This Week

Issue: "Charity begins at home," May 16, 1998

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."

Triage time?

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

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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

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