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Sticking a wet finger in the air, conservative politicians in both America and Europe are gauging the winds of public opinion to find a cause that will return them to power.

Many were blown out in the cold after the end of the cold war and the successes of market economics. In Britain, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, leaders of the right are now trying to tap anti-foreigner sentiment and other nationalist issues even as liberals move to "the middle".

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US Republicans, burned by the Clinton impeachment but now gearing up for the presidential race, are in need of a social cause. Drugs? Mr. Clinton visits Mexico on Monday where the issue is whether to punish Mexico for not doing enough to stem drug exports. But a group of Republican senators and congressmen will also visit Mexico to determine just how "genuine" Mexico's antidrug effort is.

The GOP could also test the Democratic president's eagerness to commit American troops to Kosovo, where they and other NATO forces could easily get caught in a Serb-Albanian crossfire. NATO's role in a peace deal is still unclear. The White House faces deep congressional opposition to US participation.

- Clayton Jones

World editor


*WHAT MEXICANS THINK: With drug addiction rising fast in Mexico, the country is no longer seen as just a transit point for drug traffickers. A recent survey of university students found nearly one-quarter acknowledged using some kind of drug. In both Mexico and the US, 27 percent of people say drug trafficking is the single most important binational issue, according to the respected Center for Opinion Studies at the University of Guadalajara.

Perhaps reflecting Mexico's difficult economic situation, 44 percent of Mexicans believe the North American Free Trade Agreement has been negative for Mexico, while - attention, NAFTA critic Richard Gephardt - only 16 percent of Americans think NAFTA has been bad for the US. One-third of Mexicans think NAFTA's effect has been positive for Mexico, but 40 percent of Americans give the five-year-old trade accord a positive mark.

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*MOST COMPETITIVE ALLY?: German companies are judged the easiest to deal with, the most customer- and employee- focused, most technologically innovative, and most likely to be run by leaders who've "got what it takes," according to a survey commissioned by United Parcel Service that polled more than 1,500 business leaders in Europe. German business stands out in another ranking: It offers the most dire projection for the US economy over the next 12 months, with fully 1 in 5 expecting an outright recession. Italy was most optimistic, followed by Spain.

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