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web posted January 29, 2001

UK police plan to DNA test everyone

The prospect of routine DNA screening of the entire British population has drawn nearer with the government proposing to give police the power to retain indefinitely samples taken from innocent people.

The proposal forms the centrepiece of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which also provides for extending police powers to control the streets and seize property.

Officers will be able to issue fixed penalty notices for a long list of misdemeanours, ranging from drunkenness to throwing fireworks and making hoax emergency calls.

The level of the fines, yet to be fixed, is likely to be between $260 and $6,500.

Police will also be able to enforce curfews imposed on children up to age 16, stop people drinking in designated public places and arrest suspected kerb crawlers.

The bill gives the police new powers to seize documents and computer disks even if they contain privileged legal information.

But the powers to retain DNA samples and fingerprints are the most controversial elements of the bill. For the first time, police would be able to keep samples taken from volunteers or from people eliminated from inquiries.

At the moment, samples must be destroyed if a suspect is not charged or not convicted.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said he would "proceed cautiously and proportionately" on extending the law further. But the measure would allow a three-fold expansion of the existing database of one million samples.

Police called for more powers after two cases in which convictions were quashed because guilt was proved with DNA evidence that should have been destroyed.

Straw said the new bill would clarify the law in this area.

He did not regard it as any more of an infringement of civil liberties than the widespread use of closed-circuit television cameras.

Conservative Party spokeswoman Ann Widdecombe said the DNA and police seizure powers had "serious civil liberties implications".

But she predicted that the legislation would run out of parliamentary time if an election were held in May.

Weaponry goes into hiding under new California law

Hundreds of California gun owners are taking their assault-style weapons out of state or putting them in hiding to avoid a registration deadline that took effect January 1.

At the same time, sales of several hundred handgun models have been halted under terms of another new law requiring they be tested and certified by state officials before being put on sale.

As of December 29, the last weekday before the registration deadline, just 10,000 gun owners had signed state forms and paid the $20 fee, reported the California Department of Justice.

"No one knows exactly how many of these types of guns are in private hands, but we estimate the number is far higher than what has been registered," said state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat.

The new law expands a 1989 ban on sales of new military-type weapons. That law listed guns by brand name and model, requiring owners of existing weapons to register them. But loopholes allowed continued sales of slightly altered models and imitations.

The new law defines outlawed weapons by feature, banning new sales of semiautomatic centerfire rifles and rifles with pistol grips protruding beneath the weapon, thumbhole stocks, folding stocks, flash suppressors and fixed magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Semiautomatic pistols also are included in the ban if they have threaded barrels capable of accepting a flash suppressor, silencers or the capacity to accept a detachable magazine outside the pistol grip.

Owners of such guns can keep them but risk a fine of $500 and jail time if the weapons are not registered. Supporters of registration say it is needed to enforce the sales ban. Sales can be regulated, said legislators who backed the new law, only if authorities know which guns were in the state before the ban began.

But gun owners fear the sales ban and registration law are the first steps in an effort to disarm them. The National Rifle Association and the California Sporting Goods Association said they would sue to have the registration deadline extended indefinitely because owners didn't get enough notice of the new rules. Registration regulations were published on December 5, less than a month before the December 31 postmark deadline for sending registration cards to the state.

Meanwhile, hundreds of gun owners reacted by moving their guns to nearby states without registration laws or sales bans on assault weapons. Many are sending weapons to relatives or friends in other states for storage. Others are paying to keep them closer by, where they still can be used for recreational shooting.

More than 400 California gun buffs so far have placed weapons at the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute outside Las Vegas, where a $500 fee covers storage and weapons training and maintenance of a gun for up to two years. Other centers in Reno and Carson City, Nev., and several small Arizona cities just across the Colorado River from California reportedly are about to begin accepting guns.

"I sent one gun to my cousin in Texas," said Leo Pangross, a building contractor in the Los Angeles suburb of Corona. "I can't take it out and shoot it, but at least I still have it and I can go get it if I feel like I need it."

State officials maintain they passed the law because no one needs such weapons. "The only use they have is to kill a large number of people in a short time," said Nathan Barankin, a top aide to Lockyer. "No one's using them to protect themselves or their family or their home. These are not the weapons of choice for that purpose. We're not trying to disarm the public; we're just trying to have a safer society."

The goal of safety-testing pistols is the same. As of January 1, only 202 of more than 900 known handgun models had been certified for sale in California, where the last week of 2000 featured a run on many uncertified models, according to gun stores.

"This law infringes on people's right to bear arms," said Barry Bauer, owner of a Fresno sporting goods shop. "The people of California can't buy the same handguns people in the rest of the nation can."

Like other store owners, Bauer now must sell off his stock of uncertified handguns to out-of-state customers or dealers in other states.

Legislators said the new law is designed to prevent guns from exploding in users' hands, as some cheaply made "Saturday night specials" have done. Three samples of each model now must be tested in two ways:

  • Each is dropped six times from the height of one meter. If one gun fires on impact, the model fails the test.
  • Each pistol is fired 600 times, with any model failing if it jams or misfires during the first 20 rounds or if it malfunctions more than six times during the 600 rounds.

State testing costs manufacturers $2,000 per gun.

Letter 'W' missing from White House keyboards

President George W. Bush has lost his middle initial from many computer keyboards at the Old Executive Office Building in the White House complex.

In an apparent prank carried out by departing Clinton administration staffers, Bush aides discovered that dozens of computer keyboards were missing the "W" key.

Bush aides said January 23 that the W was marked out in some cases but often the key was removed -- and sometimes taped on top of doorways -- or damaged with the spring broken.

Bush made a big deal out of his middle initial during campaign rallies, often holding up the middle three fingers of his hand to form a W.

He would joke to crowds that if Vice President Al Gore was so smart, then why does every Internet address start with a W. "And not just one W. Three Ws!" he would exult.

Castro says he hopes Bush "not as stupid as he seems"

Cuban President Fidel Castro fired his first verbal shot at President George W. Bush since he took office, saying he hoped his new adversary in the White House is "not as stupid as he seems."

In a January 21 speech shown late January 24 on state television, Castro said that "someone very strange, with very little promise, has taken charge of the leadership of the great empire that we have as a neighbor."

"That gentleman has arrived there, and hopefully he is not as stupid as he seems, nor as mafia-like as his predecessors were," the Cuban leader said. He added, however, that he was not troubled by Bush's presence, saying "he's there, and we are calm over here."

The United States "cannot invent anything against us," said Castro.

Bush is the 10th American president to serve since the 1959 Castro revolution.

The new U.S. president has expressed support for the four-decade American trade embargo on Cuba. He has said he envisions no change in U.S. policy toward the communist island unless free elections are held and political prisoners are freed.

During last year's presidential campaign, Castro described Bush, a Republican, and Democratic candidate Al Gore as "boring and insipid."

Democratic group says Gore miscalculated

A group of self-described moderate Democrats contends Al Gore's populist presidential campaign wasn't aimed at suburban residents, moderates and upper-middle-class whites he needed, but others within the party disagree sharply on the reasons for his loss.

The Democratic Leadership Council, "new Democrats" who helped propel Bill Clinton to power with a centrist appeal, released an analysis that highlights several reasons it thinks Gore was unsuccessful against eventual winner George W. Bush -- most significantly, his steady appeals to the working class.

Gore also had the Green Party's Ralph Nader draining some votes from him, rather than Ross Perot dampening support for the Republican candidate, a factor described as minimal by the group's leadership.

"Given the fundamentals, the good economy, the fact that crime and welfare were down, the vice president should have won by a comfortable margin," said Al From, founder and chief executive of the Democratic group.

But not all Democrats agree that Gore's basic strategy was flawed. Steve Rosenthal, political director of the AFL-CIO, said Gore actually fared better because of his strong appeal to the base of Democratic support.

"His political targets continue to be extremely unpopular," said Rosenthal, referring to drug companies and oil companies. He said union members were far more successful at reaching white men within their ranks than was the party in reaching white men overall.

Nader, who came as a spectator and took copious notes during the panel discussion, said both sides are missing the point by underestimating concerns about corporate power in America. He rejected any suggestion that he was the cause of Gore's defeat.

"There were 20 banana peels," said Nader, acknowledging that he was one of them. Nader said it's too early to say whether he will run again.

Gore aides said during the campaign that he was trying to blend the new Democrats' moderate message with an outreach to those who felt the new economy had left them behind. Gore campaign research suggested the populist message would hit home with the small group of undecideds the campaign was pursuing in the very close race. Officials in his transition office did not return calls.

Gore did well among groups he targeted with his pledge to "fight for working families," he didn't do well enough among groups like suburbanites, moderates and the upper middle class, From said.

Many political observers predicted Gore would win with a healthy majority of the vote because of the strong economy and general approval of President Clinton's job performance. Gore and eventual winner George W. Bush ended in a virtual tie, with the election settled by less than 1,000 votes in Florida.

"Democrats need to have a broad coalition to win," From said. "We need to expand beyond our Democratic base."

The council released an analysis of election results and a survey by Democratic pollster Mark Penn to highlight the kind of course correction it feels is needed for Democrats to recapture the White House.

Penn's research suggested Gore won on individual issues, but President Bush won the campaign on broader themes like reducing the size of the government and changing the tone in Washington. Penn found that Gore's "old-style populism" prevented him from reaching key voters, especially in key border states and in his home state of Tennessee.

DLC founder From wrote in his analysis of the election that Democrats need to build a new majority, not rely on the Democratic coalitions from years past.

The Democratic coalition "must expand beyond our Democratic base ... and must include men as well as women, whites as well as African-Americans and Hispanics, suburbanites as well as city dwellers, moderates and even some conservatives as well as liberals."

Democrats should not obsess about the Gore campaign's loss but begin working toward elections in 2002 and 2004, From said.

Key to renewed success by the Democrats is recognizing the changes in the country and realizing that a populist campaign causes voters to view a candidate as liberal and identified with "big government," he said. The new economy is causing dramatic changes in the voting public, he said, blurring the sharp class differences of an earlier era.

"America is changing. It's becoming more affluent, more educated, more suburban, more wired, more moderate and more diverse," From said. "To put together a majority, you have to talk to the country as it is."

Fed chairman Greenspan says rising surpluses provide room for U.S. tax cuts

Alan GreenspanU.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, providing critical support for President George W. Bush's efforts to cut taxes, told Congress on January 25 that rising estimates of budget surpluses give Congress room to cut taxes.

However, Greenspan suggested Congress should consider some mechanism to make sure that the tax cuts could be suspended if the revenue projections turn out to be too optimistic in later years. Greenspan, who previously had expressed a preference for using the surpluses to pay down the national debt, said he still believes debt reduction is the best use for the added revenue.

But he said government estimates project more than enough surplus funds to pay off the debt and still cut taxes.

"The sequence of upward revisions to the budget surplus projections for several years now has reshaped the choices and opportunities before us," Greenspan said in testimony to the Senate budget committee.

"The most recent data significantly raise the probability that sufficient resources will be available to undertake both debt reduction and surplus-lowering policy initiatives," Greenspan said.

"Accordingly, the tradeoff (between paying down the debt and other possibilities) faced earlier appears no longer an issue."

Greenspan in his prepared testimony never discussed what size of tax cut Congress should consider. Bush is recommending a $1.6-trillion US cut over 10 years, a level that Democrats in Congress have contended is too large.

Rent-a-womb plan urged on Canadian government

The federal government should consider setting up a publicly funded system of surrogate moms, a Health Department discussion paper suggests.

But wages wouldn't be great for federal baby-bearers - rates should be similar to Employment Insurance benefits, says the paper, which summarizes public consultations last year.

Rent-a-womb contracts, sometimes called preconception arrangements, have been proliferating in Canada, but the suggestion of a government-run system is new, even to experts in the field.

"Good heavens!" said Margaret Somerville of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.

"That really epitomizes one of the worries about surrogate motherhood, that it would be poor women who didn't have alternative source of employment. Because, I mean, who else would do it?"

The Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies recommended in 1993 that rent-a-womb contracts be banned as offensive to human dignity.

A "voluntary moratorium" announced by former health minister Diane Marleau in 1996 has had little effect in deterring such arrangements. The Health Department has held repeated consultations on what to do.

The new paper says unnamed participants in the consultations suggested "a public registry of surrogates who would receive modest compensation for their services, e.g. Employment Insurance rates. This form of state-operated surrogacy was seen as resolving the inducement issue" (the fear that women would be pressured to bear babies against their will).

Surrogate mothers have often been portrayed as altruistic - motivated by desire to help an infertile couple. But skeptics suggest there's often subtle pressure from relatives or friends.

The paper says that under a publicly run system, "persons without the close family or friendship ties necessary to seek out an altruistic surrogacy would not be deprived of one of the methods available to have a child."

Health Department spokesperson Jennifer Woodside said a public surrogacy system is just one idea being considered as Ottawa works on legislation to cover new genetic and reproductive technologies.

"All of the things in the feedback report are under consideration," she said.

The report came after consultation with medical and science-related associations, representatives of the infertile, and faith groups, she said.

Principal fabricated grades

A high school principal admitted faking grades to keep students from flunking out because they missed classes.

Linda Hoeksema, principal of the Contemporary Learning Academy, a public school for struggling youths, said fabricated grades were submitted for 82 of 350 students in the first quarter of this school year.

"I did it with my heart and my gut, and I didn't use my head," Hoeksema said.

A Denver Public Schools computer detected the falsified grades. Hoeksema was removed from two programs she ran for students in trouble with the law, but she said she hopes officials will let her remain at the Contemporary Learning Academy. Hoeksema said she submitted the falsified grades because of a district policy that automatically fails students who miss more than four sessions of a required course in a nine-week period. They can miss up to 10 sessions in an elective.

Instead of failing a required class, the students were shown passing an elective class they did not take but that covered similar material. The affected students must retake and pass the required class to graduate.

Marjorie Tepper, the district's assistant superintendent for secondary education, said Hoeksema's actions violated district policy but had some educational merit. The district was considering breaking required courses into smaller chunks, and that was the practical effect of Hoeksema's action, she said.

Hoeksema said efforts to improve the self-esteem of the troubled youngsters worked. "Attendance has really turned around. Completion rates have turned around," she said.

Gun owner poll inaccurate: expert

One of Canada's leading experts on gun control says there are hundreds of thousands more gun owners in this country than Ottawa is willing to admit.

Gary Mauser, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, says the number of owners in a new survey – 2.3 million – is about 400,000 too low.

He says Ottawa's survey, released January 25, doesn't take into account people who would lie about owning a gun. And, he says, one person in a household may not know that another in the same house owns a gun.

These two factors have shown up repeatedly in previous research, says Mauser.

The results of the survey of 6,000 Canadians are being used by the Canadian Firearms Centre to show that with two million in compliance, about 87 per cent of gun owners have registered for the new gun registry.

"They're motivated to find a lower number of firearms owners, so their efforts to make people comply are more successful," Mauser said.

He thinks the truth would be more like 60 or 65 per cent.

The CFC says the methodology of the survey was sound, and a number of steps were taken to ensure the results are accurate.

The poll also shows an apparent decline in gun ownership over the past decade.

Mauser says people just aren't saying they own the guns they do.

Presidential collectables turn up on Internet

Dozens of U.S. presidential collectables, including some with Air Force One logos, were for sale on January 27 on the Internet, just days after reports that items were found pilfered from the aircraft following its flight to take ex-President Bill Clinton out of Washington on Inauguration Day.

Although there is no indication that some of the items offered on E-Bay.com, an auction site, were among items taken from the plane by Clinton staffers, dealers in collectables said the large number of items available, and so soon after the transfer of power, was unusual.

"These are very hard-to-get items," one told the Washington Times newspaper. "They are not mass-marketed and are made only for the White House, so we don't see a lot of them."

Among items found on the auction site was a presidential, White House guest bathrobe, current bid $305; a leather air travel bag, with Air Force One logo ($360) and an Air Force One humidor - item # 544207091 -- emblazoned with the president's seal, for more than $2,000 - 48 cigars

Interested buyers could also bid on a set of hand towels or a five-piece, presidential staff desk set.

All the items were posted on the site between January 17 and January 21, the day after the Clintons left Washington for their home in New York and George W. Bush was sworn in as president.

The appearance of the items, whether purloined or not, could add to the controversy swirling over reports of vandalism of White House offices by departing Clinton-Gore staffers. Incidents reports include overturned desks, cut telephone and computer lines, graffiti and glued-shut file cabinets.

Spokesmen for President Bush have downplayed the extent of the reported actions and said no prosecutions for destruction of government property were envisioned. The new administration, they say, is pressing ahead with more important business, such as the president's legislative agenda.

The White has has not given a cost to taxpayers for clean up and repairing of the damage, but one news report quoted an unidentified White House source as saying it could be as much as six figures.

According to the newspaper, in 1994 the White House was billed $562 by the Navy for towels and bathrobes taken from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington by White House staff who were aboard the ship for D-Day observances in France.

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