The nation's top doc?
Late in the Washington news cycle on Friday, Oct. 17, President Clinton quietly vetoed yet again legislation overwhelmingly approved by Congress to ban partial-birth abortions. The president wisely eschewed the emotional props he used for his last veto-parents who paid doctors to kill their children by the brutal method-but he used the same rationale: that his veto protects those "who need an abortion ... to avert death or serious injury." This is perfect nonsense, and he's either willfully lying about it or his staff has kept him in the dark about the well-publicized opposition of the American Medical Association-that the procedure is never medically necessary and is even "ethically offensive to most Americans and physicians." Most physicians, that is, except the man Mr. Clinton has nominated to become surgeon general. David Satcher, who won the approval of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week, admitted in writing that he supports partial-birth abortions to protect the "health of the mother." It's one thing for a politician to feign ignorance of medical facts; it's quite another for a medical professional seeking the top public-health job to be so badly misinformed. The post of surgeon general has remained vacant since Joycelyn Elders, who disgraced the office so effortlessly, returned to Arkansas. Mr. Clinton's next nominee, Henry Foster, went down in flames in part because he couldn't tell the truth about the number of abortions he had performed and in part because of his extremist views on teen sexuality. In the favorable committee vote on Dr. Satcher's nomination, only five Republicans voted no. The nomination now heads to the full Senate for confirmation.
An "A+" for effort
Even as the White House was staging events aimed at attacking Republican educational reforms, the House voted to approve a change to the tax code that would allow parents to use education savings accounts to help finance K-12 private school expenses. "A+ Education Savings Accounts" would permit the deposit of up to $2,500 in after-tax funds per child per year into a savings account that could accrue interest tax free. The president threatened to veto that legislation, even though he signed a tax bill this summer that provides a similar education savings plan for pre- and post-graduate education. The National Education Association teachers' union opposes the A+ plan. Congress and the White House are at loggerheads over other education issues-as well as a handful of other issues-and that's holding up passage of the six remaining appropriations bills to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 1998, which is now into its second month. Congress approved last week another temporary funding bill, to keep all the federal lights on through Nov. 7, the date lawmakers hope to adjourn for the year, with all the funding legislation passed and signed by the president.
Pleading the Fifth
The same constitutional amendment, the Fifth, that protects citizens from giving self-incriminating testimony also protects citizens from governments' taking control of their property without providing just compensation. The House on Oct. 22 voted 248-178 to require federal courts to treat Fifth Amendment land-use cases as they do First Amendment free-speech cases. Under current federal court rules, landowners who lose the use of their property as a result of zoning or other restrictions must first exhaust the series of administrative law procedures before getting to make a constitutional case in federal court. President Clinton, whose biggest benefactors in the campaign-finance scandal are making regular use of the Fifth Amendment in a different context, threatened to veto the House's expansion of Fifth Amendment rights for landowners. Requiring governments to defend their actions in court against Bill-of-Rights challenges, White House officials said, would "seriously impair the ability of state and local agencies to protect public health, safety, and the environment."
Due to its religious nature, a high school chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) has been told it doesn't have the same right to meet on campus as other school clubs. Although many clubs are allowed to meet at specified times during school hours, a Superior Court judge in Orange County, Calif., backing the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, ruled that the FCA doesn't qualify. Under school district guidelines, on-campus meetings of religious groups are prohibited. In addition, such groups aren't even allowed to put up posters on school property to advertise their existence. The Rutherford Institute, a Christian-based legal organization, plans to appeal the judge's ruling, arguing that it's a blatant violation of the 1984 federal Equal Access Act. In Fort Myers, Fla., the Lee County school board touched off a philosophical firestorm with its 3-2 vote to OK an elective high-school history course based on the New Testament. People for the American Way officials fretted that the Bible-as-history class could be used to "indoctrinate" students and threatened to mount a legal challenge against it. The course curriculum, developed by the North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, currently is being used in public schools in 22 states. The parents of a 9-year-old New York City schoolgirl, allegedly sodomized during recess by a group of 8- and 9-year-old boys, accused the school principal of trying to cover up the incident. According to published reports, the principal met with the boys but did not notify the girl's parents or police. Only after the girl's parents reported the alleged incident to police were the boys suspended. School officials maintain the principal acted properly. Meanwhile, parents and politicians demanded tougher punishment for a New York City high school teacher who required his sophomore class to study a sexually graphic poem written by a former student. Teacher Charles Self got a slap on the wrist-in the form of a letter of reprimand-but was not forced to face a disciplinary hearing.
Don't know much
On the academic front, public-school students are performing poorly in science, according to a new test of what students know and don't know. More than 40 percent of high-school seniors who took the test failed to meet the minimum academic expectations. A version of the test for fourth graders found that only half could identify the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on a map. College students, meanwhile, appear to be suffering from a lack of economic understanding. A national survey of financial aid found that the average debt burden among college students has more than doubled over the past six years and now stands at $18,800. Debt repayment claims an average of 12 percent of recent college graduates' incomes.
Kevorkian the "organist"
When he's not helping people kill themselves, Jack Kevorkian has developed a reputation as an accomplished organ player. Now, he wants to become an "organist" of a different kind. The "suicide doctor" is offering to harvest organs from his "patients" and make them available on a first-come, first-served basis. Said Kevorkian attorney Geoffrey Fieger: "There will be patients begging doctors for the kidneys and livers that I [will] have available in my office."
The victor, the spoils
After four-and-a-half months of bloody war against the Republic of Congo's ruling government, victorious militia leader Gen. Denis Sassou-Nguesso swept into the country's devastated capital Oct. 23 and began making preparations for his inauguration as self-proclaimed president. Hopping out of his looted Mercedes, he implored a crowd in Brazzaville to help "restore brotherhood" to the troubled country. Mr. Sassou-Nguesso, a Marxist who ruled the nation as a one-party state from 1979 to 1991, promised to form a government of "national unity." His earlier reign ended after public anger over the country's economic problems and demands for democratic reforms forced him to call the nation's first multiparty election. He ran for president and lost.
Washington in brief
Supreme consent: The Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of a Louisiana law requiring pregnant teen mothers under 18 to get the consent of a parent before having an abortion. Justice Antonin Scalia stood alone as the justices voted 8-1 to decline the case, which affirms a lower court ruling that blocks the law on the grounds that the regulation is an "undue burden" on a teenager's right to abortion. The legal issue turned on the language of the parental consent law's judicial bypass, a procedure under which a pregnant girl can make a case to a judge that an abortion without her parents' involvement is in her "best interests." Under judicial-bypass provisions upheld in the federal courts, if a girl proves her best-interests claim, the trial judge "shall" give permission for an abortion. Under the Louisiana law, the judge "may" grant permission, giving him discretion over the case. That power, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, is far too great. One step back, one forward: After a strategic retreat, President Clinton brought in his UN ambassador, a former congressman, to help lobby the House in favor of a bill giving the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade treaties. Fast-track legislation would require Congress to vote up or down on treaties, without the chance to offer amendments. Big labor and liberal environmentalist groups oppose fast track because they want to use their clout in Congress to amend trade treaties, forcing economically ruinous American labor and environmental standards on developing countries. The fast-track bill is on the slow track in the House, where trade legislation usually originates. After conceding he did not have enough Democratic votes in the House, Mr. Clinton opted to have the measure first considered in the Senate. Majority leader Trent Lott says he can deliver the 60 votes necessary to break the expected filibuster and pass the bill. Read my lips: The congressman leading a House probe into campaign-fundraising abuses accused Clinton administration officials of "trying to mislead the Congress" by withholding and possibly altering videotapes of fundraising coffees at the White House. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, said he and his investigators believe "some of those tapes may have been cut off intentionally, you know, altered in some way." Portions of the tapes have no audio track. The committee, he said, "may have some lip readers look at some of the tapes to try to make sure we get the whole story." A White House spokesman said the Indiana Republican has a "fondness" for "kookie" theories. Mr. Burton also rapped the president's "selective memory loss" about fundraising telephone calls, citing a Newsweek report revealing documentation of at least one presidential call from the White House residence that brought in $50,000 for the Democratic Party.
In 1993, Cincinnati voters passed an initiative that would prohibit the city from offering special legal status to homosexuals. Four years and many legal challenges later, a three-judge panel of the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the initiative Oct. 23, finally clearing the way for it to be enacted. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Romer v. Evans, struck down a similar initiative passed by the voters of Colorado. A homosexual "rights" law passed by the Maine state legislature earlier this year is headed for a citizen-backed repeal vote. State officials verified more than 50,000 petition signatures gathered by the Christian Civic League of Maine. A repeal referendum will be ordered for early 1998. In New Jersey, a state court judge approved a request by two homosexual men to adopt a two-year-old boy. The boy, a foster child born to a drug-addicted woman infected with the AIDS virus, has lived with the men since he was three months old. The New Jersey judge joins jurists in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont who also have consented to adoptions by homosexual couples.
Losing his grip
Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, once the most powerful man in the Balkans, suffered another political setback Oct. 20 when a staunch Socialist Party ally failed to win the presidency of Montenegro. It was the third major blow to Mr. Milosevic's political fortunes in the past month. Earlier, Mr. Milosevic's party lost its majority in the Serbian parliament. Then his handpicked candidate failed to win the Serbian presidency. In the Montenegro presidential race, the winner was the country's prime minister Milo Djukanovic, who during the campaign mocked Mr. Milosevic as "yesterday's man."
After months of resisting congressional efforts to reform the Internal Revenue Service, President Clinton last week announced his support of legislation that would drastically change the way the federal tax collectors do business. The reform bill approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee requires a presumption of innocence for the taxpayer and shifts the burden of proof in taxpayer-taxman courtroom disputes from the taxpayer to the IRS. The bill would also establish an independent oversight board that would keep an eye on the IRS to catch further abuses earlier. Ways and Means chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas) was pleased to have the president on board: "I'm glad that President Clinton has completely changed his position. Today's victory is another example of what a difference a Republican Congress makes."
Can't take it with you
In Denmark, a nurse and a doctor face charges of killing 22 nursing home patients with a morphine-based drug. The apparent motive: theft of the patients' worldly goods.