In America: Washroom Scrooges could be flushed down the pan

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The Independent Online

* You have to admire Eliot Spitzer. No potential voter is too humble for the attentions of New York's crusading attorney general.

* You have to admire Eliot Spitzer. No potential voter is too humble for the attentions of New York's crusading attorney general.

This is the man who socked it to the mutual funds for ripping off small investors, and then humbling some of America's mightiest investment banks by fining them $1.4bn (£770m) for fraudulent stock "research".

Now the scourge of greedy Wallstreeters - and surely a future Democratic candidate for governor - has turned his attentions to the plight of some of the Big Apple's lowliest inhabitants, the unpaid attendants who hand out towels, aftershave and other little extras in the lavatories of posh city restaurants. Not only do these unfortunates not receive a wage for their work, they even have to pay a slice of the tips they live off to the agency that recruits them.

Spitzer has just filed a $4m lawsuit against Royal Flush, the main placement agency for restaurant lavatory attendants, for breaking state labour law by not paying the official minimum wage. It was "unconscionable", Spitzer thundered, that people work without wages and must "pay a fee to stand in a bathroom and wait for tips."

Royal Flush was saying nothing - but if the fate suffered by the mutual funds and the banks is anything to go by, they'd be advised to cough up now.

* A FEW months shy of his 80th birthday, the veteran film director Robert Altman is assembling one of his all-star casts for an adaptation of the US radio show A Prairie Home Companion .

The line-up includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lyle Lovett and Tom Waits. Clooney and Streep have never worked with Altman before. Tomlin appeared in Nashville (1975) and in Short Cuts (1993), where she and Waits played a working-class couple with a rocky marriage. Country singer Lovett has been an Altman regular since The Player in 1992.

The new film will be based on the gentle satire of Middle American life conceived by the smooth-voiced broadcaster Garrison Keillor. Keillor is also writing the screenplay.

* CONTINUING A long tradition of rappers falling foul of the law, Beanie Sigel has been sentenced to a year in jail for illegal possession of a gun.

The 30-year-old could have received more than three years, but a judge in Philadelphia took account of his charity work and drug treatment. The charges stemmed from an incident in 2002 when Sigel fled from police who stopped his car, throwing away a loaded gun.

Sigel ­ real name the more prosaic Dwight Grant ­ acknowledged that he was in a "reckless, dangerous situation" but told the judge he was a changed man. What that will do to his music remains to be seen.

* THE BOB Guccione era at Penthouse is no more. The 73-year-old king of skin has turned down a $500,000-a-year contract to edit the magazine he founded in 1965.

Thanks, but no thanks was his reaction, after the new owners offered him the deal. The salary can hardly have seemed worth it after the indignities of the last new months. Guccione reportedly lost a $500m personal fortune as Penthouse sales shrivelled from 3 million to 400,000.

His country estate is being auctioned off to pay debts, while he is reduced to living in a few grace-and-favour rooms of his former $37m upper East Side apartment, itself sold off recently as his empire slid towards bankruptcy.

Thus do pass all fleshly things.

* Oh the indignities of being on the campaign trail. Dubya warmed up for his duel with John Kerry with a trip to Wisconsin, a top campaign target in 2004. But when in Wisconsin, famous for its dairy produce, you've got to show you love the place. So Rove, White House chief of staff Andy Card and other top Bushies all sported hideous green and yellow foam "cheesehead" hats as they climbed back aboard Air Force One, when the boss's rally was done. The exception was the ever-elegant Condi Rice, who carried hers under her arm, hoping no one would notice. A national security adviser has got to draw the line somewhere.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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