Choosing Politics Over Policy

Can the faltering Medicare system be saved? Probably not this year. The reason is politics. Democrats privately admit they don't want a Medicare deal because it would deprive them of a powerful campaign issue--especially in House races, where they are just six seats from recapturing the chamber. "My House colleagues want their chairmanships back," said a senior Democratic senator. "They can taste it." Democratic Sen. John Breaux, the co-chairman of a bipartisan Medicare-reform commission that ended in deadlock last week, acknowledged that many Dems "want a good issue, not good policy."

And good policy is what is needed. Even though the government is running a surplus, Medicare is expected to run out of money in about a decade, just as the first of the baby boomers turn 65. Breaux and leading Republicans have said they will continue to push for reform, and Bill Clinton has vowed to come up with a plan of his own. But whatever Clinton proposes will present a sticky problem for Al Gore. To be fiscally realistic, any plan must embrace the controversial "managed competition" that was central to Breaux's failed effort. To appeal to the interest groups he needs for campaign 2000, it will have to offer costly benefits such as prescription drugs that are currently not covered. "Either way, Gore's in a bind," says a GOP pol.

RUDOLPHStill Out There

Although FBI director Louis Freeh said last week he might downsize the 14-month-old search for Eric Rudolph, most investigators think the alleged abortion-clinic and Atlanta Olympics bomber remains alive, well and where he's always been--in the mountains of western North Carolina. One reason to think he's still out there: a half-dozen area break-ins over the winter in which the burglar, NEWSWEEK has learned, stole only food, underwear, toilet paper, snake-bite kits and men's boots. In two cases, says a lawman, "it looks like all he did inside was shave."

AIR SAFETYTrouble for a Troublemaker?

The federal aviation Administration has frequently drawn fire from outspoken air-safety advocate Mary Schiavo. Now the FAA has Schiavo in its sights. The FAA has been joined by the FBI in investigating whether the former Transportation Department inspector general violated any laws or regulations when she checked luggage containing mock bomb parts at the Columbus, Ohio, airport on March 12 to test security procedures. Airport officials closed one runway for four hours after security personnel called the local bomb squad to examine a suitcase Schiavo had packed with suspicious-looking but harmless objects, including wiring and slabs of modeling clay. She checked the bag onto a flight she did not intend to board as part of a security test that was being conducted by a local NBC-TV station. The station says it informed a top airport official about the test--and Schiavo's bag--hours before airport police began closing parts of the terminal and runway. But the airport police chief says no one told him about Schiavo's suitcase. The airport official declined to comment. Says Schiavo: "We did absolutely nothing wrong."

COLLEGEFirst Calculus, Then Cookies

The storyline helped make "Real Genius" a cult classic: brilliant youngster goes to college, aces exams but sinks socially. The culture clash can be avoided, though, at the smattering of schools offering special programs for "younger scholars." Cal State-Los Angeles this year enrolled 87 Doogies-in-training, one as young as 11. They attend regular classes, but with an organized group of their peers. What about raucous dorm life? Relax. They go home to Mom and Dad each night.

FLAPSFrango Fracas

Frango mints, the addictive chocolates in the dark green box, have been a Chicago institution since Marshall Field's began making them at its flagship State Street department store 70 years ago. Now Field's parent, Dayton Hudson, has farmed out Frango production to a confectioner in Dunmore, Pa.--despite a media uproar and a Chicago-style civics lesson designed to save 157 Frango-makers' jobs. Soon after the announcement, city commissioners delayed considering a routine zoning variance for one of Dayton Hudson's Target stores. Last week, after a personal appeal to store president Dan Skoda, Mayor Richard Daley berated the company, saying "they didn't have the common courtesy" to try to work out a deal. Dayton Hudson, blaming aging equipment and increased demand for the switch, says its decision is final.

THE BUZZUp the Creek-And Loving It!

Teen culture, lately the culture, stems mostly from the WB and particularly from "Dawson's Creek." Its ethos defines modern teenhood, and its stars drive all those new teen flicks. What do the kids have to say about it? The buzz on the Creek:

Dawson's Chic
The show hawks new CDs each week in a quest for teen dollars: force-fed culture.

Keeping It Real
The emotions and scenarios ring dead-on with teens, but ...

The Dialogue's Fake
Teens think deep thoughts, but they don't talk like Yuppies. Or look 30.

Pacey's Creek
"Varsity Blues" aside, Dawson's no star-he's too "girly," sources say. Teen gals love Pacey (Joshua Jackson, shown) cuz he's cuter and cooler.

Creek Out
The Creek's handled its gay character deftly. He struggles with his sexuality, not just with coming out.

BASEBALLA Sorry Spring

Joltin' Joe's gone away. Yankee skipper Joe Torre has cancer. After 1998's comeback, this baseball season is slumping before it's even begun. Last week's beanballs:

With Houston star Moises Alou out for the season, Cubs' wunderkind Kerry Wood learns his overworked arm won't heal until next century; later pleads guilty to urinating on a wall.

After he admitted he fabricated experience in 'Nam and sought counseling, Toronto fires manager Tim Johnson anyway.

Et tu, Sammy Sosa? Caught up in the exhibition home-run race (below), the Cubs' sweetie riles pitcher by taking a post-dinger bow--twice. Says opponent: "He looked like a [expletive] bullfighter out there."

BIG DEALPlaying Gotcha With Gucci

Stalled by the Asian crisis, luxury-goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton now plans to expand into America. Step one: acquire rival Gucci. But last week LVMH's "creeping" takeover bid came to a head. Says one analyst: "Probably, it's war."

Gucci's value if the LVMH bid succeeds $7,400,000,000

MARKETINGBreaking Away From the Packs

Auto racing, the final refuge of big-tobacco sponsorship: brand names get plastered on cars and events, e.g., NASCAR's Winston Cup. But the March 21 CART Marlboro Grand Prix saw an enemy's first inroads into tobacco's last stronghold. SmithKline Beecham debuted the NicoDerm CQ-Nicorette Ford, becoming the lone anti-smoking sponsor in a world of Kools and such. The move makes sense: tons of race fans smoke, so the patch and the gum reach their target market.

Team NicoDerm driver Dennis Vitolo quit smoking when he started racing: to pull three or four g's each turn for hundreds of laps, drivers must be in shape. Vitolo doesn't expect friction from tobacco-sponsored cars, maybe just a "friendly rivalry."

FOODThe Toque of the Town

Some people enjoy cooking. Others prefer to watch people cook on television. with this latter group in mind, peri put questions to a few of our Food Network favorites, seeking out the personalities behind those scrumptious-looking meals. Bon appetit!

Worst Cooking Disaster: At an Aspen dinner party, the high altitude made a cake blow up.
Guilty Pleasure: Popeye's fried chicken.
Comfort Food: Chicken soup and salt-cod cakes.
Favorite Spice: Pepper.
What New Cooking Trend Do You Hate? "Stick cuisine."

Comfort Food: "Firepot, a family-style meal. You cook at the table using a cauldron of bouillon. At the end, you drink the broth together."
Favorite Spices: Thai bird chiles, ginger and lemongrass.

What New Cooking Trend Do You Hate? "I'm tired of finding sweet ingredients in all my savory food in restaurants. My entree shouldn't taste like a dessert!"
Guilty Pleasure: Peanut M&M's.
Favorite Spice: Cumin.
Favorite Herb: Rosemary.

Worst cooking disaster: "My lobster-and-duck paella with saffron got panned by my friends and the food critics."
Guilty Pleasure: Hagen-Dazs, Dulce de Leche flavor.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOMStrangers in the Night Edition
The CW doesn't have a clue whether Hillary is going to run 

for New York senator--but then, according to his press con-

ference, neither does Bill. Guess there's no pillow talk there.


Clinton       +   Says he and Hillary moving to NYC after 

                  WH. Doesn't he know Studio 54 is over?

Gore - OK, he didn't create the Net. But Trent Lott is still reading "Paper Clips for Dummies."

Kosovo - Bombing seems inevitable. But what's the endgame? All options bad.

Wall St. = Flirts with 10,000 all week but doesn't put out. More bull!

Balloonists + Breitling team goes around the world in 19 days. Bonus: This grounds Branson.

O.J. - Does TV ads for cheesy lawyers. Coming soon: Infomercial for Ginsu knives.