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"As Woody Allen said in Bananas, `It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham."'

--Representative Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) after the House Republican leadership killed the campaign-finance reform billEDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

O.K., GREENSPAN, YOU WIN

ALAN GREENSPAN MAY NOT WALK the halls of the Federal Reserve telling his fellow central bankers, "I told you so." But they are gradually accepting the Fed chairman's view that productivity gains really are taming inflation.

Up to now, other Fed policymakers did not fully share Greenspan's belief that heavy corporate spending on computers and other technology was fueling a productivity boom. Vice-Chair Alice Rivlin, for one, said last year that she remained puzzled why robust growth had not triggered a rise in inflation. But in March, Rivlin said she's more confident that productivity is key. And Fed Governor Laurence Meyer, one of the leading skeptics, recently told some outside economists that his estimate for long-term productivity growth is now 1.4%, not 1.1%. Fed Governor Edward Gramlich is also known to have raised his estimates.

The central bank's growing optimism about productivity could give the Fed the resolve to hold off firing a preemptive strike against inflation, says Fed-watcher James Annable, chief economist for First Chicago NBD. Now, the Fed may wait until prices rise before raising rates.Dean FoustReturn to top

PHARMAFOODS: BEST MEDICINE I EVER ATE

THEY MAY TURN OUT TO BE the ultimate health foods. They're pharmafoods, or nutriceuticals--everyday grub that has been chemically or genetically engineered to fight specific health problems. Cleveland researcher Freedonia Group says the market for health-food additives and pharmafoods may be $2.5 billion in 2001.

Monsanto, for one, is developing a cholesterol-lowering corn sugar and a strain of rice that provides insulin. They aren't expected to be ready before 2000. But Nestle already makes a yogurt in Europe, Yacult, that supposedly boosts the immune system.

Finland's Raisio Group has hooked up with McNeil Consumer Products to launch a cholesterol-cutting margarine called Benecol in the U.S. this fall. Benecol, now on sale in Europe, was developed from a byproduct of pulp paper production. Sound unpalatable? Maybe. But analysts are salivating over its prospects. After its U.S. launch, global sales could hit $400 million.

There may be regulatory problems, however. Direct claims of health benefits will require an O.K. from the Food & Drug Administration. Benecol still does not have a firm U.S. marketing strategy. But ultimately, pharmafoods could be a way to have our cake and eat healthfully, too.William EchiksonReturn to top

RED TAPE AND ROBBERS AT THE MINIMART

EVERY YEAR, DOZENS OF EMPLOYEES lose their lives during robberies at retail outlets. So asking for pumped-up security measures at convenience stores seems like a no-brainer.

It's not. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration wants to set voluntary guidelines this month, which would ask for bulletproof glass and two clerks on late-night shifts in convenience stores. Bitterly opposing the rules is the convenience store industry, which says OSHA is unfairly singling it out.

So why the flap over something voluntary? Says crime consultant Rosemary Erickson of San Diego: "If these guidelines go through, they could also be enforced under existing regulations, and we are concerned about the litigation factor." In other words, the industry fears "voluntary" will end up meaning "mandatory."

Southland, the owner of 7-Eleven Stores, says it has managed to reduce robberies 64% in the past 20 years without OSHA's interference. So expect a regulatory shoot-out when OSHA issues final guidelines later this month. The industry says it may then take the fight to Congress.Dennis BlankReturn to top


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