Passing the Bucks

Fund-Loving President's Fond 'Give Backs'

Just when it seemed that he might be fading away, Clinton was back in action last week— raising money.

"I'm having a great time!" the president exclaimed in Texas on Friday following his return from a mea culpa trip to Central America. "I can go to fundraisers like this, and none of them are for me," he added at a gathering for Congressman Max Sandlin. "I love the idea that, if I can stay healthy, I can spend quite a few years trying to give back to this political system and the candidates and the people that I believe in who have given me so much."

Earlier that day Clinton had visited his boyhood home in Hope, Arkansas, after the state legislature refused to put up the money to make it a museum. In Washington, his authority continued to wane.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans had defeated an attempt to pass the next funding installment on his proposal to hire 100,000 new teachers, and also rejected amendments to expand after-school programs.

This came amid Republican calls for the resignation of national security adviser Sandy Berger in the Los Alamos scandal and demands for hearings on Chinagate. About the only bright prospects for Clinton seemed to be the ominous silence of the Internet scandal machine.


Foreign Uh . . . fairs
White House Beset by World of Troubles

Weakened at home by scandals that won't die, the president finds himself facing a growing list of flash points abroad. Since Clinton's missile attacks on Baghdad on the day the House impeached him, the U.S. has been caught up in a low-level air war with Iraq— in an area that could become even more destabilized with Turkey's harsh repression of the Kurds.

Other trouble spots include Kosovo, China, North Korea, and Haiti.

On Kosovo, after barely surviving a no- confidence vote last week on use of U.S. troops in a NATO ground force, Clinton must support action to separate Slobodan Milosevic's brutal police from Albanian irregulars.

However, even if the NATO action leads to an independent Kosovo, as seems likely, it would be a mixed blessing for the U.S, since ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and elsewhere in the southern Balkans are likely to join the fledgling state and eventually link up with Albania, which could emerge as a troubling force. One plus: an independent Kosovo would put pressure on the reeling Milosevic.

On China, the administration faces the imminent release of what is being characterized as a devastating report by Congressman Chris Cox, dealing with secret diplomacy. Sources say the report will show the U.S. to have been consistently duped by the Chinese, and will allege that recent activities have led to thefts of crucial nuclear technology.

On North Korea, with administration policy under attack as weak and ineffective, Clinton must decide whether to continue to deal with Kim Jong Il's gangster regime. Millions have starved to death as aid has gone to maintain the lavish lifestyles of North Korea's leaders, as they pursue development of chemical and biological warfare and nuclear armaments.

On Haiti, administration policy has been undercut by General Charles Wilhelm, commander of U.S. troops in Latin America and the Caribbean, who last week told Congress in secret testimony that the deployment of a small U.S. ground force there should be "terminated" and replaced by periodic visits. Restoring Aristide to power and establishing the beginnings of democratic government in Haiti had been one of the few foreign policy feathers in the administration's cap. But recently President Rene Preval dissolved parliament, and has been ruling by decree. The country is destitute, and once again rickety boatloads of refugees are setting sail on perilous voyages to Florida.

Under another president, Wilhelm would have been handed his walking papers. But with Clinton swaying in the wind, the military clearly is seeing how far it can go.


Blood and Gore
Possible Transfusions for Pale Pretender

For the lifeless Al Gore, who is increasingly in charge of the lame-duck administration, the first trick is to avoid being tarred with Clinton's policies. So far, at least, he and the president have steered clear of any Justice Department probes into campaign activities relating to Chinese money. On Monday— no surprise— Gore received Richard Gephardt's ringing endorsement.

A big plus for Gore would, of course, be a fresh and independent running mate. So last week, as George W. Bush gallantly welcomed Liddy Dole into the Republican race last week (where she seems likely to end up as his VP candidate), Democrats began sorting through veep prospects for Al.

Although it's possible Gore might pick a woman (Dianne Feinstein is being mentioned), he'll probably go for a macho man who could help win back young males. Best bet looks like Bill Bradley, the ex-NBA star and former senator of substance from the key state of New Jersey.

"Clean. Tall. Celebrity. Youthful," was pollster John Zogby's quick response when asked about Bradley's assets— noting, however, that to defeat a Bush-Dole ticket with strong appeal to Hispanics and women, Gore might have to pick a woman.

Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute, pointing out that "Bradley has been careful not to run against Gore," sees such a pairing as a possibility. However, he thinks Gore-Feinstein would be a stronger ticket.

Consultant Tom Kiley of Boston, who worked for Michael Dukakis in 1988, recalled that Dukakis tried to woo Bradley as his VP candidate, but Bradley "couldn't be talked into it." Since Gore is more conservative than Clinton, Kiley thinks he'll have to pick someone from the liberal wing of the party— like Massachusetts senator John Kerry, whom Kiley represents.

New York consultant Hank Sheinkopf sees the Midwest as key in 2000. He likes Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio populist, and mentions Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. Problem: young Bayh is even stiffer than Gore.

Footnote: A deciding factor in Gore's choice will be labor, since it can muster the foot soldiers and turn out the vote in what looks to be a tight race. However, the vice president must do something to repair his rift with unions over NAFTA. So if Gore doesn't go for Bradley, look for him to perhaps choose someone from a key labor state.


Fat Cat Democrats Feast
After Sellout on Social Security

With Democrats giddy at the prospect of regaining power in 2000, the smell of money pervades Capitol Hill these days. The only thing standing in the way is money— tons of it.

At the beginning of March, Democratic members of both houses joined Clinton and Gore for a rally at the Library of Congress, where they celebrated "The 1999 Democratic Agenda: Families First," proclaimed a pablum of catch-phrases, such as "quality education" and "the patients' bill of rights," and promised to "save Social Security and Medicare and pay down the debt."

Buried in the small print, however, was the party's true position on Social Security: "Allow the trust fund to invest about one-fifth of the transferred surpluses in the private sector to achieve higher returns for Social Security just as any state or local government or private pension does." Thus, without any debate, and no discussion of any sort, the Democrats endorsed the right-wing Republicans' long-term goal of beginning to privatize Social Security.

At the end of the pep session, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle banged down the gavel. "All in favor say aye!" he declaimed. "Aye!" roared the Democrats without a croak of dissent.

A few days later, on March 10, party members gathered for the payoff— in the form of the annual Democratic Campaign Committee dinner at the Marriott Wardman Hotel, at which they raised $3 million. They gorged on mignonettes of beef, seared baby lamb chops, and wild mushroom tarts, and listened raptly as campaign committee chairman Patrick Kennedy declared, according to a Congress member who attended, "America's business is the business of America"— a pathetic riff on "Engine" Charlie Wilson's famous Eisenhower-era statement that "What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country."

The event was hosted by the Securities Industry Association, the Investment Company Institute, and a blue-chip list of American corporations, ranging from Morgan Stanley to MCI WorldCom to Citigroup.


Profiting From Pollution
Exxon Makes Millions on Award Appeals

March 24 marks the 10th anniversary of the humongous Exxon Valdez oil spill in which 11 million gallons of oil were dumped along 1500 miles of pristine Alaskan shoreline (some activists claim the spill was 38 million gallons).

In 1994, 34,000 native Alaskans, commercial fishermen, land owners, and business owners were awarded $5.2 billion in punitive damages. However, the oil giant is appealing the verdict.

Since the spill, Exxon— which now is seeking to merge with Mobil— has led the industry in profits, averaging $8.5 billion a year. By putting off payment on the Alaska spill, it earns another $20 million every day.


Play It Again, Conrad

Growing, as he later would say, "too emotionally involved," Montana's right-wing senator Conrad Burns totally lost it at a February 17 meeting of the state's Equipment Dealers Association, where he opined that the U.S. was too dependent on Mideast oil producers, whom the senator called "ragheads." Although he quickly apologized, the remark brought to mind another Burnsian "slip of the tongue."

In 1994, the senator recalled to an editor at the Bozeman Choniclehis witty rejoinder when asked by a constituent how he could live in Washington, D.C., with all its African Americans. Burns reflected that he told the old rancher it was "a hell of a challenge."

Burns, now in his second term, has had a populist following of sorts in Montana, partly because of his strict and principled adherence to term limits. Recently, however, he announced that he's ready to serve a third term.

Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu

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