Standing in front of a huge mock-up of a Social Security card at Georgetown University, President Clinton last week field-tested one of the administration's top budget themes for 1998: "save Social Security first." It's a nice slogan-and, clearly, most Americans believe Social Security is worth saving, at least in some form or fashion. But the president is again, to put it in the charitable words of economist Martin Feldstein, engaging in "a highly nuanced construction of language." Mr. Clinton's recent budget proposal does not attempt to "save Social Security first." On the contrary, it puts the future of Social Security dead last in order of budget priority. How? The only thing that puts the president's much-ballyhooed 1999 budget into "balance" is the inclusion of more than $100 billion borrowed from the Social Security trust fund-to be paid back who knows when. This same budgetary sleight-of-hand is behind all of Mr. Clinton's projected "surpluses" over the next 10 years. The surpluses exist only because of borrowing from funds earmarked for Social Security. As Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) explained last week in The Washington Post, "[T]he deficit is not eliminated; the deficit is merely moved from the general fund into the Social Security trust fund." What this means is that Mr. Clinton's claim that he wants to "reserve every penny" of the budget surpluses to "save" Social Security is nonsense. Think about it. This is like borrowing money from your savings account to put in your checking account so you can write a check to pay back your savings account. Surely there must be method to Mr. Clinton's madness? Indeed. By creating this high-sounding linguistic fiction, the president is laying the political groundwork necessary for the following argument-appearing soon on TV sets everywhere-against Republican would-be tax cutters: Any general tax cut would "spend" the surplus, thus destroying all hope of saving the nation's most-loved social program. To support a tax cut is to oppose the preservation of Social Security for future generations. Last week at Georgetown, Mr. Clinton waxed eloquent about his hope that Congress would "rise above partisanship" and join him in working to "save Social Security first." Later, White House aides stressed to reporters that the president's strong desire is to keep Social Security from becoming a partisan issue in this year's congressional elections. Nice try.
But who's counting?
For those trying to keep count, the Clinton Administration faced new revelations in three separate scandals last week. In the most prominent case, Marcia Lewis was forced to testify under limited immunity regarding what her daughter, Monica Lewinsky, had revealed about her alleged affair with President Clinton. On day two of her testimony, she was reduced to tears and a nurse was called to the room. Her agonizingly slow testimony delayed her daughter's court appearance. Another blow came last week when Attorney General Janet Reno agreed to seek an independent counsel to investigate Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. After resisting the move for nearly a year, Ms. Reno's hand was forced when hearings chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) produced "specific, credible evidence" that Mr. Babbitt's decision to grant an Indian gaming license may have been influenced by the tribes' $230,000 donation to the Democratic Party. The case marks the sixth independent investigation of the administration in as many years. While the Burton Committee continued to probe, its Senate counterpart prepared a 1,500-word report of alleged Democratic fundraising violations. An early draft charges both President Clinton and Vice President Gore with raising illegal foreign contributions and financing their own campaign with "soft money," which cannot legally be used to support specific candidates. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton again took to the media, insisting that the scandal talk would dissipate under "the weight of its own insubstantiality." But if the contradictions in the official story are as obvious as the contradiction in that sentence, the coming weeks could be even worse for the administration than the one just past.
Carl Wilson, founding member of The Beach Boys, the California band that sang about perpetual youth and good times, died on Feb. 6 at age 51, a victim of cancer. Mr. Wilson was born in a Los Angeles suburb about five miles from the Pacific Ocean. In 1961 he formed The Beach Boys with two brothers, a cousin, and a friend, and was often the lead singer. The group produced effervescent harmonies that made it seem as if it would always be summer. Through the 1960s, The Beach Boys sold hundreds of thousands of records with hits such as "Surfin' U.S.A." Two were millionsellers: "I Get Around" in 1964 and "Good Vibrations" in 1966. Other songs that have sunk deep into the memories of both middle-aged Americans and younger listeners to nostalgia radio are "Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," and "California Girls." The carpe diem sense of seizing summer days came through clearly in songs with titles like "Fun, Fun, Fun," with its next line of "till Daddy takes the T-Bird away." But Carl Wilson, without evidently realizing the deeper meaning of the words, sang beautifully about providential arrangements in "God Only Knows," which Paul McCartney called the greatest song ever written: "I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it, I'll make you so sure about it, God only knows what I'd be without you." The Beach Boys sang "Be True to Your School," but, sadly, they were not true to God. Summers apart from Christ ended in winters of dissension and drugs. Dennis Wilson died in a 1983 swimming accident. As Puritan pastor Increase Mather noted in a sermon delivered three centuries ago after two exuberant Harvard students drowned, man knows not his time of death, so it is important to seize the spring, summer, and fall opportunities to learn to "live a life of holy dependence upon God continually."
The whole truth?
Did au pair Louise Woodward commit perjury? The British nanny denied in court that she told police she had been "a little rough" with eight-month-old Matthew Eappen. But the Boston Globe reported last week that court records show she did use those words five months earlier, during an interview with a polygraph examiner. A jury convicted the au pair of second-degree murder in the child's death. A judge later reduced the verdict to manslaughter. Both sides in the case are appealing..
Least worst opinions
Riot police across Indonesia were called out to quell protests over rising prices and austerity measures, as the country's leaders try to come to grips with a financial crisis. The eastern town of Ende imposed a curfew after 21 Chinese-owned stores were burned. In Bumiayu, dozens of shoppers threw stones at stores where the price of cooking oil rose. In Jarkarta, 35,000 troops were called out after hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets. President Suharto said his government would go ahead with establishing a currency board to fix the value of Indonesia's plummeting rupiah, a move one economist called "the least worst option."
Chinese house church leader Gao Feng was reported released from labor camp in early February just a few months shy of serving a 2H-year "reeducation through labor" sentence. Mr. Gao was first arrested in 1994 for "praying without authorization." His release coincided with the arrival Feb. 8 of three American clergy who will spend three weeks in China on a religious "fact-finding tour." The clergymen, chosen by the Clinton administration, are Jewish rabbi Arthur Schneier, Catholic archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Meanwhile, China was busy rounding up political dissidents last week, after exiled democracy advocate Wang Bingzhang slipped back into China. Mr. Wang managed to meet with the dissidents before being deported to the United States. At least four of those who met with him were arrested following his visit.
El Niño wreaked havoc throughout California last week, dislocating at least 500 families, racking up more than $300 million in property damage, and killing at least 10. The pilot of a small plane was added to the death toll after colliding with a National Guard helicopter returning from evacuating flood victims and flying in supplies. The plane nose-dived into a rugged area three miles southeast of San Jose.
When Woodrow Wilson's vice president, Thomas Riley Marshall, opined that what this country needed was a good five-cent cigar, he stopped at that. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission launched a full-scale probe into the issue. The FTC ordered the nation's five leading cigar makers to file by April 9 financial reports detailing their sales and advertising expenses over the last two years. The order requires each manufacturer to report the total number of cigars sold and the amount spent on advertising, merchandising, and promotion in 1996 and 1997. It also requires a categorical breakdown of advertising and marketing expenses for each cigar brand marketed, including any money paid to motion pictures that featured the products.
In the Armey now
First there was Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues. Now House Majority Leader Dick Armey has weighed in with an abbreviated, politicized version of his own. The "virtue memo," as it's being called on the Hill, is a 10-page directive in which Mr. Armey urges his Republican colleagues to emphasize the moral basis for their political positions. "We've often failed to advance [some] issues, particularly economic issues, in moral terms," Mr. Armey writes. "This has allowed us to be defined by dollar signs, and we can't allow it to continue. We must explain that we're committed to our agenda not because it will make America a wealthier society, but because it will make America a good society." The majority leader, profiled in WORLD (Aug. 31, 1996) about his newfound faith in Christ, cites at least 15 examples to prove the time is right to emphasize morality: 71 percent of Americans believe America faces a "moral crisis," compared to just 16 percent who say the crisis is economic; sales of religious books have jumped 94 percent since 1994; and sales of gospel music are growing 800 percent faster than sales of other music. The bottom line, he says, is that the GOP must stop thinking of "family values" only in terms of abortion and school prayer. Families are just as concerned about educational choice, adoption reform, internet pornography, and Hollywood sleaze. Though not all problems can be solved through legislation, Mr. Armey says lawmakers should take the lead in preaching a message of morality: "We should not hesitate to point out the corrupting influences in our society and put pressure on those who pursue conduct and products that debase our culture, pollute our children's minds, and glorify the most base human activities. Reversing some cultural trends doesn't require legislation, just a concerted effort to restigmatize anti-social behavior." President Clinton's State of the Union message, in which he proposed a five-year moratorium on human cloning, gave the majority leader a chance to show how moral considerations could affect a wide variety of issues. "To clone or not to clone is not an issue of health and safety," Mr. Armey wrote in a second memo. "It is an issue of the sanctity and value of human life." He said banning the procedure for five years while the scientific kinks are worked out amounted to "a statute of limitations on right and wrong." At a time when some politicians are splitting hairs over the precise definition of "improper" sex, Mr. Armey's call for a return to straightforward, common-sense morality is refreshing. Watch for the values-based approach to show the difference between "principled" Republicans and "pragmatic" Democrats in the 1998 elections and beyond.
The wheels of justice ground exceeding small last week for several anti-abortion vigilantes. In California, Peter Howard got 15 years for attempting to blow up an abortion clinic using a truck packed with containers of propane and gasoline. The next day, Richard T. Anderson, a retired insurance executive, pleaded guilty to torching seven clinics in four western states. His plea bargain called for 81 months in prison. But the most notorious suspect is at large. Federal agents in North Carolina found a pickup belonging to Eric Rudolph, a key figure in the bombing of an Alabama abortion business that killed a guard. The "Army of God" claimed responsibility, but friends said Mr. Rudolph had no known ties to extremist groups.
Bang for the buck
Rebels in Colombia blew up one of the country's main oil pipelines, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil into wetlands and forcing a halt to pumping. Rebels dynamited the pipeline 65 times last year as a protest against foreign investment in Colombia.
Bigger than baseball
Pornographic video sales and rentals have shot up 100 percent since 1992. Pornography is now a $4.2 billion dollar industry. And these numbers do not even include internet pornography, which is booming. Frank Rich of The New York Times, who gleaned the figures from the industry's trade magazine Adult Video News, observes that this makes pornography a business twice as large as major league baseball; three times bigger than Disney's theme parks; eight times bigger than Broadway. America's problems are not merely political but cultural, and they are not merely cultural but spiritual.
Bully in the pulpit
Evidently Senate Republicans didn't read the "values memo." Pragmatism reigned last week as senators approved David Satcher as surgeon general. After the vote, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala patted the chair Dr. Satcher would occupy, sending dust bunnies into the air. The chair was last occupied by Joycelyn Elders and had been vacant three years. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) had blocked the nomination for months because of Dr. Satcher's support for partial-birth abortions. In the end, all but 35 GOP senators eventually caved in, rationalizing that the office is largely ceremonial, anyway. But even The New York Times called the post "the nation's top bully pulpit on public health issues"-making the qualifications of the "preacher" all the more important.
Walk a mile in my cleats
It was par for the course in federal district court last week when a professional athlete used the regulatory behemoth Americans with Disabilities Act to win for himself accommodations denied to others. Lawyers for the Professional Golfers Association will appeal a judge's order that a disabled golfer can ride in a cart on the pro golf tour, a landmark victory in the first case invoking the ADA to compete in a major sport. Casey Martin has a rare circulatory disorder that makes it painful and dangerous to walk. PGA officials had said a cart would be an unfair advantage.
Vast Left-Wing conspiracy?
UN weapons inspectors in Iraq say they have discovered a secret 1995 agreement between Russia and Saddam Hussein's regime to sell Iraq sophisticated equipment that could be used to produce biological weapons. Evidence of the plan came to light the same day U.S. defense secretary Richard Cohen arrived in Moscow for talks on nuclear safety and disarmament. Russia has opposed possible U.S. military strikes against Iraq.