Balance Sheet

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Assets

Show Trial. Howard Stern, rest easy: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturns FCC regulations that prohibit "indecent" broadcasts between 6 a.m. and midnight. The ruling may also stifle congressional attempts to regulate TV violence.

Codebreakers. Congress may loosen the intelligence community's grip on encryption. (See "Hide and Peek," Nov.) Rep. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) offers a bill that would lift export restrictions on commercially available encryption software. If the bill passes, domestic software manufacturers say they'll sell an extra $6 billion to $9 billion in encoded programs each year.

Toxic Haste. While dioxin is dangerous, it never was "the most toxic substance known to man." In Seveso, Italy, where a factory explosion released one pound of dioxin into the atmosphere in 1976, a study of residents shows no overall increase in cancer rates. Most notable: None of the residents who were exposed to high levels of dioxin and developed the skin disease chloracne have contracted cancer.

Peace Plan. In case you didn't know the Cold War was over: The CIA and the Pentagon plan to sell nonclassified satellite photographs on the open market. The Russian air force will offer combat training courses to outsiders, including the U.S. Air Force. And German entrepreneur Frank Georgi will open an East German theme park, complete with spartan hotels, surly shopkeepers, and secret police.

Liabilities

Doctoring Figures. Bill Clinton complains that rising health-care costs will bust the budget. So the White House wants to conceal ClintonCare's true costs. It's urgently trying to take the plan "off-budget," so that new health-care taxes and spending won't show up in deficit accounts. Says Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, "It's not obvious that a [coerced health] premium is a tax."

Exhaust Cost. Cleaner air just got more expensive. Low-sulfur diesel fuel mandated by the Clean Air Act eats away rubber gaskets in automotive fuel injectors. Eventually the gaskets fail, causing fuel leaks. One Maryland resident tells The Washington Post it cost $400 to replace the gaskets in his VW Rabbit.

Blocked Grants? Welfare reformers, beware. Old Democrats refuse to be ignored. Eighty-nine House members, including Majority Whip David Bonior (Mich.) and budget chairman Martin Sabo (Minn.), co-author a letter to Bill Clinton. "Real welfare reform," they write, must be "reinforced by substantial financial and human resources." They demand more spending for child care, unemployment insurance, health care, jobs programs, food stamps, etc.

Electric with Fear. The next trial lawyers' bonanza: electromagnetic-field suits. (See "Fear of Phoning," June.) When part of your property is seized for utility construction, rules New York state's highest court, you can seek damages if fears of EMF-induced cancer reduce the value of the rest of your land. Trial lawyers say this ruling should apply to any property adjacent to power lines. "Property devaluation cases" will surge, plaintiff's attorney Michael Withey tells The Wall Street Journal, "because you don't have to [prove] the science."

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