Lance Armstrong will attempt to add to his record of six consecutive victories in the Tour de France, which begins today. Win or lose, the race will be Armstrong's last—he announced in April that he'll retire afterward. Debate about his legacy is already under way. Europeans say that without victories in Spain's and Italy's Grand Tours to match his French titles, Armstrong hasn't bested the Belgian Eddy Merckx and other biking legends. (Of course, they would say that.)
NASA's Deep Impact space probe—which shares its name with a 1998 film about an asteroid that nearly destroys Earth—fires an 820-pound "impactor" today that will travel at 22,817 miles per hour into the Tempel-1 comet to collect scientific data. The blast is expected to produce a crater two to fourteen stories deep, at least the size of a house and perhaps as big as a football stadium. The resulting plume of rubble should be visible from Earth by telescope. In a patriotic flourish, NASA scheduled the event for Independence Day.
World leaders retreat to rural Scotland today for their annual economic summit. Tony Blair, this year's G8 president, has resolved to cudgel donor nations into following through on earlier pledges to halve world poverty. He has outlined a deal that would double aid to Africa, to $50 billion a year; cancel the poorest nations' debts; eliminate subsidies that allow richer countries to compete with African products; and coax donors to commit 0.7 percent of their gross national product to aid programs. As usual, the United States (which gives 0.15 percent of its GNP) has its own, separate development program; and as usual, so does France—one likely to annoy Americans. President Jacques Chirac would establish international taxes on air travel, capital flows, greenhouse-gas emissions, credit cards, and multinational corporations.
Sage, Ink: "If the Pants Fit"
(July 22, 2004)
A cartoon by Sage Stossel.
Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton's national-security adviser, faces sentencing today after pleading guilty in April to removing classified documents from the National Archives last year and destroying them. Berger, who was doing research as the Clinton administration's liaison to the September 11 commission, says the crime was a simple case of fatigue and bad judgment; a Department of Justice inquiry cleared him of any cover-up attempt. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, but Berger, under a plea deal, is likely to pay only $10,000; he will probably be eligible to have his security clearance reinstated in three years. Early speculation about the crime focused on Berger's socks, though he later confessed that some of the purloined papers were stuffed in his jacket and pants.
A group impaneled by President Bush must unveil its recommendations by today for reforming the federal tax code, which numbers more than 60,000 pages and by some estimates costs Americans 6.6 billion hours and $140 billion in prep time every year. Headed by the flat-tax advocate and former senator Connie Mack, the panel looked closely at consumption taxes (a federal value-added or sales tax) and a flat tax on income. Most advisers to the panel, including Alan Greenspan, favor a hybrid system, one that would continue the administration's quiet effort to exempt all savings and investment from taxation. (Scrapping the progressive income tax and popular exemptions all at once is considered politically unfeasible.) Congress will deliberate on the recommendations in the fall at the earliest, with action expected next year.
Today Al Gore launches Current, a cable-TV network that the former vice president says will "empower" eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-olds "to engage in the dialogue of democracy and to tell the stories of their lives using the dominant medium of their time." That means it will show popular Google searches every half hour, interspersed with a stream of "pods"—MTV-style segments tailored to short attention spans, many of which will be submitted by viewers over the Internet (which, to be fair, Gore never actually claimed to have invented). Initially, Current will be capable of reach-ing about 20 million viewers.
Today the Gaza Strip's roughly 8,500 Israeli settlers pack up synagogues, cemeteries, and personal belongings and decamp for new homes several miles away, within Israel's 1967 borders. If Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians cooperate in the move, the houses may be left for them; otherwise they'll be razed. Each Israeli family will receive $200,000 to $500,000 in compensation. It is hoped that the settlers will leave peacefully, but one poll suggested that 74 percent will resist passively, and 11 percent with force. Israeli army and police forces will be on hand to remove settlers who resist.