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WASHINGTON INSIGHT

From The Times Washington Bureau

GENDER BIAS: With little fanfare, Clinton Administration lawyers have argued for the first time that gender discrimination should stand on the same legal plane as racial bias--an argument somewhat different from the findings of the Supreme Court. While the court almost always holds that racial bias is unconstitutional, discrimination based on gender is allowed more often. For example, women are barred from combat in the military. The Justice Department made its argument in a pending high court case involving the all-male Virginia Military Institute. “Sex, like race, is an immutable and highly visible characteristic that frequently bears no relation to the ability to perform,” U.S. Solicitor General Drew S. Days III says in his brief. For that reason, the court should adopt the highest standard of scrutiny against gender bias, he said.

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SUCH A DEAL: The Republican “revolution” may be chugging along, but the wisdom of its maximum leader is losing a bit of steam. HarperCollins has asked bookstores to cut the price of House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s book “To Renew America” from $24 to $15 and is offering to credit retailers $5 for every copy sold at the lower price. The book, in its sixth printing, was on the New York Times bestseller list for 12 weeks. But that was then.

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NO JUNKETS: Congressional staff members have a rich tradition of maneuvering themselves onto desirable overseas trips. So maybe it was only natural that during planning for President Clinton’s trip to Ireland, the congressional veteran who is now White House chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, would screen the passenger list, looking especially for White House workers with Irish names who might have little official purpose in making the journey to old sod.

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FBI BACKLOG: At a time when the FBI is drawing criticism over its conduct during standoffs near Waco, Tex., and at Ruby Ridge, Ida., Americans apparently are more curious than ever about its inner workings. As of September, the FBI had a backlog of more than 14,700 requests for records on individuals, companies and organizations that it may have investigated, correspondence from members of Congress or any other matters that can be publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. FBI officials estimate that 200 bureau workers assigned full time to the process will have to review at least 5.3 million pages of documents, and that “delays in excess of two years are not uncommon.”

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SAUDI JUSTICE: After the bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed five Americans earlier this month, Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told reporters in Riyadh that once authorities capture those responsible, their trial and punishment would be swift and decisive. “This is not going to be an O.J. Simpson kind of trial,” he said.

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SPEED DIAL: Talk radio is thought of as a populist forum. But there’s nothing populist about the price an enterprising Washington business is charging to boil down the best of talk radio each week. American Talk Radio Monitor launches a weekly newsletter on Dec. 13, with such features as “who’s catching the most flak?; campaign convolutions; calls of the week,” and for Rush Limbaugh aficionados, “a special section devoted to the Big Guy.” So for those of you who can’t get enough on-air buzz, a cool $265 a year will bring you G. Gordon Liddy, Mario M. Cuomo, Beverly LaHaye, Michael Reagan and others, in concentrate.


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