Balance Sheet

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Assets

Growing Down. The Louisiana Supreme Court makes 18, rather than 21, the legal drinking age. Because 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military, says the court, the 21-year-old requirement violates the state constitution's equal-protection provisions. States went from 18 to 21 when then-Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole (no doubt before her husband became fond of the 10th Amendment) threatened to cut off federal highway funds to states that didn't increase the drinking age.

Defense Medicine. An $80 million Pentagon study of 19,000 ailing Gulf War veterans–the largest clinical survey in Pentagon history–finds no evidence of any disease it could call "Gulf War Syndrome." Only a handful of people suffer from ailments that could be caused by chemical or biological agents used during the war. Of those patients examined, 18 percent had illnesses with psychological causes, another 18 percent had symptoms with no distinguishable cause, and 10 percent weren't really sick.

Document Fraud. The First Amendment, upheld on appeal. Last September, U.S. District Judge John Feikens prevented Business Week from using sealed court documents as the basis for a story about a lawsuit between Procter & Gamble and Banker's Trust–even after the documents became public. The Sixth Circuit overturns Feikens, saying preserving free speech is more important than maintaining court secrecy.

Information Please. Enlisting House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), religious conservatives and home schoolers tie up the job-training bill in a House-Senate conference, making passage unlikely this year. The bill includes a Robert Reich-inspired proposal that would establish a federal database listing the job description and salary of every job opening in the country. This $5 billion bureaucracy would also collect personal data on people seeking jobs and could try to force people to enroll in a government training program before accepting a new job.

Liabilities

Free to Lose. Reporters and pundits inaccurately lump the "anti-government" Montana Freemen together with the Branch Davidians and Randy Weaver's family. The Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs ended when federal law enforcement agents murdered people who threatened no one and merely wished to be left alone. By contrast, the Freemen have threatened to kidnap judges and financed their activities by passing bad checks. Such shenanigans could give anti-government zealotry a bad name.

Squeeze Play. Bank account feeling lighter? Forbes says that, after taxes and inflation, the typical family of four earning twice the median income is no better off than it was four years ago, has 6 percent less income than in 1986, and has about 4 percent less than in 1971. More than one-fifth of fringe benefits consist of your employer's share of Medicare and Social Security taxes–benefits you may never see. As a percentage of income, the federal tax bite has doubled since 1955.

Dues Processed. In the 1988 Beck decision, the Supreme Court said union dues can't be used to support political campaigns unless individual members want them to. The Clinton administration, however, refuses to enforce Beck. The result? The AFL-CIO raises dues by $2.00 per member per month, targeting the money to defeat 75 Republican members of Congress.

Chicken Fees. Russia increases tariffs against chickens raised in the United States, endangering America's largest market for exported birds. To comply with the conditions of a $10.1 billion International Monetary Fund loan, Russia says it has to hike its chicken fees by 20 percent. As much as $700 million in U.S. poultry exports may get plucked.

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