Polishing the Apple
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has won a three-year court battle with the sex industry. As a result, 150 of the city's 177 adult businesses may be headed for the far outskirts of the Big Apple. A federal appeals court ruled recently in favor of a zoning ordinance that boots out sex shops within 500 feet of each other or of homes, schools, or houses of worship. That makes most of New York City off-limits. This will not only finish off the old Times Square sleaze district-once America's most notorious red-light neighborhood. Sex shops in Queens and Brooklyn that had moved out of Manhattan to escape the city's previous clean-up efforts will be in trouble, too. Sanity hasn't prevailed entirely, as stores stocked with "only" 40 percent porn will stay in business. But the neon-ugly signage and in-your-face sleaze is doomed. Many jaded New Yorkers are nostalgic for the old days. Naturally, the smut merchants hope to tie this plan up in endless litigation. They've got the New York Civil Liberties Union on their side, calling for freedom of expression, but Mr. Giuliani has bipartisan support in one of America's most liberal cities. Why? Because New York's city fathers like the idea of a metropolis with less crime and blight and more tourists and investments from the likes of Time Warner and Disney. Just as Las Vegas is bulldozing its memories of old-style mobsters, New York is tearing down adult theaters to make the city more friendly to families and overseas tourists. In this new NYC, the old had to go.
Into the sunset
July 4, 2002, could see more than just the usual fireworks. Thanks to a 219-209 vote in the House of Representatives last week, that day may mark the deadline for voting on a brand-new tax code. If the House legislation becomes law, by Jan. 31 of that year, the current, impossibly complicated code-all 555 million words of it-must be scrapped. President Clinton says he'll veto the measure if it passes the Senate, but Republicans believe they have a potent political issue. Taxpayers now spend billions annually completing their tax forms, yet still pay $200 billion to accountants to make sure they comply with the complex laws. The 2002 "sunset law" may make the current code obsolete in a few years, but it specifies no replacement. GOP leaders are split over alternatives, with some favoring a flat tax and others a national sales tax. If a deadline looms, however, they say an end to the wrangling could in sight.
It's tempting to dismiss Leo Buscaglia, who died June 12 at age 74, as a quirky pop-psychologist who did little more than earn the nickname "Dr. Hug." How seriously can one take the author of such lines as, "We're beautiful. We're the most beautiful creatures on earth. Being human is good"? But Dr. Buscaglia made a larger contribution: He made postmodernism popular. "Dichotomies: good, bad, right, wrong-nonsense!-normal, abnormal-no such thing but gradations and possibilities and creativity," he wrote. "What is normal? What is right? What is wrong? As long as you are free, you are free to select and choose alternatives...." At the time of his death, Dr. Buscaglia had sold 11 million books in 19 languages. The American Booksellers Association credits him with virtually creating the self-help book market with his 1972 work Love, which never went out of print.
A sixth-grade bilingual education teacher in New York was fired last week after a discussion about the death of a fellow student ended in prayer. The teacher, Mildred Rosario, told her 29 students they should leave the room if they didn't want to take part in the conversation. None left, but one later complained about the prayer. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani defended the firing, but House Majority Leader Dick Armey called it a clear sign that "the anti-religion animus has gone too far in America" when students cannot turn to a teacher for spiritual consolation.
We are family
Even by modern standards, it was a weird week for the American family. On June 12, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon blessed the vows of 1,500 couples in a mass ceremony at Madison Square Garden. Mr. Moon turned total strangers into couples based on photographs. "It's a very spiritual process," said his spokesman. "The Rev. Moon is good at reading a person's character from the shape of their face." In Minnesota, meanwhile, several dozen women showed up at a "bridal mixer" for David Weinlick, a 28-year-old anthropology student. After interviewing the women, Mr. Weinlick's friends chose Elizabeth Runze to be his bride. With 2,000 shoppers watching, the two strangers were married just hours later in a ceremony held at the massive Mall of America. "She's very committed to the idea and so is he. They'll probably be married 67 years," said the bride's proud mother, who, like the groom's mother, is herself divorced. Not to be outdone in the shameless publicity department, a 40-year-old woman identified only as Elizabeth gave birth last week to a 7-pound, 8-ounce baby boy-while 10,000 people watched live on the World Wide Web. One glimmer of hope for traditional families: A recent survey by the Whirlpool Foundation revealed that 50 percent of teen girls plan to stay at home and raise their children, while 60 percent of boys want to marry a woman who will do just that. The results were surprising, given that 70 percent of today's teenagers have parents who both work outside the home.
GOP stubs tax bill
Just a few weeks ago, a huge tobacco bill aimed at reducing teen smoking was barreling through the Senate, nearly certain of passage. But when anti-tax activists complained about the bill's $1.10-per-pack surcharge, Democrats larded the bill with spending for non-tobacco-related programs, and Republican senators decided they had better take a deep breath. Democrats last week fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to close the month-long debate and force action. When a second parliamentary maneuver failed by seven votes, the tobacco bill was officially pronounced dead, and $40 million cigarette-company lobbying efforts had proven to be an efficient investment. It was a huge defeat for President Clinton, who for the past year has pounded away at the theme of "saving our kids" from the big tobacco companies. He blasted the Senate moments after the vote, saying lawmakers should have voted "like parents rather than politicians" and promising to make the vote an issue in the fall elections. But Republicans insisted that Democratic politics had killed the bill. With billions of dollars up for grabs, special interest groups tried to bring in an era of even bigger government. In one of the bill's provisions, states would have been forced to spend one-half of their tobacco-tax revenues on subsidized daycare for low-income families-long a priority of the Clinton Administration. In an amendment cheered by conservatives, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) used tobacco-tax revenues to offset a near-elimination of the marriage penalty. That proposal died with the rest of the bill, but it will be resurrected in the budget debate this summer. Indeed, nothing about the bill is stone-cold dead. Democrats vowed to tack the tobacco legislation onto nearly every bill debated in the Senate for the remainder of the year, and Newt Gingrich promised to pass a House version without the Senate's tax-and-spend provisions.
No PC at BYU
A feminist professor denied tenure by Brigham Young University has found support among the tenured radicals of her profession. Meeting in Washington last week, the 45,000-member American Association of University Professors voted to censure Mormon-owned BYU for what it called a "poor climate of academic freedom." English professor Gail Turley Houston had publicly called for prayers to be offered to a "Mother in Heaven as well as a Father in Heaven." That may have violated Mormon belief, but violating Ms. Houston's academic freedom was the greater evil, according to the AAUP. The association decided Ms. Houston was entitled to voice her "description of personal vision" regardless of the university's religious convictions. The censure won't cost BYU its accreditation-only its standing with the academic left, which has established truly poor climates of academic freedom at many universities.
Shedding light on a blackout
When the millennium bug strikes, will the lights stay on? That's one of the biggest questions concerning the expected computer malfunction of Jan. 1, 2000. A long, brutal winter with no electricity is a cornerstone of Year 2000 doom scenarios. The nation's electrical utilities told a Senate panel last week that they're getting ready for the big day, but they can't guarantee the lights won't go out. An informal survey of ten top utilities serving 50 million people found that none have complete contingency plans in place in case their computers crash. Only two of the ten had finished assessments of their automated systems. "If we don't get this right, nothing else works," said Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) "We're no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be." Many of the nation's electrical plants use date-sensitive programs to run the clocks that control the power flow. Those programs could fail if the computers don't recognize the "00" date. Other potential problems involve billing and security systems. Committee Chairman Bob Bennett (R-Utah) said he was worried that panic would result if more attention isn't given to the problem soon. "I am genuinely concerned about the very real prospects of power shortages as a consequence of the millennial date change," he said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants progress reports from America's nuclear plants by mid-August. Meanwhile, the industry tried to put the situation in the best possible light. Michehl Gent of the North American Electric Reliability Council said that widespread blackouts were hardly probable, but: "No one's going to give you a 100 percent assurance."
Nation in brief
Turns out media watchdog Steven Brill-whose publication Brill's Content premiered on newsstands last week with a 24,000-word attack on Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr-is a generous Democratic donor. According to the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, Mr. Brill donated more than $10,000 to the campaigns of liberal Democrats between 1992 and 1997, including $1,000 to the Clinton/Gore 1996 campaign. Mr. Brill, on Fox's Crier Report, conceded he "should have disclosed" that information prior to his article's appearing. Another news outlet debuted last week. L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative media watchdog group Media Research Center, said last week that his Conservative News Service will be an online operation reporting news that is "under-reported or ignored by the network media." Au pair au revoir
Louise Woodward, the British nanny convicted for her role in the death of an infant in her care but given a light sentence by a judge, returned home last week. Miss Woodward was found guilty of second-degree murder, but a judge reduced the conviction to manslaughter and cut her sentence to time served. Massachusetts' highest court backed the ruling, allowing her to go home. According to the British paper Guardian, Miss Woodward was being offered six-figure sums for her story. Also last week, the teenager charged with killing his parents and suspected of a deadly shooting rampage at his high school was arraigned, but Kip Kinkel's attorneys were granted more time to enter a plea. If convicted, he may face life behind bars, but in Oregon, juveniles cannot get the death penalty.
Sugar and spice and...
Who says social engineering is doomed to failure? The ongoing effort to blur gender distinctions between young boys and girls seems to be a success-but "success" is proving to be a slippery term. The newly released "Girls Report," a compilation of research from hundreds of government and academic sources, shows that girls are defying stereotypes by playing more sports and improving their scores on math tests. "Adolescent girls are getting more of a sense of entitlement in healthy ways and feeling bolder," says Lynn Phillips, the report's author. But the social engineers had to admit that they may have created a Frankenstein(ette). Girls are becoming more like boys in some not-so-desirable ways as well. Smoking was up 50 percent among girls over a five-year stretch-a faster increase than among boys-and girls' marijuana use more than doubled in the same period. Girls also narrowed the violent crime gap, racking up arrests at a quicker pace than their male peers.
World in brief
Propping the yen
The U.S. Treasury intervened directly for the first time in Asia's currency crisis, buying up Japanese yen to arrest that country's steep currency slide. Treasury officials worried that Japan is on the edge of economic depression. U.S. action came despite persistent demands from overseas banking officials that Japan first put its economic house in order. Kosovo battle
NATO commanders sent warplanes on maneuvers over the embattled Kosovo, but at the last minute scrapped arming their 85 fighter crafts with live ammunition. With NATO members Greece and Turkey threatened by the worsening conflict in the Yugoslavian province, alliance leaders continued to debate the potential for live-round airstrikes and 20,000 ground-force troops. U.S. diplomat Robert Gelbard called the situation "grave," after reports that Yugoslav forces shot an Albanian civilian and two horses inside Albania-evidence of a widening conflict. Persecution watch
Persecution watchdogs reported the arrests of four Filipino Christians in Saudia Arabia following an evangelistic campaign. The Voice of the Martyrs and Compass Direct quoted unnamed sources who said the men were tortured and forced to identify other Christians in Riyadh after the early June arrests took place. One of the detainees was arrested in 1992 for blasphemy and sentenced to public execution but abruptly deported to the Philippines. The evangelism was organized by the underground church in Saudi Arabia, together with Operation Mobilization and Campus Crusade for Christ.
Let these children go
Two businessmen, Ted Forstmann, a venture capitalist, and John Walton, heir to the huge Wal-Mart fortune, have pledged to raise $200 million that would allow at least 50,000 urban poor children to escape from failing public schools. That there is a hunger for educational choice is beyond dispute. In New York City, 22,000 applications for the Choice Scholarship Program are received each year for the 1,000 slots available. In Washington, D.C., more than 7,000 applications were filed for about 1,000 scholarships. The education establishment predicted school choice wouldn't work and would drain public-school resources. They argued that more money is needed in a system that is already spending record amounts, but getting ever-lower returns on the public's investment. If a mutual fund were performing as poorly as public schools, a good financial adviser would recommend the client to sell and find a better investment. In Wisconsin, where school choice for low-income residents has been an option in some cities for more than seven years, the results are beginning to come in. Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School system, says the magnitude of the improvements is so great he recommends the choice program be expanded to new cities. Several studies from educational professionals indicate "quite large" gains in math achievement and reading. Surveys also indicate widespread parental satisfaction and more stability in attendance patterns. A newer school-choice program in Cleveland shows similar academic gains, as well as markedly improved parental and child satisfaction. In Milwaukee and Cleveland choice schools, academic achievement in several subjects improved dramatically after as little as three years. Only the teachers' unions and the politicians who need their votes and campaign money are upset. Unable to deny the evidence of improvement, many have taken to distorting the research and attempting to shut down choice experiments. While the federal government attempts to break up the alleged monopoly of the highly successful Microsoft, it tries to maintain a failing education monopoly. Mr. Forstmann, Mr. Walton, and their Choice Scholarship Program spell freedom and a future for students and parents who can't afford the "luxury" of private schools. The politicians and education bureaucrats, who increasingly place their kids in private schools, want to leave poor children behind. Mssrs. Forstmann and Walton are like Moses crying to the education pharaohs: "Let these children go."
by Cal Thomas © Los Angeles Times Syndicate