Balance Sheet



Duty Freed. California lightens the burden of jury duty. Gov. Pete Wilson signs a bill to require all courts to adopt "one day, one trial," excusing prospective jurors from service for the next year if they aren't put on a trial their first day.

Floating Boats. Say hello to the "mass upper class." The proportion of the U.S. population earning at least $100,000 a year in constant dollars has soared from 3.2 percent in 1967 to 11.8 percent in 1997, says the Census Bureau. It's no zero-sum boom: The share of people below the poverty line continues to fall.

Universal Access. More than 100 would-be refugees are locked up in a New Jersey prison, pending their asylum hearings. They claim prison guards have deprived them of sleep, fed them spoiled food, and forced them to help build the prison without compensation. Now a federal district court agrees to let their case against the INS proceed. It could establish the precedent that immigrants seeking asylum have the same basic rights as U.S. citizens.

Return to Sender. Private space exploration could be closer. Congress passes a bill allowing private companies to launch reusable vehicles similar to the space shuttle. Until now, the private sector could send only satellites and other nonreturnable objects into space.


Beltway Turkeys. Just in time for Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells Perdue Farms to remove the "never frozen" label from turkeys that have, well, never been frozen. The feds fear Perdue is tricking consumers by selling turkeys that are processed and shipped at near-freezing temperatures.

Buck Passing. With the blessing of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party, the Federal Election Commission proposes to unilaterally ban unregulated "soft money" from campaigns. The contributions, which underwrite political parties, issue-oriented advertising, and voter registration rather than individual candidates, have long been considered political speech protected by the First Amendment.

Communication Breakdown. L.A. school officials who oppose Proposition 227, the June initiative which effectively ended bilingual education, are refusing any formal language instruction to as many as 100,000 non-English-speaking children in the public schools, reports the Los Angeles Times. Instead of helping kids learn the alphabet or grammar, administrators say they're teaching oral literacy, or "oracy."

Green Eyeshades. Al Gore, Carol Browner, and the administration's green gurus say the Kyoto greenhouse gas treaty will barely nick the average American's pocketbook. Think again. The Energy Information Administration (part of the same executive branch that employs Gore and Browner) predicts that, by 2010, complying with Kyoto will hike gas prices by 53 percent and push down GDP by 4.1 percent.