We're all on trial
On the eve of the Senate trial of President Clinton, why is that body, and the larger body politic, having such a difficult time with this case? It is because the moral plates that have supported our culture in times of stress-such as war and economic depression-are shifting. It is because words and actions no longer mean what they once meant. It is because so many are unwilling to judge the president's behavior, which they see as no worse than their own. And so we have this point of tension. The past tugs at us like Marley's ghost, pleading eternal principles, while many in the land of "do your own thing" tug in the direction of materialism and self-focus. When the news of what Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton did was revealed a year ago, ABC's Sam Donaldson, voicing a morality that is either past or quickly becoming obsolete, predicted that Mr. Clinton would be a goner "in days" and certainly by the end of that week. His prediction was wrong because the Clinton crowd argued that what the president did was no big deal. To say that Bill Clinton should be held accountable and removed from office is to acknowledge that their own attitudes about extramarital sex, lying, and inattention to personal and national character are a big deal. So, the Senate is caught between a rock (moral and constitutional law) and a soft place (the mushy thinking of people who believe feelings trump justice). While the question of whether witnesses will be called has been delayed until the end of the month (and they should be called, as in any trial), history, honor, justice, and the law wait on the sidelines like the wallflower at the school dance. The Senate trial is as much about us and our honor as it is about the president and his dishonor. Who will be found wanting as he, and we, are weighed in the balance?
-Cal Thomas, © 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Citing the wrong text?
A child molester remains free because the U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to reinstate his sentence. Reason: The sentencing judge quoted Scripture before imposing his prison sentence. The justices let stand a state court's ruling that the judge's behavior violated due process. Aaron Pattno plead guilty two years ago to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy. Court records indicate that the 25-year-old pederast had been romantically involved with the adolescent for some time. So when Sarpy County District Judge George Thompson sentenced him to serve 20 months to five years in prison, he quoted several verses from the first chapter of Romans: "Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." When Mr. Pattno appealed, the Nebraska Supreme Court said the text "was not relevant to the crime," since sexual contact between consenting males is not a crime in Nebraska. Therefore, since the Pattno crime was sexual contact with a minor, not homosexuality, the state Supreme Court ruled that the judge had erred. State prosecutors said religious freedom was threatened and took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Judicial reference to the Bible does not violate due process where the evidence in the record supports the sentence imposed," Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg argued before the justices, stating that Judge Thompson's sentence should not have been set aside.
Love your Mumia
As convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal still sits on death row, his radical chic cult following goes on. But in Oakland, public school teachers held a teach-in, even after complaints that it was too political, even by 1999 public school standards. Oakland teachers helped organize the teach-in as a consciousness-raising exercise-and won the backing of the teachers' union. School Board President Noel Gallo asked that the event be canceled. He said the event put ideology "ahead of basic education for our children and there's no wonder why our test scores are so poor." Even the local NAACP criticized the event. Mr. Abu-Jamal was an ex-Black Panther member convicted in 1981 of killing Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. His backers say he was framed. But the former Wesley Cooke was no ordinary thug; he was the former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. His commentaries were carried on public radio. And the "Free Mumia" movement is getting a new batch of free publicity just outside New York City. Rage Against The Machine will hold a benefit concert at the Meadowlands on Jan. 28.
World in brief
More on Mitch
Relief workers and government officials in Tegucigalpa say 10,000 homeless are still living in 178 shelters throughout the city. On Jan. 15 most church-run shelters will be turned over to the city, which will consolidate the homeless into three large tent centers, or "macro-shelters." In Guatemala, missionary Ken Sorrell says the long-term side of disaster relief has only begun. "We are seeing more sickness than normal for this time of year due to the heavy rains, colder temperatures, and contaminated water systems," he said. Missionary teams need assistance from the States, he said, in providing primary care, surgical skills, and construction for homes and water purification systems. Murder charges out
French magistrate Herve Stephan has decided not to pursue charges of manslaughter against photographers or other survivors on the scene in the Paris tunnel where Britain's Princess Diana was killed in an August 1997 car crash. The magistrate's office denied that the investigation was officially closed, and the 10 photographers on the scene could face lesser charges. Saying no
India outlawed the use of a female sterilization treatment, a slap to American doctors who have provided the controversial drug, quinacrine, for 20 years. Quinacrine is a cheap anti-malarial medication. When formed into concentrated pellets and inserted in the uterus, it scars fallopian tubes and prevents pregnancy. The procedure is painful and can lead to cancer. It is not approved for use in the United States, nor is it recommended by the World Health Organization.
Air Jordan has landed
For years he confused opponents and reporters. When Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls scored a playoff-record 63 points in Boston in 1986, Celtics star Larry Bird said, "God came to the game tonight and played under the name of Michael Jordan." When he retired from basketball last week, one month short of his 36th birthday, the Austin American-Statesman commented, "MJ put on wings, not shoes." Mr. Jordan, however, told WORLD in a 1994 interview that he was not confused about who is God and who is mortal: "I read the Bible a lot.... I see that whatever happens, happens for a reason. I wouldn't be here without the will of God." His parents showed him how to work and pray: "My mother and father used to have two jobs so they could supply us with a better life than the one they had. And we had to go to church on Sunday. I learned that God's in charge." The statistics Michael Jordan accumulated were remarkable: 29,277 points, five most valuable player awards, six NBA championships (won three times consecutively, twice). But the best marker he left involved character (see WORLD's review of MJ's book, For the Love of the Game, page 27). Many remember his game-winning 3-pointer and 38-point effort against the Utah Jazz in a crucial 1997 playoff game when he was so sick and dehydrated that he doubled over at times when walking off the floor. At his retirement press conference on Jan. 13, he brushed off any comparisons with deity: "The game is bigger than Michael Jordan."
Abortion/breast cancer posters get a 2nd look
Pro-lifers have free-speech rights after all. A federal appellate court ruled that Philadelphia's public transit authority violated a pro-life group's First Amendment rights when it banned posters linking abortions to breast cancer. The U.S. Supreme Court last week let that ruling stand after the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) officials appealed, saying the posters' accuracy was questionable. Virginia-based Christ's Bride Ministries signed a deal to display posters in 25 SEPTA stations for one year, paying $3,000 per month. The 4-by-5-foot posters, which announced, "Women who choose abortion suffer more & deadlier breast cancer," were also displayed in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The posters went up in subway and rail stations on Jan. 15, 1996, and came down one month later after complaints. Then a federal judge threw out the group's lawsuit after ruling that a SEPTA station is not a "public forum," but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit last June, holding that the advertising space is such a forum. Any attempts to stifle content-based speech must withstand "strict scrutiny," which the transit authority failed to meet. SEPTA, the appellate court ruled, "has in place no policy, old or new, written or unwritten, governing the display of ads making contested claims." The Supreme Court also left other decisions intact, including the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. It rejected a challenge by two ex-servicemen discharged after admitting their homosexuality. The justices also refused to revive an Arizona measure that declared English the state's official language. And they turned down an appeal by New York City's smut shops that they be spared from the city's tough new anti-porn zoning laws, which are designed to make the Big Apple more attractive to tourists and new businesses.
Lighting the lamp
Power industry executives say the millennium bug will have "only a minimal impact" on the delivery of electricity to American homes and businesses. "We don't feel there's going to be a problem keeping the lights on," says Gerry Cauley of the North American Electric Reliability Council. He says there's no guarantee of a trouble-free New Year, but things are looking bright. The council's report says potential computer problems at the end of the year when 1999 becomes 2000 will be only a "nuisance" for U.S. electricity production and distribution. Utilities are spending more than $2 billion to test and prepare their computers. Electricity has been a special concern because the electricity grid is tightly interconnected-and a crisis could have major impact. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson says he is still concerned that a few companies are expected to miss a midyear deadline for Y2K preparation. But don't panic, he says: "That there are no show stoppers that would threaten the nation's electricity supplies is welcome news." While lots of work remains, the council's report concludes that "findings continue to indicate that transmission through critical year 2000 rollover dates is expected to have minimal impact on electric system operation." More will be known next September, when utilities hold a "dress rehearsal" to see how they react to a simulated Y2K scenario.
The no-comment zone
- Two Tennessee grandparents were granted emergency custody of their 3-year-old granddaughter after the girl's mother admitted she has two husbands and is thinking of getting a third; 21-year-old April Divilbiss appeared on the MTV show "Sex in the '90s: It's a Group Thing" to announce her polyandry.
- Janet Reno has survived in the Clinton administration long enough to become the longest serving attorney general in the 20th century; Ms. Reno has held the post longer than anyone except William Wirt, who served for more than 11 years, starting in 1817.
- The United States set a new record for deportations last year after the Immigration and Naturalization Service expelled 171,154 illegals, a 50 percent jump over the previous year.
- Abortionist John Biskind was arrested on a manslaughter charge and accused of killing a patient whose uterus he punctured during an abortion.
- The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City could be in jeopardy because of the city's growing bribery scandal, said the IOC official who blew the whistle on Olympic corruption. Meanwhile, Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini announced she would leave office when her term expires next year and will not seek re-election; she denied the decision had anything to do with the scandal.
- Statue of Liberty beat Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian who helped guide Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean in 1804, in a General Accounting Office survey about whose picture will replace Susan B. Anthony's on a new series of dollar coins.
- An anonymous bidder paid $3,005,000 for Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball at a Manhattan auction; Guernsey's auction house collected $305,000 commission from the sale.
- The National Security Agency has banned Furbys from its Fort Meade premises in Maryland; their built-in recorders are prohibited from the premises because they may inadvertently record classified information.
Residents of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, were confined to their homes while government forces tried to rid the city of a rebel onslaught on Jan. 6-7. That order presaged disaster as the city descended into civil war. Rebels dragged residents into the streets to serve as human shields; pro-government forces gunned down civilians who defied the order by fleeing. Before the week-long siege ended, rebels took control of government buildings and hundreds of civilians and soldiers lay dead in city streets. Headlines lauded the advance of ECOMOG, the Nigerian-led multi-national force overseeing the West African nation, along with its UN counterpart, UNOMSIL. The two peacekeeping units restored calm by using armored personnel carriers backed by airpower. But how was a force more than 15,000 strong routed by a few thousand rebels in the first place? The career soldiers, who have now twice protected President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, are more worried about "personal perks," according to one analyst, and "had no idea what they were supposed to die for." While UN officials pressed to renew their mandate, back in Nigeria the talk was less kind to the alphabet-soup brigade and more in favor of humble pie.
The China syndrome
"When you wish to do battle, make it appear that you do not," said the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher Sun-Tzu. Modern Chinese leaders have used his motto to great effect, and with a little help from American friends. A congressional panel has concluded that U.S. firms Hughes Electronics Corp. and Loral Space & Communications Ltd. compromised national security when they provided sensitive satellite technology to Chinese officials that can be used to improve China's weapons technology. The findings of the special committee chaired by Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) only confirm previous allegations of technology transfer. But the committee's unanimous decision to endorse the classified report and forward it to the White House represented uncommon bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and growing awareness that China's military-industrial complex is on the march. The report, which may be released in an unclassified form later this month, adds bipartisan credence to Republican charges that President Clinton allowed the transfers as a favor to Democratic Party contributor and Loral Space chairman Bernard Schwartz. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Post those favors could represent "the closest thing to an impeachable offense." Mr. Clinton would not be the first to give away the store. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secretly offered China U.S. satellite information in 1971, as well as a hot line long before the communist government gained American diplomatic recognition. Newly released transcripts of top-secret talks between Mr. Kissinger and top Chinese officials show he was willing to give away military information as a hedge against Soviet aggression. Mr. Kissinger now lobbies the Chinese government on behalf of Boeing. A source close to the congressional investigation into recent technology transfers told WORLD several other aerospace companies may be implicated.
Disney cleans up
Disneyland was told by police not to meddle with accident scenes after its employees washed away blood from a fatal incident on Christmas Eve. That day, an 8-pound metal cleat came loose from the sailing ship Columbia. It struck and killed Luan Phi Dawson of Duvall, Wash., and injured his wife and a park employee. By the time police investigators arrived, Disneyland workers had washed away the blood and accident debris. Park officials said they cleaned up the mess because it was unsightly. Police scolded Disneyland officials for their behavior, but said they did not believe the park intentionally tampered with evidence or obstructed their investigation. Mrs. Dawson's lawyers might see it differently.