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"You can choose either kidney. Buyer pays all transplant and medical costs. Of course only one for sale, as I need the other to live." -- "hchero," who attempted to auction his own kidney on the eBay Web siteEdited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

It's hard to get warm and fuzzy about the unsavory realm of bill collecting. But a new program funded by Illinois Power and the state of Illinois has pumped some do-good vibes into the way low-income customers pay off their debts. Now, that program is looking to go national.

A Hand Up, based in Decatur, Ill., allows customers to pay off overdue bills by volunteering at one of 85 local nonprofit outfits, such as thrift shops or housing authorities. For each hour's work, A Hand Up wipes away $10 of debt owed to the utility, landlord, or other creditor. "The philosophy is to help them help themselves out of a crisis," says founder Sharon Durbin, a former Illinois Power customer-service rep who for years fielded calls from desperate billpayers.

Launched in 1998, A Hand Up has attracted 1,000 participants so far. The group says it decided to go national after other utilities as far afield as Tennessee, Vermont, New York, and California contacted it. It wants to begin the national rollout in spring, 2000. "It's a stepping stone toward a real job," says Sandra Hurd, a laid-off casino worker in Collinsville, Ill., who received help through A Hand Up. Hey, maybe bill-collecting can be sort of warm and fuzzy after all.By Dennis Berman; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

That Tidal Wave of Compassion

It's his campaign mantra: George W. Bush = Compassionate Conservative. He repeats it so often you'd think he coined the phrase. Think again.

One of Bush's rivals for the Republican Presidential nomination, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, first used the term in 1981. "I'm a conservative, and proud of it, but I'm a compassionate conservative," Hatch told The New York Times after saving the Jobs Corps from the Reagan budget knife.

In the nearly two intervening decades, a parade of right-of-center pols or their handlers have attempted to soften their images by invoking the catchy phrase. Among them: Newt Gingrich (1989), televangelist Pat Robertson (1988), both Bob Dole (1987) and Elizabeth Dole (1997), House Speaker Dennis Hastert (1986), former Housing & Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp (repeatedly), and ex-Representative Robert "B-1 Bob" Dornan (1995).

The label was even attached to the first George Bush. Back in 1987, the then-Vice-President's media consultant Roger Ailes, now CEO of Fox News, told the Times: "George Bush is a conservative and a compassionate man. There's nothing mutually exclusive about it." Seems that George W. is indeed a chip off the old block.By Richard S. Dunham; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

A Saucy Little Company Hits It Big

Japanese companies have traditionally looked to foreign markets for success. Yet while carmakers and consumer-electronics outfits struggle for the U.S. dollar, one unheralded company has hit it big. Kikkoman is making a killing in soy sauce, thanks to Americans' changing tastes.

Americans consumed some 40 million gallons of soy sauce last year, and the market has grown steadily for the past 25 years at a 10% annual clip. That's benefited Kikkoman, which specializes in naturally brewed soy sauce. Its main American rivals, such as La Choy, make chemically manufactured brands--a different market segment, say analysts. "There is little competition in the American market," for Kikkoman, says Yasuo Ariga, food industry analyst at Credit Lyonnais Securities (Japan).

Half of Kikkoman's $42.6 million operating profits in the first half of 1999 came from the U.S., a big part of the expected 15% rise in net income for this year. Sales of $2.1 billion annually, are expected to grow 5% this year. So far, none of the 2,000 other Japanese soy sauce makers have made a big push in the U.S. But when they sniff the sweet scent of the lucrative market, they could inundate the country with new soy sauce brands.By Miki Tanikawa; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

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