This Week

Issue: "Washington Gets One Right," Dec. 6, 1997

Cuba libre

The anti-communist Cuban exile leader who dreamed of one day becoming president of Cuba died last weekend at 58 after a bout with lung cancer. Jorge Mas Canosa built a political movement of Cuban-Americans modeled after a typical American political action committee and delivered thousands of votes for Republican candidates. Yet he enjoyed some influence in the Clinton White House; the Helms-Burton bill tightening sanctions on Cuba became law with Mr. Clinton's signature and support.

Bouncer bounced

A colorful political strategist is at the center of an intensifying controversy in Israel. Avigdor Lieberman, the 39-year-old former bar bouncer and political genius who emigrated from Moldova, resigned Nov. 24 as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-hand man. He was under fire from party leaders who consider him too brusque and law enforcement officials who think he may have engaged in theft and fraud. Mr. Lieberman masterminded Mr. Netanyahu's successful campaign for prime minister in 1996. Now, Mr. Netanyahu finds himself in danger of being overthrown from within his own Likud Party. Many are angry with his attempt-which some see as a Lieberman power grab-to change the system of party elections in a way that would give him more control over selecting candidates. At the last minute, Mr. Netanyahu withdrew the proposal.

Economic potholes

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President Clinton and 17 Pacific leaders last week advanced a $68 billion bailout plan they hoped would calm Asian economic turmoil. Mr. Clinton tried to be at once serious-backing the largest financial bailout in history-and reassuring, referring to the Pacific crisis as a "few little glitches on the road." American taxpayers will be patching the potholes, but, the president said, the U.S. share will be "nowhere near ... the commitment we made in Mexico." Taxpayers footed $20 billion of the $50 billion reserve fund made available in the wake of the collapse of the Mexican peso. The president began the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vancouver by meeting with five leaders of Southeast Asian countries where the trouble began five months ago with a currency crisis in Thailand. He said Asia's troubles could affect U.S. interests and the American stock market. Before traveling to Canada to attend the meeting, South Korean President Kim Young-sam took to national television in his homeland and apologized for mishandling his nation's economy. On Nov. 21, South Korea sought a $20-billion economic bailout from the IMF. Even as government ministers made it clear there would be no financial rescues of individual companies, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto promised special funds from the nation's central bank to protect customers of the failed brokerage giant Yamaichi Securities Co., Japan's fourth-largest brokerage. Yamaichi closed under the burden of a $24 billion debt, making it the third Japanese financial company to collapse in a month.

High anxiety

Pot smokers and dealers in California busted for non-medical uses of marijuana may find themselves the unwitting suppliers of dope for the sick. Officials in San Mateo County came up with a plan last week that would use seized marijuana under the new Proposition 215 law, but the plan must first be approved by the state attorney general and legislators. Under the plan, the marijuana first would be photographed and cataloged for use in trials. Then it would be shipped to public health clinics, where it would be tested for freshness and contamination. If the pot met quality standards, it would be doled out at clinics to patients or others authorized to pick it up.

Pay now or pay later

A funny thing happened on the way to the Supreme Court. Supporters of race-conscious hiring and firing got nervous and-instead of risking a high-court ruling further solidifying a color-blind view of the law and the constitution-raised money to pay off a reverse-discrimination plaintiff in an 11th-hour settlement. Had the case gone the way "affirmative action" forces had feared, the Supreme Court would have held that Piscataway, N.J., school officials' decision to lay off a white high-school teacher (instead of an equally qualified black teacher) solely on the basis of her white skin is illegal racial discrimination. Of all the cases in the legal system, Piscataway offered a look at perhaps the crudest example of a so-called workforce diversity program. Nevertheless, school officials had at least two appealing facts on their side: The black teacher was more qualified academically, and she was the only black among 10 members of the business department faculty. In the end, none of that mattered. Unlike Piscataway, other businesses and governments have drawn up careful policies documenting the need to remedy past discrimination or compensate for the underrepresentation of minorities. In Piscataway, high-school officials simply decided they wanted a more "diverse" faculty. That's it. And that's what an appeals court pointed out in ruling for the white teacher, holding that workplace diversity is no justification for making a race-based employment decision. It is of no small significance that Jesse Jackson and company elected to take a dive on this one. According to a New York Times account, Mr. Jackson, who is reported to have been the point man on raising 70 percent of the $433,500 settlement deal, got the money in large part from corporate high-rollers who feared they'd have to drastically revise their own affirmative action plans (or be exposed to similar lawsuits) if the case went forward. Sure, this near-decision will drive a lot of racial discrimination underground, and newer, more sophisticated rationales will be developed to mask race-based decisions. But the principle of justice has prevailed, and that's good enough for now.


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