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Dispatches The Buzz (Publick Occurrences)

The world in brief

Ending a formal three-year period of mourning, the reclusive son of North Korea's national founder Kim Il Sung took formal control of the nation Oct. 8, assuming the post of general secretary of the ruling Korean Worker's Party. According to The Washington Post, 55-year-old Kim Jong Il, who has been de facto strongman since his father's death, "has inherited and cultivated the personality cult created by his father" that pictures Mr. Kim as the spiritual as well as political leader of the nation's 24 million people. In Cuba, Fidel Castro keeps going, and going, and going. In an Oct. 8 speech to Cuba's Communist Party congress, Mr. Castro spoke for 6 hours, 43 minutes. Then, after a break to allow the 1,500 party delegates to stretch and grab a bite to eat, the 71-year-old Cuban leader got a second wind and spoke again, going well into the night. Mr. Castro denounced the United States for waging "total economic and political war" on his island nation. He also celebrated the memory of communist revolutionary and former comrade-in-arms Che Guevara, and, according to Reuter, scorned capitalism as an economic system that "cannot have a moral future."

Just following advice

An unwed 17-year-old Long Island, N.Y., girl who hid her pregnancy from friends and family faces charges of child endangerment, after keeping her newborn son hidden in a bedroom closet for more than two weeks. Shanta Clark secretly gave birth Sept. 21 to a five-weeks premature infant, but was afraid to tell her mother. "She used to tell me if I ever got pregnant, I should get an abortion," Miss Clark told the New York Post. The boy, who weighed only four pounds when discovered, has been hospitalized and is recovering from dehydration. Miss Clark had been leaving him alone for eight hours a day while she went to school.

Washington in brief

The Mod Squad: An FBI counterespionage sting operation netted a leftist trio that first met in college in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; the three were arrested Oct. 4 and charged Oct. 6 in U.S. district court on spy conspiracy charges. They were ordered held without bond pending trial. FBI officials allege the suspects spied for East Germany over a period of two decades, passing to the communist government secret documents and photographs obtained through friendly contacts at the State Department. The three-Theresa Marie Squillacote, her husband Kurt Alan Stand, and James Michael Clark-were small-time spies, FBI officials say, never earning more than $40,000 combined for all their efforts. They say the motive was ideology, not money. Fall cleaning: Supreme Court justices returned from a long summer vacation Oct. 6 and promptly rejected 1,500 appeals that had stacked up while they were away. Even though the court refused to act in the cases, the non-action effectively put the Supremes' stamp of approval on the appeals court actions that were being appealed. Among the rejected cases was a university graduation prayer case (a lower court held the prayers are constitutionally permissible), another challenge to the Clinton administration's "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy on homosexuals in the military (the policy was upheld in the lower court), and a court-appointed lawyer's appeal of abortion-doctor killer Paul Hill's death sentence (the execution should go on at the state's discretion). In a case from Maine, a state right-to-life group sued and successfully struck down a Federal Election Commission regulation governing advocacy group "issue" advertisements. The FEC rule asserted jurisdiction over any ad that could be interpreted "by a reasonable person" as calling for the election or defeat of any candidate for federal office. Political advocacy ads, as defined by the FEC, fall under the agency's disclosure requirements and caps on contributions. Maine Right to Life officials argued successfully that the rule was too vague and shouldn't have applied to its advertising contrasting pro-life and pro-abortion political candidates. Ding-dong: "McCain-Feingold is dead," declared Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), gleefully prounouncing last rites over the campaign-finance legislation that bears his colleagues' names. The legislation stalemated after Republicans failed to break a Democrat-led filibuster blocking consideration of an amendment to the campaign-finance bill; the amendment required union officials to obtain workers' expressed permission before spending their union dues on politics. Union bosses demanded that supportive senators block the provision; they complained it would have crippled organized labor's political power, which depends on mandatory worker dues to bankroll Democratic politicians. After the Democrat filibuster held, Democrats and a handful of Republicans tried and failed to break a Republican leadership filibuster of the McCain-Feingold legislation.

A festering wound

More than 50 years after the end of World War II, trial began in the case of Maurice Papon, a wartime official in German-occupied France accused of committing crimes against humanity. Mr. Papon is charged with signing arrest and deportation orders that sent almost 1,700 French Jews, including more than 200 children, to their deaths in Nazi extermination camps. Now 87 years old and in ill health, Mr. Papon insists he actually helped rescue Jews from deportation as an undercover member of the anti-Nazi resistance. Meanwhile, in an Oct. 7 ceremony in Jerusalem, the International Committee of the Red Cross acknowledged its "moral failure" in keeping silent during the Holocaust.

Poisoned atmosphere

An apparent attempt by two Israeli spies to poison a suspected terrorist leader ended up poisoning Israel's relations with Jordan, Canada, and the United States. The alleged assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khled Meshal took place in Jordan Sept. 25, but details didn't emerge until days later. Hamas-the Islamic Resistance Movement-is suspected in a long series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel. According to published reports, two members of the Israeli spy agency, acting on orders from the highest levels of the Israeli government, entered Jordan posing as Canadian tourists. Meeting Mr. Meshal outside his office, the agents sprayed the Hamas leader with a lethal nerve toxin and beat a hasty retreat, only to be caught and overpowered by Mr. Meshal's bodyguard. Lingering near death, Mr. Meshal was spared when Israel, under heavy pressure from both the United States and Jordan, supplied the toxin's antidote. Days later, Jordan agreed to return the two suspected hit men to Israel in exchange for Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas founder who had been serving a life term in an Israeli prison. The Meshal assassination attempt created a political and policy firestorm for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although stopping short of explicitly acknowledging he had ordered the attack, he staunchly defended Israel's fight against Hamas terrorism "in any way." On Oct. 7, Mr. Netanyahu, hoping to put the assassination controversy behind him, met for more than two hours with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to talk about reviving stalled Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations. It was their first face-to-face meeting in eight months.

Outvoted

In 1990 more than half of California voters said yes to term limits for state legislators. Now, two federal judges have said no. A three-judge appellate panel struck down the term-limits law, ruling that voters had not been adequately informed of the potential impact of the measure. The law prohibited a legislator from ever again seeking the same office once his term had expired. Had the measure not been struck down, 26 state legislators, including two of the state's most powerful Democrats, would have been forced from office next year. The court action against term limits could help the Democratic Party maintain its slim majority in both houses of the state legislature. Term-limit supporters are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will overrule the 9th Circuit and reinstate the term-limits law.

Breaking the monopoly

House Republican leaders signaled their willingness last week to hold firm on providing tuition vouchers for needy students in the District of Columbia. The D.C. appropriations bill (the city is under the jurisdiction of the federal government) squeaked through 203-202, with Speaker Gingrich having to take the unusual step of voting to break the tie. The measure is held up in the Senate by a Ted Kennedy filibuster and the threat of a Bill Clinton veto. Speaking with editors and reporters of The Washington Post three days before the vote, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said the leadership is prepared to let the city go without a budget before surrendering on the voucher issue. Of course, Republicans have a well-known losing record in the game of legislative "chicken" with President Clinton, but they may be serious this time. Education vouchers, particularly for low-income families stuck in dangerous, failed government schools, have a growing constituency. Apparently the Republicans understand this. President Clinton knows who's pouring his coffee, the National Education Association, and that explains his intransigence on vouchers. Staffers in his Office of Management and Budget put out a statement denouncing the voucher proposal as a "dangerous precedent." Dangerous, indeed-to the government education monopoly. It's clear education reformers are winning the debate. "The Republican majority is now trying to end public education in this country," shrieks Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro. That's supposed to be an argument against vouchers?

"The grip of evil"

Five days after 16-year-old Luke Woodham allegedly shot and killed two students at his Pearl, Miss., high school, police arrested six of his friends, charging them with planning to murder more classmates. Investigators said the seven boys, all considered intellectual and aloof, called themselves "The Group" and apparently spent considerable time studying the violent writings of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Said one resident of the shocked town of 22,000: "It's the grip of evil is what it is." Police divers in Maine located the body of a 10-year-old boy who had been abducted, murdered, molested after death, and then dumped into a river. Two male suspects, ages 21 and 22, are in custody. Police found pornographic magazines in the men's car.

Try, try again

President Clinton will for a second time have to veto legislation banning the inch-from-infanticide procedure known as partial-birth abortion, or else it will become law. The House voted by an overwhelmingly veto-proof margin 296-192 on Oct. 8 to outlaw the practice. "Will [Mr. Clinton] go down in history as the president whose veto had to be overridden to protect helpless infants from a brutal death?" asked Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) during debate on the bill. It had passed the Senate last year by a narrower margin-still three votes short of the margin needed to override a promised veto. Trent Lott, the majority leader in the Senate, said that after the president vetoes the bill, Senate action to override will not come until after the new year-in hopes of building election-year pressure on wavering senators. That prompted pro-abortion forces to complain that the partial-birth abortion bill is nothing more than "a political weapon," said a NARAL lobbyist. "Why are we voting on this piece of legislation again and again?" wondered Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). "The reason is clear-in the '98 elections, the Republicans think they can saddle people with this."

Let's go to the replay

Senate leader Trent Lott says he understands why Sen. Fred Thompson's Government Affairs Committee hearings aren't making much headway-an uncooperative White House, slippery "I-can't-recall" testimony, and out-of-the-country witnesses. But in a remarkable C-SPAN radio interview on Oct. 9, Sen. Lott ripped Sen. Thompson for "basically shutting down [the probe] a couple of weeks ago" to use the committee to promote the stalled McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation, instead of keeping the focus on actual abuses of the current law. Earlier, the probe got a boost from the belated discoveries of White House videotapes showing the president's fundraising coffees. Mr. Thompson suggested he was looking into possible obstruction of justice. He began one day's hearings by showing some of the tapes and castigating the Clinton administration for trying to "run out the clock on the committee," whose mandate ends Dec. 31. The belated videotape discovery, and failure of White House officials to inform Justice Department investigators of the tapes, also angered Attorney General Janet Reno. She came under fierce criticism from committee Republicans for running a lax fundraising investigation. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) accused Miss Reno of "not telling the truth" about the probe. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said, "I think we have to act to find a new attorney general." A spokesman for Miss Reno dismissed the criticism as "political bullying." One committee witness did a little political bullying of his own. In his opening statement, former White House aide Harold Ickes said, "I know that it is customary for witnesses to express their great pleasure to appear before you, but because I am under oath, I am unable to say I share that sentiment." Also under oath, the acerbic Mr. Ickes claimed, "I know of no violation of law or inappropriate action by the president or vice president." By Oct. 8, the panel had shifted gears once again, to focus on a possible White House conspiracy to steer Democratic National Committee financial donors to Ron Carey's campaign for the presidency of the Teamsters union; Mr. Carey, in return, would funnel union money to state Democratic party organizations to support Mr. Clinton's reelection campaign. The panel released evidence that an aide to Mr. Carey attended a June, 1996, White House luncheon, just before the Teamsters began their giving to state Democratic party organizations; that aide later pleaded guilty in a money-laundering scheme to benefit the Teamsters' boss. Mr. Thompson accused President Clinton of having a "private" meeting with the money launderer and other Democratic fundraisers. Mr. Thompson immediately backed off that charge because evidence showed it wasn't a private luncheon, but a well-attended, larger function. "If you have to eat crow, or maybe half a crow," he said, "it's better to eat it warm than cold."

A festering wound

More than 50 years after the end of World War II, trial began in the case of Maurice Papon, a wartime official in German-occupied France accused of committing crimes against humanity. Mr. Papon is charged with signing arrest and deportation orders that sent almost 1,700 French Jews, including more than 200 children, to their deaths in Nazi extermination camps. Now 87 years old and in ill health, Mr. Papon insists he actually helped rescue Jews from deportation as an undercover member of the anti-Nazi resistance. Meanwhile, in an Oct. 7 ceremony in Jerusalem, the International Committee of the Red Cross acknowledged its "moral failure" in keeping silent during the Holocaust.