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Have Some Compassion
Lights Out
Blackout on Serbia Damage
Calling All Spies
Through the looking Glass
Cover Your White Ass


Have Some Compassion
Clinton Runs Rings Around Gore

With Clinton usurping Gore's role as candidate, the latter's humiliation seems complete. Last week, the president, stealing a page from the "inventor of the Internet," even claimed that he, not George W., had invented the term compassionate conservative.

Discussing Bush's "rhetoric of compassionate conservatism" on the left coast leg of his nationwide "poverty tour," Clinton told the L.A. Times that "half those speeches sounded like I gave them in '92." The president added that he finds Bush's lingo "very flattering in a way" because it "replicates the rhetoric" of his own themes.

Since Reagan, of course, the conservative movement, whose basic thrust has been to end what's left of New Deal social welfare, has been seeking new palliatives in hopes the electorate won't see them as a complete bunch of bastards. They've been fine-tuning "compassionate conservatism" at places like the Heritage Foundation for years. While Clinton was still goofing around in Little Rock, the Republicans had compassionate conservatives playing big-time politics— chief among them Reagan himself, and Jack Kemp, who's been doing the bit for years. Clinton's New Democrats are pale copies, though it's certainly true that the only thing Clinton offered the poor on his trips to the other side of the tracks was compassion— not money.

At the same time, Hillary trooped around New York State on her hysterical "listening tour." Starting on Wednesday, at the Moynihan farm, she was repeatedly trotted out before fawning audiences from Rome to Syracuse to Albany, even coming onstage between acts at a presentation of Gypsy in the state capital, after doing a shameless 180 on Israel in an attempt to ingratiate herself with New York's key bloc of Jewish voters.

Meanwhile, Dubya drifted about in a dreamlike swirl, dropping out of the blue into the minority journalists' conference in Seattle, bobbing and weaving and dodging every weak jab coming his way, including the requisite inquiry into his questionable military record. In 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the 21-year-old Bush sought to get into the Texas Air National Guard. He had no flying experience, but no matter. Dad was a congressman, and citing his work as a ranch hand, oil field "roustabout," and sporting-goods salesman, he got in— and he became a poster boy. A 1970 Guard release featured the high-flying Dubya as "one member of our younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot or hashish or speed. Oh he gets high all right, but not from narcotics," it said. "Fighters are it," Bush was quoted as saying. "I've always wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I wouldn't want to fly anything else."

The minutiae of Dubya's stewardship in Texas will seem mind-boggling to people who don't live there. Last week, the Austin Chronicle reported that Bush may have been at the heart of a scheme to wring campaign contributions from the funeral industry. At issue was whether mortuary mogul Robert Waltrips's giant Service Corporation International could subcontract the embalming of corpses, thereby allegedly making additional profits. The company is at the heart of a whistleblower suit in which a former member of the Texas Funeral Service Commission alleges Bush and other politicos worked to thwart an investigation into the operations of improperly licensed embalmers.


Lights Out
Rudy Runs Against Con Ed

Last week's blackouts in Manhattan were just the tip of a problem that threatens the nation's entire electrical system.

Giuliani's rants against Con Edison (run, Rudy, run), followed by his announcement of the city's suit against Con Edison, could, in fact, help expose the rot affecting the country's power grid. The reason: Throughout the '90s the U.S. has been gradually deregulating the electric- utility industry. This has allowed power companies to combine with other firms and move into a variety of businesses, in the process transforming the industry into a market-driven machine or, more precisely, giving it the appearance of one. For it remains a hodgepodge industry, with some parts modern, some antique.

This means two things. First, in a quasi-free market electricity producers can only stay in business if prices are high enough to realize a profit. The best way to assure profits is to decrease reserve capacity, so that, in a period of intense demand, prices rise sharply, as they did last year, from $25 per megawatt hour to over $1000. Second, explains Jim Dushaw, director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' utility department, although theoretically the system is free market, it can't operate that way because the lines that carry the juice aren't really an interconnected system. "There is no national grid as such," Dushaw says. That means large blocks of electricity can flow only over certain lines. Huge amounts of power pouring into the East from the Great Plains, for example, can overwhelm smaller eastern utilities.

The upshot of the volatile market maneuverings now taking place will be to saddle consumers with the cost. What happened in Manhattan last week will surely be repeated, but in the future it will be much worse.

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