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web posted January 15, 2001

Viking tax exiles 'settled' America

Large stretches of America may have been colonised by the Vikings hundreds of years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, according to a study by Thor Heyerdahl, the veteran Norwegian anthropologist and explorer.

Most scholars believe that a few Norsemen set out from their mother colony in Greenland to North America in the early 11th century, and that they stayed in a small area for only two decades.

In a new book based on Viking sagas and ancient writings and maps found in the Vatican library, Heyerdahl claims the Norsemen established colonies across a swathe of what they called Vinland (Land of Wine). They remained for several hundred years, he says, trading and occasionally fighting with the native Americans.

"Four centuries before Columbus, the papal see knew there was land over there," said Heyerdahl, 86. "Vinland stretched from the Hudson Strait in the north down through the Gulf of St Lawrence and all the way down to Long Island."

Heyerdahl and his co-author, Per Lilliestrom, a Swedish map expert, say thousands of Norsemen sailed to Vinland to escape high taxes imposed by their monarch. The pair claim to have found traces of five voyages by the Vikings in their elegant and hardy single-sailed ships.

Heyerdahl also came across a map made in the Vatican in 1535 by Ulaus Magnus, an exiled Swedish archbishop, which appeared to suggest that as many as 25,000 Scandinavians had settled in Vinland. Their book, Ingen Grenser (No Boundaries), is due to be published in English in the autumn.

The issue of who made the first contact between native Americans and Europeans is bitterly disputed. Experts have made claims on behalf of ancient Romans, a 5th-century Irish monk called Saint Brendan, and a Scottish clan fleeing the Vikings.

Heyerdahl has long courted controversy. He became famous in 1947 with an expedition from Peru to Polynesia aboard Kon-Tiki, a balsa-log raft, in an attempt to prove the Pacific could have been settled by South American Indians.

Five years ago, he claimed Columbus had reached America in 1477, rather than 1492, as a teenage crewman on a Danish-Portuguese expedition.

Some scholars are sceptical about Heyerdahl's latest theory. Leslie Webster, deputy keeper of the British Museum's medieval Europe department, said it was undermined by the lack of physical remains: there are traces of just one Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, on the tip of Newfoundland.

"You can't base a theory on writings and maps which date from later, and which may have been embellished," Webster said. "You have to take them with a bucketload of salt."

Bush says he wants to let Clinton 'move on'

President-elect George W. Bush said on January 8 it was time for President Bill Clinton's critics to stop focusing on the past and "let him move on and enjoy life" as an ex-president.

Bush said he doubted he would consider a pardon for Clinton short of the president being indicted on charges stemming from the Monica Lewinsky scandal two years ago.

Independent Robert Ray has reportedly been considering whether to indict Clinton on perjury charges stemming from the scandal that led to his impeachment and almost drove him out of office.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the day before Bush should pardon Clinton.

"I think it's time to put this to bed. It's time to let President Clinton fade into whatever he's going to fade into, and I just don't see keeping it alive any longer," Hatch said on "Fox News Sunday." "I don't think there's a jury in America that is going to convict President Clinton."

Asked about the remark, Bush said: "I wouldn't pardon somebody who hasn't been indicted ... Listen, here's my view: I think it's time to get all of this business behind us. I think it's time ... to allow the president to finish his term, and let him move on and enjoy life and become an active participant in the American system. And I think we've had enough focus on the past. It's time to move forward."

In 1974 President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal. At the time Nixon had been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up but had not been indicted.

Clinton in a December interview with CBS News said he did not believe he should be charged. "If that's what they want, I'll be happy to stand and fight," he said at that time.

US call to ban cigarette sales

Cigarettes should be available only to those already addicted to them and should no longer be sold for profit, according to the man who framed the Clinton administration's tobacco policy.

The radical strategy, explained in a book by David Kessler, the former head of the powerful food and drug administration, will send shivers through the tobacco industry, which is still reeling from successive class action awards made against it on behalf of lung cancer sufferers. Dr Kessler says the industry should be dismantled and cigarettes sold only in plain wrappers on a non-profit basis to existing addicts.

The proposed strategy comes just after the publication of figures showing that cancer rates have fallen over the last decade by 16% in California, the state with the toughest anti-smoking laws, compared with 2.7% elsewhere in the United States.

Dr Kessler's new book, A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry, suggests that there is now no other way to deal with tobacco than dismantle the tobacco companies as they now stand and allow them to operate only as a regulated organisation, similar to a public utility, able to supply cigarette addicts but not allowed to market their product. The money paid by smokers would be used only to cover the costs of production and transport.

"Although nicotine and cigarettes have to remain available, you cannot ethically and morally allow companies to make a profit," argues Dr Kessler, who is now the dean of the Yale University medical school. He believes that if the profit motive were removed from the equation, the industry would gradually die. Without a profit, the powerful tobacco industry would be unable to lobby politicians as successfully as it has in the past.

Dr Kessler tells how he was once told by Hillary Clinton: "I really admire what you are doing. It's Orwellian to say that nicotine is not a drug."

Her husband Bill was more reluctant to tackle the issue, he says, arguing that the Democrats' stance on tobacco and gun control had cost them control of Congress. However, Dr Kessler was able to persuade the president to mount an aggressive campaign against marketing cigarettes to children.

Whether Dr Kessler's suggestions will have much resonance within George W Bush's administration is another matter. Shares in tobacco companies rose as news of Mr Bush's victory was confirmed.

Gun-control fear tactic bombed, Clinton says

Citing New York as his example, President Clinton gave labor and the Democrats a battle plan on January 8 for beating the gun lobby and taking back Congress.

Clinton charged that "fear campaigns" by the National Rifle Association were behind the GOP takeover of the House in 1994 and Vice President Gore's loss last year, but "it didn't work at all in New York."

Despite the Empire State's tough licensing laws, "there's lots of sporting clubs," Clinton said, "and nobody's missed a day in the woods in a hunting season; nobody's missed a single sports shooting event."

"So all those fear tactics didn't work in New York," he said, "because all the hunters and sportsmen could see from their own personal experience that it was not true."

At a farewell tribute from the AFL-CIO, Clinton dwelled at length on his longstanding belief that the Democrats have missed the boat on the gun issue and suffered at the polls as a consequence.

He told the labor leaders that trying to demonize gun owners would only backfire because many of them are union members.

"The truth is, most of your people who are NRA members are good, God-fearing Americans who wouldn't break the law for anything on Earth," Clinton said, "and they get spooked by these fear campaigns."

In Michigan and Pennsylvania last year, he said, the unions "had to fight against a lot of your members who were NRA members, who believed that Al Gore was going to take their guns away."

Clinton also blamed himself for failing to make the case that tougher gun-control laws aimed at combating crime posed no threat to sportsmen.

"I regret that I have not been more persuasive, because I came out of that culture," he said.

He urged the union leaders to make their case with the gun owners in their membership this year, before the campaign rhetoric of 2002 drowns out the message.

"You have to do it in a nonelection year," Clinton said, "when you don't feel like you're pushing a rock up a hill. And I'll help you, if I can. This is a big deal for America."

NRA officials agreed that the gun issue was a major obstacle for Democrats in their battle to take back Congress.

Clinton touts record, jabs Republicans on recent election

President Clinton, returning to the same hotel where he celebrated his 1992 Illinois primary victory, on January 9 offered his strongest criticism to date of the Republicans' handling of the presidential election.

Clinton saluted the work of Chicago native and Gore campaign chairman William Daley.

"Listen, we were way behind when Daley took over," Clinton said. "They thought the election was over, the Republicans did. The time it was over, our candidate had won the popular vote, and the only way they could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida."

The room, filled with a few thousand passionate supporters, erupted with loud cheers and applause.

Clinton praised Daley for his "exemplary service" as commerce secretary and paid tribute to his work during the presidential campaign.

"He was brilliant. I think he did a brilliant job in leading Vice President Gore to victory, myself," he added.

Delighting the crowd with memories of his St. Patrick's Day win in Illinois in 1992, Clinton said his victory here, matched with a victory in Michigan, convinced him he would win his first Democratic presidential nomination.

The president also got personal, remembering how his mother and his father spent one of their last nights together at this Chicago hotel, the Palmer House Hilton, before his mother returned to Arkansas and his father was killed in a car accident.

"This is an important place for me... and I thank you from the bottom of my heart," he said.

The president said as he leaves office, the United States is "a different, stronger, more united and a better country than it was eight years ago."

He took supporters on a "little walk down memory lane," noting how eight years ago, the country faced high unemployment, a $290 billion deficit and a quadrupling of the national debt over the previous 12 years.

"Now we have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, the lowest female unemployment rate in 40 years, the lowest minority unemployment rate every reached... 22 and a half million new jobs, the deficit has been turned into the biggest surplus in history, and when this year is over -- my last budget -- we'll have paid down $500 billion on the national debt," he said.

Web tax consensus reached

The world's industrialised economies have reached a landmark agreement that defines for the first time how they should tax business conducted through internet servers and websites.

Tax experts said the deal marked an important clarification but stressed that the rich nations needed to hold further talks to develop a comprehensive approach to taxing e-commerce.

"It's a good start," said Christine Sanderson, the UK e-business leader for PwC, the professional services firm. "But more work needs doing."

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which groups 30 leading industrialised nations, on January 9 said its members had reached consensus on a variety of e-commerce-related tax issues.

The OECD's committee on fiscal affairs has made a series of rules on what kind of e-commerce activities render a company liable to taxation. The committee decided that doing business through a website would not leave a company liable to taxation in the country from which the website had been accessed. The OECD said that this would help standardise the approach taken by national tax authorities, some of which had raised questions on how to interpret tax treaties with other nations.

"What's crucial is the clarification," said Jacques Sasseville, the head of the OECD's tax treaty unit. "That's the one [point] that's really practical."

The exemption from tax liability applies even if the company's website is hosted by a third party, such as an internet service provider. But the committee ruled that a company should generally pay tax in countries hosting servers through which business was routed.

A company would be liable to tax if the server was performing functions that formed a core part of the business activity, such as downloading software from databases. The OECD has offered a limited exemption in cases where the server has no other function than to act as a conduit for information destined to be processed elsewhere.

Sasseville admitted that the ruling represented an interim solution.

Nader wants Internet control. Yes, we're shocked as well

To most people, the Internet is a way to communicate or an untapped business opportunity.

Ralph NaderNot so Ralph Nader. The former Green Party presidential candidate sees an opportunity for a new global bureaucracy.

On January 9, Nader called for the creation of a "World Consumer Protection Organization," comparable to the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization, only "more democratically run."

Nader, at a National Press Club event, said the proposed WCPO would focus on regulation of privacy, e-commerce, intellectual property, antitrust and Internet governance -- areas he said affected consumers directly.

"The technology of the Internet is far ahead of any legal framework, any ethical framework or global framework," Nader said. "Are we going to be left with self-regulatory standards set and implemented by individual companies? Are we going to be left with standards set by the Better Business Bureau as a last resort?"

Another justification: Fraud. During the panel discussion organized by Forbes magazine, Nader said a recent Harris poll showed that 6 million Americans felt that they were "somehow defrauded" on the Internet during 2000.

The odds of a WCPO being created anytime soon, of course, range between zero and infinitesimal.

"A business-hating authoritarian like Nader doesn't really want a U.N. for privacy," says Wayne Crews, director of information policy at the libertarian Cato Institute. "He would be most content simply dictating policy himself."

"But knowing the hostility of many other nations toward an Americanized Internet with more open attitudes toward privacy and commerce, he's perfectly happy to allow them to help carry the water," Crews says.

But free-market types, oddly enough for an event organized by Forbes, weren't invited. Forbes ASAP co-sponsors an annual Technology and Society conference that's critical of regulation.

Instead, the reactions from the other two panelists ranged from neutral to enthusiastic.

"The crime is not new," said Piyush Gupta, founder and CEO of LiquidPrice.com, a site that allows buyers to search for and purchase brand-name items from pre-approved retailers. "The troubling fact is that efficiency of the Web allows for these scams to scale dramatically."

Gupta said he foresaw "dark clouds on the horizon," and echoed Nader's remarks about the problems of online fraud.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has taken the lead in combating Internet fraud.

An IBM representative also called for additional government intervention. "There is no magic bullet here," said David Allison, IBM's worldwide director of e-business strategy. "We have to think of it in more of a management perspective rather than a technological one.

"Business has to ante up. Consumers have to do their part and get educated, and the government has to get involved."

Chavez withdraws candidacy as labor secretary

Lamenting what she said were the "search-and-destroy" politics of Washington, Linda Chavez withdrew her name from consideration for labor secretary Tuesday after questions arose over an illegal immigrant who stayed with her and provided household help in the early 1990s.

Linda Chavez"Unfortunately, because of the way the stories have played over the last few days, I have decided that I am becoming a distraction and therefore I have asked President Bush to withdraw my name for secretary of labor," said Chavez, who made the announcement at Bush transition headquarters in Washington.

Her withdrawal follows media scrutiny of her work relationship with Guatemalan immigrant Marta Mercado, to whom Chavez also gave money. Although Chavez denied Mercado was paid for providing household help, it is against the law in the United States to house an illegal immigrant.

"My, what a difference a week makes," Chavez began as she publicly removed herself from consideration for the labor post just seven days after her January 2 nomination.

Bush issued a statement shortly after the announcement describing Chavez as "a good person, with a great deal of compassion for people from all walks of life ... I am disappointed that Linda Chavez will not become our nation's next secretary of labor."

Chavez's withdrawal was prefaced by a description of the help she got from others during a difficult childhood. She was joined on stage by three immigrants -- two Hispanic women and a Vietnamese immigrant -- who all told of the assistance they had received from Chavez when they first arrived in the United States.

Elaine Chao

Chavez reiterated her belief that the assistance she provided to Mercado was nothing more than an act of charity. "Knowing everything that has happened over the last week, that if that woman showed up at my door ... I would do it in an instant, without hesitation," she said.

On January 11, Bush announced that his next selection for the position was Elaine Chao, a long-time public servant who was a onetime deputy transportation secretary, director of the Peace Corps and former president and CEO of the United Way charitable organization. She is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, whose connections could prove helpful during the confirmation process.

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