News & Reviews

Issue: "Fighting Potomac fever," Feb. 27, 1999

Clinton walks
Ankle bracelets & political fashion
In the same month that the Senate voted not to remove Bill Clinton for lying under oath about sex, a woman who was prosecuted by the Clinton Administration for the same offense finishes her six-month home detention period. Barbara Battalino is a former Veterans Administration psychiatrist who pleaded guilty to lying under oath in a civil case about sex with a patient. During her six-month penalty, Ms. Battalino had to wear a beeper to monitor her movements, and couldn't leave her home on weekends. She also had to pay a $3,500 fine. "I was very disappointed with the senators," she told CNBC's Chris Matthews. "It was very shocking to me that they would put self-interest and partisanship above what was right and what is just." With the Senate trial over, the Clinton family is weighing its future political prospects, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is considering a run for New York's open U.S. Senate seat in 2000. Mrs. Clinton promised she would give "careful thought" to the decision. While the conventional wisdom in Washington holds that she would be a shoo-in, some closer to New York aren't so sure. Veteran Democrats remember that she once argued for a Palestinian state, a hot-button issue among New York's Jewish voters. Many party operatives just hope she will decide soon. They worry that Hillary's public pondering of the race is freezing fundraising for other possible candidates. Man knows not his time
Ehrlichman: Half of the 'wall' falls
As Bill Clinton was beating the rap in the Senate, convicted Watergate conspirator John Ehrlichman was dying at his home in Atlanta. He spent his last years in green pastures: When he got out of prison after 18 months (for obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perjury), the former presidential aide became senior vice president of Law Environmental, a law firm specializing in environmental regulatory compliance. Before the scandal, Mr. Ehrlichman had a heavy hand in turning environmentalism from an Earth Day fad into a federal mandate. A framer of the EPA, he helped drive a raft of green laws through Congress, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. Mr. Ehrlichman and President Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, wielded massive power in the White House. They were virtually indistinguishable to the public and known as the "Berlin Wall" because of their ability to keep Mr. Nixon away from unwelcome encounters. But when Watergate came, Mr. Ehrlichman was left twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. He was sentenced in 1976 after his false testimony to a Senate committee about his role in the 1971 break-in at the office of Lewis Fielding. Dr. Fielding was a psychiatrist who had treated Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press. Later he said that his loyalty to President Nixon clouded his moral judgment. "I went and lied and I'm paying the price for that lack of willpower," Mr. Ehrlichman said just before he was granted parole. Ready, Fire, Aim
Jury misses logical target
Beretta, Glock, Jennings, and other firearms manufacturers were held responsible for several New York shootings. The relatives of an accidental shooting victim and six homicide victims sued the gun industry in 1995 and a federal grand jury held last week the gun makers were to blame. The accusations resembled the Big Tobacco lawsuit: that the firearms industry "negligently" markets a legal product. Last month, the court dismissed charges against 15 handgun wholesale distributors, leaving only manufacturers as defendants. Several cities are considering filing similar suits to collect damages over local shootings. Federal crime laws don't work
Thinking locally, acting nationally
Former Attorney General Edwin Meese said the federal government's War on Crime has been lost. As chairman of an American Bar Association task force, Mr. Meese issued a report arguing that the flood of new laws Congress passed in recent decades didn't clean up America's streets. The two-year study noted that more than 40 percent of all federal criminal laws enacted since the Civil War were passed since 1970. But, the Meese report said, "there is no persuasive evidence that federalization of local crime makes the streets safer for American citizens." The report said these get-tough federal policies undermine state and local law enforcement and waste tax dollars. The 16-member task force calls on Congress to stop it. "Most of the time it's just feel-good legislation," said the former Reagan attorney general. Mr. Meese's criticisms mirror those raised by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in December. In his year-end report on the federal judiciary, he said Congress is pressured "to appear responsive to every highly publicized societal ill or sensational crime." Pro-life caucus takes on stem cell research
Can Congress rein in the bureaucrats?
Washington is once again embroiled in a controversy over the meaning of words. Seventy members of Congress and seven senators last week rebuked Department of Health and Human Services secretary Donna Shalala over a bureaucratic reinterpretation of a law involving research on human embryos. In spite of a federal ban on funding research involving embryonic stem cells, National Institutes of Health officials announced they had found a way around the law. Such stem cells, prized by some scientists for their potential in developing life-saving regenerative therapies, can only be obtained from aborted early-term babies or through the destruction of human embryos. In January, NIH director Harold Varmus announced that his agency had decided laboratory-grown stem cells were not covered by the federal ban because they are not human embryos capable of creating a new person. Mr. Varmus's decision was based largely on an interpretation issued by HHS general counsel Harriet Rabb of the 1996 federal law banning research involving the destruction of human embryos. The lawmakers' letters to Secretary Shalala, signed by pro-life lawmakers, forcefully challenged the syllogistic reasoning used by Ms. Rabb and the HHS legal staff. The House-originated letter called the ruling "a carefully worded effort to justify transgressing the law." Lawmakers are under increasing pressure by advocacy groups to approve federal funding of stem cell research. Specific varieties of stem cells-culled, for example, from umbilical cord blood-are already being used successfully in procedures like bone marrow transplants. But embryonic stem cells are believed by scientists to be a potential source of therapies for cure-eluding diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Currently, only embryonic stem cells are known to be young enough to be fully "pluripotent," or capable of developing into many types of human cells-like heart, muscle, brain, or bone. Human heart, muscle, and brain-more so than paper-will be required to turn back the HHS decision, notes pro-life lobbyist Doug Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. "The letters to Shalala (from Congress) were expected, and the letters were certainly welcome," Mr. Johnson told WORLD. "But it will take more than letters to deal with this situation." Y2K and the courts
Double-digit damages?
With time ticking away toward Y2K, how ready is American business? A top securities regulator says we still don't know. SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt said this could erode Wall Street's confidence in traded companies, causing "panic and overreaction" to ripple through the economy in the months ahead. Educated (and not so educated) guesses about the millennium bug's effects are flying, and hard data is still sketchy. And "many companies are still not complying" with Year 2000 disclosure requirements, according to SEC Chief Accountant Lynn Turner. He said a survey of corporate America showed that more than half haven't revealed the cost of Y2K repairs. Meanwhile, close to half won't say what they plan to do if their computers malfunction. Mr. Turner said that if he were the chief financial officer of a company that mishandled Y2K, "I'd be hung out there like a cold piece of meat in storage." As companies rush to fix their computers, Sen. John McCain says the computer bug could turn into a cash cow for unscrupulous attorneys. He introduced one of several proposed bills to limit the amount of damages plaintiffs can collect due to Y2K. He says frivolous suits are popping up that could snowball and create a raft of new problems. Sen. McCain argued that businesses making a good-faith effort to prepare for 2000 should not be punished for their efforts with high punitive-damage awards. "These lawsuits are sheer craziness and represent ambulance-chasing at its worst," he said. "They are absolute confirmation that Y2K litigation is not about consumers, but about making wealthy lawyers even wealthier." Damages not related to economic loss would be limited to $250,000 or three times the amount of economic loss. Damages unrelated to economic loss for smaller businesses would be limited to $50,000. The No-Comment Zone

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