Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

Less consumed by debt?

American consumers may be throttling back their spending a little. The Federal Reserve reported last week that credit-card and other revolving debt fell in November at an annual rate of $1.6 billion. It was the largest drop since October 1991 and the first since January 1998. Nonrevolving debt, such as loans for cars, fell at a $600 million rate. Total borrowing by consumers stood at $1.7 trillion. Some economists noted, however, that these numbers do not include such loans as home equity lines of credit, which are increasingly popular.

Death down under

Dr. Philip Nitschke, Australia's answer to Jack Kervorkian, has a new death machine. Reuters' Michael Perry reports that he concocted something called an "exit bag." A person places the bag over his head, pulls a drawstring, and suffocates. The euthanasia enthusiast claims the device has therapeutic uses, so lawmakers will have difficulty making it illegal. (It kills by producing carbon monoxide but can also produce oxygen.) Dr. Nitschke came to the United States to announce his invention to the Hemlock Society, which helped fund his efforts. Dr. Nitschke gained infamy by helping four Australians die in 1997, using a computer program called "Deliverance" to control a lethal intravenous drip. Voluntary euthanasia was briefly legalized in the country's Northern Territory before the national government tossed out the law.

Thin ice

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The Ottawa Senators may be the best team in the NHL's Eastern Conference. It may also be the most financially unstable sports franchise in North America. The franchise is skating on the edge of bankruptcy with $375 million in debt and is desperately trying to raise ticket sales. (One strategy: Employ female ice cleaners.) The problems come despite a relatively low payroll of $31 million. By contrast, the New York Rangers spend $70 million to sit in last place. Unable to make payroll, the team began giving players only meal money-$80 a day-on New Year's Day. Instead of paychecks, the players were reportedly handed empty envelopes. The players, however, seem content to keep throwing big checks, even though they aren't receiving big checks: "We've still got enough sticks around, and there's hot water coming out of the taps, and the lights are on in the dressing room," said upbeat defenseman Wade Redden.

Unclaimed cash

The compact disc industry may owe you $20. Thanks to a massive price-fixing settlement, people who bought albums between 1995 and 2000 could be eligible for a check. So far, few have signed up to collect. Last fall, America's top five CD distributors and three national retail chains agreed to a $143 million deal ending the court case. About $44 million is earmarked for consumers, who will receive from $5 to $20 depending on the number of applicants. But only about 30,000 people nationwide signed up for the cash, which means most of the money may go uncollected. The deadline is March 3. Anyone who bought a CD, LP, or cassette at a retail store between 1995 and 2000 is eligible, although the money will go to charity if more than 8.8 million people apply. Over 40 states claimed the companies -including Bertelsmann, EMI Music, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, Sony Music Entertainment, and Universal-conspired with retailers to set minimum retail prices for CDs. Some of the companies denied wrongdoing and said they settled to avoid a long and expensive legal fight.

What if they had said, "Buddha"?

When 5-year-old Daniel Walz handed out pencils to his pre-kindergarten classmates in 1998, a teacher took them away. The little gifts said, "Jesus loves the little children." Later that year, he tried to give away candy canes with a religious message and received a similar reprimand. The Rutherford Institute sued the Egg Harbor Township School District in New Jersey on his behalf and later appealed the case. The group claims the school discriminated against Daniel for his beliefs. A year ago, a U.S. District judge ruled in favor of the district. The family decided to continue the fight. "I hope we win because God always wins in the end," Daniel told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Rutherford took the case to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which scheduled oral arguments for this month. The attorneys want the suit reinstated and are seeking a permanent injunction allowing religious gifts at the school. Rutherford president John Whitehead said he hoped the court would recognize that the school violated Daniel's rights. "To prohibit a student from handing out gifts of his choosing to his classmates simply because the school is afraid that a parent will mistakenly assume school participation is ludicrous," he said.

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