This Week

Issue: "Day scare," Jan. 10, 1998

Chickening out

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.

Penny ante

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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.

Financial medicine

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.

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