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Dispatches The Buzz (Publick Occurrences)

Trial and error

It was all pomp and circumstance on Thursday, Jan. 7, as the first presidential impeachment trial in 130 years finally got underway. The 13 House prosecutors, known as "managers," solemnly presented the two impeachment counts alleging perjury and obstruction of justice. Then Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in full judicial regalia, swore in the 100 senators who will serve as Bill Clinton's jury. But behind all the pomp, the Senate was in pandemonium. Apart from the day's photo opportunities, almost nothing was clear about how the trial would proceed. Insiders said leaders of both parties were pressing hard for a quick, face-saving resolution. The House managers, however, were pressing equally hard for a full trial, complete with witnesses. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), the white-haired lion of the Senate, was warning darkly that the president's future was far from certain. And the chief justice was harumphing that he'd really rather not be bothered with the political brouhaha. The wrangling had continued day and night, and on Jan. 6 a group of senators met with Rep. Henry Hyde and several other House managers before calling over members of the White House legal team. At issue: How many witnesses-if any-would be called by each side. Mr. Hyde and his team want Monica Lewinsky and presidential pal Vernon Jordan to testify, at the very least. Democrats would prefer to see the trial proceed with no witnesses at all. The White House, meanwhile, was pressing for a quick "test vote" to show that the 2/3 majority needed for conviction simply doesn't exist. Off the record, White House officials outlined their talking points: Such a test vote would prove that any further action is a show trial conducted for political purposes. By WORLD's press time, the only remote certainty was that each side would have up to five days to present its case. Calling witnesses would push any verdict back by perhaps a month.

The no-comment zone

  • Two pranksters were fined about $88 each by a Belgian court for hitting Bill Gates in the face with a cream pie last year, leaving him with pastry dripping off his glasses and onto his suit.
  • The Dow shot through that 9,500 barrier, setting new all-time highs as expectations kept rising that the American economy would keep booming.
  • Movie star turned NRA President Charlton Heston says he is on the road to recovery from prostate cancer-and weeks of intense radiation treatments haven't stopped him from political activism or making his 75th movie at age 75.
  • Playboy's cable TV empire won two victories that give it five cable channels running 24 hours a day. Two days after it won a huge court case-striking down a federal law keeping "adult" programs off the air from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.-Playboy gobbled up its biggest cable porn competitor in a merger.
  • On the eve of President Clinton's plan to bring U.S. money, mail, and baseball to Cuba, Fidel Castro celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Communist takeover of the island nation.
  • America Online was denied a restraining order against AT&T after a federal judge ruled the online service did not have the exclusive rights to its onscreen phrases "You have mail," "Buddy list," and "IM" (for instant message).
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay a $375 million settlement to about 3,000 black farmers-that's about $125,000 per farmer-who say they were unfairly denied government loans and subsidies.
  • Not one of 615 million passengers died in an accident last year on any U.S. commercial airplane anywhere in the world; this achievement has never occurred before in the history of commercial aviation.

Courts could restrict pro-life Internet speech

The abortion wars, like most other political disputes, are being fought on the Internet-and abortionists are going to court to stop some of their opponents. One abortion clinic owner sued Compuserve and another company, TML Information Services, saying pro-life protesters used the services to dig up personal information about clinic visitors. America Online is named in the case because it owns Compuserve. The Aware Woman Center for Choice says abortion foes searched for clinic visitors' names and addresses, using license plate numbers of cars driven to the clinic. The federal lawsuit charges that a picture of one abortionist in a car wreck was sent to his patients. The clinic also claims activists found the identity of one woman visitor and trailed her to a hospital and a department store. Elsewhere in the courtroom, Planned Parenthood is suing Christiangallery.com for millions in damages. This Web site calls abortionists "baby butchers" and contains photos of mangled fetuses and drawings of dripping blood. It includes names and details on hundreds of abortionists, clinic owners, and workers. Four doctors and two clinic workers murdered since 1993 are crossed off. Lawyers for the abortion industry say this is an invitation to murder. "These are not words in isolation," said Bonnie Jones, a lawyer at New York's Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. But Jim Henderson, an anti-abortion lawyer, said, "I'd hate to see the Constitution perverted by the claim that posting names and addresses alone on the Internet is cause for incitement." The law that makes the disputes possible is the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it illegal to incite violence against abortionists and their patients. While it was purportedly intended to stop people who have firebombed clinics or attacked doctors, the law has put a lid on peaceful clinic sit-ins and now is being used against those who take to the Net to protest.

World in brief

UN peacekeepers shot down over Angola

A UN cargo plane was shot down over Angola Jan. 2 with eight peacekeepers and civilian UN staff on board. It was the second time a UN-chartered plane was downed, apparently by UNITA rebels fighting to overthrow the Angolan government. Multinational agencies have been pulling workers from Angola since a four-year-old peace process reached an impasse last summer. Six planes have disappeared in UNITA territory. First four religious freedom panelists named

Congressional leaders appointed four of six members to a new panel on international religious freedom. Outgoing House Speaker Newt Gingrich named Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom, and Elliott Abrams, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott selected former Sen. Bill Armstrong and John Bolton, a former assistant secretary of State, for the panel. Under a law enacted last fall to monitor religious persecution, President Clinton will also name two members of the panel. Saudi Arabia: No. 1 persecutor

In a report released by persecution watchdog Open Doors, Saudi Arabia again tops the list of nations that persecute Christians. Closely following on the World Watch List is Sudan, then Somalia, Yemen, and North Korea. Others are Laos, Vietnam, and China, rounded out by the tiny Islamic kingdom of Brunei.

500 slaughtered

At least 500 villagers were killed by rebels during a New Year's massacre in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an Italian missionary news service reported. The Roman Catholic agency, Misna, said it had collected first-person accounts of a slaughter from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1, purportedly carried out in retaliation for an attack on rebel soldiers. Over the three days, the rebels methodically hunted down villagers, hacking them to death with machetes or shooting them. American missionaries who worked in Kivu Province, where the massacre took place, said they believe the account. Last August, rebels admitted to a massacre of several hundred civilians in the region.

Whispers in the wind

While the impact of the Y2K bug is unknown, the world seems to be surviving the Year 99 bug well. Some computer programs read the "99" date as an instruction to stop working. There are three big days for this problem. Jan. 1, 1999 (the beginning of the year), April 9, 1999 (the 99th day of the last year), and Sept. 9, 1999 (The four nines of "9-9-99"). Some doomsday watchers saw them as precursors to a Y2K catastrophe. On the first date, however, few problems were found. Computerized taxi meters in Singapore went dead at noon Jan. 1 for about two hours. Police computers in three Swedish airports failed at midnight on Jan. 1 but were fixed in a few hours. And radio station KFQD in Anchorage, Alaska, was unable to receive The Associated Press' newswire when the date changed. The most sensitive problem involved two medical products. A Hewlett-Packard external defibrillator and Invivo's Millennia 3500 multiparameter patient monitor still work properly, but display the wrong time and date if not reset properly. "These are kind of whispers in the wind for what's going to happen in the year 2000," said Chris LeTocq, a corporate Y2K analyst. "If you're hearing stories of software having problems with 1999, that means Year 2000 is real."

Out with the old

Surely no one in America was happier to see 1998 pass into history than Bill Clinton. Yet the president, in Hilton Head, S.C., for his 15th straight Renaissance Weekend, seemed haggard and withdrawn. He opted for golf most of his two days on the island, spending only two hours or so on New Year's Eve with his fellow revelers. He missed the usual soul-searching of the annual liberal conclave, where topics this year included "Spiritual Life in a Secular Society" and "How the Geeks Have Inherited the Earth." Not surprisingly, he was nowhere to be found during a session on "Character: What Is It? Does It Count?" While the liberals were stroking their chins on Hilton Head, conservatives gathered in Phoenix to beat their breasts. At an event formerly titled the Dark Ages Weekend (now known as The Weekend) speakers from Newt Gingrich to Rudolph Giuliani bemoaned the state of the Republican Party, though no one could agree on how to fix it. Serious debate over values was as scarce as Monica gossip in Hilton Head, and some attendees were openly contemptuous of the GOP's religious wing. With nothing seeming to hold Republicans together but their antipathy toward President Clinton, conservatives come 2000 may wistfully sing Auld Lang Syne about 1998.

Kinder, gentler?

Is tax reform for real or is it just another way to protect Leviathan on the Potomac from an outright tax revolt? Some recent IRS changes can be considered cosmetic. People can now make checks payable to the U.S. Treasury instead of the IRS. There are new 24-hour help telephone lines and problem-solving days at local IRS offices. And taxpayers can pay taxes with credit cards (for an additional fee). But others are more substantial: Beginning on Jan. 19, the IRS must obtain a court order to seize a taxpayer's main residence. Also, many parents can claim a $400 credit for each child. Education credits are available for the first two years of college, subject to certain income limits. Many student loan interest payments and health insurance premiums are also deductible.

The show must go on

Christian pop star Amy Grant and husband Gary Chapman are separating after 16 years of marriage. They have three children. "Gary Chapman and Amy Grant regretfully announce their separation after sixteen years of marriage," read a statement from their managers at Blanton/Harrell Entertainment. "They both ask for your prayers during this sad time and hope that you would respect their privacy." The statement contained no details about church involvement or accountability. Her Christian label, Myrrh, plans to stand by its woman. "She was originally a Myrrh artist, she's still a Myrrh artist, and she will remain a Myrrh artist," Word Entertainment president Roland Lundy told Nashville's Tennessean.

Bumps on the campaign trail

The hats are flying. Following Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's lead, Vice President Al Gore, former Republican cabinet secretary Elizabeth Dole, and Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) all tossed their exploratory hats into the primary ring-and Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) picked his up. The smart money says the Republican and Democratic party machines will push Mr. Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush to their nominations, but the future is not certain. If President Clinton stays in office, the field will be open on both sides. Besides Mr. Gore, potential Democrat contenders include House minority leader Dick Gephardt, ex-Sen. Bill Bradley, Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, and liberal activist Jesse Jackson. The Republican crowd of hopefuls also includes former Vice President Dan Quayle, conservative activist Gary Bauer, Gov. Bush, journalist Pat Buchanan, publisher Steve Forbes, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, New York Gov. George Pataki, ex-Gov. Pete Wilson of California, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and ex-cabinet secretary Jack Kemp. Elizabeth Dole is a strange case, especially since her husband was soundly defeated in 1996. Her political views are vague, especially on abortion. Mrs. Dole served as transportation secretary for President Reagan and labor secretary for President Bush-and is most known for the "Dole light," that taillight in the back window of recent cars. Some wonder if she plans to be the VP nominee in the campaign of Mr. Bush, the party establishment's favorite. Sen. John Ashcroft's departure comes after he spent over a year building up to a conservative bid for the White House. His advisers worried about whether he could raise enough money for a presidential campaign. His decision to focus on re-election to the Senate left many social conservatives in the lurch. "The social conservative movement had gravitated toward Ashcroft and there was not an easy second choice," said Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "There's a lot of head-scratching about what to do next."

Backlash time?

Questions about U.S. and British airstrikes against Iraq will top the agenda when Arab leaders meet in Egypt on Jan. 24. Unlike the coalition of Arab world leaders who cheered Operation Desert Storm, regional heads of state have been cautious to near silent since the U.S.-led airstrikes that began on Dec. 20. Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz of Turkey, where U.S. and British warplanes patrolling Iraq's no-fly zone are based, last week acknowledged that the Western powers had "permission and support" of Turkey to continue the operation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia pressed to postpone the Arab League meeting, originally scheduled for late December, after it became apparent that several member states, chiefly Yemen and United Arab Emirates, might be sympathetic to Iraq. UNSCOM, the embattled UN weapons inspection team for Iraq, came under fire from two American newspapers. The Washington Post and Boston Globe, in separately prepared reports, said the weapons inspectors helped collect intelligence used in U.S. efforts to undermine Saddam Hussein. The reports said U.S. agents eavesdropped on communications between elite military units responsible for Mr. Hussein's security. The reports said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan knew of the spying. Both Mr. Annan and UNSCOM head Richard Butler denied the reports. U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone in southern Iraq fired missiles at several Iraqi jet fighters in two separate incidents.

E-commerce

Call it Euroland, Eurozone, or the United States of Europe. It was said this EMU (or European Monetary Union) would never fly, but on Jan. 4 it took off, linking 11 western European nations into a monetary and economic union. With a single currency, the euro, and a central banking system, the confederation means a market to investors and producers that is 24 million people larger than the United States. While stocks and bonds began trading on Jan. 4 in the euro (worth $1.17 U.S.), euro coins and notes will not change hands until 2002. The historic consolidation is expected to unify the European market and make travel on the continent easier. It also ends the competitive edge of member countries, raising the question: How many euros will it take to buy a Coke? Before EMU, the soft drink cost 90 cents a can in Frankfurt, 53 cents in Madrid.