Snake-oil schemes never go away-they just change their skins. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced on June 7 a judge's ruling against Robert R. Dillie, Mid-America Foundation, Inc., and Mid-America Financial Group. The agency says that Mr. Dillie and Mid-America fleeced hundreds of mostly elderly citizens of an estimated $54 million since 1997, by selling Charitable Gift Annuities (CGAs). CGAs are like traditional fixed annuities but are invested in nonprofit groups. An investor transfers an asset, such as stock, cash, or property, to a charity. In return, the charity pays the investor a fixed amount of money each year, based on a contract interest rate. More than 4,000 nonprofits offer such investments. But Mr. Dillie and Mid-America never donated millions that investors gave them, according to the SEC. Mr. Dillie and his firm instead used investors' money to finance aircraft charters, gambling debts, lavish personal residences, and even a ranch. Defendants used some of the money to pay child support. But investors won in the end: In addition to a civil penalty, the June 7 judgment requires Mr. Dillie and Mid-America to pay "disgorgement"-a repayment to victims of ill-gotten gains, plus interest.
Scholastic, the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, last week snagged 13 "EdPress" awards, the Oscar-like accolades that the Association of Educational Publishers gives out each year. But the Scholastic publications honored reveal that any post-9/11 resurgence of traditionalism bypassed academia. For example, EdPress honored Scholastic Art magazine for an editorial series called "Alice Neel Portraits." Ms. Neel, a mid-20th-century artist who won fame for her portraits of "urban angst," was a committed socialist. Junior Scholastic magazine received an award for "Lost Childhoods," an article on child labor, which ran alongside stories for children on trendy environmental themes. EdPress also named Science World magazine "Periodical of the Year," and gave it the Association's highest honor, the "Golden Lamp Award." But Science World is written to meet science education standards developed by the National Academy of Science, a hard-line Darwinist group.
Martha and the vandals?
What did Martha Stewart know and when did she know it? The latest in a series of corporate scandals threatens to depose the queen of domestic living, who is a close friend of embattled ImClone founder Samuel Waksal. Investigators want to know whether Mr. Waksal tipped off Ms. Stewart in December that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was about to reject the biotech company's highly promoted drug, Erbitux. Ms. Stewart sold 3,928 shares of ImClone on Dec. 27, the day before the FDA announced its decision on Erbitux. ImClone stock has dropped 90 percent since the FDA's decision. Ms. Stewart insists that she knew nothing about the decision and says she had an order with her broker to sell the shares whenever they fell below $60. Still, the investigation has made investors nervous, and shares in Ms. Stewart's company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, have fallen. The Securities and Exchange Commission, meanwhile, charged Mr. Waksal with fraud for insider trading. The scandal comes as prosecutors are more aggressively pursing corporate abuse in the wake of the dot-com meltdown and the Enron disaster. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said that while such cases are rare, they are a "disgrace in this country right now-the unethical behavior of a few notorious company executives."
For homosexual propaganda aimed at children, Nick News Special Edition: My Family Is Different could have been worse. Liberal journalist Linda Ellerbee last week hosted the show for the children's cable channel Nickelodeon about children who live with homosexual parents. It seemed predictable that the program would follow the gay-activist line that anyone who disapproves of homosexuality is a hater. That, at least, didn't happen. The half-hour show featured a panel of children, some of whom live with gay parents, and three homosexual adults. The panel spent the bulk of the show making the laudable point that no one should tease or bully kids who live with homosexual parents. Most of the panelists also argued that homosexual parents aren't much different from heterosexual parents. But the panel included three Christian kids who did their best to stand for truth, and Ms. Ellerbee let them speak their minds. One boy said that no child should call another child names, but that Christians also have a responsibility to stand against what the Bible says is wrong. A Christian girl named Paige pointed out that mothers and fathers parent differently, and that a child who doesn't have one of each is missing something important. The show also included a clip about Jerry Falwell, who noted that while Christians cannot approve of homosexuality, they should treat homosexuals as they themselves would want to be treated. The show resisted the urge to become heavy-handed until the closing minutes, when Ms. Ellerbee showed a montage of clips about people who all argued that families headed by homosexual parents are as healthy, and as good for children, as heterosexual families. That was the last word on the subject. So the show was bad, but it could have been worse. Yet the question remains: Is any show about homosexuality really appropriate for a children's network? | Timothy Lamer
Quantity over quality?
Father may not know best anymore, but at least he's around. That may be the only good news we can glean from a Parents Television Council study released this month on the role of paternal characters on television shows. The study reviewed original prime-time programming during the 2001-2002 season, 119 shows in all. The PTC report starts with the "good" news: Father figures are present in most family settings. To be exact, "83 percent of all TV children have some sort of father figure involved in their lives." But the study employs a pretty ambiguous measurement. To have a "father figure" present in a sitcom or TV drama is one thing; to find anything approaching an admirable, or even constructive, portrayal of a "father figure" is another. To his credit, PTC chairman Brent Bozell seems to recognize this. While praising Hollywood for including fathers, he adds, "It would be better still to see a greater emphasis on the positive impact made by the millions of fathers who live with their children, and their wives, in a nuclear family." The problem with such studies is that numbers alone have a limited use in understanding and critiquing popular culture. For example, a study several years ago by another media watchdog organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, identified Walker, Texas Ranger as the most violent series program on television, with an average of 82 acts of violence per episode. There's no denying that Walker (now airing in reruns on USA, but a popular CBS program in its heyday) is violent. But very little of Walker's violence approaches the grisliness of many other mainstream TV shows, and outspoken conservative star and producer Chuck Norris brought a very different mindset than most to his show. There are very clear distinctions between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" on Walker-it is simplistic law-and-order, old West formula programming. The artistic merit of the show aside (there is little), to identify this kind of program with the larger problem of violence in the media comes very close to completely missing the point. So the fact that the "numbers" for fathers are strong doesn't necessarily say much. Judging from the current TV lineup, Hollywood may include so many fathers on TV because they are so easy to mock. There is probably no bigger sitcom stereotype than the idiot dad who "just doesn't get it." | Andrew Coffin
The 8.4-million-member United Methodist Church officially bans practicing homosexuals from serving as pastors. But it has no specific rule on so-called transgendered clergy. That could change, depending on the outcome of a Maryland case involving Rev. Rebecca Ann Steen. That's because the 47-year-old Ms. Steen was Rev. Richard Zamostny, pastor of a Rockville, Md., church (and a father and grandfather) until sex-change surgery in 1999. "She" took extended voluntary leave at that time. Now she wants to be reappointed to a church. Bishop Felton May of Washington, D.C., discussed the unusual case in a closed session with regional clergy and other church leaders this month. They placed Ms. Steen on involuntary leave while they decide what to do. -Edward E. Plowman
Not a knock-knock joke
The U.S. Supreme Court last week placed communities across the country on notice: If you adopt an anti-solicitation ordinance, take care not to violate free-speech rights. The high court ruled 8-1 that the tiny Ohio village of Stratton had worded its ordinance-intended mainly to protect its citizens from pushy salesmen and flim-flam artists-so broadly that it trashed the First Amendment. It required anyone doing door-to-door promotion of a product or "cause" (including church-sponsored visitation campaigns) to obtain a permit from the mayor's office first. Only Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented-on the grounds that such ordinances afford residents "a degree of accountability and safety." The case was almost as uncontroversial among interest groups as it was among the justices: Pro-religious-freedom groups welcomed the decision, as did groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State that seek to restrict religious expression. The decision overturned rulings by lower courts in a lawsuit filed by Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses, who engage extensively in door-to-door proselytism, had refused to apply for a permit in Stratton. | Edward E. Plowman
Schism over same-sex
The Diocese of New Westminster in southwest British Columbia this month became the first in the 760,000-member Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), the country's largest Protestant denomination, to sanction same-sex unions. Delegates to the diocesan synod (governing body) in Vancouver, representing 80 parishes, voted 215-129 to create a ritual to bless such unions. Following the vote, delegates from nine large parishes walked out in protest. The parishes account for nearly one-fourth of all ACC members in the diocese. Leaders of the dissidents (including renowned evangelical theologian J.I. Packer) said they would appeal to conservative primates in the worldwide Anglican Communion to provide "alternative" spiritual oversight. They also indicated they would explore launching a new entity alongside the diocese to be faithful to biblical values and historic Anglicanism. Diocesan bishop Michael Ingham, who backed the same-sex measure, threatened to lift the licenses of "mutinous" clergy. Other officials warned that departing congregations will have to leave their property and other assets behind. | Edward E. Plowman
Presbyterians asked to hear the 'silent scream'
Despite news media assertions to the contrary, partial-birth abortions aren't rare, says Dr. Jean Wright, who teaches pediatrics at Atlanta's Emory School of Medicine. "People thought it was 500 a year," she told more than 200 listeners at a meeting sponsored by Presbyterians Pro-Life at this month's annual general assembly of the 2.5-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). "Probably the best statistics put it in the neighborhood of 16,000 a year." These abortions of unborn children-typically five to seven months following conception-are matters of grave moral concern, she said. From 20 weeks on, these pre-born babies can feel pain; such children destroyed in a partial-birth abortion, the physician said, let out a "silent scream." There's almost no medical reason for late-term abortions: "There's new information" that warrants "another look at the issue" by denominational policymakers. | Edward E. Plowman