Balance Sheet

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Assets

House Cleaning. Jim Wright and shakedown artist Tony Coelho may be out on technicalities, but they're also paying for real crimes—for instance, helping out politically connected thugs. We're talking white, middle-class Willie Hortons gone wilding. Wright's pal John Mack smashed a woman's skull with a hammer and left her for dead. Coelho's more-thorough beneficiary, David Weidert, choked, stabbed, and pummelled a retarded man before forcing him to dig his own grave, then burying him alive. And the Democrats still think Horton was about race.

Call Forward. This information economy stuff is for real. Phone lines are to the late 20th century what railroads were to the late 19th. So it's a good thing Ma Bell is dead. If she were running things, fax machines would cost $5,000 and be the size of compact cars. Long-distance rates are down 40 percent since pre-breakup days. Fiber optics replace the old copper cable. That means cleaner transmission, more room for calls, and lower costs all around.

Tokyo Woes. Japanese consumers grow restive. In a poll, 70 percent say they don't consider themselves affluent. The strong yen trades at 120 to the dollar, but it takes 200 to buy $1.00 in goods. Political analyst Taro Yayama, writing in the newspaper Sankei Shimbun, attacks a host of price-increasing regulations—from controls on retailing to auto inspections that cost car owners $1,000 a year. "It's time the Japanese consumer got a break," Yayama concludes.

Abandoned Ship. NASA prepares to jettison the space station if it has to make big budget cuts. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the relevant committee, says the cuts are coming. McDonnell Douglas fights back with feel-good commercials featuring a space-suited baby. When they bring out the babies, you know they're desperate.

Liabilities

Deja Vu. Aargh! The '70s are back! There are giant smiley faces in the store windows. Ralph Nader is on the rebound. So is Jerry Brown. So, most amazingly, is Jimmy Carter. Washington is ethics-obsessed (not to be confused with ethical). Ecology is in; entrepreneurship is out. Can stagflation and disco be far behind?

Failing Grade. "Educators," notably EdSec Lauro Cavazos, fixate on dropout rates. Granted, dropouts provide a nice, numerical measure—but of what? Few experts notice that warm bodies do not an education make. The kids have to learn something. If they don't, they're better off elsewhere.

Bad Medicine. National health insurance gains business allies. Lee Iacocca gripes that he pays $700 per car in health insurance. GM paid $275 million last year for prescriptions alone. Spreading the cost via taxes will only hide it, however. And forcing all companies to spend freely on health insurance, as Teddy Kennedy proposes, will only make things worse. When something looks free, as health care does to most insured patients, people demand near-infinite amounts. And prices skyrocket.

No Joke. Marty Schiffenbauer, the man behind Berkeley's rent control law, pushes an initiative to limit house prices. They'd be forbidden to rise faster than the national average; last year, that was 6 percent, compared to 35 percent in Berkeley. Homeowners constitute only a third of the town's voters, so Schiffenbauer—who is completely serious about this—thinks an initiative would pass. And don't expect the courts to knock it down.

NEXT: The Seduction of Planning

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