Economic woes prompt layoffs, fuel tax-relief drive
Here's a sign of the times: Ameritrade laid off 9 percent of its workers due to a drop in trading activity amid the market's downturn. The discount brokerage makes money off online trades and had to cut back when business dropped. So about 300 people are getting sent home. The late '90s boom may be over, but nobody is sure what lies ahead for the Bush years. One closely watched economic forecasting gauge predicts that the economy will grow by 2.6 percent this year. That's the weakest pace in a decade, according to the survey by Blue Chip Economic Indicators, but it's still prosperity. The dictionary definition of recession is two consecutive quarters of a decreasing gross national product-and that hasn't happened. Yet this sort of a slowdown may feel the same for many, according to Randell Moore, Blue Chip's executive editor. "It's like a car going 60 miles an hour and then suddenly slowing to 20 miles an hour. You haven't crashed, but you really feel the deceleration,'' he said. "Growth of 2.2 percent would be a real slowdown that businesses and people are going to feel." This deceleration and talk of recession is a core talking point for an across-the-board income tax cut proposed by President-elect Bush. House Majority Leader Dick Armey said he wants cuts made retroactive to New Year's Day as an economic stimulus. In a memo to GOP House members, he also called for expansion of 401(k) plans and IRAs as part of a double jolt that would improve the economy and savings simultaneously. Some GOP leaders dislike the Bush plan, preferring to focus on bite-size issues like repeal of estate taxes and relief from the income tax marriage penalty. But even Democrats grudgingly admit tax cuts are necessary, though they prefer smaller, "targeted" tax relief. Still, tax reduction appears to be on the fast track to approval. British Airways near-disaster: An answer to prayers
What might have been
The story exploded right after Christmas: A crazed man burst into the cockpit of a Nairobi-bound British Airways 747, overpowered the pilot, and put the plane into a two-minute, 19,000-foot suicide plunge. Then, moments before the aircraft would have smashed into the desert floor, two South Carolina businessmen wrestled the assailant to the deck, averting disaster. The story had everything: high-altitude drama, 398 lives at stake, and a pair of humble, Everyman heroes. Within hours of landing in Kenya, reporters from as far away as the United States and Colombia besieged Clarke Bynum, 39, and Gifford Shaw, 45, clamoring for telephone interviews. But no major media outlet told the whole tale. "The real story is about a personal God who hears and answers the prayers of the people, and moves with sovereignty in the activities and affairs of men to accomplish his purpose," Mr. Shaw told WORLD. Mr. Shaw is an elder at Westminster PCA in Sumter, S.C. His friend Mr. Bynum, who teaches Bible classes at Sumter's Trinity United Methodist Church, had agreed to accompany Mr. Shaw on a mission trip to Uganda. But the trip had barely begun before a series of "coincidences" turned their plans upside-down, ripping their attention from their own agendas, and refocusing it on the sovereignty of God. First, on Dec. 28, a fierce snowstorm delayed the landing in Britain of their outbound flight from Charlotte, N.C. As a result, the travelers missed by minutes their original connecting flight to Nairobi. When they rebooked, it was aboard British Air Flight 2069, a flight on which a 27-year-old mentally ill African man had also bought a ticket. Next, to give Mr. Bynum, a former Clemson University basketball player, more legroom during the 20-hour trip to Africa, the two decided to upgrade their seats to business class. That last-minute change placed them on the top deck of the bi-level 747-about six feet from the cockpit door. Had they kept their original seats, the pair would have been on the aircraft's lower deck, unable to hear the cockpit chaos, or to know there was any chance to save the plane from its earthward plummet. Then another twist: At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, Mr. Bynum may have been the only business-class passenger strong enough to overpower the muscular suicide attacker. Two airline crewmembers had tried and couldn't. Both Mr. Bynum and Mr. Shaw correlate the series of events that saved Flight 2069 to the specific prayers of people in their two churches. Telling their story before a packed audience at Trinity UMC, Mr. Bynum offered as examples two personal notes written to them by a man who had promised to pray while they were gone. Just 17 hours before the incident occurred, friend Dicky Jones had written: "I am praying for your safety." -Lynn Vincent Lawyer suggests possible government lawbreaking
Elián case coverup?
If the Elián Gonzalez case were only about reuniting a motherless boy with his father, why would the government order the destruction of documents and e-mail related to the Cuban boy's immigration case? That's the question lawyers for Elián's great-uncle are asking now that they have a deposition from an attorney representing Immigration and Naturalization Service employees who believe "the U.S. government could be breaking the law." Lawyer Donald Appignani swore out a deposition that his clients-Miami INS agents-told him they were ordered to destroy or conceal documents and electronic mail related to Elián's controversial case. Mr. Appignani represents the union that bargains for INS employees. His statements were made in conjunction with a lawsuit brought by Lazaro Gonzalez, the great-uncle who fought for custody of Elián in the United States. Mr. Gonzalez is suing the federal government and Miami police for violating his family's constitutional rights in an April 22 raid last year to remove the Cuban boy from his home. Both the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami and an attorney for Mr. Gonzalez have supported a motion compelling Mr. Appignani to provide more detail about a possible cover-up. Alive, well, & ready to rumble
Saddam: feeling groovy
Reports of Saddam Hussein's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Last week, the Iraqi dictator put to rest rumors of his ill health when he delivered a televised address marking the 80th anniversary of Iraq's armed forces. The dictator announced that he would move a special force of the elite Republican Guard to new headquarters west of Baghdad, and place them on 24-hour alert to support with tanks any Palestinian revolt against Israel. Israeli military leaders acknowledged that they are monitoring Iraq's troop movements, but are more concerned about a low-altitude attack from Iraqi warplanes carrying chemical weapons. Half-hearted deregulation sends west coast into energy crisis
California headed for the dark ages
Two of California's biggest utilities are on the brink of going broke and millions of residents on the West Coast are on the brink of blackouts. As the California electricity crisis worsened, Gov. Gray Davis accused electricity wholesalers of price gouging and called for federally mandated price controls. But part of the problem is that state utilities weren't deregulated enough. Rates for Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. were frozen as part of the state's 1996 plan. When wholesale electricity prices zoomed upward, driven in part by rising natural gas prices, power companies were stuck in the middle. Southern California Edison sued the state to be able to pass along an estimated $5 billion in wholesale power costs to its customers. Claiming it is on the verge of bankruptcy, Edison said it paid as much as 33 cents per kilowatt hour on the open market, but could only charge customers about a fifth of that amount. PG&E is preparing a similar lawsuit. Colder weather and natural gas price hikes have brought higher utility bills across America. The Energy Department is forecasting a 40 percent rise in natural gas prices and a 29 percent hike in fuel oil. Meanwhile, 26 states and the District of Columbia have deregulation plans pending. USPS does cost-cutting deal, but raises rates
The eagle is a dinosaur
The Postal Service jumped into the new millennium with a rate hike and an unusual deal with FedEx. The cost of mailing a letter went up a penny, along with a multitude of changes for various types of mail. And now FedEx will carry U.S. mail on its fleet of aircraft, and the private company's collection boxes will be placed in post offices. Postmaster General William Henderson set the rationale for the deal in rhyme: "The Postal Service delivers Main Street and FedEx provides an air fleet." Nice try. It wasn't as if the USPS didn't have planes. It's just that the post office number-crunchers figured, rightly, that FedEx could do the job cheaper. In other words, take the deal as an admission that the federally managed mail system is a dinosaur. The post office expects to pay FedEx $6.3 billion over seven years to carry its Express Mail and Priority Mail as well as some first-class mail. The expense is to be recouped by dumping other logistics expenses, such as the Postal Service's own aircraft. FedEx will pay between $126 million and $232 million to place collection boxes at post offices. Meanwhile, as the official monopoly was raising rates, private competitors UPS and FedEx took the opportunity to raise their own rates between 3 and 5 percent effective in early February. The Postal Service is in for a shakeup as communication traditionally sent by mail-bill payments, personal letters, catalogs, etc.-goes online. The arrival of digital signatures as a legally valid substitute for ink-and-paper will cut even more. Why pay 34 cents to get something to Schenectady next week when it can be there in nanoseconds for free? New opponent for the left?
The Religious Right is dead, says leftist gadfly Tom Frank. He believes that the right lost the culture war when Bill Clinton beat the impeachment rap, but there's a new enemy standing in the way of his socialist ideals: the New Economy. Mr. Frank, author of One Market Under God (Doubleday), argues that "high-tech capitalism has displaced Christianity and conservatism as the main enemy of social justice." Instead of Pat Buchanan and Paul Weyrich, Mr. Frank targets Tom Peters and Peter Lynch. George Gilder winds up as Mr. Frank's ultimate villain since he stands for both conservatism and cyberspace. The author waves his sword at every windmill in sight, from The Millionaire Mind to Nike to E-Trade. Mr. Frank sees the 1990s as the Decade of Greed 2.0. He decries the economic boom and the grandiose corporate visions that accompanied it because they made people distrust labor unions, Social Security, and social democracy. The fact that the many corporate chiefs show little opposition to liberalism beyond their own balance sheets doesn't faze Mr. Frank. Many of the CEOs and gurus he castigates are more than happy to support "economic democracy" for other people, through population control, public schooling, rent control, mass transit, environmentalism, and socialized medicine. But Mr. Frank understands that Fortune 500 companies have co-opted the old countercultural canards about social change, revolution, and transgression. To tell someone to "think out of the box," for example, means something completely different than it did in 1967. The disenfranchised of today can't rebel since commercial culture anticipates their every move. Mr. Frank grasps, in his convoluted way, that the old adversary culture has become mainstream, yet he's too much of an ideologue to celebrate his side's victory. -Chris Stamper IRS taps fewer accounts, garnishees fewer paychecks
Money in the bank
The long arm of the Internal Revenue Service isn't grabbing as much money these days. The number of people whose wages were garnisheed and bank accounts were tapped fell 75 percent from two years ago. Still, the IRS hit over 500,000 people in the last fiscal year. A 1998 reform is part of the reason. The law requires the IRS to be less confrontational; employees can lose their jobs for seizing property without proper permission or violating a taxpayer's constitutional rights. "The new laws give the IRS and the taxpayers more options to settle tax debts," said David Keating, a member of the commission that recommended the change. Late 1990s charges of abuse have sent the agency on a campaign to improve its image. Much effort has gone into promoting electronic filing. This year the IRS expects a record 42 million taxpayers to "e-file." The issue of garnisheed wages took a strange twist last month because of the Michael McDermott case. Prosecutors have charged him with seven counts of murder for shooting his co-workers. The IRS had told the company to hold his wages. The agency so far won't discuss its dealings with the suspect. Kennedy's political fashion magazine folds
John F. Kennedy Jr.'s foray into magazine publishing, George, is dead. His attempt at a political fashion magazine never caught on with advertisers, even after Hachette Filipacchi Magazines spent over $10 million trying to save it. The magazine tried to spread the pixie dust of adulation from John John to other opinion makers. It tried to glamorize politics-during the Clinton administration. What timing! Hachette Filipacchi (which publishes Car and Driver, Elle, and Woman's Day) thought it was disrespectful to America's royalty to shut down the magazine right after John F. Kennedy Jr.'s abrupt death. So it bought out the family estate's share and tried revamping the magazine. Readership went up, but that didn't help. "There was a product that went out beyond John, but the advertisers had always associated it with John Kennedy," said Jack Kliger, president of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.
Economic woes prompt layoffs, fuel tax-relief drive