Elian drama: Feds want the boy, Miamians say no
Down to the wire
With demonstrators filling the streets of Miami's Little Havana, and federal agents mobilizing south of the city, combatants in the battle over Elián Gonzalez were plainly ready to get physical. Tension in Miami went into orbit after the U.S. Justice Department issued the boy's temporary guardian, Lazaro Gonzalez, an ultimatum: Sign a statement agreeing to hand Elián over to immigration officials, or watch the boy face forcible deportation. The order came before Mr. Gonzalez, Elián's great-uncle, had exhausted his right to appeal a March 21 federal judge's ruling, which upheld the government's handling of the case. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in May. Pending that, Mr. Gonzalez refused to agree to turn over Elián to U.S. marshals. Immigration officials did not deny reports that federal agents were gathering at the now-defunct Homestead Air Force Base just south of Miami, awaiting orders to apprehend 6-year-old Elián. But as high-level diplomatic conversations about the case proceeded in Miami, Washington, and Havana, it became plain that Ms. Reno's Waco tactics would not prevail in Miami. Hundreds of Cuban-Americans formed a round-the-clock cordon at the Gonzalez family home in Little Havana. As many as 30,000 people turned out for a prayer vigil the night of March 29, and organizers believed up to 10 times that many could be mobilized if federal officials looked ready to claim the boy. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a Democrat and Gore supporter, surprised the Clinton administration by announcing that local enforcement would not aid federal officers in the case. "They are provoking this community to an extent that I nor anyone else can control," said Mr. Penelas. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush said it was time for Ms. Reno to "reconsider her plans to send Elián back to Cuba." He said state courts, rather than "a Clinton-Gore Justice Department whose record of putting politics ahead of the law does not inspire confidence," should be allowed to rule on custody.
Ups & Downs of the Week
Consumer confidence: After months of steady pressure from Alan Greenspan's Fed, the economy finally came out with its hands up. The Conference Board, a privately funded research group that tracks attitudes about consumer spending, reported a larger-than-expected drop last month in consumer optimism about the economy. Higher interest rates thanks to Mr. Greenspan and higher fuel prices-which were supposed to stabilize after OPEC nations agreed to boost oil production 7 percent-are credited (or blamed) for the economic cooling. Consumer spending is responsible for two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, revised government figures showed 4th-quarter 1999 GDP cooked along at an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent, the strongest performance in 15 years. Conservatives have long hoped that Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a President George Bush appointee who generally votes with court liberals, would change his mind about key issues. Now he has about one-nude dancing. The Supremes ruled 6-3 last week that cities and states may ban nude dancing as part of an attempt to fight crime and other "negative secondary effects" associated with that business. But Mr. Souter, who voted for such a ban in 1991 but against this ban, now says, "I may not be less ignorant of nude dancing than I was nine years ago," but "I have come to believe that a government must toe the mark more carefully than I first insisted." Clintonian chutzpah: After he was found in violation of the Privacy Act by a federal judge (for releasing letters written by Kathleen Willey, who accused the president of making unwanted sexual overtures), Mr. Clinton explained that he had no choice. He broke the law "reluctantly, only because it was the only way I knew to refute allegations that were made against me that were untrue." The No-Comment Zone
- The federal budget must be from another planet. For fiscal year 2001, a $1.83 trillion proposal is before the Senate-and that's the Republican version. Stack that many $1 bills and you have a pile of cash big enough to encircle Saturn's 120,000 mile diameter. It contains some tax relief-$150 billion worth over five years, which is way too much for Hill Democrats-but that's far smaller than the five-year $483 billion reduction proposed by George W. Bush on the campaign trail.
- Vanquished presidential candidate and millionaire publisher Steve Forbes endorsed former GOP opponent George W. Bush, hoping that the nominee-to-be will embrace parts of his platform in the White House. The magazine magnate's campaign was high on vision but low on popular support. Mr. Forbes's key points included tax cuts, renewed attention to family values, and the use of the free market to solve the coming crisis of government indebtedness to retirees.
- Three sets of bone fragments were discovered near the Colombia-Panama border where three New Tribes Mission workers were kidnapped in 1993. But the fragments turned out not to be human remains, according to the Colombian government. It was another false lead for New Tribes Mission, which has not been able to confirm the whereabouts of Richard Tenenoff, David Mankins, and Mark Rich, nor whether they are dead or alive, since the Florida-based mission lost contact with kidnappers six years ago. "We have to continue to work with the idea that they have survived until we have some kind of credible evidence that they haven't," said NTM spokesman Scott Ross.
- Nearly 700 members of a doomsday cult in Uganda have been found dead. Authorities initially believed the massacre was a Jonestown-like mass suicide (where 900 cult members died after Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones convinced them to drink cyanide-laced punch), but signs of strangulation are leading them to conclude that the victims were murdered in large groups. Ugandan officials are looking for two leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, but the men may be among the dead. The pair predicted that the world would end last Dec. 31. When that did not happen, authorities speculate that cult members demanded the return of possessions they had surrendered to join the sect, then rebelled and were slaughtered.
Ex-Communist bureaucrat wins in Russia
Putting on Putin
In the last half of the 1980s a mid-level KGB agent named Vladimir Putin lived in Dresden. From a gray villa at No. 4 Angelikastrasse, overlooking the Elbe River, then-Major Putin recruited East Germans to spy on the West. He looked for journalists, scientists, and other professionals who could plausibly travel abroad. They were to link up with Soviet spies permanently stationed in the United States and Western Europe. Mr. Putin's goal was to have them steal NATO secrets and any Western technology. Last week the former secret agent became the second democratically elected president of Russia. Mr. Putin, now 47, won more than 50 percent of the vote, while Gennady Zyganov, the leader of Russia's Communist Party, placed second with nearly 30 percent. Going into the election, Mr. Putin was expected to win easily, having been handpicked by former President Boris Yeltsin to become acting president upon Mr. Yeltsin's surprise resignation last December. Despite his background as a communist bureaucrat, Mr. Putin has decried "the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment." In a New Year's speech, he said, "Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries." Mr. Putin may have repudiated the Soviet era, but not his own role in it. He has refused to criticize the KGB, where he served as an agent for 17 years. And he refuses to read any book written by a defector. ACLU fights public-school textbook that questions the established faith
When the Kanawha County school board science-education committee endorsed the purchase of a textbook that explains the "intelligent design" theory of origins, the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union responded with the rhetorical equivalent of lights and sirens. "These are stealth efforts to reintroduce religion to schools," said Hilary Chiz, director of the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "This is a wakeup call. This is an alarm sounding." But Kanawha school board members disagree. Board member Betty Jarvis called the textbook Of Pandas and People, which was recommended to the board by a committee of science teachers that included the head of the district's science curriculum, "a very good supplemental text. The teachers who chose it and [science curriculum director] Bob Seymour did an excellent job." The textbook, says Steve Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, "makes no bones about being a text with a point of view.... [It] is intended to stimulate discussion and encourage students to evaluate the explanatory power of different theories-which, after all, is what science is all about." Of Pandas and People, written by professors at Hillsborough County, Fla., Community College and San Francisco State University, has sparked controversy in other school districts. After one Ohio school board rejected the book, parents purchased and donated 100 copies to district schools. The recommendation to purchase the books was not "an attempt to instill an interpretation or doctrine," Mr. Seymour told the Charleston Gazette. "It gives you all the scientific findings ... there's no science being violated." Never mind. This dispute is not about science; it's about worldview. Even as the ACLU in West Virginia worked to deny Kanawha County students Of Pandas and People, in Colorado the organization filed suit against the state's Department of Corrections, claiming that prisoners are being denied the right to certain religious materials published by "alternative newsweeklies." Colorado prison officials censor the materials because they can potentially agitate prisoners. So now the ACLU is on record saying it's permissible to agitate convicted criminals with alternative literature, but not okay to promote alternative thought in American classrooms. -Lynn Vincent Rush-hour tornado
Like a bombing
A gentle spring day turned violent last week in Fort Worth, Texas. "Imagine a large bomb going off," said restaurateur Sean Finley, who had to hustle his frantic customers down 35 floors to safety. Only it wasn't a bomb; it was a tornado. Two twisters ripped through town shortly after rush hour, overturning cars and sending broken glass and debris raining onto city streets. They killed four people, one was missing and presumed dead, more than 80 were injured, and dozens were left homeless as the storm blasted windows out of dozens of offices and tore homes apart. Robert and Wendi Sparlins were eating dinner downtown at Mr. Finley's restaurant in the Bank One Building to celebrate their second wedding anniversary when the disaster hit. "The windows starting popping, people were running trying to get under the table," Mr. Sparlins said. The storms struck shortly after 6 p.m., with one tornado churning to the north and the other through downtown Fort Worth. "The wind was blowing so fast and all the people were shouting, 'We don't want to die, we don't want to die,'" said Sanu Piya, a Fina gas station employee who huddled with others inside the store as the tornado passed. Court victory could lure Ross into the ring
An inChoate party
The Reform Party's rumble finally ended in a federal court last week-but not before splintering the party, perhaps irreparably. Forces loyal to Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura wanted to hold the party convention in St. Paul, with chairman Jack Gargan presiding. But Pat Choate, a Ross Perot loyalist, was determined to hold the meeting in Long Beach, well out of Mr. Ventura's sizeable shadow. But the judge awarded Mr. Choate the party's sole chairmanship. Winning control of an utterly dysfunctional party would be something of a booby prize, except for the $15 million in federal funding that goes with it. That was enough to lure Pat Buchanan into a Reform bid, and he's hardly the only one. A dozen candidates are seeking the nomination, and party secretary Jim Mangia still isn't happy with the choices. He's approached Warren Beatty and Ralph Nader, but both turned him down. Cybill Shepherd has yet to return his call. The Reform Party may soon have more office-seekers than it has members. Gov. Ventura pulled out of the party weeks ago, and Mr. Gargan has said he's leaving, as well. "This is no party," he complained after the judge's ruling. "It's somebody's little fiefdom." As for Ross Perot, the little fief himself, he's remained silent-but not forgotten. While he awaits a call-back from Ms. Shepherd, Mr. Mangia has started a petition drive to lure the two-time loser back into the race. Flag protection amendment falls short
It's a grand old flag
While flags may still be legally burned, the First Amendment remains intact, at least according to opponents of a failed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have allowed Congress to outlaw flag desecration. The Senate voted 63-37 last week in favor of the amendment, four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to send it to the states for near-certain ratification. (Forty-nine states have passed resolutions urging Congress to send them a flag amendment.) The flag amendment, proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), states: "Congress shall have the power to prevent the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The flag is "not just a piece of cloth or a symbol," said Mr. Hatch. "It is the embodiment of our heritage, our liberties, and indeed our sovereignty as a nation." The movement to adopt an anti-flag desecration amendment grew out of Supreme Court decisions in 1989 and 1990 that struck down state and national flag desecration laws on free-speech grounds. The House has repeatedly approved flag amendments, but such proposals have faltered in the Senate. The last Senate vote, in 1995, fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority. This year, America's two most famous generals came down on opposite sides of the dispute. Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf wrote a letter arguing that legal flag desecration "can only serve to further undermine" national unity. But Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote that it would be a mistake to amend the Constitution, "that great shield of democracy, to hammer a few miscreants." Sexologist Alex Comfort dies at 80
The mess of sex
Before Dr. Ruth, there was Alex Comfort. At the height of the sexual revolution his Joy of Sex sold 12 million copies and became a canonical text for the young and promiscuous. It was published in 1972, at just the right time to sell a lot of copies. Except for two more Sex volumes, most of what Dr. Comfort wrote before his death late last month at age 80 is obscure. He produced 50 works of novels, poetry, criticism, scientific textbooks, and books on Oriental philosophy. Dr. Comfort lectured at Stanford University's psychiatry department from 1974 to 1983 and was a leading anarchist, pacifist, and member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; during World War II he was a conscientious objector. Dr. Comfort's book spawned thousands of imitators that now take up at least a shelf in most major bookstores. Few consider Sex a classic today. It was a product of its times, placing sexual intercourse on the same level as installing software or performing home repairs. Giuliani settles
Victory for hate art
Remember the awful dung-decorated painting of the Virgin Mary that hung in the Brooklyn Museum of Art (WORLD, Oct. 9, 1999)? New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani last week was forced to capitulate to the museum in a court settlement. Six months ago he froze its $7.2 million operating budget, then sued to have the museum evicted from city-owned property. But U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon ruled the moves unconstitutional late last year, and the city's appeals apparently failed. Now the funds are unfrozen and Mr. Giuliani and the city are barred from inflicting "any punishment, retaliation, discrimination, or sanction of any kind" against the museum. Local taxpayers even have to fork over an additional $5.8 million over two years for a museum renovation project. And cries of victory over "censorship" flowed from the usual suspects.
- Last year, Elizabeth Ritz relinquished her private counseling practice to become the director of a Dallas crisis pregnancy center. She is credited with doubling the number of clients and founding innovative programs like the B-Attitude Boutique-which provides career clothes for single moms who complete parenting and Bible courses.
- Easter means more than profits on plastic eggs and paint kits for Hobby Lobby owner David Green. Each year his 225 craft stores fund full-page ads proclaiming Christ's resurrection. Published in 160 newspapers, the ads reach more than 35 million readers. Hobby Lobby also publishes similar Christmas ads and prints 15 million missionary-gospel booklets each year.
The demise of a monstrosity in Seattle marks the decline of the multi-purpose craze
Dethroning the Kingdome
Kaboom! On March 26, Seattle's Kingdome was blown to smithereens, with local taxpayers still paying the bill on $125 million of debt for the building. Its implosion may be one of the most historically important demolitions in American history. Here's why: The Kingdome took eight years to plan and build, and represented the latest in civic planning: the multi-purpose stadium. Stripped of the charm of, say, Wrigley Field, these giant concrete bowls were to be practical first and pretty later. Intended to hold everything from tractor pulls to football to rock concerts, these monstrosities like Riverfront (Cincinnati), Jack Murphy (San Diego), and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium wound up with all the charm of a parking garage. (Small wonder that baseball's popularity nose-dived following the multi-purpose craze. It sold its architectural birthright for a pot of Astroturf.) The Kingdome was especially bizarre. The concrete blister dominated the city's skyline and treated fans to sporting events under a dreary 250-foot ceiling that was painted a dingy gray. And it leaked. And it came close to tragedy in 1994 when four 20-pound acoustical tiles crashed into the stands a few hours before a game. So the modernist mushroom died Vegas-style, where a former landmark is blasted to pieces and erased from memory. Not long ago, the wrecking ball was a great symbol of destruction, as people watched some once great structure knocked down to build something deemed more practical. Today, the implosion-with vivid images of a building collapsing in a cloud of dust-is the sign of a different kind of change. The death of the Kingdome is like the 1973 demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. Both were testaments to inhumanity and sterility that only Stalin could love. Their creators forgot that people naturally reject environments that strip everything down to bland utilitarianism, especially when built by government experts. -Chris Stamper Labor agreement ends junk-food shortage
This year may go down in history as the year we survived the Great American Twinkie Shortage. Supplies ground to a crawl on March 15 due to a dispute between Interstate Bakeries and the Teamsters, but the little snack cakes are back on shelves to celebrate their 70th anniversary. Chicago Hostess bakery manager Jimmy Dewar cooked up the idea for Twinkies, which originally had banana-cream fillings. He took the name from a billboard advertising "Twinkle Toe shoes." World War II cut down on the banana supply, so vanilla filling was injected into the golden sponge cakes. What kept junk-food junkies last month from their Twinkie fix? Collective bargaining. The Teamsters were upset because Interstate wouldn't follow certain arbitration rulings. Pickets went up from Maine to Ohio, and Twinkies became scarce. Substitute snacks went into lunchboxes until the union agreed to end the shortage. Now they're back. Twinkies, like Spam, Shake 'N Bake, and Tang, are part of the 20th century's legacy of familiar yet somewhat strange processed foods. They're also the quintessential junk food; no one eats them for nutritional value, yet most people eat them sometime. -Chris Stamper The pepsi challenge stages a comeback
Brace yourself, the cola wars are back. The Pepsi Challenge is coming back for the first time in 17 years. Back in the 1970s and '80s, it spearheaded the fad of the taste test, where people sample different brands. Coke leads Pepsi in the marketplace, in part because people identify the Atlanta-based beverage's name as a generic word for soda pop. Pepsico and the Coca-Cola Company fall over each other to represent youth, freshness, and virility, but they still have a touch of nostalgia for ad campaigns of the past. Behind the scenes are bottling and distribution monsters that service vending machines, soda fountains, and convenience stores around the world. This has helped Coke and Pepsi survive where other major brands have stumbled. -Chris Stamper