Poultry giant Tyson Foods Inc. chickened out of a pending trial, pleading guilty to corruption charges and offering to assist the prosecution of former Clinton cabinet official Mike Espy. Under a plea bargain with independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz, the company agreed to pay $4 million in fines and $2 million toward the cost of Mr. Smaltz's probe. Company officials acknowledged they gave illegal gifts to thenÐagriculture secretary Mike Espy while the company had business pending before the department. The deal grants chairman Don Tyson and his son John immunity from prosecution and allows Tyson Foods to continue doing business with the government. A company press release said, "Tyson looks forward to having this long, costly, distracting matter behind us." The long and distracting matter before Mr. Espy is a different story. In March, the former agriculture secretary faces trial on charges he solicited the gifts Tyson Foods admitted proffering. Another company, Sun Diamond growers, was found guilty of bestowing illegal gifts upon Mr. Espy; lawyers for the company have appealed the verdict. Mr. Espy's lawyer expects his client Òwill be fully vindicated.
Yea or nay?
Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist criticized Senate Republicans last week in his year-end report for holding in limbo President Clinton's nominees to fill vacancies in the federal judiciary. Almost 10 percent of all federal judgeships remain empty; 26 have been vacant for 18 months or longer. "Judicial vacancies will aggravate the problem of too few judges and too much work," the conservative justice complained. An administration spokesman claimed vindication from the Rehnquist report and urged quick Senate approval of Mr. Clinton's nominees. But the chief justice made it clear he was not calling for such rubber-stamp Senate approval: "The Senate is surely under no obligation to confirm any particular nominee, but after the necessary time for inquiry it should vote him up or down." Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch placed the blame on the president: "The No. 1 problem happens to be activist judges who continue to find laws that aren't there and expand the law beyond the intent of Congress," Mr. Hatch told The New York Times.
For the 14th year in a row, President Clinton and his family rang in the new year with some 500 other families gathered for the annual Renaissance Weekend in Hilton Head, S.C. The event featured scores of seminars on topics ranging from the silly to the serious. Mr. Clinton attended three panels "Spiritual Values," "Global Beat," and one on the status of the United States as a multiethnic society but skipped the seminar titled, "What would you do if you had a million dollars?" Only one million? That's penny ante for a man weighed down with nearly $3 million in legal debts, and whose President's Legal Expense Trust evaporated with the new year. The defense fund folded last week after a year in which donations weren't sufficient even to cover operating expenses. During its three-and-a-half year life, the fund paid just $766,134 in legal debts; Mr. Clinton currently owes almost $3 million in fees to lawyers representing him in matters ranging from political corruption to sexual harassment. Contributions to the fund were capped at $1,000 per donor. Now that the legal-defense fund is dissolved, executive director Michael Cardozo said he and others would explore other avenues to pay off the debt: "The president has many friends and supporters who would like to be helpful." No doubt.
With South Korea's economy in shambles, the country's National Assembly reluctantly bowed Dec. 30 to the will of international financial officials, passing a package of reforms aimed at tightening oversight of the nation's banking, securities, and insurance industries. The measures are requirements South Korea had to meet in exchange for a $57 billion bailout package put together by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Days earlier, the U.S. and several other nations joined with the IMF in expediting the first $10 billion of bailout to Korea in hopes of staving off the country's economic collapse. Meanwhile, banks in Germany, Britain, France, and Japan agreed to extend payoff dates on previous loans to South Korea.
No dissent in cyberspace
Fearing the free flow of "harmful information," the communist government of China issued new restrictions on Internet use. No longer allowed: any Internet activity that "damages state interests" or promotes democratic reform. Violations are punishable by stiff fines or prison terms. Government officials did not say how they intend to enforce the new regulations.
The wheels of justice
After deliberating 41 hours over six days, a jury in Denver found former soldier Terry Nichols guilty of conspiring with Army buddy Timothy McVeigh to build the bomb that blew up the Oklahoma City federal building. But the jury refused to convict Mr. Nichols of murder, apparently agreeing with defense claims that, months before the April 1995 bombing, Mr. Nichols had backed out of the plan and had dropped ties with Mr. McVeigh. Families of the victims, expressing shock and disappointment over the mixed verdict, said the jury's failure to return murder convictions was a miscarriage of justice. In Sacramento, Calif., nine women and three men will decide the guilt or innocence of the alleged Unabomber, Theodore Kacyzinski. Lawyers picked the 12 from a pool of 170 after five weeks of extensive questioning that included prospective jurors' views on mental illness and the death penalty.
Taking advantage of ultrasound technology, a growing number of abortionists are using a procedure that can eliminate an unborn child as early as eight days after conception, The New York Times reported. Pioneered by Jerry Edwards, "medical director" at Planned Parenthood of Houston, the procedure, which uses a hand-held syringe rather than a vacuum pump, can take as little as two minutes. "It ... lets people get this over with and get on with their lives," Dr. Edwards said.
New year, new laws
Hundreds of new state laws took effect New Year's Day. Among them: Taxes be will higher on lottery winnings in Idaho and Oregon; Oklahoma drivers must prove they can read; teen-aged high school dropouts in Georgia can't get driver's licenses; Californians under age 18 must have parental permission for body piercing; and homosexual "marriage" is now illegal in Indiana, as well as in 24 other states. Plenty of tax changes also kicked in Jan. 1, including a $400 per-child tax credit (later to rise to $500) that will give many families a much-needed federal income tax break. Qualifying families can start keeping the extra cash immediately by adjusting payroll withholding. Another new provision allows a tax credit of up to $1,500 to offset college tuition and fees.
Tragedy and violence
A 2-year-old California girl, on a family outing to see San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Bridge, plunged to her death when she tripped over a curb and fell through the 91Ú2-inch gap between the bridge's walkway and roadway. Days later, construction workers strung cables along the gap, narrowing the space to four inches. Also, signs were added warning parents not to leave their children unattended. In Washington, a female robber doused a 71-year-old woman with a flammable liquid and set her on fire after the elderly woman refused her demand for cash and food stamps. Pauline Hudson suffered second- and third-degree burns in the blaze, which also gutted several apartments and left 14 people homeless. The robber got away with $30, police said.
Zambian police arrested former president Kenneth Kaunda on Christmas Day, claiming he was a suspect in an October coup attempt against the current president. Although not officially charged with any crime, Mr. Kaunda, who's been trying to make a political comeback, was detained for several days in a maximum-security prison before being placed under house arrest. President Frederick Chiluba, a self-professed Christian who came to power in the nation's first multiparty election in 1991, insisted that his action against Mr. Kaunda was justified because of the "highly inflammatory statements the man has been making." Last summer, after what Mr. Kaunda claimed was a Chiluba-ordered assassination attempt against him, the former president called Mr. Chiluba a "stupid little boy" and accused him of inciting "war."
Here come the judges
New Jersey's ban on "partial-birth" abortions will be on hold until at least mid-year. U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson extended her order blocking the law passed by the state legislature over Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's veto until a trial can be held in June. The New Jersey ban is identical to the federal ban twice vetoed by President Clinton. In Oklahoma City, a federal judge ruled that a police seizure last summer of the film The Tin Drum was unconstitutional. But he ordered a trial to determine whether the movie is child pornography under Oklahoma laws. In June, police seized copies of the 1979 film after a county judge ruled that it violated a state law that bans the depiction of sexual relations between minors. On-again/off-again term limits in California are on again. A federal appeals court, overturning an earlier decision by a three-judge panel, upheld the state's term-limits law. The law, passed in 1990, would prohibit some of the state's most powerful lawmakers from seeking reelection this year. Term-limited legislators are planning an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal judge in Texas struck down major sections of a law designed to deregulate the telecommunications industry. The judge ruled that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 unfairly kept regional Bell telephone companies out of the lucrative long-distance market when it prohibited them from offering long-distance service until they've opened their local markets to competition. The regional Bell companies were created in the mid-1980s when a court decree ordered the break-up of the old AT&T Corp. Two Bell companiesÑSBC Communications Inc. and US West Corp. had argued that, because the long-distance ban didn't apply to non-Bell companies, such as GTE, the Bells were being singled out unfairly.
Magaziner on the rack
President Clinton last week defended embattled friend and aide Ira Magaziner amid congressional calls for his resignation following U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth's ruling in late December that Mr. Magaziner lied to the judge. Mr. Clinton's statement that Mr. Magaziner "acted appropriately" ended a week of official silence on the matter. Judge Lamberth ordered the Clinton administration to pay almost $300,000 in attorneys' fees because of Mr. Magaziner's "dishonest explanation" to the court of the composition of the 1993 health care task force. Lawyers for a private physicians' group had sued to open the deliberations of the task force because they believed some of the members were private citizens. (Federal laws require that meetings involving private citizens and official legislative business be open to the public.) When the doctors brought their case, Mr. Magaziner responded to the court that "only federal government employees serve as members of the interdepartmental working group." That turned out not to be true, although Mr. Magaziner avoided a perjury charge because thenÐU.S. Attorney Eric Holder (now deputy attorney general, the number-two job at the Justice Department) refused to pursue the case. "I am quite confident that Mr. Magaziner acted appropriately," President Clinton said in a written statement released to the news media. "Mr. Magaziner is, and will remain, a valued member of my administration." Congressional Republicans, like House Ways and Means chairman Bill Archer, howled: "Where in this administration does the buck stop? If not with Mr. Magaziner, with whom?"
In Hong Kong, government workers slaughtered more than a million chickens in an attempt to stop the spread of an avian flu virus that's led to the deaths of at least four people. As the chicken killing took place, more than 70 monks at a Buddhist monastery chanted soothing mantras, hoping to appease the chickens' collective anger over the massacre. Said one monk quoted by Reuters: "These chickens were humans before."