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web posted January 24, 2000

Drug office will end TV previews

Under fire for its involvement in Hollywood's creative process, the U.S. government has clarified its stance on rewarding networks that depict the evils of drugs.

The move followed several days of reports that the White House drug control office inserted anti-drug messages into popular TV programs in exchange for giving the networks back millions of dollars worth of advertising time the government had bought at discount prices.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the networks said this was old news, and the networks denied that they ever yielded creative control of their programs.

The ONDCP stressed all along that it doesn't request to read or alter scripts prior to air. But the networks do occasionally send scripts prior to air to consult on how to depict drug issues, the office has said.

Now the office has issued guidelines saying it will not review episodes for pro bono credit until after a show has been broadcast.

Of the 109 programs that have been approved under the pro bono media match formula, between 20 and 24 were sent to the drug czar's office in various stages at the networks' request for input, according to the ONDCP.

Confusion over the ONDCP's policies surfaced on January 14, when ABC Television Network president Pat Fili-Krushel told reporters that the drug czar's office changed its rules this year and started requesting an advance peak at scripts prior to broadcast.

The ONDCP said ABC misunderstood the request and that there was no timetable dictating when a series episode should be submitted for media match consideration.

Also in its guidelines, the ONDCP said it would continue to allow media execs to determine how they meet the match, as long as it is determined to be a 100 per cent match for every federal dollar spent on media outlets.

In addition, the drug czar's office will keep separate its practice of providing scientific and technical assistance from its post-broadcast valuation decisions, the ONDCP said.

Gore, Bradley criticize Rocker

Plenty of people have been taking swings at John Rocker. Al Gore and Bill Bradley didn't shy away when they had their chance.

The Democratic presidential candidates criticized Rocker's disparaging remarks about foreigners, minorities and gays during a January 17 Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I don't know John Rocker and I don't want to know John Rocker," said Bradley, a former NBA star. "But I do know one thing: This would not have happened had an organization and a team (been) attuned to the kind of things that he said.

"When I was on the Knicks, one of my jobs was when there was a white player that came on the team who didn't quite understand - used the wrong words ... I took him over to the side and said, `Look, that doesn't work on this team. If you want to be on this team, you respect everybody,"' he said. "If that had happened on the Atlanta Braves, you wouldn't have had John Rocker."

Said Gore: "I, first of all, think what he said was reprehensible and disgusting. And I condemn it without any reservation, of course."

The week before, Texas Gov. George W. Bush said he agreed with baseball commissioner Bud Selig's decision to have the Braves relief pitcher undergo psychological testing.

In a Republican debate, Bush, a former managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, said: "The fellow said some incredibly offensive things. He is a public person. And I appreciate them trying to get the man help."

In an interview in Sports Illustrated last month, Rocker said he would never play for a New York team because he didn't want to ride a train "next to some queer with AIDS." He also bashed immigrants, saying "I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. ... How the hell did they get in this country?"

Rocker later apologized and in a subsequent interview with ESPN said his comments were in retaliation for verbal and physical abuse he said he received from New York Mets fans during the NL Championship Series.

That was not enough to prevent the heavy metal band Twisted Sister to ask the Braves to stop using their song "I Wanna Rock" to introduce Rocker when the reliever enters games.

"We've got Hispanics in this band, Italians in this band, people who are Polish and Russian," said guitarist Jay Jay French, the heavy metal band's co-founder. "We're all immigrants, all foreigners - quote unquote - and this is our way of saying his comments were not acceptable."

New York-based Twisted Sister is best known for its 1984 hit single "We're Not Gonna Take It." The song's video featured lead singer Dee Snyder and other band members wearing garish makeup and wild hairstyles.

French, 42, said he still legally represents the band and that all its members were in agreement over the action.

He said he told both his record label, Atlantic Records, the band didn't want the song used in conjunction with Rocker and said he faxed a letter to the Braves' director of public relations Jim Schultz and left several messages for him.

French would not speculate on what he would do if the Braves continued to use the song, written by Snyder.

Schultz did not return phone calls seeking comment.

"These comments were way too damaging to be considered flip comments," French said. "One must take responsibility for the ramifications when you say something like that, and this is just our way of voicing our displeasure - the one thing we could do. This is just another voice in crowd that lets him know that what he did was not acceptable."

Clinton seeks new gun-crime measures

In a bid to step up the federal government's fight against gun crime, on January 18, Bill Clinton asked Congress for funds to hire 500 more federal agents and create a program to track guns through ballistics testing.

Clinton announced his $280 million request in Boston, where a community policing initiative championed by the administration has helped cut the city's homicide rate.

Accompanied by Attorney General Janet Reno and local law enforcement officials, the president pointed out Justice Department figures showing a 25 percent increase in federal gun prosecutions from 1998 to 1999.

Even with the crime rate at record lows, Clinton said the country is still not as safe as it should be, adding that "we shouldn't quit until your country, your state and your community are the safest places in the world."

Clinton's plans for the budget for fiscal year 2001, which begins October 1, represent an effort to invest more in enforcement of existing laws on the illegal use and possession of firearms, a priority for Republicans and groups such as the National Rifle Association.

Opponents of gun control say new federal laws aren't needed -- just better enforcement of existing laws. The White House acknowledges Clinton's initiative would step up enforcement but says new gun measures are also needed to close loopholes.

"The real answer is we should do both," he said. "That's what we've done with the Brady Bill. That's what we have done with the assault weapons ban and we should do mo

Clinton asked for:

• Hire 500 more Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and inspectors.

• Fund 1,000 more federal, state and local prosecutors to focus on gun-related crimes.

• Fund local media campaigns to discourage gun violence.

• Expand development of "smart gun" technologies that limit use of firearms to the owners.

• Expand an existing gun-tracing program from 38 to 51 cities

• Create a $30 million National Integrated Ballistics Information Network to track ballistics data of guns used in crimes.

By maintaining records of unique markings each gun barrel leaves on bullets, investigators could track firearms used in crimes to their purchasers, even if that person had passed the weapon to another individual.

The administration already announced a request for $10 million to develop "smart guns" that fire only when held by their owners. A similar request died in Congress last year.

Government fails to meet evidence deadline in Branch Davidian case

Government attorneys failed to meet a federal judge's January 18 deadline to turn over all evidence sought by relatives suing for wrongful death in the Branch Davidian inferno.

U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford said although the government sent 50 boxes of materials to plaintiffs' attorneys over the holiday weekend, an additional 2,500 pages of documents must be declassified before being sent.

He said government attorneys also must reproduce and hand over items from 31 boxes of materials, including photographs and computer disks, which were surrendered to the Waco federal court last fall at the direction of U.S. District Judge Walter Smith.

The Justice Department had sought a two-week delay, but Smith rejected their request the week before.

Lead plaintiffs' attorney Michael Caddell said that he had "zero sympathy" for the government's argument that it cannot meet court-imposed deadlines because it has limited resources to cull through the requested information.

"There are over 9,000 lawyers in the Justice Department," he said. "They can put as many lawyers on this project as they feel appropriate. If this were something that were important to the Justice Department, they would man up and get the job done."

Smith set a May 15 trial date.

Also, Caddell filed a request for Smith to compel the government's lawyers to answer more completely the question of whether any government personnel -- military or civilian -- fired shots during the deadly siege's final hours.

The Justice Department and FBI long have denied that federal agents fired shots on April 19, 1993. But the government's sworn answer to the plaintiffs' question of whether "any person under the employment, agency, control or direction of the U.S. or any other government, agency or organization" fired shots is incomplete, Caddell wrote.

Clinton proposes extensive plan to extend health care coverage

Continuing his gradual rollout of new policy initiatives before next week's State of the Union speech, President Bill Clinton on January 19 proposed "a very ambitious" $110 billion program to expand health care coverage for uninsured Americans. Looks like that health care debate isn't over yet.

"If enacted, this would be the largest investment in health care coverage since the establishment of Medicare in 1965 one of the most significant steps we could take to help working families," he said.

Speaking from the Oval Office, the president said the county's ongoing economic prosperity can make the changes possible.

"We have an opportunity now to really make a dent in this problem of health insurance coverage, in the problem of long-term care and we ought to do it," he said. "I hope we will."

The plan would allow parents to enroll in the state Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides coverage to children in families with incomes too high to be eligible for Medicaid but too low to afford private health care coverage.

Clinton said parents of children covered under CHIP often do not have access to health care coverage at work, and if they do, they often cannot afford it. The new initiative, according to the White House, would provide health care coverage to 4 million parents who are currently uninsured. Its estimated cost is $76 billion over 10 years.

He also wants to accelerate enrollment of uninsured children in Medicaid and CHIP, and help older Americans, workers in small businesses and people in transition from welfare to work obtain health care coverage.

Clinton also proposed creating tax credits for families with long-term care needs, providing a $1,000 credit in 2001, and then increasing by increments of $500 until a $3,000 credit is reached in 2005.

"We shouldn't let another year go by without helping those who are doing so much to help others, and I will say again, we should -- this year -- pass the patient's bill of rights," he said, referring to another piece of legislation that did not make it out of Congress last year.

The tax credits would be phased out beginning at incomes of $110,000 for couples and $75,000 for unmarried taxpayers.

The White House estimates the tax credit would help 2 million Americans -- a group they say includes 1.2 million older Americans, more than 500,000 adults and approximately 250,000 children.

Clinton also resurrected his proposal to allow workers as young as 55 to buy into the Medicare program, which Congress did not address last year. The new version sweetens plan for workers but makes it more costly for the government by offering a 25 percent tax credit for participants in the Medicare buy-in.

The proposal is aimed at the baby-boom generation as it nears retirement. The percentage of uninsured is growing fastest among people ages 55 to 65 and even more growth is expected. The cost of the buy-in and credit over 10 years would be about $5.4 billion.

The president also proposed aid to help workers to buy COBRA health insurance when they leave a job. The COBRA program allows workers to buy into their employer's health plan for up to three years, provided they pay the entire premium.

The proposal also calls for new funds to pay for services designed to help family caregivers. According to the White House, Alzheimer's patients in particular can be kept with family and not in costly nursing homes up to a year longer if respite care is available to relieve caregiver stress.

This part of the program would cost $1.25 billion over 10 years and is estimated to help approximately 250,000 families.

In conjunction with services designed to keep people at home rather than in nursing homes, the administration is also proposing changing Medicaid procedures that made staying at home difficult because Supplemental Security Income (SSI) limits the level of benefits.

This plan triples the SSI limit to $15,000. This would cost $140 million over five years and $370 million over 10 years.

There is also a provision for the elderly in low-income housing that would create assisted living facilities -- with the proviso that they also provide similar services for non-Medicaid residents.

According to the White House, this would slow the burden on expensive nursing homes as the elderly are allowed to "age in place."

To set an example, the Office of Personnel Management will be directed to offer non-subsidized, quality private long-term care insurance to all federal employees, retirees, and their families at group rates. The OPM estimates about 300,000 federal employees would participate.

Clinton also proposed:

Giving a 20 percent tax credit to small businesses to buy health insurance through purchasing coalitions. The initiative would be limited to companies that have not previously offered health insurance to employee,

Expanding state options to insure children through age 20,

Expanding state options to provide insurance for legal immigrants, and

Allocating at least $1 billion over 10 years to help public hospitals, clinics and thousands of health care providers give health care to the uninsured.

Hillary objects to questions

Hillary Rodham Clinton told a radio interviewer on January 19 that his questions about whether she had been unfaithful were "out of bounds." She answered anyway: "Of course it's no."

Mrs. Clinton laughed in her denials to the interviewer's personal questions, including one on drug use, but she made clear she thought they were inappropriate.

A day earlier she had seemed taken aback when she was asked whether she planned to leave President Clinton when his presidency was over. "I certainly intend to spend the rest of my life with him," she told Buffalo's WKBW-TV in that interview.

Mrs. Clinton is submitting to interviews as she prepares to formally announce her Senate candidacy early next month.

She was questioned by morning host Tom Bauerle of WGR-AM in Buffalo.

"You're going to hate me," said Bauerle. "Have you ever been sexually unfaithful to (President Clinton) and specifically the stories with you and (the late White House deputy counsel) Vince Foster?"

"I do hate you for that," Mrs. Clinton said, according to a tape of the interview provided by WGR. "I think those questions are out of bounds."

Bauerle asked again.

"Of course it's no," Mrs. Clinton said. "At some point we all have to say these questions, these speculations really divert attention (from) what we can do to work together."

Bauerle's next question: "Have you ever used pot or cocaine?"

"Tom, what did you have breakfast for this morning?" Mrs. Clinton responded. "That's why you're so wired. No. ... We ought to be talking about bringing good jobs to western New York and health care and child care."

In the TV interview the day before, she said of her relationship with President Clinton: "I have been with my husband for more than half my life. We've been together – this will be our 25th year of marriage – and we have so much between us and so many shared experiences and a lot of love in our family, and I certainly intend to spend the rest of my life with him."

The first lady commented after being told that people were saying that "when Bill leaves the White House, she's going to leave him."

Later that day, she took part in an electronic town hall meeting on iVillage.com, a Web site geared toward women. The questions there covered familiar territory including health care, education and economic development in struggling areas of the state.

She also told her Internet audience that the Senate election "is essentially a job interview and I have to do the best job I can to present myself."

Mrs. Clinton set a folksy tone at the outset of the hourlong Internet interview by mentioning that she'd gone grocery shopping because "I had to stock my refrigerator" in the new home she and the president recently moved into in the New York City suburb of Chappaqua.

Mrs. Clinton once enjoyed a substantial lead among female voters over her likely Republican challenger, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. But a poll released the week before by Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion found Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton running even, at 44 percent, among women. Overall, the poll found Giuliani leading Mrs. Clinton 49 percent to 40 percent.

Clinton favors computer snooping

The Clinton administration wants to be able to send federal agents armed with search warrants into homes to copy encryption keys and implant secret back doors onto computers.

"When criminals like drug dealers and terrorists use encryption to conceal their communications, law enforcement must be able to respond in a manner that will not thwart an investigation or tip off a suspect," Attorney General Janet Reno and Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre wrote in a seven-page letter to Congress.

The idea first surfaced in mid-1999, when the Justice Department proposed legislation that allowed them to obtain surreptitious warrants and "postpone" notifying the person whose property they entered for 30 days.

The Justice Department's thinking was that if a suspect was using data-scrambling encryption products, the FBI's G-men might need to enter the suspect's home and install software to tap into and decipher scrambled communications.

After vocal objections from civil liberties groups, the administration backed away from the controversial plan. The final draft of the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act (CESA) submitted to Congress had removed the secret-search portions.

But the White House now appears to think it doesn't need new legislation to enter a suspect's computer.

The letter from Reno and Hamre to House Majority Leader Dick Armey says that, in the future, the Feds will use "general authorities" when asking judges to authorize so-called black bag jobs. Commerce Secretary William Daley also signed the letter.

They say that law enforcement should have the ability to "search for keys" without immediately notifying a suspect.

According to legal experts, all current search warrants -- with the exception of the related category of wiretaps -- require police to inform the person his property was entered.

Privacy groups say Americans should be alarmed.

"It sounds like they're returning to the provision in CESA that they backed away from," says Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The basic principle is that people who are the subject of searches should have notice and the opportunity to challenge the search. This is particularly dangerous since it will be difficult to guarantee that evidence hasn't been tampered with," said Steinhardt. "What they are proposing to do is alter computer files. It's quite a chilling proposal."

"What they're saying is that they want to eliminate that Fourth Amendment requirement or limit it so much to make it meaningless," said Dave Banisar, co-author of the Electronic Privacy Papers. The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting "unreasonable" searches and seizures.

The Clinton administration cabinet officials wrote the letter this month in their latest exchange with Majority Leader Armey. Although dated 7 January, Armey's office said they received it on January 19.

In Armey's letter to Reno on 27 September, the Texas Republican wrote: "Questions remain about the Administration's commitment to personal privacy.... While I understand that this [secret search] provision has been dropped from the most recent draft, the fact that it was ever proposed at all raises concerns in Congress."

In its reply, the administration wrote, "You specifically ask whether law enforcement has the authority to search for keys without notifying the subject. Although some courts have permitted the government to conduct a search, in analogous circumstances, without notifying the target at the time of the search, these same courts have held, and we agree, that in a criminal investigation the government must ultimately provide meaningful notice to the target of the search."

The letter further urges Congress to pass CESA and defends Fidnet, a plan to monitor online intrusions into federal computers.

"Fidnet is entirely aimed at improving the security of government computer systems.... We strongly support its development. Federal computer networks are a favorite target of computer hackers," they say.

Last summer reports said that the system would monitor not just federal computers, but other Internet traffic -- a claim that the FBI assistant general counsel denied as recently as during a panel discussion in early January.

Helms gives 'em hell at the UN

Silence reigned as U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, one of the harshest critics of the United Nations, hobbled into the Security Council chamber on January 20 with his five-legged walking stick.

In contrast to the previous day's arrival of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's revered former president, Helms' entry failed to elicit a standing ovation.

The senator did, however, command the undivided attention of the group of 15 ambassadors who make up the Security Council.

He has described UN leaders as "dysfunctional" and "crybabies," but as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, Helms also has great influence over American funding for the world body.

And because the United States is by far the biggest contributor the United Nations, the ambassadors had no choice but to listen to whatever Helms said.

Like a schoolmaster lecturing his students, he warned the world body to trim its bureaucracy and not overstep its authority.

The United Nations must not draw the United States into "entangling alliances," and would face confrontation and "eventual U.S. withdrawal" if it sought to impinge on American sovereignty without the consent of its citizens.

Helms conceded that the world body had "performed admirably" in backing the coalition that expelled Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

But he blasted it for having "utterly failed" to stop Iraq's subsequent drive to rebuild weapons of mass destruction.

In his view, the Security Council was "paralyzed" over Kosovo, while the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia was a "disaster."

The senator tempered his vitriol with folksy banter, joking that UN translators might not understand his Southern expressions.

But any charm was more than outweighed by his underlying contempt for how the world body is run.

The council had invited Helms to speak against the backdrop of a bill he has co-authored with Joseph Biden, another senator, which sets conditions for paying U.S. arrears in annual UN dues it has agreed by treaty to pay.

The arrears -- $1.6-billion according to the United Nations, $1-billion, according to the United States (all figures U.S.) -- date from the 1980s as Congress became concerned about the world body's efficiency.

U.S. lawmakers agreed to pay $926-million of the arrears if the United Nations would cut the U.S. portion of its "regular" budget from 25 per cent to 20 per cent, and its portion of the peacekeeping budget from 31 per cent to 25 per cent.

Many UN members resent these and other conditions attached to the legislation, saying they would not tolerate them from any other nation.

After Helms' address, Robert Fowler, Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. arrears had "seriously impaired [the UN's] co-operative efforts to protect and promote international peace and security."

Several other ambassadors expressed similar views.

But Helms had anticipated their criticism, arguing that last year, despite the arrears, Washington had "furnished precisely 10 billion, one hundred and seventy nine million dollars to support the work of the United Nations."

He did not provide a breakdown of the contribution, but said it had been calculated by the U.S. General Accounting Office and included assessments, voluntary contributions and U.S. military spending in support of UN resolutions and peacekeeping operations.

"No other nation on Earth comes even close to matching that singular investment," he said.

He then told the council exactly what "the American people" want in return for the money, which he insisted was "not charity."

"They expect a reformed UN that works more efficiently, and which respects the sovereignty of the United States," he said.

Accepting the United States' conditions for the payment of its arrears would be part of that reform.

"I suggest that if the UN were to reject this compromise, it would mark the beginning of the end for U.S. support for the United Nations."

For the senator, the United Nations "must be an institution that is needed by the great democratic powers."

It should not venture beyond its "core tasks" -- to help sovereign states co-ordinate collective action, to provide a forum for international dialogue and to provide important services, such as peacekeeping, weapons inspections and humanitarian relief.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, escorted Helms into the Security Council chamber, but did not stay for his speech, an act some diplomats interpreted as a snub.

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