but fundraising scams elicit a big-network yawn
'It's a hard day'
Do Democratic fundraising scandals ever cease? A Justice Department task force subpoenaed at least a dozen donors and fundraisers who were "somehow connected" to the 1996 campaign of U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli. The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that investigators are trying to learn whether fund-raisers and Torricelli campaign staffers encouraged a practice known as "conduit financing." That's when a donor evades the $1,000 federal limit on campaign donations by funneling money through others. Mr. Torricelli himself is not a focus of the investigation. Another former Democratic fundraiser, Maria Hsia, was convicted of five felony counts for arranging more than $100,000 in illegal contributions to Democrats during the 1996 campaign. The immigration consultant from Los Angeles started raising money for Al Gore more than a decade ago. Among the evidence introduced at the trial was video footage of Vice President Gore attending a now-infamous donor event at a Buddhist temple in California. A judge's order is keeping the tape out of the public eye. After the Hsia verdict, Mr. Gore acknowledged her friendship and political support but wasn't pressed by reporters for any more than his canned statement: "A jury has rendered its verdict and it's a hard day for her." A hard day for Mr. Gore is what Republican operatives sought in the news media-to no avail. Ms. Hsia's conviction received scant coverage on TV news, according to the Republican National Committee, which urged protest calls to network anchors. "I think it's neglect," Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said. "If she had been a Republican operative who had brought money to a Republican candidate, there would have been an absolute uproar in the media and there should have been in this case." NBC's Nightly News did not even mention the story, he noted. ABC spokeswoman Eileen Murphy brushed off the criticism: "It's politics." GOP campaign committee settles on soft money
... for Republicans, too
Democrats aren't alone in facing penalties for campaign irregularities. The National Republican Senatorial Committee agreed to pay a $20,000 penalty for using unregulated soft money to help elect GOP congressional candidates, according to the Federal Election Commission. In the closing weeks of the 1994 campaign, the fundraising group gave $175,000 to the National Right to Life Committee to conduct get-out-the-vote drives in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and other states. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and Rod Grams in Minnesota benefited. While both of them won their races, the FEC said the candidates themselves did nothing inappropriate. NRSC officials denied any wrongdoing but agreed to settle the case to avoid going to court. "Simply put, seven years of your process was penalty enough," general counsel Craig Engle wrote the FEC.
Ups & Downs of the Week
Awareness of fetal-parts trafficking: One cheer for ABC News, whose 20/20 newsmagazine caught up with a story WORLD reported five months ago about the selling of aborted children's organs and limbs ("The harvest of abortion," Oct. 23, 1999). The ABC piece prompted a congressional hearing held last week. Why just one cheer? The piece bent over backwards to whitewash the abortion industry. The problem, as ABC put it, was not the trafficking of human remains, but the shameless profiteering from it. The made-for-TV marriage of Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger: The unhappy bride from Fox TV's now-defunct Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? filed for annulment, arguing that "neither the contestants nor the show's producers seriously contemplated creating a proper marriage."
Close call for Southwest flight
Southwest Airlines Flight 1455, from Las Vegas, barreled right off the runway at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport last week and hit a car. The airliner skidded through a fence while landing and wound up on a city street, just missing a gas station and slightly injuring 15 of the 142 people on board. "I felt like we were a jet bomber," passenger Kevin McCoy said. "We were coming down so fast, so steep. I've never experienced an approach like that before. It was almost like a sudden dive." Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher said the crew did not report mechanical problems during the flight. Sudan tries bombing charity hospital into submission
Defiant relief agency: We won't be intimidated
Bombs twice fell on a hospital in southern Sudan run by Samaritan's Purse, the North Carolina-based relief organization headed by Franklin Graham. In the first attack, on March 1, Sudan's Russian-made MU2 Antonov aircraft dropped 12 bombs on the compound, killing two people and injuring a dozen more. Workers at the hospital said 15 more bombs were dropped in a second attack, on March 7, but all landed at least 50 yards from the already damaged facility, and no one died. Four Americans work at the hospital, which was treating 100 patients at the time of the attacks. The hospital has treated over 100,000 patients in 2H years of operation. The first attack came on the day that Samaritan's Purse, along with 23 other relief organizations, signed an agreement with Sudan's leading rebel group to continue supplying food and medicine to rebel-controlled areas in the south. The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has been pushing for increased say over aid distribution, now largely controlled by the hard-line Islamic regime in Khartoum. Government officials have prohibited UN and private aid agency deliveries into areas that are predominantly Christian and controlled by the SPLA. Eleven international agencies, including CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision, refused to sign the agreement and pulled staff out of the region March 1. "Three years ago, we decided not to play the malicious games of the Sudan government by allowing them to dictate who we could and couldn't help," said Samaritan's Purse projects director Ken Isaacs. "We didn't do it then and this bombing will not make us do it now." Agency reports 35 missing amid worst flooding in 50 years
Relieving relief workers
Relief workers in Mozambique's severe floods are in need of relief, too. World Relief reported 35 of its staff missing one week after the south African nation's worst rainfall in 50 years. Records and offices were under water, but rescues continued. Pieter Ernst of the aid agency reclaimed a 7-year-old boy, who held an infant-his 2-week old sister-atop a completely submerged hut. Inside, his mother had drowned. Offshore, in Madagascar, 600,000 people were forced from their homes by flooding. The latest Indian Ocean cyclone, Gloria, sent heavy downpours on the island and was making its way toward Mozambique.
- Father-of-three Jim Massery hosted his seventh annual father-daughter Valentine's Day Dance last month. Held each year in his Pittsfield, Mass., church gymnasium, the event attracts over 1,000 attendees and is replicated in over 100 cities nationwide. "If just one little girl gets her busy dad to spend an evening with her, then our evening is a success," said Mr. Massery.
- Robin Muthig, 16, and other Spring Valley Presbyterian Church youth greeted South Carolina churchgoers rushing home to the Super Bowl with metal soup pots. As part of the church's annual "Souper Bowl of Caring," she helped collect $1,300 for local charities. Joining her were youth at 10,500 churches across the nation who collected a total of $2.5 million on Super Bowl Sunday.
The No-Comment Zone
- "This thing is of such insignificance to us, it is so significant to the world at large, the media particularly, why should we have this here as an obstacle?" With those words Bob Jones III announced on Larry King Live that the university bearing his name had lifted its ban on interracial dating. Bob Jones University, located in Greenville, S.C., admitted its first black student in 1970, and became a target of political attack this year after George W. Bush spoke there.
- According to Forbes magazine, some celebrity foundations are well run. Those created by Stephen King, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and Tom Brokaw had overhead costs of less than 1 percent. Those with the worst efficiency evaluations include the Will Smith Foundation (43 percent overhead) and the Barbara Streisand Foundation (24 percent). Ms. Streisand employs a "$136,000-a-year consultant who helps screen the $668,000 in donations made."
- The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, allowed Indiana to continue giving its employees the day off on Good Friday, rejecting an appeal that said the holiday designation violates the First Amendment. Hoosier State resident Russell Bridenbaugh had contended that the practice improperly promotes Christianity. A federal magistrate threw out his case without a trial, and a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in July. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled that "for Indiana, the holiday has absolutely no religious significance. To Indiana, Good Friday is nothing but a Friday falling in the middle of the long vacationless spring-a day which employees should take off to rejuvenate themselves."
- Call it preventive medicine. The Japanese government is considering legislation banning human cloning, which Japan's Science and Technology Agency calls a threat to the maintenance of social order. The legislation would allow the cloning of human embryos for research purposes, but only within limits, according to agency official Kimihiko Oda.
- Say it ain't so, Leonardo. A Thai demonstrator faked hara-kiri-ritual suicide-in front of a Bangkok movie theater where Leonardo DiCaprio's latest movie, The Beach, was playing. Manit Sriwanichpoom was protesting the alleged destruction of pristine Maya Bay beach during the filming. Environmentalists say the crew's attempt to hold back erosion left the beach to be ruined by fierce storms and tides.
Obstruction charges in Louima case
Guilty in NYC
Three white officers wept and cursed after a racially mixed jury found them guilty of trying to cover up the torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a police precinct bathroom. Officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder and ex-patrolman Charles Schwarz face up to five years in prison for obstruction of justice in concealing Mr. Schwarz's role in holding down the handcuffed Haitian immigrant while another officer, Justin Volpe, sodomized him with a broken broomstick. Attorneys for all three men said they would appeal. thou shalt not quote the bible
Judges who post biblical commandments in their courtrooms run into a legal buzzsaw. On March 6 the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that lawyers who make biblical suggestions also are in trouble. The court affirmed the 1995 murder conviction of Anthony Carruthers but overturned the death sentence a jury gave him. The reason: During closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial, D. Brandon Hornsby, the assistant district attorney, cited passages from the books of Genesis, Matthew, and Romans, and told jurors "all they who take the sword shall die by the sword." Georgia Presiding Justice Norman Fletcher wrote that such references "inject the often irrelevant and inflammatory issue of religion into the sentencing process and improperly appeal to the religious beliefs of jurors in their decision on whether a person should live or die." Georgia law requires the Supreme Court to review death sentences to determine whether they were imposed "under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor." A new jury, one purportedly neither informed nor prejudiced by an often irrelevant Bible, will decide whether Mr. Carruthers, found guilty of cutting a woman's throat and almost severing her head, lives or dies. Pinochet receives hero's welcome, but may face trial in Chile
A Chilean military jet took off from eastern England on March 2 with an ailing general aboard, ending a nearly two-year court battle over the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Legal wrangling that spanned three continents ended when Britain dropped extradition proceedings, declaring that the 84-year-old Pinochet was too ill to stand trial. British Home Office Minister Jack Straw, noting that Mr. Pinochet had suffered brain damage from two strokes last year, said the general was incapable of assisting or conferring with counsel in a trial. Extradition requests from Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, and France were turned aside by the decree. Once the archetypal South American military leader, Mr. Pinochet was recuperating in a London hospital from a minor back operation when he was arrested on Oct. 16, 1998, and held for extradition. He ousted the elected government of Socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973 while commanding Chile's military, and launched a brutal crackdown on the left. He ran Chile for 17 years as the head of a military junta, reinstating democracy in 1990 after he failed to win a majority in a plebiscite on his rule. Pinochet supporters gave him a hero's welcome in Santiago, but opponents said he could face trial in Chile as well as overseas. Plaintiffs petitioned the courts to strip Mr. Pinochet of congressional immunity so that he can face more than 72 lawsuits pending against him.
- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to ban racial and gender preferences in university admissions and state contracting made him the target of demonstrators. Thousands of demonstrators chanting "Shame on Bush," "Jeb Crow," and "Bush Whack" jammed the state Capitol grounds, claiming the proposal could erase the gains of the civil-rights movement. "This is the first step towards resegregation," said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, who came to Tallahassee from Atlanta for the protest. Mr. Bush's One Florida plan bans consideration of race and gender in admissions to the state's 10 public universities and in the awarding of state contracts. It guarantees college admission to the top 20 percent of each high-school graduating class, provided the students have taken college preparatory classes. "The vast majority of Floridians favor the elimination of affirmative action programs," the Republican governor said. Texas, Washington state, and California have also ended affirmative action in university admissions.
- Israeli lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would launch a referendum on handing over the Golan Heights to Syria. As the Knesset (Israel's parliament) and Prime Minister Ehud Barak seemed to be leaning toward conceding the disputed territory, the transfer looks less and less popular among Israel's electorate. Leading rabbis issued a rabbinic ruling against overturning Jewish settlements on the Golan, which they say can be traced back to Scripture. The Golan has 18,000 Jewish residents who would be relocated if the area were ceded to Syria. The United States has pledged peacekeeping troops to secure the transfer.
- San Jose Police detective Howard Johnson is getting unusual amounts of help tracking down a road-rage suspect who is wanted in the killing of a motorist's bichon frisé named Leo: "This would never happen on an assault case against a person," he told USA Today about the 250 calls he's received offering assistance. After a minor collision, the suspect allegedly approached Leo's owner, who had rolled down her window to apologize. Leo leapt into her lap just before the confrontation. The man grabbed the dog and tossed him into traffic, where he was fatally struck. Malicious killing of an animal is a felony in California and carries a $20,000 fine, plus jail time.
- The irrepressible Dennis Rodman once said that his basketball fantasy was to leave the court naked. Last week he was stripped, figuratively speaking, of his Dallas Mavericks uniform when the faltering NBA team waived Mr. Rodman after just a month. The Mavs went 4-9 during his 29-day tenure, falling from eight games out of the final playoff spot to 101/2. In 12 games for the Mavericks, Mr. Rodman averaged 2.1 points and 11.2 rebounds. He was ejected from games twice, suspended once, and fined $13,500. One of the victories during his tenure came in the game he missed because of the suspension.
Guys: Don't leave it long in back anymore
The perils of fashion
Are you a man with big hair? If so, you may be caught up in the biggest fashion backlash to hit since bell-bottoms were sent to oblivion in the 1970s. The cut is technically known as the mullet: Feathered and puffy, it's short on top, long in the back and hanging down on the side. Think 1980s. Think early Michael Bolton, Kenny G, early Jerry Seinfeld, Hall & Oates, Billy Ray Cyrus, Joey Buttafuoco, or even Donald Trump. Websites all over the place post photos of famous and non-famous people all sporting the dreaded ape drape. The mockery has driven the cut almost to extinction. Mullets are still worn today by a few country singers, hockey players, and people who still wear acid-washed jeans. What once was a symbol of coolness is now the apex of tackiness. People who have these cuts are now considered to have "mulletude" (in other words, low class). Many women have had mullets, but they aren't in for as much abuse. Pro wrestlers and hair-metal singers wore them as a sign of rebellion, yet their every move was choreographed and commercialized. The 1990s equivalent is the Michael Stipe-inspired baldness mixed with a super-short goatee. Why is the mullet a cause for mockery? Because it gives an aura of phoniness and last year's conformity. Long hair in the back traditionally is the domain of ladies, but many guys thought it was the sign of masculinity. The anti-mullet backlash is an example of the way pop culture shoots its wounded. People who try hard to be cool take high risks, and those who fail end up being the opposite of what they intend. And if what you try becomes dated, hope that your fashion statement will be seen as nostalgia instead of completely out of style. -Chris Stamper The Indescribable toy has golden anniversary
Silly putty turns 50
James Wright was trying to invent a rubber substitute during World War II and wound up inventing one of America's most familiar toys. His bosses at General Electric couldn't convince the government to use the mixture of boric acid and silicone oil. So a creative ad man named Peter Hodgson bought the rights, stuffed the bouncing polymer into plastic Easter eggs, and named it Silly Putty. By the late 1950s, Hodgson's $147 investment had become a $140 million success. Peter Hodgson Jr., the marketer's son, said that "Americans have seized on it ... precisely because it doesn't fit in any category." Today, as Silly Putty celebrates its golden anniversary, its most famous use is as a stress reliever. Corporate managers and human resources types pass the eggs around to employees so they can take their frustrations out on a slab of plastic. Globs of the "real solid liquid" can be found lurking on desks as decorations. -C.S. The nostalgic snack with a toy makes a comeback
A cracker-jack idea
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!" The song is still sung at the ballpark, but the famous snack food is coming off hard times. Sailor Jack, his dog Bingo, and the prizes are now the property of Frito-Lay, which is working desperately to revive the mix of popcorn, caramel, and peanuts. The hard-to-open box is disappearing and bags are popping up in stores. Louis and F. W. Rueckheim originally invented the stuff and cooked up a way to keep the coated popcorn from getting too sticky. They also created the gimmicks that made a legend, including a classic set of baseball cards. Cracker Jack helped originate the idea of spiking a food package with a small bribe to entice kids. Billions of stickers, stamps, and toys have been ripped from the boxes and bags over the years. Frito-Lay is trying to expand the brand with all sorts of changes to bring it back into prominence. One of the more reused jokes in the English language is that someone got an engagement ring, college diploma, or driver's license from a box of Cracker Jack. You can't get that kind of cachet from pretzels. -C.S. PC speed now measured in gigs
The need for speed
Wow, that's fast! The first computer processors running at 1 gigahertz are being installed in new PCs. That means they can handle 1 billion bits of information per second. Manufacturer AMD claims to have been first with these chips, with new high-speed Athlons being used by Gateway and Compaq. Industry leader Intel soon followed, and these speeds will be commonplace by the end of the year. The 1 gigahertz level is a psychologically important marker in the ongoing spiral of microchip speeds. It means that home PCs will be able to handle everyday tasks at a far more efficient rate. Soon, processors will be thought of in terms of "gigs" as hard drives are now. But this won't affect price levels much. Why? Because of a computing theorem known as Moore's Law. It states that chips will double in speed yet halve in price every 18 months. That's why new computers are always getting faster and old ones become obsolete quickly. When one chip comes out, its successor is already waiting in the wings. In this case, Intel plans to release a chip called Willamette that runs at 1.5 gigahertz this fall. Does this mean users should wait for a superfast computer? Probably not. Computers are always getting faster, so by the time today's cutting-edge computer is affordable, another will be out on the horizon. And for those doing typical PC tasks-word processing and surfing the Net-a typical machine works just fine. Also, the critical computing speed issue is more and more centered on the user's Internet connection. A 56K modem is a 56K modem on last year's $500 machine as on today's $3,000 model. -Chris Stamper solving the hacker crisis
The Internet isn't a novelty anymore. When a website goes down, it isn't just a quirk from an experimental technology. That's why this year's spree of hacker attacks sent some companies calling insurance agents looking for high-tech disaster coverage. Today, more and more insurers are offering coverage for Internet losses. One San Francisco company, Marsh Inc., has a policy called NetSecure with up to $200 million in coverage. E-commerce companies pay premiums to protect themselves from lost revenues if something happens to their website, from a computer crash to a hacker invasion. "Technology is not bulletproof," said Emily Freeman, director of the company's e-business division. While some companies are looking for coverage, most show little interest in calls for new anti-hacker legislation, perhaps out of fear of expanded intrusion from the feds. "Infrastructure security ... does not lend itself to government management," Microsoft's chief information security officer, Howard Schmidt, said in remarks prepared for a congressional hearing. "The private sector has the knowledge and expertise to help fight against computer crimes on the infrastructures on which they operate." Meanwhile, 17-year-old Dennis Moran admitted using the screen name "Coolio" to hack several websites, including ones run by the Commerce Department, a California anti-drug group, and encryption company RSA Security. The high-school dropout says he's done some "small hacking" but said he was kidding when he boasted in a chat room that he had helped attack Amazon.com, Yahoo, and other sites. He told investigators he spent about 16 hours a day on the Internet, at least until the FBI confiscated his computers. -C.S. the ultimate isolating technology?
Loners on the Net
A controversial Stanford University study says that cyberspace keeps people away from friends, family, offices, stores, and television. "The more hours people use the Internet, the less time they spend with real human beings," concludes Stanford's Norman Nie, who directed the survey of 4,113 adults in 2,689 households. Mr. Nie says the Net might be "the ultimate isolating technology." His study found that one-fourth of regular Net surfers say their use "has reduced their time with friends and family, or attending events outside the home." The same number say they do more work at home instead of the office. TV viewing was down for 60 percent and newspaper reading was down for one-third of Internet regulars. Web design guru Jakob Nielsen questions the Stanford conclusions, saying that the "new human experience" of chat rooms, message boards, and email is stepping into the gap. "How do you define what you count as personal contact?" Mr. Nielsen asks. "You could have had some other report a hundred years ago that says the telephone would cause a loss in social relations and human contact." Nevertheless, the Stanford survey raises some important questions about how the Net is changing, if not depleting, America's social worlds. What happens when most people spend most of their vital hours staring at a screen and punching buttons? What becomes of community, place, hearth, home, and other elements of physical society? Technology can bring some people together, but it can rip others apart. -C.S.