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Dispatches The Buzz (Publick Occurrences)

Win a few, lose a few

Moderates and conservatives won some and lost some important issues and votes in their most recent showdown with liberals at the 210th General Assembly of the 2.6-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at Charlotte, N.C. With little discussion, the commissioners (delegates from presbyteries) rejected by a vote of 412-92 a bid by the Milwaukee Presbytery to make ordination standards more palatable for homosexuals. They also turned down a denominational committee's proposal that would have led to rewording the Heidelberg Confession, part of the PCUSA's doctrinal standards. The editing would have omitted a reference to "homosexual perversion" as one of the sins God condemns. Also, they voted 322-185 to require abstinence teaching and an emphasis on sexual purity in PCUSA youth education materials. A substitute motion that would have replaced the word purity with responsibility was rejected 261-246. However, moderates failed 265-264 in an attempt to inject a stronger biblical emphasis in pre-school sexual guidelines for parents and congregations. Sent back to committee was a controversial study paper on social witness, "Building Community Among Strangers." Among other things, it contained universalist concepts of salvation. The commissioners ordered a rewrite centered on confessional and biblical teaching, with Christ portrayed as Lord of all the world and its only hope of reconciliation. The assembly sent to churches two new catechisms designed to introduce basic doctrinal teachings of the Christian faith to 10- and 11-year-olds and to older youth and adults who may be biblically and theologically illiterate. Liberals complained they are a return to outdated pedagogical methods and are too centered in the New Testament. After twice voting to withdraw PCUSA sponsorship and funding from the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, commissioners succumbed to a carefully choreographed floor demonstration and emotional appeal from the podium, restored about $50,000 for another year, and ordered a committee to analyze the NNPCW's programs, content, and resources, and report back at next year's assembly. The NNPCW, tied closely to homosexual interests, claims to have 250 representatives on some 80 campuses but attracted only 17 people to its first national conference; fewer than 40 are expected at this year's event. Troubling to many moderates and conservatives was the 355-179 adoption of an "authoritative interpretation" of the PCUSA constitution to "consider the lives and behaviors of [ordination] candidates as individuals ... and not to exclude anyone categorically [such as for sexual orientation]." Ostensibly aimed at distinguishing between homosexual proclivity and homosexual practice, it nevertheless seems to open the door to off-center constitutional opinions by gay-friendly church courts. "Over the last year or so, we have been successful in putting the doctrine of Jesus Christ-Christology-at the center of our [denominational] conversations once again," Pittsburgh Seminary professor Andrew Purves told a breakfast gathering sponsored by Presbyterians for Renewal. "This renewed interest in doctrine is a watershed event."

World in brief

Still tense

The 45th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War brought vivid evidence that tensions between north and south remain high. South Korean Navy divers recovered a North Korean submarine, along with the bodies of eight North Korean soldiers onboard, after the sub was snagged by fishing nets in South Korean waters just one mile from the naval port of Donghae. The soldiers were believed to have committed suicide after the Yugo-class sub, built to carry seven men and used for spy infiltration, was captured. The sub sank when a tow-cable attached by South Korea's Navy snapped, and divers used large airbags to raise the vessel during monsoon rains. Opposition leaders criticized President Kim Dae-Jung for not taking the incident seriously enough and botching the towing operation. Chemical reaction

The UN's chief weapons inspector for Iraq told the Security Council that lab tests confirmed Iraq loaded the deadly VX nerve agent into missile warheads. The council voted to extend sanctions against Iraq another 60 days based on the findings, but also decided to perform further tests on the weapons fragments in Europe because the Iraqis contended the U.S. laboratory analysis was biased. The Iraqi government originally denied ever producing VX, just a few drops of which is lethal. Then it admitted to producing the nerve agent but not loading it on weapons. Now it says all stores of the chemical compound have been destroyed. UN weapons inspector chief Richard Butler said he doubts the latest assertion and called the test results "utterly unambiguous" in detecting traces of VX on warhead fragments retrieved at Nibai, Iraq, last March. Consenting to teen sex

Britain's lower house of Parliament voted June 22 to lower the age of consent for sex between homosexuals to 16 from 18 years old. The measure passed 336-129, with active support from Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as leaders of the main opposition parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. Hundreds of gay-rights activists, who charged that the consent laws were a form of discrimination, held a vigil outside Parliament during the vote. They vowed to continue a campaign to liberalize laws against homosexuals, including mandating a right to adopt and be foster parents to children.

Two-way symbolism

President Clinton planned to attend church at Chongwenmen Christian Church during his controversial summit with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Begun in 1870 by American Methodist missionaries, the church is part of China's officially recognized Protestant Church, registered with the central government's Religious Affairs Bureau. Some Christian leaders in the United States urged the president to attend worship services at a house church, one not registered with the communist government, as a way of demonstrating his avowed support for religious freedom and human rights. Chinese officials were also urged to make a statement during Mr. Clinton's visit. In a letter to the Central Committee, former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang said China's leaders should admit that the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown was wrong. "The trend of democracy cannot be blocked," he wrote. Mr. Zhao was ousted as party chief after the massacre of student demonstrators, whom he supported, and has been under house arrest for nine years.

Race for control

A technological earthquake has struck corporate America. AT&T gobbled up cable TV giant TCI and was rumored to have eyes on America Online. Disney bought a big stake in a Web search engine called Infoseek. NBC bought part of a struggling online service called Snap! Why? The key word is convergence. The worlds of entertainment, telecommunications, and cyberspace are coming to together in a new generation of electronic services. It's bigger than even the old dreams of 500 channels and information superhighways. For several years, corporate America has experimented with new technologies. Now its leaders are ready to play hardball. Look at the AT&T deal with TCI. The former owner of the Bell System gets a new shot at having wires in every household. The merged company promises soon to deliver phone service and high-speed Internet access through cable lines. Taking over America's biggest cable company gives AT&T access to 13 million customers. The combined company plans to deliver millions of computers over the next three years. It plans to spend $500 per home on upgrades to prepare for all the new services. Its competitors at Sprint are busy building a system that combines telephone and Internet traffic into one super-fast network. Yet when those hot new high-speed services come, who will provide the news, sports, and entertainment? That question hasn't yet been answered, so media and Internet companies are busy working on mega Web sites known as portals. These are one-stop guides to cyberspace that the owners hope will be a user's first stop when surfing. By building online powerhouses, the goal is to have the audience and advertising that power big newspapers and TV networks. That means big money is at stake. That's why Disney and NBC are so interested in little-known online startups. Even Microsoft is in the game with its own experimental portal called Start.com. As billion-dollar power players vie for control of the future, the wheeling and dealing will grow ever more fast and furious. Yet once this glorious new technological order is born, will there be enough customers to recoup all these investments?

Pay the piper, call the tune

The entire Supreme Court except for Bush appointee David Souter agreed last week that taxpayers have a right to attach strings to their money-even when it goes to artists. The 8-1 ruling held that Congress can, without violating artists' free-speech rights, deny taxpayer money to artists lawmakers deem filthy. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor narrowed the government's options, ruling the decency policy merely "advisory." A separate opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas criticized Mrs. O'Connor for "gutting" the policy. The two said Congress was well within its rights to establish viewpoint-based funding criteria. Also last week, the high court:

Struck down the line-item veto law that let the president cancel specific items in tax and spending measures. Dissenting: Justices Scalia, O'Connor, and Stephen Breyer. Thwarted Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr's effort to obtain notes taken by White House aide Vincent Foster's lawyer shortly before Mr. Foster's suicide. Dissenting: Justices Scalia, Thomas, and O'Connor.

The Grandma Clause

The rural Pennsylvania mother of a 13-year-old girl awoke one morning in 1995 to discover her daughter gone and a note that she would be going to a friend's house after school. After some checking, Joyce Farley found out her daughter Crystal Lane wasn't even at school; she called police, but they couldn't locate the girl. Crystal returned home in the evening and told her story: An 18-year-old had gotten her drunk and made her pregnant, and the boy's stepmother, Rosa Hartford, had just driven her to an abortion business in New York, where there is no state law requiring parental notification. Last week, Congress moved a step closer to passing legislation to make that kind of deceit illegal. The bill gained committee approval last week and faces a full House vote this month. It would support parental involvement laws such as the one in Pennsylvania by making it a crime to transport an underaged teen across a state line to evade another state's laws. But to hear pro-abortion Democrats tell it, good gentle Grandmas all across the country will wind up in jail if the bill becomes law. During committee debate, a nearly hysterical Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) claimed: "This bill says it will lock up the grandmother." Actually, it says no such thing-although the panel did reject an amendment aimed at exempting extended family members and religious counselors from the law. But Ms. Waters and other Democrats echoed the talking points designed by abortion-industry lobbyists. "Don't make a criminal out of the concerned grandmother, the loving aunt, the caring neighbor, the responsible friend she turns to for counsel," said Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt in a May 13 press release, just as House and Senate hearings on the bill opened. Even the Associated Press got into the act, reporting the party line: "Democrats, united in their opposition to the bill ..., argued it would subject loving grandparents, other relatives, and religious advisers to a $100,000 fine and a year in jail...." The Grandma Clause exists nowhere else in the federal statute books, and certainly not in the law that makes it a federal crime to protest abortion in front of an abortion business. Lots of Grandmas have been prosecuted under state laws already: Rochester, N.Y., grandmother Carol Crossed, head of the Seamless Garment Network, tallied her 18th arrest and jail sentence last year for protesting at abortion businesses. Mrs. Crossed considers herself a liberal-she's also anti-nuke, pro-gay, and environmentalist-and says pro-abortionists are illiberal. "I see a liberal as someone who embraces life, whether it's women, the poor, gays and lesbians, the people on death row, or the unborn," she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It is antithetical for liberals to exclude a class of persons from our embrace." Amherst, N.Y., great-grandmother Eva Boldt, 69, received a jail sentence for trespassing at a local abortion business. After she learned of the October 1996 ruling that sent her to the slammer, Mrs. Boldt said, "I am going to pray. I will pray for the judge, too." Hampton, N.H., grandmother Irene Roy started her career in crime in January 1989 and has been arrested six times and spent 71 days in jail for protesting abortion. The House Judiciary Committee voted 17-10, strictly along party lines, to send the jail-grandma legislation to the full House. Republican leaders expect a vote on the bill after Congress returns from its 4th of July recess. President Clinton says he will veto the measure.

Feet to the fire

A college physics professor announced last week he planned to defy the laws of his academic profession. David Willey, the University of Pittsburgh prof, set July 2 as the date he hopes to break the world distance record for walking over hot coals. The current record is 120 feet. Also last week, congressional Republicans put President Clinton on notice they'd be holding his feet to the fire on the issue of educational choice. Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas) said on the GOP weekend radio address he was not concerned about the president's threat to veto a House bill built around tax breaks for school expenses, including tuition at private and Christian schools. Nor was the Senate, which passed the measure last week. The legislation would allow parents to use accrued interest from education savings accounts tax-free to help finance their children's education.

Your sin will find you

Trucker Herbert Gross parked his tractor-trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., last week and sought out the services of a prostitute. While he was engrossed with the woman, looters descended upon the trailer and seized about 3,400 pairs of sneakers and shoes by Rockport, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Timberland. Many looters left their old, worn-out shoes littering the street where they sat down and tried on new ones. About 1,700 pairs of shoes remained when police arrived on the scene. Mr. Gross told police he was in a nearby house with a prostitute when the lock was broken on his truck. No criminal charges were filed because the woman denied having sex and no drugs were found.

Defining candidacy down?

Heather Wilson is no pro-lifer. But the new member of Congress from New Mexico-the Republican victor in a closely watched special election last week-opposes partial-birth abortion and federal funding, and supports modest abortion restrictions, including proposed legislation (see p. 9) making it a crime to help an underaged girl circumvent state parental-notice laws. "I believe that abortion is morally wrong almost all of the time," said Mrs. Wilson, who would oppose a human-life amendment or a federal abortion ban. Her pro-choice stance ends with abortion, however. She opposes education choice measures like school vouchers. Election of the 37-year-old Air Force veteran, former Bush administration arms-control negotiator, and New Mexico state social-services bureaucrat was priority one for national Republicans. The special election was called to fill the vacancy left by the late Rep. Steve Schiff, the Republican who died last year of skin cancer. GOP leaders are nervous about their thin majority and whether they can retain control of the House when all those seats are up for grabs this fall. "This victory slams the door shut on any Democrat hopes for regaining the House," overstated Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson in an RNC press release. The Republican National Coalition for Life predicted Mrs. Wilson would be "another Mary Bono," who won a special election earlier this year to fill the seat of her late husband Rep. Sonny Bono. Mrs. Bono ran and won as a moderate pro-lifer, but on her first abortion-related vote sided with pro-abortion forces in a failed attempt to repeal a law barring abortions in U.S. military hospitals. RNC Life's Colleen Parro called Mrs. Wilson's candidacy a "shame" and feared the success of such candidates would pave the way for others who are wishy-washy on abortion: "If Heather Wilson can get pro-life support, what incentive is there for future candidates to go further?"

Civics 101

After a year and a half of study, an 18-member commission chaired by former Republican Education Secretary Bill Bennett and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn concluded last week that "the United States is experiencing an unprecedented weakening of self-government and personal responsibility." The National Commission on Civic Renewal wants the entertainment industry held "as accountable for civic harm" as tobacco companies are held for physical harm. But mostly, the commission's report stressed personal responsibility and involvement. Mr. Bennett and company recommended that neighbors watch each other's houses and patrol community parks; that students be required to demonstrate a knowledge of civics before they can graduate from high school; and that parents commit themselves to rearing children in two-parent households and stopping out-of-wedlock births. Congress, meanwhile, was doing its part to address the problem of irresponsible fathers. By large margins, both houses passed legislation making it a federal crime for deadbeat parents to cross state lines. Three million parents who fail to pay child support could be affected by the law, which President Clinton signed just before leaving for China.

A real hangup

When the new millennium comes, will you be able to ring in the new year on your telephone? Maybe. The FCC says America's phone companies are making good progress. Industry players are working hard to make sure their computer systems still work a year and a half from now. But there's a lot of hard work ahead and many unknowns. AT&T officials, for example, say that most of their computer code has been checked and repaired. MCI plans to spend $400 million on upgrades. The millennium czar at GTE, which expects to spend about $350 million getting ready, said an unchecked needle in the technology haystack could be fatal. "Y2K is truly a 'weakest-link' problem," GTE Vice President A. Gerard Roth explained. "The single system or date conversion we miss may be the undoing of the 99 percent." Meanwhile, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican leaders scrambled to find $3.9 billion needed to fix the federal government's computers. Some GOP acolytes wonder if the bug will torpedo Al Gore's political career as public awareness increases. Almost one in four Americans now believe the millennium will cause inconvenient lifestyle changes, according to a poll released by the Information Technology Association of America. "One year ago, a reference to the Year 2000 would have brought blank stares or an image of Times Square at midnight," says ITAA's Harris Miller. "Americans are beginning to worry." As concern rises in the United States, the keepers of Russia's nuclear power plan to sit on their hands. The country's Atomic Energy Ministry will wait until after 1999 to fix any bug-induced computer glitches. "We don't have any problems yet," says spokesman Vladislav Petrov. "We'll deal with the problem in the year 2000." Last May, Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko ordered computer experts to develop ways to fix the 2000 problem by the end of this year. Even so, the former superpower is considered way behind the West-which itself is way behind-in fighting the cold war against time.

Show me the beanies

The Beanie Babies craze has taken a high-tech twist. A horde of Web sites deal in these popular beanbag toys as commodities. Collectors, parents, and investors compete with one another for the rarest and hottest toys. Traders go online and post their wares, complete with pictures and descriptions. To the highest bidders go the spoils. One site in San Jose, Calif., eBay.com, claims to have handled over 10 million bids since 1995. One toy, Royal Blue Peanut the Elephant, went for $2,500. It originally sold for five bucks retail. Other auctions can be found at beanienation.com and yourbeanieauction.com. Some of these sites also provide links to endless fan pages, price guides, and tips for bidders. A simple search of the Net will find a swarm of dealers pitching Ants The Anteater and Early The Robin. Now the manufacturer is getting worried about crooks ripping off the customers. A few months ago, Ty Inc. got together with the Better Business Bureau and issued a warning about fake Beanies. These counterfeits may have subtle flaws, such as poor quality sewing, mismatched pieces, or labels that appear bogus, authorities say. Sometimes dealers take the money and run. Ty says one huckster used the guest book on the Ty Web page to run an ad that bilked Beanie Baby buyers out of about $20,000 in unfulfilled orders. A complete collection of the real things, all Beanie Babies, is worth $100,000, according to Mary Beth Sobolewski, editor of Mary Beth's Beanie World. Are these toys a real investment like old Barbies and Hot Wheels, or will they fade like Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo? "I see the market holding up for another year," says Steve Ellingboe, editor of Today's Collector. "I don't know if these things could be huge 5, 10, 20 years from now."

Disorder in the court

Family Research Council's Jester Court jury reached its 1998 verdict last week. Members of the jury-Chuck Colson, Phyllis Schlafly, Bob Destro, Lino Graglia, Tom Jipping, Hadley Arkes, and Gary Bauer-bestowed dubious awards upon American jurists most guilty of judicial activism. Here are the awards by category: The Invisible Ink Award: Alabama Federal Judge Ira DeMent, the FRC jury ruled, "for his decision in Chandler vs. James, a case in which he 'saw' invisible words in the Establishment Clause that institute a complete ban on prayer of any sort in public schools." The See No Evil Award: 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John T. Nixon, "for overturning Tennessee's death sentence provisions in Richard H. Austin vs. Ricky Bell." The Jester jury noted the ruling marked Judge Nixon's fifth such finding of an exception to Tennessee's criminal statutes. The Overruled Award: New Jersey State Court Judge James M. Havey, "for Dale vs. Boy Scouts of America in which he ... dictated that [the Boy Scouts'] longstanding statement of purpose and membership criteria be changed to accommodate homosexual lifestyles." The Out of Order Award: New York District Judge Sonia Sotomayor, "for Bartlett vs. New York State Board of Law Examiners in which she used lofty legalese to justify a belief that any person performing below average in a chosen endeavor suffers from a disability and should be accommodated under the Americans With Disabilities Act." The Lifetime Achievement Award: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt. Even the U.S. Supreme Court-itself no stranger to judicial activism-reversed 28 of 29 cases from Judge Reinhardt's Circuit. The Jester jury gave special notice to the judge's decision "that people have a right ... to be killed by their doctor because mothers have a 'right' to kill their unborn children."