THE END OF AN ERA
The final Whitewater report was released by the independent counsel's office Wednesday, ending an eight-year investigation that cost taxpayers $70 million.
The final verdict: neither President Clinton nor Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, committed any crimes.
In a letter accompanying the voluminous report, and in the report itself, the office repeated its conclusions that it first made public last year -- that there was not enough evidence to charge either of the Clintons with any crime, "including perjury," in regard to their Arkansas business dealings and the subsequent investigation into those dealings.
The investigation -- called "Whitewater" after a failed Arkansas property development -- actually began in January 1994 when Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a special counsel, New York attorney David Fiske, to investigate allegations of Clinton wrongdoing.
At the urging of the president and Reno, however, Congress passed the Independent Counsel Act, and Reno asked the three-judge panel to appoint an independent counsel to take over the special counsel's investigation. The panel rejected Reno's recommendation of Fiske as independent counsel and instead chose a former Bush administration official and federal judge, Kenneth Starr.
Starr investigated a cascade of allegations against Clinton and his wife, but eventually cleared them each time. The exception was the investigation into Clinton's sexual relationship with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Those allegations led the House to impeach the president in December 1998, but the Senate acquitted him in early 1999.
Starr resigned later that year and was succeeded by independent counsel Robert Ray. Ray himself resigned last week to run for the Senate in New Jersey on the Republican ticket, but not before releasing a final Lewinsky report that said Clinton could have been successfully prosecuted for crimes committed during that investigation.
However, Ray reached a deal with the president in January 2001 in which he agreed not to prosecute Clinton in exchange for Clinton publicly admitting he gave "misleading and evasive" testimony about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and agreeing to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license.
The Madison Guaranty/Whitewater investigation did result in the conviction of 12 defendants -- including former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, Jim and Susan McDougal, and former Associate Attorney General Webster L. Hubbell.
-- How much attention did you pay to news reports about Whitewater? Did you understand what the scandal was all about? Did you care? Why or why not?
(Thanks to UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent Michael Kirkland)
The head of the National Funeral Directors Association says recent incidents at a crematory in Georgia and at cemeteries in two other states have sent a wake-up call to the industry.
NFDA president Robert F. Vandenbergh said he feared accusations of bodies scattered in the woods, recycled graves or bodies being desecrated would cause the public to lose faith in the funeral industry's ability to care for passed loved ones.
"Our business is always based on trust," he said.
The remains of approximately 400 people who were supposed to be cremated at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga., were discovered last month scattered or buried in the woods. Last year, the Menorah Gardens Funeral home in West Palm Beach, Fla., was accused of digging up old graves, only to then scatter the remains in the woods in order to create space for new bodies. And last January in Lake Elsinore, Calif., crematorium operator Francis Brown was charged with dismembering corpses so she could sell body parts to universities for research purposes, later cremating the rest of the bodies.
Vandenbergh said the NFDA, the world's largest funeral service organization, is going to hold its first Funeral Service Consumer Protection Forum Thursday in Washington, D.C. It will bring together funeral service leaders such as funeral directors, cemetery operators, cremationists, regulators, and representatives from consumer groups, including the AARP, FTC and International Funeral and Cemetery Association.
The all-day event will be a brainstorming session that will address how to ensure the funeral service industry will provide high standards of consumer care.
The General Accounting Office, at the request of Rep. Mark Foley , R-Fla., is expected to launch an investigation into funeral practices within two months, with the blessing of the NFDA.
Vandenbergh said the NFDA is also looking at ways to ensure that states are enforcing the laws and regulations on funeral homes and crematoriums. "All but eight states have rules on the books," he said. "There is a need to pinpoint stronger state regulations."
The eight states that do not have any regulations on the books are: Maryland, Connecticut, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Hawaii, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. The District of Columbia itself also does not have any regulations mandating procedures.
-- Have you ever had to arrange a funeral? If so, what were your experiences? Have you or anyone you know ever had a bad experience dealing with a funeral home? How was the problem resolved?
(Thanks to UPI's Kathleen McLeod in Washington)
THE ACADEMY AWARDS
All eyes will be on Hollywood this Sunday when the winners of this year's Oscars are announced during the 74th Annual Academy Awards ceremony.
With the announcement of the SAG Award winners and all the other awards handed out during the past couple of months, the experts have been handicapping the chances of each picture in taking home Oscar gold. The Caribbean-based Web site Intertops.com has been accepting wagers on the six major categories of this year's Oscars since the nominations were announced last month.
The current odds:
-- Best Motion Picture: A Beautiful Mind 1/2, The Lord of the Rings 5/2, Gosford Park 5/1, Moulin Rouge 6/1, In the Bedroom 15/1
-- Who do you think will win Oscars this Sunday, and why?
(Web site: intertops.com)