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A FEW NON-LEWINSKY NEWS ITEMS TO PONDER

As our long national nightmare continues (it seems to be getting more and more like the movie "Groundhog Day"), I thought you might be interested in a few items that may well have slipped right by you:

The ever-valuable Charlie Peters of the Washington Monthly points out the following proviso in the multistate tobacco settlement: Even though the agreement is supposed to be between the states and the companies, it actually has the effect of limiting anti-tobacco options for the federal government. If the feds decide to increase tobacco taxes to dissuade smokers, whatever portion of the revenue from the tax that goes to the states will reduce by the same amount the payments that the agreement requires the companies to pay the states.

From the Associated Press, a reason not to get your hopes up about the Patient's Bill of Rights, even though Clinton got a big hand from both sides when he proposed it again in the State of the Union address: In the first half of last year, the Patient's Bill of Rights inspired lobbyists to open their wallets wide. Lobbying groups with a stake in the issue contributed $74 million to congressional candidates. Unfortunately, $60 million of that came from groups opposed to the bill of rights.

Many of our dimmer pols are still struggling with the fact that the Cold War is over, but according to the New York Times, the so-called Washington consensus -- that more open markets, freer trade and larger international capital flows are good for all -- is at an end as well.

Washington, naturally, is clueless about this, but in Europe, it is considered a given that the consensus does not work. It has thrown 20 million Asians back into poverty during the last year, made 40 percent of Russians poorer than ever and produced growing unemployment in Brazil -- a country already wracked by some of the greatest disparities between rich and poor in the world.

Calls for new governance of the world economy and new mechanisms to correct its faults are common everywhere but here. According to the Times report, we are in a time of "unusual intellectual flux, one comparable to the post-1945 era in its quest for some overarching design for equitable development. Just as the development of the New Deal and the European welfare state rescued industrial capitalism from its interwar collapse, so a similar and equally critical quest has now begun at a global level for cushions to the harsher effects of electronic capitalism."

We could be playing a major role in these exciting doings, but we're busy with more important things, such as whether Monica Lewinsky should tell the Senate about her thong underwear in person.

I have been following the unfolding scandal concerning the International Olympic Committee and its money-grubbing ways with an odd combination of I-told-you-so (and I did) and disgust that it has taken the establishment media this long to stumble onto such an obvious story.

The IOC has been headed for 18 years by that horrid old Spanish fascist Juan Antonio Samaranch. (And "fascist" is not a word I toss around lightly. That is exactly what he is -- an old ally of Francisco Franco's.) The Times just reported, "There is growing evidence that Mr. Samaranch was aware of improprieties in the bidding process." Duh.

This story has been lying on the ground waiting for someone to pick it up for years. All the work had already been done by The Nation and other progressive outlets, but year after year, we have continued to listen to inane sports commentators burble on about the beauty of the "Olympic spirit."

I don't think this is just a sports scandal -- I think it's a media scandal that we managed to overlook the obvious for so long. Among the other unpleasant consequences of our dereliction of journalistic duty, the rot may now be so deep that it will irreparably damage the Olympics, which would be a shame.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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