Balance Sheet

Assets

▲Private Stink. The Washington (D.C.) Suburban Sanitary Commission discusses whether to go private and become a regulated utility. The sewer and water authority is valued at $3 billion, and a sale could bring millions in new tax revenue each year for local governments. If WSSC's 1.6 million customers were to go private, it would be one of the biggest such shifts ever in the country.

▲Upper Echelon. The Italian legal system--of all things--may throw a spotlight on America's busy spooks at the National Security Agency. All of Europe is aflame over the NSA's Echelon program, a worldwide eavesdropping operation with a listening post outside London. Italian investigators want to know if what the NSA does violates their country's privacy laws. The NSA so far has stiff-armed even Congress about Echelon.

▲Drugged Speech. A federal judge rules that the First Amendment applies even to pharmaceutical makers. Restrictions on what drug firms can say about off-label uses are declared unconstitutional. The Food and Drug Administration wanted prior approval for any information doctors received about new uses for approved drugs.

▲Surf Saver. A high-powered who's who of the online world sets up a Web site to help parents figure out this whole Internet thing. The GetNetWise effort assumes that educated parents, as opposed to grandstanding, nanny-state politicos, can help kids navigate the cyberworld.

Liabilities

▲Farm Fade. Washington plans to send $7.5 billion to farmers on top of last year's "one-time-only" $6 billion bailout. The subsidies go a long way toward undoing the Freedom to Farm Act, which sought to wean farmers off the federal teat. What should be the counterbalancing effects of low commodity prices and bad weather are this year's excuse.

▲PEEP Show. Powerful senators back PEEP, the Poultry Energy Power Act, which would dole out tax credits to power plants that burn chicken poop. The $50- million-a-year subsidy harks back to the 1970s, when "alternative" energy sources were showered with handouts to little effect. Such plants work in Europe only thanks to sky-high taxes on energy sources. Cheap oil still beats bird crap in the U.S. of A.

▲Orbital Taps. The FBI puts the kibosh on a Canadian firm's bid to offer satellite phone service in the United States. The feds fear that satellite phones in general, and ones with downlink stations in other countries in particular, will prove difficult to wiretap. Requests for wiretaps, routinely rubber-stamped domestically, could face the scrutiny of a foreign government.

▲Cluster Stuck. Some 1,100 cluster bombs, each containing 202 bomblets, were dropped by NATO during the Kosovo conflict. Normal dud rates for such munitions range from 5 percent to 20 percent. That means somewhere between 11,000 and 40,000 bombs are waiting to go off.

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