Can't shoot straight
It's not that the president doesn't have his defenders. It's just that they're a little reckless. The first congressional Democrat openly to call for the president's resignation, Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, got roughed up last week by President Clinton's character assassins. Geraldo Rivera, on his CNBC cable show, quoted an unnamed source-"very close to the president"-as saying Mr. McHale, a Marine reservist who served in the Persian Gulf War, had exaggerated his military record. "So are any of us without sin?" Mr. Rivera sniffed. The very next night, Mr. Rivera apologized for his false report. But the incident hardened Mr. McHale's opinion that the president should go. "This is a pretty consistent response we've seen from this White House whenever anyone raises criticism," Mr. McHale said. "This loose cannon ... confirms some of our most serious concerns, that this administration does not have a commitment to truth." That left presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart sputtering that the Rivera source was not from inside the White House. "[We] can't control some jerk outside the building who purports to speak for the president."
World in brief
Shattering dinner-hour din at Cape Town's Planet Hollywood, a bomb-possibly set by Islamic fundamentalists angered by American missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan-exploded at the American theme restaurant, killing one woman and injuring 24 other people. An unknown Muslim group claimed responsibility in a call to a local radio station. Cleaning house
If Russian president Boris Yeltsin found himself battling U.S. cruise missiles and bearded terrorists for center stage, back home he vowed to take a back seat to no one. The president responded to calls for his own resignation by sacking his cabinet Aug. 23, the second time he cleaned house in less than six months. Mr. Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and replaced him with his predecessor, Viktor Chernomyrdin. The about-face did not keep the ruble from falling to all-time lows, threatening bank closures and default for Russia. Spreading War
What observers feared across the uneasy belt of Africa began to be realized last week. Fighting between Congo rebels and the government of Laurent Kabila, himself a former rebel (who overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko more than a year ago), widened to include outside forces. Troops from Angola and air support from Zimbabwe were reportedly sent in to back up the Kabila regime. Thus fortified, government forces turned back the rebels, who at one point advanced to within 18 miles of the capital, Kinshasha. Rebels, in turn, have been helped by forces from Rwanda and Uganda, observers say. Those countries deny direct involvement but say they will use force to protect their borders. Humanitarian workers killed in Kosovo
Cannon fire from a police vehicle killed three ethnic Albanians working for the Mother Teresa relief organization in Kosovo. The armored personnel carrier opened fire on tractors pulling wagons loaded with supplies for refugees. Serb officials said they could not see the contents of the wagons; relief workers, however, say it is the latest attempt by Serb forces to harass local Samaritans trying to help the Albanians. Everybody wins?
Canada's Supreme Court ruled that Quebec had no legal right to secede from Canada, but the high court also obligated government officials to negotiate with the province should a clear majority vote for secession in a referendum. Both sides counted the Solomon-like decision as a victory.
Is the tide turning?
Education reform is making significant inroads in the public-opinion battle. The annual Gallup poll conducted on behalf of Phi Delta Kappa, the professional educators' fraternity, found last week that a majority of citizens favor full educational choice: By a margin of 51-41 percent, survey respondents said they supported allowing parents to send their school-age children to "any public, private, or church-related school they choose," even if that meant using some of their own tax money to fund all or part of the tuition at the private schools. Just two years ago, 54 percent were opposed and 43 percent were in favor, while last year opinion was divided. The survey also found overwhelming support for a congressional Republican plan-opposed by the White House and teachers' unions-to set up tax-free savings accounts, from which deposits could later be used for private-school tuition. The Gallup poll reported a statistical dead heat over "vouchers" that pay 100 percent of private- or religious-school tuition: 48 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed. The favorable margin grew to 52-41 when the vouchers were specified to pay partial tuition. But the poll also showed that the framing of the question alters attitudes: When asked whether parents should be allowed to send their children to private school at public expense, exactly half the respondents said they were opposed. But the good news for education reformers is that 44 percent answered yes to that loaded question.
Democrats are slipping
In the hours following the president's admission of an "inappropriate relationship" with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, some leading Republicans called for Mr. Clinton's resignation. In week two, it was the Democrats' turn. Actually, the best news last week for the president came from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who expressed his reluctance to pursue impeachment if Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress focused only on "a single human mistake." That statement won praise from spokesman Mike McCurry and Mr. Clinton's chief congressional defender, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.): "Newt and I are on the same page." Other Republicans had skipped to a different chapter. "I beg to differ with the Speaker," said judiciary committee member Bill McCollum (R-Fla.). "I believe having the president lying under oath is something he should be impeached for." Nevertheless, Mr. Gingrich said he hoped congressional leaders would hold their fire until after the fall elections: "I'm not at all sure that it's a smart idea to try to get to that this year." But House minority leader Richard Gephardt, acknowledged as a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, hit the campaign trail with guns blazing. Mr. Gephardt last week signaled he might be a key player in any impeachment proceedings against the president. During a campaign swing through Pennsylvania, Mr. Gephardt gave a radio interview to a station in Wilkes-Barre. In addition to calling the president's conduct "wrong and reprehensible," Mr. Gephardt used words such as "impeachment," "expel," and "Watergate." He also said it wouldn't be so bad if the president were forced from office: "We'll get through this." Getting through this mess created by Mr. Clinton's sexual conduct and his "devil-made-me-do-it" speech-as Democratic Party chairman Roy Romer termed it-is the party's top challenge heading into November. In a 45-minute interview with the Post, Mr. Romer, who is governor of Colorado, criticized the president's handling of the affair and said he must address the issue again publicly, but "I don't know how that's done." One way it's not done is with cynical spin tactics, Mr. Romer suggested. He singled out talking points prepared by White House spinmeisters that gave suggested answers to aides who might be asked by reporters whether they felt betrayed by the president's seven-month lie and attempted cover-up. Mr. Romer said he wanted to "be careful" with his criticism, but said, flatly, "That's not the way to do business.... There's a point at which this profession of spinning is-I mean, people turn off, and rightly so." Now some politicians are starting to turn off; Mr. Clinton is being dissed by low-level officeholders. When the president interrupted his vacation for a day trip up to Worcester, Mass., city councilwoman Konstantina Lukes refused to greet Mr. Clinton at the airport and ripped him in the press: "The president has shamed himself, his family, the country and the presidency and I don't want to validate that behavior." On Sept. 17, when the president plans to visit Cincinnati on a fundraising swing, the Democratic mayor may be absent. Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is running for Congress, says, "At this point, I don't know if I'll go to the luncheon." She quickly added her "respect for both his position as the president and for his political insight." Perhaps, for Democrats, Mr. Clinton could show his most outstanding political insight by knowing when to say when.
Big, bad Bonnie'
The earliest recorded hurricane report came from Christopher Columbus, who encountered a tropical storm on his second voyage to the New World on July 16, 1494. He later declared that "nothing but the service of God and the extension of the monarchy" would induce him to expose himself to such danger. Reports of Hurricane Bonnie last week might have put the brave explorer to shame. One television journalist, in the service of MSNBC, delivered a live report from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., while standing on a rocking dock and holding onto a ship's mast to steady himself. Other TV reporters filed stories while standing near uprooted trees, behind buildings, or in front of cameras steadied in the wind with sandbags. Bonnie landed on Cape Fear south of Wilmington, N.C., swamping roads, ripping the roof from a hospital, and knocking out power to 100,000 people. Winds of 115 mph with gusts up to 130 mph were reported. Nearly half a million people had been ordered to flee. Those who missed an evacuation deadline took shelter in a lighthouse standing on the cape. Others were merely irritated at the inconvenience of the disaster preparation. The Washington Post quoted an "annoyed" Cynthia Pettibone, whose family had been through three hurricane evacuations in 23 years of vacations in North Carolina's Outer Banks. "Our plan is to be the last car off the island. The last time when we were leaving I saw a man with a case of beer under each arm who was planning to sit it out. That's the best hurricane plan I've ever seen." It's the worst plan, said an emergency worker in the Post story, grumbling about those who were uncooperative. "There's nothing else we can do except ask for their next of kin." More diligent citizens stocked up. Some retailers around Wilmington, N.C., didn't even bother stocking their shelves with hurricane emergency supplies. "As soon as we put them up, they pull them down," grocery store cash-register manager Katherine Andrade told the Wilmington Morning Star. Instead, stores that carried storm necessities like D-cell batteries, generators, and bottled water allowed customers to grab supplies right off the pallets. Even as Bonnie slammed into Wilmington, about 300 miles up the coastline, near Virginia Beach, Va., citizens of Sandbridge worried about their four-month, $8 million rebuilding project. After decades of weather abuse, Sandbridge beach was badly eroded. Two years ago, the locals agreed to levy a "sand tax" to restore it. Beginning May 15, a barge anchored about four miles offshore dredged up wet sand from the ocean floor and pumped it through pipes onto land. A total of 1.1 million cubic yards of sand was pumped altogether, reconstructing a 5.3 mile stretch of beach. "God gave us the intelligence to build this beach, and the means to pay for it," mused resident Frances Driscoll. "But God and nature are bigger than any engineer."
Nation in brief
Safe and legal in oklahoma?
Last December, an Oklahoma lawmaker sued a state agency to compel it to enforce a 20-year-old law requiring that middle-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital. The state supreme court agreed and ordered the law enforced. Last week, a federal judge's order that the law may be an impermissible "undue burden" on the right to abortion temporarily set aside the hospitalization requirement. While lawyers for the abortion industry prepare their arguments, the judge gave Oklahoma abortion businesses permission to continue performing second-trimester abortions until Sept. 30, pending the hearing. State officials contend that free-standing abortion shops aren't equipped to handle complications that can arise from advanced-term abortions, such as hemorrhaging, reaction to anesthesia, or damage to the uterus or cervix. The pro-abortion argument is that the regulation is tantamount to harassment, raising the cost of abortion and making it virtually impossible for low-income mothers to have their unwanted children killed. Pro-lifers note that this argument belies the "safe and legal" mantra of the abortion industry. Gore in jeopardy?
Still under pressure of a possible contempt of Congress charge, Attorney General Janet Reno last week took the next legal step in what could result in the appointment of an independent counsel to probe Vice President Gore's fundraising practices. She opened a 90-day preliminary investigation to determine whether an independent counsel was warranted. Also last week, Ms. Reno sought to meet House committee chairman Dan Burton halfway in his demand that she turn over memos from top Justice Department aides who argue that an independent counsel must be named in the Gore case. She offered a briefing to Mr. Burton on the contents of a memorandum by campaign-finance investigator Charles LaBella. Mr. Burton, whose committee voted last month to hold Ms. Reno in contempt over the matter, turned down the offer. The full House has yet to vote on the contempt recommendation. The non-census
A White House proposal to gerrymander America has been shot down by a federal court. The plan would have used statistical sampling in the year 2000 census for 10 percent of the population. The results of the census will be used to redraw congressional districts. The White House says that 4 to 6 million people could be missed in the counting; many of those are members of minority groups, which tend to vote Democratic and support increased federal spending. The unanimous three-judge panel ruled last week that the nation's founding fathers really meant it when they said America must have "actual enumeration" of its populace. The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court this fall.
Roe justice dies
We like to speak well of the dead, and Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who passed away last week of pneumonia at age 90, has been touted as a soft-spoken Southern gentleman. But he was also one of the supporting votes in the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Years later, he cast the deciding vote in the Thornburgh decision that ruled several abortion restrictions unconstitutional. Mr. Powell also voted with a 5-4 majority that rejected claims of a constitutional right to homosexual relationships. His concurring opinion in Bowers vs. Hardwick said, "I agree with the court that there is no fundamental right" to private homosexual behavior. However, he said imposing stiff penalties for sodomy would create constitutional problems. After he retired he did not renounce Roe, but in Bowers he said he "probably made a mistake." As a Republican nominee with such a record, he received praise from the politically fashionable for his "moderation." Mr. Powell was "the most influential justice of his period on the court because he always won," said American University law professor Herman Schwartz. "He was the swing vote." Mr. Powell said his most important vote was for the 1978 decision that upheld affirmative action. "His opinions were a model of balance and judiciousness," said President Clinton. "For over 15 years on the Supreme Court, he approached each case without an ideological agenda, carefully applying the Constitution, the law and Supreme Court precedent regardless of his own personal views about the case." But even pro-abortion scholars have acknowledged that Roe vs. Wade has no serious constitutional legitimacy. Mr. Powell joined the court in 1972 on the same day as now-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. He retired 11 years ago due to health problems. Mr. Powell's death leaves Byron White and Harry Blackmun behind as two living retired justices.
The war of the future
U.S. air strikes against terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Sudan are the first volley in "the war of the future," in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In the week after the Aug. 20 cruise-missile attack, President Clinton's advisers described it as perhaps one event in a series of terrorist and anti-terrorist skirmishes. They signaled there may be more attacks on U.S. installations worldwide and warned of future U.S. military strikes against hold-outs of terrorist Osama bin Laden. But if this is war, it is one written in no prior Clinton playbook and without a clearly defined long-range strategy. Beyond Wag the Dog, the eponymous strategy to use the attacks as a diversion from Clinton scandals, defense experts worry that a hastily pieced-together war against terrorism could recklessly endanger national security. Underscoring that concern, the administration has acknowledged that Mr. bin Laden was not placed on the State Department's annual list of terrorists until after the Aug. 7 embassy bombings he is accused of master-minding-even though U.S. intelligence sources allegedly had data linking him to terrorist attacks going back to the bombing of U.S. military quarters in Saudi Arabia and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. A federal court also did not unseal an indictment pending against Mr. bin Laden until last week. Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat and the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned against a strategy built on domestic political turmoil. "Economic and political dangers grow more dangerous when the world perceives that our nation is preoccupied, that our leader's credibility is seriously diminished and that Congress and the president are in discord," he said. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona called the strategy behind the unilateral U.S. air strikes not "characteristic" of the president, and argued that "many other threats to American security" have "festered from this administration's negligence." Former Vice President Quayle said the "war of the future" strategy was also contradicted by Mr. Clinton's cuts in defense spending. "If in fact it is going to be a war of the future, then we really do need to get congressional leadership together, we've got to go to the American people, and to explain to them that we do have a war-type situation. This means much more spending on national defense. This means a considerable increase in intelligence capabilities.... This means we need to get on with the strategic defense initiative-theater missile-defense initiatives, not just against ballistic missiles but cruise missiles as well."