Kosovo: American forces come under fire
A messy peace
On June 23, U.S. forces fell under attack in Kosovo for the second time in a week. About 30 Marines manning a checkpoint in the village of Zegra were fired on by assailants hiding in a nearby building. The Marines returned fire, killing one assailant and wounding two others. U.S. attack helicopters were also called in. The firefight was another example of skirmishes faced by NATO ground forces as they continue to referee what is shaping up to be a messy peace. In Pristina, British troops defused a bomb placed just 100 feet from the Grand Hotel, the Kosovo capital's largest. Serb houses burned in the western city of Pec and a Serb power company worker was shot in the capital. In another city, Serbs barred the path of Kosovar refugees at a bridge crossing. But Yugoslavia's ethnic factions aren't the only ones paying the price for peace: Two British peacekeepers were killed last week while trying to destroy unexploded NATO ordnance. Two villagers also died. On June 22, just a day after pledging to warehouse their weapons and end their fight, Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leaders said the rebels never agreed to give up their guns and still hope to form a regular army. And comments by KLA hard-liner Rrustem Mustafa call into question whether 78 days of bombing really changed the situation in Yugoslavia at all. He said an agreement that calls for the rebel army to disband doesn't mean the end of the insurgents or their struggle for Kosovar independence. That statement is in direct conflict with the operative peace plan, which calls for Kosovo to remain a part of Serbia. Meanwhile, President Clinton was hailed as a hero during visits to Aviano Air Base in Italy, and to the Stenkovec refugee camp, a tent city in Macedonia. "It is the American people who care about you ... who want you to be free," Mr. Clinton told a crowd of cheering Albanian refugees who shouted back "Cleen-ton!" throughout his five-minute speech: "Give us a couple of more weeks," Mr. Clinton said. "because you are going to be able to go back in safety and security." Asked later whether he thought Serbs and Albanians could co-exist peacefully in Kosovo, Mr. Clinton replied, "I just don't know." German catholics and abortion
No more permission
A German woman who wants to abort her child must first present the abortionist a special certificate-usually issued by church groups, the Red Cross, and state health centers-certifying that she has received pre-abortion counseling. And Germany's Catholic bishops are trying to find a way to comply with a papal demand that they stop handing out "permission slips" for abortions. Catholic centers will now issue a certificate confirming that a woman received abortion counseling, but also carrying a sentence stating: "This certificate cannot be used for the carrying out of a legal abortion." Even with the added disclaimer, Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz noted the certificate would still meet all legal requirements for proceeding with an abortion. It would still document the woman's name and the time and place of the counseling received. Thus, he said he could not rule out that individuals would ignore the last sentence and accept the certificate anyway. Abortion promoters aren't happy about the news. Renate Schmidt, deputy chairwoman of the Social Democrats (the ruling socialist party in Germany), said the added clause would invalidate the certificates. Guenter Kindermann, the president of a gynecologists' association in Germany, says his group's members would not accept the Catholic certificates for fear of facing prosecution. Lockheed typo costs millions
Lockheed Martin Corp. lost $70 million because of a typographical error: The price on an international contract for its C-130J Hercules had the comma misplaced by one decimal point in the equation that adjusted the sales price for changes to the inflation rate. In Europe, commas are used instead of periods to mark decimal points. It was a mistake, but the customer, whom Lockheed officials refused to name, held them to the price. A modest hoops proposal
Stopping a foul practice
About a minute remained in game three of the NBA Finals last week at Madison Square Garden, and the underdog New York Knicks led the San Antonio Spurs 88-81. Desperate to stop the clock, San Antonio's Tim Duncan intentionally fouled New York's Larry Johnson. But the referee didn't call the foul right away, and precious seconds kept ticking away. Mr. Duncan continued grabbing at Mr. Johnson, trying to provoke the referee into calling a foul. Pretty soon, Mr. Duncan had Mr. Johnson almost in a bear hug. Finally, the referee called Mr. Duncan for a foul, stopping the clock and sending Mr. Johnson to the free-throw line. This scene was predictable to anyone familiar with basketball. Teams that are behind late in a game, but still within striking range, will intentionally foul their opponents. They hope that, with the clock stopped, their opponents will miss the ensuing free throws, and they will regain possession of the ball. This strategy wasn't successful for Mr. Duncan and the Spurs: Though Mr. Johnson missed one of his free throws, the Knicks went on to win 89-81. But enough teams have used intentional, late-game fouling to come from behind and win that the practice continues. Usually the rap against late-game fouling is that it turns a naturally exciting, fast-paced game into a painfully tedious grudge match. But late-game fouling raises other questions: Shouldn't a foul harm the violator, not the violated? Should a team really be able to keep itself in a game by purposefully breaking the rules? Doesn't this at some level teach kids that it's okay to break rules for personal advantage? Desperation fouling has become so much a part of the game that even such an exemplary role model as Tim Duncan seems to view it as a right. He angrily exchanged words with the referee who hesitated before calling his foul late in game three. Noticing Mr. Duncan's protests, NBC Sports announcer Bob Costas said that the Spurs' star had "a good point, actually." Mr. Duncan (and Mr. Costas) obviously believed that the referee had wronged the Spurs by not immediately going along with their plan to disrupt the game. Here's a modest proposal: Referees should be instructed to call late-game, desperation fouls like that committed by Mr. Duncan intentional-which everyone in the arena knows they are. Fouled players would receive two free throws, and their teams would retain possession of the ball. This would put an end to intentional rule breaking. A precedent for such a rule change exists. The shot clock was instituted to stop the opposite of desperation fouling-teams sitting on leads by stalling. If artificially running out the game clock was deemed inappropriate, why isn't artificially stopping the clock through the intentional breaking of rules? Tainted goal decides the stanley cup
A goal from Hull
The National Hockey League officially revised one of its most-hated rules last week. But unofficially, the rule change occurred on the last shot of the season, a Stanley Cup-winning goal by Brett Hull. The Dallas Stars forward scored his sudden-death overtime goal with one skate in the goal crease (see photo), a rule violation that, examined on video review, led officials to call off many goals all season. But it was 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning and the third overtime was just five minutes from giving way to an unprecedented fourth OT. The game was 23 seconds short of being the longest Finals game ever played. Some Stars' players had been taking intravenous fluids between overtime periods to avoid dehydration. Fatigue had set in an hour ago. Furthermore, when Mr. Hull scored, the Stars' bench emptied, with some players wearing Stanley Cup championship baseball caps. NHL personnel rolled out carpets onto the playing surface and national TV crews had cameras and interviewers ready to go onto the ice. Would league officials dare to recork the champagne by calling back the goal? No: The illegal goal stood, and the series was over. The losing Buffalo Sabres were livid. One player called the league "gutless." Coach Lindy Ruff said he confronted league commissioner Gary Bettman, who was about to award the Cup, and Mr. Bettman turned his back and gave no answer. Buffalo native Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, said later in the morning, "We wuz robbed." It shouldn't happen next year. One day after the tainted Hull goal, league officials amended the "no-tolerance" goal crease rule to eliminate video replay. That leaves on-ice officials with the discretion to allow goals in which crease violations do not interfere with the goaltender. In other words, goals like Brett Hull's. G-rated Tarzan rakes in $34 million in three days
With Tarzan, Disney returns to old ways
Two cheers for Disney. World maintains its sympathy for the Southern Baptist boycott of the sometimes-erring company, but we need to inform parents thinking of taking their children to Disney's new animated release, Tarzan, that the company seems to have learned from the mistakes of movies such as Pocahontas and Mulan. Those films were more popular with the commissars of political correctness than with kids, but Tarzan is in the mold of Disney's big neoclassical successes, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. It mixes up action, romance, and a little pathos in quantities that are right for all but the smallest moviewatchers (for them, a couple of scenes might be intense). It leaves out the propagandizing of recent years. Of course, the movie's villain is an avaricious hunter who wants to trap Tarzan's gorilla family, but he's a stock Oil Can Harry type of bad guy, not an early member of the NRA. Sure, the movie presents a romanticized view of jungle life, but that's in the original Tarzan material as well, and this film also shows Tarzan enormously impressed by the products of civilization, rather than scorning them. Tarzan lacks the Robin Williams humor of Aladdin but otherwise tracks well with it: Tree-surfing and vine-swinging substitute for a flying carpet; an absent-minded professor/father seems much like the befuddled king; the hero takes the heroine into his world and saves her life. The "Deep Canvas" animation is elegant and detailed, so that the jungle comes alive and Tarzan walks on his knuckles, as his adoptive gorilla parents taught him. Adoption does make for a potential discussion-starting subplot. Tarzan is brought into a gorilla family after his birthparents are killed (the deaths are off-camera and are handled discretely), but his new father rejects him as different. Tarzan does not understand why he looks unlike his gorilla playmates and (like Adam) sees no appropriate mate until Jane comes into his life. Only then does his gorilla mom tell him about his adoption, and-with his gorilla dad still insisting that he doesn't belong-Tarzan puts on British clothes, walks upright, and prepares to head to civilization. It turns out, of course, that Tarzan is much needed in the jungle: He does not have hair all over his body but his heart beats like that of his gorilla mom, so he comes back to his adoptive family and is finally called "my son" by his dying gorilla dad. It turns out that fathers do know best after all, so Tarzan assumes leadership with the blessing of his, and Jane (perky like all Disney heroines) embraces jungle citizenship with the blessing of hers. It also turns out that Disney may have produced a hit: Tarzan-with very positive early reviews-sold $34 million worth of tickets during its first three days (June 18-20) to wrest first place in the box-office jungle from the awful Austin Powers film, The Spy Who Shagged Me. It also beat out a new, panned-by-critics John Travolta R-rated film, The General's Daughter. HMO backlash prompts unionization
Doc's local 12
A doctors' union? For the first time ever, the nation's largest physicians' organization, The American Medical Association, voted to help organize a union to help doctors negotiate with managed-care companies. The AMA action represents a growing backlash against the rise of HMOs. Board president Dr. Randolph D. Smoak Jr. said that such a union might be a nontraditional one that would not permit strikes. The AMA would support the formation of local bargaining units as an option both for the minority of physicians who are employees of managed-care companies and for self-employed doctors who are under contract to such companies. Compromise to release $1 billion to UN
Show me the money
The Senate approved legislation to give UN globocrats nearly $1 billion in back payments, while cutting the U.S. share of the regular UN budget from the present 25 percent to 20 percent. The reduction in payments would be unilateral, made over expected UN objections. Naturally, the United Nations usually opposes efforts to trim the U.S. share of its funding. The United Nations has warned the United States that it will lose its General Assembly voting rights if at least $250 million of the back dues isn't paid by December. The United States has been late on its payments for the past 13 years. While the loss of a vote in the General Assembly might be embarrassing, it would not affect Washington's veto power in the Security Council, the most powerful decision-making body at the United Nations. Republicans have long called for reducing the U.S. share of maintaining the United Nations. Even the Clinton administration-including UN ambassador-nominee Richard Holbrooke-acquiesced in the plan, and House Democrats registered only token opposition. Supreme Court wraps up its 1998-99 term
Court bolsters states
The U.S. Supreme Court last week ended its term with three 5-4 decisions strengthening states' rights. The court killed lawsuits that accused Maine of violating federal labor laws for overtime pay and Florida of transgressing federal patent and trademark laws. The decisions, which mean businesses or individuals cannot sue states over alleged violations of federal rights, continue a recent trend in which the court has bolstered states' authority when pitted against the federal government. Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in the Maine case: "Although the Constitution begins with the principle that sovereignty rests with the people, it does not follow that the national government becomes the ultimate, preferred mechanism for expressing the people's will. The states exist as a refutation of that concept." Liberal David Souter attacked the conservatives as "unrealistic." In other decisions last week, the high court:
- Ruled that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to people with correctable disabilities. That means that those with poor eyesight, diabetes, or high blood pressure-illnesses that can be well treated by medication-are not covered by the law.
- Ruled that the ADA obliges states to let mentally disabled people live in homelike settings when such arrangements are appropriate.
- Set strict standards before courts can approve massive, class-action settlements that apply on a mandatory basis to all potential plaintiffs. Federal panel recommends e-commerce taxes
Taxing the net
Not even the Internet should escape the greedy hand of tax collectors, according to members of a congressional study panel. They complain that the government will not collect its fair share from online commerce if government doesn't tax the Net. A three-year moratorium on new federal, state, and local e-commerce taxes expires in October 2001. At that point, some new tax structure is certain to enter the Net, taking a chunk out of users' wallets and weighing down business with a mountain of paperwork and accounting chores. While a standing army of online activists is ready and willing to fight to keep pornography legal online, Internet taxation faces little organized resistance. Meanwhile, the government seems to consider online shoppers deadbeats because they currently can escape sales tax by ordering goods from another state via the World Wide Web. "We must not allow the Internet to become a tax haven that drains the revenue governments need to provide the services that citizens demand," complains commission member Joseph Guttentag, a top Treasury Department official. Even corporate America is willing to play along: "Our challenge here is not to restrain the growth of the Internet but to allow the Internet to flourish," said commission member David Pottruck, president of Charles Schwab Corp. "We need to find the balance. Governments need money. Tax systems need to be fair." The No-Comment Zone
- Teenagers do not have the right to wander the streets late at night, according to a federal appeals court that upheld the District of Columbia's youth curfew law. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the 1995 law governing district children younger than 17 does not violate their rights or interfere with the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. The majority ruled that instead it gives parents almost total discretion over their children's late-night activities and, in fact, helps them control their children.
- Coca-Cola will begin producing soft drinks again under heavy government scrutiny in two Belgian plants after dozens of people who drank the product complained of stomachaches and nausea. Several countries, from France to Germany to Ivory Coast, restricted sales of Coke products, causing tens of millions of cans to be pulled from the market. No exact link between the drinks and the illnesses has yet been found.
- Australia has deported at least three pregnant women to China, an Australian official admitted last week, and one of them reportedly was forced to have an abortion there just days before she was to give birth. Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock defended the decision, arguing that his country had a duty to remove illegal aliens, but Independent Senator Brian Harradine called for a broadening of the government's official inquiry into the matter.
- After months of sensational controversy, an independent panel of scientists reportedly determined that there is no evidence linking silicone breast implants to rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or any other systemic disease. Researchers from the Institute of Medicine say their main risk is their tendency to burst or deflate and lead to infections, hardening, or scarring of tissue. No one knows yet how this will affect Dow Corning, once the largest maker of the implants, which recently agreed to a $3.2 billion settlement with thousands of women who claim silicone breast implants made them ill.
- Almost two-thirds of Americans own their own homes now, thanks to the lowest mortgage interest and unemployment rates since the 1960s. About 1.8 million homes have been built each year since 1996 with most of the growth occurring outside of cities and in the South and the West.