I'd rather bait and switch
Anti-tobacco lawyers are angry with President Clinton's 11th-hour objections to the $368.5 billion settlement hammered out this summer between industry heavyweights and state attorneys-general. Mr. Clinton on Sept. 17 said he wanted federal fines to raise the cost of cigarettes by $1.50 per pack if teen-smoking-reduction targets aren't met; under terms of the settlement agreement, the fines are sufficient to raise prices 62›. The settlement requires legislation in Congress to implement several of the key terms of the agreement. Richard Scruggs, one of the lawyers who negotiated the deal, says it is "disingenuous" of the president and his administration "to act like it needs to be improved when they blessed it at the time. They got a bunch of AGs way out on a limb and allowed it to be sawed off-in fact, participated in sawing it off." Mr. Clinton made no specific proposal, but staked out a hard-line position favored by liberals as Congress prepares to debate the implementing legislation. Spokesmen for tobacco companies suggested liberal support for the deal might actually improve prospects for congressional approval.
Paula Jones alleges Gov. Bill Clinton, after having a state trooper escort her to his hotel room, complimented her figure; now, President Clinton's IRS is eyeing Mrs. Jones's financial figures. "We do dumb things from time to time, but we are not certifiably crazy," presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said on Sept. 15, denying that the White House ordered the audit. Mrs. Jones's spokesman Susan Carpenter-McMillan called the timing of the audit "very peculiar" and cited White House officials' 1992 calling down the FBI on travel office chief Billy Dale and bringing trumped up charges, which he was quickly acquitted of at trial. "The impression the American public has is that the Clinton administration can be very Nixonite toward their detractors," Mrs. Carpenter-McMillan said. Meanwhile, settlement talks continued between the parties. "We had a cordial and candid conversation," Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett said, declining further comment.
Washington in brief
Maverick diplomat: Raymond Flynn, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican who during his tenure ran afoul of the Clinton State Department over his pro-life views, announced he will leave the post, effective Sept. 20. A former mayor of Boston, Mr. Flynn will join the Massachusetts governor's race, a contest that changed significantly after Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) dropped out because of negative publicity concerning his divorce. In April 1996, when the president vetoed legislation that would have banned partial-birth abortions, an official Vatican statement pronounced the veto "shameful." Mr. Flynn said the Vatican is "absolutely right on this." A kiss goodbye: Another Massachusetts politician, William Weld, also announced he was headed home. In quitting his quest to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Mr. Weld bitterly attacked Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who blocked his nomination. "I wouldn't go on bended knee and I wouldn't kiss anything," the would-be diplomat said at a White House news conference. President Clinton did not appear for the Q&A session. And stay out: By an overwhelming 289-65 margin on Sept. 18, the House of Representatives revoked the floor privileges of former California congressman Robert Dornan. All former members of Congress enjoy such privileges. The action stems from a heated exchange of insults on the floor between Mr. Dornan and New Jersey Rep. Robert Menendez on Sept. 16. Mr. Dornan is in a battle to regain the seat he lost, he contends, because of voter fraud, which the House is investigating. Democrats contend Mr. Dornan used his floor privileges to press his case, a charge he denies. Ethics reform: The House voted 258-154 to clean up the way it cleans up its act. New rules on ethics allegations place new time constraints on the ethics committee's handling of complaints, tighten the standard of proof the committee must meet before formally charging members, require committee members to take an oath not to disclose confidential information, and allow the committee to pursue sanctions against those who file frivolous complaints. By a narrower 228-193 vote, the House ended the practice of allowing nonmembers of Congress to file complaints. "Fraud tax": That's what President Clinton called the portion of taxpayers' Medicare payroll taxes-about four of every 10 dollars-lost to overbilling and fraud at the hands of shady home health care providers. On Sept. 15, he announced a six-month moratorium blocking all new home health businesses, which have been entering the federal program at a rate of 100 a month. The president also ordered that current Medicare-certified home care providers reapply every three years, and that businesses treating fewer than 10 patients be barred permanently from the system. Three in a row for the Army: On a voice vote Sept. 16, Army Gen. H. Hugh Shelton-a Green Beret and decorated Vietnam War veteran-won U.S. Senate confirmation to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He follows two other Army chairmen: John Shalikashvili and Colin Powell.
The charge is murder
A county grand jury in New Jersey indicted Melissa Drexler, the teenage girl accused of killing of her newborn son June 6 in a bathroom stall at her senior prom. Investigators suspect Miss Drexler murdered her 6-pound, 6-ounce full-term child by strangling or suffocating him. A janitor found the baby in the trash. Citing Miss Drexler's age, emotional state, and lack of a criminal record, Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye said he would not seek the death penalty.
The nation in brief
Pressured by the FDA and faced with mounting evidence that two popular diet pills may cause heart valve damage, the makers of the drugs pulled them from the market. The two drugs-dexfenfluramine, sold as "Redux," and fenfluramine, sold as "Pondimin"-suppress appetite. Many dieters have used either Redux or Pondimin in combination with the calorie-burning drug phentermine, creating a two-drug combo known as fen-phen. Phentermine was not found to be unsafe and remains on the market. After New York City election workers counted the absentee ballots, Ruth Messinger edged out Al Sharpton to become the Democratic candidate for mayor. The flamboyant Mr. Sharpton filed suit, claiming vote fraud. "It's not over until the fat man sings, and I haven't sung yet," he said.
No longer mine
Without participation from the U.S., 89 nations adopted the final text of a treaty banning the manufacture and use of antipersonnel land mines. Signatories will be required to clear areas that have been mined and to destroy remaining stockpiles of mines. Although promising to help other nations locate and remove land mines, the Clinton administration backed away from the treaty, saying it would expose U.S. troops to unacceptable risks.
With all the slippery explanations of campaign-finance abuses-from Al Gore's memorable "no controlling legal authority" to the "but-everyone-does-it" defense-much of the testimony last week in the Senate committee hearings was refreshingly honest. Roger Tamraz brought the chamber to laughter, although no one has explained what was funny about it, when asked whether he thought the $300,000 he gave to the Democratic Party was money well-spent, given that the oil pipeline he wanted the U.S. government to support never got built. His answer: "I think next time I'll give $600,000." That's a real knee-slapper. Mr. Tamraz, who is not even registered to vote, made it clear that his generosity to Democrats (and to Republicans when they were in power) was, plain and simple, to gain access to the levers of power. Earlier testimony, from an attendee at one of those famous coffees, revealed that fundraiser John Huang was only slightly more subtle. As the coffee-klatschers gathered around the president in the White House map room in June 1996, according to the witness, Mr. Huang said, "Elections, you know, cost money, lots of money, and I'm sure everyone in this room will want to support the reelection of the president." Get it? Got it. So, apparently, did administration underlings. Aware of Mr. Tamraz's past beneficience, and understanding future lucre was conditioned on a meeting with the president, an Energy Department official pressed a White House national-security aide to drop her opposition to a meeting. When she refused, he mocked her "Girl Scout" attitude. He, of course, denies using the term but doesn't deny he talked about money. All this sad stuff came out in testimony last week. We've said it before: The problem here is not with how campaigns are financed, but with the fact that government has something of value to sell. Return government to its constitutional functions and that eliminates a good bit of the distasteful bidding for goodies.
Adding impetus to the nationwide push for voucher-based school choice, an independent evaluation of Cleveland, Ohio's, school voucher program found that vouchers make for both happier parents and improved academic performance. The Harvard study concluded that parents using tax-funded vouchers to send a child to private or parochial school are much more likely than public-school parents to be satisfied with the school's condition, class size, discipline, and moral teaching. Another finding: Students using vouchers have made significant improvement in both math and reading skills. Currently, 1,996 Cleveland students from low-income families are allowed to participate in the voucher program, which pays up to 90 percent of private or parochial school tuition. An Ohio appeals court has ruled that the voucher plan violates the "separation of church and state" and is unconstitutional. That ruling is on appeal to the state Supreme Court. In another slap at education innovation, the Department of Education told public-school officials in New York City that a year-old all-girl junior high school unlawfully discriminates against boys. Three "civil-liberties" groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women, filed suit against the East Harlem Young Women's Leadership School, arguing that its girls-only status violates the government's Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination. Federal education officials have ordered the city either to admit boys to the school, or to set up a comparable school for boys only. The head of the New York schools says he won't do either, and he's willing to fight it out with the feds in court. Even as various education battles continue on earth, millions of students are fighting spiritual warfare in the heavenlies. On Sept. 17, high school and college students gathered at school flagpoles nationwide to pray for revival and spiritual awakening. The annual See You at the Pole event, a concerted time of student-led prayer, began several years ago with a handful of students in Texas.
Twelve international officials, including five Americans, died in Bosnia Sept. 17 when their U.N. helicopter, flying in dense fog, crashed into a steep hillside. The 12 included a high-ranking German mediator and the American director of the U.N. International Police Task Force in Bosnia. In Rwanda, a plane carrying pastors and missionaries to a meeting in Congo crashed in the Minembwe mountains, killing all 20 people on board. Several of the dead were with the relief group Food for the Hungry. Three missionaries with Mission Aviation Fellowship died Sept. 14 when their plane crashed in Ecuador. They were searching for another plane that had disappeared a day earlier.
Whither religious freedom?
Russia's Duma adopted 358-6 a revised bill enshrining Russia's Orthodox Church as the country's preeminent religion and limiting the activity of foreign missionaries. The bill's "cosmetic" changes, according to Keston News Service, apparently have won the backing of President Yeltsin, who vetoed an earlier version. One of the most controversial clauses in the new bill says religious groups must be present in Russia for 15 years before they can publish or distribute religious literature, or invite foreigners to preach. The bill must still pass parliament's upper house.
While Justice sleeps
At her weekly press conference on Sept. 18, Attorney General Janet Reno proclaimed her "great respect" for the Justice Department task force investigating whether Vice President Gore violated the law with his fundraising calls from the White House. But two days earlier, she brought in veteran prosecutor Charles G. LaBella and senior FBI official James V. DeSarno Jr. to take over the probe, demoting the less experienced team leaders after The Washington Post disclosed embarrassing details of the case that they'd been sitting on. Two weeks ago, Miss Reno gave secret briefings to Senate committees on allegations of Chinese involvement in U.S. elections. The Post reported the attorney general faced "questions she could not answer and that again pointed to a number of investigatory lapses by the task force." Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the briefings showed the Justice Department possessed evidence on China "apparently without knowing it had the information or acting on it." Miss Reno abruptly canceled a weekend trip to Florida and called top-level meetings to plan the task-force changes that were announced Sept. 16. The shakeup comes two weeks after Miss Reno took the first step in deciding whether to appoint an independent counsel to probe Mr. Gore. The deadline for step two is Oct. 3.
Calling it "a miracle from God," Maine's Christian Civic League halted a "homosexual rights" law, one day before it was to take effect. Working with other pro-family groups, the League gathered 58,750 signatures-about 7,000 more than needed-to force a voter referendum on the law. League Director Michael Heath said the "anti-discrimination" law, passed earlier this year by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Angus King, "threaten[s] the civil liberties of business owners, parents and even charitable organizations that decline to celebrate homosexuality." State elections officials must certify the signatures before the referendum officially is ordered. In Chicago, a Cook County judge approved a controversial city ordinance that authorizes spousal benefits for the "domestic partners" of city employees. Several Chicago taxpayers had filed suit to block the ordinance, arguing that it forces them to subsidize both homosexuality and cohabitation. In issuing his ruling, Judge Thomas Durkin, who's blocked several attempts to combat the ordinance, lambasted negative letters he's received from "professed Christians," saying the letters lacked "personal charity." Said pro-family attorney Jordan Lorence to the Chicago Tribune: "If [the letter writers] thought they were doing us some good, they did not."