An active judiciary
Producers of child pornography, in an exercise in creative depravity, have turned to two techniques to get around federal child-porn laws: (1) Instead of using actual children in their porn pieces, they've used adults who only look like minors; and (2) they've tapped into the virtual reality capabilities of computers to generate sexually explicit images of "cyber-children." A year ago Congress passed the Child Pornography Prevention Act, aimed at stopping such attempts to skirt federal law. The act bans "any visual depiction" that "is, or appears to be ... a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct." On Aug. 12, a federal judge in San Francisco upheld the new law. Turning back a legal challenge from the ACLU and more than 600 producers and distributors of "adult-oriented materials," U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti ruled that, even if no actual children are used in the production of child porn, the "effect that such materials have on society ... merits the regulation of such images." The ACLU plans an appeal. A federal judge in Washington apparently is unconcerned about any effects of porn in prisons. U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin ruled Aug. 13 that a new law banning sexually explicit materials from prisons is unconstitutional. Three porn-seeking federal prisoners, with help from the ACLU and the publishers of Playboy and Penthouse, had filed suit against the law. In South Carolina, a state judge ordered Charleston County to remove a plaque of the Ten Commandments from a county government building. The order came in response to a suit filed by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Overturning its own decision, California's Supreme Court voted to strike down a law requiring minors to get parental or judicial approval before having an abortion. The court said the law violates a teenager's right to privacy. Only a year ago, the state Supreme Court upheld the abortion-consent law, but two justices who supported that ruling have since left the court. The new court voted to rehear the case. Although on the books for ten years, the abortion-consent law had not been enforced due to legal challenges.
Two Russian cosmonauts, ending a trouble-plagued six-month tour of duty aboard the Mir space station, returned to planet Earth without mishap Aug. 15. During their time on Mir, the space station suffered a collision with a cargo drone, a malfunctioning oxygen generator, and an on-board fire. Just before leaving Mir, cosmonaut Vasily Tsibliev, assured by ground control that all was set for his return, replied, "Thank God."
A low-flying Korean airlines jumbo jet laden with summer vacationers and honeymooners slammed into a hillside Aug. 6 on the South Pacific island of Guam, killing 225 passengers and crew. Twenty-nine survived. The pilot of the Boeing 747 was attempting an early-morning landing during a rainstorm. Although the official cause of the crash hasn't been determined, U.S. air safety investigators say a programming glitch caused the airport's Minimum Safe Altitude Warning System to malfunction.
The good old summertime
President Clinton enjoyed summertime approval ratings rivaling Reagan's and Eisenhower's, but several developments during the congressional summer recess signaled a troublesome fall. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat on the committee investigating campaign fundraising abuses, had more tough criticism for the White House. In an Aug. 12 interview with Reuters, the Connecticut senator blamed both parties for the "collapse" of spending limits and full disclosure during the 1996 campaign season, but "the Democratic administration was part of that breakdown, was at the center of that breakdown." Mr. Lieberman also ripped White House and Democratic Party foot-dragging that led last month to a unanimous vote by the Senate committee to subpoena witnesses and documents for the probe. On Aug. 6, committee chairman Fred Thompson officially issued 39 subpoenas. Journalists turned up more fodder for the Thompson committee: On Aug. 5, AP revealed documents showing Vice President Gore made 44 fundraising calls from his White House office. Internal White House memos detailed an extensive effort by Mr. Gore's staff to block out time to make the calls. Two days later, Democratic National Committee officials acknowledged they prepared "call sheets" for Hillary Clinton, who said through a spokesman she had no recollection of making fundraising calls. The Senate investigating committee will call more witnesses in September, when Congress is back in session, but that isn't necessarily bad news for the president: The Aug. 9 CBS poll that gave Mr. Clinton a 61 percent favorable job rating also showed that less than one in 10 of those polled were following the fundraising hearings. California entrepreneur Johnny Chung, who gave more than a third of a million dollars to the Democratic National Committee between 1994 and 1996, revealed Aug. 4 that he contributed a previously undisclosed $25,000 to a private committee formed to smear a 1996 Senate investigation of the Clintons' finances. Mr. Chung's attorney gave details of the story and supporting documentation to the Los Angeles Times. According to the Times story, Mr. Chung, at the same meeting in which he was hit up for the money, secured a commitment from the head of the committee to arrange meetings for him with the U.S. ambassador to China and officials in the Commerce Department. Making those arrangements was Lynn Cutler, veteran Democratic activist and currently a White House aide, who headed the Back to Business Committee. Gifts to the organization do not fall under federal campaign disclosure laws. Nevertheless, White House officials confirmed the essence of Mr. Chung's account.
Pattern of conduct?
Merely delaying the "day of reckoning," as Paula Jones's lawyer Joseph Cammarata put it, lawyers for former White House aide Kathleen E. Willey postponed a scheduled deposition Aug. 14 about a reported sexual advance President Clinton made toward her in the context of job review in the Oval Office. Mr. Cammarata wants to question Ms. Willey under oath about the incident, and he hopes to discover evidence of a pattern of improper conduct by Mr. Clinton. Ms. Willey's lawyer argued his client should not be questioned because she knows nothing about what did or did not happen at the Little Rock hotel where Mrs. Jones says she was sexually harassed. Meanwhile, on Aug. 12, spokesmen for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, state police, and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission confirmed that their offices received subpoenas July 29 from Mrs. Jones's lawyers. They plan to scour Arkansas state records for any evidence that might help in Mrs. Jones's upcoming case.
The nation in brief
**red_square** The nation in brief **red_square** A federal judge officially imposed the death sentence for Timothy McVeigh, the Gulf War veteran convicted two months ago of plotting and carrying out the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. Legal appeals are expected to postpone the execution for years. About 185,000 drivers, sorters, and loaders of United Parcel Service went on strike Aug. 4, creating headaches for companies and consumers around the nation who rely on UPS for package delivery. The U.S. Postal Service and other carriers went into high gear to help pick up the slack. The two main strike issues: The Teamsters Union wants thousands of part-time jobs converted to full-time; UPS wants to pull out of a union-administered pension program and set up its own pension plan. As the strike dragged on, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman persuaded the two sides to resume broken-off talks and urged them "to stay at the table until they reach a settlement." An Amtrak train hurtling through the predawn Arizona desert derailed Aug. 9 as it crossed a sagging wooden bridge over a rain-swollen riverbed. The accident injured dozens of the Los Angeles-to-Chicago train's 309 passengers. In Miami, a cargo plane crashed moments after takeoff Aug. 7, killing its four crew members. Hundreds of terror-stricken people on the ground saw the plane plunging from the sky and ran for cover. The DC-8 crashed into a field, skidded across an eight-lane road and came to rest in a shopping mall parking lot. **red_square** The depravity of man A New Jersey teenager charged with killing her newborn baby pleaded guilty Aug. 11 to manslaughter. Melissa Seaner, 17, gave birth May 26 and then discarded her baby daughter in a gym bag. In Indiana, someone tossed a newborn into an outhouse pit at a city park. An emergency crew rescued the 6-pound, 7-ounce boy after being alerted by a woman who heard the child making noises. Malcolm Shabazz, the 12-year-old grandson of the late black activist Malcolm X, was sentenced to at least 18 months at a juvenile center for setting the fire that killed his grandmother. Betty Shabazz died three weeks after suffering severe burns in the June 1 blaze. **red_square** Just the way you are Apparently trying to undermine the burgeoning "ex-gay" movement, the governing body of the American Psychological Association (APA) voted to restrict therapeutic techniques that help homosexuals become heterosexuals. A resolution, passed overwhelmingly at the group's annual meeting in Chicago, calls on psychologists to assure gay patients that homosexuality is not a mental illness and that "reparative" or "conversion therapy" has no scientific basis. Such therapy, promoted by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), is used to great effect by Christian ministries such as Exodus International, which currently has 6,000 homosexuals in therapy. **red_square** Sowing and reaping Seizing on a seldom-used state law, a North Carolina woman sued her husband's mistress for breaking up their 19-year marriage. On Aug. 5, a nine-woman, three-man jury agreed with Dorothy Hutelmyer's "alienation of affection" claim and awarded her $1 million. "[M]arriage is a gift from God," said the now ex-Mrs. Hutelmyer, whose husband divorced her earlier this year. Most states no longer allow lawsuits for alienation of affection. In Ohio, a federal jury ordered a philandering husband who infected his then-wife with an untreatable sexually transmitted disease to pay her $275,000 in damages. The guilty husband, Charles Moffitt, heads the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Toledo. A 35-year-old elementary school teacher in Washington state pleaded guilty to child rape after giving birth to a baby sired by one of her sixth-grade students. Mary Kay LeTourneau faces up to seven years in prison. Her husband, who has filed for divorce, has taken their four children, ages 3 to 12, to live with him in Alaska. The 14-year-old boy who fathered Mrs. LeTourneau's fifth child is in counseling.
Out of our stupor
Just when you thought common sense had gone the way of the eight-track tape, along comes evidence that independent thinking, like lava lamps, may be back in style. It seems that Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala may lift a ban on federally funded needle exchange programs (NEPs) so that drug addicts can shoot up cleanly. "Experts" such as those at the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health insist that because dirty needles may carry the AIDS virus, giving away clean ones encourages public health, not drug addiction. But the public isn't buying, and the Family Research Council has just released a poll that may inject some sanity into the NEP debate. By wide margins, Americans believe that giving needles to drug addicts represents an endorsement of drug use, encourages teens to use drugs, and is a first step toward outright legalization. While the experts churn out position papers and scholarly studies from their uptown enclaves, inner-city families fear the worst if NEP bans are lifted. One New York anti-drug activist took a newspaper reporter to the Lower East Side Needle Exchange to chronicle what went on there. Without returning any old needles, the woman was given 40 new ones along with alcohol wipes and small metal dishes used for mixing drugs. She also got lessons in shooting up and even an ID card exempting her from arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia. The FRC poll shows that 56 percent of voters think such programs send the unspoken message that drugs are okay. And few believe that message will remain unspoken for long. Two-thirds of respondents said legalizing needle exchanges now will increase the chances of full legalization in the future. The experts who scoff at that idea have to rely on statistical models rather than actual history. Switzerland implemented NEPs in 1986, offering needles first in pharmacies, then in vending machines. Soon 15,000 needles were being distributed daily in the capital city alone, and heroin addiction reached the highest level in all of Europe. Moreover, violence skyrocketed as rival gangs fought for control of the lucrative drug trade around NEP sites. Next month, Swiss voters go to the polls to decide whether to legalize all illicit drugs in their country. The Swiss proved that there's no such thing as neutrality in the war on drugs. Most Americans, for the time being, have refused to follow their example in becoming comfortably numb.
Washington in brief
For your reading pleasure: Out of curiosity, IRS employees in 1994 and 1995 went snooping through 1,515 taxpayer files that had nothing to do with their work, according to an internal audit. Twenty-three employees were fired for it. Now, those who pry risk a year in jail and a $100,000 fine if convicted. The Taxpayer Browsing Act, signed into law Aug. 5 by President Clinton, makes such unauthorized inspections of tax returns a crime. Deporting the INS? The Immigration and Naturalization Service will be broken up and its responsibilities divided among other federal agencies under a plan drawn up by a federal advisory panel, The New York Times reported Aug. 5. Under the proposal, the Justice Department-under which INS is organized-would retain responsibility for controlling the border and removing illegal immigrants. But the State Department would reportedly oversee immigration services and benefits, and the Labor Department would be charged with enforcing laws governing the hiring of foreign workers. The FDA Aug. 4 approved a pacemaker-like brain implant to help people with Parkinson's disease and other tremor disorders literally cut off their uncontrollable shaking. The technique involves drilling through the skull to implant an electrode in the brain that emits customized electric shocks to block tremors.
At an impasse
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to lift sanctions against Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would take steps to crack down on Islamic terrorists. Instead, Mr. Arafat complained that the recently enacted Israeli sanctions were meant to "humiliate our people." After four days of shuttling back and forth between the two sides, President Clinton's special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross returned to Washington, having made little progress. Meanwhile, a Palestinian military court convicted three members of Mr. Arafat's bodyguard of "spying for the Israeli intelligence service." One of the three was sentenced to death. The two others will be imprisoned at hard labor.