its "gain time" policy--an automatic release plan Florida instituted in the 1980s to relieve prison overcrowding. That policy was revoked in 1992, but the Supreme Court said last month that the state could not violate its promise to convicts that they would be released early.