Ten days after a federal district judge OK'd the Food and Drug Administration's plan to regulate tobacco as a drug, a Florida jury found R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second-largest tobacco company, not liable for the death of a woman who smoked for more than 30 years. The verdict came as marathon negotiations continued in Dallas between Big Tobacco and a group of state attorneys general. Twenty-five states are suing cigarette makers to recover costs of treating smoking-related sickness. The industry reportedly is offering to set up a $375 billion fund to cover health costs if given immunity from future lawsuits.
Neutrality and morality
Saying Swiss "neutrality collided with morality," U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat released a scathing report on Switzerland's role as a trading center for gold looted by German Nazis from conquered nations and Jewish holocaust victims. The report said Switzerland sustained Adolf Hitler's war machine by serving as Germany's chief foreign source of credit and equipment during World War II. In its annual report on worldwide terrorism, the State Department said Iran remains at the top of its list of terrorist-sponsoring nations. Also cited: Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, the Sudan, and Syria. Terrorist attacks in 1996 killed 311 people.
Nuking the nuclear family
An alert staffer at the Family Research Council last week, wading through that morass of dead tree pulp otherwise known as the Federal Register, made a startling discovery. A new executive order on the environment published April 21 contained a line repealing one of a previous president's orders-one that had nothing to do with the environment. Repealed was a pro-family order of President Reagan, written by FRC head Gary Bauer, then a domestic policy aide. Mr. Bauer says the order required government to consider its policies in light of whether they advanced or harmed the family unit. He says the order blocked "some of the worst schemes of government bureaucrats in the last 10 years." The order required bureaucrats to ask these seven questions before implementing any policy: (1) Does this action by government strengthen or erode the stability of the family and, particularly, the marital commitment? (2) Does this action strengthen or erode the authority and rights of parents in the education, nurture, and supervision of their children? (3) Does this action help the family perform its functions, or does it substitute governmental activity for the function? (4) Does this action by government increase or decrease family earnings? Do the proposed benefits of this action justify the impact on the family budget? (5) Can this activity be carried out by a lower level of government or by the family itself? (6) What message, intended or otherwise, does this program send to the public concerning the status of the family? (7) What message does it send to young people concerning the relationship between their behavior, their personal responsibility, and the norms of our society? While we're in question mode: Why did this need to be repealed? Mr. Bauer, who understands how the left works, sees dark motives. He is calling upon Congress to reinstate the order and force President Clinton to veto it-if he wants to-in the light of day.
Hours before the grand budget compromise between the White House and Congress was struck, the top aide to the House Budget Committee pressed the Congressional Budget Office to revise its projections of how much new revenue Washington could expect from the taxpayers. The Washington Post reported that the aide had hoped for a new CBO projection assuming larger-than-anticipated tax receipts-an ace in the hole he could use in case budget negotiation broke down. But word of the expected additional revenue leaked and quickly flooded Capitol Hill. "The smell of extra money prompted holdouts to clamor more insistently for concessions," the Post reported. That "extra money"-$225 billion-bridged the differences between congressional and White House negotiators, and everyone got something. On May 2, the two sides made the deal public: "a balanced budget with balanced values," declared President Clinton; "the completion of the Contract with America," declared Speaker Newt Gingrich. But the five-year balanced budget compromise rests on three uncertain assumptions: (1) President Clinton keeps his promises on restraining the growth of Medicare and Medicaid; (2) the economy remains strong; and (3) the newly elected president and Congresses don't raise spending above the currently agreed-to levels. The compromise does not have the force of law. Congress must each year approve specific legislation to reach a balanced budget by 2002-beginning with this year. GOP leaders on May 6 announced an ambitious plan to approve the tax cuts and Medicaid/Medicare savings by July 4. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) denounced the budget deal as "too much to be true," complained of the spending increases each year of the agreement, and warned that "a lot of people are going to be disappointed"-particularly if (as he predicts) Republicans fail to deliver all the promised tax cuts. Bracing for a budget showdown, Republican senators, voting along party lines May 8, OK'd an amendment to the emergency flood relief bill that would prevent a government "shutdown" like that which occurred in 1995 and early '96. The provision would automatically fund government at 1997 levels if the White House and Congress fail to reach agreement on FY 1998 appropriations bills. Democrats denounced the amended flood bill, which President Clinton has vowed to veto, on the grounds that such a freeze would drop spending below the levels agreed to in the budget compromise. The objection bolsters conservative Republican complaints that the budget deal hikes spending and relies chiefly on greater tax revenue to achieve balance.
Washington in brief
Republican Senate accepts Clinton promise, approves Labor Secretary. Alexis Herman, a White House aide who was at the center of the coffee fundraising controversy, won approval on April 30 to assume the top job at the Department of Labor. Republicans dropped their "hold" on the controversial nominee after receiving the president's promise he would drop plans for an executive order telling government agencies they should prefer union firms in the awarding of government construction contracts. Republican National Committee forced to return foreign contributions. GOP officials, who have taken delight in the Democratic National Committee's foreign-money scandal, returned on May 8 contributions to the RNC from 1991, '92, and '93 totaling $100,000 from a Hong Kong-controlled business that posed as an American firm. Democrats, who took some $3 million in illegal foreign contributions, had a good laugh, but RNC officials made a point of noting that the Republican refund was paid immediately. The cash-strapped DNC has yet to pay back any of the money it has promised to refund.
Teachers' Union 1, Students 0
An Ohio court struck down a school choice program that allowed children to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private religious schools. In a unanimous ruling, the Ohio Court of Appeals said the voucher program, created last fall to open up educational opportunities for 2,000 disadvantaged Cleveland students, is illegal because it provides "substantial non-neutral aid to sectarian schools." Ohio's public-school teachers' union had sued to stop the voucher program. School choice supporters plan an appeal.
Still a mystery
Breaking a four-month silence, the parents of murdered child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey emphatically denied any involvement with the killing. "I did not kill my daughter," a composed John Ramsey declared in a carefully planned meeting with selected reporters. His wife, Patsy, choking back tears, proclaimed, "I did not kill JonBenet." The news conference came one day after the Ramseys gave their first formal interviews to police since Dec. 26, the day the little girl's body was found in the basement of the family's Colorado home. The investigation is focusing on Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey. Patsy Ramsey reportedly has been seeking solace at a Christian retreat center in the Rocky Mountains.
In Alabama, the Lillian Barracudas youth baseball team is no more, ripped apart by the insistence of the team's sponsor, a video store that markets X-rated films, that all the kids wear jerseys sporting an ad for the store (see WORLD, May 3/10). Because some parents refused to let their children wear such uniforms, lawyers on May 7 disbanded the Barracudas and sent the 16 players to five other teams in the league. *Marshaling exactly the number of votes needed, the Republican-controlled Alaska state legislature overrode Gov. Tony Knowles's vetoes of two pro-life bills. One requires parental or judicial consent before a girl 16 or younger can have an abortion. The other outlaws partial-birth abortion in Alaska. *A federal appeals court rejected a challenge to a Georgia law that requires public-school students to begin their school day with 60 seconds of "silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day." A high school teacher said the law amounted to "a school-prayer law." *Almost three months after President Clinton intervened to block a strike by American Airlines pilots, the pilots' union easily approved a new five-year contract.
Uniform code of conduct?
After convicting an Army drill sergeant of raping six female trainees, a military jury at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland busted him to the Army's lowest rank, E-1, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. At a sentencing hearing Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson apologized: "My actions have brought dishonor to a most honorable calling." Nevertheless, Mr. Simpson's attorney plans to appeal the convictions, claiming his client, who is black, is a victim of racial bias in prosecution. Sgt. Major of the Army Gene McKinney made a similar claim rather than answer the substance of the charges against him. The Army May 7 lodged formal charges against Mr. McKinney, the nation's top-ranking enlisted officer, accusing him of committing adultery with one female soldier and seeking sex from three other military women.
Worthy of trust?
Despite China's announced plans to restrict political freedoms in Hong Kong, President Clinton pronounced himself "quite satisfied" with assurances from Bejing's communist-led government that Hong Kong would not suffer when China reassumes control of the longtime British colony July 1. After meeting with China's foreign minister in Washington, Mr. Clinton said Beijing promised to keep faith with a 1984 agreement calling for preservation of Hong Kong's freedoms and its capitalist economy. In Mexico May 7, Mr. Clinton said the United States must share the blame with Mexico for the countries' cross-border drug crisis. He and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo signed a joint declaration, short on details, committing both nations to stepping up attempts to shut down the pipeline that funnels tons of Mexican marijuana, heroin, and cocaine into the United States.
This land is our land
An official of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority announced May 5 that Palestinians who sell land to Israelis will face execution. The threat is intended to prevent further building projects in East Jerusalem-where Palestinians want to create an independent state-which are being built on land sold to Jews after Israel captured the area in the 1967 Middle East War.
A whole other country?
A seven-day desert standoff between Texas authorities and a ragtag secessionist group ended May 3 when four of the group's members, including leader Richard McLaren, laid down their arms and surrendered. The group, known as the Republic of Texas, claims the state of Texas is actually an independent nation and was illegally annexed in 1845. In a gun battle two days later, state troopers shot and killed a fifth Republic of Texas member who had fled into the rugged Davis Mountains.
What the president knew
Evidence continues to mount in support of the theory that the White House job search for presidential pal Webster Hubbell was little more than a hush-money operation to give him a reason not to cooperate with independent counsel Kenneth Starr. The New York Times reported on May 5 that two top confidants to President Clinton knew Mr. Hubbell was in serious trouble even as the president, first lady, and White House officials hustled up some $500,000 worth of business for Mr. Hubbell before he pleaded guilty and went to prison for fraud. Mr. Clinton has maintained that because he did not know the extent of Mr. Hubbell's legal problems, his efforts to find work for his longtime Arkansas buddy after he resigned from the number-three slot at the Justice Department could not have been improper. The two associates-Arkansan Jim Blair and Mr. Clinton's personal lawyer David Kendall-declined to comment, but the White House immediately denied the report's assertion that the president also knew. Clinton to fight ruling ordering a government lawyer's notes concerning Mrs. Clinton's actions the night of Vince Foster's death be turned over to Starr probe. On a state visit to Mexico May 6, Mr. Clinton defended his decision to appeal to the Supreme Court an appeals court ruling rejecting the first lady's claim of attorney-client privilege in refusing to yield the notes to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. The appeals court said privilege does not apply because the lawyer worked for the government and not as Mrs. Clinton's personal attorney. Mr. Starr's investigators think the lawyer's notes may shed light on Mrs. Clinton's role in the removal of sensitive files from Mr. Foster's office the night he died. Fighting the court's demand for the notes, Mr. Clinton said, is "the right thing to do for America." FBI Director Louis Freeh says he recommended Attorney General Janet Reno name an independent counsel to probe White House fundraising abuses. The Washington Post reported May 7 that Director Freeh made the recommendation in the context of his agency's analysis of evidence gathered so far in the government's investigation. Mr. Freeh, the newspaper reported, concluded that the Justice Department might have a conflict of interest in the case because the evidence could "lead to individuals who helped reelect the president." Mr. Freeh refused to comment on the Post report, but Miss Reno, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee April 30 explaining her decision not to name an independent counsel, did not disclose the FBI director's advice. Orrin Hatch, judiciary committee chairman, called the report "definitely significant."