More than Vietnam
The Millennium Bug is eating away at the American economy. That was the word at a Silicon Valley powwow at Stanford's Center for Economic Policy Research. Fixing computers that will malfunction because they don't understand four-digit dates will cost America more than fighting the Vietnam War, estimated William Miller, a co-founder of Stanford's computer science department. Mr. Miller says time is short. It takes two years to fully repair expensive equipment. But there are fewer than 600 days left until January 1, 2000. That means triage. The most important systems must be fixed now and the rest must wait. American small business will start to feel the pinch in six to nine months, predicted economist Michael Boskin. Another speaker, IBM VP Michael Burns, said only about half of these companies have begun looking for bugs-and the rest of the world is in even worse shape. And unfixed millennium bugs will feast on the banking industry, according to the Federal Reserve's Gordon Werkeman. He said broken computers will drain away $2 billion a day after 1999. (Fed officials have announced they will start testing their own computers next month.) So what is the Clinton administration proposing as a solution? Information Technology Town Meetings. Department of Commerce personnel are holding awareness seminars around the country about the bug. Meanwhile, information technology industry honchos are starting to squirm. High-tech insiders are concerned about how bugs will be fixed after computers crash, says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "As a society, we are on the point of conceding failure," he told the House Ways and Means Committee. "It's frustrating. It cannot be happening. But it is." He called on the government to provide "leadership" to help stave off a catastrophe. "Congress does not want to be placed in the position of wishing it had taken this issue more seriously while there was time left to address the challenges," Mr. Miller said.
Congressional Republicans last week promised swift action on legislation aimed at limiting teenage abortions. Senate leader Trent Lott predicted the bill would be on the president's desk by summertime. The measure would make it a crime for someone to take a girl under 18 to another state for an abortion to avoid parental notification laws in her home state. It would not apply if the abortion was necessary to save the girl's life. "I would think that virtually every member of the House and Senate should find it possible to protect 13-year-olds and should find it possible to protect the parents' right to know and give consent by voting for this legislation," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a news conference last week. Given that the legislation is a month or more away from passage, the news was the news conference itself, called just days after social conservatives won commitments from GOP leaders that they would take their concerns more seriously. Also last week, the leader of that effort, James Dobson, personally endorsed the congressional campaign of pro-life activist and political neophyte Randall Terry, who is seeking a seat in Congress from New York state. "I rarely do political endorsements," Mr. Dobson said in a letter, "but I'm making an exception now to personally endorse Randall Terry because I believe in this man." Mr. Terry is competing for the Republican nomination for the seat. He faces a GOP primary contest on Sept. 15. And it was announced last week Mr. Dobson will make his first campaign appearance in June, speaking at a rally for a pro-life challenger to pro-abortion Republican Gov. Bill Graves of Kansas. David Miller, formerly the head of the state party, this month announced his bid to unseat the popular governor. In 1996, Mr. Graves appointed a pro-abortion legislator, Sheila Frahm, to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Bob Dole, who stepped down in order to concentrate on his presidential campaign. Pro-life Republicans rallied around Sam Brownback and defeated Ms. Frahm handily in a GOP primary. Mr. Miller hopes to tap that same Republican discontent in his primary race against Mr. Graves.
Atheists aren't the only ones who have it rough. A Maryland witch last week was denied permission by a Virginia judge to perform a wedding ceremony for two of her followers in that state. Rosemary Kooiman, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee, said the decision amounted to "religious discrimination," while the intended bride called it "a slap in the face to our religion, to our priestess, and to all pagans." Ms. Kooiman claims to be a self-ordained minister of Wicca, a type of witchcraft that worships nature using rites from pre-Christian Europe. About 50 adherents worship in the basement of her home. Ms. Kooiman has already performed three weddings in Maryland, which requires only that ministers be authorized by their sect or religious order. In Virginia, however, religious marriages must be performed by court-authorized ministers from recognized denominations. A county court judge ruled that Wicca is not such a denomination, a decision that Ms. Kooiman criticized as exhibiting "the basic cultural bias: If the religion is not Christian, it is not valid." Not surprisingly, Ms. Kooiman is now considering whether to bring a religious discrimination suit against the state of Virginia.
President Clinton tried to turn the "intelligence failure of the decade" into a sanctions success. The president announced sweeping restrictions on business with India after the new Hindu nationalist government carried out three nuclear tests last week. In the first test of sanctions under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States plans to cut off virtually all aid to India, bar American banks from making loans to its government, and restrict exports of computers and other equipment for military use. The United States will also oppose loans to India by the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. CIA director George Tenet announced a 10-day investigation into why intelligence officers failed to pick up the telltale signs of a coming detonation. Initial explanations of technical difficulty, however, did not explain why National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, along with State Department higher-ups Strobe Talbott and Thomas Pickering, failed to address the issue in a May 1 meeting with India's foreign minister.
The crucial 45 days
At 10 minutes past noon on May 8, James Dobson stepped into the soaring atrium of the Library of Congress to offer some comments on his just-concluded meeting with all the top brass of the House GOP. Mr. Dobson told scores of reporters packed into the standing-room-only press area that the meeting was "cordial, intense, and very interesting.... The leadership of the Republican Party was listening to us today." Exactly what they heard is a closely guarded secret. House GOP Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) brokered the high-level meeting between family groups and Republican leaders following Mr. Dobson's recent threats to bolt the party. About a dozen conservative organizations received the coveted invitation, including National Right to Life, Concerned Women for America, Home School Legal Defense Association, and the American Association of Christian Schools. When it was all over, each organization took its turn at the bank of microphones in the atrium, calling the meeting "wonderful," "long overdue," and "very encouraging." Did all this enthusiasm mean that socially conservative voters would stick with the GOP? reporters wanted to know. Mr. DeLay's smile dimmed somewhat. "They'll have to speak for themselves," he answered. Family Research Council president Gary Bauer did just that after the press conference ended. "A group of Washington leaders will not be able to guarantee unity at all costs," he told WORLD. "It's just silly to believe that anybody in this room can deliver any [voters] out there. No coalition stays together that doesn't see some progress on the things it cares about the most. That's why I think this meeting was so important and why the next 45 days will be so important." With only about that many days left on the legislative calendar, Republican leaders will be scrambling to shore up support among their most active constituency. Fearful of losing their 11-seat edge in the House, Speaker Gingrich and company promised quick action on three priority issues: ending the marriage penalty, defunding the National Endowment for the Arts, and restricting abortions. Toward that end, Mr. DeLay announced the formation of a Values Action Team (VAT) chaired by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), a dedicated pro-lifer. Mr. Pitts promised to meet weekly with family-group leaders to push their agenda through before the summer recess. Staffers from the various family groups huddled regularly for more than a week to try to present a unified front at Friday's meeting. But unanimity proved largely illusory: When the Traditional Values Coalition issued a press release criticizing any talk of defecting from the Republican Party, TVC's Andrea Sheldon was kicked out of a meeting of her fellow social conservatives. With family groups struggling to agree on both priorities and strategy, and with prominent conservatives threatening to walk, GOP leaders fear that some of their own may share Ms. Sheldon's fate come November.
Pat Robertson is talking up Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as a Republican Jimmy Carter. He means it as a compliment. In an interview with columnist Cal Thomas, Mr. Robertson said: "An honest man with a great deal of moral integrity ... who carries within himself Midwest, heartland-of-America values, would do very, very well all over the country." Sen. Ashcroft was commencement speaker at Mr. Robertson's Regent University. After eight years of bob-and-weave morality in the nation's highest office, Mr. Robertson believes a straight arrow like Sen. Ashcroft "who talks about honesty, decency, morality, and spiritual values" could win. Mr. Thomas appears to agree: "Not many can deliver such a message without inviting an investigation of their own moral shortcomings. Like Jimmy Carter, Mr. Ashcroft appears to have the right message at the right time." Mr. Thomas points out that Mr. Carter "gave voters a chance to cleanse themselves" after the Nixon years, and today "the unease over the nation's moral direction is the same." Many candidates are likely to run on a clean-up-the-mess platform.
The Clinton Administration has yet another first to add to its list of dubious distinctions: the first formal White House meeting between an atheist group and executive officials. Three representatives of an organization called American Atheists, along with six other anti-believers, met in early May with Maureen Shea, the president's liaison to the religious community. The atheists reportedly offered examples of the indignities and discrimination faced by nonbelievers, including exclusion from both government programs and from private organizations like the Boy Scouts. Following the meeting, Ms. Shea told Religion News Service that the group had "raised some interesting issues," though she couldn't "at this point comment on the validity of them." After the hardships they've suffered, the atheists apparently want to make sure that religious people suffer a bit, too. American Atheists, which recently appointed a Washington-based legislative director, lists its top priority as shooting down the Religious Freedom Amendment, which would protect "the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions."
Nation in brief
Weeds in the kindergarten
A 5-year-old kindergarten pupil was arrested after bringing a loaded pistol to school because he wanted to kill his teacher. "He stated that he was going to shoot [his teacher] for putting him in timeout," according to Memphis police. The boy reportedly got the gun from atop the bedroom dresser of his grandfather, with whom the boy and his mother live. The boy was charged with carrying a weapon but it was unclear whether he would be prosecuted. Scandal watch
Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr-after months of staying out of the court of public opinion, where he continues to be clobbered by public-relations specialists for the subjects of his investigation-is starting to fight back. Speaking to graduates of Texas Tech University's School of Law, Mr. Starr said that "lies and half-truths corrode our system of justice." He did not directly refer to President Clinton or other aspects of his probe, but defended the grand jury, saying "its work is not complete, the [Supreme] Court has said, 'until every available clue has been run down and all witnesses examined in every proper way to find out if a crime has been committed.'" Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, placed a condition on their interest in running down clues that may point to executive wrongdoing: We'll cooperate if Republicans will offer up the head of Dan Burton, chairman of the House committee looking into White House campaign-finance violations. California Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking Democrat on the Burton committee, said Democrats would end their opposition to immunity for some witnesses if another Republican on the committee replaced the aggressive Mr. Burton. The most likely scenario: The stalled probe will be transferred to another judiciary committee. Bill's bills
Even though no formal charges have been filed, the two top executives have amassed substantial legal bills. President Clinton owes as much as $3 million in unpaid legal bills, his annual financial disclosure showed last week. The Clintons listed their assets as ranging between $1.3 million and $5.8 million in 1997. Vice President Gore claimed assets totaling between $770,000 and $870,000 and showed close to $100,000 in legal fees related to last year's Justice Department inquiry into his 1996 campaign fundraising practices. Rotten apple
In what they touted as an important advance in homosexual rights, New York City officials plan to ensure that unmarried couples are treated the same as married ones on everything from housing to parking permits to burial rights. "I believe New York is setting the pace for the rest of the country," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican whose office drafted the proposal. A ruling with some teeth
A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit from a Connecticut inmate who claimed that failure to treat a toothache can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. "Dental pain can be excruciatingly severe," the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week. A federal judge had extracted the lawsuit, concluding that cavities are not "a sufficiently serious medical condition" to challenge treatment on constitutional grounds.
Through a Glass dimly
Stephen Glass gave The New Republic a hot scoop a few weeks ago. He claimed a 15-year-old hacker named Ian Restil broke into a "big-time software firm" called Jukt Micronics. Then he made crazy demands when the company tried to hire him. "I want a trip to Disney World," the article titled "Hack Heaven" quoted the boy. "I want an X-Man comic No. 1. I want a lifetime subscription to Playboy and throw in Penthouse. Show me the money! Show me the money!" Supposedly the boy even hired an agent. Ian Restil's story is the stuff of movies. It just wasn't true. When TNR editor Charles Lane discovered he'd been conned, he fired Mr. Glass. "I have myself established independently that the piece was fiction," he says. Mr. Lane discovered that Glass had even faked his handwritten notes to escape scrutiny by magazine fact-checkers. Mr. Glass was only 25, but he had written 40 pieces for the liberal weekly, including a May 1997 hit piece on Ralph Reed's departure from the Christian Coalition. He earned $45,000 a year and was one of the magazine's three associate editors. He has also freelanced for GQ, Policy Review, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and George magazines. He even had a stint with the Heritage Foundation. Now Mr. Glass's other stories are being scrutinized. According to The Washington Post they include one on a financial firm with a shrine to Alan Greenspan and another on a condom named after Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Lane said other pieces that The New Republic published have "potential problems," although some "are actually valid, I'm pleased to say." Adam Penenberg, an editor at Forbes Digital Tool, an online publication of Forbes magazine, tipped off Mr. Lane. First he thought he was scooped. Then he started snooping. "When things didn't check out, and didn't check out, and didn't check out, we realized things were seriously wrong and we had a responsibility to get to the bottom of it," Mr. Penenberg said.
World in brief
Satellite helps locate war dead
War crimes investigators made a gory finding in their two-year search for the remains of victims of the Bosnian massacre at Srebrenica. Aided by satellites that can locate bodies decomposing underground, searchers uncovered a tangle of Muslim men's bodies buried eight miles off a rural track near Kamenica. Investigators have suspected many of the bodies were moved soon after the killing, the worst single incident in Europe since World War II, and say the discovery-if linked to Srebrenica-could seal war-crimes convictions for Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. NEARING DAY 2000 for Colombia hostages
Members of Congress appear ready to introduce a resolution that will call on the White House, as well as government leaders overseas, to do more to find the three American missionaries held hostage in Colombia since 1993. But the guerrilla group believed responsible for their kidnapping remains uncooperative. In a statement posted on the Internet, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia accused Washington of using the case as a pretext to "intervene openly in Colombia's internal affairs" and warned U.S. involvement would have a "dangerous outcome." Cleric's protest sparks response in Pakistan
The suicide of John Joseph, Roman Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, led last week to the kind of response he apparently sought when he shot himself outside a court in Pakistan. The cleric left a note saying his death was meant as a "sacrifice" to protest blasphemy laws that last month were used to condemn a Christian man to death. Thousands converged on Faisalabad for the cleric's funeral, singing hymns and calling for the repeal of blasphemy laws.