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web posted February 28, 2000

Gore deflects Bradley's attacks during Democratic debate

Vice President Al Gore deflected shots aimed at him February 21 by rival Bill Bradley in a debate marked by heated exchanges and sometimes bitter accusations.

With the stage lights shining squarely on them at the Apollo Theater in New York's Harlem district, the two rivals discussed race issues such as police brutality, racial profiling, affirmative action, disparities in judicial sentencing to African-Americans, in addition to such traditional Democratic issues as gun control, health care and education.

As expected, Bradley attacked Gore for what he called his "conservative congressional record" throughout the 90 minute debate. However, the vice president seemed to not only unfazed by the verbal barrage -- he sometimes baited his rival.

Bradley's took numerous shots at the vice president, including claims that Gore attempted to dismantle affirmative action, supported tobacco payments over education and while in the Senate, attempted to preserve the tax-exempt status of schools such as Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian school in South Carolina that bans interracial dating among other prohibitive policies.

"You have to face up to this if you're going to be a strong leader," Bradley chastised the vice president.

"You're sounding a little desperate because you're trying to build yourself up," Gore shot back. "It's very clear."

"I believe that we need a strong president that is not going to back away from affirmative action," Bradley said at one point during the debate.

The lead-off question, asked by activist Al Sharpton, pertained to police brutality and the very public case of Amadou Diallo, who was shot more than 20 times by New York police as he went to retrieve his wallet.

"Many in our community have to live in fear of both the cops and the robbers," Sharpton said. "What concrete steps would you take to end police brutality and racial profiling?"

Saying he was outraged by the incident, Bradley vowed to issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling -- and as he has before, needled the vice president as to why he has not "walked down the hall" to President Bill Clinton's office to urge the president to do the same thing.

"I would say quite clearly that white Americans can no longer deny the plight of black Americans," Bradley said.

Of the Diallo shooting, he said: "I also think it reflects racial profiling in the sense that seeps into the mind of someone so that he sees a wallet in the hands of a white man as a wallet, but a wallet in the hands of a black man as a gun."

Not do be outdone, Gore promised that the "first civil rights act of the 21st century would be a law outlawing racial profiling ... in insurance and in banking, inside school rooms and inside people's hearts."

"I think we have to do a lot," Gore said of the race issue. "We have to say that we will become one people by putting as much money into education as we do into incarceration."

And in aiming to get a rise out of Bradley, Gore claimed, "Look we have taken action, but you know racial profiling practically began in New Jersey, Senator Bradley."

From there, the debate opened up in a free-for all between the Democratic rivals, as Bradley charged that Gore tried to end affirmative action programs and Gore asserted that Bradley's health care plan would leave millions of minorities without health insurance.

Even the Republican presidential candidates were not spared, as a question regarding the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina capitol caused Gore to say: "It is the everlasting embarrassment of the modern Republican party that both candidates ... went to South Carolina and were scared to say anything about the confederate flag. I think that was a very serious mistake."

When asked whether he believed African-Americans were owed reparations, Gore said: "I believe the best reparations is a good education and affirmative action to make available the direct assistance that has been denied."

"I believe we still need affirmative action in this country," Gore added. "The average African-American family wealth is less than one tenth that of the average white family wealth. To me that justifies making available capital for young entrepreneurs and making available advancement in every sphere."

Bradley said that "white Americans are in denial of black Americans' contributions through slavery, through Jim Crow (segregation laws) ... and I believe we can change that through a major new investment in education."

"That's not a plan, that's a magic wand and it doesn't work that way," Gore said of Bradley's plan to overhaul Medicaid and provide HIV/AIDS patients with private insurance. "The problem is that the insurance companies don't want to take them. They want to get rid of them."

"What you see is what I call an elaborate Gore dance," Bradley said of Gore's position on the licensing of hand guns. "It is a dance to avoid facing up to your conservative record on guns." He then said that while he was in Congress, Gore was the "poster child" of the NRA.

"You've made personal attack after personal attack. Problem is, these personal attacks don't solve problems," Gore said. "They distract us from the real enemy: the right-wing extremist Confederate flag waving Republicans."

Starr defends Lewinsky investigation, blames president

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr blamed President Clinton on February 21 for the years and millions of dollars spent on the investigation that ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment.

He also said he was disappointed with media coverage of the investigation, comparing the press to a microphone that magnifies what is being said without screening or filtering it.

But Starr reserved his most pointed criticism for Clinton during a question-and-answer session with Northwestern University journalism students.

He said the president could have spared the country the ordeal by being forthright about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"It could all have been (avoided) simply by saying, 'There was this activity, I shouldn't have done it, let's get it behind us as reasonably as we can,"' Starr said in a speech at the Medill School of Journalism.

Starr said Clinton has "this unfortunate side, this unwillingness to come to grips with the situation that would have spared everyone all the angst ... by coming to grips with it and to say 'here it is' as opposed to dragging the country through it and then suggesting that it's all the law officer's fault."

Starr said he regrets not establishing a public information office, conceding his office was ill-prepared to handle the avalanche of questions from reporters all over the world.

Still, he criticized coverage as often presenting an incomplete, and therefore misleading, picture of the investigation.

Starr pointed to the coverage of the trial of former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker in the Whitewater investigation as an example of the media's failure. He said the press did not provide accurate reports in large part because reporters did not cover the trial "day in and day out."

Starr's successor as independent counsel, Robert Ray, is closing out the six-year, $50 million probe, which led to the convictions of 14 people. In addition to Whitewater and Lewinsky, Starr's office looked into the purge of the White House travel office and the White House's improper gathering of FBI background files on employees and presidential appointees from Republican administrations.

Starr defended the investigation into the Lewinsky matter, saying it was as much about perjury as an inappropriate relationship.

"Our solemn obligation was to examine whether crimes not about the nature of private relationships - but whether crimes have been committed," he said.

He said Clinton was bound to answer questions that many considered inappropriate.

"I don't think we've created an exception in our law I know we haven't if the question is embarrassing, you get a pass."

Starr sounded gracious when talking about first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying her statement that Starr's investigation was part of a vast right-wing conspiracy was "sort of an understandable defense mechanism."

B.C. Supreme Court rules provincial government's lawsuit against tobacco companies is unconstitutional

The British Columbia government's lawsuit against tobacco companies can't go ahead because it's based on a provincial law that is unconstitutional, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled last week.

Several provinces have been watching the B.C. action with a view to launching similar suits of their own.

But a lawyer for British Columbia said Monday he doesn't expect the ruling to put an end to the province's intentions to sue.

"This journey has taken a turn, which is undoubtedly disappointing for the government, but it doesn't change the direction or ultimate destination of what the government intends to achieve," said Dan Webster, who helped argue the province's case.

The court decision, released by the parties involved on February 21, said sections of the provincial law try to lump all the tobacco companies together while ignoring the fact they are federally incorporated and individual.

"I find the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act to be inconsistent with the provision of the Constitution of Canada" and is beyond the jurisdiction of the province, wrote Justice Ronald Holmes.

Holmes said he found the "dominant characteristic" of the legislation to be the pursuit nationally and internationally of the tobacco industry for the cost of health care benefits incurred by the government of B.C.

"The extra-territorial reach of the act places it beyond the constitutional competence of the province," he wrote.

But Webster said there are remedies to the problems Holmes highlighted.

He said the province has three options: It can appeal the ruling, change the legislation or go after the three Canadian tobacco companies separately.

"When the government decided that it was going to attempt to hold the tobacco industry accountable for the devastating effects of its harmful and addictive products, it appreciated that this would be a long and hard-fought journey," Webster said.

A spokesman for the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council said the ruling should send a message to the B.C. government.

"We urge co-operation rather than expensive lawsuits," said Dave Laundy.

"We hope governments will stand back and see how they manage their tobacco strategy."

He urged the governments and the industry have a meeting to discuss ways to deal with the effects of tobacco, particularly smoking by young people.

In Ottawa, a spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society urged the B.C. government to pursue its initial action.

"We see from the U.S. experience that some big U.S. states have been successful," said Rob Cunningham, a lawyer and the society's policy analyst. "B.C. should persist."

Cunningham suggested the B.C. government consider filing its lawsuit in the U.S.

"If they can't bring it in B.C., they have to bring it somewhere (although) it may mean more of a role for the federal government.'

The B.C. act was proclaimed in 1997 and amended last year.

It makes it easier for the government to sue cigarette manufacturers to recover the costs of treating smoking-related diseases.

The tobacco companies countersued, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

Seven tobacco companies, including three Canadian manufacturers, took part in the countersuit.

British Columbia's law is modelled on Florida legislation that helped net a $256-billion US settlement with American tobacco firms.

The amended B.C. law allows the government to set the ground rules for a lawsuit it intends to file.

The industry also complains the law requires the court to accept the government's data on the direct health-care costs the province claims stem from smoking.

As of last fall, five other suits were being considered, three in Ontario and two in Quebec.

Newfoundland was mulling a B.C.-style law and Manitoba planned court action. New Brunswick has said it is also considering such a move.

Cunningham said the effect of the B.C. ruling on other possible suits is not yet clear because the judge's other comments in the long ruling has to be studied.

The stakes are huge.

Although the B.C. government has not spelled out how much money it hopes to recover from tobacco firms, another lawsuit being considered in Ontario is said to be worth $40 billion US.

If Holmes's ruling is appealed, it could be years before British Columbia and other provinces actually get to court to sue the companies.

Industry lawyers argued the law violates the unwritten rule against retroactively penalizing anyone for something that was previously legal.

They also said the law violates the Constitution because it allows the government to collect costs for any past "smoking-related wrong," including those incurred before the law was passed.

Tom Berger, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge acting for the province, argued last fall it was up to the courts to decide if the lawsuit should go ahead.

He said the law is perfectly within the authority of the provincial legislature and accused the tobacco companies of trying to bog down the court process.

Berger said 6 000 people die in British Columbia and thousands more become ill with tobacco-related diseases each year.

The province spends a half-billion dollars each year in health costs as a result.

The industry's legal team had marshaled 18 volumes of legal precedents to buttress its technical and constitutional arguments against the B.C. law.

Florida governor, Cabinet vote to end affirmative action in college admissions

Florida's public colleges and universities will no longer consider race or gender as part of the admissions process after the state approved a controversial plan to overhaul affirmative action.

Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and the state's independently elected Cabinet voted on February 22 to end affirmative action in college admission. Instead, Bush's "One Florida" plan promises that students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class and complete a college preparatory curriculum will be admitted into one of the 10 state universities.

The changes were approved the week before by the Board of Regents, the governing body of the state's public universities.

"Students will know they were know they were admitted not because of their race or gender, but because of their academic performance," Chancellor Adam Herbert said.

Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, one of the Cabinet members who voted against the ban says One Florida threatens to divide the state along racial lines.

"I'm convinced this is no time to dismantle policies that seek to protect minorities and women," he said.

The One Florida plan has sparked fierce criticism from supporters of affirmative action, who say they will keep fighting. Several provisions still require legislative approval, including adding $20 million in financial aid for college students, and other funds to make sure high school sophomores can take preparatory college entrance exams.

State Sen. Kendrick Meek, one of two Democrats who staged a 25-hour sit-in in the lieutenant governor's office to protest the plan, says he will amend the bills to make sure they don't pass.

Senate officials say they expect as many as 2,200 people to rally against the ban on March 7, the first day of the legislative session. Some African-American groups have also threatened to boycott Florida products.

"Because an injustice is being carried out in Florida, we have some people around the country saying maybe we should boycott Florida orange juice," Meek said.

Bush defended the plan, saying it allows college admission boards to use a slate of criteria other than race to ensure access to disadvantaged and at-risk students of color. That, combined with the Talented 20 provision, will result in the admission of 400 additional minority students who would otherwise not have attended college.

"By September, what you will see is an increased number of African-Americans and Hispanics attending the State University System," he said.

The action made Florida's state government the first to voluntarily ban affirmative action in both college admissions and state contracts.

Bush issued an executive order last fall prohibiting racial and gender preferences in the awarding of state contracts by departments that report to the governor. Such agencies include the departments of Veterans Affairs and Transportation.

Bans on affirmative action are in force in Texas by federal court order and Washington state under a ballot measure. In California, voters banned affirmative action in state contracts after the state's Board of Regents did the same for university admissions.

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