Who's bashing whom?
As Matthew Shepard lay dying at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., a legion of political opportunists blamed Christians for his savage beating and used the tragedy to call for hate-crimes laws. The 21-year-old University of Wyoming student passed away after his skull was so badly smashed that doctors could not perform surgery. The two attackers who pistol-whipped him and tied him to a fence in near-freezing temperatures could get the death penalty. When Mr. Shepard died, the rainbow gay-rights flag was lowered to half staff in San Francisco's Castro District as demagogues mounted their soapboxes and waved bloody shirts. "Right now, we are living through a period of extreme and concentrated anti-gay backlash," said Kim Mills of the Human Rights Campaign. "The leaders of the most powerful religious political organizations-some of which have headquarters right here in Colorado-have made a strategic political decision to target gays and lesbians. These groups include Focus on the Family and its political offshoot, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Coral Ridge Ministries, and a host of others." This rhetoric was not limited to the political fringe. NBC's Katie Couric essentially repeated Ms. Mills's charge in the form of a question to the governor of Wyoming in a Today show interview. New York Times editorial writer Frank Rich accused Gary Bauer of being an accomplice to the crime. "Once any group is successfully scapegoated as a subhuman threat to 'normal' values by a propaganda machine, emboldened thugs take over," he said. One beneficiary of such bombast was the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This bill, introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) stiffens penalties in cases of "violence based on the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability of the victim." And yet, "A 'hate crime' bill would not have prevented this crime," notes Janet Folger of Coral Ridge Ministries. "Murder is murder, regardless of who the victim is or the reason for which it is committed." Activists who lobbied for the Kennedy bill mixed rhetoric about hate crimes with attacks on groups that offer to help homosexuals abandon the lifestyle. The agenda of some gay-rights leaders seemed to be to silence anyone who says homosexuality is wrong. Conservative Christians reacted, saying that Mr. Shepard's death was being exploited in an attempt to gain federal endorsement for homosexuality. Meanwhile, the lead investigator in the case, Albany County sheriff's Lt. Rob DeBree, says he's confused about this controversy. "I wish somebody could give us a true definition of what they consider to be a hate crime,'' he said. And Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer maintains his opposition to such laws, noting that assaults of all kinds are serious business: "The difference is measured in motive, not in action." Sticks and stones break bones, and that's a problem regardless of the words used.
Chipping away Romer
Lawyers usually caution against reading too much into a Supreme Court decision not to consider a case. Nevertheless, the high court decision last week that left intact a federal appeals court ruling giving Cincinnati the right to refuse special rights for homosexuals is significant. Two years ago, the Supremes struck down a Colorado state constitutional amendment similar in effect to the Cincinnati ordinance they let stand. The Colorado measure prohibited state and local government agencies from declaring homosexuals a special class deserving special benefits in the law. Conservatives on the high court united behind a vigorous dissent in the Colorado case by Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia observed that the court's Romer vs. Evans decision "take[s] sides in this culture war ... not only by inventing a novel and extravagant constitutional doctrine ... but even by verbally disparaging as bigotry adherence to traditional attitudes." Is the court, by refusing to strike down the Cincinnati ordinance, defecting to the good guys in the cultural war? Absolutely not, said the three most liberal members of the court, who wrote separately to stress the point that the non-decision was not a retreat from Romer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that the Cincinnati ordinance did not run afoul of Romer-primarily because it was a city, not a state, initiative. But some gay-rights lawyers consider that a distinction without a difference. The Washington Post quoted a San Francisco deputy city attorney who opposed the 6th Circuit ruling: "This is a galling setback."
Who's the real victim?
To hear convicted murderer Jeremy Strohmeyer tell it, everyone and everything else was responsible for his crime. He was drunk and drugged. His therapist was incompetent. A girlfriend had done him wrong. The Nevada casinos had made it too easy for him to get at his prey, 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson, whom he molested and strangled. At his sentencing last week, Mr. Strohmeyer said he was sorry and asked forgiveness, but said the court should feel his pain: "Can you imagine the fear, the panic, the sickness that rushes over you as you realize that somehow, you have done something to this little girl to cause her to be dying, yet you don't remember anything? This is what happened to me." The judge sentenced Mr. Strohmeyer to three life terms-which means he's up for parole in 20 years. But as a practical matter, said Judge Myron Leavitt, "that will never happen."
Clifford: Man of state
Clark Clifford thought big government was a good thing. Mr. Clifford, the ultimate Washington insider and trusted adviser to four Democratic presidents, died on Oct. 10 in his Bethesda, Md., home at age 91. If any man loved politics as sport, it was Mr. Clifford. "I couldn't deny that I loved participating in Washington's great contest," he wrote in his 1991 memoir, Counsel to the President. As an attorney, public official, and private counselor, Mr. Clifford enjoyed resounding success through the Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations. His most famous hour was when he replaced Robert McNamara as Johnson's defense secretary. Despite his political muscle, Mr. Clifford never ran for office and was on the government payroll only five of his 46 years in the capital. This smoothest of smooth operators built a personal law practice that included such blue chippers as General Electric, Standard Oil, DuPont, Phillips Petroleum, and Howard Hughes. Mr. Clifford's blue-chip political stock dropped when he was linked to the BCCI banking scandal. While criminal charges against him were dropped in 1993 due to his age and ill health, the last of several civil suits prompted by the case wasn't settled until last month. Even though he was little known outside the Washington Beltway, Democrats knew they could count on Mr. Clifford to get the job done. "He was someone upon whom presidents could rely for judicious and effective advice," President Clinton said in a statement. Mr. Clifford's memoirs talk about working with foreign policymakers like George Marshall and Dean Acheson, and helping forge the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan to help rebuild war-shattered Europe. He also helped create the national- security bureaucracy that produced the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the president's National Security Council. "For four years, he was the golden boy of the Truman administration," wrote Patrick Anderson in The President's Men. "Young, handsome, intelligent, charming, intensely political, Clifford seemed to have stepped to the political stage from the pages of one of Scott Fitzgerald's stories." Mr. Clifford's life was long on state, but short on church. About the one professing Christian he served, Jimmy Carter, Mr. Clifford expressed respect-but also incredulity. In a 1995 interview with Kenneth Adelman in Washingtonian magazine, Mr. Clifford said, "Some of [Mr. Carter's] notions were queer, like his confessing to 'lusting after women.' It sounded like something out of the Old Testament. People wondered, 'What in the name of God have we got here?'"
Yuriko Kawaguchi, a 21-year-old college student, is out of jail after serving four of six months of a forgery conviction. Why? She wanted to have an abortion. Immediately after her release last week, however, the 20-weeks-pregnant student was considering keeping her baby. Her lawyers wanted her free before her pregnancy reached 22 weeks, when Ohio law only permits abortions for medical reasons. Last summer, Miss Kawaguchi pleaded guilty after she and two men tried to buy PCs with fake credit cards. She asked for probation to go have an abortion. A pro-life Cleveland judge, Patricia Cleary, denied her motion: "It's not like she wrote a bad check to pay the rent. But I'm not going to be a hypocrite. I think it worked out swell if that was her desire to abort her child that late." Having decided that her unborn child was not human, Miss Kawaguchi nonetheless complained that the judge had dehumanized her: "I felt like I had no rights. She literally made me feel like I wasn't human." A state appeals court ruled that she be released after posting a $1,500 bond. Cleveland Right to Life has offered her medical care, food, shelter, and assistance in placing the baby for adoption.
Tapping your DNA
The FBI may be getting under your skin in more ways than one. Not only are federal wiretapping guidelines being loosened; the agency just opened a national database for DNA genetic evidence taken from convicted felons and gathered in unsolved cases. A flake of dandruff may now be more incriminating than a fingerprint. All 50 states will be linked to an FBI computer in D.C. that contains genetic profiles of 250,000 convicted state felons, along with DNA profiles taken from evidence left at the scene of 4,600 unsolved cases. "The DNA in the unsolved-case database is taken from crime scenes," explains Dwight Adams, chief of the FBI lab's scientific analysis section. "DNA profiles can be obtained from semen collected following a rape, blood left on broken glass during a break-in, or even bits of an assailant's skin caught under a victim's fingernails during an assault." This raises questions about how this information could be misused in the future, especially as the field of genetics continues to expand rapidly. And if some dead skin can't convict a criminal, maybe a roving wiretap can. Included in next year's intelligence authorization bill is a clause that reduces the hoops through which FBI agents and others must jump to tap someone's phones. Right now, most wiretaps are of a single phone, usually in a suspect's home. The feds can tap many phone lines if agents think their man is trying to evade them. Under the new rules, they can show a judge that a suspect's use of multiple phone lines (including cell phones and pay phones) has the effect of evasion. Observers fear agents will listen to many conversations of innocent people while they listen for the bad guys.
And the beat goes on
The same day lawmakers took on persecution in Washington, lawmakers in Pakistan overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to impose laws based on strict interpretation of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. If the bill passes the Senate, where it faces stiffer opposition, it will "oblige" the government to enforce prayers five times a day and to collect annual tithes. Opposition forces, led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, say the amendment could lead to an iron-handed Islamic regime similar to the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who said the bill will help Pakistan "create a truly Islamic system," also said he wanted to protect religious minorities. In Holland, the leader of a conservative Christian party was fined for comments about homosexuals made in a magazine interview two years ago. Leen van Dijke, leader of the minority Reformatorische Politieke Federatie (RPF), told the Dutch periodical Nieuwe Revu that sins should not be divided into "serious" and "less serious." He said, "Why is cheating the state out of money less serious than breaking the seventh commandment [against adultery]? Why should a practicing homosexual be better than a thief?" A court found Mr. van Dijke guilty of discrimination against homosexuals and ordered him to pay 300 guilders ($160). In the Netherlands it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Mr. van Dijke told the court he had been "foolish" to allow the interview to be published and said it was never his intention to offend homosexuals or to compare them to criminals. But the member of parliament also argued that a conviction would signal an end to free speech and religious freedom. Fear of kidnapping led three nuns to leave Somalia, forcing closure of the main maternity and child care hospital in the capital, Mogadishu. The three women-aged 60, 57, and 52-departed following the September kidnapping of another sister working at the charity; she was abducted at gunpoint. She was released after three days, but the members of the Missionaries of Consolation say "numerous recent threats" continue to thwart their work. The mission facility regularly treated 500 children per week and provided care without charge. Over 100 foreigners, including aid workers, have been kidnapped by militia units since the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Are you "crazy"? ABC News president David Weston shouted this question to a reporter and producer who had submitted to him an investigative report critical of the network's parent company Disney, according to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. Mr. Weston spiked two drafts of the story, which alleges that officials at Disney World, the Florida theme park, fails to perform security checks that would prevent the hiring of sex offenders--specifically pedophiles and peeping Toms. Investigative reporter Brian Ross and producer Rhonda Schwartz began work on the story after signing an agreement with Regnery Publishing. Regnery was planning a book--titled Disney: The Mouse Betrayed--on the subject, and the agreement wold give ABC exclusive access to research in the book before it was published. The Post's Mr. Kurtz quotes a Disney spokesman calling Mouse Betrayed "a hatchet job of the first order.... A compilation of half-truths, innuendos, claims, and charges made by every enemy we ever seem to have aroused." An ABC spokeswoman would not discuss the network's "internal editorial process," but said Disney's ownership had nothing to do with the decision to kill the piece. Author Peter Schweizer is now shopping the story to CBS's 60 Minutes.
Y2K: Looking for the weak link
When January 1, 2000, comes, President Clinton's Y2K czar, John Koskinen, may have a full load. Federal agencies in danger of not having their computers ready for the year 2000 could come under his command, according to a bill before Congress. This proposal passed the House by a whopping 407-3 margin. It urges the president to let the Y2K czar take control of the computer systems of agencies if they aren't ready for the millennium. (For those keeping score, Mr. Koskinen's full title is "chairman of the president's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion.") It also urges the president to use the bully pulpit (what's left of it) to push Y2K awareness. Also, federal agencies will be ordered to give millennial progress reports to Congress. "By failing to address the Y2K problem, our nation is in danger of being plunged into a catastrophic economic recession, with severe business disruptions in the delivery of essential government and private industry services," says sponsor Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.). Meanwhile, the Clinton Administration wants the UN to help save the world from the millennium bug. Vice President Gore told the International Telecommunications Union that the globe must work together. "We must ensure that the international system is ready for the year 2000-because one weak link in the system will hurt us all," Mr. Gore said. "Together, we must solve this problem."
Washington to the rescue
Within 24 hours of each other, both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives voted unanimously to approve legislation designed to fight religious persecution abroad. The House of Representatives approved the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act without dissent, even though it differs significantly from tougher legislation passed in May by the House. Rather than triggering automatic sanctions on countries found to practice religious persecution, the approved legislation gives the president a menu of policy responses, ranging from diplomatic censure to cutting off U.S. aid and economic sanctions. It also makes it difficult to impose restrictions where U.S. national security is potentially jeopardized. The legislation puts control over the U.S. response directly in the hands of the White House. Even so, it was not clear whether President Clinton would sign the measure. The administration has persistently sided with big business in frowning on any legislation that links trade with human rights. The State Department angered religious freedom bill proponents in September when diplomats invited certain Muslim leaders to an all-day gathering on religious freedom. Those leaders have condoned the activities of the radical Islamic faction Hamas and sponsored a trip to the United States by Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. The Al-Turabi regime is regarded as the prime persecutor of Christians in southern Sudan. It is also on the State Department's list of terrorist states; the invitation went out just two weeks after the United States launched a cruise missile attack on a Sudan facility suspected of making chemical weapons.