Balance Sheet



Pot Sweetener. The California Legislature endorses medical marijuana. Senate Joint Resolution 8 urges the federal government to legalize marijuana use for glaucoma, cancer, and AIDS patients. In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Henry Mello wants the government to curtail prosecution of marijuana's medical users.

Venetian Find. In January, the Italian government will privatize three large banks—Banca Commerciale Italiana, Credito Italiano, and Istituto Mobiliare Italiano—that control $185 billion in assets. Financial Times says Prime Minister Carlo Ciampi "has put public share offerings [of state firms] at the top of his government's agenda."

House Cleaning. Pressured by first-term reformers, Congress might have to obey its own laws. New Hampshire Reps. Christopher Shays (R) and Dick Swett (D) sponsor a bill that would subject members of Congress to the same civil-rights, employment, and safety regulations they force on the rest of us. The bill has 230 cosponsors, notes National Journal, "because of aggressive lobbying by the freshman class."

Right Choice(s). Kiss your local phone monopoly goodbye. As part of this year's budget deal, the Federal Communications Commission will auction off part of the airwaves to phone companies. The FCC's plan will let as many as seven wireless companies compete for your phone calls. And, reports The New York Times, since wireless technologies are 20 times more efficient than basic cellular, wireless "could [already] be competitive with conventional telephone service."


Auto Follies. The Pentagon's next mission: Building cars. The White House and the Big Three combine to design roomy, fast, safe, super-efficient roadsters. Prototypes of such cars already exist. But, as the Los Angeles Times reports, "they have all been too light, too small or too weird for commercial development." Or too expensive. Take the 100-mpg General Motors Ultralight: Says a G.M. spokesman, "We'll sell you one tomorrow, but I need about 6.5 million bucks."

Death Rays II. The FDA wants your cellular phone. (See "Fear of Phoning," June.) Food and Drug Administration Deputy Director Elizabeth Jacobson chastises the Cellular Telephone Industry Association for its "unwarranted confidence" that cellular phones are safe. "Although there is no direct evidence linking cellular phones with harmful effects in humans," she says in a letter to the CTIA, "a few animal studies suggest that such effects could exist."

Knowledge Problem. One underappreciated shortcoming of Hillarycare: The National Health Board will freeze out new but unproven health practices. Three decades ago, doctors prescribed a sedentary lifestyle for heart-attack survivors; now they push patients to exercise early and often. Warns trend spotter Michael Schrage, "To make 37 million people eligible for medical procedures that don't really work can hardly be considered a bold advance in public health."

Garbage Cops. In Newark, New Jersey, says Nation's Cities Weekly, "sanitation enforcement officials" have issued 500 summonses this year to individuals and businesses who have violated the city's recycling laws. Trash officers surreptitiously photograph garbage offenders and present the photos as evidence in court. Fines range from $25 to $1,000. Before long, forensics teams may dust stray cans for fingerprints.