This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Postmodern politics," Sept. 12, 1998

Cash for the crash

Everybody hopes the millennium bug will pass quietly, letting the calendar roll over with nary a ripple of disturbance. But what if ATMs go haywire and credit cards don't work? The Federal Reserve Board figures that scenario has gotten enough publicity that people may start hoarding cash, just in case. The government's answer: Print more. Today, $460 billion in green paper money is circulating and another $150 billion is held in reserve. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been ordered to print an extra $50 billion that will be stored in government vaults until it is needed. "It's purely a precautionary measure," said Clyde Farnsworth, a Fed official. "We want to be able to meet increased demand from commercial banks should private consumers request more currency." To make up for all the extra greenbacks coming off the presses in 1999, less money will be printed in the year 2000. "It just means we're printing the currency earlier than we normally would," Mr. Farnsworth said. The bug has forced schedule-juggling in other areas as well. Medicare was scheduled to correct a computer glitch that was charging seniors a 50 percent co-pay instead of the required 20 percent-a $570 million overcharge. But those fixes have been pushed back in order to focus on the more urgent Y2K problem. "Medicare must deal with year 2000 compliance aggressively to ensure no interruption in our services in claim payments," said administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Dick Armey is taking a closer look at the 2000 bug. He put up a Y2K page on his Web site (http://www.freedom.gov) that focuses on efforts to fix the federal government's computers. If Washington's built-by-the-lowest-bidder computer systems can't understand the year 2000, everything from national defense to mail delivery to air traffic control could have problems. Mr. Armey warns that government computers are behind schedule on an immovable deadline, leaving America at risk. "Recently just one wayward satellite wreaked havoc on millions who didn't even know that they depended upon it," he points out on his site.

Flood of bad news

Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano shuddered and sent a fountain of steam 3,000 feet into the air last week. Experts worried about the implications of increased activity at the volcano just 50 miles southeast of Mexico City, one of the world's most populous urban centers. Meanwhile, Bangladesh continued to suffer through the most prolonged flooding on record. More than 400 people have died, and 60 percent of the country is now under water. And in China, flooding along the Yangtze River has killed 3,000 this summer, creating a political firestorm in the normally tight-lipped media. Environmentalist Dai Qing is criticizing one of China's top officials, Li Peng, for promoting the outsized Three Gorges Dam. She said money spent on the $29 billion project could have instead been used to reinforce existing dams along the flood-prone lower reaches of the Yangtze.

World in brief

Opposing view
Not everyone in Sudan is angry about last month's U.S. cruise missile attack. Televised protests over the air strike were "very much orchestrated and unspontaneous affairs," according to a Religion Today report. Students and "more educated members of society," the report said, hope to see the Islamic fundamentalist government in Khartoum ousted. One European diplomat who called a Sudanese friend to apologize for the U.S. attack was told, "I'm not sorry at all. They should have hit much harder." Embassy alert
The American embassy in Lome, the capital of Togo, was closed Aug. 31 after renewed threats against U.S. facilities in Africa. The State Department advised Americans to "avoid all U.S. facilities" there. A similar notice was issued to American citizens in Ghana, where the embassy was closed Aug. 31- Sept. 3. The State Department also issued a warning to Americans in South Korea. It said U.S. officials "received unconfirmed information that terrorist action may possibly be taken against official U.S. Government installations and/or personnel." Serb insecurity
U.S. envoy David Scheffer, seeking to investigate reports of mass graves in Kosovo, was denied a visa by Serbian officials. Mr. Scheffer said on Radio Free Europe that the denial reflects the Serb government's "insecurity about its own accountability under international law."

IMF: New World welfare

Blame-layers at the Kremlin accused the International Monetary Fund of precipitating Russia's financial crisis because the lending agency did not come through with funds in time to avoid a stock market crash and rapid devaluation of Russia's currency, the ruble. In reality, however, the Communist leadership in the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, refused to accede to stringent economic reform measures tied to the IMF bailout, and now the Communists are looking for cover. More dollars may be coming. The U.S. Senate passed, 90-3, a measure to replenish IMF coffers, depleted by bail-outs attributed to "Asian flu" markets from Jakarta to Japan. The measure authorized an additional $18 billion in U.S. contributions to the IMF. A less extensive measure is pending in the House, where pro-life Republicans have held up further funding of IMF without restrictions on overseas population-control programs. A House vote is expected later this month. Russia has already received $50 billion from past IMF "loan" packages. With food supplies in serious question, Russians appeared to pay little attention to a three-day summit meeting between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton. Economic pep talks and nuclear arms treaties notwithstanding, press and pundits were free to focus on the embattled tenures of both leaders. Russian ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said, in reference to Mr. Clinton, that Russians had no business meeting "with a man who cannot settle his relations with a secretary." Missionary and journalist Beverly Nichols said not all Russians find it so simple. "They look at the strong economy and standard of living in America under Clinton's presidency, and then the state of their country under Yeltsin, and decide they would be happy to trade," she said.

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