Under a cloud
Indonesia, in a blanket of heavy smoke caused by three-week-old forest fires, closed all its airports after a plane crash in the city of Medan killed all 234 on board. Off Malaysia, a supertanker rammed into a cargo ship in the smoky haze, killing as many as 29. Investigations have not officially determined if the smoke actually contributed to either accident. The blazes were set by plantations and timber companies to clear land. On Oct. 3, Indonesia revoked logging licenses of 29 timber firms responsible for the fires.
Guilty as charged
Convicted by a German court of committing genocide against Muslims during the war in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb Nikola Jorgic headed for life in prison. The court found Mr. Jorgic, who insisted he was a victim of mistaken identity, guilty of 11 counts of genocide and 30 counts of murder. Germany had agreed to try the case because the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague has more cases than it can handle.
In Switzerland, voters voted down a national referendum that would have reined in the nation's liberal drug policies. Nearly 71 percent of voters gave a thumbs down to a proposal, drafted and promoted by conservative and evangelical groups, called "Youth Without Drugs." The measure would have put an end to Switzerland's experimental "crime fighting" program that provides heroin to hardened addicts. Switzerland has one of the highest drug addiction rates in Europe.
Meltdown at 1600?
Step Two is underway. Attorney General Reno said Oct. 3 that she'll conduct a "preliminary investigation" of Vice President Gore's fundraising activities. If she finds enough "credible" evidence, she's obligated to name an independent counsel to prosecute. The previous day brought news that the vice president is getting his lawyering half-price. James Neal, one of Mr. Gore's two attorneys, confirmed he is charging no legal fees. This is OK with the Office of Government Ethics-as it is with the Republican Party, which is having a field day with the news. The Justice Department announcement itself was anti-climactic, following as it did a week's worth of White House pre-posturing. "It would not be unreasonable," said spokesman Mike McCurry two days before the decision, "if the attorney general wanted to take some additional time to review what the law is." There are just four pieces of "controlling legal authority," to coin a phrase, surrounding the law Mr. Gore probably violated, the Pendleton Act. Under the statute, it is illegal "for any person to solicit or receive any contribution ... in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties...." The only Pendleton case the Supreme Court has considered is from 1908. A GOP official had solicited campaign money from a federal employee by mail. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted for the court that the letter was received in a federal building, thereby violating the Pendleton Act. Mr. Gore's defenders have jumped on this point to make their case that because solicitees were not on federal property when the vice president called, Pendleton does not apply. That's a pretty thin argument, given the plain language of the statute and that then-White House counsel Abner Mikva had issued a memo warning, "no fundraising phone calls or mail may emanate from the White House or any other federal building." President Clinton is next. Miss Reno must decide by Oct. 15 whether to give him the same scrutiny she's giving Mr. Gore.
Just say whatever
Concerned about a sharp rise in heroin use among U.S. teens and young adults, more than 500 drug experts from around the nation convened in Washington to talk anti-drug strategy. The stats are grim: America now has more than 600,000 heroin addicts; an estimated 141,000 of those have taken up the habit within the past year. Some users shoot up, but many are now smoking and/or snorting heroin. Use of the drug among high-school students, though still small relative to marijuana and alcohol use, has doubled in the past year. Once a person is hooked on heroin, breaking the addiction is almost impossible, according to a Stanford drug researcher. The relapse rate, he said, is nearly 100 percent.
The nation in brief
Jury selection began in Denver in the trial of Terry Nichols, charged with 11 counts of conspiracy and murder in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Mr. Nichols's co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, was convicted in June and sentenced to death. An Idaho magistrate dismissed all charges filed by the state against Kevin Harris, accused for a second time in the shooting death of a U.S. marshal during a 1992 federal siege in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The judge agreed with defense arguments that since Mr. Harris already had been acquitted in a federal trial, state law prohibited further prosecution. In 1993, a federal jury concluded that Mr. Harris had acted in self-defense.
Run, don't walk
Of all the wrangling over the great budget issues of the day, it's a line-item amounting to less than a tenth of the budget just approved for the National Endowment for the Arts that is the subject of the most-heated debate: education vouchers for underprivileged Washington, D.C., students. A House panel voted to include an amendment to the D.C. appropriations bill providing 2,000 of the neediest families in the nation's capital $3,200 tuition vouchers to help pay for an education outside the government school system. In the Senate, Democratic opponents (and one Republican) prepared to filibuster the measure; backers (including four Democrats) fell two votes short of breaking the procedural delaying tactic. Even if the filibuster fails, the president hinted that he would veto such a bill: "I call upon Congress to challenge our public schools, to change our public schools, but not walk away from them," said Mr. Clinton, whose daughter walked away from the city schools in favor of the tony Sidwell Friends academy in preparation for enrollment at Stanford.
Washington in brief
Eat your vegetables: Not so fast, President Clinton said Oct. 2 in the Rose Garden. He unveiled plans to ask Congress next year for enough money-$24 million-to send teams of Food and Drug Administration agents to foreign countries to inspect fruit and vegetables bound for United States consumers. Mr. Clinton said countries that refuse the inspectors, who will determine whether the produce is up to the American government's standards, should forfeit the right to sell in the U.S. market. Last year, 38 percent of all fruit and 12 percent of all vegetables consumed in the United States were grown in foreign countries. That's twice the 1986 servings. From "smoking hole" to top brass: The Washington Post reported on Oct. 2 that the president's pick to replace outgoing Air Force secretary Sheila Widnall, who's leaving Oct. 31, accepted a voluntary grounding six years ago from flying F-16s because his commanding officer considered him too dangerous. Nevertheless, the resumé of Daryl L. Jones, now a Florida legislator and Air Force reservist, listed him as an F-16 pilot from 1989 to "present." Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry blew off the revelations: "We're not hiring him to be an F-16 pilot." Mr. Jones was busily pursuing his career in law and politics and neglecting his aviation duties while serving in the reserves in 1991. He told the Post that his commanding officer gave him the choice, "I either needed to be a pilot or something else. He didn't want me to be another smoking hole in the ground." If confirmed, Mr. Jones will become the first black civilian chief of the service. Noncensus: What does the Constitution mean when it calls for an "actual enumeration" of the citizens every 10 years? Republicans suggesting it means what it says approved a measure that would block the Clinton administration from using "statistical sampling" to boost an expected undercount of minorities. The provision, approved as an amendment to a larger spending bill, requires a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of sampling before the administration can proceed with the count. Congressional districts are apportioned according to census data, which gives the Democratic administration an incentive to exaggerate the counting of minorities, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. White House officials are recommending a veto. Not enough fraud: There was vote fraud in the Louisiana election that sent Mary Landrieu to Washington by a razor-thin margin, but not enough to invalidate her victory, a Senate panel concluded on Oct. 1. Voting 16-0, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee officially ended its vote-fraud probe. Committee chairman John Warner (R-Va.) said that while there were "isolated instances" of multiple voting in the 1996 contest, that did not constitute "an organized, widespread effort to illegally affect the outcome of this election."
Lifting all boats
Economic growth apparently is no respecter of persons. New reports from the Census Bureau show the nation's economic expansion, now in its seventh year, is fostering income increases and poverty declines across all racial and ethnic categories. Fewer blacks, as a percentage, are living in poverty now than at any time since the Census Bureau began tracking black poverty in 1955. Income growth also is strong among Hispanic households. A Harvard study says minority households now make up nearly three in 10 of the nation's new homeowners. Since 1993, black homeownership has grown 7.5 percent; Hispanic homeownership is up 16 percent.
Minds filled with darkness
A 16-year-old Mississippi boy, distraught over a months-ago breakup with his girlfriend and seething over being "mistreated" by society, stabbed his mother to death with a kitchen knife. Then, with a rifle tucked under a trench coat, he showed up at school and unleashed a hail of bullets. Two students died, including the ex-girlfriend; seven were wounded. Just before the shooting, Luke Woodham, who's facing three murder charges, handed a note to a classmate: "I am not insane," it read. "I am angry.... [P]eople like me are being mistreated every day." Woodham's parents had divorced within the past year. Neighbors said they rarely saw the boy's father. In New Jersey, police arrested a 15-year-old boy in the sexual assault and strangulation murder of an 11-year-old boy who had been selling candy door-to-door for a school fundraiser. The suspect, authorities said, frequented a homosexual "chat room" on America Online and had been involved in a relationship with a twice-convicted Long Island pedophile. The murder came three days after the pedophile was arrested in a massive child porn cybersting. On his AOL home page, the 15-year-old suspect had quoted Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan's view of God: "I don't care if he exists & if he does, I don't think he cares if I exist." The young murder suspect's parents weren't home at the time of the killing. They were on a multi-day gambling trip to a casino in Connecticut.
Sanctimony and sanguinity shared the spotlight as Congress last week continued to slog through the Fiscal Year 1998 spending bills. Oct. 1, the beginning of the government's new fiscal year, came and went without incident: Even though the Fiscal '97 money ran out that day, Congress and the White House had quietly worked out an agreement to fend off a partial government shutdown by keeping the taxpayers' cash rolling at current levels for 23 more days. There was also cooperation on increasing one another's paychecks. After the House slipped through a 2.3 percent pay increase the previous week, the Senate dropped its opposition by way of a two-senator committee meeting. The senators held a proxy vote, which deadlocked at 3-3 over a Senate-approved provision that exempted members of Congress from the pay hike for federal judges and some executive branch officials. The tie vote killed the provision. The tie-breaking senator, Republican Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, was out of town and was not asked to vote by proxy. He plans to oppose the bill, which has more than enough support, on final passage. But campaign-finance legislation derailed over the issue of political informed consent for union workers and corporate investors. On Sept. 29, majority leader Trent Lott said that before he'd allow a vote on the McCain-Feingold bill that would ban unregulated "soft-money" contributions to political parties, the Senate must first consider an amendment that would require unions to secure written approval from members before spending their union dues on politics. Also under the amendment, corporation executives would have to secure the approval of their investors before making political donations. Democrats called it a "poison pill" and said they'd let campaign-finance reform die for this year before swallowing the wrath of union bosses. Republicans called their provision "fundamental" to campaign-finance reform. "No worker," said Mr. Lott, "should be forced to pay for politics they don't support." Well before the vote, Democrats proclaimed the campaign-finance bill dead. "This issue is not going to go away," declared Minority Leader Tom Daschle. "If we get beaten somehow this session, my expectation is you're going to see it offered as an amendment to many, many, many, many bills next year."
No pity on a child
A New York woman who said she felt "nothing toward [her daughter] from the day she was born" pleaded guilty to starving the child to death. Carla Lockwood, 33, admitted keeping the girl confined to a crib and depriving her of food during the last year of her life. The girl died at age four, weighing only 15 1/2 pounds. Mrs. Lockwood faces 15 years to life in prison. In Kentucky, a husband and wife face murder charges in the starvation death of their two-year-old son. A police detective described the body of the boy, who weighed 10 pounds at the time of his death, as "a skeleton with skin covering it." His father admitted the child had not been fed for seven days. The couple's two daughters, also suffering from malnutrition, were taken into protective custody and hospitalized.
In the name of the law
With President Boris Yeltsin's signature barely dry on the new Russian law restricting certain religious groups (see WORLD, Oct. 4), authorities shut down a two-year-old Evangelical Lutheran mission in the republic of Khakassia, Keston News Service reported. "In accordance with the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations ... the registration of your organization is hereby canceled," said a notice issued by Khakassian authorities. The revocation is the first reported since Mr. Yeltsin signed the law Sept. 26.