News & Reviews

Issue: "The Morning After," Jan. 15, 2000

Relatives of Cuban exile boy angered over U.S. decision to send 6-year-old back to Castro
The battle for Elian
Last week as Elian Gonzalez got ready for school in Miami, U.S. immigration officials got ready to send the 6-year-old exile back to Cuba. In a protracted and controversial decision, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said custody of the boy legally belonged to his father, who remained in Cuba and said he wanted the boy returned to him there. Cuban-American relatives of Elian petitioned INS to award them custody, so that he could continue to live in the United States. They say Elian's father is under duress from the Castro regime to request his return. The tug of war over young Elian began on Thanksgiving day, when two fishermen discovered him floating on an inner tube off the Florida coast. A homemade boat in which Elian and his mother took flight from Cuba had capsized, and Elian's mother and nine others had drowned. Two others onboard made it separately to Florida, and have already accepted U.S. asylum, which will allow them to remain in this country. Under current immigration rules and a special agreement with Cuba, rafters discovered in international waters are returned to Cuba by the U.S. Coast Guard. But if the immigrants make it to U.S. shores, they are offered asylum and freedom. The ruling is meant to deter boat migrations, which often end in death and are a sore point in U.S.-Cuban relations. (Four years ago, Cuban jet fighters shot down four Cuban-American pilots who were involved in search-and-rescue for rafters making the 90-mile crossing to Florida.) Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner said that an INS investigation did not uncover "any information that might call into question" the father's parental and legal rights. She urged "everyone involved to understand, respect, and uphold the bond between parent and child and the laws of the United States." U.S. officials and others who support the decision, including the National Council of Churches, were careful to cast the verdict in family-values rhetoric, suggesting that U.S. law would allow them to rule in no other way but to return Elian to his father. But the case is much more complex and the law gives immigrations officers far more discretion than Commissioner Meissner suggests. Juan Gonzalez, Elian's father, was divorced from his mother and maintained joint custody of Elian. Had she survived, Elian would have been allowed to remain with her in the United States. Further, immigration officers already have granted custodial rights to U.S. relatives, primarily Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, who has cared for the boy and enrolled him in private school in Miami's Little Havana during the six-week battle. From their point of view, the decision last week overturned the initial grant of custody and denied Elian's request for asylum, an unprecedented decision, based on the circumstances of his arrival. Mr. Gonzalez appealed to Attorney General Janet Reno, asking that she overturn the INS decision and award him custody. Historical precedent also allows other outcomes. Children fleeing repressive regimes have been treated like others seeking refuge. Vietnamese boat children took up residence in the United States without custody considerations after the Vietnam War. East Europeans fled Nazi repression and communist domination after World War II, often as children and often, like Intel Corp. chairman Andrew Grove, without the presence or permission of parents. While Miami's Cuban-American community seethed over the verdict, U.S. courts and the Clinton administration appeared unlikely to overturn it. President Clinton told reporters he was "convinced [the INS] followed the law and the facts [and] did the best they could with the decision." Relatives, meanwhile, hope for a Solomonic outcome: Juan Gonzalez has been invited by U.S. officials to come to the United States to retrieve his son, and Cuba has been pressured to allow an exit visa for him to do so. If he likes it here nearly so well as his son does, he may decide to stay. The No-Comment Zone

  • Yes, ma'am. No, sir. That's how South Carolina students will talk in class if Gov. Jim Hodges gets his way. Patterned after a law enacted in Louisiana last year, the proposed legislation would require students to address their teachers and school administrators with courtesy titles. "It sends the right message and it's free," the governor said. Not entirely. Gov. Hodges's plan includes $890,000 for programs and teacher training in "character education."
  • Patricia White Bull slipped into a catatonic state in 1983 while delivering her fourth child. For 16 years, she was unresponsive to the world-unable to speak, swallow, or move much. On Christmas Eve, the Sioux Indian suddenly woke up, saying, "Don't do that," as nurses adjusted her nursing-home bed. Her mother, Snowflake Flower, said it was a Christmas miracle from God. "I just went up to her and gave her a hug, and she gave me a hug back," said her oldest child, Cindi, a 26-year-old senior at the University of North Carolina. "It was the first time she had ever hugged back. It was scary at first. It was overwhelming emotionally."
  • Brian Peterson helped his high-school sweetheart kill their newborn son at a Delaware motel in 1996. Today he is a free man. His two-year manslaughter sentence was cut by six months due to time served before his guilty plea and good behavior. His accomplice, Amy Grossberg, is expected to leave prison in May after serving nearly two years. According to the prosecutors, the pair tried to hide the pregnancy and birth, and dumped their baby boy in the trash. The couple, both 18 at the time, claimed the child was stillborn, but medical examiners said he died of skull fractures.
  • A tornado popped out of nowhere in Western Kentucky, causing one traffic death and sending some people to hide inside a bank vault. Hundreds of homes were damaged as a spring-like storm broke out on an unusually warm winter's day. As the sky darkened over Owensboro, bank teller Vickie Duvall saw a utility pole fly through the branch's drive-thru "just as a car would." Moments later, workers dashed to safety as the roof began to creak.
  • Yikes! Cleanthi Peters, a 57-year-old grandmother, is suing Universal Studios because its annual Halloween haunted house attraction is too scary. She visited the haunted house with her 10-year-old granddaughter in 1998. The lawsuit, which seeks $15,000 in damages, contends that as they approached an exit, an employee with a chainless chainsaw chased them, causing them to slip on a wet spot on the floor. The employee continued to crouch over the two, she claims, thrusting the chainsaw at them and inflicting "extreme fear, emotional distress, and mental anguish." Greenspan renominated for new term
    4 more years
    If it ain't broke, don't fix it. President Clinton, with bipartisan support from Capitol Hill, sent that message last week by nominating Alan Greenspan to a fourth four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Mr. Greenspan took charge of the Fed late in the Reagan administration, succeeding the inflation-taming Paul Volcker. He has won widespread praise for shifting the monetary levers to keep prices down as the economy soared over the last several years. Low inflation has coincided with an unemployment rate well below 5 percent during Mr. Greenspan's watch. Many economists had predicted that such high levels of employment would ignite price increases. Still, the 73-year-old Fed chairman has critics. Democrat Bill Bradley-one of only two senators to oppose Mr. Greenspan's first nomination to the Fed-has suggested that someone else should lead the central bank. Republicans Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes argue that Mr. Greenspan has kept interest rates too high. But George W. Bush, John McCain, and Al Gore strongly supported his renomination. Your sin will find you
    Pushing the envelope
    Did you hear the one about the man who robbed a bank but left behind a slip of paper leading the cops right to him? According to federal prosecutors, it's no joke. FBI agents seeking a man who took $34,804 from First Utah Bank on New Year's Eve caught up with Johnny Lee Miller after finding a graduation certificate from a state anger-management course in the bank's vault. The FBI said Mr. Miller slid a gun out from an envelope and demanded of a teller, "Where is your money?" The suspect took the gun with him but left behind the envelope, which also contained the certificate. It was issued by the Utah Department of Corrections. No word yet on whether the man is handling his anger as befits a graduate of such a program. OSHA plans home-office invasion, then turns back
    Home is government's castle?
    When English jurist Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) observed that "a man's house is his castle," he could not have foreseen the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The other day that unaccountable regulatory beast within the Department of Labor claimed briefly the authority to regulate the surroundings of the nearly 20 million people who have a home office and work at least part time at home. But threats of a political uprising prompted Labor Secretary Alexis Herman to say, "Never mind." Before withdrawing a federal interpretation made following a request from a Texas employer, OSHA asserted jurisdiction over home offices if employers allow employees to work at home. Employers might have been charged with making sure home offices had ergonomically correct furniture, "proper" lighting, ventilation, heating and air conditioning, safe staircases, working toilets, and other things required of more traditional workplaces. Had this not been an election year, the policy might have been pursued, but the Clinton administration pulled the plug for another day. And there will be another day. Normally government deprives us of our rights and money by increments. In this case, its true intentions were too quickly revealed. Government will always seek new ways to invade our lives unless it is stopped. It cannot tolerate widespread independent success because if people are successful without government, they will have less need of government. The influence, cost, and craving for new tax revenue by government will then decline, along with its associated political power. Similarly, that's what the debate over taxing the Internet is about. Allowing such an independent entrepreneurial invention to prosper without government interference might alert people that they can prosper without government. If you're a government or political careerist, that's worse news than a stock-market plunge. Legitimate questions were raised about how far OSHA could, or would, go had the ruling been allowed to stand. But how long will it be before government, having established the precedent of invading your "castle," declares that employers are not as well equipped as government to make home office workers comply with government regulation and federal agents start knocking on your door-or breaking it down? We used to call this "Big Brother" when the Soviets did it.

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