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Dispatches The Buzz

Dr. Laura loses sponsor

P&G's gamble

Unable to persuade Paramount Television Group to drop Dr. Laura Schlessinger's upcoming television show, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) last week decided to go after the television industry's meal ticket-advertisers. Along with the National Mental Health Association and the National Organization for Women, the group launched an ad campaign aimed at companies that might sponsor Dr. Schlessinger's show. GLAAD timed the ads to coincide with companies' decisions about how to spend their ad dollars during the fall TV season. The ads, in such publications as the Los Angeles Times and Advertising Age, quote Dr. Schlessinger calling homosexuality "deviant" and "a biological error." One advertiser already has cold feet. Procter & Gamble last month pulled out of a deal to sponsor the show. "P&G serves nearly 5 billion consumers worldwide and we respect the diversity of views they represent on a variety of subjects," the company says on its website. "We're simply seeking a positive, non-controversial environment in which to advertise our brands." The controversy-averse consumer-products giant advertises on Fox's edgy Ally McBeal, which in February broke new cultural ground by showing, as the American Family Association put it, "prime-time's first male-to-male kiss of passion in a regular series." GIVING: $190 billion

1999 a 'new age' of giving

Charitable giving in the United States surged in 1999, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel. The group last week reported that total donations reached $190.1 billion last year, an increase of $15.8 billion over 1998, or 6.7 percent after adjusting for inflation. It was the fourth straight year of growth, and the report credited the country's long-running economic boom. "It is likely that this is not merely a momentary windfall for the nonprofit sector, but rather, we might say it signals the beginning of a new age of philanthropy," said the counsel's Russell Weigand. Last year marked the fourth straight year of growth in charitable giving. Ups & Downs of the week

Up, up, and away: United Airlines is hitting the afterburners. The world's largest air carrier cut a deal to take over USAirways-and added a sweetener to please Washington regulators who may look askance at the deal: United would spin off most of USAirways' routes out of Reagan National Airport to African-American entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson to create the U.S.'s first big minority-owned airline, DCAir. Protection of children from smut TV: A strangely divided Supreme Court struck down 5-4 a federal law restricting cable porn to late-night hours. In the majority was Clarence Thomas; in the minority, liberal Stephen Breyer. Defenders of the law argued that children whose parents did not subscribe to cable porn often would be able to see and hear raunchy shows on poorly scrambled sex channels. Biblical fidelity: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s highest court ruled last week that even though its ministers can't carry out homosexual marriages, they can do homosexual "holy unions." The PCUSA will take up the issue at its June 24 general assembly. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to so-called gay marriage in a message to New Zealand's new ambassador to the Vatican. LEGACY WATCH: Clinton faces disbarment

Another lawyer joke?

It's not likely President Clinton will actually lose his law license, but the recommendation that he be disbarred as a lawyer in Arkansas provided newspapers and talk shows with fresh fodder for the story Americans know all too well: that the president lied under oath in the Paula Jones case. Last week, Arkansas' state legal disciplinary panel found Mr. Clinton unfit to be a member of the state bar association, even though the U.S. Senate, in acquitting Mr. Clinton of impeachment articles approved by the House of Representatives, found him fit to be president. Susan Webber Wright, the federal judge who presided over the Jones case, cited the president for contempt and fined him $90,000 when she discovered Mr. Clinton had lied to the court about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Judge Wright referred Mr. Clinton's case to the state Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct. Eight of the 14 members of the committee bowed out before hearing the case; five were Clinton or Democratic Party contributors. The recommendation is now before a Little Rock judge, who could impose a lesser punishment or dismiss the recommendation altogether. On this one, Mr. Clinton has a pretty strong case-because disbarment proceedings usually involve a lawyer's conduct as a lawyer. University of Arkansas legal professor Howard Brill, who helped write the state's code of conduct for lawyers, calls the case unprecedented: "This case is distinguished because the lawyer, Mr. Clinton, was not acting like a lawyer, he was acting as a litigant, a private party." Mr. Clinton on NBC Nightly News complained that the committee is trying to hold the chief law enforcement officer of the United States to too high a standard: "There are clear precedents where more significant kinds of conduct ... led to nowhere near this kind of decision." China trade bill OK'D; Human rights group loses leverage

Trading away influence

It had become a regular part of the Washington calendar. For the last 20 years, normal trade relations with China came up for an annual vote in Congress, prompting much sound and fury in the political world. Those days probably are over. The House last week voted 237-197 to make the communist giant's regular trade status permanent, ending the yearly quarrel that pitted labor unions, most Democrats, and many social conservatives (who opposed trade with China) against business interests, the White House, and most Republicans (who supported it). This year, labor unions and business organizations poured millions into campaigns to sway lawmakers and the public. Labor made its usual pitch that free trade undermines U.S. jobs; business maintained that isolating China would undermine U.S. exports. But both sides also argued that they had the Chinese people's best interests at heart. "We will have more positive influence with an outstretched hand than with a clenched fist," said President Clinton, a strong supporter of the measure. Opponents, on the other hand, believe that Washington's yearly debate had given the U.S. leverage over China's brutal regime. "When we stand up, things get better for human rights in China," said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). "When we stand down, things get worse." But now things are likely to get permanent. Political analysts believed the House vote was opponents' best shot at stopping the trade bill. They expect the Senate to pass it easily. Faces

  • The Christian Medical and Dental Society last month awarded Dr. Robert Kingsbury its Servant of Christ Award for his part in founding the Academy of Hospice Physicians and establishing a residential hospice. In addition to pioneering the hospice movement-which advocates care for the dying through a humane alternative to euthanasia-the 65-year-old physician served as a missionary in Africa for over a decade.
  • A five-year battle with the American Civil Liberties Union would have intimidated most people, but not John Couch, president of the Santa Fe (Texas) school board. To protect students' right to pray at graduation ceremonies and football games, Mr. Couch led his Houston-area board in a unanimous vote to petition the Supreme Court. A decision is expected this June. Mr. Couch is no stranger to such fights. He has long advocated abstinence-based education; the Santa Fe board finally adopted it in 1995. Conservatives threaten GOP revolt

    A Ridge over troubled waters

    When George W. Bush recently floated the name of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as a top vice presidential candidate, some pundits guessed it was merely a trial balloon. Lead balloon would be more like it. The logic in a Bush-Ridge ticket seemed obvious enough: The 54-year-old Ridge is a Catholic from a working-class background who could help deliver 23 all-important electoral votes from his home state. But conservatives wasted no time in shooting that logic full of holes. Though Mr. Ridge is Roman Catholic, he's at odds with his own church over abortion. He paints himself as moderately pro-choice, but observers in his home state say he's actually something of an ideologue. In his first budget, for instance, he insisted on ramming through funding for Planned Parenthood-something no Democratic governor in Pennsylvania had ever done. In 1998 his bishop barred him from speaking at church functions because of his pro-abortion stance. As Mr. Ridge's name began to circulate several weeks ago, leading social conservatives lined up to denounce him. James Dobson, Alan Keyes, and former Rep. Bob Dornan all said publicly that they would not vote for a Bush-Ridge ticket. If Gov. Bush chooses any pro-abortion candidate, Mr. Keyes said he would run in the general election as the Constitution Party nominee, guaranteeing significant defections from the GOP ticket in November. Most opposition to Mr. Ridge has centered on his pro-abortion views. But media sources from National Review to USA Today have recently pointed out his long history of liberal votes, including hiking the minimum wage, abolishing the MX missile, cutting off funding to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and slashing the budget for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Based on early reactions, it looks like the Ridge trial balloon won't go too far. But Republicans are watching nervously. If Mr. Ridge continues to look like a serious contender, many Republicans will conclude it was Mr. Bush's conservative rhetoric that was nothing but hot air. The No Comment Zone
  • Starting next year, Chicago public-school teachers won't just grade students. They'll grade parents. The "parent checklists" won't contain letter grades but will tell parents whether they're helping enough with homework or getting their children to school on time. Parents with low marks could be referred to a parent training academy. Critics say this is a smokescreen set up to cover the teachers' pathetic performance.
  • Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore sent a letter to a state-owned museum protesting a slide-show exhibit that included depictions of oral sex, genitalia, and young girls urinating. Someone who had seen the presentation at the Virginia Museum of Arts had written him and complained. The photographer, Sally Mann, published a 1992 book depicting her children-nude in some pictures-and prompted protests at bookstores that carried it. Gov. Gilmore said he was "shocked and dismayed that this type of exhibit occurred on state-owned property."
  • Police arrested four workers at a Colorado clinic after a 10-year-old girl suffocated while undergoing "therapy" intended to simulate birth. To recreate a birth experience, therapists rolled up Candace Newmaker in a flannel sheet, then twisted both ends of the sheet above her head, and placed large pillows around her head. It was supposed to represent the womb. She died of asphyxiation before she could escape during the procedure at Connell Watkins and Associates. Police charged Ms. Watkins herself and three others with child abuse resulting in death.
  • Hollywood is throwing its money at politics this election season-and, as usual, the money is being tossed stage left. Democrat Al Gore collected $858,865 from donors employed in the television, film, and music industries through March 30, while Republican George W. Bush brought in $661,877, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which studies money in campaigns. Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan collected just $6,243 during the same period. Mr. Bush, however, has fared better than previous GOP presidential nominees. Bob Dole received less than $200,000 from the industry during the 1996 election cycle.
  • The Screen Actors Guild is at war with Colin Powell. Despite SAG's strike, Mr. Powell recorded a public-service announcement for the retired general's youth charity, America's Promise. The union went on strike last month, protesting the ad industry's pay structure for commercials. Mr. Powell said he wouldn't change his plans, despite threats of pickets. LINDA TRIPP: Prosecutors stopped by immunity ruling

    Prosecution Tripped up

    Linda Tripp won't be prosecuted for taping her infamous telephone conversations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Maryland prosecutors last week dismissed the state's wiretapping case against Ms. Tripp after Howard County Judge Diane O. Leasure limited most of Ms. Lewinsky's testimony, considering it tainted and not credible. Ms. Tripp had recorded calls with Ms. Lewinsky on the advice of New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who said she needed a way to protect herself. Unlike many other states, Maryland has a wiretap law, which is infrequently enforced, that forbids taping phone conversations without the other party's consent. Ms. Tripp had faced charges that she taped a Dec. 22, 1997, call with Ms. Lewinsky and then allowed her attorney to play it for Newsweek magazine. "She has been through such an extraordinary and unfair ordeal," Ms. Goldberg said of Ms. Tripp. "This has eaten up two years of her life and her biggest crime was telling the truth." Internet can't change human nature

    Dot-com politics

    When the Internet boom got going in the mid-1990s, advocates claimed that it would mark a new era of democracy. Ordinary citizens would be able to "drill down" and find all sorts of information to make them better citizens and voters, changing politics forever. So far, the results have been mixed. A bunch of political and journalistic sites have sprouted, and every activist with half an idea is represented. But is the public better informed? Not necessarily. While half of all potential voters are online, researchers claim the Internet won't increase participation in this year's presidential election. The word at last month's meeting of the American Association of Public Opinion Research is that the Net is basically an organizing and fundraising tool. There's also a "C-SPAN effect," with political junkies devouring up-to-the-minute news and watching Washington power plays like a daytrader watches the stock market. But the rest of the world only dabbles in the wealth of information or ignores it entirely. Surveys by Pew and other organizations say that while Internet use has doubled since the 1996 election, fewer and fewer people go online to follow politics. Michael Margolis, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati, says this reflects the fact that most people aren't interested in politics. "Where we had hoped to see change possible in the Internet, the Net creating a new kind of politics, what in fact we have is more of a politics as usual," he said. In other words, the Net may make doing certain things easier, faster, or cheaper, but it doesn't change human nature. BIG BROTHER WATCH

    Snooze, you lose

    In Denver, big brother has a plan to keep an eye on his siblings. City officials are concerned enough about goldbricking municipal employees that they plan to spend $1.5 million to track city vehicles using the military's Global Positioning System satellites. Installing GPS devices on more than 2,000 Public Works Department vehicles is a long-range goal, but in the meantime, Denver plans a lower-tech approach: bumper stickers listing a hot line where citizens can report complaints, commendations, and suggestions about the city's 14,000 employees. Online data regulation ahead?

    We're here to help

    Is it the government's job to protect online privacy? The Federal Trade Commission thinks so, and last week it called on Congress to pass new laws to regulate how e-companies deal with customer information. Specifically, the FTC wants laws that would mandate the following steps: (1) Companies would have to tell customers what information they collect and how they plan to use it. (2) Users would be able to keep their information from going to third parties. (3) Individuals could review what data is collected about them. (4) Companies would have to implement security measures to protect all that data. High-tech industry groups say that these are already standard practices and that the industry has self-policing groups that audit companies to make sure they behave properly. But according to the FTC, only 42 of the 100 most popular U.S. commercial sites have adopted such standards. Still, the FTC is split internally over the proposal, with two of its five commissioners on the nay side. Commissioner Orson Swindle warned that any law should consider "unintended consequences that could severely stifle the thriving New Economy." Hasbro tries to revive 1980s fad

    Return of D&D

    One of the most controversial bits of 1980s pop culture is making a comeback: the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game is being re-released in an updated, revised format. Hasbro now owns the game, and the company hopes to give a boost to the fading D&D hobby. New rulebooks for D&D are due this August. The game dates back to 1973, when creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson cooked up a set of rules for fantasy wargaming that eventually became D&D. The game's popularity exploded over the next decade, and it came head-to-head with sensational charges that it was an occult training course. Critics said that the magic and mythology used in the game were apt to convert people to real-life paganism. Proponents claimed that the lines between fantasy and reality were obvious and that the content was no different from a fantasy novel. Identification of some players with evil characters was intense, though, and parents were right to show concern. The degree of transgression varied depending on what a group of players did with the game. D&D's then-owners, TSR Hobbies, tried to alleviate some concerns with a revised system, but popularity was dwindling. Meanwhile, a power struggle within the company helped cause D&D to fade from public view, even though it maintained its hard core of fans. The game's moral ambiguity is just one of its problems. It's also too complex for all but the most dedicated players. D&D features an endless variety of manuals, charts, tables, graphs, rules, and add-ons that few can keep track of. Just getting a grasp of the rules can take weeks. Starting a D&D game resembles starting a social club, and play can last for years or even decades. That factor alone is enough to keep the game's audience limited, even with corporate backing from Hasbro. This kind of commitment is only available to those with a lot of time on their hands. -Chris Stamper Cartoon enters 13th season with Fox

    DOH! The Simpsons is back

    Much to the distaste of some conservatives, The Simpsons will be coming back for a 13th year on Fox's prime-time lineup. The key to the show's success is that it plays on two levels. On the surface is a dysfunctional family tale, but a collection of cultural references, sight gags, cinematic illusions, celebrity cameos, and quick takes lurks in the background. Bart Simpson is the master of transgression, but his sister Lisa is arguably a worse role model. While Bart is simply a mischief-maker, Lisa, the moral voice of the show, has more cockamamie schemes to save the world than the UN General Assembly. She takes up vegetarianism, battles with evil corporate boss Montgomery Burns, and wars against the Malibu Stacey dolls. Her worst fear is that she won't grow up to be the great doctor, lawyer, or president that she deserves to be. Middle-class existence is just not good enough; she belongs somewhere better-like Harvard, the alma mater of numerous Simpsons writers. -Chris Stamper New political and cultural establishment rises

    Bobo nation

    America has a new ruling class-"bourgeois bohemians," or Bobos, an elite mix of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. So argues David Brooks in an entertaining but superficial book, Bobos in Paradise. Mr. Brooks describes Bobos as hypocrites in grand style: They chase after big bucks yet act like affluence doesn't matter to them. They dress for success but see themselves as nonconformists. They reject "Victorian modes" and set up their own stifling behavior code of safe sex, and safe social change. Their religious tastes, of course, are just that-tastes. "What's important and good is the essential religious impulse, not the strictures of any one particular sect or denomination," Mr. Brooks writes. It's fine to "flow between different denominations, depending on your needs and preferences at the moment." Mr. Brooks backs off from calling Bobos self-indulgent, relativist, and nihilist, but the adjectives seem to fit. Sadly, he doesn't have much of a positive alternative to offer.