Nation in brief
More black ink, more green
Congressional Republicans received 932 billion more reasons last week to provide tax relief to American taxpayers. The Congressional Budget Office boosted its long-term estimate of federal surpluses to $1.55 trillion from its initial estimate four months ago of $63 billion. President Clinton wants any and all surpluses earmarked for the Social Security program. What part of "NO" don't you understand?
California voters spoke clearly and in plain English: Bilingual education in state schools is prohibited. Federal judge Charles Legge said last week he had no legal reason to suspend the voter-approved initiative, rejecting a court challenge from opponents. He said the prohibition does not discriminate against minorities or violate federal laws. Is Marv back? Yess!
"I will be taken seriously, you know, in time," said disgraced broadcaster Marv Albert, on the announcement last week that he had been rehired by the Madison Square Garden Network to anchor a nightly TV sports show. Just 10 months ago, it had appeared Mr. Albert's career had collapsed in the wake of his guilty plea to sexual assault charges. NBC fired him from his job telecasting NBA basketball and NFL football games. But his charm offensive following the plea-appearing on late-night comedy talk shows and taking abuse from the likes of David Letterman-appears to have paid off. Mr. Albert will anchor "MSG Sports Desk" and do radio play-by-play on half of the New York Knicks basketball games. Compelling situation
Attorney General Janet Reno last week testily defended before a Senate panel her decision not to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the campaign-finance scandal. Sen. Fred Thompson, who chaired the special committee that looked into the scandal last year, confronted Ms. Reno with new details from FBI director Louis Freeh's confidential memorandum to the attorney general. Mr. Freeh argued that "it is difficult to imagine a more compelling situation for appointing an independent counsel." Republicans complained the Justice Department has indicted only those responsible for making illegal campaign donations-such as DNC deep-pocket Pauline Kanchanalak, indicted last week along with her sister-not those who accepted them.
World in brief
Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto resigned after his Liberal Democratic Party underwent a stunning electoral defeat. "Our failure in the election is my fault and responsibility," said Mr. Hashimoto. The political meltdown was directly tied to Japan's financial crisis, as Mr. Hashimoto became the second Asian leader to fall along with the currency. (Indonesian President Suharto resigned over failed economic policies in May.) Party leaders moved quickly to fill the political vacuum in order to avoid further decimation of the Japanese yen on world markets. They expected to fill the post by the end of July, the same week Mr. Hashimoto had been scheduled to meet with President Clinton in Washington. Bail-out mania
The International Monetary Fund completed a long-negotiated $2.1 billion loan package for Russia just in time to announce it would need a bailout of its own. The United States, along with other industrialized nations, is expected to replenish the fund's main financing pool. IMF officials say it has been wiped out-for the first time since 1978-by the Asian financial crisis. The Senate has approved a White House request for $18 billion for the fund, but the House has held up providing the money without limits on family-planning expenditures. President Clinton opposes those stipulations. Flabbergasting
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott stunned Democrats and the White House with an interim report on the transfer of satellite technology to China and Chinese financing of U.S. elections. In a report based on more than a dozen hearings by four Senate committees, he told senators China has used sensitive technology from U.S. satellite exports to enhance its military capability. He also said that investigators had unearthed "serious and credible charges of direct Chinese financing" of 1996 Democratic campaigns. The evidence, he said, should remove "all resistance" to naming a special prosecutor to look into the charges. White House spokesman Mike McCurry, apparently speaking for the president if not presidentially, dismissed the majority leader's charges as "flabbergasting" and "somewhat amusing." He said they were "not a serious statement by a serious person." Wavering on waivers
The Clinton administration asked Congress to give the executive branch more flexibility to deal with nuclear warriors India and Pakistan. President Clinton was forced under a 1994 law to enact sanctions against the two countries after both tested nuclear weapons in May. Now White House officials say they don't want to end sanctions; they would just like the power to do so. Congress has already joined the wave: The Senate voted, 98-0, to exempt wheat and other agricultural exports from the sanctions because farm-state legislators said those sanctions hurt only American farmers. One-sided peace
Rebels fighting the Muslim-led government of Sudan announced a unilateral cease-fire to allow relief workers to get into areas of southern Sudan where famine is worsening. A spokesman for the rebels said the cease-fire would last three months and would apply to the two worst affected areas, Bahr el-Ghazal province and parts of the Upper Nile region, even though the government had not yet agreed to the plan.
In the event of an actual emergency
It may be too little, too late, but President Clinton last week finally sounded the alarm on Y2K. It was his first big speech on the millennium bug. He said business and government must urgently fill "gaping holes" in their readiness for the Year 2000 computer problem. "Because the difficulty is as far-flung as the billions of microchips that run everything from farm equipment to VCRs," he said, "this is not a challenge that is susceptible to a single government program or an easy fix." Right now, some of the biggest federal agencies-including the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, Education, and Transportation-are behind schedule in fixing the bug. Mr. Clinton said he had ordered all agencies to have their Y2K remedies ready by next March. The president also said he would propose a "Good Samaritan" law to protect companies that share information on fixing Year 2000 problems. Since most computer software programs recognize only two-digit dates, the arrival of the year 2000 may cause many to malfunction unless fixes are in place. Observers warn that confused computers will disrupt nearly every aspect of life. "The solution, unfortunately, is massive, painstaking and labor-intensive," Mr. Clinton said. To help keep the government from millennial madness, he said he wants to call some civilian and military computer specialists out of retirement to fix the old computer programs they wrote years ago. As Mr. Clinton spoke, Wall Street ran tests to see how its vast computerized trading system will handle the year 2000. In back offices at major exchanges and securities firms, computers were tricked into thinking it was Dec. 29, 1999, and then asked to execute hundreds of mock trades. Early reports were positive, but the full story won't be known until Aug. 10. The Year 2000 computer problem will affect most industries, but the securities industry is ahead of most in addressing it. These tests are a dress rehearsal for a bigger round of tests next March. "Financial services is the most date-intensive industry," said consultant Brian Keane, co-president of Keane, Inc. "Time is money, and so therefore you need to be measuring time constantly." The test's sponsors said the securities industry will spend between $5 billion and $6 billion through 1999 to fix the bug. The Gartner Group estimated last year that U.S. private companies will spend as much as $600 billion overall.
Weighing decency down
It got ugly in the White House briefing room last week. NBC's Tim Russert had reported on Today that sources close to the Kenneth Starr probe think that the president's men used Secret Service agents to procure women for Mr. Clinton. Presidential mouthpiece Mike McCurry was furious, accusing members of the independent counsel's staff of having "slimed" the Secret Service. He accused Mr. Starr of having not even an "ounce of decency." Pressed to prove his charge that Mr. Starr's office was the source of the story-Mr. Russert said specifically that it wasn't-Mr. McCurry said Mr. Starr "laundered" the story through the Congress. Will it come out in the wash? Despite court rulings that no law protects Secret Service agents from testifying, a federal appeals court blocked grand-jury testimony literally at the courthouse door, granting an emergency stay last week.
Beyond the closet
AIDS-activist and gay-rights organizations got all worked up last week when a coalition of groups launched a series of newspaper ads proclaiming a cure. But because the announced cure had nothing to do with reducing or eliminating the consequences of dangerous sexual practices, the agitated activists were angry. The ads-sponsored by the ex-gay ministry Exodus International, the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, and several other smaller organizations-pointed to help available for homosexuals looking for a way out of the gay life. "Recently, several prominent people like [Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott, Reggie White ... have spoken out on homosexuality ... calling it a sin," former homosexual Anne Paulk says in one ad. "When I was living as a lesbian I didn't like hearing words like that." That ad appeared in The New York Times and told the story of Christ's saving grace in her life. Similar ads appeared later in the week in The Washington Post and in USA Today's sports section, featuring Green Bay Packers linebacker Mr. White. Regrettably for the Exodus coalition-which budgeted about $200,000 for the ad campaign-the Times ad contained a typo that directed callers to the wrong number, an electrical contracting company in Dothan, Ala. Byron Griffin, vice president of the company, took it in stride but reported receiving about 50 angry, harassing phone calls. Mr. Griffin noted with some understatement, "We're not as liberal here as they are in New York City." Or, for that matter, in Australia. Homosexual-rights activists there called upon the national government to prevent groups like Exodus from ministering in Australia. John Derry of the Australian group Gay and Lesbian Equality said ex-gay ministries offer "false hope" of leading people out of the homosexual lifestyle: "If these people are making a promise to provide a service which is obviously not going to eventuate, then they should be banned." American gay-rights groups did not call for a ban; they were merely nasty. Elizabeth Burch of the Human Rights Campaign said on ABC television: "These ads are politically manipulative and extremely insulting. They're inspired by the exact same organization that visited Senator Lott and inspired his anti-gay comments." Added Tracey Canaty of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The bigotry, hatred, and intolerance that this ad represents is the real perversion." Who said perversion?
Racial arsonist Al Sharpton and two legal advisers claimed prosecutor Steven Pagones took part in the 1987 alleged abduction and rape of 15-year-old Tawana Brawley. Mr. Sharpton even said, "If I'm lying, sue us." So Mr. Pagones sued him for defamation-and won, though he doesn't expect to recover any money. The verdict followed an almost eight-month trial that revived racial tensions that engulfed the case a decade ago. Mr. Pagones, who was subjected to a fresh round of accusations, said it would help put the case to rest. "I wanted to get to the truth," he said during deliberations, "to show these three men they need to prove what they've been saying for years." During the trial, defense lawyers hurled charges of racism. Shouting matches broke out in the courtroom. The judge once walked off the bench in disgust. Ms. Brawley herself was never called to the stand. Eleven years ago, she claimed a gang of white law enforcement officers had abducted and raped her. A grand jury later found substantial evidence that her story was a hoax and specifically exonerated Mr. Pagones.
As IRS reform moved toward reality on Capitol Hill last week, more skeletons emerged from the bureaucratic closet. The agency admitted it improperly seized property from taxpayers in more than one in four cases studied from the 1997 fiscal year. In one case, the IRS tried to force a severely ill man to sell the home that sheltered his wife and teenaged daughters. The tax collectors backed off only after the man died and a revenue agent concluded the coerced sale would be "bad publicity." In another, a vehicle was seized and sold from an unemployed woman whose husband was near death. The woman had told the IRS she was out of work due to knee surgery and facing another possible operation. The IRS reviewed 467 of the approximately 10,000 property seizures nationwide in fiscal 1997. In 130 cases, IRS agents "did not use sound judgment ... or conducted seizures containing legal defects." Even within the 337 cases in which seizure was justified, the IRS often broke its own rules. IRS agents also sometimes seized property of little value, raising the question of whether the seizure was merely punitive. And at other times, agents "demonstrated a lack of adequate concern for the taxpayer's financial or medical status," according to the audits. Said Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), whose congressional hearings last year helped highlight the need for reform: "The fact that the agency is owning up to these problems is a refreshing change."
This vale of tears
"Who could fail to weep?" wondered BBC correspondent Dennis Murray at the funeral of three brothers killed by a firebomb in Northern Ireland. The attack was the most heinous manifestation of recent sectarian fighting, undercutting progress at the negotiating table over peace between Protestant and Roman Catholic factions. Richard, Mark, and Jason Quinn-ages 11, 10, and 9-were killed as they slept when an explosive device was thrown into their home in Ballymoney. A fourth brother, age 13, was spared because he spent the night at his grandmother's. Police said they believed the family was targeted because the boys' mother, who is Roman Catholic, lived there with her Protestant boyfriend. She sent her sons to a Protestant school. She said she wanted to rear them as Protestants because she thought it would make life easier for them in Ballymoney, a hard-line Protestant stronghold 40 miles northwest of Belfast. The bombing followed a week of clashes between security forces and Protestant Orangemen, who are protesting a ban on their march along a route that includes a Catholic neighborhood.
Green eggs and spam
Sick of logging onto the Internet and getting deluged with offers to "make money fast?" So are companies like Microsoft and America Online, whose computer networks are snarled with useless messages, known on the Net as spam. The furor against junk e-mail has reached Washington. Congress is considering regulating the spam ads for pyramid schemes, weight-loss miracles, and cyberporn that jam millions of Internet mailboxes. A Federal Trade Commission report describes hours wasted by people downloading and reading junk messages. The process can be costly for Internet users who pay hourly connection fees. Spam is also expensive for Internet providers who must store and transmit spam. One bill would outlaw all unsolicited commercial e-mail. Recipients could seek $500 in damages for each unsolicited message they receive. Another proposal would force junk mailers to provide a valid return address and honor replies from people who ask to be removed from mailing lists. To help put the heat on spammers, the FTC opened a special mailbox at email@example.com for spam. Messages received go into a special database that can be used for law enforcement. "We may be the only people in town who actually want your spam," said FTC director Jodie Bernstein.
Victories for parental rights
Statutory rapists will no longer have federally funded contraceptive clinics to help keep their sexual assaults under wraps, if legislation approved in a congressional committee last week becomes law. The legislation, inspired in part by events reported in a WORLD cover story ("A public school's private shame," Aug. 23/30, 1997) , would require taxpayer-funded Title X family-planning clinics to notify the parents of kids who receive contraceptives; the measure would also require those clinics to obey state laws on the reporting of sex crimes. WORLD's story reported the tale of a 14-year-old girl who was molested by a 37-year-old male teacher. To help keep the molestation secret, the teacher dropped off the girl at a Title X clinic for shots of the contraceptive Depo-Provera. Clinic workers did not notify the girl's parents or tip off law-enforcement officials to the likelihood of statutory rape. Also last week, the House approved 276-150 a bill that would forbid adults from transporting pregnant girls over state lines to avoid parental-consent-for-abortion laws. The 14 Republican no votes: CALIF. Campbell, Horn; CONN. Johnson, Shays; DEL. Castle; MD. Gilchrest, Morella; N.H. Bass; N.Y. Boehlert, Gilman, Houghton; PA. Greenwood; TEXAS Paul; WIS. Klug.