News & Reviews

Issue: "Saber savior," May 22, 1999

campaign-finance crook speaks out
Chung told: 'Keep your mouth shut'
Johnny Chung was a top Democratic Party moneyman until his name became a headline in the 1996 campaign finance scandal. Last week, during four hours of questioning by a congressional panel, Mr. Chung told of his 2H-year political giving spree-illegally underwritten by the Chinese government-and how the donations won him access to the White House for his well-heeled communist Chinese clients. He pleaded guilty and in December received five years' probation after agreeing to cooperate in a Justice Department probe of the scandal. In his congressional testimony, Mr. Chung revealed that Chinese operatives tried to thwart that cooperation by making threats and offering bribes. Mr. Chung explained that California businessman Robert Luu approached him last year. As the FBI monitored some of the conversations, Mr. Luu tried to cajole him into obstructing the Justice Department's probe of the extent of China's involvement in the presidential reelection campaign of President Clinton. "The message was as follows: 'If you keep your mouth shut, you and your family will be safe,'" Mr. Chung told lawmakers. Mr. Chung said Mr. Luu told him he was acting on behalf of Chinese military intelligence. The intelligence chief, Gen. Ji Sheng De, provided Mr. Chung $300,000 for President Clinton's campaign and said, "We really like your president." But Mr. Chung is not so sure he likes the president anymore: "I have mixed feelings about the president and the first lady, but I can't help but think that they used me as much as I used them." Mich. court rethinks religious liberty
Second thoughts
In a remarkable about-face, the Michigan Supreme Court without explanation reversed itself and vacated a ruling that held landlords cannot for religious reasons refuse to rent to unmarried tenants (Kerr vs. Hoffius). The case now goes back to a lower court for reconsideration. In December, the state's high court had ruled against the landlords, reasoning that the state's compelling interest in halting discrimination trumped religious beliefs. Following that judgment, John and Terry Hoffius petitioned the high court to reconsider. Their attorney, Richard LaFlamme, cited a recent ruling by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court that struck down an Anchorage, Alaska, housing anti-discrimination law similar to Michigan's. Offending the memory of Littleton
Secular shrine?
Although some of the 13 slain at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo., were ardently religious, and even though many mementos and notes left at a sprawling makeshift memorial following their deaths bore witness to faith (including 13 eight-foot-high crosses), there will be none of that in the permanent memorial to those who died. The permanent memorial will stand in Clement Park, which adjoins the school. And because it is a public park, says Edie Hylton, community services manager for the county agency that oversees the park, only secular symbols will be allowed in the memorial. flynt cops a plea, stays in business
Staying alive
Larry Flynt last week took a strategic dive. He copped a plea in a Cincinnati obscenity case that will add $10,000 to his business expenses-but the millionaire's porno bookstore remains in business; he remains out of jail; and Hustler, the magazine that was kicked out of Cincinnati in the 1970s, remains available. Under the terms of a deal with prosecutors, Hustler News & Gifts-not Larry Flynt or brother Jimmy (who runs the store)-pleaded guilty to two counts of pandering obscenity. The Flynts agreed to pull porno tapes out of their store. In exchange, prosecutors dropped all other charges in their 15-count indictment. Mr. Flynt's store was fined $5,000 on each of two remaining counts. The most serious charge on the indictment-the alleged sale of a porno tape to a 14-year-old boy-will never go trial. If convicted, each brother could have been sentenced to 24 years in prison and $65,000 in fines. "The deal the prosecution offered us was the deal we always wanted," Mr. Flynt said. Nevertheless, prosecutor Mike Allen said the county protected its values and made no concessions to the Flynts: "He didn't win. He lost. He turned tail and ran." Before the plea bargain, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker had trouble finding a jury. He dismissed 10 potential jurors who told him they were strongly opposed to pornography. Jurors had to be willing to watch up to 40 hours of hard-core smut during the trial. "I guess I'm a prude or something," said one woman who was dismissed. "I just couldn't look at that kind of stuff." y2k robberies?
Take it to the bank
Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan says the biggest Y2K problem won't come from banks. He fears street criminals will find a niche: hitting homes stocked up with extra cash for Y2K. "I am sure that people will get very wise very soon and recognize that the last thing you want to do is draw inordinate amounts of currency out of the banks," he said. "The safest thing to do is to keep your money in the bank where it is going to be the safest." Right now the federal government is trying to downplay any millennium bug dangers. FAA chief Jane Garvey booked a cross-country flight for New Year's Eve as a confidence-building PR stunt. Joining her on the American Airlines Washington-Dallas flight will be the FAA's Y2K czar and a gaggle of journalists. The agency expects to have repaired, tested, and fielded all its new Y2K-ready software by June 30. Meanwhile, a move to limit Y2K legal liability is alive again in the House. A bill to stem a potential flood of litigation caused by computer breakdowns would require a 90-day waiting period before lawsuits can be filed; it also caps punitive damage and limits class-action lawsuits. Although the White House still threatens a veto, two senior Clinton officials have broken ranks on this issue. Presidential aide Bruce Lindsey and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling wrote a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert stressing that they want to get a bill passed and outlining areas of compromise. film: ferris bueller star should have taken the day off
Call off the Election
If you're a moviegoer, you're reading rave reviews of the new film Election, starring Reese Witherspoon (of Pleasantville) and Matthew Broderick. Don't go. Although Election starts out as a clever look at high school, with some true-to-life scenes of raging ambition and social unease, its R rating is deserved. Ironically, actor Broderick is probably best known for his role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off as a student who disrespected school authority and played hooky for a day-and spent the day in Chicago viewing paintings at the Art Institute and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Election could have been another PG-13 classic, but director Alexander Payne ruined it with plot-unnecessary lesbian and pornographic segments. The big winner at the box office during May's second weekend was The Mummy (rated PG-13 for violence) with ticket sales estimated at $45 million. Don't go to this one, either. The Mummy, with its tired, back-from-the-dead story of battling skeletons and half-crazed locals, plays to diminished expectations. Some moviegoers who can't find a film they admire like one to which they can feel superior. more ethnic cleansing?
UN population controllers seize new opportunity
The UN's population controllers are missing no opportunity to make sure Kosovar refugees have proper contraception and abortion equipment. The United Nations Population Fund announced last month that 36,000 "Emergency Reproductive Health Kits" were on their way to the refugees. These include morning-after pills, condoms, and suction equipment for abortions. Albania's version of Planned Parenthood, the Albanian Family Planning Association, is opening up "women's centers" and "reproductive health clinics" and offering transportation to help the women obtain abortions. Critics point out that abortion equipment is eating up valuable room needed for food and medicine. china's reaction to mistaken u.s. bombing provoking a backlash of its own
Enough is enough
A major summer chill in U.S.-China relations is emerging, and it's not just the fault of NATO warplanes mistakenly bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. China's reaction to the bombing has prompted criticism even from some of that country's usual friends in the United States. The problem: After the NATO bombing, the Chinese government did nothing to stop demonstrators from attacking the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and even fanned the flames. The Communist Party helped organize the protests. Beijing police stood by passively as protesters lobbed rocks, pieces of concrete, and even Molotov cocktails at the embassy. China's state-controlled press reported that the bombing was deliberate and delayed mentioning for four days the United States' immediate apology. The U.S. Ambassador to China, former Sen. James Sasser (D-Tenn.), tried to sound a diplomatic note after being trapped for days inside the glass-strewn embassy. "I think we need to give our Chinese friends a day of grief, and then we can move on and discuss with them how to mend this situation," Mr. Sasser said last week when the protests gave way to mourning as the remains of the bombing's victims arrived in China. However, some of Mr. Sasser's former colleagues in the Senate weren't so ready to mend fences. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) pointed out that when Americans learned of Chinese nuclear espionage at Los Alamos, "We did not urge our citizens to throw rocks at the Chinese Embassy." He added, "I hope the Chinese don't misinterpret this. But enough is enough." Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) criticized the White House for allowing China to launch another U.S. telecommunications satellite. Mr. Specter questioned "whether this is an appropriate time to be transferring technology to the Chinese, at a time when they won't even take a telephone call from the president." "A lot of people, including those who favor more normal relations between the two countries, were really put off" by China's handling of the demonstrations, said Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies at the liberal Brookings Institution. "It's given at least in the short term the rhetorical advantage to critics of China." Russia gets involved in Kosovo
Seeing blue?
Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's foreign minister and one-time prime minister, won the role of peacemaker after finally conceding what everyone knew all along: It would take a long-term military presence to make everything all right in Kosovo. Mr. Chernomyrdin's diplomacy continued even as Russian Boris Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and other members of his cabinet. Mr. Chernomyrdin was called in to smooth Chinese feathers over the embassy bombing, and opened the possibility that Chinese soldiers could take part in a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. If all goes according to the Russian-made plan for peace, Kosovars can soon look forward to an occupying force in bright blue berets. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mary Robinson, said NATO may be forced before the same international war crimes tribunal investigating the torture and mass killings of Kosovar Albanian refugees at the hands of Serbian police. She said the North Atlantic alliance could not escape responsibility for collateral damage in its air campaign. "I do not like the term collateral damage, people are not collateral damage, they are people, and they are civilians," Mrs. Robinson said. But what about the world economy?
Respected cabinet official Rubin quits
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin would have quit earlier, but he didn't want to appear disloyal, abandoning an embattled President Clinton in his moment of need. Most of the smoke has cleared, so Mr. Rubin announced last week he was leaving. He leaves mainly to applause. GOP congressional leaders praised the departing cabinet officer. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) was the most effusive: "Of all the officials in the Clinton administration, he has had more credibility with me, and I think with Congress, than any other official, and justifiably so." Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes was equally adamant in criticism. Mr. Forbes pointed to the "smoldering wreckage" of the international economy, particularly in Asia. Mr. Forbes linked Mr. Rubin and his No. 2 man Larry Summers-who is likely to assume the helm of Treasury in July-to the "witch doctors" at the International Monetary Fund who counseled currency devaluations in Russia and Asia. Those actions, Mr. Forbes said, "helped turn a bad cold into economic pneumonia." 70 percent want abortion restrictions
Pro-life is cool
Contrary to mass media depictions, a Gallup Poll says the pro-life movement is on the rise. A survey conducted for USA Today and CNN reported that 42 percent of adults in the United States call themselves "pro-life" as opposed to only 36 percent three years ago. The number of pro-choicers is down to 48 percent from 56 percent. Gallup reported that seven in 10 Americans want at least some abortion restrictions. Of that figure, 16 percent want it banned completely and 55 percent only want abortion legal in extreme cases like rape and incest. Support for bans on partial-birth abortion is up to 61 percent from 55 percent two years ago. The No-Comment Zone

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