News & Reviews

Issue: "Not-so-smart bombs," April 24, 1999

suicide doctor sentenced to 10 to 25 years
Inmate Kevorkian
The legal system has called Dr. Death's bluff. "No one, sir, is above the law. No one. You had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did and dared the legal system to stop you. Well sir, consider yourself stopped." Thus said Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Jessica Cooper, as she pronounced the punishment upon convicted murderer Jack Kevorkian. Judge Cooper sentenced the ex-pathologist to 10 to 25 years in prison for the murder of Thomas Youk, 52, whose death at the hand of Mr. Kevorkian was videotaped and broadcast on CBS's 60 Minutes. Always eager for attention, Mr. Kevorkian has launched a hunger strike. "I know they are going to force-feed me, but my captivity is still enslavement, and I am not going to go along with it," he said. A new jail policy prevents him from being force-fed. Judge Cooper denounced Mr. Kevorkian for flouting the law. "This trial was not about the political or moral correctness of euthanasia. It was about you, sir. It was about lawlessness. It was about disrespect for a society that exists because of the strength of the legal system." Mr. Kevorkian's defenders, however, consider him a martyr. His "greatest mistake, perhaps, was his determination to represent himself in court," said Cecil McIver of the pro-death Hemlock Society. The widow of Thomas Youk still stands by his killer. But the American Medical Association took the chance to step away from Dr. Death: "Physician-assisted suicide is unethical and in direct opposition to the role of physician as healer," said D. Ted Lewers, vice-chair of the AMA's board. A disabled-rights and anti-euthanasia group, Not Dead Yet, also praised the sentencing. "Jack Kevorkian has been killing members of the disabled community for years and has been getting away with it," said NDY's Cal Montgomery. This second-degree murder conviction halted an almost decade-long string of assisted suicides. Mr. Kevorkian takes credit for 130 deaths since 1990. "Finally, the relentless Kevorkian killing campaign will cease," said the Family Research Council's Teresa Wagner. Mr. Kevorkian, 70, was also sentenced to three to seven years for delivery of a controlled substance. All sentences will run concurrently, and he will be eligible for parole after serving six and two-thirds years in prison. triangulating on abortion?
Do-nothing Dole
Elizabeth Dole supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, she says, but not enough to do anything about it. In a letter to supporters, Mrs. Dole wrote that she favors such an amendment, but feels the idea is politically unfeasible. "We must recognize that good and honorable people disagree on the subject of abortion," Mrs. Dole wrote. "We should agree to respectfully disagree." She added that Republicans are too concerned with banning abortion: "Urgent issues such as domestic violence, child care, sexual harassment, women's health and the financial security of women are nearly ignored." With her letter, prominent pro-lifers said, Mrs. Dole effectively joined the camp of liberal Republicans who complain when pro-life issues come up. She "cannot be counted on to do anything," said Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum. When Mrs. Dole's husband Bob ran for president in 1996, he tried and failed to water down the Republican Party's pro-life plank (which is usually ignored anyway). Now her spokesman, Ari Fleischer, claims Mrs. Dole wants to save the GOP by running "an inclusive campaign." After a speech in Beverly Hills last week, Mrs. Dole told reporters that the debate over a constitutional amendment on abortion was divisive and irrelevant: "The amendment is not going to pass.... Rather than engage in dead-end debate, let's move forward to get some positive things done for this country." SEARCH for liability in kentucky school shooting
Blame-shifting?
Following the lead of successful plaintiffs against the tobacco industry and gun manufacturers, the parents of three high-school students murdered in Kentucky in 1997 are bringing the teen entertainment industry before the bar. Who besides teenager Michael Carneal was responsible for the nightmarish shooting at Heath High School in Paducah, Ky.? The slain children's parents have an idea: 25 specific entertainment companies, including producers and distributors of the film The Basketball Diaries. They're seeking $130 million damages in federal court. In one scene in the 1995 film, the drugged-out lead imagines he is roaming the halls of his high school, firing shotgun blasts. The parents say that was too close to the real-life event when young Carneal opened fire with a stolen gun on their kids' prayer group. Also targeted were the makers of several popular video games, plus some cyberporn Web sites. The suit says all these products influenced the 14-year-old gunman. "We intend to hurt Hollywood. We intend to hurt the video game industry. We intend to hurt the sex porn sites," said attorney Jack Thompson. The defendants include Time Warner, Island Pictures, and New Line Cinema, all of which were involved in The Basketball Diaries; plus video game unit makers Nintendo, Sega, and Sony; and software companies id software inc. and Interplay Entertainment Corp. The parents also filed a state lawsuit last December charging Michael Carneal, his parents, and several administrators, teachers, and students at the school with partial responsibility for the shootings. Visiting Judge Will Shadoan later dismissed from the lawsuit 19 administrators, teachers, and five students. The parents appealed. gov. ventura causes static
Public broadcasting piledriver
Although Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura may not be the anti-establishment figure he proclaimed himself to be, he is planning to put Minnesota public broadcasting in a full nelson. Gov. Ventura says the public broadcasting money is really "corporate welfare." So he has a three-year plan to phase it out. "You're going to get a pretty good chunk of tax rebate coming back ... donate it," he told listeners to a radio interview. The Minnesota governor's case against public broadcasting is economic, not cultural. He says tax dollars shouldn't be used to support people like Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor who have made their fortunes off the system. "I'd like to see his W-2," he jokes. Earlier this year, Gov. Ventura defended his proposed cuts by saying public broadcasting operates with state-of-the-art equipment, yet he used audio gear held together with wire and tape while doing sports talk on a major commercial station. y2k
Passing the tests
The electric power industry, the FAA, the Federal Reserve, and the NASDAQ stock exchange are now all saying there is nothing to fear concerning the Y2K bug except fear itself. The Washington-based Edison Electric Institute, an industry group whose members generate about three-quarters of the country's electricity, says the power companies' much-hyped test of readiness for the Year 2000 bug was a success. The FAA, long considered an underdog in the Y2K game, also posted happy results. During a four-hour test, computers at Denver International Airport were split in half and the clocks on the test side were rolled forward from an imaginary date of Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000. Then they tracked a typical commercial flight as it landed. "The performance of the systems on both sides [pre- and post-Y2K] was virtually identical," said FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. The Federal Reserve, which handles a daily average of 390,000 electronic transfers of funds totaling more than $1.3 trillion, won praise from usually skeptical Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) for its Y2K efforts. "Unlike many other federal agencies whose Y2K readiness must be taken at its word, the Fed's compliance has been independently verified," he said. Meanwhile, NASDAQ conducted a series of live tests over four weekends in March and April, running more than 170,000 simulated transactions. The stock market's $55 million repair job passed the test. "Investors will be protected," said Gregor Ballor, executive vice president of the National Association of Securities Dealers, NASDAQ's parent. China's premier woos Americans
Zhu deal
Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji ended his tour of the United States in New York. Publicly, he pushed a button to start trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Behind closed doors, he courted corporate America, entertaining business execs and politicians for more than eight straight hours from his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria. No amount of button-pushing or crusading with capitalists, however, would deter demonstrators protesting China's fundamental views on politics and society. "The Chinese come over here with a smiling face, but they have bloody hands," Harry Wu told a rally outside the state capitol in Denver, where Mr. Zhu began his nine-day U.S. tour. Mr. Wu spent 20 years in a Chinese prison camp for speaking out against the government. He has documented ongoing human-rights abuses and trade violations. In the end, underlying concern about China's repressive government and overriding publicity about leaks of U.S. military technology cooled support for Mr. Zhu's quest to pump up U.S.-China trade relations. President Clinton backed away during Mr. Zhu's visit to the White House from formally sealing a deal for China's admittance to the World Trade Organization. But before the Chinese official left New York, the White House issued a communique pledging to finalize a new trade agreement before the end of the year. Prominent evangelicals attended the White House state dinner honoring China's premier during his Washington visit. Evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were among the guests, as well as former National Association of Evangelicals president Don Argue. Mr. Graham met Mr. Zhu in 1988, while the premier was mayor of Shanghai. Mr. Argue, who made an official tour of China last year, called China's record on religious freedom "spotty" but told The Washington Post he was encouraged by a pre-dinner discussion with Mr. Zhu. Mr. Argue, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and CBN head Pat Robertson met with Mr. Zhu at Blair House just prior to the White House soiree. Billy Graham beamed during the state dinner: "I think he has turned China around," he said of Mr. Zhu. World in brief
Refugees bombed by NATO
NATO acknowledged mistakenly bombing a Kosovar refugee convoy, but blamed the Serbs for putting the refugees in harm's way. "The circumstances in which this accident occurred are wholly the responsibility of President Milosevic and his policies," read NATO's statement that also sought to communicate regret for "any harm to innocent civilians." Shaban Hasanaj, a 15-year-old ethnic Albanian refugee, described the aftermath of the strike: "I could see bodies without heads, tangled arms and legs." Indian ruling coalition splits
A key partner withdrew its support from India's ruling coalition last week and vowed to topple the government. But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, head of the Hindu nationalist party BJP, claimed he would muster the parliamentary majority he needed to remain in office. Political instability and religious tension, including attacks on Christians in some BJP-dominated regions, have all increased since Mr. Vajpayee's coalition took office. Two days after India test-fired a nuclear-capable rocket, Pakistan announced it had successfully tested a Ghauri missile. Both weapons carried a range of 1,000 miles, making it possible for each to reach cities in the other's territory. The tit-for-tat, which marked a return to heightened tensions between the traditional rivals, renewed concern about a South Asian arms race. free speech on the Web
Get used to it, your honor
When Virginia Judge Joan Orie Melvin found an America Online Web site criticizing her, she wanted to sue the author for libel. But since her online opponent wasn't identified, she sued a John Doe in her jurisdiction, Allegheny County, Pa. Now she wants AOL to cough up the name of the guy who accused her of lobbying for an attorney seeking a judgeship. "Judges should be held accountable for their actions and remembered at the polls," the unknown poster said online. His identity is protected by his online service's privacy policy. AOL, which isn't named, won't give out a user's information without a court order. So Ms. Orie Melvin's quest for a subpoena has stirred up controversy. The ACLU has jumped in on First Amendment grounds. "Because the Internet is allowing more individuals to voice their opinions on political matters," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, "public officials are getting a little nervous and striking back in ways that threaten constitutionally protected expression. They should just get used to it." charitable giving
Al digs deeper
Al Gore is no Bill Clinton when it comes to charitable giving-and now that he's running for president, the new Al Gore is not even the same as the old Al Gore. In 1997 Mr. Gore and wife Tipper gave only $353 to charity, but they reported giving $15,197 of a 1998 adjusted gross income of $224,132 to a wide range of religious, educational, and other non-profit organizations, according to tax returns released by the White House. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave $99,220 to charity on a 1998 adjusted gross income of $504,109, plus another $62,718 in gifts carried over from 1997. A sizable chunk of the giving came from net profits generated by Mrs. Clinton's book, It Takes a Village; all such book income is donated to charity, according to a White House official. The No-Comment Zone

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