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"When your mother is on the Titanic and it's sinking, you're not preoccupied with trying to find a way to get more passengers on board."---Senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), on President Clinton's plan to expand MedicareEDITED BY LARRY LIGHT & ROBERT McNATTReturn to top


AMERICA ONLINE IS IN A NEW fracas with state attorneys general, this time over allegedly deceptive sales practices. At issue is its latest promotion, promising 50 free hours. The AGs say AOL's pitch is misleading since it doesn't make clear you have to use the 50 hours within one month of signing up. After that, you lose it. Plus, they say, accepting free time means you unwittingly signed up for AOL at $19.95 monthly.

A committee of prosecutors from 47 states, led by Deborah Hagan of the Illinois Attorney General's Office, has been meeting with AOL reps in Chicago on the issue. A settlement could affect many of the 2 million who first subscribed in 1997.

AOL says its sales material is clear and contends that it always refunds fees if customers complain. Should the negotiations not work out, the AGs say they will sue. AOL lawyer George Vradenburg III calls such threats a bargaining stance and says talks are progressing.

AOL's two previous run-ins with state AGs resulted in $24 million in refunds. The most recent stemmed from busy signals subscribers got because AOL couldn't handle fresh business brought on by flat rates.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT & ROBERT McNATT Roy FurchgottReturn to top


PIANO MAN BILLY JOEL IS NOT only a big-shot musician, he's also a cautious enough businessman to use the registered trademark symbol next to his name in record-club catalogs. Although many top acts have trademarked names, few place the mark in print next to their monikers. Some find it overly commercial or just plain tacky.

Not Joel. For the longest time, celebs have groused about hawkers of unlicensed T-shirts and souvenirs. Joel claims he once lost big bucks in a management dispute. But with the added trademark protection, he can take on the hucksters of knockoff merchandise when he kicks off a tour this month. His lawyer, Meyer Gross, said the entertainer can now seek damages from trademark violators from the time the infractions began, instead of when they were notified of the violation.

So who's next to go public with the celeb trademark? According to Gross, it might be one of his other superstar clients--singer Mariah Carey.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT & ROBERT McNATT Roy FurchgottReturn to top


TOLEDO IS UP IN ARMS THESE days over soybeans. Thanks in part to futures traders, 50 million bushels are shipped through the Lake Erie port city every year. But plans are afoot to cut Toledo out of the soybean loop. For Toledoans, the humble legume is more a matter of civic pride than money.

The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wants to end making deliveries on soybean futures contracts in Toledo. Most contracts are traded without real soybeans being delivered; they're primarily used as a hedge against price changes. But with up to 2% of the contracts, food processors, exporters, and others actually buy the beans, which are delivered to them in several Midwest cities, including Toledo. However, the CBOT's regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), has ordered the CBOT to make delivery more efficient. So the CBOT wants Toledo, far east of the Soybean Belt, dropped in favor of ports along the Illinois River.

Toledo without soybeans? Ohio politicians screamed bloody murder. And to the CBOT's dismay, the CFTC now wants Toledo back in the soybean pipeline. Both sides are busy hashing out a compromise, but meanwhile, the betting is that Toledo's protests probably won't amount to a hill of...well, you know.Andrew Osterland EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT & ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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