Clinton's final budget: $1.84 trillion ... and then some
Now you see it ... now you don't
Magician Doug Henning died of cancer last week, but the ancient art he popularized for a generation-sleight of hand-is alive and well, particularly in Washington. President Clinton's 2001 budget appeared to propose spending $1.84 trillion; ah, but there's more to this than meets the eye. The president and his lovely assistants in Congress, during negotiations last year over the fiscal 2000 budget, "saved" several billion dollars by, among other things, delaying a payday for military personnel and federal workers from late September to early October. Since fiscal 2001 will begin Oct. 1, 2000, the $4.3 billion in payments didn't show up in the 2000 budget. This year Mr. Clinton proposes to move those payments back into September so that they won't appear in the 2001 budget. Mr. Clinton wants to do the same with $1.8 billion in federal contracts and $4 billion worth of veterans' and supplemental security income benefits. Overall, White House budget wizards want to shift $10 billion in spending back into 2000. The money will still be spent, but it won't show up on the new budget. The president also proposes-voila!-to add prescription drug coverage to the Medicare entitlement, at a cost of $168 billion over 10 years. Be amazed as each year that figure rises and rises! In addition, there's $65 billion more for the Department of Agriculture as well as sufficient funding to begin hiring 500 new agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for "the largest gun enforcement initiative ever." Watch carefully as the budget drama unfolds this year; you won't believe your eyes.
Ups & Downs of the Week
- Dennis Rodman: Aptly joining the Dallas Mavericks after a 10-month exile from the NBA, countercultural icon Rodman in his first game last week committed five fouls, grabbed 13 rebounds, and scored no points. The Mavs lost the game, but grabbed lots of media attention: Team brass issued more than 100 extra media credentials, forcing some of the overflow to be stashed in the hockey press box.
- Joseph Oliverio: Not to be outscandalized by Dennis Rodman, a West Virginia gubernatorial candidate announced he's been arrested 150 times for fighting. Mr. Oliverio has also received 60 speeding tickets, "inhaled," at times abused alcohol, and lost his driver's license for a while but got it back in 1998. He fessed up after receiving anonymous phone calls from someone threatening to reveal his past.
- Promiscuity vs. chastity: This week marks an ironic calendar convergence-Valentine's Day kicks off both National Chastity Week and National Condom Week. A comparison of emphases and celebratory events is instructive: Condom Week supporters plan such highlights as a literary reading from the book Getting It On: A Condom Reader, and a poetry-about-condoms contest. Chastity Week enthusiasts plan to "proclaim the truth through the promotion of virtue."
- Worker productivity: A surge during the final three months of last year helped boost American workers' productivity growth for all of 1999 to 2.9 percent, the best performance in seven years.
- And a rotten tomato to the Vermont House Judiciary Committee, which gave initial approval to legislation granting marriage-like legal status to homosexual partners.
new scientific analysis: complex life outside earth unlikely
Custom-made Earth: OK, but who made it?
Two University of Washington scientists have rattled mainstream academia with a radical hypothesis: Conditions necessary for the development of life above the microbe level are so complicated that Earth may be the only home of complex life in the universe. Paleontologist Peter D. Ward and astronomer Donald C. Brownlee last month released Rare Earth (Springer-Verlag), a book that arrives at that unpopular conclusion through analysis of new findings in science. That man probably has no co-citizens of the cosmos flies in the face of both evolution-based, establishment science and the musings of popular culture. Since 1960, when a young astronomer named Frank Drake began scanning the skies for signs of alien life (and was later joined by popularizer Carl Sagan), Americans have become increasingly fascinated with the possibility of future visitations from flying saucers bearing little green men. Hollywood has extended the spectrum, showing us everything from cuddly Ewoks to slobbering, dagger-toothed aliens. Writing from an evolutionary perspective in Rare Earth, Mssrs. Ward and Brownlee say our small, blue globe and its inhabitants may be the only game in town. Scientific evidence now points increasingly to the precision fine-tuning necessary for a planet to sustain life. Consider a few of the many virtues of Earth's real estate: a perfectly placed moon to control tides, climate, and tilt; a gargantuan shield (Jupiter) from the streaking asteroids and meteorites that routinely pulverize other planets; a rare, heavy-element sun with a rarer elliptical orbit; a delicately balanced atmosphere, including just enough carbon to enable rich biodiversity. "We have finally said out loud what so many have thought for so long-that complex life, at least, is rare," Mr. Ward told The New York Times. Citing such newly discovered galactic hazards as lethal waves of X-rays, gamma rays, and ionizing radiation, he added: "I don't think there's any life in the centers [of galaxies] at all." Mr. Brownlee doesn't think there's much chance of life on the edges of the galaxies either. Chance, notes astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, is exactly what the Rare Earth hypothesis reduces by default. "Every time you find a new example of a finely tuned parameter that you need for life, that makes the chance explanation of origins less and less likely," says Mr. Gonzalez, who is Mr. Brownlee's colleague in the University of Washington astronomy department. Mr. Gonzalez, a foremost national expert on stars, was the source for much of the stellar evidence presented in Rare Earth. He is also a senior research fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank specializing in the "intelligent design" theory of origins-an interpretation of scientific evidence that says life appears to have been engineered by an intelligent agent. Intelligent design theory is gaining ground on Darwinism as a competing theory of origins. Mr. Gonzalez says the findings presented in Rare Earth "strengthen the design argument because the options available to the naturalist-natural law and chance-are very few. This makes the chance interpretation much weaker." It also leaves scientists to fret over their other option: If "natural law" gave rise to life, where did the natural law come from? Hugh Ross, a Christian astronomer, answered that question in 1993 with his book, The Creator and the Cosmos. That book lays out lengthy lists of the finely tuned parameters cited by Mssrs. Ward and Brownlee in Rare Earth. "Essentially, most of the astronomical ideas in Rare Earth are already mentioned in Ross's book," says Mr. Gonzalez. He adds, though, that most secular scientists either don't know about The Creator and the Cosmos, or ignore it since it posits a theory of origins that is anathema to contemporary culture: "In the beginning was the Word."
-by Lynn Vincent
- Construction owner Jim Cooper reversed political predictions last October by collecting enough church-member votes to defeat the Alabama governor's lottery proposal. But the father of four hasn't stopped there. This month he'll spearhead a campaign for a state constitutional amendment prohibiting gambling. "If it passes, it will be a national milestone," he said.
- "This is our community, these are our kids, and we're not going to stand for it," said father of two David Little, after discovering sexually explicit comics in a bookstore across the street from his children's elementary school. As vice president of the school PTA, Mr. Little issued a warning to 450 parents and alerted the Dallas police, who promptly arrested a store clerk.
Kenya crash included church workers
A Kenya navy diver drowned while searching for the cockpit voice recorder from the Jan. 31 Kenya Airways crash in the Atlantic-another tragic note among the confusion and delays that have plagued the search and recovery, as well as the investigation into the cause of the crash. As the number of confirmed dead rose to 169, it became apparent the death toll included prominent church workers in Africa. Among 36 Nigerians killed were Gaius Musa, General Secretary of the Bible Society of Nigeria, and Stephen Niyang, a media consultant for United Bible Societies. Also killed were Bob and Ruth Chapman, long-time workers with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Mr. Chapman was Africa area director for the organization, overseeing 1,000 field workers in 24 countries. The Chapmans were preparing to return home to Canada on furlough, where their daughter Erin is a student at Trinity Western University in British Columbia. Two sons died of malaria in 1989, on the same day, while the Chapmans were missionaries in Cameroon. case opens on Democrat fundraiser
Hsia: A fall girl?
Maria Hsia says she's the victim of a smear job. The former Democratic fundraiser faces charges from the Justice Department of concealing the source of more than $100,000 in illegal donations. Prosecutors say she secretly tapped bigshot business acquaintances to reimburse straw donors who were falsely listed in federal election records as contributors. Ms. Hsia faces five felony counts of causing various Democratic campaign treasurers unwittingly to file false reports with the Federal Election Commission. This includes two charges dealing with an infamous Democratic fundraiser at a Buddhist temple in California attended by Vice President Gore. There she allegedly handed an envelope with $100,000 in checks to another fundraiser, John Huang. No Comment Zone
- "This is a wake-up call," said Commerce Secretary William Daley about a rash of Internet vandalism that temporarily shut down high-volume websites such as eBay, Amazon, Yahoo!, CNN, and Buy.Com. The outbreak that brought these Internet giants to their knees was of such an unsophisticated variety that authorities said a 15-year-old could have done it. The technique, called a denial of service attack, is similar to pranksters repeatedly dialing a company's telephone number to block all other incoming calls. Said Attorney General Janet Reno: "We're committed to taking steps to ensure that e-commerce remains a secure place to do business."
- An Asian and European odyssey for passengers aboard a hijacked Afghan plane ended on Feb. 10 at an airport near London. All of the roughly 150 passengers were released after four Ariana Airlines crew members successfully escaped from the plane. British news reports suggested that the hijackers were seeking asylum for themselves and family members aboard the plane.
- Pfizer Inc. has emerged the victor of a three-month takeover battle for control of Warner-Lambert Co. Pfizer officials announced they are acquiring Warner-Lambert Co. for $84.4 billion in stock. The deal would create the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company.
- The embattled tobacco industry took another hit, this time from inside the camp: Two cigarette wholesalers claimed in a federal lawsuit that Big Tobacco engaged in a "long-running and systematic" plan to fix prices charged to wholesalers. The lawsuit seeks triple damages and class-action status to represent all wholesalers hurt by the alleged price-fixing.
- A Russian tanker was forced to unload its high-priced cargo in a port in Oman as payment for violating United Nations sanctions. U.S. Navy patrols hauled in the tanker because they believed it was smuggling Iraqi oil, a suspicion confirmed by lab tests. U.S. officials have not charged Russia with cooperating with Iraq, even though an Iraqi military officer was onboard the tanker.
- NATO peacekeepers donned riot gear and shot tear gas to end a confrontation with ethnic Albanians in Kosovo's third largest city, Mitrovica. Five ethnic Albanians were killed, and 15 Serbs along with five peacekeepers were wounded in the all-night fracas. It's one of several recent clashes stemming, Kosovars say, from frustration that NATO forces are not doing enough to protect them. Right-wing win in Austria prompts backlash
Beyond the pale
The Netherlands proved, when it legalized brothels nationwide, that almost everything is acceptable in Europe. Almost-for Austria produced an outcry by inaugurating a coalition government with members from the duly elected Freedom Party, whose head, Jörg Haider, has made pro-Nazi statements. Mr. Haider will not hold office under the new government; it will be headed by Wollfgang Schüssel of a mainstream conservative party, the People's Party, even though the Freedom Party won more votes in October elections. But key posts in Austria's new cabinet-defense, justice, and finance-go to Freedom Party lawmakers. Europhiles regard the party as xenophobic and racist, and reaction from the European Union was swift. Fourteen EU members announced they were downgrading diplomatic relations with Austria, and Belgium said Austria could be expelled from the EU. Britain's Prince Charles canceled a trip to Austria and scratched an art exhibit he was to open there. Israel recalled its ambassador altogether. The United States brought its ambassador home to brief Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the crisis, and appeared to be considering a change in relations. The spark in the hysteria haystack was the victory for Austria's conservative parties in last year's elections. They took 104 of 183 seats in parliament. Those results reflect emerging frustration with EU's big government and with a glut of immigration. Over 400,000 immigrants-from the Balkan war zones and newly democratized Eastern Europe-have entered Austria, a country of 8 million, in the last decade. Mr. Haider is the son of a Nazi family whose estate once belonged to a Jewish family. Mr. Haider has said he admired Adolf Hitler and the Nazi SS, but later said he regretted making those statements. He and other party members signed a pledge of "respect, tolerance, and understanding for all human beings irrespective of their origin." For most Europeans, that is too little, too late. U.S. historian Peter Gay, who fled Nazi Germany as a child, said the outcry has an element of collective guilt for appeasing Hitler, too. "I was surprised when I heard about the European Union's action," he told The New York Times dryly, "but then I thought, of course, it is high time we did something about 1933."
- Anti-choice politics has prevailed over the right of Floridians to choose "Choose Life" license plates that were approved by Gov. Jeb Bush last June. A state judge last week blocked distribution of the pro-adoption plate design, one of more than 45 specialty-plate offerings in Florida. The National Organization for Women marched into court with the claim that the tags are illegal because they contain a "religious motto, which has frequently been used to harass, intimidate and at times kill and maim those who seek to exercise their rights, including the right to choose abortion." In December a federal judge ruled that the plates, which 10,000 Floridians have already pledged to purchase, were an exercise in free speech and did not impinge on the rights of citizens with different views. But last week circuit judge Lucy Chernow Brown blocked distribution of the "Choose Life" plates while she decides whether NOW's claim is correct. Proceeds from the sale of the plates would go to groups advocating adoption, a choice apparently not considered valid by the group that brought suit against the tags, Florida's National Organization for Women.
- Disney-controlled sports network ESPN admitted it took $800,000 in credits from the federal government in exchange for running programs with anti-drug themes. While other deals from Clinton drug Czar Barry McCaffrey involved sitcoms and other entertainment shows, these involved news: four segments on ESPNews and six on SportsCenter. White House official Ron Housman claimed to ABC News that the Clinton administration wasn't really buying "news stories." Mr. Houseman's spin: "Sports news is a guy shooting 40 points in an NBA final. Sports news isn't a player reflecting on bumps in his career and whether they were caused by drugs." Given that the bulk of network news shows consist of prepackaged soft features, Mr. Houseman's rationale, if ever accepted by network news directors, would justify taxpayer funding of the nightly news. Stay tuned.
- Al Gore took a detour from the campaign trail to join the New York City Gay Men's Chorus as it sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in Lincoln Center. Mr. Gore did not sing, and he tapped his microphone to make sure it was dead, but then praised the Chorus and other "artists who give voice to the unheard voice." Mr. Gore assured them all that he supports government funds for the arts because "the arts are like air and water; we need them to live healthy lives."
Will Ben & Jerry's go corporate?
Will Ben & Jerry's ice cream remain America's most politically correct dessert? The company is reportedly considering being bought by larger companies, which has some "socially conscious'' investors up in arms. The South Burlington, Vt., company-known for favors like Chunky Monkey, Rainforest Crunch, and Phish Food-quietly announced late last year that some unidentified companies were interested in taking it over. So a group of independent investors is trying to keep Ben & Jerry's the way it is. For years, the company has been the darling of those touting "corporate responsibility." It pays more to get milk from small family farms and buys coffee beans from organic growers. Ben & Jerry's also celebrated hippiedom, campaigning for solar power and the left-wing Children's Defense Fund. At one point the company even protested the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire with a Boston billboard declaring, "Stop Seabrook. Keep our customers alive and licking." But Ben & Jerry's, founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, isn't the small company of lore. It did $3.8 billion in business in 1997 alone, and its ice cream is sold as far away as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates. Even if new owners come in and change Ben & Jerry's image (which they probably won't), the company's marketing job will be hard to forget. The company made the old hippie lifestyle seem palatable with Wavy Gravy, Cherry Garcia, and all the rest. What was once considered subversive now sells dairy products. -Chris Stamper Celebrating Armstrong's centennial
Satchmo at 100
New York's Lincoln Center plans to celebrate Louis Armstrong's hundredth birthday this summer, though no one is sure when the blues sensation was born. He gave as his birthday July 4, 1900, but some Satchmo scholars say he was actually born Aug. 4, 1901. Nevertheless, plans are for a massive 13-month celebration with tributes from trumpeters from around the world. Armstrong, who died in 1971, is most remembered as a showman for his renditions of Hello, Dolly and What a Wonderful World. Some call him the greatest jazz musician ever, largely because he was one of the first to achieve meteoric success in the world of recorded music. For many years he rode the swing bandwagon, doing his own versions of numerous favorites and introducing many to the vocal technique known as "scat." This involves singing nonsense syllables to the beat of the music as part of the instrumental. The Louis Armstrong discography is huge; just the Amazon.com listing alone runs 270 items. For half a century, Louis Armstrong was like a top-tier rock star (complete with some of the personal baggage; he was married four times). He went from trendsetter to the elder statesman of jazz. -C.S. Yankovic's comedy endures
Comics often have only moments of fame, so who would have believed that "Weird Al" Yankovic would be doing pop-song parodies in three decades? Hitting the spotlight in 1984 with a Michael Jackson parody called Eat It, he has carried on steadily, turning out albums that take gentle jabs at pop culture. He turned Don McLean's American Pie into a Star Wars spoof called The Saga Begins last year and released it at SagaBegins.com. This year he's doing a tour. Mr. Yankovic himself never expected such success in music. He graduated as valedictorian of his high school at age 16 and went on to get a degree in architecture. He had been making parodies for friends and sent a tape to comedy DJ Dr. Demento, who introduced him to the world. "I thought by now I'd be an adult and have a real job," he said last year. "I never thought I'd be able to make a living out of being Weird Al." Still surprisingly popular with kids and college students, his last album, Running with Scissors, went gold last year. Mr. Yankovic's comedy is cleaner than most FM morning show hosts these days and utterly devoid of socio-political content. He's revealed nothing of his real-life persona other than that he doesn't eat meat. Yet every society needs a clown, and he's more than willing to play the role. And the absurdities of teenage rock songs give him plenty of material. -C.S.