Changing the subject
First, the president and his defenders were shocked, shocked about the invasion of Webster Hubbell's privacy after tapes of his conversations on a prison phone marked "monitored" were released by Rep. Dan Burton. Upon discovery of exculpatory statements edited out of the Burton transcripts, now everybody wants to talk about Mr. Hubbell's "private" phone conversations. The media firestorm surrounding Mr. Burton's selective tape release forced the resignation of the aide responsible, but Republicans argue the furor is a sideshow to divert attention from the substance of the conversations. (See Cal Thomas on p. 17 of this issue.) Forget the privacy talk. Mr. Hubbell knew what was going on. He told his wife, who was sounding a little too candid, "I don't mean to sound-but we're on a recorded phone."
The Defense Department is losing the war on the millennium bug, says the General Accounting Office. After next year, military aircraft could sit stranded on the runway. Supplies of food, fuel, and medical supplies could run low. Suppliers could go unpaid. "Defense is running out of time," says a GAO report to congress. Unless battle plans change, some critical military computer systems are "almost certain" to fail. Why? The chain of command is broken and no one knows how much repairs will cost-or even how many computers need fixing. "Until Defense supports remediation efforts with adequate centralized program management and oversight," the report warns, "its mission-critical operations may well be severely degraded or disrupted as a result of the Year 2000 problem." That means trouble. The military uses 1.5 million computers, 28,000 systems, 10,000 networks, and thousands of microprocessors. Everything needs checking. But today only 9 percent of the most important systems are repaired. Now the GAO says the DOD must make contingency plans to prevent catastrophe when computers fail. In fact, the military already suffers from bug bites, as computers using two-digit dates misunderstand the year 2000 and malfunction. The GAO says the DOD is mistakenly fixing less important systems while taking attention away from vital ones. And if the best military around faces a crisis, imagine the problems the rest of the world is facing. Even the CIA is biting its collective fingernails. Meanwhile, the Center for Security Policy wants to know something: Where's Al Gore? After all, if the VP is such a techno whiz, he should be right on top of the problem. Instead, the CSP says he's asleep at the wheel. The bully pulpit stands neglected, as Mr. Gore and the rest of the Clinton administration appear to be avoiding the problem. "It is now too late to avoid altogether the myriad, damaging effects of the millennium bug on the United States, its people, and its interests," proclaimed the CSP's Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan assistant secretary of defense, in a Washington Times commentary last week. "All that can realistically be hoped for now is that a form of triage can be effected so as to reduce somewhat the possibly apocalyptic effects that will otherwise be experienced."
The fanatical churchgoer
The public record is thin. It contains three central facts about the religious beliefs of Whitewater prosecutor W. Hickman Ewing Jr.: that with a handful of friends he started the Fellowship Evangelical Church in Memphis; that after the founding of Fellowship, he prayed every morning; and that he quit drinking alcohol. For White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, that apparently adds up to religious fanaticism. In a speech on April 23 at Harvard-reported only by the Boston Globe and The Weekly Standard-Mr. Blumenthal attacked Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr as a "zealot on a mission divined from a higher authority." Among Mr. Starr's alleged abuses of power, said Mr. Blumenthal, was the assembling of "a crew of prosecutorial pirates," including "Hickman Ewing, a religious fanatic." Unlike independent operator James Carville, whose colorful lampooning of Mr. Starr is said to be beyond the control of the president, Sidney Blumenthal is a public servant, a federal employee whose paychecks are drawn on the United States Treasury. So it's not a question of whether Mr. Blumenthal was speaking for the president. The question is whether the president approves of Mr. Blumenthal's public-relations strategy. The president's answer at a recent news conference: "I don't have any comment about that." No comment? When it suited him, the president waxed philosophic on the subject of religious bigotry. In remarks during the signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, Mr. Clinton said: "It is high time we had an open and honest reaffirmation of the role of American citizens of faith-not so that we can agree, but so that we can argue and discourse and seek the truth and seek to heal this troubled land." Last week, the issue would not go away. The Family Research Council's Gary Bauer sent a letter to the president on May 4 challenging Mr. Clinton to "fire Sidney Blumenthal now." The letter was quoted at length in the next morning's Washington Times. That same day, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry professed ignorance of the letter. Nor, at his daily press briefing, did he seem to know anything else about the matter. Mr. McCurry evaded a reporter's question on the Blumenthal slur: "I haven't looked exactly at what Mr. Blumenthal said. I think the president would not want people to cast aspersions on religious beliefs of anybody. But I'm not familiar with Mr. Ewing's beliefs. I don't know whether that's a-I don't know whether that's an accurate description of his beliefs." While we await the White House staff's theological analysis of Mr. Ewing's beliefs and the official ruling on whether the term "fanatic" would be "an accurate description," it is high time for some evangelicals to come off the fence and realize that the Clinton administration is attempting to marginalize and harass anyone who thinks the Ten Commandments are more than the Ten Suggestions. If the Clinton administration does not quickly call off its declaration of religious war, every Christian should put on W. Hickman Ewing's red badge of courage: the label, "religious fanatic." --The Editors
Just doing its job
Washington's journalistic elite-who have long fancied themselves implacable foes of censorship and champions of free expression-chose PC over principle in voting to remove a controversial painting from the hallowed halls of the National Press Club. The painting is Phryne, a portrait of a reclining female nude done in the typical Gilded Age style. No one argued that the painting was pornographic, but a few female members found it to be something even worse: sexist. That, evidently, was too much for the guardians of free speech to bear. The Press Club's board voted 9-1 last week that Phryne must be sold or given away by Sept. 1, ending her 50-year history at the club. Just two years ago, ironically enough, Press Club members gave a rousing ovation to federal arts chief Jane Alexander, when she declared that the arts were "only doing their job" if they sometimes "cause outrage, fear, and anger."
In 1964, Mario Savio leaped atop a patrol car to rally fellow students into the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Now the school that expelled him in the '60s is canonizing him in the '90s. Most people don't remember Mr. Savio, but his alma mater will never forget. He kept campus protests running for nine months. At one of his famous sit-ins, he and 782 others were arrested. His efforts led to the firing of Chancellor Clark Kerr, and the birth of Ronald Reagan's political career, amid political backlash. "There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part," he told his followers. Mr. Savio tried on many different political fashions until he died of a heart attack in 1996. Today, that machine-the University of California system-runs on the fuel of political correctness and lavishes its prize rebel with posthumous recognition. The Berkeley spot where Mr. Savio ranted and raved is no longer Sproul Plaza, but Savio Steps. The Free Speech Movement Cafe will soon serve lattes and cappuccinos to students in his honor. An annual lecture is held in his memory. There's even grant money coming for promising young activists who want to continue the revolution. Berkeley is also launching a book fund, the Mario Savio/Free Speech Movement Endowment, to archive its student protests. Much of this largesse comes from software developer and alumnus Stephen Silberstein, who says he wants students to remember their campus' leftist history. "Mario Savio and the leaders of the Free Speech Movement symbolize the very best of Berkeley," he says, "surely just as our top researchers, scholars, and athletes."
Forget Hawaii; it's Vermont
Pro-family activists in New England are concerned that an upcoming supreme court ruling in Vermont may force more than 20 states into a shotgun wedding with so-called gay marriage. Activists have been battling in Hawaii and Alaska, but a less known Vermont case has the potential to cause deep damage to the institution of marriage. Lawyer Matt Daniels of the Massachusetts Family Institute earlier this month filed a brief in the Vermont court opposing gay marriage; he fears an adverse ruling would have more staying power in Vermont, where citizen action to reverse gay marriages would be hampered by the tedious, time-consuming constitutional amendment process. Fewer than 30 states have adopted heterosexual-only marriage laws, Mr. Daniels notes. That could open the rest to forced acceptance of gay marriages in Vermont under the "reciprocity" doctrine.
Airing the dirty laundry
Some anti-Orthodox Israelis want to display their underwear openly and proudly. Their demonstrations highlight in a vivid way the dirty laundry that has piled up over the years between the Orthodox and the secularists in the Jewish state. At issue: The Batsheva dance troupe refused to take the stage at Israel's 50th-anniversary celebration after politicians acceded to demands from religious leaders that the dancers undress less. Their act has the performers stripping clothing-down to their undergarments-while singing biblical verses. The religious leaders demanded that the dancers wear flesh-colored long johns to cover up the bare spots. In response, anti-Orthodox activists took to the streets and clashed with police in Tel Aviv this month. In Jerusalem, The Washington Post reported, protesters confronted Minister of Education Yitzhak Levy, a National Religious Party member, and chanted "Good morning, Iran," as they stripped off articles of their clothing. Liberal politicians saw opportunities for advancement. Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo sided with the dancers and announced he would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party and seek the premiership in the next election in 2000. "My aim is to neutralize, in the clearest manner, the leverage of religious extremists, which is used today by a group which is not large but enjoys great political power," he said in announcing his candidacy. Meanwhile, Orthodox Israelis tore their garments. The largest Hebrew daily, Yedioth Aharonoth, headlined a story on the controversy: "Fears of Cultural War." Avraham Ravitz, a lawmaker from United Torah Judaism, told Jerusalem television that Mayor Milo would fail in a bid to bring down the Orthodox. "He is making a very grave mistake by starting a party based solely on a battle with religion and the religious. It won't succeed."
World in brief
Khmer Rouge defeated?
About 10,000 Cambodians streamed into Thailand last week, while Thai officers warned the jungle-savvy Khmer Rouge was still holding some high ground and could regroup. Cambodia claims its troops have seized the last enclave of the Khmer Rouge in northern Cambodia, along the Thai border, all but wiping out the movement that brought three decades of terror. "I hope that a second killing fields will never occur on Cambodian soil," said Cambodian leader Hun Sen. Wei ill
Wei Jingsheng, a leading Chinese dissident in exile, fell ill and was hospitalized last week on his way to a human-rights conference in Montreal. "He suffered a minor heart attack, more or less," said Kenneth Cheung, a spokesman for a pro-democracy Chinese group in Canada. Mr. Wei was released from prison in China in November to seek medical treatment in the United States. He had spent virtually every day since 1979 in prison for his pro-democracy work, and he suffered from heart problems, high blood pressure, and other illnesses that worsened behind bars. Meanwhile, Chinese police detained a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests before he could attend 100th-anniversary celebrations for Beijing University. Wang Youcai was last seen at a Beijing hotel on April 27, shortly after he arrived to take part in festivities for his alma mater. Crackdown in Algeria
In Algeria, government forces reportedly killed 77 rebels in a four-day crackdown on suspected Islamic insurgents last week. In addition, 11 civilians were said to have been tortured and killed, their throats cut-hallmarks of Islamic militants. At least 75,000 people have died in Algeria since the start of the Islamic insurgency that erupted after the military-backed regime canceled 1992 parliamentary elections an Islamic party appeared set to win. IMF riots
Indonesians angry over International Monetary Fund-imposed steep price hikes rioted on consecutive days last week, battling police and looting stores. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to ward off looters. Jakarta's stock market slid amidst alarm over the escalating unrest. The increases in food, oil, and transportation prices were ordered by the government in an effort to meet conditions ordered by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a $43 billion bailout. Murder in the Vatican
A young member of the pope's elite Swiss Guard, angry because he believed he was "not valued in the corps," received perverse recognition after he fatally shot the new guard commander and his wife, then turned the gun on himself. Instead of a swearing-in ceremony for 40 new guards, the Vatican held funerals in St. Peter's Basilica for Col. Estermann and his wife.
A few square feet's difference
Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski hid in a 10-by-12 shack in Montana while plotting death and destruction. Today he lives in a 12-by-7-cell in Colorado while serving four life sentences plus 30 years for an anti-technology terrorist bombing campaign that left three dead and 29 injured. Instead of the electric chair, the Unabomber sits on a concrete bed in a Rocky Mountain Alcatraz surrounded by 12-foot fences topped with razor wire. When Mr. Kaczynski, who confessed to all 16 Unabomber attacks between 1978 and 1995, leaves solitary confinement, he can talk shop with fellow prisoners Timothy McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef (who plotted the World Trade Center bombing). Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter-who wrote a politically incorrect book about surviving the Unabomber (see WORLD, Jan. 24)-sent the court a written statement that Mr. Kaczynski deserves to die. "We were called upon to speak up loud and clear on the topic of terrorists and murder, but we failed to do it," he wrote. "We took the easy way out." Given a chance to address the court, Mr. Kaczynski criticized government prosecutors' "political" sentencing memo: "I ask only that people reserve judgment on me and the Unabomber case." The Unabomber's views are well known even without a high-profile trial. They were published back in 1995, when The Washington Post and The New York Times ran his 35,000-word manifesto. Now the declaration lives on the Internet, where it can be freely downloaded. Among other things, the Unabomber concluded that people had to die for his cause to live. When he was caught, he tried to stop psychiatrists from examining him for fear he would be declared insane and his cause disgraced. While the terrorist had no regrets, brother David Kaczynski had plenty. He told NBC's Today that the sentence given to his brother was just. "The victims need to know that Ted will never be in a position to hurt anyone again," he said. He stopped short of calling his brother evil, saying that he "clearly is not a rational person."
The "fudge" factor
Usually when a president disapproves of congressional legislation, he vetoes it. President Clinton, however, has found two new ways to battle bills he doesn't like: the line-item veto and the presidential fudge. President Clinton warned he'd wield this fudge power against legislation expected to come out of Congress at the end of this month to protect religious believers around the world against governmental persecution. The Freedom From Religious Persecution Act, which would punish governments that persecute, is gaining momentum, and House leaders expect action by or shortly after the Memorial Day recess. If that bill becomes law, however, it requires White House cooperation in making a factual finding about whether a regime has run afoul of congressional guidelines on persecution. And that's where the fudge factor figures in. Never heard of it? No one else had, either, before Mr. Clinton outlined his new presidential prerogative in what he thought was a closed meeting with the National Association of Evangelicals late last month. Thankfully, a journalist was there. Elaine Sciolino of The New York Times reported Mr. Clinton's words. Urging the evangelicals to reconsider their support for the anti-religious persecution bill, Mr. Clinton cut to the chase: "What always happens if you have automatic sanctions legislation is it puts enormous pressure on whoever is in the executive branch to fudge an evaluation of the facts of what is going on. And that's not what you want.... [It] creates an enormous amount of pressure in the bowels of the bureaucracy to fudge the finding." Chuck Colson, part of the coalition of religious leaders backing the bill, blasted the president on his May 1 radio commentary: "It's unimaginable to me that a president of the United States would even suggest that he would lie to avoid carrying out a law he disagrees with.... If we [shrug this off] ... we will be announcing that we accept a president who says he mocks the law."