NATO to the rescue?
It's time to declare war on the Year 2000 computer problem, says Edward Yardeni, chief economist for investment bank Deutsche Morgan Grenfell. He gave an April 7 speech to the Bank for International Settlements, forecasting a 60 percent chance of global recession within two years due to massive computer meltdowns. When systems around the world fail because they can't register the year 2000, Mr. Yardeni says, the economic jolt will surpass that of the 1973 oil crisis. "Let's stop pretending that Y2K isn't a major threat to our way of life," he told the bankers. "There is too much at stake." He warned of nuclear weapons failures, power outages, grounded airplanes, and disruptions to government services, health care, and financial markets. What's Mr. Yardeni's response? Global damage control. He proposed a NATO-esque Y2K Global Alliance run by a military commander in chief like Colin Powell. The Alliance would wage campaigns around the world to protect electricity, water, and other utilities from Y2K breakdown, including plans to ration usage in case of emergency. It would also manage efforts in industries such as farming, manufacturing, and retailing. Part of the Alliance's budget would pay for stockpiles of medicine, fuel, and food. Mr. Yardeni called for a "change freeze" that would stop business and government from passing legislation or adding new technology that would take away precious Y2K-fighting resources. He also wants Alliance members to declare a week-long bank holiday at the start of the year 2000 to allow technicians extra time to test upgraded systems. "There are no low-tech alternatives if our high-tech alternatives fail in 2000," he told the international bankers. Mr. Yardeni gave this proposal in preparation for the Group of Eight nations meeting next month. Representatives from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States will meet to discuss the 2000 problem along with the Asian financial crisis and the ongoing turmoil in the former Soviet Union.
Try, try again
When Larry Flynt opened an adult bookstore in Cincinnati last October, he dared local authorities to prosecute him. A grand jury last week granted his wish. The Hustler publisher was indicted April 7 for selling obscene videos to a 14-year-old boy. Twenty-one years ago he was convicted of pandering obscenity in the same city. Mr. Flynt's first Cincy conviction-which became the focus of the 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt-was eventually tossed out. This time he faces more serious charges. The 15 counts include pandering obscenity, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, and conspiracy to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity. Those charges carry possible penalties of two to eight years in prison, compared to a maximum of one year for the obscenity charge alone. According to prosecutor Joseph Deters, the 14-year-old boy bought an obscene video in the store, which Larry Flynt owns and brother Jimmy Flynt manages. He sold the tape to a friend, then bragged about the purchase. The boy then called the cops, who sent him back twice to buy more tapes. The store was raided in late March. Jimmy Flynt is also charged, but he plans to keep the family's store running. Mr. Deters said he expects both Flynts to surrender within the next few weeks. Larry Flynt says he was in California at the time and didn't know the circumstances of the boy's purchases. He says his company does not sell adult materials to minors. Mr. Flynt's original 1977 conviction made retailers afraid to sell Hustler and other forms of hardcore porn. Then he rode back into town last May, giving away copies of the magazine for free.
Death of an icon
In one of her last media interviews, Tammy Wynette stood by "Stand by Your Man," the 1968 country chart-topper that would enrage feminists and become the brassy and many-times-married country performer's signature song. "I'd love to hear the song sung by a man with the line changed to 'if you love her, you'll forgive her.' It's the same thing. I defend it. That song took 230 minutes to write and 35 years to defend," she told an entertainment reporter during a recent interview in her Las Vegas hotel suite. Ms. Wynette died in her sleep last week at 55 from a blood clot. She was married five times, divorced four-her first in 1966, when she left Alabama with three young daughters for Nashville in search of a recording contract. She produced 20 No. 1 singles, more than 50 albums, and three Grammy Awards. Besides her current husband, singer-songwriter George Richey, Ms. Wynette is survived by five daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren. In the twilight of her career, Ms. Wynette was thrust into national politics in 1992, when Hillary Rodham Clinton dissed "Stand by Your Man" during a crucial 60 Minutes interview in which she did that very thing for her philandering husband, helping him to go on to win the presidency: "I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." Ms. Wynette countered that Mrs. Clinton had "offended every person who has 'made it on their own' with no one to take them to a White House." She added, "I can assure you, in spite of your education, you will find me as bright as yourself." Mrs. Clinton later apologized, and Ms. Wynette succumbed to the presidential charm, performing at a Clinton fundraiser. Shock-rocker Wendy O. Williams, 48, of the 1980s punk band The Plasmatics, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last week in the woods behind the home she shared with her boyfriend in Storrs, Conn. "She felt she was past her peak and found it difficult to lead a normal life," Rod Swenson said of Ms. Williams, who had been working as an animal rehabilitator. Rob Pilatus, whose career as half of the pop-music duo Milli Vanilli crashed into disgrace and drug abuse after it was revealed that the group lip-synched its songs, died at age 32, in a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany, after overdosing on alcohol, antidepressants, and cocaine. "The only disgrace is how Rob died-all alone, internally destroyed from the rapid rise then sudden fall," said show-biz partner Fabrice Morvan. "Where were the ones that pushed us to the top who made the millions?" Mr. Pilatus was born in New York the son of a U.S. soldier and a German mother. He grew up with adoptive parents in Munich. He will be buried at the site of their grave.
"If it were me that had documented personal conduct along the lines of the president's, I would be so filled with shame that I would resign. This president won't do that. His basic credo in life is, 'I will do whatever I can get away with.' His ideology begins and ends with himself. And, frankly, my own guess is the man spends very little time and effort in his life pursuing anything other than his own physical comforts.... I think in the end, he's going to end up a heartbroken man who left nothing but a trail of heartbreak behind him. So I feel very badly for him."
-House Majority Leader Dick Armey to students at Coppell High School near Dallas. "I stand by my remarks.... I could not let these children think this president is a good role model."
-Mr. Armey, later in the day. "No, I think the president should tell the truth. The president owes the country the truth."
-Newt Gingrich, disagreeing with Mr. Armey's resignation recommendation on NBC's Today. "[Mr. Armey] is expressing the frustration most Republicans feel right now. The question is: How can this president get away with so much? Why doesn't anything stick?"
-Republican pollster Frank Luntz. "Being a Texan, I can say that if goofy ideas ever go up to $40 a barrel, I'd like to have the drilling rights to Dick Armey's head."
-White House aide Paul Begala. "Begala, presumably, already has the drilling rights to the head of recovering Texas pol Jim Hightower, who first used the gibe years ago."
-From The Washington Post Reliable Source column. "With any other president, at any other time, that news would have been Defcon 4. But this White House viewed it as a pretty good story. That just shows how far we've come."
-Unnamed "Clintonite" in a column by Maureen Dowd, on a "consensual" sexual liaison between then-Gov. Clinton and a former Miss America.
The IRS time-bomb
Stressed-out taxpayers who struggled to meet the April 15 tax-filing deadline may find some comfort in knowing the Internal Revenue Service is struggling to meet a deadline of its own-and, unlike Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, the IRS can't file for an extension. The worrisome deadline that has the IRS watching the clock is Jan. 1, 2000. Unless a modernization miracle happens, date-dependent IRS computers-programmed to read only the last two digits of any year-won't be able to handle the century date change. The result? Nobody knows for sure, but Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) is among those who think IRS computers could crash-big time. "This is terminal if you don't get it right," he warns. Can the IRS, noted for its antiquated technology and bureaucratic culture, really pull off the required massive computer upgrade in time? Not likely, according to a report in the April 13 edition of Fortune. The magazine describes the tax agency as "Washington's biggest basket case," noting that the IRS computer system is "a tangle of 80 mainframes, 1,335 minicomputers, and 130,000 desktop [units] that are largely unable to communicate with each other." Even recently installed IRS chief Charles Rossotti concedes, "I have never seen a worse situation in a large organization.... The technology is just remarkable for how backward it is." Not that the IRS hasn't tried to keep pace with the technological times. But over the past 25 years, every attempt to modernize the agency's Rube Goldberg-like computer system has failed-including the most recent try, which ran up a bill of $4 billion before finally being abandoned as a total disaster. But this time it's different, IRS officials insist. Despite the resignation of its top technology officer two months ago, the agency bravely maintains on its Web site that "[a]ll IRS in-house applications, production systems software, and purchased commercial packages will be Year 2000 compliant by January 31, 1999." Left unexplained is exactly how the IRS will accomplish this gargantuan task, which involves upgrading and testing more than 60 million lines of computer code, much of it written in antiquated computer languages that most young computer experts can't decipher. With the clock ticking toward a non-negotiable deadline, IRS Commissioner Rossotti this month asked Congress to delay several proposed tax code changes until after the Year 2000 problem is resolved. But even if that reprieve is granted, many tax experts think agency brass are kidding themselves about being able to pull off the Year 2000 conversion in time. "I think the prospects [for meeting that goal] are almost none," former IRS agent Charlie Germany told WORLD. Like Sen. Moynihan, Mr. Germany, now head of the income tax division at Ronald Blue and Co. in Atlanta, believes there's a definite possibility the IRS could "just go belly up." Which raises the question: If the IRS, the lumbering and loyal servant of expansive government, fails, what then?
Nation in brief
Congressional widows are undefeated this year. Last week, the wife of the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.), Mary, easily won a six-way open primary to succeed her husband in Congress. Mary Bono has a mixed record on abortion: She supports its continued legality, but also some modest restrictions on its practice, such as parental consent and bans on partial-birth abortions and federal funding of abortion. Last month, Lois Capps, a California Democrat, succeeded her congressman husband, Walter, who died last year. During the race, Mrs. Bono's mother-in-law worried publicly that her two young grandchildren would not fare well with their mother in a demanding bicoastal job. She garnered 66 percent of the vote, stomping her nearest challenger, Ralph Waite, who played "Pa" in The Waltons TV series. In Washington, Energy Secretary Federico Peña cited family concerns in announcing his retirement from the Clinton administration. Asked at his farewell news conference whether he was leaving because he feared indictment for some unknown crime, Mr. Peña exploded, accusing journalists of driving good people out of government. Can terrible two get worse?
A study released last week by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that not all terrible twos are equally terrible. Two-year-olds who spend lots of time in childcare generally behave worse than those cared for by their own parents. But childcare workers need not despair. The American Academy of Pediatrics seems intent on making sure that all young children are equally ill-behaved. The 53,000-member academy proclaimed last week that spanking leads to aggression in children, and that parents should opt for non-physical punishments such as time-outs and grounding. Other professional groups have already strongly condemned corporal punishment, but earlier statements by the AAP were left intentionally vague. New world order update
Globalist rulings struck at the concerns of both liberals and conservatives in the United States last week. The World Trade Organization held that U.S. efforts to protect endangered sea turtles from shrimpers' nets wrongly restricts trade; U.S. law bans shrimp imports from countries that do not require their fishermen to use turtle excluder devices when trawling for shrimp. Also last week, a UN human-rights panel held that the death penalty as applied in the United States violates international treaties. The commission voted to urge global abolition of the death penalty. Raging bull
For the first time ever, the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 9,000. A buying spree followed the announcement that Citicorp and Travelers Group are merging in a record $70 billion deal. The Dow rose 49.82 to close at 9,033 on April 6. Just over five months ago, the Dow fell below 7,000 amid fears the bull market of the 1990s was over. Up in smoke
With fresh battle lines drawn, President Clinton tried to make the case for regulating the tobacco industry to the very people who rely on cigarette makers for their livelihood, tobacco growers in Kentucky. Mr. Clinton's trip came one day after cigarette manufacturers promised to fight any bid by Congress to raise prices and further restrict their advertising. They said they support last year's less-expensive agreement with states to curb teen smoking, but concluded that effort is now "dead." The initial announcement came from RJR Nabisco, parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Shortly afterward, Philip Morris, Lorillard Inc., and Brown & Williamson said they back RJR's position.
Eating, drinking judgment
What looked like a great photo op for the president during his recent African tour has turned into a controversy that has Catholics around the world asking, Is nothing sacred? The plan was simple enough: President and Mrs. Clinton would attend mass in a poor South African parish known for its outspoken opposition to apartheid. But trouble began as soon as Mohlomi Makobane, the parish priest, looked at the appointed Scripture passage for the day: John 8:1-11, the story of the woman taken in adultery, whom Christ admonished to "go and sin no more." Despite the uncomfortable Scripture reading, Mr. Clinton evidently concluded that he was living in a sufficient "state of grace" that he could accept Catholic communion. Catholics around the world were enraged by the sight of a Southern Baptist president under a cloud of sexual scandal participating in the eucharist. In New York, Cardinal John O'Connor blasted the president's presumption, and the Vatican demanded an explanation from the regional bishops' conference. The finger-pointing continued for days. White House spokesman Mike McCurry suggested that perhaps Cardinal O'Connor didn't understand the South African bishops' position on ecumenical communion. The cardinal, in turn, suggested that Mr. McCurry might not want to lecture him on Catholic doctrine, which is not to be contravened by local bishops. Mr. McCurry also pointed out that "in the printed program for the service, all baptized Christians were invited to partake in communion." Father Makobane, however, insisted that the program had been composed and printed by the Clinton advance team. Some evangelicals, meanwhile, criticized the president for accepting communion in a church that requires communicants-in theory at least-to confess sins to a human mediator before taking the bread. The Clintons returned to Washington and the liberal Foundry United Methodist, where the minister defends the president religiously.
Not all Christian groups in Israel were party to an agreement with Orthodox Jewish members of Israel's parliament to end a legislative drive to curb evangelism. The Messianic Action Committee (MAC) reports that "the whole Messianic community and most of the Evangelical Protestant churches" declined to support a joint statement. It said Christian groups would not carry out certain kinds of missionary activity. Among those not signing on to the statement were Evangelical Lutherans, Southern Baptists, the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, the Church of England, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance, as well as the United Christian Council in Israel (UCCI). The MAC and UCCI initially agreed to the statement, but withdrew support because it did not affirm a right to "proclaim" Christian faith under Israel's free-speech clauses. Meanwhile, thousands of tourists and worshippers began a week-long celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For just one shekel each (a quarter in U.S. currency), they could purchase olive branches from Arab Christian children to carry to the Mount of Olives for Jerusalem's Palm Sunday procession. Israeli soldiers went on high alert along the route from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, after threats from the terrorist group Hamas. The Muslim extremists hold Israel responsible for the death of Mohiyedine Sharif, a master bombmaker for Hamas who was killed two weeks ago when a car rigged with explosives blew up in the West Bank. An investigation ordered by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat cleared Israel of those charges. It said Mr. Sharif was likely killed in a power struggle within the group.
World in brief
New bailout plan
Indonesia and the International Monetary Fund reached a new agreement-the third in six months-to rescue the country's failing economy. The IMF said President Suharto could continue heavy subsidies on food and fuel, while Mr. Suharto promised to close more insolvent banks belonging to cronies. If those arrangements hold, Indonesia will be doled $43 billion in economic aid from the multilateral agency. Terror and cannibalism
Days after President Clinton left Africa, bomb blasts at a hotel and restaurant killed five and wounded five in Uganda's capital, Kampala. Rebel insurgents looking to overthrow President Yoweri Museveni have fought Ugandan soldiers in the north and west, but have never attacked the city. Some of those rebels have reportedly taken to cannibalism as a way to survive. Army commanders fighting the rebels near the Congo border say they received credible intelligence reports that the rebels had killed and eaten a number of people who had been abducted earlier, as well as one of their commanders who was ill. The Associated Press said independent confirmation of the report was impossible.