A toddler's two mommies
Imagine a son raised by a split-up lesbian couple both considered his mother by the law. That's already the case for an unnamed 2-year-old boy in New Jersey who was the center of a lesbian custody battle. Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso ruled that a lesbian partner can share custody of the child, even though she isn't the biological mother. In this case, the couple planned to raise the child together and chose a sperm donor to inseminate one. Judge Grasso ruled that the other woman "stands in the shoes of a parent to the child and should be accorded the status of parent." She is expected to take the boy for three or four 12-hour days each week while biomom is at work, as well as on alternate weekends. This ruling means that whatever person of whatever sex plays the role of parent can legally seek custody. The significance of this ruling isn't lost on Kate Kendell of the National Center for Gay and Lesbian Rights: "Our children have as much right to a continuing relationship with both parents as any other child of two parents." But the decision isn't binding statewide, and two other similar cases in New Jersey have yet to be decided.
A racist cult called the Five Percent is reaching across America-from hip-hop radio to maximum security prisons. It rejects most accepted history, authority, and organized religion. The black man, the Five Percent teaches, is a god. It's nuts, but it sells. Pop powerhouses like Busta Rhymes, Wu Tang Clan and Erykah Badu sing about the 34-year-old movement. Thousands follow the teachings in Harlem, where the movement began, and beyond. Ron Holvey, New Jersey's top prison investigator, says his state's prisons hold at least 1,000 Five Percenters-and perhaps several times that. In a South Carolina prison, the Five Percent exploded one steamy spring day in 1995 when five inmates attacked five guards. They beat some with a baseball bat and scalded one with boiling water. They took hostages. When the convicts surrendered at day's end, they gave Arabic names. Now, prison officials in five states censor Five Percenters despite complaints that this tramples on freedom of religion. (In New York, a state Supreme Court judge upheld the ban.) Some prison systems label all Five Percenters gang members, even though some condemn violence and drugs. They say what started as a loose, disorganized group is becoming more and more dangerous. "They're organized crime," said Mike Moore, head of South Carolina's Corrections Department. Cult teachings are called Supreme Mathematics. "Five percent" is supposedly the percentage of people who teach the "truth" about black male divinity. The Five Percent borrowed the Nation of Islam's teaching that a mad scientist made the white man from the black man. The cult considers Allah as supreme being, but each black man gets to be god of his own universe. Women are "Earths," which is why the sect is also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths. "The beauty of the teachings lets you know that destiny and fate is in your own hands," says Bilal Allah, a self-proclaimed deity and MCA record executive "It's all on you, man, it's all on you."
Starr lays out his case
On Nov. 20 Ken Starr took the stand before the House Judiciary Committee in an inquiry that few observers believed will ultimately lead to the president's impeachment by the House and removal from office by the Senate. Mr. Starr charged-before a panel strictly divided along partisan lines-that President Clinton "misused his authority and power" to obstruct justice. Democrats objected vehemently to the entire process. Mr. Starr's testimony was interrupted twice by a Democrat congresswoman who raised irrelevant points of order. And while chairman Henry Hyde told his colleagues, "The hearing today is not a trial. It is not White House versus Starr," many congressmen tried to turn Mr. Starr into a Mark Fuhrman-esque scapegoat. For example, John Conyers (D-Mich.) characterized Mr. Starr's evidence as "tawdry, salacious, and unnecessarily graphic" and claimed his testimony was "a desperate effort to breathe new life into a dying inquiry." He slurred Mr. Starr as "a federally paid sex policeman spending millions of dollars to trap an unfaithful spouse." Sitting in the same room where impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon convened 25 years ago, independent counsel Starr spared no words about the president: "On at least six different occasions-from Dec. 17, 1997, through Aug. 17, 1998-the president had to make a decision," he testified. "He could choose truth or he could choose deception. On all six occasions, the president chose deception." Mr. Starr mostly stuck to material from his September report and dismissed Democratic suggestions he had no right to investigate Mr. Clinton's affair with Ms. Lewinsky. Obstruction of justice "is not a private matter," he declared. But he emphasized that the matter is in the hands of the Congress. He closed with personal reflections and betrayed some frustration with the political circus that his investigation has provoked: "My experience is in the law and the courts. I am not a man of polls, public relations, or politics-which I suppose is obvious at this point."
The attacks continue
Setting aside a day of prayer for the persecuted church in the United States, Nov. 15, did not mean a hiatus on attacks against church officials and Christian believers. The same day, six clergymen were killed while on a peace mediation mission to a rebel group in the Republic of Congo. Members of a church committee set up to end armed conflict in the region, all members of the group were murdered "in cold blood" at Mindouli in the Pool region west of the capital, Brazzaville. The local clergymen went to speak to the rebels without guards because they wanted to avoid suspicion. At least 30 people have been killed in similar attacks in the same area in recent months. Polish Catholic missionary Yan Czuba was shot dead there earlier this month.
- In Pakistan, a family of nine Christians, including two babies, was found hacked to death in an army house in Nowshera on Nov. 18, according to news reports by Reuters. Daubed on the walls of the house in blood were the words, "No more black magic in Nowshera." John Bhatti, head of the household, worked for the army and was living in military housing with his wife, daughter, and several grandchildren, including an eight-month-old child.
- In India, Christian schools in the state of Karnataka have been asked by a Hindu fundamentalist party to display Saraswati, the goddess of learning, and Ganapathi, the elephant god, in every school. In addition to the idols, Hindus have also demanded that a Hindu invocation be said along with prayers to Jesus, and that Hindu festivals be declared school holidays. Christian schools educate many Hindus. School administrators appealed this month to the governor of Karnataka for protection against feared attacks from Hindu fundamentalists.
Challenge #1: delivering help
Alan McDonald ran a black-outlined blank space where his popular political cartoon would normally run in El heraldo, a nationwide daily, after Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras on Oct. 31. Readers were quick to understand: There is no other news since the storm three weeks ago. With food and services now pouring in, relief workers in Central America face mounting logistical challenges. Many remote villages remain cut off from help. One of the hardest-hit areas, the northern Atlantic coast of Honduras, can only be reached by canoe. Government officials say 60,000 Misquito Indians remain isolated and unaided there. Temporary bridges are up, but reestablishing means of communication and transportation throughout Honduras and Nicaragua remains top priority. The second biggest need, according to American teacher Michael Miller, is water. "There is no running water anywhere," he told WORLD. "In Tegucigalpa we have better access to emergency supplies since things are flying into here. Trucks are taking water to area shelters. Contamination is still a serious concern." During his daily tour of four shelters Mr. Miller has helped to set up, he said he saw "several cases of diarrhea and conjunctivitis, telling me shelters are not as clean as they need to be." More than 100,000 people are without homes in Tegucigalpa. Finding a place to rebuild is the city's next big challenge. The hills where many homes once stood were wiped out by mudslides when river waters rose approximately 45 feet in less than one hour on the night of the storm.
Repent or perish
With no challenger, Majority Whip Tom DeLay didn't have to worry about losing his House leadership post. Instead, the No. 3 House Republican spent time focusing on what America has lost: "When the government strays from divine principles and the people no longer know them-or they hold them in contempt-the nation is imperiled," he warned at a Nov. 12 "Sacred Assembly" in Houston, part of Campus Crusade and Mission America's fifth annual Fasting and Prayer gathering. Speaking before about 1,000 in attendance at the Sheraton Astrodome Hotel, plus thousands more in satellite-linked prayer meetings around the country, Mr. DeLay noted that Scripture offers "very clear examples" of God's merciful but inexorable pattern of dealing with nations that transgress biblical law. "God poured out his judgments ... in a manner that was gradual and in stages: loss of health, prosperity, and personal freedom; economic recession and depression; ... breakdown of law and order; ... breakup of the family.... I tremble at the consideration of the question of where America is in this pattern of judgment," said the seven-term Texas congressman, who began taking his Christian faith seriously not long after coming to Congress in 1985 (see WORLD, July 18). Echoing earlier, historic calls to humility before the Almighty, Mr. DeLay proclaimed "a fast and a call for repentance among all the leaders of the land: the prophets, the priests, the elders and other leaders in the church, and leaders in our government." He urged that Jan. 17, 1999, already designated Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, be "a day of repentance, not only for abortion but for all the sins of the nation and its leaders." Leading in prayer, Mr. DeLay asked God that a repentant America "not perish, but be restored to the place to which it has been called-as the fountain of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the whole earth."
The coming blizzard
New research gives a clearer picture of how America might weather Y2K. A survey by multinational consulting firm Cap Gemini says virtually every big corporation has a war plan for battling the bug. But nine out of ten have already missed repair deadlines. Nearly half of those surveyed already face millennial failures. GartnerGroup's numbers are worse: 23 percent of all enterprises haven't started Y2K fixes. Gartner says the biggest threat is that jobs could be at risk. As businesses deal with their problems, personal preparations, Gartner says, should be like preparing for a major storm: "In this case it will be, at worst, similar to a hurricane, cyclone, or bad snowstorm."
Revolution, not medication
Before the Five Percenters there was Black Power and its creator, Kwame Ture-the racist formerly known as Stokely Carmichael. Ture died in obscurity this month in West Africa of prostate cancer. His last words to his mother were, "Revolution comes before medication." In his heyday, Mr. Ture's slogans were catchier; he was a fiery leader in a fiery decade. He first raised the "Black Power!" chant at a 1966 Mississippi march. Mr. Ture started praising violence when he was head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; then he became "prime minister" of the Black Panther Party. He broke with the latter group of urban guerrillas because it cooperated with white liberals. Then he headed for Guinea, changed his name, and organized the All-African People's Revolutionary Party. Mr. Ture declared himself a Pan Africanist trying to build "one cohesive force to wage an unrelenting armed struggle against the white Western empire for the liberation of our people.'' Translation: He wanted to turn Africa into one big socialist empire. As years passed, his followers dwindled. When Mr. Ture was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, he was treated in Cuba and received financial help from Louis Farrakhan. Many of his friends and relatives claim the FBI and CIA conspired to kill him. He died at age 57.
Brazil is having an economic crisis and Bill Clinton is coming to the rescue with $5 billion in loan guarantees. "A strong Brazil makes for a stronger United States," he said as he announced the deal. The dollars of U.S. taxpayers will join "contributions" from 19 other countries as part of a $41.5 billion International Monetary Fund rescue package over the next three years. The money is supposed to stop the global financial crisis from trashing Latin America and 2,000 U.S. businesses with Brazilian operations. But even as it bails out Brazil, the IMF still reels from August's disastrous bailout of Russia. That country received a similar IMF package last summer, yet economic malaise deepened. Some $4.8 billion in IMF funds vanished in days as Russia tried to prop up the ruble, then reversed gears. The Russians devalued the ruble and defaulted on government debt. Investors panicked and withdrew their money from emerging market countries, such as Brazil.
NetZero, privacy zero
Would you take free Internet access if your provider could watch your movements? A new service called NetZero gives away Internet connections to users willing to put up with it-and a stream of personalized ads. They pop up in a 1-inch by 3-inch window that cannot be turned off or minimized. When a user subscribes at www.netzero.net, he must complete a profile, including demographic information. Then as he surfs online, NetZero monitors so it can deliver more precise ads. The startup company expects to use its laser-scoped targeting to help it grab a big hunk of the blossoming Internet ad market. "We're taking the vital next step toward true one-to-one marketing," says Bill Gross, chairman of the board. Early ad buyers include Jaguar Motor Cars, BellSouth, and Sprint. NetZero swears it will keep all its user's details private. Personal profiles are sent anonymously to advertisers, then matched by the company's software. Third parties are refused access to a user's name, address, e-mail, and phone number. While other companies have tried free dialup access before and failed, this is the boldest venture yet-and the first to go national. NetZero says it has attracted 50,000 subscribers since the launching in late October.
The Clinton administration last week signed one of the most expensive environmental treaties ever. In the crusade to reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the Kyoto global warming treaty could cost families about $2,700 a year. Why? Curtailing carbon emissions means using less energy. Yale economist William Nordhaus says all this will pose a global challenge likely to be "larger than all of the rest of today's world environmental programs put together." The White House won't ask the Senate to ratify the treaty until pollution powerhouses like India and China agree to participate; by then, there may be a more receptive Senate. But will the health benefits outweigh the cost? University of Virginia climatologist Patrick J. Michaels says no. His study says all the effort will "reduce mean planetary warming by a mere 0.19 degree Celsius over the next 50 years." And poorer people are often sicker people.
Scriptures are safe
Floodwaters at the Honduran Bible Society, located near the storm-wrecked Choluteca River in Tegucigalpa, reached the fourth floor. It was one of only four buildings left standing after the river raged through the neighborhood; equipment and furniture inside the building was a total loss, although there were no casualties among staff. "We still cannot get to the building," said Bible Society Regional Secretary Guillermo Luna. "We saw it from afar and it looked like an empty casket. Windows are gone and everything that was in it." Even so, Mr. Luna had good news to report. Several years ago, the group's store of Scriptures was moved to a warehouse on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. The Bibles are safe and ready for distribution. Separately, a mechanical flaw was blamed for the helicopter crash that killed Tegucigalpa's popular mayor, Cesar Castellanos. He died on Nov. 1 while assessing hurricane damage in the capital.