Because life is first
One thing a couple of presidential defeats can teach a party: Timidity is for losers. Last weekend, three GOP presidential contenders appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and left no doubts about their pro-life priorities. Steve Forbes went first. Tim Russert asked why Mr. Forbes told The New Republic, given the hypothetical choice, that he would sign an abortion ban over a tax-cut bill. "Because the Declaration of Independence says 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' Life comes first. ...So you preserve life, then you can deal with other issues. If a society does not have a sense of the sanctity of life, then we're on a downward slope." Later came John Ashcroft and Pat Buchanan, both unequivocally pro-life. But Mr. Buchanan raised the stakes: "I would not support a candidate of my party ... if [he] supported partial-birth abortion.... We have to draw a firm line. I mean, we've got to stand for something. And if we can't stand for stopping that, what in heaven's name is our party all about?"
Earning an A+ for effort
Congress headed for a veto showdown with President Clinton last week as the Senate voted on 17 amendments to Sen. Paul Coverdell's controversial "A-plus" education reform proposal. Debate was fierce, as both parties see education as an issue on which they can offer voters a clear choice in November. Democratic amendments often tried to extend the federal government into areas traditionally controlled by state and local authorities: school construction, teacher hiring, even after-school "enrichment programs." Each of those amendments was defeated. Republicans, meanwhile, pushed through amendments to increase local autonomy in education. By a single vote, senators approved an amendment that would gut Education Department funding by sending $10.3 billion directly to the states in the form of block grants. And Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) won approval for his amendment barring national tests in reading and math-a favorite Clinton project. Liberals hoped that such amendments would weaken the chances of the underlying Coverdell bill, which had attracted some big-name Democratic support. A-plus accounts would allow parents to save up to $2,000 per year to spend tax-free on their children's education in either public or private schools. As a final vote neared on the much-amended Coverdell plan, President Clinton reiterated his opposition to any bill that endangered the federal education monopoly. If he carries through on this veto threat, Congressional leaders hope that parents will teach the Democrats a few lessons of their own come November.
World in brief
Forced to freedom
Take your freedom and go, said Chinese authorities, who released dissident Wang Dan from prison April 19 and sent him to the United States. Clearly a move to win points before Chinese President Jiang Zemin's June summit with President Bill Clinton, Mr. Wang's release was regarded as a positive step-by half. Human-rights experts said it creates the illusion of progress on political freedom without altering the system that handed Mr. Wang an 11-year prison sentence for his role in organizing the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration. Another student leader of that democracy movement, Wuer Kaixi-who escaped China shortly after the Tiananmen Square incident and now lives in Taiwan-said of Mr. Wang's release: "I have this mixture of confused feelings.... I don't know whether I should congratulate him on his release or express my regret on his beginning of exile-which is torture on the mental level."
It was a move plainly testifying that, when it comes to key human rights issues in the Americas, Europeans can call the shots. Nineteen countries defeated a U.S.-led resolution to rebuke the communist government of Cuba for its human-rights abuses. The defeat came before the annual UN Human Rights Commission meeting now convened in Geneva. Sixteen countries sided with the United States, including Britain, France, and Germany. But other European countries, along with China and Russia, mustered enough votes to block the U.S. effort. The findings of independent UN investigator Carl Johan Groth of Sweden-who testified that President Fidel Castro's regime "systematically and brutally repressed" its domestic critics-were outweighed by Mr. Groth's criticism of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which he said has caused "untold hardships" for Cubans.
Suing the millennium bug
As the millennium bug threatens to cost the world trillions to clean up high-tech meltdowns, one group could make a killing: America's trial lawyers. One Manhattan firm, Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes, and Lerach, has already filed three lawsuits against computer companies because their systems have trouble understanding dates after 1999. One target is Symantec, makers of the popular Norton AntiVirus software package. Another is Macola, which produces accounting software. More legal action is sure to follow. If businesses fail because computers start coughing up bad data over the next 18 months, more people will be calling their attorneys (if the phone system is still working). In California, the breadbasket of the computer industry, Republican assemblyman Brooks Firestone proposed a bill to limit Y2K lawsuits. Under AB 1710, plaintiffs could recover damages only for bodily injury or the cost to fix damaged computer equipment and software. They could not collect punitive damages or awards for emotional distress. To keep their noses clean, computer companies must aggressively inform customers about problems-and provide free upgrades. The bill is supposed to cut down on frivolous lawsuits, and supporters include many computer companies. Proponents fear lawyers will swoop down like vultures onto Silicon Valley to rip flesh from the computer industry. The Year 2000 Legal Coalition, which supports the bill, says that legal bills could top $600 billion as angry victims seek jackpot settlements. Tort reformers say the big bucks spent on attorneys' fees and settlements can fix buggy software and faulty chips instead. "The millennium bug should not be a full-employment act for our state's trial lawyers," Mr. Firestone said. The attorneys say the bill lets off the hook companies that produced faulty products. Mom-and-pop businesses that lose everything when their computers become unreliable will suffer, they say. Companies should avoid lawsuits by fixing problems and helping customers. "There should be some relief a consumer could receive when he bought a product that he thought would work," explains Reed Kathrein, a Milberg Weiss lawyer.
Murder in Colombia
Charles W. Hood Jr., a Southern Baptist missionary to Colombia, was shot and killed April 21 in front of his home in Bogota. Mr. Hood, 44, left his home in the afternoon to go to the bank. His wife, Becky, said she heard gunfire and a shout. When she ran from the house, according to Baptist Press, she saw her husband on the ground and a man speeding away on a motorcycle. Mr. Hood's death underscored the peril to missionaries-and Americans in general-working in Colombia, where the murder rate is nine times higher than in the United States (see related story, p. 15). Mission boards have particularly stressed the need for prayer and vigilance in the wake of increased guerrilla and criminal activity leading up to national elections. Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, said, "There's no place in the world where the safety of a missionary can be guaranteed. But missionaries follow the call of God wherever it leads, even into dangerous places, because they value making Christ known and bringing the lost to salvation.... Charley, however, did not die when he was gunned down in Bogota, Colombia, but years ago when he died to self and committed his life to follow Christ."
Banning the Boston Tea Party
At least the jury didn't take away Joseph Scheidler's sense of humor. Concerning the quarter-million dollars he and two other pro-life activists now owe two abortion businesses, the millions in legal fees, and the prospect of 900 more clinics jumping into the class action, Mr. Scheidler quipped last week: "A million dollars, a billion dollars, a trillion dollars, the national debt, they won't get it. You can't get blood from a turnip and we're turnips." No, according to the jury, they're racketeers. Just like mob bosses John Gotti or Carlos Gambini, former Benedictine monk Mr. Scheidler and his partners in crime engaged in a "violent" conspiracy to "extort" abortion clinics by protesting the murderous activity that went on inside. That's what a Chicago jury found last week in a first-of-its-kind civil lawsuit by abortion businesses and the National Organization for Women under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). What is novel about the jury's decision is there was no finding that the individuals charged actually committed violent acts themselves. A Chicago Tribune reporter covering the trial noted, "The complicated verdict form jurors were required to fill out did not require them to take a stand on whether the individual defendants committed particular acts of 'violence.' "For the defendants to be held liable, the jurors had to find that people associated with the defendants' cause committed 'acts or threats involving extortion' or 'acts or threats of physical violence.'" To put it more simply: "This ruling makes the Boston Tea Party a RICO," in the words of the law professor who drafted the statute more than 25 years ago to combat the Mafia. G. Robert Blakey told The Los Angeles Times, "When we wrote this in 1970, some politicians were petrified that the Richard Nixon administration would use this statute against the anti-war movement. Let's talk politics. NOW is looking to stop all demonstrations against abortion, good ones and bad ones." Pro-abortion lawyers and political special interests have already virtually wiped out the good ones. The 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law made a federal crime out of even peaceful sit-ins in front of the doors to abortion businesses. With state-by-state injunctions keeping protesters specific distances away from public areas surrounding the businesses, clinic protests-according to a Feminist Majority Foundation report-have diminished substantially. But, the report found, severe clinic violence, for which the legal penalties roughly match those meted out for peaceful activity, is on the rise. Mr. Scheidler vows an appeal. He'll likely cite a unanimous 1982 Supreme Court ruling, NAACP vs. Claiborne Hardware, in which the high court held that civil-rights activists conducting a boycott in 1966 were not liable for economic losses suffered by white business owners in Mississippi, even though threats of violence by some strengthened the effect of the boycott. An American Bar Association Journal article reported the decision: "The court pointed out that the boycott was supported by speeches and nonviolent picketing, each of which is entitled to protection under the First Amendment." Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in Claiborne: "The right to associate does not lose all constitutional protection merely because some members of the group may have participated in conduct or advocated doctrine that is not itself protected."
It may not bother the National Organization for Women-which decided last week not to stand with Paula Jones in her sexual-harassment appeal-that a federal judge ruled that a boss gets one free sexual pass at a subordinate, as long as she can't prove harm. It does bother the Clinton Justice Department. This newfound concern has to do with Kimberly Ellerth, not Mrs. Jones. But if the Supreme Court buys the administration's argument-presented to the justices last week-in favor of Mrs. Ellerth's cause, it may wind up helping the Jones case. An administration legal brief rejects the view of presidential lawyer Robert Bennett that a sexual-harassment claim requires a showing of "tangible job detriment." Last week's brief argued the test should be whether "the employee reasonably believes that the threat is genuine, and the supervisor has authority to grant or withhold the benefit."
Facts or feelings?
They watched four friends and a teacher gunned down. Now they're still trying to make sense of it all. The 239 preteens from Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark., need help in finding answers to tough questions. Scott Poland, a psychologist with the National Organization of Victim Assistance, is spearheading a seven-member Jonesboro professional counseling team that is overseeing 150 volunteer counselors. The counselors tell children that "it's going to be a difficult path but that all emotions are good," Mr. Poland told WORLD, and he noted that children are receiving "lots of opportunities through artwork, music, writing, and talking to express their emotions." One of the volunteers, Chris Perry, a local youth pastor, says he carries his Bible to the school and talks to the children about God, but he doesn't manipulate the kids' emotions. Like the other counselors, Mr. Perry uses a standardized five-point outline that includes talking through feelings, staying connected to relationships, seeking to understand what happened, sympathizing with the experience, and being responsible in the situation. He believes that his secular colleagues have done a fine job: "If it is God's wisdom that we learn to communicate and share our feelings, then it's the truth whether it comes from a lost or saved person." But is sharing feelings the most important goal? Greg Mazak, a Bob Jones University psychology professor, says expressing emotions is important, but "if you don't talk about the love, grace, mercy, and comfort of God, then you have nothing to offer. The most comfort that you can give them is the knowledge that they are loved by the almighty God." Biblical counselor and author Jay Adams believes the massive effort in Jonesboro is fundamentally misguided. "Getting your feelings out doesn't do anything for anybody. It just does something temporary and not something substantive or lasting," he says. "If a person is going to weather an experience profitably, then that person needs to come to grips with it in a very serious and direct way."
Nation in brief
About a month after her boyfriend pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against her, 19-year-old Amy Grossberg last week pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of her newborn son. Ms. Grossberg and her then-boyfriend, Brian Peterson, were accused of first-degree murder after the baby was found in a motel trash bin in November 1996. A New Jersey newspaper reported the couple had considered a professional abortion, and even made an appointment at an area clinic, but didn't keep it. Unsolved mystery
Paul McCartney's spokesman admitted he deliberately misled the media about where Linda McCartney died, but he described reports of an assisted suicide as "ludicrous." Officials are still investigating why no death certificate had been filed for Mrs. McCartney, who died last weekend from breast cancer at age 56. McCartney spokesman Geoff Baker told NBC last week that he had misled the press when he said she had died in Santa Barbara, Calif. He said he did so to protect the family's privacy. Later reports said Mrs. McCartney died in Tucson, Ariz. Educational charity
An education foundation is giving $50 million to enable nearly all 14,000 students in one of San Antonio's poorest school districts to go to private schools. The head of the Children's Education Opportunity Foundation said last week the donation was made because the need is great in the predominantly Hispanic Edgewood School District. Voucher opponents denounced the charity as a publicity stunt.
Keep the change
Let's go to the tape: Rewind to April 28, 1997, and listen to Al Gore at the president's summit on volunteerism. "In the Bible, Proverbs counsels us, 'Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.' And later in Isaiah we learn, 'If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noon day.' Today in America, more and more citizens are realizing that it is within our power to act. And across America, noon day is spreading a warm light of compassion and commitment; a new spirit of service in America." Fast-forward to the current questions about how Mr. Gore himself spent on behalf of charity. Was it in his power to kick in more than the Scrooge-like $353 reported on this year's 1040? Suffice it to say, midnight quickly enveloped the vice presidential mansion. And jokes flooded the capital. The Washington Post's insider column, "In the Loop," launched a contest that urged readers to imagine what worthy charity received that three bucks the Veep refused to round down. "It could be ... one acorn to save the rain forest or maybe a dozen nails for Habitat for Humanity," ventured comedian Mark Russell. Exactly one week after his embarrassing tax forms were released, Mr. Gore publicly addressed his 0.0018 percent giving record in 1997: "I support every good charity. I always have." There's always next year.
The view from Atlanta
Georgia Gov. Zell Miller accepted an apology from Jane Fonda after she told a United Nations crowd in Manhattan that the southern state was like a Third World country. "Maybe the view from your [Atlanta] penthouse apartment is not as clear as it needs to be," he told her in a letter. The governor said he took personal offense to Ms. Fonda's words: "Your remarks paint a grossly inaccurate and unfair picture of the state of Georgia. Your comments will do great harm to the state you claim to love." Ms. Fonda, actress and Viet Cong spokesmodel who is now married to media baron Ted Turner, made the controversial remarks to the UN Population Fund. "I love Georgia," she told the population controllers. "But we have very special problems that some of you can recognize that we're dealing with. In the northern part of Georgia, children are starving to death. People live in tar-paper shacks with no indoor plumbing, and so forth." When Mr. Miller complained, Ms. Fonda first claimed her comments were taken out of context, then quickly backed down. "I was wrong," she said. "I should not have said what I said." She gave this horror story to promote a group called the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP). Ms. Fonda helped start this group in 1996 with money from The Turner Foundation. The group is a southern-fried Children's Defense Fund. G-CAPP's statement of beliefs calls for "abstinence-based comprehensive sexuality education and confidential access to essential health services to prevent teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS." G-CAPP wants to make sure Georgia's children know all about contraception. The "abstinence" part sounds good, but "comprehensive" means that the group also wants the state to spend more for sex-ed clinics and welfare.