Balance Sheet



? Pro-Choice. That gasp you just heard came from the education establishment. By a vote of 8-1, the U.S. Supreme Court lets the Milwaukee school voucher program go forward. More than 6,000 low-income students will use $5,000 vouchers to attend any religious or secular school.

? Fast Living. After Congress let states set speed limits in 1995, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued frantic press releases saying higher speeds would cause an additional 6,400 traffic deaths a year. But driving is safer than ever: NHTSA reports the 1997 highway fatality rate was the lowest recorded, 1.6 deaths per million miles driven, down from 1.7 in 1996.

? Stemming Disease. Researchers use discarded fetal materials to grow "stem cells"–basic cellular matter that can be converted into bone, muscle, neural, or any other tissue. People with systemic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease may soon generate healthy tissue from their own cells rather than needing donors or synthetic substances.

? Cyberspace Jam. U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins allows the next generation of portable sound recorders to reach consumers. Collins OKs the release of the hand-held Diamond MP3 player–a $200 device that can store up to an hour of digital music downloaded from the Internet. Recording companies gripe about piracy, but Collins considers the MP3 similar to a cassette player and makes Diamond rather than individual consumers responsible for paying royalties to copyright holders.


? Gumbo Gunners. New Orleans becomes the first major American city to sue gun makers for producing "unsafe" devices under product-liability law. (See "Smoking Guns," July.) The powerful Castano group, a nationwide alliance of trial lawyers who have brought multimillion-dollar suits against asbestos makers and tobacco companies, will handle the Big Easy's legal work.

? Teen Labors. A report by the prestigious National Research Council calls for new regulations on kids younger than 18 who work. The group says high schoolers who work at least 15 hours a week are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those teens who don't have jobs. The report also takes a swipe at consumerism, saying many teens don't "need" to work since they spend their earnings on CDs and sneakers rather than "necessities."

? Net Loss. White House Internet guru Ira Magaziner resigns from the administration. The departure of Magaziner, who attacked encryption regulations and Internet taxes, clears a path V for Al Gore's technocrats to dominate Beltway cyberspace policies.

? Slammer Dance. The United States has 1.7 million persons behind bars, the highest total of any nation. And the prison population has quadrupled over the past quarter century. Around one-fourth of prisoners are serving time for drug offenses, up from 9 percent in 1986.