This Week

Issue: "Unholy matrimony," Feb. 13, 1999

If thy hand offend thee

A 46-year-old man who was once considered an archetype for the success of chemical castration has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for a sexual attack on a 5-year-old girl. Joseph Smith was convicted of raping the same Texas woman twice in 1983. As part of his probation, he was ordered to take sexual-suppression drugs. Psychologists considered the treatment so successful that Mr. Smith appeared in a 60 Minutes report. He stopped taking the drugs in 1989. Mr. Smith is a suspect in a series of similar assaults in Virginia.

Job interviews

A luxury hotel. A media blackout. A panel of interrogators asking tough questions, waiting for the respondent to squirm. But wait, this isn't the Mayflower. The scene took place across town at the Washington Court Hotel, as two dozen well-known Christian leaders from across the country grilled six would-be presidents. Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), and Sen. Bob Smith showed up for an hour each of questioning. Dan Quayle answered his questions by phone. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole declined the group's invitation. The meeting was part of a nascent effort to achieve unity among Christian voters in 2000. The groups involved, including the Free Congress Foundation and the Christian Coalition, hope to avoid splitting the conservative vote in the primaries. But they admit that any consensus on a single candidate is still a distant-if not impossible-goal.

Going to the tape

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Monica Lewinsky was back in Washington D.C. last week, talking to House prosecutors desperate for a bombshell that would turn the tide of the impeachment trial against President Clinton. But even the press photographers staking out the Mayflower Hotel seemed to sense that her videotaped testimony wouldn't make much difference. The crowds were smaller this time, the cameras fewer, the clamor less urgent. In a week that saw closed-door depositions of three key witnesses, remarkably little scandal news emerged-perhaps because the Senate jurors were uncharacteristically silent. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) provided the biggest leak when he divulged that Ms. Lewinsky admitted to still harboring "mixed feelings" for the president. That was hardly the kind of bombshell Republicans were looking for. Word spread quickly that the Lewinsky tape offered nothing new. Many senators browsed through a transcript of the four-hour session, then fast-forwarded to bits that looked interesting. Others simply had a staffer do the viewing for them. If few senators were watching the tapes, all eyes were on the finish line. But reaching that line will still be difficult. Even before voting against live witnesses, Democrats were already turning their fire on a GOP plan to confirm the facts of the charges against Mr. Clinton without finding him guilty and removing him from office. Sensing imminent victory, presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart promised the post-impeachment White House would be a "gloat-free zone."

Spending spree 2000

President Clinton promises huge federal surpluses, but his $1.77 trillion budget for the year 2000 is larded with pork. The four-volume proposal, delivered to Congress last week, bestows billions on everything from troops to teachers. Forget about tax cuts and smaller government; beltway Democrats are rallying around Social Security and expanded domestic spending. Mr. Clinton says the Feds have "a special obligation" to throw cash at a plethora programs. "In all my years in Congress, I've never seen such a kitchen-sink approach to government," growled Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Even with a surplus, the president still wants to raise taxes by $82 billion through 2004. Cigarette taxes, for instance, will jump from 24 cents to 94 cents per pack next year under his plan. Many other tax increases will hit American businesses, raising the specter of coming price increases or higher unemployment. The life insurance industry alone will suffer a hefty $4 billion tax increase over five years-costs that are sure to be passed along to policyholders. Economists warn that a recession could erase the projected black ink, forcing the United States back into the days of deficit spending.

Beneficial bug?

Bill Gates says the millennium bug may be a good thing after all. He told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that Y2K had pushed companies into using more standardized software. Many improvements will come, he explained, even though "it's a terrible distraction, a terrible cost, and there will be some disruption." His competitor, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, was less optimistic. He said most of the world is in "pretty reasonable shape," but Asia is "disastrously behind." Late last month, the World Bank warned poor nations that time is running out on Y2K repairs. Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union could be hit hard. Meanwhile, the State Department wants Americans to watch out when traveling anywhere in the world over New Year's weekend. Their bulletin warns that banks, airlines, hospitals, utilities, and even sanitation systems could go haywire by early next year.

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