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Dispatches The Buzz (Publick Occurrences)

More campaign cash

The presidential motorcade was rolling down Manhattan's West Side Highway on the way to the posh East 96th Street townhome of Shelby and Katherine Bryan when the government limos passed a grocery store with an electronic billboard taunting the president: &quotHey Mr. Clinton. Coffee at Fairway is 65 cents. Coffee at the White House is $200,000. And ours tastes better." Ironically, the president was traveling to another high-society fundraiser Feb. 18--for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee--which some attendees paid $25,000 or more to attend. Arriving at what one press report described as an &quotopulent" home, the president walked past gold-painted chairs and yard-high candles to mingle with the well-heeled donors. He thanked the attendees for giving generously, &quotknowing you might be targeted for the exercise of your constitutional right." And then the president urged his benefactors to support a new campaign-finance bill that would outlaw unlimited soft-money gifts like those they had just given. The president's men left the affair with checks totaling $1.2 million for Democratic Senate candidates. Published reports that day reported more bad news for another prodigious Democratic fundraiser, John Huang. According to the reports, records show that Mr. Huang had raised $150,000 for the Democratic National Committee even before officially leaving his post at the Commerce Department. That raises the likelihood that Mr. Huang violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from raising political funds while on official business.

No trouble with Hubble

The space shuttle Discovery touched down Feb. 21 with its seven astronauts all smiles, fresh from executing repairs--375 miles above the earth--on the Hubble Space Telescope. The nearly flawless mission featured five spacewalks, as the crew added sun-screening insulation and installed state-of-the-art scientific gear to allow the $2 billion telescope to look deeper into God's universe. This was the second repair and maintenance mission for Hubble. A third is scheduled for 1999.

Crime and punishment

In a surprise admission the day his New Jersey murder trial was to begin, a part-time Hebrew teacher wept as he told the judge how he strangled his 12-year-old daughter and killed his 10-year-old son. Avi Kostner said he was angry that his ex-wife--a convert to Christianity--wasn't going to raise the children in the Jewish faith. His attorney will argue that Mr. Kostner is mentally ill. In Alaska, a shotgun-brandishing 16-year-old high-school junior killed the school principal and wounded three fellow students. He chased classmates through the hallways at gunpoint before being subdued by police. A 13-year-old murder suspect in Atlanta will be tried as an adult. According to police, in January Michael Lewis shot a man three times in the chest as the man's two young sons looked on. The apparent reason: The man had not shown the young Lewis proper respect.

A 15 percent tip

On a late-summer afternoon in 1996, Democratic National Committee fundraiser John Huang treated Virginia businessman Rawlein Soberano to a lunch of chicken and pasta at the Cafe Promenade in Washington's Mayflower Hotel. And before he could say, &quotCheck, please," Mr. Huang had already offered a 15 percent tip. As Mr. Soberano tells it, Mr. Huang asked if Mr. Soberano's Asian American Business Roundtable would be willing to accept a $300,000 payment, in exchange for which Mr. Soberano would write a check to the DNC for $255,000 and skim off $45,000 for his trouble. &quotI said, 'John, this conversation never took place,'" Mr. Soberano told The Washington Post's Bob Woodward. But it did, he now insists: &quotI knew when you do this kind of thing, it's no different from laundering money from the drug lords." Actually, it is. Federal drug-laundering statutes apply only to the proceeds of illegal activity. Because Mr. Soberano says he rejected Mr. Huang's offer immediately, he never learned the source of the funds. But Mr. Woodward's shocking Feb. 20 story in the Post marks the first direct allegation that Mr. Huang deliberately sought to conceal the source of a contribution to the DNC. Mr. Huang is the target of congressional and Justice Department probes of illegal fundraising. Two weeks ago, Mr. Woodward revealed that the Justice Department is looking into evidence the Chinese embassy was involved in helping to steer funds to the DNC; that story also included evidence from Mr. Huang's own expense account suggesting his involvement with the embassy. Not surprisingly, Mr. Huang was unavailable for comment, but the Post did quote a lawyer said to be representing the DNC fundraiser. &quotMr. Huang would never have said anything other than that we need your help," said the lawyer, who, inexplicably, refused to be identified. If this is so innocent, why would the lawyer seek to maintain anonymity? The anonymity won't last long anyway. On the day of the Washington Post disclosures, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) became the first Democrat to break ranks and demand that Attorney General Janet Reno name an independent counsel to take over the Justice Department probe of the White House/DNC campaign-finance irregularities. And subpoenas are flying all over Capitol Hill as both House and Senate investigating committees prepare for their formal inquiries. President Clinton, meanwhile, continues to call for new campaign-finance laws. His energies would better be spent urging those who act in his name simply to obey the current ones.

Half a loaf

A federal judge's injunction marking out a floating 15-foot First Amendment-free zone around persons en route to abortion businesses was too much even for liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In an 8-1 ruling--Clinton appointee Stephen Breyer was the lone dissenter--the high court Feb. 19 struck down one provision of an injunction covering abortion businesses in Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., that forced pro-life sidewalk counselors to stay 15 feet away from abortion-minded mothers. &quotWe strike down the floating buffer zones around people entering and leaving clinics because they burden more speech than is necessary" to ensure legitimate government interests, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said for the court. But a separate 6-3 ruling upheld the constitutionality of the judge's order barring pro-life speech within a fixed zone of 15 feet from the entrances or driveways of abortion businesses. The ruling left intact a 1994 decision of the court upholding the constitutionality of a judge's injunction marking out a 36-foot fixed buffer zone that pro-lifers may not enter. Nevertheless, many pro-life groups--Operation Rescue, The Rutherford Institute, American Life League, and the Family Research Council--praised the split ruling. Paul Schenck, the pro-life activist from Buffalo who appealed the case, said he was pleased with the decision.

Story updates

After 19 bitter months, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News settled a strike with six newspaper unions, representing about 2,500 workers. Weekday circulation for the two papers has dropped 30 percent since the strike began. The IRS seized the Austin, Texas, house of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair. House and contents will be auctioned to pay $250,000 in back taxes. Mrs. O'Hair disappeared 18 months ago.

Starr's west-coast trek

Days after losing control of the timing of the announcement that he would by summer quit his job to enter the world of academia, Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr gave a press conference Feb. 19 that suggested his Aug. 1 departure date is not firm. Mr. Starr also warned political observers and journalists that it is &quotwrong ... [and] dangerous to draw any conclusion" about the status of the probe on the basis of his intention to quit. The surprise Feb. 17 announcement came not from the independent counsel's office, but from the campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., where Mr. Starr will become dean of the school of law. Immediately after the news broke, Mr. Starr's office was silent. But friends and associates of the independent counsel weren't. Theodore B. Olson, friend of Mr. Starr and the lawyer representing key Whitewater witness David Hale, said, &quotIf he [were] about to embark on a prosecution of historic proportions, then he wouldn't at the same time be planning on leaving." Former Starr deputy Mark Tuohey told The Washington Post, &quotIf he leaves ... and there is an indictment pending against the president and the first lady, he's going to take a lot of heat for walking away from it." Presidential adviser James Carville, who had mounted a personal crusade against Mr. Starr, couldn't resist: &quotDeep down inside everybody knows he's a quitter now." Regardless of how much or little is accomplished before Mr. Starr gets his bags packed, if the investigation is not complete, the three-judge panel that appointed Mr. Starr will simply choose a replacement.

Caught in the Web

Thousands of smut-seeking Internet users are paying for their sin--in dollars and cents. The Federal Trade Commission uncovered and shut down what it called &quotone of the most insidious scams" FTC officials have ever seen. Computer scam artists instructed users surfing porn sites to download a special &quotimage viewer" that would allow them to see &quotadult" images. The downloaded program actually commandeered the users' modems, cut the existing Internet connection (usually a local phone call), and made an overseas call to an Internet provider in the former Soviet republic of Moldova. The long-distance meter kept running even after the user logged off, disconnecting only when he turned his computer off. Apparently, profit on the calls was shared by the Moldovan phone company and the scam artists. Police in Texas shut down what they called &quotone of the biggest" Internet porn sites in the world, housing a 150,000-photo library. The Dallas Morning News said the site had revenues of about half a million dollars a month.

Deng dead

Only hours after denying foreign press reports that ruler Deng Xiaoping was deathly ill, Chinese officials announced Feb. 19 that the 92-year-old communist leader was indeed dead. Even so, state TV's announcement of his passing featured a caption reading, &quotComrade Deng Xiaoping is Immortal." Nicknamed &quotLazarus" for his ability to come back from the political dead (Mr. Deng was twice &quotpurged" by the communist party hierarchy before finally consolidating his power in 1978), the diminutive leader pushed his lumbering communist nation toward a more free-market economic system, which he termed &quotmarket socialism." Hoping to help China modernize, he opened diplomatic relations with the United States and allowed great numbers of Chinese students to study abroad. But Mr. Deng steadfastly resisted any connection between economic liberalization and democratic reform. Resisting calls to respect human rights, Mr. Deng approved forced abortion and sterilization as part of China's coercive &quotone-child" policy of population control. In 1989, he mandated the military crackdown on tens of thousands of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The bloody confrontation--seen around the world on TV--left hundreds of protesters dead, a fact Chinese officials brazenly denied. Under Mr. Deng, China's long-standing repression of the church continued, but with just enough modification that some house church leaders say the Marxist ruler unwittingly aided the gospel. "[He] essentially created a society that gave us just enough freedom to evangelize, but retained the apparatus to punish us when we did. Those are the ideal conditions for church growth," said an unidentified church leader in Shanghai, quoted by the Christian news organization, Compass. &quotToo much repression and the gospel never gets spread; too much freedom and the gospel never gets tested." While world leaders, including President Clinton, hailed Deng Xiaoping for remaking China's economy, Chinese dissident Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps, had a more brutal assessment. In an interview with Reuters, Mr. Wu, who now lives in the United States, described Mr. Deng as a &quotcriminal" who died with &quottwo bloody hands." Mr. Deng's chosen successor also knows a thing or two about brute force and political repression. Jiang Zemin, a Russian-trained engineer, ordered the executions of hundreds of protesters after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and he led the communist party's fierce 1995 drive to force house churches to come under government control.

Under the table

In Mexico, the army general appointed to bring integrity and toughness to the nation's war on drugs was arrested on suspicion of taking bribes to protect a leading drug lord. According to a senior U.S. law enforcement official, Mexican authorities have a recording of a telephone conversation in which Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo--appointed three months ago to be the nation's top drug-enforcement official--discussed payments to be made in return for ignoring Mexico's Juarez drug cartel.

Making the case

Hoping to pressure U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to take a hard line on human-rights abuses during her scheduled meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, pro-family leader Gary Bauer, who normally focuses on domestic policy, urged his constituents to inundate the State Department with phone calls. &quotThe State Department ... [is] not used to hearing from the American people. This is a real chance to have an impact on what they do," Mr. Bauer said. Mrs. Albright's 'round-the-world trip, her first foray as new top diplomat, also included stops in Rome, Bonn, Paris, Brussels, and London, where she shored up support for the Clinton administration's plan to expand NATO, the 16-nation mutual defense alliance created in 1949 to deter Soviet aggression. NATO expansion, so the argument goes, will better reflect the defense needs of a post-Cold War world. Even as Mrs. Albright talked up the proposed expansion, The Washington Times, citing a leaked CIA document, reported that several prospective NATO recruits--Poland, Slovenia, and Bulgaria--are selling arms to nations identified by the U.S. government as sponsoring terrorism, including Iran and Iraq. On Feb. 20 and 21, Mrs. Albright met with wary Russian leaders, who see a bigger NATO, which would expand to borders of the former Soviet Union, as a threat to Russian security.