Easter in China
Not just a tourist without a compass, Newt Gingrich did more than ask the U.S. embassy whether it was safe to go to church while in China on Easter Sunday. He went to the experts. The House Speaker--obviously understanding the importance of the decision--consulted his colleague Chris Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on human rights, along with top human-rights activist Nina Shea, on the eve of his trip. But he didn't listen to good advice. For the Easter services, Mr. Gingrich and members of his bipartisan congressional delegation attended Shanghai Community Church, which some journalists cited as "a model of respectability" among Chinese government-sponsored churches. Mr. Gingrich's attendance was a snub to China's persecuted Christians who meet in house churches in order to worship freely. "What he did," Ms. Shea told WORLD, "conferred legitimacy on the state-sponsored church, misled the American public, missed an important opportunity to stand for the persecuted, and was demoralizing for the underground church at a crucial time." Mr. Gingrich was already scheduled to be in Shanghai Easter Sunday, where there is an ongoing crackdown directed at Christians in underground churches. Christina Martin, spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, told WORLD: "The Speaker's initial request to attend a non-government sponsored church was not fulfilled because of fear that a public act could pose a threat of harm for the clergy and parishioners involved. The same threat held true for the requested meetings with religious leaders." That statement makes it seem as if Mr. Gingrich had no options. Not so. Ms. Shea said one option was to follow the example of former Philippines President Corazon Aquino, who flew out of China for one day in order to attend a freely held service. Another possibility: Hold a service in his hotel room and invite underground church members. "'Prop the door open and read Hebrews 13:3. Alert the press corps,'" Ms. Shea said she suggested. "It would have been a powerful symbol," she continued, "but in the end, he didn't believe his own rhetoric."
Will work for silence?
President Clinton April 3 said aides who sought lucrative work for disgraced Justice Department official Webster Hubbell in 1994 were acting "just out of human compassion." The Whitewater independent counsel wants to know whether they were acting out of fear of what testimony a more desperate Mr. Hubbell might provide against their boss, the president. White House officials April 1 revealed that former chief of staff Thomas McLarty and former administrator of the Small Business Administration (now chief of staff) Erskine Bowles put the arm on friends to become new clients of Mr. Hubbell. Months later, Mr. Hubbell would plead guilty to defrauding old clients of almost $500,000. These disclosures complete only part of the picture. In the nine months between his resignation from the Justice Department and his guilty plea that cost him 18 months in federal prison, Mr. Hubbell earned more money than he'd ever earned during the same amount of time as an Arkansas lawyer. About a dozen different clients paid a total of more than $500,000, of which a major benefactor of President Clinton and the Democratic Party--Indonesia's Lippo Group--paid him $100,000. Mr. McLarty hustled up several thousand dollars in business for Mr. Hubbell; Mr. Bowles was unsuccessful, even though he tried to tap a friend whose company was on the equivalent of probation with Mr. Bowles's SBA. Where did the rest of the money come from? Mr. Hubbell is not talking. A House committee April 3 issued 18 new subpoenas to find out. What the April Fool's Day disclosures reveal is that Mr. McLarty specifically informed First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton of his intention to "be supportive" of Mr. Hubbell. According to Lanny Davis, a lawyer who serves as the White House's designated scandal spokesman for the news media, Mr. McLarty "thinks he may have mentioned it to the president, but his memory is less clear about that." This is the first acknowledgment that the Clintons knew of an effort to secure lucrative work for Mr. Hubbell. When journalists reported in February on the Lippo payment, Mr. Clinton claimed newspaper reports represented his first knowledge of the Lippo-Hubbell connection.
The California superintendent of public education, in Washington April 2, pledged her support for President Clinton's plan to devise federal government education standards. Also, more than 200 leaders of high-tech businesses endorsed the idea. Until then, only Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina government school officials had endorsed the president's federal testing scheme. Mr. Clinton has said he wants a federal standardized test of reading for 4th graders and math for 8th graders. Of the nation's 50 million government school students, 10 percent of them reside in California, making the state superintendent's backing all the more significant. "California and all of you here today have given powerful new momentum to the crusade for national education standards," Mr. Clinton declared. Not so fast, said an aide to California Gov. Pete Wilson. Spokesman Dan Edwards said Superintendent Delaine Easton was speaking for herself when she pledged support of the federal standards. "Her endorsement does not speak for all of the education hierarchy of California," said Mr. Edwards.
Washington in brief
Clinton directs FCC to study booze advertising. Stopping short of endorsing a government ban on TV commercials selling hard liquor, President Clinton April 1 asked the Federal Communications Commission to study the liquor industry's decision to end its voluntary advertising ban. Liquor ads are scheduled to begin airing on some local television stations, but the networks still refuse them. Mr. Clinton urged the FCC to consider "any and all actions" to keep liquor advertising off the air. Supreme Court rules cable systems must keep low-power TV on the air. In a 5-4 decision March 31, the high court upheld the Congress' 1992 law requiring that cable operators carry all low-power broadcasters in their coverage areas. The four dissenters in the ruling held that cable operators' First Amendment rights outweighed Congress' right to legislate the "must-carry" rule. The court reinstates a Montana parental-notification abortion law. The measure requires a minor girl to notify a parent before having an abortion. It contains a "judicial-bypass" provision, which allows a court to give abortion permission if a judge believes there are legitimate reasons a parent should not be told. Meanwhile, the high court refused to hear a case involving pro-life students who claimed their religious freedom had been abridged by collection of a university fee, which went in part to fund abortion services. Lower courts had also found against the students. EPA backtracks on lives-saved estimate from proposed new regulations. Environmental Protection Agency officials April 2 acknowledged they overstated by 25 percent the number of lives tougher air-particulate standards would save. EPA hoped to have the regulations in place by summer.
Tainted frozen strawberries, imported from Mexico for use in the federally administered school-lunch program, caused an outbreak of the viral liver ailment hepatitis A. More than 150 schoolchildren in Michigan contracted the disease, which causes fever, fatigue, nausea, and abdominal pain. Thousands of children in several other states were believed at risk. Health officials in Arizona, California, Georgia, and Tennessee administered gamma globulin shots hoping to head off further outbreaks. The Department of Agriculture launched an investigation into how foreign produce, prohibited by law from being served in the school-lunch program, had reached the schools.
The wheels of justice
Jury selection began in the long-awaited trial of Timothy McVeigh, the decorated Gulf War soldier charged in the worst terrorist attack in the United States: the April 1995 Oklahoma City truck bombing that killed 168 men, women, and children. It may take weeks to whittle the jury pool of 350 prospects down to 12 jurors and six alternates. When the trial begins, prosecutors are expected to argue that Mr. McVeigh and former Army buddy Terry Nichols plotted and executed the bombing as retribution for the federal government's deadly 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Attorneys for Mr. McVeigh, who was captured 90 minutes after the bombing, likely will argue that the government's case is built on flimsy evidence and unreliable witnesses.
At the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the Army charged an 11th instructor with having sexual relations with female trainees. The latest charges followed by two days a Washington Post investigative story characterized consensual sex at Aberdeen--between trainees as well as between trainees and instructors--as "rampant." Meanwhile, court-martial proceedings began in the case of a Aberdeen instructor charged with 25 counts of rape. In North Carolina, the Marines called in reporters and camera crews to Camp LeJeune to witness another victory in the battle for a fully "gender-integrated" military. Female privates, who used to ship straight out to specialty schools after boot camp, for the first time joined their male counterparts in combat training.
A choice for school choice?
There appeared to be good news for supporters of Wisconsin's embattled school-choice program: Despite heavy and highly organized opposition from the state teachers' union, voters overwhelmingly reelected incumbent Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. The Wilcox victory, school choice supporters said, makes it likely the state's school voucher plan will survive a constitutional challenge. The plan, on hold pending court action, would allow 15,000 children to participate in a school choice experiment that includes religious schools. Mr. Wilcox supported vouchers in an earlier court ruling.
Eleven days after the start of spring, a blizzard hit the Northeast, leaving up to three feet of snow on the ground all the way from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. The storm shut down schools, knocked out power, and crippled transportation. East Jewett, N.Y., recorded the top snowfall amount: 37 inches. In Boston, 25 inches of snow fell in 24 hours, the fastest area snowfall on record. At least three men died from heart attacks while shoveling snow.
Following in the literal, but not rhetorical, footsteps of Vice President Al Gore, House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited China, leading a bipartisan, 12-member congressional delegation. Mr. Gore, in what the Los Angeles Times called "a polite visit," had avoided virtually any public pronouncements about China's abysmal human-rights record. But Mr. Gingrich, saying he would not "remain silent about the lack of basic freedom" in China, criticized the nation's communist government for ignoring its own constitution, which calls for freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion. In a lecture to a class of future diplomats at China's Foreign Affairs College, Mr. Gingrich said freedom is "a right bestowed by our Creator" and declared that China's effort to allow economic freedom without political freedom is doomed. The Speaker also talked tough about America's defense commitment to Taiwan, the island nation to which Chinese Nationalist leaders fled in 1949 as advancing communists seized the mainland. China considers Taiwan to be a renegade province, but Mr. Gingrich said should the communists ever try to invade the island, "[The United States] will defend Taiwan. Period." He added, however, that the United States will support China's claim to the island as long as reunification is "voluntary [and] non-coercive."
It worked before
Mr. Gingrich's political playbook of 1994--the Contract with America--continues to be replicated around the world, this time in Great Britain. Labor Party leader Tony Blair issued his "Contract for Britain," a list of 10 promises he's pledging to fulfill if Labor gains a majority in Parliament. Among them: a promise not to raise income taxes for five years, reforming education, and cleaning up the environment. Polls show Labor leading the Conservative Party by some 25 percentage points. The election is May 1.
Russia and Belarus signed a treaty April 2 calling for closer economic and military ties, a possible first step toward reintegration of the two former Soviet republics. Although Communist-sympathizing Russian hardliners hailed the treaty as a move toward revival of a mighty state, both Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarussian counterpart stressed that the two nations will remain sovereign and separate. Even so, Mr. Yeltsin, scorned by many Russians for his role in the Soviet break-up, apparently hopes the prospect of a merger with Belarus will help his standing among Russians nostalgic for the former days, while also supplying him with at least a symbolic response to NATO's planned expansion into Eastern Europe. The Russia/ Belarus treaty must be ratified by the two countries' parliaments.
In Israel, a gasoline bomb--apparently thrown by Palestinians--hit an Israeli bus, wounding eleven soldiers. It was just one incident in a violence-wracked week, as Palestinians continued to protest construction of a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, an area Palestinians claim as their own. The violence threatened to unravel the tenuous Israeli/Palestinian peace process. "The ... process can't be conducted while buses ... are exploding or while children are in danger of a terrorist blowing them up," fumed a frustrated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat demanded Israel halt the East Jerusalem project, calling Mr. Netanyahu's decision to go ahead with the construction "a declaration of war against an unarmed people." Mr. Netanyahu vowed he would not change course.