Tom Morganthau

Stories by Tom Morganthau

  • Burning Suburbia

    Long Island is the perfect place to wage war against suburban sprawl--for New York's Long Island, as Robert Wieboldt says, is home to Levittown, and Levittown is where suburbia really began. Wieboldt is executive vice president of the Long Island Builders Institute, which is offering a $10,000 reward for information on a spate of arson directed against new residential-construction projects--three incidents in the month of December, all within a 20-mile stretch of the mostly upscale North Shore. if you build it we will burn it, someone scrawled on the wall of a partly completed house damaged on the night of Dec. 30. The graffiti was signed "ELF" for Earth Liberation Front, a loose confederation of ecosaboteurs already well known out west. "In no way do we regard these people as members of a legitimate environmental group, but rather as terrorists," Wieboldt says ominously. "This time they've gone too far."Whether they will go even further depends on the ability of the FBI and other...
  • The West's Deadly Fields Of Wildfire

    The big picture was awesome: 60 to 70 major wildfires burning across nearly 750,000 acres in 11 Western states, 20,000 firefighters working to contain those fires at a cost of about $8 million a day, scores of new fires ignited by lightning every night and all of it adding up to the hottest, most destructive summer season in 50 years. But none of those high-altitude facts can convey the sheer terror of being trapped in a 70-foot wall of flame moving faster than a man can run--which is exactly what happened to a four-man crew battling a big brushfire in Riverside County, Calif., last week. All four suffered second-degree burns and were hospitalized--two in serious condition. "From what I understand, this fire came so fast it was just unbelievable," said Joanne Evans of the state Department of Forestry. "When you get downdrafts, they can take the fire and shoot it down a hill in a second, almost."The weather--hot, dry and windy--was creating explosively hazardous conditions on...
  • Giuliani's Cancer Crisis

    The first hint that something was wrong came Wednesday morning, when New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was spotted walking briskly into Mount Sinai Medical Center for a visit that wasn't listed on his official schedule. Caught in the act by a lucky reporter, Giuliani confirmed that he had gone for tests but didn't say what the tests were for. City hall and Mount Sinai fended off the media until Giuliani, confronted by rampant speculation about the state of his health, was forced to admit he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The good news, he said, was that the disease had been detected at a "very, very early stage" and that doctors had several treatment options for "a complete cure."The bad news, for the state and national GOP, was that Giuliani couldn't say whether he would be able to run for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton. The race, a dead heat in statewide polls, is already shaping up as a classic--a tough, high-spending contest between two formidable political...
  • Cops In The Crossfire

    In a city that often seems to have more than its share of heartbreak, the story of Amadou Diallo stands out. He was by any measure a terrific young man--hardworking and quick with a smile, one of the thousands of immigrants who, year after year, come to New York to seek their fortune. And so it was shameful and terrifying that in a brutally quick misunderstanding with police, Diallo was shot dead in the vestibule of the apartment building where he lived in the Bronx. In eight seconds, the cops fired 41 rounds and scored 19 hits, smashing through Diallo's spinal column and severing the main artery to his heart. He was hit so many times he began to spin, like an animal on a spit, and he may have been dead before he hit the floor. Everyone agreed his death was a tragedy--but was it, legally, a crime?Last week a racially mixed jury in Albany, N.Y., said no--Diallo's death was not murder, not manslaughter, not even criminal negligence. The four cops involved in the shooting--Kenneth Boss...
  • A Family's Breakdown

    The kindest explanation was that somebody snapped. The emotional burden of caring for a severely disabled child became too great, and after years of struggling with their son's handicaps, Dawn and Richard Kelso were suddenly unable to cope. But whatever their story may be, the Kelsos last week made what police say was a sadly inept attempt to abandon their son, Steven, 10.The Kelsos drove the boy to the Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Dela., authorities say. There, Dawn Kelso took Steven into the lobby. She told a staffer her son should be admitted and, when the aide went to find a doctor, Kelso and her husband allegedly disappeared. Police said she left food, clothing, some of Steven's toys--and a note stating that "she could no longer care for her child."What turned the story into front-page news was the fact that the Kelsos were well-off--and advocates for disabled children. Richard Kelso, 62, is CEO of PQ Corp., a chemical manufacturer in Valley Forge, Pa....
  • Justice For Louima

    Big-city cops do a tough, dangerous job, and even their most ardent defenders will admit that sometimes, mistakes can happen and tragedy can occur. The Abner Louima case was never in that category. Late one night in August 1997, Louima was arrested, handcuffed, beaten and dragged into the bathroom of a Brooklyn precinct house. There a swaggering, powerfully built officer named Justin Volpe shoved a broken-off broom handle up Louima's rectum, then waved the feces-covered stick under his nose and threatened to kill him if he ever told anyone about this excruciatingly painful assault. On trial for violating Louima's civil rights, Volpe last week stunned the city by changing his plea to "guilty" and by dropping the tough-guy act--he even wept a little. "Your Honor, if I could just let the record reflect that I'm sorry for hurting my family," Volpe told the judge. He never mentioned Abner Louima. What happened to Louima at the hands of New York police was so obviously premeditated and so...
  • Slavery's Lesson Plan

    Amistad'' is a history lesson any high-school teacher could envy. It's in living color and bigger than life--full of conflict and human emotion, a vivid retelling of an almost-forgotten incident in which the slaves, for once, rebelled and won their freedom. But Hollywood teaches history only rarely. What's going on in the classrooms? ...
  • A Brush With Terror

    THE PLAN WAS TO BOMB A SUBWAY station in Brooklyn - and the big question, after New York police narrowly averted a catastrophic act of terrorism last week, was how the prime suspect had gotten into the country in the first place. Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Maizar, 24, a West Bank Palestinian, tried three times to enter the United States from Canada and was jailed last January by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington state. He then applied for political asylum because, he said, he would be persecuted by Israeli authorities. Despite all that, Abu Maizar was set free by a U.S. immigration judge in June after promising to leave the country voluntarily. He went to New York City instead - where, police said, he and another Palestinian immigrant built a powerful pipe bomb for a suicide attack much like last week's terror bombing in Jerusalem. ...
  • Cracking A Slavery Ring

    THE COPS HAD BEEN THERE, MOST recently after reports of a violent domestic quarrel in the predawn hours of July 11. No one was arrested and no charges were filed. A city inspector had been there, back in February, after neighbors complained that too many people were living in the house. He found no building-code violations. But last week police and federal investigators discovered that the apartment at 37-54 93d Street, Jackson Heights, N.Y., had been a sort of slave quarters for 44 Mexican men, women and children - most of whom were illegal aliens and almost all of whom were deaf. Smuggled into the United States and forced to sell trinkets on New York City subways, ""los Muditos'' (""the mutes'') were isolated, threatened and in some cases physically abused. What made their exploitation even stranger was the fact that their employers, also Mexican nationals, were hearing-impaired as well. ...
  • The Verdict: Death

    THE MOOD INSIDE THE JURY ROOM solemn and sometimes tearful: at one point or another, all of the seven men and five women deciding Tim McVeigh's fate were reduced to tears by the emotional burden of deciding such a historic case. But the tears, said juror Vera Chubb, "weren't for Mr. McVeigh. We were thinking about the families that were left in Oklahoma City... how their lives would never be the same and how mothersand fathers had to bury their loved ones." ...
  • Dodging A Bullet

    JANET RENO'S OBSERVATION, in a press conference last month, was "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't"--a cliche and a commonplace, to be sure, but one that accurately summarizes her dilemma in the Clinton follies. Reno serves a president who, if the critics are right, will soon be hamstrung by multiple allegations of illegal or improper conduct in the Whitewater and Indogate investigations. She is 58 years old and notably un-chic--an awkward figure among the thirtysomethings who populate Clinton's inner circle. She is also a career prosecutor who became the first female attorney general almost by chance, and she loves her work. So when Reno rejected another demand that she appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Democratic Party's fund-raising practices last week, the question was immediate and obvious: did she take a dive to hang on to her job? ...
  • Throwing Long

    RN EUROPE desk at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the omission clearly frustrated Jack Kemp. Kemp -- the former football star, nine-term congressman and perpetual Young Turk of the supply-side Republican right -- was secretary of HUD during the Bush administration. Lithuania, then struggling to throw off the Soviet yoke, was a big issue to him. As Marlin Fitzwater tells it in his 1995 book, ""Call the Briefing!,'' Kemp at one point got so worked up over Lithuanian independence that he nearly got into a fistfight with Secretary of State Jim Baker in the White House. The incident began when Kemp told Baker -- in front of the president -- that he was simply ""wrong'' not to recognize Lithuania. ""Fk you, Kemp,'' Baker growled. Kemp, stung, leaped over furniture in the Oval Office to run down the hall after Baker, though Fitzwater says the two were separated before any punches were thrown. He also says that Bush, asked if he'd consider Kemp as a replacement for...
  • The Backlash Wars

    FROM 1955 TO THE MID-1970S, the high-water mark of the judicial activism inspired by the Warren Court, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans effectively remade the South. In ruling after ruling, its judges used law, reason and a fierce passion for justice to bury Jim Crow across the Old Confederacy. But the glory days are over, and Judge John Minor Wisdom, the Fifth's intellectual leader, is now 90 and in semiretirement. Last week, in a decision some saw as a reversal of the court's proud tradition, a three-judge panel of Reagan and Bush appointees took dead aim at the long-established use of racial preferences to achieve diversity in university admissions. "This is the A-bomb," said Mark Yudof, former dean at the University of Texas Law School, the defendant in the case. "Once you say race can't be taken into account, what is the law?" ...
  • On The March

    Buoyed by his welcome in Northern Ireland and England, Bill Clinton landed in Baumholder, Germany, last week for a piece of dead-serious business: flank talk with the American soldiers he is now sending to Bosnia. Speaking before a massed formation of 4,000 camouflage-clad troops from the First Armored Division, Clinton evoked the horrors of the Bosnian war: concentration camps, mass executions, ethnic cleansing and the use of rape as calculated terror. He also talked about the dangers the troops will face in a region haunted by centuries of ethnic conflict. "You know better than anyone that every deployment has risks," Clinton said. "There could be accidents . . . there could be incidents with people who have still not given up their hatred." ...
  • The Night Foster Died

    Maggie Williams's beeper went off at about 9:45 p.m. Hillary Rodham Clinton was calling, and the news was devastating: Vince Foster, the White House deputy counsel and one of the Clintons' oldest friends, had been found dead, an apparent suicide, in Fort Marcy Park across the Potomac River from Washington. As the First Lady's chief of staff, Williams kept a low profile but wielded a large influence in the Clinton White House; she, too, thought of Foster as a friend. Half in shock, she left her home and went to Foster's office in the White House's West Wing. Palsy Thomasson, another staffer, was already there. Williams collapsed on the sofa, sobbing about being unable to imagine the office without Vince. Foster's boss, White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, came in and saw Thomasson behind Foster's desk. "I am here looking for a note," Thomasson told him. Nussbaum helped her, but they found nothing. Then, all three say, they left Foster's office without taking anything from it.Like...
  • Janet Reno Confronts Waco's Bitter Legacy

    In Newark, N.J., last week, Attorney General Janet Reno chose an audience of federal law-enforcement officers to deliver a speech on a topic that obviously bothers her--the presumed connection between the Oklahoma City bombing and the deaths of 85 Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas, two years earlier. Speaking "from the heart," Reno lashed out at those who seek to find "a moral equivalency" between the two events. "Such reckless comparisons are despicable and out of bounds, as far as I am concerned," she said. "It is unfair, it is unreasonable, it is a lie, to spread the poison that the government was responsible at Waco for the murder of innocents." ...
  • Who Is He?

    It was shortly after 2 p.m. on A typical workday in Sacramento last week when Gilbert R. Murray, president of the California Forestry Association, went to the receptionist's desk to sort the incoming mail. Three of his staffers were there, and all of them noticed the rays: tery package. About 10 inches square and six inches thick, it was wrapped in brown paper and sealed with filament packing tape. Someone picked it up and commented that it was pretty heavy. The employees took their mail back to their offices while Murray, a genial, balding father of two, fiddled with the box. The explosion came seconds later, wrecking the association's outer office, filling the air with smoke and plunging the entire building into darkness. Murray, who was probably holding the box in his hands, was killed instantly. ...
  • The View From The Far Right

    IT BEGINS WITH THE COHEN ACT, rammed through Congress by liberals bent on eliminating the private ownership of firearms. jackbooted federal agents go door to door across the country, seizing weapons from law-abiding Americans. Facing what they see as imminent federal dictatorship, a band of white Christian patriots go underground to fight back. Their tactic is terror-building a bomb from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, loading it in a delivery truck and setting it off outside FBI headquarters in Washington. Seven hundred people die-and minutes later, one of the terrorists calls The Washington Post. "White America shall live!" he cries. ...
  • Battleground Chicago

    The Germans and the Irish came first. Then the Italians and the Poles. White ethnics were Chicago, really. They walked the beat, collected the trash, built the city. But Chicago's most controversial migration happened later, during and after World War 11. Hundreds of thousands of Southern blacks, fleeing enforced segregation, moved in. And Chicago, after absorbing so many other newcomers, resisted. The stage, familiar in cities both North and South, was set: standoffish whites and shut-out blacks. Mayor Richard J. Daley, whose 21-year reign began in 1955, kept African-Americans out of his legendary machine, closing off contracts and patronage jobs.Then came another era, one first of civil rights, later of quotas and set-asides. And blacks tried to regain lost ground-sometimes at the expense of whites.The state of affirmative action in Chicago-long-frustrated blacks, newly frustrated whites-tells us much about the escalating national debate over racial and gender preferences in...
  • Why Good Cops Go Bad

    By most accounts, Fonda Cecilia Moore was a model cop. Gung-ho, popular with her colleagues on the District of Columbia's tough Anacostia beat, she enjoyed the grit and grime of police work -- night patrols in some of Washington's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, undercover investigations against drug dealers and prostitutes, the adrenalin rush of chasing and catching bad guys. ""Fonda loved police work,'' a friend says. ""It was her pride and joy.'' But prosecutors charge that Moore, the mother of two young boys, moonlighted as a confederate of one of Washington's biggest cocaine dealers. Acquitted of murder and other charges in her first trial, she is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to commit murder and distribute crack.The charges against her highlight one of the deepest dilemmas facing the U.S. criminal-justice system -- the rise of aggressive criminality among cops. There is nothing new about police corruption, and it is probably true that precinct-level graft from...
  • The Military Fights The Gender Wars

    Faced with a clear threat to his position, Lt. Gen. Howard Graves last week did what any smart commander would do: he ordered a pre-emptive strike. Graves is superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. The threat, probably unique in the 192-year history of the institution, was a potential public-relations disaster caused by complaints from women cadets that they had been fondled by army football players during a pep rally on Oct. 20. Graves notified the Pentagon, launched an internal investigation and -- to avert any possible charge of a cover-up -- gave the story to The New York Times. ""Our cadets understand their public-relations functions,'' the general said. ""Openness and candor are best not only for America, but for the cadets too. We've learned the lesson of Tailhook.'' ...
  • 'I Wish I Could Spare Nancy'

    The letter, written in the former president's own hand, was calm and positive despite the grim news: Ronald Reagan, now 83, is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. ""At the moment I feel just fine,'' Reagan wrote last week. ""I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. . . . Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience.'' Then he summed up: ""I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.'' ...
  • The Denny Trial: L.A.'S Next Big Test

    Videotaped from a news helicopter hovering just overhead, the beating of white truckdriver Reginald Denny last April 29 remains the single most searing image of the riots that swept through Los Angeles that day. This tape, almost as familiar as that of Rodney King's beating, is a disturbing reminder that there were no good guys in the L.A. riots, and it is proof to many whites that the real issue is the mindless violence of the urban underclass. The two beating cases stand like twin monuments to the continuing dilemma of race hatred in America. And if the King case has now been resolved as far as the courts will allow, all Los Angeles is aware that the Denny case poses another bitter test of the principle of equal justice. ...
  • L.A.'S Jittery Election

    Trapped between its fears of renewed violence and its hopes for a better future, Los Angeles last week seemed to be slouching toward a kind of civic meltdown. In the new federal building downtown, jurors in the second Rodney King trial were deliberating on a case that has dominated the news-while everywhere else, frustrated mayoral candidates were struggling to keep the voters' attention on what could easily be the most important municipal election in decades. There is a powerful irony here: the 1993 mayoral campaign, with its vast implications for the nation's most ethnically diverse city, is being upstaged by anxiety about the verdict and its aftermath. Primary day is only a week away-but the situation is so uncertain that the election may be postponed if there is disruption. ...
  • Citizen Perot

    For a guy who said he'd fight this battle fair and square-campaign solely on the issues, talk about what matters to the voters and the country-Ross Perot made a passable attempt at kicking George Bush in the political groin last week. The vehicle was "60 Minutes," that bastion of establishment journalism, and the subject was dirty tricks. Now it can be told: Perot dropped out of the presidential race last July to protect his daughter Carolyn from a nefarious plot to disrupt her wedding. Then there was the plot to defame her with a lewdly doctored photograph, and the plot to tap his office telephone. Proof? Perot had no proof, and he admitted it. He had only the word of a notoriously flaky character named Scott Barnes, and warnings from two unnamed but allegedly well-connected friends in politics. End of subject: how dare you question my integrity? ...
  • Iraqgate: What Went Wrong

    Ross Perot got it wrong: Iraqgate, the smudge-pot scandal that no one in Washington seems able to get to the bottom of, is not about what April Glaspie said to Saddam Hussein. It isn't about what George Bush told Jim Baker to tell April Glaspie to say to Saddam Hussein, either. And at this moment, at least, it isn't particularly about the Bush administration's tilt toward Iraq, its sharing of U.S. intelligence with Iraq or the long list of U.S.-made high-tech products that the Bush administration approved for sale to Iraq in the two years preceding the Persian Gulf War. All that, in its still unfolding detail, is evidence of an abysmally dumb policy that even the president admits was a failure. There's plenty of blame to go around, and historians can parcel it out. ...
  • Who's In, Who's Out In The New Congress

    Campaign seasons past also started out as "The Year of the Woman," only to fizzle out by Election Day. Though 1992 brought its share of disappointments, the Anita Hill class fulfilled a good measure of its early promise with the election of four new women to the U.S. Senate and a spate of freshwomen in the House. ...
  • AT THE BRINK OF DISASTER

    Even today, 30 years after the fact, the Cuban missile crisis ranks as the climactic moment of the cold war-a superpower morality play in which courage and candor triumphed and low cunning and dark purposes were defeated. The missile crisis pitted a popular and charismatic American president, John F. Kennedy, against a wily and bellicose Soviet leader, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. It involved-it was fundamentally about-the most lethal weapons of mass destruction then known, and it was played out in full view of millions upon millions of ordinary citizens the world over. Most of all, it ended happily-which is to say, without nuclear war. ...
  • Storm Warnings

    Like Hiroshima, they said, and it was: Hurricane Andrew, the most costly storm in U.S. history, had turned south Dade County into a zone of ruination that stretched on for miles and miles. Find the neighborhood and you couldn't find the street. Find the street and you couldn't find the house. Find the house and all you saw was debris. There was no water, no electricity, no phones only the stench of rotting garbage and, here and there, spray-painted signs that showed at least some homeowners were hanging on. MANNED AND ARMED, these graffiti said. YOU LOOT, WE SHOOT. ...
  • The Quayle Question

    Jay Leno and David Letterman can breathe a little easier tonight: after much Sturm and no small amount of Drang, it is finally clear that Dan Quayle will remain on the 1992 Republican ticket. But the outlook for George Bush and the GOP is a little murkier. Quayle's hapless burbling on touchy issues like abortion rights, to say nothing of his spelling problems, has raised the possibility that he could cost Bush critical votes in what more and more looks like an uphill struggle to win a second term. Many inside the Beltway know this and some, including a number of Quayle's allies on the Republican right, were hoping last week that Quayle would take the hint and quietly fade away. This was not to be: after a man-to-man conversation with the president, a stern-faced veep emerged to answer the obvious question. Was he staying, reporters asked? "Yes," he said. Case closed. ...
  • Piling Up The Gold

    The press conference in Colorado Springs last month probably won't go down as a milestone in the history of the modern Olympics, but it was a revealing moment nevertheless. The speaker was Dave Johnson, a world-class competitor in the decathlon and one of the stars of the 1992 U.S. track-and-field team. Johnson, who was known to hoist a few in his younger years, was asked whether he still drank beer. "One or two beers is better than two Cokes," he replied artlessly. Next to him an official of the U.S. Olympic Committee suddenly began to look as if he had been harpooned by an errant javelin throw. "Not that Coke is bad for you," Johnson added hastily. " I don't drink Pepsi, " he said. ...
  • Losing Ground

    Consider some statistics on life and death in America: ...

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