This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Exodus from Disney," Nov. 7, 1998

Bitter harvest

Russia has formally asked the United States for food aid for the winter, according to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Meanwhile, hungry Russians are ignoring the resources right over their heads. A roof garden project begun in St. Petersburg by the Florida-based ministry ECHO is falling on hard times just when residents need it most. ECHO director Martin Price said the rooftop project, which once grew several acres' worth of produce, has gained disfavor with the rise of private ownership of apartments and the buildings. "Owners worry about a leaking roof or other problems," he said. "Ironically, this is the type of project that probably would do better under communism." State authorities still allow the largest rooftop plot to flourish-atop St. Petersburg's main prison.

Taking a byte out of crime

A new anti-cyberporn law called COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, goes into effect this month. It restricts American commercial porn sites from showing adult material to minors without verifying their age. Naturally, the ACLU and other usual suspects are suing, saying this violates free speech. COPA is one of the mildest anti-porn laws ever devised. It doesn't actually ban any pornography. It doesn't even affect porn distributors who aren't on the Web, aren't in the United States, or aren't charging money. Nevertheless, civil libertarians call it censorship. The sort of smut affected by COPA are free images given away to entice people to pay money for more pictures. While pay sites usually require customers to be over 18, the entry pages are usually available for all to see. "Pornographers are shamelessly enticing our children with free 'teaser' pornographic images," said Jan LaRue, Director of Legal Studies at the Family Research Council. COPA forces porn sites to perform the virtual equivalent of carding their customers, the same job that convenience store clerks perform when someone asks for a dirty magazine. Usually this involves typing in a credit card number. Legal penalties include up to $50,000 in fines and a six-month prison sentence. The ACLU and others claim COPA would have a chilling effect on the Internet and cause mainstream journalists to face prosecution for publishing the steamy stuff in the Starr Report. That's why they tried to stop its enforcement by filing a lawsuit in a Philadelphia federal district court one day after COPA was signed by President Clinton. "There is this huge category of information out there that has value to adults but lacks value to minors," says staff attorney Ann Beeson. While the ACLU predicts victory, COPA may be a hard law to beat. Its specifications were based on the Supreme Court's decision overturning the Communications Decency Act, which banned all indecent material from the Internet altogether. Since the law was carefully and narrowly written to the high court's earlier specifications, its supporters predict they will pull an upset victory when the case goes to trial.

Technical difficulties

The Dallas-based Cathedral of Hope, America's largest homosexual megachurch, is suing Chicago superstation WGN-TV because the station wouldn't run the Cathedral's infomercial titled "Holy Homosexuals." Among other cable networks only VH-1 would agree to air the program-but only before sunup. WGN allegedly reneged on a $12,000 contract to show the program because it was too controversial. Losing the TV time freed up an extra $12,000 to help church officials pour on the PR, including a well-attended press conference and video news release. The story hit the wires immediately and The New York Times and Chicago Tribune carried stories. Proskauer Rose, one of Manhattan's largest law firms, filed the congregation's lawsuit. "We wanted mostly to reach out to lesbian and gay teenagers but also people living in rural areas, to tell them there is this possibility that you can be gay and Christian," said Michael Piazza, the group's senior pastor.

Windows Y2K

Microsoft may take a beating from Janet Reno in the federal government's anti-trust lawsuit, but outside the courtroom the company is ready to cash in on the millennium bug. Windows NT, Microsoft's business-oriented operating system, has been rechristened Windows 2000. The Redmond, Wash., empire is still fighting its own Y2K battle (see Publick Occurrences, April 25). Not that Windows 2000 is in great shape. Originally known as Windows NT 5.0, it has faced numerous non-Y2K bugs and delays that have held it back. This change plays into corporate demand for new computer software that will be safe from the millennium bug. If company computers don't know that the year 2000 comes after 1999, they could lose money. Windows 2000 is the biggest of a swarm of Y2K-related product announcements aimed at corporate America. "The year 2000 is a big issue with our customers,'' says Microsoft VP Brad Chase. "It's important we have a product in an era when customers are thinking about Y2K."

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