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."
Back in session
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.
No good deed goes unpunished. After two philanthropists last week announced an expansion of their effort to provide scholarships for low-income children to escape substandard public schools, the head of the left-wing People for the American Way Foundation denounced it. Speaking at the National Press Club, investor Theodore Forstmann revealed more details of his and Wal-Mart heir John T. Walton's plan to help 35,000 young people in 36 communities across the nation receive a quality education. "At first glance, [the] announcement could be viewed as a simple act of altruism," said People for the American Way's Carole Shields, who gave the announcement second and subsequent glances. "But read the fine print and hang on to your wallet. The forces behind this 'gift' have a vested interest in seeing publicly funded vouchers become law." Yes, they do-although she could not show how their $140 million scholarship pool would benefit them financially. No doubt it will help politically: They take the position that once Americans see the benefits of affordable private education, citizens will demand the public-school cartel be opened up to competition. The Forstmann-Walton fund was created in June and is modeled on the Washington Scholarship Fund, which the two men helped found in August 1997 to give scholarships to poor children in the nation's capital. In Washington, 7,500 parents applied for 1,000 scholarships. Here's how it will work. A lottery on April 17, 1999, will determine which 35,000 children receive the four-year scholarships for elementary, middle, and high schools. The individual scholarships will range from $600 to $1,600, depending on what families can pay. Families may begin the application process by calling (800) 805-5437.
World Evangelical Fellowship leader Johan Candelin issued a "storm warning" following a recent trip to India, and announced that WEF would place additional workers there to track religious liberty. Church leaders have seen a sharp rise in anti-Christian attacks, including the gang-rape of four nuns last month and other incidents against Catholics, since the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government took power in March.
Serb forces massacred an extended family of 18 ethnic Albanian civilians, including five children, in a forest in the Drenica region of Kosovo Sept. 26, according to Human Rights Watch. Eyewitnesses discovered the bodies of seven people, all of whom had been shot in the head at close range. Others were located in the process of burial by villagers. Drenica was a stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and similar civilian massacres took place there in February and March. The human-rights monitoring group also located corpses of 16 other civilians shot at close range, believed executed in Golubovac and Gornja Obrinja. Those villages are sites of recent offenses by the Yugoslav army, which is fighting to remove ethnic Albanian separatists from Kosovo.
Another Israeli-Palestinian deal
Overcoming months of negotiation fatigue and stalemate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a crucial concession to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that allowed the prospect of peace in the Middle East to move forward. Meeting in Washington, the two leaders agreed to an Israeli withdrawal from another 13 percent of the West Bank. That gives Mr. Arafat political control of 40 percent of the West Bank and 98 percent of the Palestinian population. One made-in-America ingredient leading to the compromise: Nearly a quarter of the 13 percent withdrawal area will be set aside as a nature preserve, where no Palestinians will live. Still to come from the Palestinian side are security arrangements. Mr. Arafat is expected to shut down terrorist cells, confiscate weapons, and stop "incitement" through anti-Israel speeches and propaganda. Failure to follow through in those areas led to the breakdown in the Oslo peace accords both leaders signed onto five years ago. Hoping to revive a foreign policy hit of a decade ago, President Clinton invited the two leaders to conclude their peace deal in October, most likely at Camp David. The site is where President Jimmy Carter helped Israel and Egypt reach a settlement in 1978. Mr. Carter is not likely to join the party, however. Last month the former president said he believed Mr. Clinton "has not been truthful" in grand jury testimony and predicted, in a speech to students at Emory University, that the House would recommend impeachment. Mr. Carter also has challenged the legitimacy of a U.S. cruise missile attack on a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and supported a UN inquiry into whether the plant was producing nerve gas.
Worshippers at the Full Gospel AME Zion Church shouted "Praise God" and "Thank you, Lord" as the pastor prayed for Attorney General Janet Reno, who was among the throng. The Washington Post recounted the scene: The pastoral prayer came after a rousing hymn by the choir, "Lord Lift Him Up." The Scripture reading came from 2 Chronicles 7:14, a passage about God's healing the land of a sinful people. Pastor John Cherry beseeched the Lord on behalf of the attorney general: "Give her the strength to make the decisions she has to make." Then the woman who faces weighty decisions about opening new investigations of campaign-finance wrongdoing on the part of her boss-and has the threat of a congressional contempt count hanging over her for moving too slowly-fainted. Miss Reno's FBI bodyguards spirited her away to the pastor's office, where she recovered. The Post speculated the fainting spell resulted from the combination of the effects of Parkinson's disease and Miss Reno's exhaustion (she has had no vacation this year and only two since becoming AG in 1993).
Man knows not his time
Dan Quisenberry in the 1980s was at the top of his game. Last winter, an aggressive form of brain cancer brought him low. But the three-time All-Star reliever always emphasized the goodness of God. Following surgery earlier this year to remove a tumor, Mr. Quisenberry spoke of his gratitude: "Every day I find things to be thankful for.... Sometimes it's just seeing a little boy on a bicycle. Sometimes it's the taste of water. It's hard to explain." He died last week at age 45. Mr. Quisenberry's minister, Ted Nissen of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, recalled a post-surgery visit. "He was on such a high, talking about how good God had been to him," he told the Kansas City Star. "He blessed me on that visit."
Tom Bradley lived to see race relations come full circle in Los Angeles. The 1965 Watts riots struck during his first term in the city council, and the 1992 Rodney King uprising shook his fifth and final term as mayor. Mr. Bradley, who died last week at age 80 after complications from a 1996 heart attack and stroke, was L.A.'s first black police lieutenant and first black mayor. Supporters praised him for opening city government to minorities and women and expanding social services to the urban poor. Opponents accused him of dishonoring the mayor's office. Mr. Bradley's tenure was rocked by scandals and complaints he had become too close to the city's economic elite. During the 1980s, Mr. Bradley was the subject of over a dozen investigations concerning $42,000 in consulting fees received from two banks doing business with the city. Criminal charges were never filed, and the mayor eventually paid a $20,000 fine to settle a suit that charged him with failing to disclose stock holdings. These troubles, along with the King crisis, tarnished his career. He retired as mayor in 1993, avoiding an election he was certain to lose.
Nation in brief
Florida authorities shut down the Bonding Babies day-care center last week after extreme disciplinary measures were discovered. Police said three infants-11, 12, and 13 months old-who spent their days in the custody of Bonding Babies were found to have had both arms deliberately broken. A temporary injunction shutting down the Gainesville, Fla., center also prohibits the center's owner from caring for children in her home or any other place under her license. By the numbers
Are the wealthy undertaxed? The Internal Revenue Service last week released figures for 1995 that showed the wealthiest segment of the population amounted to only about 1.1 percent of total tax returns that year, but they paid a total of $182.5 billion in federal taxes. The IRS numbers also showed the number of $200,000-plus annual earners grew to 1.3 million in 1995. Will the good economic times continue to roll? The stock market was unimpressed by the Federal Reserve's decision to cut short-term interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point-the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged after the announcement dashed hopes of a greater cut. Economists worry that chaos in the international markets will eventually affect the U.S. economy.
A Siberian Lutheran mission involved in a year-long battle with local authorities was again ordered closed. The verdict followed a two-day hearing by the Supreme Court of Khakassia, an autonomous region in southwestern Siberia. Observers said the atmosphere at the hearing was reminiscent of Soviet-era trials of Christians. Witnesses were forced to testify about their faith, which is forbidden by the Russian constitution, and one church member fainted under the pressure. Action against the Evangelical Lutheran Mission began one year ago, when local officials in the town of Tuim, where the mission is located, suddenly banned the group and tried to halt its activities at a former state-owned building purchased by the mission. Lawyers for the mission were scheduled to appeal the decision to Russia's Supreme Court this week.
Mighty Morphin Power Fundraiser
Bill Clinton the contrite last weekend transformed into the Mighty Morphin Power Fundraiser, extracting $1.5 million from the rich and famous in Tinseltown. On the three-day fundraising swing, he also beat the bushes in Texas and Illinois for a grand total of $3.6 million for Democrat candidates. The highlight was a $5,000-a-plate dinner in the Hollywood home of Haim Saban, creator of TV's Power Rangers. Mr. Saban, head of the Fox Kids Network, cited polls showing most Americans oppose impeachment of the president. "That a bunch of rightist Republicans under pressure of religious zealots are trying to say, 'We aren't going to listen to what the American people want, we'll do what we want,' this is a scary thought for me." So scary that the Hollywood left was about to roll out a plan to hit up traditionally Democratic fundraising sources-such as the AFL-CIO and other deep-pocket liberal activists-for a separate $5 million advertising campaign to attack the impeachment process. Led by TV producer Norman Lear and his People for the American Way, with the blessing of the White House, the October ad blitz would be designed to help the president survive an impeachment inquiry and skewer Republicans for being overly "focused on scandal and partisanship." That was exactly the president's theme when he ripped the GOP in a speech delivered on the White House lawn. He spoke as the Marine One helicopter waited to shuttle him to the first leg of his fundraising journey. But when he got back, word of the Hollywood campaign got out and those with the task of raising money for congressional campaigns feared their usual sources of money would be tapped out. While many Democrats in the House and Senate were even feeling cautiously optimistic about the president's political survival, some were nervous about their own. And the thought of $5 million siphoned off for a left-coast attack on Kenneth Starr was too much. Campaigners in the trenches quietly but firmly let the White House know it; the project was scrubbed ("the heat was too much," the Associated Press quoted an anonymous White House official as saying). On the record, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign committee, was no less blunt. "It was a very dumb idea. The president is not on the ballot. If you're going to spend money, you ought to spend it on candidates who are on the ballot. We're not exactly flush."