Balance Sheet



Commercial Break. Commercial speech, often denied constitutional protection, gets a boost. By a 6-to-3 vote, in Discovery Network v. Cincinnati, the Supreme Court says government restrictions on billboards or newspaper racks must promote a well-defined state interest. In a separate opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun says commercial speech deserves the same aggressive protection as political speech.

Wasted Days. Over Al Gore's objections, the $160-million, high-tech waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, opens in April. (See Balance Sheet, Mar.) The New York Times suggests two reasons the veep lost: A federal court ruled that the incinerator posed few health threats, and the incinerator's original investor, Little Rock's Jackson Stephens, gave big bucks to the Clinton campaign.

Plane or Filtered? How to beat the federal smoking ban on commercial flights: Start your own airline. Melbourne, Florida–based Smokers Express Airlines is a private club that plans to operate scheduled flights for members only. Passengers will get free in-flight smokes.

Going South. Privatization gets a Latin beat. Venezuela, which nationalized its petroleum industry in 1976, lets Shell, Exxon, and Mitsubishi purchase two-thirds of a $3-billion natural-gas project. And Argentina contracts its state-owned train service to foreigners: commuter rail in Buenos Aires to three companies and long-distance freight to six.


EGGed On. With tensions rising in Bosnia, Somalia, and Russia, and only one of his 45 deputies in place, Defense Secretary Les Aspin takes one week off to get a pacemaker. Pentagon nominations lagged, says The Washington Post, because Bill Clinton couldn't find enough EGGs—candidates who met his ethnicity, gender, and geography quotas.

Tube Boob. Wile E. Coyote—out of work? Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman James Quello wants the feds to regulate violence on TV. "If the First Amendment rights conflict with the public interest," Quello tells Electronic Media, "the public interest should prevail."

Taxing Times. Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) proposes a 5-percent value-added tax, partly to fund health care. (See "Consuming Debate," Dec.) "Let us be done with the myth that we can tackle the deficit strictly by cutting spending," writes Hollings to his colleagues. "This is nonsense." A VAT may fly: Hillary Clinton won't allow taxes on health benefits, and moderate senators may nuke her husband's other levies.

Without a CLU. A jury convicts Minnesota utility employee Dennis Richie of sexually abusing his daughter, Denise. Denise turns around and sues…her mother. Denise wins a $2.4-million judgment from the family's insurance company. The company won't compensate Denise for Dad's intentional crimes, but a jury can find Mom "negligent" and make Denise rich. Forbes reports that such "domestic tort" cases try "not only to punish wrongdoing, but to find somebody—anybody—with money to pay the victim."