This Week

Issue: "Dirty little secret," Aug. 23, 1997

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.

Home again

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."

Disaster strikes

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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.

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