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Dispatches The Buzz

White House may invoke executive privilege in e-mail dispute

Seeing no evil

The Clinton administration last week threw a hurdle in front of congressional investigators seeking documents related to missing e-mails on matters ranging from Whitewater to campaign fundraising. White House officials suggested they may invoke executive privilege to keep the documents hidden. Administration officials claim that a 1998 technical glitch kept e-mails that investigators sought from being archived properly. Independent Counsel Robert Ray, the Justice Department, and Congress are all investigating whether the White House tried to obstruct the investigation by not promptly recovering the e-mails after the problem was discovered. The White House sent the House Government Reform Committee a one-page list of documents it is not immediately turning over to investigators. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) in a letter to the White House counsel's office dismissed the list as "meaningless mumbo-jumbo" and a "transparent ploy to provoke wasteful and time-consuming squabbles over documents." "We have already turned over a lot of material to Mr. Burton," White House spokesman Jim Kennedy responded. "What he is seeking is not historical information about the origins of this problem but current information generated only as a result of his inquiry." Meanwhile, Mr. Ray's prosecutors plan to interview one of the White House's computer contractors, Betty Lambuth, who claims that White House officials threatened her with jail if she divulged the problem. Is deadly disease a security threat?

AIDS alarm

According to the Clinton administration, AIDS is not only a horrific disease but a threat to national security. The White House created an interagency working group to "develop a series of expanded initiatives to drive the international efforts" to combat the disease, according to a National Security Council report. "We have to respond to this because we've never seen a crisis like HIV and AIDS globally," said Sandy Thurman, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. The administration wants an extra $100 million next year for prevention and education programs. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott remains unconvinced, though. He suggested the administration's declaration "is just the president trying to make an appeal to, you know, certain groups." Marchers hit D.C.

Power trip

Lesbian celebrities Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, and Martina Navratilova helped pack the National Mall in Washington for a march in favor of President Clinton's campaign for the Hate Crime Prevention Act. Waving signs saying "Equal rights for gays and lesbians," "Straight Scouts for gay Scouts," and the strangely placed "Protect our families," hundreds of thousands joined what they called "The Millennium March." Law enforcement reported no sign of counterdemonstrators. Mr. Clinton spoke via videotape to marchers. His image shown on a giant screen, the president said he had presided over "the most inclusive administration in history," with more than 150 homosexuals appointed to important government posts.

The No-Comment Zone

  • The biggest day on the left-wing calendar-May 1, or May Day-caused riots and damage around the world. In Germany, about 200 police officers were injured and hundreds of demonstrators taken into custody. In London, rioters trashed a McDonald's, a war memorial, and a statue of Winston Churchill. In Seoul, South Korean police questioned 17 students on suspicion of making or using firebombs thrown during protests. Rioters blamed capitalism, fascism, globalization, pollution, and poverty for inspiring the melees.
  • Baseball batters hit 931 home runs in April, a record. Hitters slugged an average of 2.55 homers per game, compared to1.38 homers in April 1968, the record low. "It's not a good time for pitchers, there's no doubt," the Dodgers' Kevin Brown said. "There are a lot of ways to get hurt out there, the way the ball's flying."
  • Since 1927 Wheaton College's athletic teams have been known as Crusaders. No more. President Duane Litfin last month announced that the name has been retired "as a matter of principle [and] faithfulness to Christ." Mr. Litfin said he studied anew the Crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries and concluded they were not something Wheaton should glorify. Also, he said, it would be better to change rather than wait for public pressure that he thought would arise and force school officials to act. A faculty-student committee is collecting suggestions for a new mascot name, to be announced in September. Early entries include Eagles, Whirlwind, and Cherubs.
  • ATMs might not be just money machines for long. Wells Fargo Bank is putting movie previews, advertisements, and news headlines at some of its ATMs. The screens will show icons and graphics that will look like they're from home PCs. According to the company, movie trailers will run and news stickers will scroll by in between customers. When someone enters a PIN, ads will show up on the screen. "We are beginning to see a blurring of delivery channels," said executive vice president Robert Chlebowski. "The online banking experience and the ATM experience are starting to converge."

Woman hits Governor with dessert

Protest pie

Every day, campus protesters make noise, but this isn't the 1960s and few people take notice. So Dawn Roberts, who says that Southern Illinois University's board of trustees has more Republican members than the law allows, decided to say it with cream pie. She hit Illinois Gov. George Ryan in the face with the dessert during a press conference at the Carbondale, Ill., school. After being hit with the pie, Mr. Ryan, a Republican, said he told his guards to take the woman away and have her charged, and that he would sign a complaint against her. "It didn't taste too bad, kind of walnut or something with cream," he said. "I don't think it was diet, though." Oracle boss has most tech wealth

Ellison climbs over Gates

Who has the most technology-based wealth in the world? For many years Bill Gates was the automatic answer to that question, but last month Larry Ellison's share of Oracle stock (worth $53 billion) for the first time surpassed Mr. Gates's share of Microsoft stock (worth $51.7 billion). Oracle makes database software for businesses. Mr. Ellison can thank Janet Reno & Co. for his new status. The price of Microsoft stock sank fast when the Justice Department won an antitrust suit against the company in federal district court. And while the software giant has been battling the government to keep its business intact, Mr. Ellison has pushed his company into lucrative new markets by helping its business customers use the Internet to reduce their expenses. However, Mr. Gates, because of non-Microsoft holdings estimated to be worth $10 billion, is still the richest man overall in the world. Justice Department, pentagon plan arrests of protesters occupying military base

Politics & Puerto Rico

The Pentagon last week sent three warships reportedly carrying 1,000 Marines to the Puerto Rican island of Vieques to help Justice Department agents expel protesters from a U.S military training range. Protesters have occupied the range since a civilian guard was killed there in an accidental bombing in April 1999. Protesters say training exercises, using live munitions, threaten the safety of island residents. The U.S. Navy insists the 60-year-old range is the only place it can conduct simultaneous air, sea, and amphibious training operations. The range has been used to prepare for every U.S. conflict since World War II. President Clinton and Puerto Rico's government agreed Jan. 31 to resume limited training at the range until 2003, using dummy bombs instead of live ones. But protesters are blocking resumed training. Disproving the axiom that politics ends at the water's edge, members of the U.S. Congress are sharply at odds over the issue. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) went to the island last week and said he planned to remain and face arrest with other protesters. On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) says action against the demonstrators is "a year late and is the culmination of continuing failure of the Clinton-Gore administration to properly support our military forces." Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Senate candidate in New York, opposes her husband on the Vieques matter. "A small, inhabited island should not be used for target practice," she said in a statement. "I urge the Pentagon to negotiate a peaceful resolution to this situation."

QuickTakes

  • A dispute between Time Warner and the Walt Disney Co. took Disney-owned ABC stations off cable systems serving 3.5 million people for 39 hours. Time Warner claims it balked at requests that it pay an additional $300 million to air Disney's cable channels, including The Disney Channel, Toon Disney, and the Soap Opera Channel. Such a dispute could be a sign of future disruptions, as old media companies fight it out in an increasingly competitive, uncertain marketplace.
  • Print newspapers are still hanging on. Nine of the 10 largest newspapers reported circulation increases for the six months ended March 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Total weekday circulation crept up 0.2 percent among the nearly 800 newspapers reporting figures to the bureau. The country's two largest-circulation newspapers-USA Today (1,837,802) and The Wall Street Journal (1,812,590)-now sell 1.1 percent more newspapers than they did a year ago.
  • For the first time since October, Americans' incomes rose faster than their spending. Personal income increased 0.7 percent in March, while spending rose 0.5 percent. In February, personal income rose 0.4 percent while spending grew by 1.4 percent.
  • The judge who fought the ACLU for his right to post the Ten Commandments in his courtroom is leading the Republican race for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice. The national attention gained from the spat gave him name recognition and enhanced his lead. Mr. Moore, who scored 38 percent of those polled in a mid-April survey, won the right to keep hanging his plaque at the Etowah County Courthouse when the ACLU suit against him was dismissed for technical reasons. "I feel I have a responsibility to take what I have learned to higher office," he said. According to the West Point graduate and Vietnam vet, officials cannot legally remove religious expression from public life, whether by banning prayer in public school or banning a religious symbol in his courtroom. Years of court rulings to the contrary are wrong, he says.

Texas A&M Bonfire panel issues report

Playing with fire

An investigation commission last week blamed faulty wiring, poor construction, and inadequate supervision for last year's deadly collapse of a 59-foot-high pile of logs at Texas A&M University. Twelve students, preparing for the school's annual bonfire, died. The tragedy "has roots in decisions and actions by both students and university officials over many, many years," said Leo Linbeck, a Houston businessman who headed the panel. They "created an environment where a complex and dangerous structure was allowed to be built without controls." The report said that the overall weight of the structure, 2 million pounds, would have caused problems even with perfect construction. Meanwhile, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting separate investigations. Now Texas A&M president Ray Bowen must decide the fate of the 90-year-old bonfire tradition. It draws thousands of visitors each year to the College Station, Texas, campus on the eve of the school's annual football game against its arch-rival, the University of Texas. Students take part in building the log structure over several weeks. John Comstock, 19, who was partially paralyzed by the collapse, says he wants the tradition to continue. So do parents of some of the victims. Remarkable in this litigious society: No lawsuits relating to the incident have been filed.

Faces

  • An interest in history coupled with a lively imagination prompted 18-year-old Indiana homeschool student Sarah Lanz to launch her own historical clothing line. Through her "Costume Closet" website, Miss Lanz sells hand-sewn creations to several clients, including the University of Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery. Miss Lanz also recently produced her own history curriculum, "History Beyond Textbooks," which she will present at homeschool seminars in the fall.
  • Matthew O'Brien's voice still shakes a little when he recalls how his mother choked on a piece of bread and reeled toward the ground. But rather than panic, the 11-year-old performed an abdominal thrust (Heimlich maneuver)-a procedure he learned from his father, a New York City fireman. Matthew recently received a certificate of merit from the American Red Cross for saving his mother's life.

Internet providers win case

E-mail has no e-publisher

Is an Internet provider responsible for what you type? Not according to the U.S. Supreme Court. It let stand, without comment, a lower court ruling that such companies cannot be held responsible when a user defames someone using their services. The case involved Bronxville, N.Y., teenager Alexander Lunney, who had his sights set on being an Eagle Scout. Someone had opened Prodigy accounts under his name back in 1994 and sent out a nasty e-mail to a local Boy Scout leader, who contacted the police. The company sent Mr. Lunney a letter saying he was losing one of his accounts "due to the transmission of obscene, abusive, threatening and sexually explicit material." But Mr. Lunney never had a Prodigy account. Even though a company representative apologized for the mistake, Mr. Lunney sued. After six years, he finally lost. The New York Court of Appeals, that state's highest tribunal, had ruled that the service provider was "not a publisher of the e-mail transmitted through its system by a third party" and was no different from a phone company or telegraph operator. "The public would not be well served by compelling an [Internet service provider] to examine and screen millions of e-mail communications, on pain of liability for defamation," the New York court said. The Supreme Court's decision was a clear victory for Internet service providers, but not all were boasting. Tom Bates, vice president of product marketing for Atlanta-based Cox Interactive Media, after the high court's action told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that "this ruling is very beneficial to us. However, that being said, there is a certain duty we feel we have to watch what does get posted on our sites, but it's still impossible to police every posting." Southern chain takes U.S. by storm

Hip doughnuts

One of the great fad items of the decade is a glazed donut. Krispy Kreme, once known only in the South, is a growing sensation and even staged a successful entry onto the stock market this year. Especially in New York City, the red "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign in the store window is becoming an icon. Krispy Kreme dates back to 1937, but its new popularity is tied to the coffee boom of the 1990s. People want more than those wimpy danishes and bran muffins served at coffee bars. Krispy Kreme adds an image that is pure retro, with a logo and store design that dates back decades. It has the hipness of Starbucks with the legacy of Dairy Queen. Overall, the Winston-Salem-based company cranks out over 1.3 billion glazed, yeast-raised rings of dough in 29 states every year. Today, the glazed donut is in the popularity position once held by bagels, rotisserie chicken, vegetarian hamburgers, and gourmet pizza. -Chris Stamper fox's 20-something mainstay airs finale

Gen-X grows up

Generation X isn't so young anymore. Beverly Hills 90210, the weekly celebration of pretty people born in the 1970s, airs its final episode this month. For 10 years, audiences saw Aaron Spelling-induced interactions between people demographically protected from real jobs and real hardships. The show was a stroke of marketing genius: A young niche market was bubbling up with lots of spending money, so Mr. Spelling cooked up a soap opera showing the epitome of affluence. 90210 became a revolving door of half-remembered celebrities like Jason Priestley, Shannon Doherty, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. The characters were played to be super-normal, in a commercialized, Fox Network sense. There were hardly any villains on 90210, just a clique of friends trying to get through high school and into life. The young audience was supposed to identify with David, Donna, Brenda, and Kelly as they entered the real world. Small wonder that this was one of the shows that allegedly took money from the White House to run anti-drug messages in its storylines. -Chris Stamper Classic tearjerker closes a 10-year run on Broadway

Miss Saigon falls

As Vietnamese Communists two weeks ago celebrated the 25th anniversary of Saigon's fall, Broadway announced that the nearly 10-year run of Miss Saigon was coming to an end.The Vietnam War melodrama, a classic tearjerker mixed with high spectacle that has grossed more than $264 million, centers on an American soldier who has an affair with a Vietnamese woman during the fall of Saigon. In one of the great stage effects of our time, a mock helicopter takes off from the roof of the American embassy, hoisting the GI away. The show's producers announced a Dec. 31 closing date, which gives Miss Saigon a long tourist season ahead before the end. That's six months after an even bigger blockbuster, Cats, ends its run at a theater a few blocks away. These two shows, along with Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, all come from the same British producer, Cameron Mackintosh. The stories all picture those who live on the margins of society dreaming of hope and a happy life. Characters endure suffering and hardship, but still press on. The egalitarian motif played well and added new vigor to the Great White Way after big musicals lost much of the mass-market popularity. Mr. Mackintosh is looking for a new generation of hits. One, Martin Guerre, was poorly received and fizzled before making it to Broadway. His next attempt promises to be obnoxious: an adaptation of The Witches of Eastwick that hits the stage later this year. -Chris Stamper