This Week

Issue: "Clinton unites conservatives," Oct. 10, 1998

Up, up, and away?

Will planes fall out of the sky because of the Year 2000 bug? Probably not, but if the Federal Aviation Administration lives up to skeptics' expectations, some might be sitting on the runway. The FAA claims that almost all of its computers are repaired and testing has already begun. "Aviation safety will not be compromised on Jan. 1, 2000, or on any other day," administrator Jane Garvey told a joint meeting of two House committees. Ms. Garvey says the bug won't affect the safety of airline passengers. Why? Simple. FAA bureaucrats will soon send letters to every airport in the country to outline their responsibilities to prepare for 2000. The General Accounting Office isn't so optimistic. It recently expressed doubts about whether the agency could get ready in time. Ms. Garvey admitted to the House hearing that Y2K presents "a set of problems we have never encountered before." Right now, government computer jockeys are racing to avert disasters expected when Y2K arrives. Computer systems that only use two-digit dates must be fixed or replaced-and Ms. Garvey says many smaller airports can't afford the high price of Y2K testing. So the FAA wants Congress to spend up to $100 million in existing federal grants to help airports fix their computers. The Air Transport Association says that one-third of 81 airports surveyed have no formal plans for dealing with the Year 2000 problem. Another 24 of those 81 airports say they are at least three months behind. In addition, the air travel industry is dependent on a host of services whose bugs are beyond their control. These include baggage-handling devices, air-traffic control systems, and power plants.

God in the eye of the storm

Hurricane Georges devastated the Caribbean, killing more than 370, before making landfall in the United States and killing four more. The storm that raged and kicked up gusts along Mississippi's Gulf Coast as high as 174 mph had dropped to 35. The storm weakened as it moved north and east, into Georgia, northern Florida, and South Carolina-but it apparently was strong enough to spawn tornadoes-and it left floods and devastation in its wake. Georges also provoked thoughts of God. "We just serve such a mighty God. He's so awesome," said Mississippi glass retailer Betty Murray, whose workers were fixing a 40-by-100-foot patch of roof that had blown a half-mile away. "Can you hear the wind, and not know who sends it? He can start it and he can stop it."

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The first Monday in October marks the traditional start of the Supreme Court term, but the court got a head start by granting review to 12 cases that had arrived during its summer recess. Among them, the court:

  • Re-entered the controversy over the use of race in drawing election districts by agreeing to take a third look at a much- disputed North Carolina congressional district.
  • Agreed to decide whether the NCAA can be sued under a federal law banning sex discrimination by any program or activity receiving federal financial aid.
  • Said it will use a California case to decide whether states can limit the amount of welfare payments paid to new residents.

Thomas L. Jipping, director of the Center for Law and Democracy at the conservative Free Congress Foundation, says the high court has also agreed to tackle questions in four key areas of the law. Here's his analysis: Citizen initiatives. Voters in nearly half the states utilize direct democracy to decide important policy issues through the ballot. Term limits, assisted suicide, and gay rights issues have recently been decided this way. In Buckley vs. American Constitutional Law Foundation, the Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of significant restrictions Colorado has tried to impose on that process. An appeals court struck down these restrictions. Free speech and criminal justice. In Chicago vs. Morales, the court will review an ordinance giving police the power to disperse groups of people they consider to be loitering-if an officer believes the group includes a member of a street gang. Conservatives generally support law enforcement, but they are increasingly concerned about trends that give police new powers triggered by vague or subjective judgments. Workers' rights. The Supreme Court has ruled that employees cannot be forced to join a union. Moreover, they cannot be forced to pay for a union's political activity, but only for its bargaining activity on their behalf. Enforcing this decision, however, has proven difficult. In Marquez vs. Screen Actors Guild, the court will evaluate union contracts that falsely require union membership as a condition of employment. These misleading clauses appear in nearly 70 percent of collective bargaining agreements nationwide. Census. The Constitution requires an "actual enumeration" and the census is used not only for deciding political representation, but also for distributing billions of federal program dollars. The Clinton administration wants to use a method based on statistical sampling, supposedly to count more accurately "underrepresented" groups, which largely support liberal and Democratic causes. Congressional Republicans filed a suit in which the lower courts concluded that statistical sampling would be improper.

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