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web posted January 1, 2001

FCC slaps anti-drug TV shows

Federal regulators have ruled that the major networks should have identified the White House as a sponsor of programs such as "The Practice," "The Drew Carey Show" and "America's Most Wanted" when their plots included anti-drug messages for which the government paid the networks millions of dollars.

The Federal Communications Commission stopped short of fining any of the networks for violating its rules but ordered them to begin identifying the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as a sponsor of shows that include anti-drug messages underwritten by the federal government.

When the White House's involvement in the network shows was first widely revealed almost a year ago, it was criticized by members of Congress and First Amendment advocates who argued that the White House should not be involved in sensitive programming decisions such as approving scripts. Network officials said at congressional hearings this year that they showed the White House completed scripts and never altered a plot to increase their compensation.

During the past two years, networks including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox received a total of $25 million for including anti-drug messages in prime-time programming. It was revealed at congressional hearings that the White House reviewed scripts for more than 100 shows to determine if the anti-drug message of a particular program was strong enough to merit payment.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) filed a complaint with the FCC claiming that the networks' failure to identify the White House as a sponsor of the anti-drug shows violated FCC disclosure rules. In its ruling, the FCC noted that the sponsorship regulations have had the same purpose since they were first formulated in 1927 -- which is that listeners and viewers "are entitled to know by whom they are being persuaded."

R. Keith Stroup, executive director of NORML, said on December 26 that he was pleased that the FCC ruled that the networks should have identified the White House as a sponsor of the anti-drug episodes. But the FCC's ruling did not address the larger issue of whether the government should support a specific viewpoint in prime-time entertainment shows. That kind of arrangement threatens the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, Stroup said.

"We have been told by these programmers that they have influenced the programs in order to please the government. That is not the kind of free press we have grown accustomed to," Stroup said.

The networks had no comment on the FCC action. The relationship between the White House's anti-drug office and the networks dates to 1997, when Congress appropriated $1 billion to spend on anti-drug advertising over five years. The networks have benefited from most of the ad spending, but newspapers and magazines also have been paid to carry ads.

The federal advertising came with a major string attached. Any network that accepted the money had to match it dollar for dollar with its own anti-drug public service announcements. Congress saw the requirement as an effective way of doubling the campaign's reach.

The networks initially accepted the conditions. But as the economy picked up and advertising time grew more valuable, the networks sought to reduce their requirement to air public service announcements. They wanted to sell the ad time to dot-com companies and others who were willing to pay top dollar for access to the networks' audience. The White House agreed to allow the networks to submit shows with anti-drug messages instead of the public service announcements.

Animal-rights group claims second firebomb attack on meat company

An animal-rights group claimed on December 27 to have firebombed a second meat company in two weeks as part of a campaign to punish firms it says cruelly exploit animals. The Animal Liberation Front said in a news release it broke into the Supreme Meat Distributors' compound in this Vancouver suburb on Christmas Day and placed "incendiary devices" under seven delivery trucks.

RCMP confirmed that someone cut a hole in the company's chain-link fence sometime between December 23 and 27, while the facility was closed for the holiday.

Small bonfires were started under seven trucks, said Const. Phil Reid.

"They only caused smoke and soot damage," said Reid. "However the potential for damage could have been a lot more if these vehicles had ignited."

The Animal Liberation Front also claimed responsibility for setting fires under three trucks at Ferry Meat Market in Vancouver two weeks earlier, heavily damaging one.

The group said the latest attack was part of a campaign of economic sabotage to increase insurance premiums against "the scum who perpetuate the needless slaughter of innocent beings."

In the past, animal-rights groups have targeted supermarkets during holidays, claiming to have injected poisons into turkeys, which forced grocers to pull them off the shelves.

The Animal Liberation Front claimed it firebombed three Vancouver meat stores in 1989, but said its rules forbid injuring animals or humans in its attacks.

Reid said police will look for a link between the Vancouver and Burnaby attacks.

"Our investigators will be talking to the Vancouver city police with respect to their incident to see if there are any similarities," he said.

"Right now they are an obvious suspect because they are claiming responsibility."

California gun owners resist new registration law

Just days before a deadline to register assault weapons under a new state law, only 10,000 gun owners had done so, and some said they planned to move their firearms out of state.

Racing against the deadline, several gun groups including the National Rifle Association announced they would go to court to seek a delay, saying the law is vague and has not been publicized well enough.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he is confident the law would survive a court challenge. The law -- the toughest of its kind in the nation -- required owners of assault weapons with specific features to alter, destroy, register or turn them in by December 31.

Lockyer said he believes more assault weapons should be registered by now.

"We didn't have any expectations because no one knows exactly how many of these types of guns are in private hands. We estimate there are a larger number, though."

Enforcing the law depends wholly on gun owners' cooperation. Failure to register could bring a fine of $500 or more and from 16 months to three years in state prison.

"No one's planning to go knock on doors and search for something. We recognize the owners have pre-existing property rights," Lockyer said.

The law, authored by state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, is intended to strengthen the 1989 Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Act, which limited models of assault firearms, and further defines an assault weapon based on characteristics.

The law now defines assault weapons as semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns with detachable magazines and that have features including:

  • A forward pistol grip or one sticking out from beneath the weapon.
  • A thumbhole stock.
  • A folding or telescopic stock.
  • A grenade launcher or flare launcher.
  • A flash suppressor.

Also, semiautomatic pistols are covered by the law if they have certain features, including a second handgrip or a shroud that protects the shooter from getting burned.

In absence of registering an assault weapon, an owner must disable it permanently, surrender it to law enforcement, sell it to a licensed assault weapon dealer or move it out of state.

"We're trying to dry up the pool of assault weapons," Lockyer said.

In protest of the law, some gun owners are moving their guns out of state, an act permitted under the new law.

"They just don't want to deal with the government bureaucracy," said Jim Brown, an employee at the Pony Express Sports Shop in North Hills. "Many will take their guns out of state. Many will just not register them."

Legal fund for Cuba boy hits tax snag

The Elián González Legal Defense Trust Fund, formed to help a Miami family's attorneys battle the federal government, may make its single biggest payment to Uncle Sam.

After more than a month of wrangling, the trustees decided recently that they could not donate as much as $140,000 remaining in the fund to the nonprofit La Liga Contra el Cancer (the League Against Cancer).

The trust fund could owe as much as $92,000 in income tax, its legal adviser, Stanton Levin, confirmed this week.

The tax predicament surprised the three trustees. They hope to persuade the Internal Revenue Service not to tax the trust.

"Can you imagine if after all this, the U.S. government is the one that gets to keep this money?" asked lead trustee Eloy González.

The fund was created in March to help pay the expenses of the team of attorneys involved in the custody battle over the 6-year-old boy.

The last-minute tax quandary stems from the interpretation of the "true intent" of those who made the donations, ranging from $1 to $10,000.

"It's an unusual situation," said Mr. Levin, a tax attorney who oversees the trust. "The issue is whether or not the money donated by people should be viewed as a gift or income for a cause they could get something in return for. There is no precedent on this."

For now, the trustees plan to deposit $92,000 with the IRS. They also plan to include an explanation of the facts and to ask the IRS to review the tax return as quickly as possible.

IRS officials could not be reached.

Young Canadian conservative wants missile defence system to protect Canada's future

A young Conservative is urging Canada to take an active role in the proposed U.S. construction of a controversial missile defence shield. And the Tory party says the country can no longer remain neutral in a debate brewing between Russia and the United States over the shield. Jonathan Horler, a youth representative on the Tory national council and the president of the Ottawa-Orleans PC Youth Association has written Prime Minister Jean Chretien asking him to support Canada's participation in the anti-ballistic missile defence plan.

Horler, who said he is supported by numerous young Conservative and Canadian Alliance members, said the issue is of particular interest to youth because 50 years from now many countries could have nuclear-missile capabilities.

"So it's our future that we're dealing with," he said on December 28.

A national missile defence would be of obvious benefit to Canada, he said.

"There are rogue nations like Iran and North Korea that all possess inter-continental ballistic missiles and are capable of striking North America as of tomorrow . . . It's turning out to be a much greater threat than anyone imagined."

The chances of the U.S. moving ahead on the system - a decision that would require scrapping the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - increased with the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as American defence secretary.

In 1998, Rumsfeld headed a bipartisan commission that concluded U.S. intelligence had underestimated the missile threat to the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, is opposed to the shield. He argues it will upset the balance of nuclear power that has existed for nearly three decades and will render some countries too impervious to attack - allowing them to launch missiles without retaliation.

On his recent trip to Canada, Putin asked Canada to play a mediating role in the conflict. Chretien refused to do so arguing it was premature to get involved before the plan had been approved in the States.

But neither did he support the U.S. endeavour.

Goldy Hyder, chief of staff to Conservative Leader Joe Clark, said that this is the time to formulate a stand.

Hyder would not comment specifically on Horler's letter and said his party had not developed a specific position on anti-missile defence.

"Nevertheless, we feel that Canada has to recognize that we can't completely be neutral on an issue of this nature," said Hyder.

We should recognize that U.S. continues to make very strong indications, particularly with Rumsfeld's appointment, that it favours the system's development, he said.

"We can't simply ignore those implications. Rather, we should use our goodwill and good standing in the international community to have a positive influence on this and to ensure that this does more good than harm."

Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance leader, has said the defence shield is necessary to keep one step ahead of rogue nations.

"It would be silly to walk away from a plan of technology that could wind up seeing Canada protected at very low cost."

And Horler discounts Putin's opposition to the system as opportunistic saying the Russian president's goal is to make the U.S. pay the maximum price for amending the anti-missile treaty.

"Failure to put up a national missile defence shield would be advocating missile proliferation and blackmail," he said. "It's the absence of a national missile defence shield that allows those actions to occur."

Day calls for Tories to pack it in

Stockwell Day says it's time to bury Canada's oldest political party -- time for Joe Clark's Tories to collectively shake their heads and embrace the 21st century.

The Canadian Alliance leader used a year-end interview with Sun Media to suggest the Progressive Conservatives tanked in the November election and are teetering on a complete collapse under Clark's leadership.

"He lost support -- the worst showing since Confederation -- and we're saying 'thank you for the Tory tradition of the past, but it's the 21st century and times have changed,'" Days says.

Day says that despite his inexperience and his party's failure to translate gains in popular vote to more than two seats in the Commons east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, his party alone can end vote-splitting and perpetual Liberal rule.

"They (Tories) got absolutely demolished in this election. They lost 40% of their popular vote; closed out their Quebec office. I mean, they are reeling from three successive poundings now at the polls."

Often referred to by Clark as the "photo-op" candidate, Day says he has already embarked on his second federal election campaign -- a 36-month trot, he predicts, before the Liberals summon Canadians to the polls yet again.

The major hurdle on the path to 24 Sussex Drive is a stubborn Clark who has so far refused all overtures to join forces in any way, Day says.

With Clark on side, uniting the right would be swift. Without the blessing of the former PM, Day says he will still achieve his objective, but at a slower pace.

"If nothing happens officially, I think you will continue to see the move of rank-and-file Tories over to us. We saw it over this election and we will continue to see it," he says.

"One of two things will happen. We will continue to incrementally absorb Tories, or Joe and others will see the wisdom in joining us."

The former Alberta treasurer says the Alliance will not repeat the mistakes made during the November campaign -- being unprepared and off-message.

"We'll never be new and inexperienced again," Day says. But he refuses to concede Alliance social policies were partly to blame for sending scores of undecided Ontarians over to the Grits on election day.

Instead, he says, it was the Liberals who lied to Canadians when they warned of a "hidden agenda" on issues such as health care, gay rights and a women's right to choose.

Day says the challenge for the Alliance over the next three years is to sell the leader in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada and start selling the party's message immediately.

"Then, as we move into that next election window, when this false stuff starts hitting, most people are going to say they don't buy it."

Day says it would be great if the Tories and Alliance could do it together.

"If common-sense conservative people in Canada want to see common-sense policies applied at the federal level, they are going to have to see that in one party. We don't have the luxury of splitting the vote," Day says.

U.S. to sign war crimes treaty

President Clinton authorized the United States on December 31 to sign a treaty creating a permanent international criminal court to try war criminals.

In a statement, Clinton said the United States affirmed its "strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity."

"The United States has a long history of commitment to the principle of accountability, from our involvement in the Nuremberg tribunals that brought Nazi war criminals to justice, to our leadership in the effort to establish the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda," the president said. "Our action today sustains that tradition of moral leadership."

The courts covering Bosnia and Rwanda are the only war-crimes tribunals currently functioning. There has never been a permanent international court to deal with war crimes.

In 1998, the Rome Treaty created the International Criminal Court. It allowed nations to sign on to the treaty until December 31, 2000.

More than 130 nations have signed the treaty, including most U.S. allies. Iran signed the treaty Sunday.

The parliaments of 27 nations have ratified the Rome Treaty; 60 governments are needed for the treaty to go into effect.

Israel has an appointment with the United Nations to discuss the matter. North Korea, Libya, China and Iraq have not joined the treaty.

Clinton's decision comes in the wake of heavy criticism from conservative members of Congress and concerns from within the administration itself that the court would infringe on U.S. sovereignty and could lead to politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. military men and women.

"This institution could well put America in a position to be held hostage to blackmail, to threats based on our military presence around the world, our diplomatic efforts, our geopolitical economic interests," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska. "I don't believe in any way it is in the interest of this country."

A senior Clinton administration official said the White House still has concerns, but decided to sign the treaty to "have a seat at the table" in negotiations about the court's structure and rules.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, has been a vocal critic of the treaty. A spokesman for Helms said he will "declare war" on the International Criminal Court and make it a priority in the next Congress to defeat ratification of the treaty in the Senate.

The issue is expected to come up during confirmation hearings for President-elect George W. Bush's Cabinet.

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