Calling the bluff
Washington Post writer Ruth Marcus called Monica Lewinsky's lawyer's bluff last week. Appearing on NBC's Today late last month, William H. Ginsburg challenged journalists to "find me a case of civil perjury that has been pursued criminally at the federal level in the last 100 years. I dare say they cannot." Mr. Ginsburg may be spending too much time on news-show sets and not enough time in the law library. The Post's Ms. Marcus reported her "cursory" computer search of federal court records "turned up more than 25 cases of federal prosecutions for perjury in civil cases," not counting those that may have been dropped or settled. There's more. She quoted from the Clinton Justice Department's manual for federal prosecutors: "Because false declarations affect the integrity of the judicial fact-finding process, all offenders should be vigorously prosecuted." Meanwhile, the judicial fact-finding process continued vigorously last week, with presidential friend Vernon Jordan's appearance before a Washington grand jury. Spinners for Mr. Jordan and the White House took pains to emphasize the continued strength of the friendship between Mr. Jordan and President Clinton. "There is no rift. No rift," the superlawyer's lawyer William G. Hundley insisted. Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said Mr. Clinton looks forward to the day when he can be "less circumspect" with Mr. Jordan. But circumspection rules right now. The same camp that was pushing the "no rift" storyline stressed days earlier on background to Washington journalists that Mr. Jordan, when first asked to help Ms. Lewinsky find work, had no knowledge of her potential involvement in the Paula Jones case. Testimony in that case is the basis of possible perjury charges against Ms. Lewinsky or the president. Why is the point important for Mr. Jordan? It clearly leaves open the possibility, as The Washington Post hinted, that there was obstruction of justice and/or perjury but Mr. Jordan was not aware of it.
Audit the little guy
A study by the General Accounting Office found last week that almost half of randomly audited taxpayers over the past three years live in 11 Southern states. More than 85 percent of those audited made less than $25,000 a year. Random audits are restricted to groups the IRS has suspicions about, such as working families who claim the earned income tax credit.
Forty-four years after Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the Congress, members of the House last week handed the island commonwealth its best chance in 100 years to add another star to the Stars and Stripes. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, the measure would allow a special referendum giving Puerto Ricans three choices: continued commonwealth status, statehood, or independence. Before approving the referendum bill, the House voted down a provision that would require the local government to conduct business in English.
Nothing but net
Suspended National Basketball Association star Latrell Sprewell's $32 million contract requires adherence "to standards of good citizenship and good moral character" and prohibits "acts of moral turpitude." So after Mr. Sprewell choked and punched his coach last December, his team, the Golden State Warriors, had a right to fire him, right? Wrong, says the arbitrator who last week ordered the NBA to trim its one-year suspension to seven months and the last-place Warriors to fork over the remaining $17.3 million or trade him. It's "an issue of fairness," explained arbitrator John Feerick.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed last week, 16-2, to a resolution to expand the size of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by adding three former foes: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) called the vote "an obvious vote of confidence in the democracies of Eastern Europe." Dissenters on the right and left complained not enough had been done to define the role of an expanded NATO, nor to recalculate operational costs.
Test of greatness
Sen. John Glenn knows geography: "I know the Great Lakes. I've traveled the Great Lakes. And Lake Champlain is not one of the Great Lakes." The senator from Ohio, which shares some Lake Erie shoreline, criticized Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy for sneaking into an otherwise routine bill a provision to reclassify as a Great Lake Vermont's Lake Champlain ("a pencil line on a map," sniffed Great Lake stater Fred Upton, a congressman from Michigan). What gives? Actually, it involves taking--namely, a share of the $56 million in federal research money for Great Lake state colleges, The New York Times reported last week. Also last week, as if your tax dollars weren't working hard enough, two senators pointed out that federal money is being used to close-caption The Jerry Springer Show. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said the purpose of the federal program "is not to expose the hearing-impaired to every form of cultural depravity under the sun."
Cuts both ways
The push for gay equality won on two fronts last week: At the Supreme Court, all nine justices agreed same-sex sexual harassment can violate a federal anti-discrimination law; in Alaska, a judge ruled state officials must show a compelling reason to ban same-sex marriages. The same kind of ruling in Hawaii was the first step in legalizing homosexual matrimony.
The Army's former top enlisted man testified at his sexual-misconduct trial last week that he saw "nothing inappropriate" in visiting a female aide in her hotel room after midnight clad in gym shorts. Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney testified that he actually went to Sgt. Maj. Brenda Hoster's room in 1996 to fire her.
Mr. Clinton, tear down this code
On the 1996 campaign trail, once and future Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes had a sure-fire applause line. "The corruptingly complex federal income tax code cannot be reformed," he would begin. Then, with a gleam in his eye, he'd take aim and fire with both barrels: "We must kill it, drive a stake through its heart, bury it and hope it never rises again to terrorize the American people!" The crowds went wild. Mr. Forbes's presidential campaign never made it past Super Tuesday, and there's still the year 2000, but to his delight his campaign to kill the current tax code is alive and well and living in Washington, D.C.-specifically in Room 426 of the Cannon House Office Building, the office of Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.). Mr. Largent is the main sponsor of the Tax Code Termination Act, which would "sunset" all current income tax laws by Dec. 31, 2001. The idea is to drive "Congress and the American people to begin the national debate on how to replace [the current system]," Mr. Largent says. "Having a date-certain [to end the current code] will force the issue to the top of the national agenda." But at least one person doesn't want to be forced into such a debate: Bill Clinton. In a speech last week to the National Mortgage Bankers Association, the president went out of his way to attack the Tax Code Termination Act, which now has more than 140 House co-sponsors, "as misguided, reckless, and irresponsible." Claiming that setting a drop-dead date for the current code would "cripple families' and businesses' ability to plan for the future," Mr. Clinton all but promised to veto the bill should it reach his desk. "I will not permit it if I can stop it," he vowed. Trying to build enough momentum so the president can't stop the kill-the-code bill, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Rep. Billy Tauzin (former Democrat, now Republican, of Louisiana) have been traveling the country as the featured players in the Scrap the Code Tour, a series of good-natured policy debates on how best to replace the current system. Mr. Armey favors a single-rate income tax; Mr. Tauzin prefers a national sales tax. Thus far, the "tour" has stopped in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, and Washington state. As for Mr. Forbes, he's paying for a radio ad campaign to promote the Largent bill. And he's trying out another metaphor, one that served Ronald Reagan well: "Congress should immediately pass the [Tax Code Termination Act] and assign the current system to the ash heap of history."
Breaking the Windows?
Microsoft's Bill Gates went to Washington last week to defend his software giant before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's in the fight of his life against charges that Microsoft is a monopolistic Evil Empire that mistreats its competition. Last October, the Justice Department accused the company of breaking a 1995 promise not to force computer manufacturers into bundling its Internet Explorer software with Windows 95. Officials representing 27 states have signed a brief supporting the investigation. If the Justice Department wins its antitrust suit, the upcoming Windows 98 could be in jeopardy. Microsoft's new operating system is at risk because it assimilates the browser into its system. The two products will merge into one piece of software. Starting this summer, many computer users will surf the Internet the same way they surf their computers. Since about 90 percent of all computers run Windows, any other software for navigating the World Wide Web (especially Netscape) could become obsolete fast. So is Microsoft crossing the antitrust line? Mr. Gates says his company wants to serve its customers, not try to chill competition or take over the Internet. Instead, Internet features in operating systems are as logical a step as installing CD-Roms. "The government should not stand in the way of logical and useful technological progress," Mr. Gates said in written testimony. Critics worry that Micrsoft's main concern is squashing competition. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) put it bluntly after a hearing in which he testily questioned Mr. Gates: "[Microsoft is] now a monopoly, and they will have to learn to live by the rules that govern monopolies." In short, what happens if all new ideas are absorbed by Microsoft's software before their inventors can reap their rewards? Mr. Hatch said the canon of antitrust law may have to be rewritten because of the digital revolution. Meanwhile, the resolution of the Microsoft case will determine who builds the portal that the world uses to look into cyberspace.
Voters in India handed a victory in parliamentary elections last week to Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist party. The vote represented a break from India's tradition of secular government. But BJP faces serious obstacles. With India's 120 million Muslims opposed to BJP, its coalition government may be shaky.
For want of a wrench
A walk in space was lost when two Russian cosmonauts broke all three wrenches aboard the space station Mir while trying to unlock the hatch to the great outdoors. The mission control chief said other problems also contributed to the cancellation of a March 3 walk, underscoring concerns that the 12-year-old space station is ailing. Pressure was obviously a factor at Mission Control, where at one point during the day officials turned off the audio system that normally allows journalists and visitors to hear radio traffic between Mir and the ground controllers.
Square one, again
The UN Security Council unanimously endorsed Secretary General Kofi Annan's agreement with Iraq on weapons inspections, but refused to authorize a military response if Saddam Hussein fails to comply. The United States and Great Britain could not win even a threat of "severest consequences" from Security Council members in the event that Iraq reneges on the agreement. The failure of U.S. muscle in the world body seemed to do little to slow White House shadow-boxing. A prepared presidential statement lauded the UN action and predicted victory for a use-of-force resolution if Iraq failed to submit to inspections. But Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, downplayed last week's presidential predictions. He emphasized only that the UN resolution "does not restrict the use of force." State Department spokesman James Rubin bent further backwards, insisting that the resolution "is not as relevant as the kind of private discussions that we've had."
The National People's Congress began last week in Beijing with announcements of exaggerated reforms designed to keep the country two steps ahead of Asia's financial crisis. Communist officials said they would eliminate as many as 4 million jobs belonging to party and government functionaries. Central government ministries will be cut by a quarter. The government will spend $32 billion to recapitalize the state-run banking system, and it is expected to name the country's top economic policymaker, Zhu Rongji, as prime minister, replacing Li Peng.