News & Reviews

Issue: "Is there no tomorrow?," Aug. 7, 1999

Midwest sizzles, death toll approaches 70
Can't stand the heat
Power companies struggled to keep the electricity flowing to residential customers stuck in a Midwest midsummer heat wave, but they could do nothing for those who had no air conditioning or had it but didn't use it. Nearly 70 people have died from the dangerous heat wave that began July 19-eight in St. Louis alone: "With all the brick and black tar-paper roofs, we have homes that essentially are solar ovens," medical examiner Phillips Burch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Officials found some hyperthermia victims dead in their homes with fans blowing hot air on them and air conditioners switched off. The son of one woman who perished in the heat told the newspaper, "I told her we ought to go get an air conditioner, but she didn't want it. She was worried about the bill. I told her, 'You can't eat money; you got enough.' She just said, 'Let's stop talking about this.' I should have gone against her, but I didn't." Cincinnati was hit harder: Officials blamed the heat for at least 10 deaths. One elderly woman died with a core body temperature of 107 degrees. Coroner Carl L. Parrott warned against underestimating the deadly potential of a heat wave: "We all know that a tornado or hurricane is a deadly natural event, but people don't realize calm, still, beastly hot summer weather has lethal potential." In Louisville, Ky., where the mercury hit 100 for the first time in eight years, one homeowner complained as he mowed his lawn that the heat was "like a blast furnace." Said Greg Woods, "This has got to be what hell is like, but without the grass." Debra Cook and her mother took refuge in an air-conditioned movie theater, where they endured the R-rated Eyes Wide Shut. Ms. Cook said Hollywood's on-screen heat couldn't match that in Louisville. "The movie was steamy, but not nearly as hot as it is out here." A political u-turn
Try Clinton Alley
Little Rock's city fathers have backed down under public pressure from honoring Bill Clinton by renaming a significant chunk of the 11-mile street that runs past sites representing the successes and scandals of his career: the Old State House, where he celebrated electoral victories in 1992 and 1996; the Excelsior Hotel, where he allegedly propositioned Paula Jones in 1991; and the Doubletree, a hotel where Juanita Brodderick claims then-attorney general Clinton raped her. Instead of renaming a 21-block stretch of Markham Street, now only two blocks around the site of a planned presidential library will become President Clinton Avenue. Fed chairman urges restraint
Strong words
When Alan Greenspan speaks, markets move. So do politicians. The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, which controls monetary policy by setting interest rates, appeared on Capitol Hill last week and threatened another hike in the cost of borrowing money. His fear: A rapidly growing economy could provoke inflation. So as Democrats searched for a way to stave off the Reaganesque Republican plan to rebate almost $800 billion of budget surpluses to taxpayers over the next decade, they tapped Mr. Greenspan. Conceding the tax-cut plan would spark the dreaded economic growth, Democrat lawmakers prodded Mr. Greenspan to opine that the tax cut should be postponed, for now. What they ignored (as did most press reports, like AP's "Greenspan Cautions Against Tax Cut" story) were other Greenspan comments critical of the White House strategy of spending the surplus: "I certainly support tax cuts if it looks as though the surplus will be spent." The No-Comment Zone

  • A judge sent former Florida Democrat House speaker Bolley "Bo" Johnson and his wife Judi to prison for failing to report over $450,000 in income received from people wanting to curry favor with then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. At their trial, their defense lawyers argued they were merely guilty of sloppy recordkeeping when they hid the money from casino operators, health care companies, and other political interest groups.
  • On Pennsylvania Avenue, President Clinton finally signed a bill limiting Y2K-related lawsuits, ending months of Capitol Hill debate and discussion. Under the law, a business will have 90 days after its officers learn of a computer-related Year 2000 problem to repair the problem before lawsuits can be filed. Supporters of the law predict the measure will save billions by avoiding frivolous and hasty legal action.
  • Rep. Michael Forbes of New York shed his GOP skin and joined the Democratic party. The three-term pro-life incumbent claimed he could no longer work with such "extremists" as Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Whip Tom DeLay, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
  • During a fractious convention, the Reform Party picked Jack Gargan as chairman to succeed Ross Perot ally Russ Verney. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura had backed Mr. Gargan. The struggling third party now must leverage its three assets: ballot access in 19 states, $13 million in federal matching funds, and the colorful Gov. Ventura.
  • A federal judge blocked enforcement of a Florida law requiring pregnant teenage girls to give their parents a heads-up before killing their unborn grandchildren. U.S. District Judge Terry Lewis said the abortionists challenging the parental notification law had a strong case and expected them to win a permanent injunction against the law. The law is similar to those in 41 other states, yet more lenient than many since it does not even require doctors to get permission from the parents of underage girls who want abortions.
  • With cigarette prices growing ever higher due to tax increases and lawsuits, more smokers are rolling their own. Even with per-pack prices jacked up 45 cents last year, sales of loose tobacco have shot up 30 percent over last year, according to tobacco marketer Brown & Williamson. Summer sitcom bashes pilgrims
    No, Thanks
    Ever helpful, publicists for the CBS summer replacement series Thanks (Aug. 2 premier) provide a "Fact or Fiction" sheet, dispelling some of the myths about 17th-century New Englanders. They didn't wear buckles, they didn't live in log cabins, and they didn't always wear somber black clothing. But then this odd sitcom proceeds with numerous stereotypes. When the Winthrop family's "progressive" daughter suggests cooking on top of a metal fire-box, instead of over an open flame, her sister points to her and declares, "She's a witch!" "Now Abigail, that was funny the first time," her father warns her. "But not every Puritan has your sense of humor. Or any sense of humor at all, really." Which is not to say Thanks isn't funny, in places. But it can also be insufferable. Patriarch James Winthrop (Tim Dutton) is little more than a colonial Tim Allen. He attempts to fix the roof, and he injures his thumb. Anyone see that coming? But the weakest character, the one who makes the show all but unwatchable, is (naturally enough) the pastor. When he's asked to say a few words at a Spring Thaw party, he raises his Bible and points to his parishioners: "Fornicators! Sinners! Spineless agents of Satan! You're all damned! Damned to spend the rest of eternity in Hell!" The congregation trembles-at the thought, perhaps, of Thanks being picked up for the fall season. two cheers for disney
    Safe for kids
    Disney, moving from ape man to semi-android, is following Tarzan's early summer success with Inspector Gadget, a movie safe for kids (and devoid of bad language) despite its special-effects-caused PG rating. The plot begins with Matthew Broderick as hapless security guard John Brown, who is employed by a father-daughter robotics firm. Criminals steal a robotic foot and murder the father; Mr. Brown, arriving on the scene, chases the perpetrators but is put in a full body cast by an explosive cigar. Out of gratitude the lovely daughter saves his life by having him reconstructed so that when he says, "Go, go gadget," followed by an item he needs (key? helicopter blades?), his fingers, legs, or other body parts will turn into the designated gadgets. It's all great fun, with Mr. Broderick playing both the Inspector and his evil duplicate. Republicans cannot overturn China privileges
    Keep the change
    The Republican-led House of Representatives agreed to side with President Bill Clinton's decision to renew China's privileged trade status. Despite concerns over human-rights abuses, spying allegations, and illegal political contributions, lawmakers voted 260-170 to continue for another year China's "most favored nation" trade status, now called Normal Trade Relations. The House vote came less than a week after the Chinese government moved to ban the popular Falun Gong meditation sect. Police rounded up sect leaders and cordoned off areas where Falun Gong protesters had set up shop. Action to outlaw the group appeared well planned and top-level: State-run television ran lengthy video footage condemning Falun Gong and state newspapers editorialized against it. The group combines martial arts with teaching from Taoism and Buddhism. A popular image of middle-aged yoga devotees faded when more than 10,000 sect members took to the streets in Beijing last April to protest government policy. Falun Gong has 70 million members, 10 million more than the Chinese Communist Party. Hassan II: longest reigning Arab monarch dies
    A peacemaker or oppressor?
    Moroccans mourned the end of the 38-year reign of King Hassan II, who died on July 23 at age 70. King Hassan had become the longest reigning monarch in the Arab world after the death of Jordan's King Hussein in February. He was widely regarded as promoting stability in the Muslim world and bringing Arab and Israeli leaders together. As testament to that role, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak held an unprecedented meeting with Algeria's new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, while attending the funeral. The new Israeli head of state also met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during the visit. In the past, Israel assisted King Hassan in suppressing radical Islamic elements in the North African regime, even sending tanks to prevent a border war with Algeria. In return, King Hassan gave preferential treatment to Moroccan Jews, allowing many to emigrate to Israel. He was not so kind to his Christian subjects. King Hassan steadfastly refused recognition of an indigenous church, prompting Christian believers to gather in cell groups and face persecution for contacts with foreigners. King Hassan opened the country to tourism and other Western influences, but gave security police authority to harass and brutalize the church. Last year, four overseas workers-two Canadian, one British, and one French-were arrested for illegally bringing in Bibles. They were held briefly, given two months' suspended sentences, and fined $42,000. In addition to seizing over 1,000 Bibles, police also confiscated the yacht and motorcycle used by the group. World in brief
    Remnants of war
    Security was tight as UN trucks bore the coffins of 14 slain Serbs back to the Kosovo village where the deceased, all men, were shot to death on July 23 while harvesting wheat. The killings, believed to have been committed by Albanians, were the worst single incident of violence since NATO troops began patrolling Kosovo in mid-June. The attack shook Serb confidence in the peacekeeping mission and NATO pledges to protect all ethnic groups in Kosovo. More than 100,000 Serbs are believed to have fled the province out of fear for their safety, leaving fewer than 50,000 behind. The missles of May
    American spy data revealed more concrete evidence last week that India and Pakistan were on the brink of nuclear war during their skirmish over Kashmir. A satellite image showed the Indian army preparing a strike force, loading tanks and other heavy equipment onto flatbed rail cars in what U.S. officials have concluded were preparations to invade Pakistan. Officials believe that step would have led to a nuclear exchange. India eased off its offensive after Pakistani infiltrators abandoned a key mountain pass in the embattled Himalayan region. Peace talks, for the moment, have stalled.

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