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NRA suing over background check for gun buyers

The National Rifle Association announced December 1 that it was filing a lawsuit to block the FBI from keeping records on instant background checks that are now mandatory for all gun sales. The NRA charges that a federal law that went into effect a day earlier is "an illegal national registration" that violates the privacy of gun owners.

An estimated 12.4 million firearms are sold each year in the United States. All will be covered by background checks, as will an additional 2.5 million annual transactions when an owner retrieves a firearm from a pawn shop.

The new system is required under the Brady Law, which established federal background checks for handgun purchasers almost five years ago. As of November 30, people buying rifles and shotguns must submit to checks, too.

The federal system had some technical delays on its first day, but the FBI says that once the process is working smoothly, approvals should take just three minutes.
NRA challenge

Federal law prohibits the purchase of guns by felons, the mentally ill and people convicted of domestic violence. States can add other categories.
The NRA suit deals with collecting the names of customers who are approved for a gun purchase.

"There's absolutely no purpose served by the FBI keeping this list. These are people who are approved, who have no record, who have committed no crime," said NRA spokesman Bill Powers.

"Just because you've legally purchased a legal product, you're suddenly on an FBI hit list," he said. "It's an Orwellian nightmare."
FBI defense

The FBI rejects the accusations. "We're not going to violate the law. We want to maintain records in our system ... for statistical sampling and internal audits," said Jim Kessler, program director for the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.

Kessler said the agency needed to keep records on the requested background checks so it could audit the performance of its own staff and to ensure that firearms sellers didn't use the background checks for other purposes.

The FBI said it would decide by February how long it needed to keep the records, but would probably opt for less than six months.

Kessler said the FBI records included only the person's name, date of birth, sex, race and state of residence, as well as whether they wanted to buy a rifle, another type of "long gun" or a handgun.

The FBI was not collecting data on the make or model of the gun purchased or the prospective buyer's street address.

"We want to make sure the system is being used for its right intention and people are making the right calls on when to (approve the purchase) and are not selling a gun to someone who shouldn't have one," Kessler said.

"You could use the system for a lot of purposes -- to check on your neighbor, to check on your daughter's boyfriend, and that's not the purpose of this system," he said.

Audit of IRS reveals problems with security measures

A new audit of the Internal Revenue Service's security operation has found potentially costly problems at the agency.

IRS used bicycle couriers to transport taxpayers' checks to banks and hired employees with criminal pasts, according to the audit by the congressional General Accounting Office.

At one office, a bicycle messenger was entrusted with up to $100 million in deposits every day.

The GAO said a courier left a $200 million deposit unattended in a car with a window open.

Investigators found that unarmed couriers driving civilian cars alone, or riding bicycles were used at four IRS service centers, to deliver tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer checks.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti did not challenge results of the audit released December 1 but said the IRS is taking steps to remedy its security weaknesses.

"We take our responsibility to protect taxpayer information very seriously," Rossotti said. "We plan to continue working with GAO to do everything possible to ensure the security of taxpayer information and payments."

The GAO visited IRS service centers in Atlanta; Philadelphia; Austin, Texas; and Ogden, Utah, from April 20-23, during this year's tax filing peak. Practices at district offices in Los Angeles, northern California and northern Texas were also observed.

Although the deposits did not include cash, taxpayer checks contain such private information as bank account and Social Security numbers, names and addresses and signatures. They can be "cloned," using account numbers, into fake bank accounts if stolen.

"The theft of one peak season deposit could place a significant administrative burden on IRS to contact taxpayers and initiate stop payment orders on tens of thousands of checks," GAO investigators wrote.

The audit did not identify any instances of such a theft. But the GAO did cite lack of adequate background checks in 12 of the 80 IRS employee thefts, or about 15 percent, investigated from January 1995 to July 1997. Those 80 thefts totaled some $5.3 million and were detailed in a previous GAO audit.

In most cases, delays in receiving fingerprint results, combined with a crush of new hires during peak filing season, meant that some people were on the job before their backgrounds were thoroughly vetted by the IRS. The employees handle cash, checks and private taxpayer information.

The IRS hired 20 000 seasonal employees in 1997 to handle peak filing season, when up to 100 000 pieces of mail a day are received and processed at agency service centers. The fingerprint checks took an average of 68 days -- one took 141 days -- instead of the 21 days that had been expected.

GAO also found that taxpayer checks were often stored in unrestricted areas, contrary to IRS policy, meaning unauthorized employees would have greater access to them. In one case, the documents were stored in a hallway adjacent to a fitness center where anyone could enter unchallenged.

Rossotti said the agency intends to have better deposit transporting methods in place by August 1999 and other security improvements involving handling of receipts should be ready by January 1.

In addition, IRS within two months intends to have a new, live fingerprint scanner at 17 sites, including the 10 service centers, that can complete FBI checks within five days, Rossotti said.

Still, Sen. William Roth, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the IRS, expressed dismay over the audit's findings.

"The IRS has a responsibility to protect taxpayers' money and to safeguard each taxpayer's personal information," said Roth, R-Del. "Unfortunately, many of the service centers have not been taking appropriate precautions."

Union leader calls for the right of the military to unionize

The deplorable living conditions for the military and their families as evidenced in the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs Report has led Canadian Auto Workers union president Basil "Buzz" Hargrove to call on the government to pass legislation allowing the military to unionize.

Hargrove sent a letter to Minister of National Defence Art Eggleton saying the report can "only be interpreted as a condemnation of the government's ability to deal with the legitimate quality of life issues facing men, women and children who are part of the military family serving our community."

"I do not lay the blame solely on the current Liberal government but on successive governments who have failed to deal with this problem."

The report indicated military families are living in substandard housing with some having to resort to food banks to make ends meet.

If the military unionizes, will any work actually get done anywhere in the country?

West Antarctic ice sheet not in jeopardy...another nail in the Greenhoax Effect debate?

The west Antarctic ice sheet is not melting rapidly, is reasonably stable and has been so for more than a century, according to an international team of scientists.

The ice sheet is the largest grounded repository of ice on the planet and some scientists caught up in the debate over global warming have argued that the melting of this ice sheet would lead to a dramatic rise in sea levels.

The international team of scientists, who reported their findings in the journal Science, analyzed five years of satellite radar measurements covering a large part of the Antarctic ice sheet in an effort to determine if there is any direct evidence of the ice sheet melting.

"Based on our short, five-year period of observation of the interior of Antarctica, we do not seem to detect that the ice is melting more than one centimeter per year," said explained C.K. Shum, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science at Ohio State University.

"That would mean that the interior Antarctic ice sheet does not seem to be contributing to sea level rise more than 1 millimeter per year."

A one-centimeter decrease in Antarctic ice sheet volume roughly converts into a one-millimeter rise in global sea level.

Shum and his colleagues from University College in London and the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, analyzed radar data retrieved from two European Space Agency remote sensing satellites -- ESA-1 and ESA-2 -- used to measure ice altitudes from 1992 through 1996.

The orbits of the satellites reached far enough North to allow them to regularly monitor at least 60 percent of the continent's grounded ice.

While the researchers had to devise new algorithms to decipher the raw, ice sheet data and correct for several variables such as radar penetration below the ice surface and snow accumulation, they say the study represents the longest time series for which data is available.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is planning a new mission for the year 2001 called ICESAT. It would position a new satellite in a near-polar orbit, increasing the amount of ice sheet coverage, and use a more accurate laser altimeter to take measurements.

These, combined with the radar data, would give a much better assessment of mass balance changes, if any, in the Antarctic ice sheets.

Crackdown in France on work

In France, nearly all transactions between consenting adults are legal -- unless, of course, you want to work.France is virtually the only developed country in the world where it is up to the state to make sure people don't work longer than the legal weekly limit -- generally 39 hours, not including overtime.

In a recent government crackdown, hundreds of labor inspectors have been counting cars after hours in parking lots, checking office entry-and-departure records and quizzing employees about their schedules. Several large companies have been fined for allowing employees, including managers, to stay longer than the legal limits on the regular workweek and overtime.

Corporate executives say the crackdown illustrates the difficulties France faces as it tries to adapt to a world of untrammeled international capitalism. French companies, many recently privatized, have streamlined and modernized and now produce some of the finest goods and services in the world.

But many executives say French labor laws are holding corporations back. An upcoming four-hour reduction in the legal workweek to 35 hours -- with no cut in pay -- is exacerbating the complaints.

"We are in worldwide competition. If we lose one point of productivity, we lose orders," said Henri Thierry, human resources director for Thomson-CSF Communications, based in a Paris suburb. "If we're obliged to go to 35 hours, it would be like requiring French athletes to run the 100 meters wearing flippers. They wouldn't have much chance of winning a medal."

The high-tech firm, which makes half its sales outside France, is fighting a $2 million fine for 2,000 overtime-law violations in three months. It was nabbed when the overtime police scanned employee entry-and-exit records generated by the company's security-badge system.

Thomson was fined despite the "work less" drive it began this year. It hired a consulting firm to help workers become more efficient, and the electronic badge system shuts down at 7:30 p.m.; late-leavers had to sign a list and be shown out by a security guard.

Employees at many high-tech companies here take work home to keep their employers out of trouble, smuggling laptops and cellular phones under their raincoats if they think labor inspectors are peeking, according to the French press.

An Exaggeration: Unions and labor inspectors say companies exaggerate in claiming that France is filled with executives dying to work more hours than the laws allow.

"The basic problem is a growing excess of work. These are real problems, enough to affect the personal life of people," said Claude-Emmanuel Triomphe, a director in the government's labor-inspection office for the Paris region.

"We think it's too much. It's not just us. It's because employees tell us so. Five or six years ago, we got very few complaints from managers. That has changed," Triomphe said. The proportion of managers who want to work more "is much smaller than many companies would like you to believe."

The current 39-hour legal workweek in France is comparable to other European countries. Most employees are paid by the hour, with overtime paid above 39 hours.

As in the United States, certain kinds of higher-salaried employees can be declared exempt from hourly pay, but even they generally are limited to a 42-hour workweek.

Executives can work 46 hours if permission is obtained, but no one in France, not even the most powerful corporate chieftain, is allowed to work more than 48 hours a week. Or, with such exceptions as restaurants and delicatessens, on Sunday.

Canadian politicians living like kings? You be the judge

While the Canadian federal government bickers over compensation for hepatitis C victims and decent tax breaks, is a Roman-tiled steam bath for MPs out of the question? No problem.

The MPs' gym on the 8th floor of the Confederation Building has just undergone a refit and refurnishing and if the government wants to know why estimates for renovating Parliament Hill complex have soared from $483 million to $1.4 billion, it might check out this gym for a hint.

Liberal whip Bob Kilger, who chairs the Commons board of internal economy, said his group asked public works to fix a sauna that was leaking into MPs' offices below and to replace some outdated equipment.

The end result was a redesigned gym full of neat new machines and a Roman-style steam bath, at a cost estimated by Kilger to be $40 000.

But Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano, who December 2 appointed an independent committee to advise the government of renovations for the parliamentary compound, said his department just did what the board asked.

Regardless of who ordered it, MPs now have a Roman-style steam bath to complement the traditional wood-panelled dry-heat saunas already in the gym and the "massage therapist" who is on duty free of charge during opening hours. The gym has also has banks of new stair-climbers, stationary bicycles, walking machines, four-in-one gyms and free weights, and four television sets to keep the exercising politicians entertained.

There's also a beer machine and the six brands available can be obtained at the discount price of C$1.75 a can.

The gym also has a second floor with several private cubicles equipped with exercise gear for those shy souls who don't like to be watched while they sweat.

Some regulars have staked out their own lockers by taping on their business cards, including Revenue Minister Herb Dhaliwal and Veteran Affairs Minister Fred Mifflin, ex-solicitor general Andy Scott, Liberal MP Peter Adams and Tory House Leader Peter MacKay.

Canada's Manning urges right wing to 'save nation'

Right-wing political parties must unite their forces - and votes - to save Canada, Reform party Leader Preston Manning says.

"The Liberals are injuring the country through their tax policies, their health policies, their unwillingness to reform the federation," Manning told reporters following a speech on December 2 on the so-called united alternative. "There's a need for change and alternatives."

Manning, Tory Ontario Transportation Minister Tony Clement and several former federal candidates for Reform and the Progressive Conservatives called on about 400 people to join them in forming one party to fight the governing Liberals.

They will be holding a convention in Ottawa in February in an attempt to turn the rhetoric into a full-fledged political movement.

Despite garnering the support of just 38 per cent of Canadians in the last federal election, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien formed a second majority government that is raising taxes, cutting health care and thumbing its nose at the wishes of the majority, Manning said.

Reformers, Tories and others must come together to put an end to that, he said.

"It's necessary. It makes sense," Manning told his Mississauga audience.

Clement called the February convention and its aftermath the "last chance for a generation to sort out the differences between us that divide us.

"If we fail to grasp this opportunity, my children's children will be grown up before a Liberal leaves 24 Sussex Dr.," Clement said in reference to the Prime Minister's Ottawa home. "In fact, if we fail now, I genuinely fear for Canada's future."

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein will be the keynote speaker at the Ottawa convention and is considered a leadership contender.
Clement and other senior Ontario Tories are also on-side, although Premier Mike Harris has said he's too busy governing the province to become involved.

Manning has said he will seek to lead any united party that may emerge, even though some key players within the movement have said he will be unable to bring the two sides together.

"I'm prepared to live with the results," Manning said of a leadership vote.

Gore questions 'compassionate conservatism'

Vice President Al Gore, warming up on December 2 for his likely presidential campaign or early entry into the White House, dismissed the claims of George W. Bush and other Republicans who promise a new brand of "compassionate conservatism."

Bush's office called the remarks "a little odd."

In a keynote address to the Democratic Leadership Council, Gore questioned whether GOP leaders govern as compassionately as their rhetoric suggests. "'Compassion' is more than a pretty word," he said. "There is a long road between rhetoric and results."

He didn't mention Bush by name, but aides said the address was aimed squarely at the Texas governor, who is a son of former President Bush. The younger Bush is the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000.

Neither man has declared his intention to run for president. Still, the exchange seemed like the first blush of the 2000 campaign.

"I do think it's a little odd," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said from Austin, Texas. "The vice president must be a little nervous about an election that is two years away to take on a governor who has not even decided whether he will run or not."

Bush, re-elected November 3 by a wide margin, coined the phrase "compassionate conservatism" to explain his efforts to maintain core GOP values without turning away moderate Republican and Democratic voters.

Quipped Hughes: "I wonder which part the vice president disagrees with: 'compassionate' or "conservative."'

Other popular GOP governors, such as Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and John Engler of Michigan, have also set a middle-road course.

Gore told the Democratic group, "Some now say that what we need is 'compassionate conservatism.' They call for opportunity, combined with responsibility." As a sarcastic aside, he added: "I wonder where that came from."

He was suggesting that Bush and like-minded Republicans are borrowing from President Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats who held their 13th annual convention the same Day Gore spoke. Gore, the group's keynote speaker, shared billing with three Democrats who may challenge him for the nomination: Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.

Gore dominated the show early, using his speech to test the themes of his yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign. He said the party must seize the "new and dynamic center" in American politics to improve families' lives in ways large and small, protect the elderly, improve local communities and maintain the nation's dominance on the world stage.

A laundry list of poll-tested policies included promises to protect consumer privacy and reduce freeway gridlock. He called his approach "practical idealism" then spoke dismissively of Bush's slogan.

"There is a difference between using the rhetoric of the center and actually governing from the center," he said. Gore argued that Democrats act with more compassion on issues such as Social Security, education and crime fighting.

"Republicans serenaded mom and apple pie, even as they vetoed Family and Medical Leave twice leaving mom to struggle without security when a baby needed her care," Gore said. "We see that it is too damn hard right now to pay the bills and juggle day care and spend time with your kids."

Former congressman, ex-Senate candidate says he's gay

Michael Huffington, a California millionaire who spent $28 million in an unsuccessful campaign for the Senate in 1994, disclosed in the January issue of Esquire that he is gay.

The author of the story, David Brock, told the newspaper that Huffington first raised his sexual orientation while visiting Brock at his home in Rehobeth Beach, Del., last Memorial Day weekend and sat for more than 20 hours of interviews.

"I know now that my sexuality is part of who I am," Huffington, 51, was quoted in the article.

Huffington and his wife, conservative columnist Arianna Huffington, were divorced last year after 11 years of marriage during which they had two children. He had told her of his past homosexual activity when they were engaged, Brock wrote.

In 1994, Huffington, then a Republican member of the House from Los Angeles, lost a Senate race against incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., despite pouring $28 million into the effort.

High taxes good for economy: Manley

High taxes improve the economy, according to John Manley, the Canadian industry minister.

His statement, made in response to a Commons finance committee report that called on the government to focus more on ways to boost Canada's lagging productivity, including the cutting of taxes, earned swift condemnation.

"Arguably high tax levels, if anything, should increase productivity because it would drive innovation in order to lower other costs," the minister said December 5.

"So, I don't know that's a factor."

Scott Brison, the Progressive Conservative finance critic, said: "If Mr. Manley believes that high taxes improve productivity, I would question his competency as a minister."

"Every study in every country where they've ever evaluated the effect of high taxes on productivity indicate they kill jobs and investment," he

But Manley claimed it is not the case that high taxes hurt productivity, but rather that they encourage highly skilled workers to move elsewhere. "The problem with taxation more lies in the area that we don't want to lose some of the people that could contribute to innovation in our economy," he said. "And clearly that's one of the considerations that we need to worry about."

Liberal MPs, in their majority pre-budget report, called on Paul Martin, the finance minister, to cut taxes for middle and upper income Canadians in his February budget.

Maurizio Bevilacqua, the Liberal chairman of the committee, defended the call for tax cuts for the better off, noting they also contributed to the government's success in wiping out its deficit.

The surtaxes were introduced to fight the deficit, and with the deficit gone the taxes should now go too, he said outside the House.

One day later, Manley apologized for the comment and stated that he hadn't actually meant say that taxes were good. Whoops.

State exits Microsoft suit

On December 7, South Carolina's attorney general said the state has withdrawn from the federal antitrust suit against Microsoft Corp.

State attorney general Charlie Condon said the recent merger of America Online Inc. and Netscape Communications Corp. offered evidence that competition is thriving in the computer industry.

"I can no longer justify our continued involvement or the expenditure of state resources on a trial that has been made moot by the actions of the competitive marketplace," Condon said in a statement. "The Internet economy is the place where the winners and the losers of this competition will rightfully be decided."

In May, the Justice Department and 20 states sued Microsoft for illegally maintaining a monopoly in the computer operating systems market and trying to extend that monopoly into Internet software.

Fur flies as protestors scuffle at La Scala debut

Bare-breasted animal rights activists barged into the foyer of Milan's La Scala on December 7 and scuffled with police in an effort to shame women wearing furs to the opening night of the opera house season.

Police were seen dragging six protesters, led by socialite and anti-fur crusader Marina Ripa Di Meana, out of the theater. Witnesses saw some scuffles on the pavement outside.

Di Meana, a veteran activist for animal rights, wore a short black jacket that she flung open despite the freezing temperature to reveal the words "No Fur" written in large blue letters across her bare chest. Another woman, sporting the same message, wore just a black pair of pants under a brown overcoat.

Outside, three protestors with fake blood on their faces and hands lay in coffins emblazoned with the words "Better Dead than in Fur."

"It's a shame that even approaching 2000 there are still people indifferent to nature. Shame on you for still wearing fur coats for vanity," Di Meana shouted as fur-clad socialites filed into the world-famous theater for a marathon six-hour performance of Richard Wagner's opera "Twilight of the Gods."

Ripa Di Meana said the protestors had also managed to throw eggs at some of the fur coats as Milan's glitterati prepared for the social highlight of the year.

"We've got tickets but we're not going in," she added. "What's more, there's a real horse in there that they're keeping backstage for hours and hours."

The protest was organised by animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which last year put Ripa Di Meana in a white fur coat oozing red fake blood outside the theater while unconcerned fur-clad matrons filed in.

Dan Matthews, 33, PETA's director of campaigns who flew from the United States to take part, said the demonstration targeted at members of an older generation who "still see furs as a status symbol."

"With all these furs there is more tragedy in the cloakroom than on the stage," he said, but acknowledged fewer of the Milanese opera crowd were wearing fur than he had expected.

Hughes accused of aiding China

Defense Department investigators have reportedly concluded that a Hughes Electronics subsidiary gave China information potentially damaging to US national security.

According to the New York Times of December 9, which said it was given an 11-page unclassified version of a secret report, Hughes Space and Communications scientists helped the Chinese update their formulas for determining the effects of wind and other forces on rockets after a Chinese rocket carrying a Hughes-built commercial satellite crashed in 1995. This information could have helped Chinese engineers in their work on nuclear missiles.

Chinese rockets are popular with Western companies because they can provide a far cheaper means to deploy satellites than European or American launches. The problem has been unreliability -- and how far companies have gone (and have been allowed to go) in addressing that problem has become a military and political issue in the United States.

Hughes and Loral Space & Communications (LOR) are under investigation by the Justice Department and two congressional committees for their role in transferring technology to the Chinese after they lost satellites in two Chinese rocket explosions.

The report leaked to The Times was prepared by Air Force Intelligence and the Defense Technology Security Administration at the request of two congressional committees investigating the transfer of sensitive space technology to China.

According to the Times, the report said that while Hughes' aid "raises national security concerns," it probably did not tilt the US-China military balance.

A similar but distinct spin on the report appeared in The Washington Post. Citing the comments of unnamed administration officials, it said the Pentagon concluded that Hughes "went well beyond what should have been allowed" when it told China the crash was caused by problems with the rocket's fairing, a heat-resistant shroud covering the satellite.

Either way, the papers seems to be in agreement that Pentagon investigators think Hughes went too far in aiding Chinese engineers -- a claim Hughes rejects.

The Post quoted a Hughes spokesman who said that no one at the company had seen the report but that the company stood by earlier statements that it had not transferred any information that China could use to improve its ballistic missiles. Ballistic missiles do not have fairings.

The Hughes satellite was to have been launched into space in 1995, but the Chinese Long March rocket carrying it exploded only seconds after takeoff, prompting Chinese officials to blame the satellite.

Hughes asked for and received permission from the Commerce Department to discuss its views on what happened, although the company was told to be careful not to disclose rocketry data that could assist Beijing in developing military missiles.

Republicans have contended that under the Clinton administration, the Commerce Department, eager to aid US businesses, was lax in its oversight of possible technology transfers to China. In 1996, President Clinton loosened the rules governing satellite exports to China, but Congress this year overturned that decision.

The Justice Department is also probing allegations that the CIA obstructed justice by allegedly warning Hughes about the congressional probe into its dealings with China.

Appeal court upholds quashing job quotas

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the provincial government's right to repeal job quota laws.

Premier Mike Harris axed the former NDP government's ground-breaking employment equity legislation in 1995.

The law, introduced by the NDP in 1992, was designed to reverse discrimination in the workplace against women, visible minorities, native Canadians and the disabled.

The legislation went further than any previous equity laws, requiring employers to compile a detailed report on the makeup of their workforce, identify why some groups were under-represented, then devise a plan to help increase those numbers.

But the Conservatives dismissed the law as an unfair and divisive "quota system," that tied the hands of employers, created unnecessary bureaucracy and discriminated against some workers.

In place of the act, the Harris government created a policy on workplace discrimination consisting of voluntary measures including public information, an academic assessment service, and a fund for disabled people to help them compete in the workplace.

The Alliance for Employment Equity failed in a 1997 bid to bring back the legislation. It launched an appeal of that verdict, which was upheld by the province's Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

Isabel Bassett, minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, issued a release on December 9 hailing the court victory.

"The government is very pleased the court has upheld the government's right to repeal job quota laws," she said in the release. "Discrimination through job quotas, or any other form, has no place in this province."

The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund said it was disappointed the court "failed to protect the human rights protections from the vagaries of changing political opinion."

Carissima Mathen, the action fund's lawyer, said the ruling allows governments to eliminate human rights protections by discarding any laws enacted by a previous government.

Rupert Murdoch wins praise from China president/Capitalism gone bad

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch, crowning his efforts to win back Beijing's favor and crack open the Chinese media market, met President Jiang Zemin last month, who praised his coverage of China.

Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of global media machine News Corp Ltd, angered China in 1993 by saying satellite television and telecommunications posed an "unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere."

He has since worked hard to repair the damage -- and establish a foothold in the tightly controlled Chinese media market. His decision to dump BBC news from his Asian satellite broadcaster STAR TV was widely seen as an attempt to soothe Chinese authorities.

His meeting with Jiang in Beijing on December 10 demonstrated that his efforts to woo China have begun to pay off.

Jiang "expressed appreciation for the efforts made by world media mogul Rupert Murdoch in presenting China objectively and cooperating with the Chinese press over the past two years," Xinhua news agency reported.

The China Daily splashed a picture of the Australian-born magnate shaking hands with Jiang on its front page.

Xinhua said Murdoch "expressed his admiration for China's tremendous achievements in every respect over the past two decades."

Murdoch told Jiang he was "willing to further enhance friendly cooperation to present the world with a better understanding of China," according to Xinhua.

In a prepared statement after the meeting, Murdoch said he was "optimistic about the scope for cooperation with Chinese media industry partners."

News Corp's business interests in China include its 100 percent owned STAR TV, and a STAR TV joint venture, Phoenix Satellite TV.

Hong Kong-based STAR broadcasts to tens of millions of homes in China. Phoenix was adopted by cable operators in southern Guangdong province in 1997 -- the first non-mainland satellite television operator to secure such official approval.

In addition, News Corp has a joint venture with the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, producing an Internet service with technology information.

In his statement, Murdoch said News Corp was holding discussions in China on cooperation in film and television production for international markets.

He noted the success in China of News Corp's 20th Century Fox studio division, responsible for the blockbuster "Titanic," which was a smash hit in China -- and was publicly praised by Jiang.

Murdoch said he was "extremely pleased with the progress thus far."

He visited China at the invitation of the Information Office of the State Council, or cabinet. The visit coincided with approval of a News Corp representative Office in Beijing.

To avoid upsetting Beijing, Murdoch this year ordered his HarperCollins publisher to drop the memoirs of Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, who had angered China with plans for democracy before last year's handover.

Patten's book "East and West" criticizes what he believes is Western kowtowing to China.

Murdoch was straightforward in answering criticism that he had bowed to China.

"I told them not to publish the Patten book. There are plenty of publishers who would be happy to do so. We are trying to get set up in China. Why should we upset them? Let somebody else upset them," he said at the time.

HarperCollins had earlier published an English version of a biography of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

One class act

Alec Baldwin may be a friend to all creatures great and small, but Republicans are apparently a different animal altogether. The actor and staunch Bill Clinton supporter was feeling the heat over some remarks he made about Illinois Republican Henry Hyde December 11 on the Conan O'Brien Show.

"If we were in other countries, we would…all of us together would go down to Washington, and we would stone Henry Hyde to death! We would stone him to death!" Baldwin shouted, tongue presumably in cheek, as the crowd cheered.

"No, shut up! I'm not finished!" Baldwin told the audience. "We would stone [him] to death, and we would go to their homes, and we'd kill their wives and their children. We would kill their families."

Keep in mind this call to violence is from the same man who nearly canceled a Clinton fund-raiser when he found out that foie gras—which is made by force-feeding geese to enlarge their livers—was on the menu.

Hyde was not amused by Baldwin's rant, telling the Chicago Tribune, "I'm sickened by it.… You have someone like that, talking in those terms, about killing your family? To kill my family because you disagree with me? To laugh about that? There are people out there, sick people, who are just waiting for a push."

Hyde, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, added, "Excuse me for not laughing. He wants my family stoned to death by a mob. Imagine if a Republican said such a thing. I don't find the humor in it."

According to the Washington Post, Baldwin, who claims the bit was a joke meant to mock the Committee, wrote a letter of apology to Hyde, saying he was sorry the politician didn't get the humor.

"In the current supercharged climate there's no room for this kind of glibness," the actor said.

MPAA president Jack Valenti has also entered the fray, telling Variety on Thursday that he would call or write Baldwin to tell the star that his comments were "over the top" and "so off base as to boggle the mind."

NBC says it won't rerun the Conan episode—ever. "The skit was obviously a joke and meant to be taken as such," a network spokesman tells the Post. "However, in retrospect, there are sensitivities, given the climate in Washington, and we won't re-air it."

Y2K? Troops on the streets for Canada?

The federal government should consider invoking the Emergencies Act, the successor to the War Measures Act, if the millennium bug causes widespread chaos, according to newly obtained government documents reported on by the National Post on December 12.

The report, by the Year 2000 contingency planning group of Emergency Preparedness Canada, calls for orders and regulations for the Emergencies Act to be ready by the end of March.

"In the worst case, we should consider the Emergencies Act a potential source of special powers," urge documents prepared by government in July and August and obtained by the Citizen under the Access to Information Act.

"Among the activities that must be done to meet the problems resulting from Y2000 failures is development of relevant emergency orders and regulations required for the invocation of emergency provisions under the Emergencies Act."

Federal departments are to identify what emergency orders would be needed in their areas of responsibility to deal with a countrywide disaster caused by the millennium bug. Those orders and regulations should have been in place in 1988 -- when the Emergencies Act was brought in to replace the War Measures Act -- but federal departments failed to develop them. While the lack of emergency orders and regulations among federal departments would not have prevented the Emergencies Act from being invoked, it would have meant that any federal response to a large-scale crisis would not have run smoothly.

Defence Minister Art Eggleton, who is in charge of Emergency Preparedness Canada, will also be issued with a step-by-step guidebook on actions to be taken in a "major or catastrophic emergency" caused by the millennium bug, according to the report.

That book will include all the documents needed and the names of provincial officials who should be consulted before the federal government invokes the Emergencies Act.

The War Measures Act was last invoked by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on October 16, 1970, to deal with the FLQ terrorist threat -- the first and only peacetime implementation of such sweeping powers.

The Front de Liberation du Quebec had kidnapped British diplomat James Cross, who was later released, and Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, who was slain. During the crisis, Canadian troops were ordered to protect public figures, and 497 possible suspects were arbitrarily rounded up and arrested in an attempt to break the FLQ cell structure.

Defence spokesman Maj. John Blakeley said the process now being put in place is simply part of "prudent" planning to deal with the millennium bug and does not automatically mean the Emergencies Act will be enacted.

"The question of whether it will be required or not is one that will have to be determined at the time," Maj. Blakeley said. "Basically, this is saying, 'If it gets to that stage, is everything ready?' "

Maj. Blakeley said all scenarios have to be considered, including the most unlikely one: widespread major problems caused by the millennium bug. He added that the Defence department is confident it will be ready to handle any emergencies associated with the computer glitch.

Several months ago the Canadian Forces were told to prepare for the biggest peacetime deployment of troops ever in case computer failures caused by the Year 2000 problem disrupted key services. The plan, dubbed Operation Abacus, also involves the development of rules governing the use of force by soldiers in case they are called upon to assist police in dealing with emergency incidents.

Number of Americans paying zero income taxes nears 48 million

More Americans than ever are paying no income taxes in 1998, but the tax burden on people earning more than $40 000 a year continues to grow, a congressional study announced last month.

On December 15, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that nearly 48 million Americans owed no federal income tax for this year, in part because of the new $400-a-child tax credit. That compares with 46 million in 1997.

But taxpayers with incomes above $40 000 will pay 96 percent of income tax for 1998, up from 94 percent the year before, according to the estimates. And people at the higher end of the income spectrum -- above $100 000 a year -- will shoulder 62 percent of the 1998 income tax burden, compared with 56 percent the year before.

"More taxes are being collected from fewer people," said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

The jump in the number of Americans who won't owe taxes is traceable mainly to the child tax credit, which is new for 1998 tax returns due April 15. Parents can claim the $400 credit for each child under age 17 -- that includes stepchildren and foster children -- subject to certain total income limits.

For many, this credit, combined with others, will erase any tax liability for the first time.

"This is designed to help families, to give them a little extra break," said J. Randy Penn, a tax planner at H&R Block. "These credits are designed to pay as much of your taxes for you as possible."

For families with one or two children, the credit can reduce income taxes to zero but not trigger a refund. But for families with three or more children, a portion of the total credit can result in a refund, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

One other thing to keep in mind: The total credit for all children in the family drops by $50 for each $1 000 a taxpayer's adjusted gross income exceeds $110 000 for married people filing jointly, $55 000 for married people filing separately and $75 000 for single filers.

Next year, the child tax credit increases to $500.

The millions of people who pay no income tax aren't completely off the hook. They are still subject to the taxes that pay for Social Security and Medicare, which amount to 7.65 percent combined.

But the Joint Committee on Taxation study demonstrates a continuing shift in how U.S. government operations ranging from the Army to welfare are paid for. The 52.4 million taxpayers earning more than $40 000 will pay 95.5 percent of the nation's income taxes in 1998, up from 93.6 percent a year earlier.

Most of those owing no income taxes earn less than $20 000 a year. By contrast, less than 1 percent of people earning more than $75 000 a year pay no taxes -- and the average tax liability for those between $100 000 and $200 000 is $19 688 for 1998.

"Almost 50 million Americans have been excused from paying any income taxes," Archer said. "Now, it's time to concentrate tax relief on the middle-income people who pay the bills."

Archer is among the congressional proponents of a cut in income taxes, possibly an across-the-board reduction in rates or more targeted proposals such as eliminating the "marriage penalty" paid by millions of two-income couples.

WHO urged to consider global anti-tobacco accord

International health experts urged the World Health Organization on December 16 to lead a global fight against tobacco use similar to the battle waged against landmines.

Experts from 18 countries, working in Vancouver, proposed an anti-tobacco convention for the United Nations health agency, saying efforts by individual nations to fight smoking are not adequate.

"Strong global action must compliment national action," said Dr. Derek Yach, project manager for the WHO's "Tobacco Free Initiative."

A report released in October estimated there are more than 1.2 billion smokers in the world and that 70 percent are in developing countries. More 10 000 people die each day from smoking-related diseases, the meeting was told. The meeting was not informed about the WHO study which showed no effects to non-smokers due to second hand smoke, a finding limited to one paragraph in a 600 page WHO report.

Yach said the anti-smoking campaign needed the political force of an international convention, such as those used to ban landmines and against ozone depletion.

"That means it takes it to the level of foreign policy people and not (just) health ministers. Much of the tobacco control issues have nothing to do with health ministers," Yach said.

Representatives of the WHO are scheduled to meet in January with other UN agencies and the International Monetary Fund to develop a coordinated anti-tobacco strategy.

Efforts to develop an international convention on tobacco control are only in their early stages, and although officials said the strategy is on an accelerated schedule, any adoption of an accord is not expected until 2003.

If adopted, it would be the first such international treaty on fighting a health issue.

Yach stressed that the convention, as envisioned now, would not call for a ban on tobacco use, but could include controls on cigarette marketing and promote efforts to inform smokers of the health dangers.

Speakers warned the Vancouver gathering that the fight against tobacco use is inadequately funded, and nations must work together because the tobacco industry is international.

"Just as tobacco is marketed by multinational companies, so too does tobacco cause multinational problems," said British Columbia Health Minister Penny Priddy.

In November, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to sue the tobacco industry over the health costs. The suit is similar to those filed in the United States by more than 40 states and is expected to use evidence developed in the those legal battles.

Yach acknowledged an international anti-smoking effort would likely face opposition from both the industry and countries that export tobacco. "I can't promise it is going to be an easy debate," he said.

Hollywood elite show their support

In his darkest hour, President Clinton learned who his friends really are—and they seem to be clustered in Hollywood. Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Elisabeth Shue, and Ted Danson and his wife, Mary Steenburgen, were some of the big names who turned out December 16 in West Los Angeles to lead an anti-impeachment rally organized by People for the American Way, a group started by TV producer Norman Lear.

"Who could have imagined that we would be living in a time when those we elected to office would turn their backs on the public and ignore the voice of the American people," Streisand asked a cheering crowd of about 1 000 supporters.

"With a true abuse of power, the congressional leadership is determined to force the removal of a twice-elected president from office, one who has done a great job here at home and is acclaimed as a peacemaker around the world," Streisand railed.

Danson said he understands the tough choice facing the House Republicans, but urged, "We're really looking for heroes." Still, the actor wasn't optimistic, saying, "It feels that no matter what the majority—we, the people—want, Congress is going to impeach our president."

Nicholson reportedly hadn't planned to speak, but did rise to the podium, telling the crowd, "This is not a rally about my friend President Clinton. It's about the presidency."

The three-time Oscar winner added, "I wanted to come down today because the presidency of the United States is at stake. Both parties could stop this tomorrow morning. I'm just here to wish you all a Merry Christmas and say I hope they do."

Steenburgen, a friend of the Clinton family dating back to their Arkansas days, was the only speaker to talk about Clinton's bad behavior, criticizing his affair with Monica Lewinsky but predicting he wouldn't be removed from office.

"The flame you are concerned about will not consume Bill Clinton," Steenburgen said. "You will not burn him at the stake."

At the close of the rally, Titanic actress Frances Fisher led the crowd in singing "God Bless America."

Gore, Hoffa side with NABET picketers

Vice President Gore and Teamsters president-elect James P. Hoffa gave NABET members some high-profile support December 16.

Gore, who happened to be visiting a hotel across the street from the ABC News Bureau, was cheered by picketing NABET members as he entered his limousine. The vice president started to cross the street to meet with the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees & Technicians members but was stopped by an aide. Instead, Gore stood on the doorwell of his limo, raised his fist in solidarity and shouted, "I support you guys."

Union members roared cheerfully in response.

Gore has been in the good graces of NABET ever since he refused to do a post-election interview with an ABC correspondent on the same day that the lockout began.

A few hours after Gore lent his impromptu support to the picketers, Hoffa stopped by to walk the picket line.

"Mickey Mouse is a Teamster, Mickey Louse is Michael Eisner," proclaimed Hoffa in a display of solidarity and Muhammed Ali-like poetic skill.

Hoffa, who was elected president of the 1.4 million member Teamsters in early December, pledged his union's support for NABET. The Teamsters union, including UPS drivers, have refused to make deliveries to ABC offices since the lockout began.

ABC locked out union workers on November 3 in response to a 24-hour strike by union members over health benefits.

Since his election, Hoffa has pledged that he would lead a more militant union. He certainly had strong words for ABC and its corporate parent Disney. "Your fight is our fight," said Hoffa. "We are all bound together against corporate greed."

NABET strikers responded by chanting, "Hoffa, Hoffa, Hoffa."

Apparently Canada's Liberals don't have enough to think about already...

Senior Liberals, including top officials in the Prime Minister's Office, are promoting an end to the Queen's role as head of state to mark the millennium.

Lawrence Martin, a columnist for Southam News and Jean Chretien's biographer, said the idea of abolishing the monarchy was floated to him by a senior advisor in the Prime Minister's Office as "a grand project to kick off the new millennium."

Martin said the government has "no intention of putting the momentous project on the front burner," but officials are putting out the idea to "test public opinion in the hope of gathering sufficient support to move forward."

Peter Donolo, the prime minister's communications director, confirmed that there has been behind-the-scenes talk of a non-monarchical system in Canada. He conceded "a lot of Liberals find this kind of thing intriguing," but added, "there are no plans to currently move ahead."

To end the Queen's role as head of state would require a constitutional amendment, which needs the approval of all 10 provinces. It would be difficult for Ottawa to win unanimous approval, given support for the Queen in provinces such as Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

Martin wrote in a column on December 18 that the idea has been put to the prime minister. "An official who talked to him said he is open to debate on the question but is concerned about 'awakening a sleeping dog.' "

The prime minister is under pressure to break out of his image of running a care-taker government with a bold initiative, which is why senior officials are pushing Canada's break with the Crown.

Herb Dhaliwal, the revenue minister, told Martin that he supports abolition of the monarchy and predicted that the proposition could win approval in his home province of British Columbia.

This is not the first time the issue of abolishing the monarchy has been raised by the Liberal government.

In September, 1997, John Manley, the industry minister, said he favoured the removal of Queen Elizabeth as Canada's constitutional monarch. Mr. Manley had sought and received approval from the prime minister's office to float the issue.

A week earlier, Lloyd Axworthy, the foreign affairs minister, said he would welcome a debate on the monarchy's role in Canada. Mr. Axworthy's remarks came while he was in London representing Canada at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

See, things in China are changing

Two members of a new Chinese opposition party were sentenced on December 21 to long jail terms after trials that lasted only a few hours.

A court sentenced prominent dissident Xu Wenli to 13 years in prison, after accusing him of trying to subvert state power by organizing an opposition party.

His wife, who was at the trial, said he denounced the proceedings as "political persecution" and refused to answer questions from the judge.

When the punishment was announced, Xu and his wife both shouted, "I protest," she said.

"He will not appeal," she said. Xu believes that "To appeal would be admitting a crime. And under no circumstance is he willing to admit to this crime."

Separately, a court in the eastern city of Hangzhou jailed another organizer of the Chinese Democratic Party, Wang Youcai, for 11 years. Wang's trial took place December 17.

A third party member, Qin Yongmin, was still awaiting a verdict after his trial in the central industrial city of Wuhan, was also sentenced to 12 years.

The harsh sentence for Xu followed a 3 1/2 hour trial, said court-appointed lawyer Mo Shaoping. The trial was conducted in secrecy amid tight security. Xu's wife, who only learned of the trial three days earlier, was the only person among family and supporters allowed to attend.

The sentence underscores the Chinese government's resolve to crush dissent. The U.S. embassy in Beijing called Xu's 13-year sentence "deplorable."

The trials followed the release one day earlier of prominent labor activist Liu Nianchun from prison on medical parole. Liu and his family were sent into exile in the United States. Liu and his wife, Chu Hailan, and their 11-year-old daughter arrived in New York that evening. International human rights groups attacked China for attempting to use Liu's release to deflect international criticism and attention from the show trials.

After the order was given for his release, Liu was taken from a prison camp outside Beijing and, with his wife and daughter, boarded a plane to Canada and then New York, in his first taste of freedom in more than 3 1/2 years.

Xu, 55, had already spent 12 years in jail for participating in a democracy movement. In his trial, he was accused of seeking to challenge the Communist Party's power by helping to set up an opposition group, the Chinese Democratic Party.

Uniformed and plainclothes police cordoned off the Beijing Intermediate Court in the city's western suburbs, preventing journalists and others from approaching within 500 yards of the building.

Three plainclothes police equipped with radios followed Xu's wife, He Xintong, as she took the subway to the trial. To prevent supporters from rallying, police detained two of Xu's colleagues the day before and kept watch on the homes of at least two others, friends and a Hong Kong human rights group reported.

The human rights group said more than 250 dissidents across China had urged U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to pressure China to release Xu, and the two others.

Xu was detained three weeks earlier, and the court appointed a lawyer for weeks later, too late to mount a credible defense, said He Xintong. Xu had been jailed for 12 years for his role in the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement. Most of that time was spent in solitary confinement.

Just 10 weeks before meting out the harsh sentences, China won widespread praise for signing the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees free speech and assembly and other liberties.

Noted expert on New Zealand?

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, America's first black female senator, has been offered the ambassadorship to New Zealand, according to a top aide to the senator.

The White House told the Illinois Democrat she could have the job if she wants it, William Mattea, her chief of staff, said December 21.

Braun was defeated for re-election last month after a controversial term in office.

A White House spokesman did not confirm the offer after media inquiries.

Moseley-Braun is undecided about the offer. She is also considering going on the lecture circuit or returning to practicing law.

"It is only in the works if she decides to go ahead with it," Mattea said.

Ambassadorial nominations must be approved by the Senate, but they usually are not questioned for former members of Congress going to posts such as the one in a Commonwealth nation in the South Pacific popular with tourists.

Moseley-Braun's re-election bid was undone by criticism of her 1996 visit to a brutal Nigerian dictator and allegations, never proven, that she used 1993 campaign funds to pay for designer clothes, stereo equipment, jewelry, cars and travel.

She was unsuccessful, despite the White House's eagerness to see her win a second term. President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton each headlined several fund-raisers and campaigned repeatedly for her during more than a year leading up to the November 3 election.

But her opponent, Republican Sen.-elect Peter Fitzgerald, used $11.7 million in loans and donations from his personal banking fortune to pay for a barrage of effective television ads criticizing her ethics and ridiculing her record. The race tightened at the end, and Moseley-Braun wound up losing by a margin of 51 percent to 47 percent -- much closer than earlier polls had indicated.

Clinton, Starr named Time's Men of the Year

Special Independent Counsel Ken Starr, whose investigation into Clinton led to the president's impeachment, appears behind Clinton's shoulder, partially shadowed, on an illustrated Time cover that both men share as the magazine's "Men of the Year" for 1998.

Clinton was Time's sole choice in 1992, but the editors chose Starr to share the limelight with the president after the two dominated the year's headlines.

"The news reinforced our decision, which we had been wrestling with until the final days," wrote Walter Isaacson, Time's managing editor.

"The year drew to a close the way it had opened in January, with events being driven by what these two men had wrought," said Isaacson, who also said the two men's "shared obstinacy but radically different personalities and values caused them to become entwined in a sullied embrace and paired for history."

Other candidates for the title were Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Sen. John Glenn, baseball slugger Mark McGwire and the Irish peacemakers. Isaacson confirmed speculation that Hillary Rodham Clinton had been a leading contender for the magazine's annual nod to the year's top newsmaker.

"But at decision time it came down to who, in the end, had the most impact on the way the news actually unfolded throughout the year," wrote Isaacson. He defined the Man of the Year as "the person or persons who most affected the news of our lives, for good or for ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse."

Clinton and Starr join an elite group to receive the designation, stretching from the first winner, Charles Lindbergh in 1927, to last year's winner, Andrew Grove, chairman of Intel Corp. Other winners in the '90s include Ted Turner, Pope John Paul II and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In the past, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini have also been chosen Man of the Year.

James Woods attacks Clinton

It turns out that not every Democrat in Hollywood is a close personal friend of Bill's. Just a week after stars such as Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, and Ted Danson rallied in support of the president, James Woods was standing firm in his opposition.

"He's a certified liar, a card-carrying liar, and lying is the cancer at the base of the spine of every crime ever committed," the actor told the Washington Post on December 23.

Woods, 51, believes Clinton deserved impeachment, and is certain the Senate will end up removing him from office.

"I don't even like Republicans by and large, but if they're doing this, maybe they're doing it because they believe in it," he told the paper.

In fact, Woods was more upset over the fact that Clinton gave China access to militarily sensitive technology than the whole Lewinsky mess, but says that the impeachment is like "getting Al Capone for income tax evasion."

Woods concedes that he's no monument to honesty. "When I lie, I'm wrong," the actor explains. "I'm not a perfect person, but I have perfect ideals. This guy is a [expletive deleted] sociopath. I'm ashamed to be a Democrat."

Former White House spokesman says Clinton already punished

Former White House spokesman Mike McCurry said December 27 that he was "troubled" by his ex-boss Bill Clinton's behavior but he said the president has already suffered the most hurtful punishment -- impeachment.

"For someone who loves the presidency and loves that White House and is a student of it, that will hurt him a lot forever when he's down in Little Rock at his library," McCurry said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

By being impeached by the House, Clinton "has now suffered in history what no other president save (Andrew) Johnson has suffered, and that is going to be with him forever," McCurry told host Tim Russert.

"The key question is ... what as a nation do we do that renders the right kind of punishment that allows us ... to move on to all the other things that we're going to have to address?" McCurry said.

He said he believed he was expressing the general U.S. opinion "on the question of what is the public harm that's been done here."

McCurry, who ended four years as chief White House spokesman October 2, did not repudiate comments he made earlier in December in a BBC television interview.

Asked then whether Clinton was fit to be president, McCurry had replied: "I have enormous doubts because of the recklessness of his behavior. I mean, the nature of this particular affair (with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky) and then the way in which he did conceal it really does raise some very profound and troubling matters."

But on Meet the Press, McCurry said he had probably "violated the press secretary's rule that you don't try to express a complicated thought in a sound-bite medium."

"All the positive things that I said were not kind of excerpted and shown," he said.

Although he was troubled by the president's behavior, McCurry said, "I'm troubled by some of my own behavior sometimes. I think about it. I worry about it. I pray about it. I see if I can do better next time around."

McCain prepares for a presidential bid

Republican Sen. John McCain, an independent-minded conservative who spent 5 1/2 years in a prison camp during the Vietnam War, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) December 30 to form a presidential exploratory committee.

The filing is considered a first step in formally advancing a campaign for a presidential nomination. The committee will be co-chaired by former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-New Hampshire) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).

Senior advisers to McCain, an Arizona Republican, say it is all but certain that McCain will run for the Republican nomination for president in 2000. McCain is not expected to formally announce his campaign for several weeks, however.

Rudman told The Associated Press the FEC filing "marks the first significant step forward in a campaign for president by John McCain."

Rudman said McCain has received significant encouragement to run in 2000 from "a wide array of people over the last several months."

"Many, many Republicans and Americans yearn for a new kind of leadership," Rudman told the AP. "John McCain is unique in his ability to offer conservative, independent experienced leadership. That's why we believe he must seriously consider running for president in 2000."

Other Republicans looking at making a presidential bid in 2000 include Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, magazine publisher Steve Forbes, former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Education Secretary and Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander.

Shamans say Clinton to survive scandal, Monica to suffer

The final authorities on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal have spoken.

President Bill Clinton will survive the sex scandal hounding him and serve out his full term, Andean soothsayers predicted December 30.

The shamans, descendants of the Inca empire that once ruled Peru, said they based their predictions on visions brought on by drinking a brew made from a jungle vine, a hallucinogen they say has curative, religious and extrasensory powers.

"Clinton will survive, but Monica (Lewinsky) will suffer because she writes a book and the truth of it will be challenged," said Juan Osco, 45, after he spat a herb mixture over photos of Clinton, Lewinsky and other famous figures.

The ceremony involving eight soothsayers atop a hill overlooking Lima takes place each year to bless the new year and appease the god Apu, who they say inhabits the hill.

It must be those damn baby boomers...

Despite the House of Representatives' vote to impeach him, President Bill Clinton once again is the man most admired by the American public and Hillary Clinton is once again the public's most admired woman, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released on December 30.

When asked "What man have you heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most?" 18 percent of people surveyed named President Clinton as their first or second choice.

When asked the same question about women living today in any part of the world, 28 percent named Hillary Clinton as their first or second choice. That was twice the number who did so a year ago. Her husband's 18 percent figure this year is slightly higher than the 14 percent he notched in 1997.

Why does Clinton rank as the public's most admired man even after his impeachment by the House on December 19?

For the last fifty years, every president with an approval rating greater than 50 percent at the end of the year has topped the list. Since 1948, the incumbent president has ranked at the top of the most admired list only seven times, and only when their approval ratings were low: Harry Truman in 1951 and 1952, Lyndon Johnson in 1967 and 1968, Richard Nixon in 1973, Gerald Ford in 1974 and Jimmy Carter in 1980.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey was based on interviews with 1 055 adult Americans conducted December 28-29. The people who participated in the poll were given no choices; they had to answer without prompting.

Most Admired Man

1. Bill Clinton
2. Pope John Paul II
3. Billy Graham
4. Michael Jordan

Most Admired Woman

1. Hillary Clinton
2. Oprah Winfrey
3. Elizabeth Dole
4. Margaret Thatcher

Canadian taxes continue to rise despite what feds say

Despite recently announced Employment Insurance (EI) tax reductions, Canadians will pay higher payroll taxes in 1999 due to the increase in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) taxes according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). Once the combined effect of the EI decrease and the CPP increase is calculated, a Canadian worker earning $39 000 will actually pay $59.20 more in payroll taxes in 1999 than they did in 1998. The same worker will pay $376 more in payroll taxes in 1999 as compared to 1992.

Employers are also dinged for more payroll taxes. In 1999, employers will cough up an extra $28 in payroll taxes for employees at the $39 000 threshold. A full $332 more in 1999 as compared to 1992.

"Despite Paul Martin’s rhetoric, payroll taxes in this country continue to skyrocket like Superman, up, up and away. Indeed, they have increased for seven years," said CTF federal director Walter Robinson. "Messrs. Martin and Chretien are responsible for raising payroll taxes every single year since they took office in 1993. This is the legacy that they are leaving Canadians with … a punishing payroll tax burden."

CTF calculations, based on federal government figures, show employees earning $39 000 in 1992 paid $1 803.60 in payroll taxes in 1992 (combined CPP and EI taxes). That compares to $2 163 forecast total payroll taxes in 1999. Meanwhile, employers will pay $2 560.80 in payroll taxes for employees at $39 000 next year compared to $2 246.64 in 1992.

Robinson called on the federal government to further reduce EI taxes in 1999 to offset the effects of higher CPP taxes, and to enact the tax relief proposals in the CTF’s pre-budget submission (November 17, 1998) to the House of Commons Finance Committee. The CTF called for a 10 per cent across-the-board tax cut, the complete elimination of the 3 per cent and 5 per cent federal surtaxes and for full indexation of the income tax system to inflation.

For more detailed information and charts on 1999 payroll taxes, view "PAYROLL TAXES IN 1999: UP, UP AND AWAY" at www.taxpayer.com. The full text of the CTF’s pre-budget submission can also be found on the CTF website.

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