REGULATION, DEBT, OVERVALUATION: WHAT'S HURTING NASDAQ?
Shooting down the tech stocks
Has gravity hit high-flying technology stocks? By the middle of last week the Nasdaq composite index, home of many high-tech stocks, had dropped to 3769.63, down 7.4 percent for the year. That may not sound like much, but consider that as of March 10 the Nasdaq was up 24 percent for the year at 5,048.62. Different analysts cited different causes for the drop. Some blamed Uncle Sam, arguing that the Justice Department's antitrust victory against Microsoft might embolden regulators to go after technology markets. Economist James K. Glassman, in The Wall Street Journal, argued that "investors, jarred by the Microsoft decision, have suddenly woken up to these threats of government intervention." Others blamed debt, specifically a recent spike in stocks bought on margin-i.e., with money borrowed from brokerages. When stock prices slide, those brokerages can make "margin calls," demanding that investors put up cash to cover loans. This leads to even more feverish selling, which can "turn a rational decline into something disorderly," as First Albany Corp.'s Hugh Johnson put it. Margin debt has soared recently, jumping 50 percent in the last six months. Still others said that tech stocks simply had been valued too highly. They welcomed the slide, predicting that it will bring some healthy skepticism to the technology market. "Investors will be more discriminating in their buying of technology and Internet stocks," said Alfred E. Goldman, chief market strategist at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis.
ups & downs of the week
New ballparks: Forget the annual spring debate over whether the baseball is "juiced," causing an inordinate number of homeruns; the buzz in major league baseball this year concerns the gorgeous new ballparks. The Giants' Pacific Bell Park (with a view from home plate of the Golden Gate Bridge), the Tigers' Comerica Park (which manages to make Detroit shine), and the Astros' Enron Field in Houston are a radical departure from the utilitarian, multipurpose concrete blisters from the Cold War era (WORLD, "Dethroning the Kingdome," April 8). The new parks represent one of the rare benefits of postmodernism: They are quirky and irrational-and in their own way, they show the quirky side of life, rather than the functional but lifeless stadiums of the past. Prospects for a pardon of President Clinton: In a Q&A with the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Mr. Clinton tersely said he was not "ashamed" of his impeachment and has "no interest" in receiving a pardon because "I am prepared to stand before any bar of justice I have to stand before." Speaking of his impeachment battle, Mr. Clinton said, "Let me tell you I am proud of what we did there. Because I think we saved the Constitution of the United States." Speaking of saving the constitution, The Buzz applauds federal judge Lynn Adelman, who last week upheld a Milwaukee-area man's right to make a presentation about creationism in a public-library meeting room. The West Allis, Wis., library's "Constitution Room is a designated public forum," Judge Adelman wrote. Attorney Erik Stanley, who represented Christian activist Christopher Pfeifer, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The judge's decision, in effect, brought the constitution back to the Constitution Room."
MAN KNOWS NOT HIS TIME: M*A*S*H STAR DEAD AT 60
Goodbye, Major Burns. Larry Linville, one of several actors whose career got a short-lived blastoff from the M*A*S*H TV show, died of cancer at age 60. He played the resident heel among the Korean War doctors on the show from 1972 to 1977. For Mr. Linville and other actors, the success of the show didn't push their careers much after they left. Like Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swit, Gary Burghoff, Jamie Farr, and William Christopher, he faded into obscurity. Mr. Linville appeared sporadically in minor movies and little-watched TV shows. At its start, M*A*S*H was a toned-down version of Richard Hooker's raunchy novel and the movie that followed. Quickly it became something far different. The show's network, CBS, had deliberately decided to shift away from its traditional hits like Gunsmoke, Mayberry RFD, and Lassie toward avant-garde product laden with hip left-wing message. No more Beverly Hillbillies; it was time to be relevant with a capital R. And M*A*S*H stayed on the air into the Reagan Administration.
- With top-flight SAT scores, Georgia homeschool twins Jerome and Jason Scoggins, 17, became the latest objects of college-recruiter affection. Scoring 1570 out of a possible 1600, Jason won a full scholarship to Oglethorpe University. His brother also garnered scholarship offers with a 1480 score. "I was afraid we were the rogues of the education community," Jerome told The Wall Street Journal.
- While others tossed down drinks and tossed around beads and confetti at last month's New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration, Peter Kolb and others from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis handed out 25,000 buttons and distributed Bibles to police officers. The buttons listed a website, www.buttonup.org, that testifies to Christ as Lord. quicktakes
- After President Nixon's diplomatic opening to China in the 1970s, the communist government gave pandas as a gift. Now that China has given campaign gifts to U.S. politicians, the pandas will have to be rented: $8 million for a decade. The Smithsonian Institution wants to pay that much to borrow two of the creatures from China. The zoo has a letter of intent and is working on the details that would reopen its empty Panda House, which was left unoccupied after Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling died in the 1990s.
- Was Ralph Reed hired by Microsoft to influence George W. Bush? The former Christian Coalition leader has been quietly working to help the company in Washington for more than a year. A New York Times story reported that the hiring was an attempt to influence the Republican candidate in case he is elected president. Mr. Reed himself apologized for encouraging people to talk to the Texas governor about Microsoft, according to a statement from his consulting firm, Century Strategies. "Century Strategies should not have encouraged any citizen to contact Governor Bush," it read. "We should have been more sensitive to possible misperception and it is an error that we regret."
- The confederate flag may be coming down from the South Carolina Statehouse dome soon. The state senate voted 36-7 to take the flag down. Opponents of the flag say it is a racist symbol, while supporters say it represents Southern heritage and honors Confederate war dead. The proposal would move the flag to a non-prominent place at a monument honoring Confederate soldiers.
- Despite the embarrassing publicity, ABC is going ahead with an Earth Day broadcast that shows President Clinton being interviewed on global warming by movie star Leonardo DiCaprio. The interview had angered some at ABC who wondered why an actor was fulfilling a role usually handled by a journalist. And ABC brass had a public tiff with the White House press office over whose idea it was to do the interview. It's not clear how much of the reported 20-minute chat between the Titanic star and Mr. Clinton will make it on the air.
NFLER ARRESTED; SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGED
In 1997, tight end Mark Chmura of the Green Bay Packers refused to attend a White House ceremony honoring the Packers for their Super Bowl title. He criticized the president for taking advantage of young White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Last week, he was arrested and news cameras captured Mr. Chmura dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, his wrists handcuffed to a chain around his waist. Local police are recommending that prosecutors charge him with third-degree sexual assault for allegedly getting a teenage girl drunk and having sexual relations with her. Police were still looking into allegations that Mr. Chmura, a married father of two, sexually assaulted his 17-year-old baby sitter. Curiously, Mr. Chmura hired the late Jeffrey Dahmer's old defense attorney, Gerald Boyle, who made nonjudgmental statements to the media. "Human nature is such that when something is said that is negative about a person, many people believe it," he said. "Mark recognizes that." GAYS A LUCRATIVE TARGET MARKET
Gay's OK! That's the message corporate America is embracing as it pours more and more advertising dollars toward attracting homosexuals. Subaru, Absolut vodka, and American Airlines have been in this game for years, but others like Office Max, Neiman Marcus, Alamo rental cars, and Hartford Insurance now target homosexual consumers. Are they worried about a backlash from religious conservatives? Probably not. Greenfield Online, a Connecticut-based Internet research company, reports that the average annual household income for gays and lesbians is $57,000, compared with an overall household average of $53,000. With fewer or no dependents, that's a lot more spending money. Marketers say that the boost in market share more than outweighs the cost in protests. "There is a mainstreaming phenomenon going on," says Stephanie K. Blackwood, a partner in Spare Parts Inc., a New York-based company that helps companies market to gays. "The fear is eroding faster than I ever thought imaginable."
the no comment zone
- An explosion in Bosnia killed three children who wandered into a minefield near Sarajevo. Witnesses refused to enter the area for fear of other explosions, even though one victim, an 11-year-old girl, called for help for hours before she died.
- Congress was a day late and a gallon short: It decided to vote on reducing the gas tax just as this year's mini-oil crisis started to subside. The timing may have killed the bill, which was voted down in the Senate. The proposal, sponsored by Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), would have rolled back 4.3 cents of the federal gas tax for the rest of the year. And if average prices topped $2 a gallon, the entire 18.4-cent tax would have been suspended.
- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with President Clinton in Washington, and got what he came for. Mr. Barak gained U.S. backing for Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. He will now lobby the United Nations to supply a peacekeeping force to step into the gap along the troubled Israel-Lebanon border.
- When NASA's $165 million Mars Polar Lander mission flopped, the agency decided to start a brand-new program. NASA tapped scientist Firouz Naderi to run the space agency. He announced his first priority will be the 2001 mission to launch another Mars orbiter. Two months before the spacecraft disappeared, it sent back pictures that show intricate, frosting-like layers of ice and dust near Mars' south pole, fueling hopes that NASA had stumbled upon intelligent life.
- A sixth-grade teacher in Tuscon was shot and wounded in her classroom after she claimed she had been threatened for several weeks. Hours later, she confessed that the wound was self-inflicted, supposedly an attempt to highlight the lack of security at the school. Teacher Kathy Morris had also sent herself threatening letters. She reported the shooting after excusing herself from a staff meeting about 90 minutes before the beginning of classes. Investigators found a gun that had been fired once in a false bottom of Ms. Morris's purse.
vermont gay marriage battle
The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee last week launched a broadside at the State Supreme Court's ruling that homosexual couples are constitutionally entitled to the benefits of traditional marriage. In a 5-1 vote, the committee passed a constitutional amendment that would buttress the state against a future in which homosexual civil unions approved last month by the House would evolve to obtain the same status as heterosexual marriage. Republican committee member Vincent Illuzzi introduced the measure; only Democrat Richard McCormack voted against it. Vermonters opposed to the Supreme Court ruling have urged the Senate to add to the constitution a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Mr. Illuzzi believes his amendment accomplishes that goal, even though it does not prohibit civil unions. As written, the amendment also reserves for the legislature-and not the judiciary-the authority for deciding who gets the rights and responsibilities of marriage, and declares that no other provision of the Constitution can be construed to require those benefits be conferred on anyone other than one man and one woman. Tom Minnery, vice president for public policy at Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, called the amendment "an incredible breakthrough." "Clearly the people have spoken and the committee has responded positively," Mr. Minnery said. But the amendment faces an uphill battle. After hours of political ping-pong last week, the committee advanced the amendment without the traditional recommendation that it be adopted by the full Senate. And no one in the Senate is predicting that the 20 votes required to pass the amendment will materialize. The full Senate is expected to debate the amendment this week. In an attempt to get Democrats on record as voting against it, GOP members may call for a vote on only the portion that defines marriage. and now a pulpit announcement from caesar
Thus saith the Census Bureau
The Census Bureau wants church pastors to take a little break from preaching the Word of God on Sundays this spring and spend some time preaching the words of men-the bureau's words, in particular. In a letter to "religious leaders" obtained by WORLD, the bureau's director, Kenneth Prewitt, asked pastors to help him persuade Americans to fill out and return their census forms. He sent along announcements they should make to their congregations, suggesting that pastors use the same lure the bureau has been using in television commercials: mammon. (See WORLD, March 25.) "People who answer the census help their communities obtain federal funding and valuable information for planning hospitals, roads and more," said the bureau's suggested announcement for April 2. The bureau hopes pastors on April 23 will tell their flocks: "Failure to participate in the census can cost our community more than you realize. Census numbers are used to help determine the distribution of billions of dollars in state and federal funds." Not among the suggested messages was a reason to return census forms that actually is drawn from God's Word: It's a Christian's duty to obey the law. Peru's fujimori fails to stave off strong political rival
Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori fell just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff for an unprecedented third term, setting the stage for a May or June showdown with his rival, international economist Alejandro Toledo. Although Mr. Fujimori claimed victory, officials said ballots showed he had 49.84 percent of the vote; 50 percent was required to avoid another heat. Mr. Toledo received 40 percent of the vote, but many believe he could win a second contest. Throughout the campaign and the April 9 vote, Mr. Fujimori was criticized for using dirty tricks and intimidation to ensure another five years in power. And even before election day, he was under scrutiny for abolishing a tribunal that said he could not constitutionally run for a third five-year term. Mr. Fujimori's durability comes from liberal social-spending programs that appeal to the poor, combined with law-and-order policies that appeal to Peru's upper crust. Mr. Fujimori ended a reign of terror by the deadly rebel group Shining Path. He also chose a daredevil raid on the Japanese embassy in Lima to successfully end a siege there in 1996 by the leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas. The crackdown on terrorism, however, has resulted in the detention of many who are innocent, say Christian human-rights groups. And the social spending has a dark side too: Pro-life groups charge that the Fujimori government has used forced sterilization of women to lower the country's birthrate. In Washington, a congressional panel last month agreed to investigate the use of USAID funds in that program. Even The IRS now will let you pay your taxes via credit card
The plastic economy
Just say to the taxman, charge it! That's one of the latest tricks in the IRS' campaign to clean up its image. The agency set up a pilot project with an obscure company called Official Payments Corp. that lets people bill tax payments to their credit and debit cards. This is perhaps the final victory in consumer credit's conquest of the American wallet. The Federal Reserve reports that as of February Americans held over $610 billion in revolving debt. We may not have a cashless society today, but we have a plastic one. Credit cards today are used for minor purchases. A survey commissioned by American Express reports that the number of Americans who said it's OK to charge items that cost under $20 rose from 45% in 1999 to 54% in 2000. Consumers are more likely to put household expenses like rent, car payments, and life insurance on the cards as well. The increased use makes sense for people with self-control. They pay off their entire bill each month, and they use cards that give them such benefits as frequent-flyer airline miles. It's different for those who charge too much. A mini-industry exists selling books, software, and advice on how to get out of debt, usually convenience credit. Personal Finance for Dummies or Motley Fool will tell you to kick the habit. Quicken or Microsoft Money will help you plot a battle plan for paying everything off. And a bottomless pit of financial advisors and planners wants to add their two cents personally. But kicking the habit today is like losing weight; you can't quit cold turkey. MasterCard, Visa, and the rest are now ID cards, passports, and proofs of trustworthiness. Internet commerce runs on plastic, since you can't feed cash into your computer. That means people need to learn new things about financial responsibility, which isn't likely to happen. An economic downturn could turn that mountain of convenience credit debt into an avalanche of personal pain. -Chris Stamper Post-it note turns 20
In the 1970s, Art Fry was looking for a better way to keep his place in his hymnals. His search for a better bookmark led to the legendary Post-it Note. Twenty years ago, the canary yellow pads debuted in stores. Mr. Fry, a 3M scientist, played with an adhesive created by co-worker Spencer Silver. He could lift up the sticky backing with no mess. Not only had he found a way to always sing the right verse, he had a new product in his hands. The little notepads allowed people to post eye-catching messages to one another (or themselves) that could just be peeled off and thrown away. Then inventor Fry gave his employers at 3M (the people who gave us Scotch tape) an entire product line that extends to Post-it Flags, Post-it Easel Pads, and Post-it Self-Stick Bulletin Boards. Post-its work because they are so low-tech. -Chris Stamper Etch A sketch turns 40
Lesson in being careful
The first laptop is 40 years old, but it isn't a computer. It's the Etch A Sketch, invented in the 1950s by Arthur Granjean and sold to over 100 million children. When the child turns the familiar white knobs, he moves a stylus that draws a line with metallic powder. When he is done or wants to start over, he simply shakes the Etch A Sketch and the picture disappears. Unlike a drawing pad, the drawer can't pick up his pencil and move somewhere else to start a new line. Every part of an Etch A Sketch picture connects. That's where patience-and frustration-comes in. Trying to make a picture is a little like doing battle with a machine: One false move and you either live with an extra black mark or do the shakey-shakey. And hours of work can be lost if the dog runs into you and makes you lose your picture in the red frame. Like chess, it requires calculated, steady effort. For most kids, the pictoral payoff is a fine reward. Etch A Sketch is less an art tool than a lesson in being careful. -Chris Stamper