Although most people know little about the Fund or the Bank, a coalition of liberal and conservative House members has begun to protest the rubber-stamp appropriations through which the U.S. pumps billions of dollars a year into both institutions. As one condition for passing the appropriations in 1998, Congress set up a bipartisan commission to look into their operations. That report, issued last week, ought to provide plenty of fodder for demonstrators next month.
Issued by an 11-member panelthe International Financial Institution Advisory Commissionthe report unanimously called for the cancellation of the poorest countries' debts. It was belated vindication for those who have long argued that impoverished countries can't possibly pay their accumulated debts. In sub-Saharan Africa, many nations spend more on debt service than for health care and education. In addition to debt forgiveness, the majority of the commission called for downsizing the Bank and the Fund.
Hiding in President Clinton's new budget are certain unnoticed items that could launch entirely new directions of government activity costing billions. Unearthed by Congressional Quarterly, the first is a proposal to give the FBI $5 million to collect and analyze DNA samples from federal prisoners, a measure that opens the doorwithout any statutory authorityto unprecedented intrusions of privacy in the field of medicine and ethics. A program that starts with prisoners can morph into one that samples the DNA of everyone with a driver's license and eventually of everyone with a Social Security number. Genetic information of this sort could be used to deny people medical helpbased on genetic history and likelihood of long-term survival.
Another measure would get NASA into the phone business. It would provide the much-criticized space agency $20 million to study effects of the sun on earth. The agency is concerned that solar eruptions could disrupt the power grid as well as cell-phone traffic. The proposal would begin the process of moving NASA into areas of pure research and involve it in power and power operations.
Bolognas Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, whose views often reflect the thinking of the pope and who is believed to be in line to replace him, has announced that the Antichrist is alive on earth. According to Biffi, the Beast masquerades behind a "fascinating personality," espousing vegetarianism, pacifism, human rights, and environmentalism.