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Dispatches The Buzz (Publick Occurrences)

Smoke and mirrors

Hand it to the White House spin doctors. On Tuesday of last week came the news that teenage drug use has gone sky high during the Clinton administration-soaring 105 percent between 1992 and 1995. It was a one-day story. Less than 24 hours later, the White House changed the subject, threatening to take new action against tobacco. Day two of that story was Friday, when President Clinton officially rolled out the new FDA rules regulating cigarettes. That was more than 48 hours after administration officials leaked the news that the rollout was coming, which in effect squelched the drug story. Of course, it's a false choice to suggest the president must choose between concern about (1) tobacco smoking among teens and (2) marijuana smoking, cocaine snorting, and LSD ingesting among teens. But it's worth pointing out the difference between cigarettes and dope. Not to mention the hypocrisy of the president's moral crusade against tobacco at the same time he excuses recent drug problems among his own staff. Politics and governance are all about setting priorities. And sending signals. President Clinton seems to be suggesting that the Philip Morrises of the world are a greater threat than the Pablo Escobars. The administration's own numbers are shocking: Almost 11 percent of all kids ages 12 to 17 use illegal drugs on a regular, monthly basis; use of marijuana among teens is up 141 percent on Bill Clinton's watch; and from 1994 to 1995, teenagers' use of cocaine is up 166 percent. (Interestingly, the first numbers the administration released concerning the rise in teen drug use were low by 27 percentage points; revised figures came out later in the day, prompting Bob Dole's spokesman to quip, "Did Bill Clinton forget to count the White House staff?") It simply will not do to declare, as Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala did, that the war on drugs is a "bipartisan issue" off-limits to politics. If that were true, then all of last week's gala White House bill signings-of legislation approved with large bipartisan support-should have been canceled. The White House is ducking a debate over drugs. And the news media, by not pressing the issue, are leaving the public in a haze.

Follow the bouncing pol

President Clinton approached Chicago on the rebound after Bob Dole bounded happily out of the San Diego convention with running mate Jack Kemp. Early polls immediately after the convention had Mr. Clinton holding only a slight edge (44-42, a statistical dead heat according to a Newsweek survey in its August 26 issue); later in the week, Mr. Dole's bounce flattened out (A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll August 23 gave the president 48 percent and Mr. Dole 38 percent). The Dole/Kemp team's first big swing was a three-day tour through four states Mr. Clinton carried in 1992; in Louisville, the Republicans picked up the endorsement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and made a campaign appearance August 20 with military star Colin Powell before the VFW's convention. Vice president Al Gore appeared at the VFW meeting the next day and accused Mr. Dole of wanting to cut defense and veterans' benefits to finance his proposed $550 billion tax cut-a charge Mr. Dole denied. President Clinton, meanwhile, promoted a $110 billion tax-cut plan of his own. The rest of the week, he held high-profile White House signings of Republican-passed legislation: a minimum-wage hike that includes partially offsetting tax cuts for businesses harmed by the wage mandate (August 20); a provision requiring health-insurance portability and allowing a small medical savings accounts demonstration project (August 21); and welfare reform (August 22). Meanwhile, third-party conventions chose their nominees. Ross Perot took the nomination of his Reform Party August 18, trouncing former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm; Mr. Perot accepted $29 million in taxpayer subsidies for his formerly self-financed political party. The Green Party nominated consumer crusader and environmentalist Ralph Nader. And U.S. Taxpayers Party delegates, disappointed that Pat Buchanan endorsed the Dole/Kemp ticket and remained a Republican, nominated Howard Phillips August 17. Former Regent University law school dean Herb Titus was selected as Mr. Phillips's running mate.

An Arkansas whitewash?

Whitewater convicts Jim Guy Tucker and Susan McDougal were sentenced August 19 and 20 respectively. Mr. Tucker, the former governor of Arkansas, begged the court's mercy and received no prison time; he cited a chronic liver disease. Mrs. McDougal, however, received a two-year prison sentence. Several days before Jim McDougal's scheduled sentencing, off-the-record sources told reporters Mr. McDougal had agreed to cooperate with Whitewater prosecutors in exchange for information pertinent to the Clintons' involvement in the scandal. Mr. McDougal's sentencing date was delayed three months.

The economy

An August 15 Federal Reserve Board report found that economic indicators signaled inflation is under control. Industrial production climbed only one-tenth of a percent. Five days later, on the strength of that report, the Fed agreed not to hike interest rates.

Kevorkian strikes again

Jack Kevorkian helped end the earthly lives of three more people, bringing to 37 the number of suicides in which he has collaborated. One day after the death of his 35th victim, a 42-year-old Massachusetts woman, Mr. Kevorkian said he might not have gone through with the killing had he known that her husband had been charged last month with assaulting her. The victim was said to have been in ill health for a number of years, but doctors said her medical problems were not fatal. The Boston Globe reported that the husband, a psychiatrist, also is under investigation by a Massachusetts medical board for "improper prescription" of narcotics. The victim reportedly was addicted to painkillers.

Lift high the cross

A federal appeals court panel ruled that a city-owned, 62-year-old cross on San Francisco's highest peak violates the constitution and must be removed. The 103-foot cross on Mount Davidson has been a San Francisco landmark since 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt participated in a dedication ceremony. The three-judge panel ruled that the towering Latin cross is a powerful symbol of Christianity and therefore the city cannot own and maintain it without illegally slighting other religions. One day after the decision, a group of Christian leaders said it hoped to purchase the cross and surrounding property from the city.

Root causes of poverty

As President Clinton prepared to sign the Republican welfare reform bill, the Census Bureau issued its latest report on poverty in America-which supports GOP arguments that family breakdown is a prime cause of poverty. The bottom line: Families without dads were "much more likely to be poor" than families with both parents present. The report said 17.2 percent of female-headed families were classified as "chronically poor" during the survey period, compared with only 1.6 percent of two-parent families.

Conspiring against truth?

Two former members of the Ku Klux Klan pleaded guilty August 14 to setting fire to two black churches in South Carolina. Two days later, two other former members of the Klan were indicted for helping burn another South Carolina church. Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches disputed a claim that it has been promoting a "great church fire hoax" in order to "promote its radical agenda and to smear conservatives . . . as racist." The allegation was made by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a frequent critic of oldline Protestant groups. The Wall Street Journal reported that the NCC, which last year was struggling to raise money to fund its ambitious "racial justice" program, has generated $9 million in contributions since it began to ask for donations to "stand up against racism" and to help burned churches rebuild. Although at least one NCC official has characterized the burnings as being part of "a well-organized white-supremacist movement," fire investigators have found no evidence of such a conspiracy.

The wild, wildfire West

More than 40 wildfires burned over a half million acres in nine Western states, and officials warned that due to hot and dry weather, lightning could spark even more fires. The fire-fighting force grew to more than 20,000 as federal troops and prison inmates joined firefighters in battling the blazes. This summer, 4.3 million acres have burned across the West.

The wild kingdom

A gorilla at a Chicago-area zoo won worldwide praise after rescuing a 3-year-old boy who climbed a railing and fell 18 feet into the zoo's primate exhibit August 16. Animal behaviorists said the gorilla was simply following her motherly instincts. The boy suffered bruises, cuts, and a broken left hand, but doctors expected him to make a full recovery. In San Diego, human rescuers beheaded a 9-foot Burmese python that had wrapped itself around a pregnant woman and her husband. The python was their family pet.

Hussein flees Kuwait

Kuwaiti businessman Robert Hussein, convicted of apostasy after converting from Islam to Christianity, fled his native country August 17, according to the news service Compass Direct. Mr. Hussein was ruled an apostate by an Islamic court earlier this year and was awaiting an appeal. In an interview last month with Reuters, Mr. Hussein said he feared for his life because some Muslims would interpret the conviction as permission to kill him. It was not immediately known whether Mr. Hussein would seek religious asylum in the United States. Forty-eight members of the Congress had written the Kuwaiti crown prince on Mr. Hussein's behalf.

Belgian outrage

Belgium was shaken by the starvation deaths of two young girls held captive by a convicted pedophile. An estimated 100,000 people attended an August 22 memorial service for the two 8-year-old victims, who had been held by Marc Dutroux, a 39-year-old convicted child kidnapper and rapist who had been released early for good behavior. Two other girls, ages 12 and 14, were found alive in a hidden dungeon in one of Mr. Dutroux's several homes. At least two other girls remain missing. Mr. Dutroux is believed to be the ringleader of a child-trafficking and child-porn gang. The case has prompted calls for restoration of the death penalty in Belgium.

Down under in Australia

In Australia, opponents of euthanasia tried but failed to repeal a new law that allows doctors, under certain conditions, to give lethal doses of drugs to the terminally ill. The law, said to be the world's first allowing voluntary euthanasia, went into effect July 1 in the Northern Territory. Another challenge will occur next month, when anti-euthanasia members of Australia's national parliament try to override the territorial statute.

Unstable truce in Chechnya

After several frustrating attempts, a truce finally appeared to take hold in Chechnya, where rebels have been fighting for almost two years to gain independence from Russia. A cease-fire took effect August 23, one day after Russian security chief Alexander Lebed signed a detailed peace accord with his Chechen counterpart. More than 30,000 have died in fighting in Chechnya. Russian president Boris Yeltsin, meanwhile, ended weeks of virtual seclusion and scoffed at reports he needed heart surgery.

White leader apologizes

In South Africa, former President F.W. de Klerk apologized August 21 for the actions of his National Party under the apartheid system of racial separation. "[W]e have gone on our knees before God Almighty to pray for His forgiveness," Mr. de Klerk told the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A day later, the ruling African National Congress admitted to the commission that it had engaged in violence in its attempts to overthrow apartheid and had planned a never-carried-out car-bomb killing of the entire white minority cabinet. The ANC also admitted torturing and executing more than 30 suspected spies. The panel was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to investigate human rights abuses under apartheid and to compensate victims.