A federal appeals court on Wednesday declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, because the phrase “One nation under God” violates the separation of church and state. The ruling states, “One nation under God is just as objectionable as a statement that we are a nation under Jesus, a nation under Vishnu, a nation under Zeus, or a nation under no god, because none of the statements are neutral with respect to religion.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday filed suit against WorldCom, charging the corporation defrauded investors. The suit charges improper accounting for nearly $4 billion in expenses made the nation’s second-largest long distance phone company appear more profitable than it really was. The Washington Post is reporting as recently as a week before WorldCom revealed the scandal, it was still trying to influence politicians in town. The company contributed $100,000 to last week’s Republican fundraising gala featuring President Bush and was listed on the program as vice chair of the event. In the last year-and-a-half alone, WorldCom contributed more than $1 million to candidates, about half to Republicans, half to Democrats. The corporation once gave $1 million to the University of Mississippi’s Trent Lott Leadership Institute. The donations could complicate the Justice Department’s probe of WorldCom’s misstatement of earnings. Shortly before becoming Attorney General, John Ashcroft received $10,000 from the company for his Senate campaign. And if WorldCom goes down, who will be the biggest losers? Well, in one state alone, for example, New York state, the New York State Pension Fund is among big WorldCom’s losers, out at least $300 million.
Meanwhile, shares of Martha Stewart’s company plunged almost 25 percent Wednesday to a record low as new questions emerged about her sale of stock in ImClone Systems, the embattled biotech firm. According to the Wall Street Journal, federal prosecutors have widened their probe of the home-decorating diva to include possible obstruction of justice. The question is whether Martha Stewart lied to the FBI about whether she had inside information when she sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone a day before the drug maker’s experimental cancer treatment was rejected by the FDA.
President Bush said Wednesday the US will cut off aid to the Palestinians if they fail to elect new leaders. A senior administration official took the warning a step further, saying that while the Palestinian people were free to re-elect Palestinian President Yassir Arafat, they should know that it would cost them significant aid. He said, “We respect democratic processes, but there are consequences.” The US does not give money directly to the Palestinians, but channels it through non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, and the World Bank. Meanwhile, the London Guardian is reporting British Prime Minister Tony Blair has had his first public row with Bush. In a joint press conference, Blair bluntly insisted that it’s up to the Palestinians to elect their own leaders. The New York Times tells a different story: in its version, Tony Blair became the first major ally to “come close to embracing Mr. Bush’s new approach to the Middle East.”
Police in Argentina fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at protesters in Buenos Aires Wednesday in a violent crackdown that left two protesters dead and wounded at least seventeen others. One hundred sixty people were arrested in the demonstrations, which were the largest public protests since the government was toppled in December.
And as national media attention focuses on the Arizona wildfires that threaten the resort town of Show Low, the blaze has already brought widespread economic damage to the Apache county. Sixty percent of the fire is on Indian tribal land and has destroyed 350,000 acres of timber worth more than $300 million.