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web posted February 26, 2001

Ventura slammed by reporters

Gov. Jesse Ventura, no stranger to nicknames, has come up with a new credential for reporters who cover the Minnesota Capitol. It dubs them Official Jackals, and some of them aren't laughing.

Ventura press passWith tongues in cheek, Ventura's staff issued the new credentials on February 20 to each of the approximately 35 Capitol reporters.

"We're having a little fun with things, like we always do," Ventura spokesman David Ruth said.

He played down a stipulation that says Ventura's office can revoke the credential for any reason. Access to the governor won't change and reporters who don't want to wear the new pass won't be excluded from events.

"It's insulting, but I've been called worse," said Bill Salisbury, a Capitol reporter and columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

The newspaper returned the credentials. Kate Parry, a senior editor, had reporters include a letter describing the design as "unprofessional" and said staff will carry an existing credential issued by State Capitol Security.

David Pyle, The Associated Press bureau chief of Minnesota, said AP's Capitol reporters will not wear the credentials.

"While this may have been intended as a joke, we take this matter seriously and will not subject AP staffers to wearing something that may be intended to demean them and their profession," Pyle said.

Ventura, a former professional wrestler known as the Body, derided reporters as media jackals in his most recent book.

The press corps responded by printing black T-shirts emblazoned with a "media jackals" logo that featured a sly jackal, wearing an old-style newsman's fedora with a microphone clenched in its teeth.

The new pass features a full-body picture of the governor, dressed all in black and pointing Uncle Sam-style at the camera.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis advised reporters that they don't have to wear the badges. Editor Tim McGuire said that Ventura "probably has the right to ask for credentials ... but I'm saddened that he has chosen to demean a lot of good people who do important work."

Sen. Clinton: 'very disturbed' by brother's actions

Former American President Bill Clinton on February 21 acknowledged that his brother-in-law, an attorney, was paid to represent two people whose prison sentences he pardoned or commuted.

Hugh Rodham

"Yesterday, I became aware of press inquiries that Hugh Rodham received a contingency fee in connection with a pardon application by Glenn Braswell and a fee for work on the Carlos Vignali commutation application," Clinton said in a statement. "Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments. We are deeply disturbed by these reports, and insisted that Hugh return any monies involved."

A spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton, elected to the U.S. Senate in November to represent New York, described the former first lady as "very upset."

"Hugh did not speak with me about these applications. I believe that the payments should be returned immediately, and I understand he has taken steps to do so," said a statement from the freshman senator.

A House Republican, who is leading a probe into another of Clinton's pardons, said he would investigate this latest case.

"This news is deeply troubling," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the pardon of billionaire financier Marc Rich.

A legal source told various media that Rodham had been paid $400,000 for his work in both cases and that most of it had been returned. Some of the money was in the process of being returned, the source said.

Rodham's lawyer, Nancy Luque, issued a statement as well:

"My client, Hugh Rodham, today acceded to his family's request that he return legal fees earned in connection with pardon requests. My client did not advise President or Senator Clinton of his involvement in these requests. He believes they were unaware until this week of his work on his clients' behalf."

The statement goes on, "Hugh Rodham has done absolutely nothing wrong. He has returned these fees solely because his family asked that he do so. Their request, presumably made because of the appearance of impropriety, is one he cannot ignore. There was, however, no impropriety in these matters."

While spokesmen for two congressional committees investigating another of Clinton's pardons said Rodham's involvement in the latest cases was not illegal, Burton said the revelation raised new questions.

"We already know that Mr. Braswell's pardon was not reviewed by the Department of Justice," said Burton. "Yet again, this makes it look like there is one system of justice for those with money and influence, and one system of justice for everyone else. We intend to look into this. We intend to ask Mr. Rodham to give us all the details of whom he represented and how much he was paid."

Braswell was pardoned for his 1983 convictions on fraud, perjury and tax evasion charges involving a baldness product. Vignali had served six years of a 15-year prison term for his role in a cocaine-trafficking ring.

Braswell, 57, remains under criminal investigation in Los Angeles for what was described in a court document as a "massive tax evasion and money-laundering scheme."

Clinton's pardon specifically said it covered only those convictions in place and did not eliminate possible future legal action against Braswell.

A source close to Clinton, speaking on condition of anonymity, said then-White House adviser Bruce Lindsey had been contacted and was aware of Rodham's involvement with the Vignali request but no White House officials were aware of the presidential relative's involvement in the Braswell matter.

The decisions on both men were made on the merits of their situations, the source said.

Clinton issued 140 pardons and 36 sentence commutations hours before he left office January 20.

Clinton has come under heavy fire for the pardons, particularly that of Marc Rich, a billionaire financier who had been listed as an international fugitive by the Justice Department, for various tax and fraud charges.

Two congressional committees and a federal prosecutor are investigating that pardon, focusing on whether any campaign contributions from Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, played a role in the pardon. Denise Rich also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Library Foundation.

'Grave concerns' raised over Canadian gun registry

The privacy commissioner of Canada has called into question the safety of information being entered into the Firearms Interest Police (FIP) database, a system designed to initiate a thorough review of a person's eligibility to own a gun.

The Sun has obtained a letter sent from commissioner George Radwanski to Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz earlier this week, in which he concurs with many of the Saskatchewan Alliance MP's concerns about the database.

The most serious allegation claims the names of witnesses and victims of criminal acts across the country are currently being put in the FIP - a database implemented by Justice Minister Anne McLellan in 1998, intended to identify criminals.

"We agree that the database contains the names of individuals that should not have been entered because the incidents are not relevant ... to the Firearms Act.

"We are also concerned that the database contains the names of witnesses and victims," wrote Radwanski.
Dennis Massey, superintendent of the RCMP's local K-Division said database flaws could cause the Mounties serious hardship.

"This could impact on our (investigation) priorities," said Massey. "I have very grave concerns about this."

Radwanski added he also has concerns that variations in how cops enter information into the database may lead firearms officers to start investigations based on information that is "unsubstantiated, hearsay, or inaccurate.

"It may also lead firearms officers to conduct investigations ... in cases where charges have been dropped and individuals have been acquitted."

McLellan wasn't available to comment, but she directed Canadian Firearms Centre CEO Maryantonett Flumian to address the concerns raised by Radwanski.

"We're still new at this, but if we spot anomalies in the system, we contact the particular police agencies that inputted the information," said Flumian.
Flumian agreed, however, that the database wasn't set up for information on non-criminals.

"It wasn't designed to enter the names of victims or witnesses."

Police officers may occasionally enter the wrong information, said Flumian, simply because "they haven't been properly trained yet about this new system."

Canadian Police Association spokesman Grant Obst agreed with Flumian, noting the gun registry issue remains a hot topic of discussion within the association.

"It's very much possible," said Obst, adding, "I suspect it has something to do with individual police reporting procedures across the country.

"We're (association) revisiting the whole issue of the gun registry at our executive board meeting in Ottawa in March."

Flumian confirmed she was in the process of attempting to set up a meeting with Radwanski to discuss the concerns.

Yahoo to defy French court order

Yahoo does not intend to comply with the deadline of a court order requiring the company to block French users from accessing Nazi-related items on its U.S. Web site.

The Net giant had only until the end of last week to apply the French court ruling. Since the ruling, Yahoo has taken action to rid its U.S. site of hate-related goods, which made the ruling moot.

French Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez ruled November 20 that Yahoo must put a filtering system in place to block French users from accessing Nazi-related goods on its U.S. auction site.

After February 24, Yahoo is liable for fines of about $14,000 per day. But according to company spokesman Scott Morris, Yahoo does not plan to comply with the ruling. Yahoo has filed a countersuit in a California court on grounds that a French court should not be able to impose its national laws on a U.S. company.

Yahoo contests the ruling on two grounds: First, that it's technically impossible to block access using filtering systems; and second, that the French court has overstepped its jurisdiction.

Yahoo last month removed the Nazi-related items on its own accord, and at the same time started charging users to post items on the auction site. The company has said the decision to remove the goods has nothing to do with the judge's order.

Morris said: "We removed items we decided are objectionable, but by removing those items we in no way acknowledge the court case. We in no way fulfilled the order that was placed against us."

The French court has not said whether removing the items is enough to fulfill its order that Yahoo must block French users from such content.

One of the plaintiffs in the original French case, the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, said it is content with the action taken by Yahoo. The league's main aim was to make sure Nazi-related items were not available in France, where the sale of such goods is illegal.

Marc Knobel, a member of the league's board, said, "It didn't matter to us how they got rid of the items. I was not for filtering in itself. What counts for us is to get this stuff off the site."

While the league may be content with the turn of events at Yahoo, it isn't about to give up its fight against Nazi content. Knobel has turned his attention to eBay.

He said: "I've contacted eBay asking them why they have Nazi items." The U.S. site currently offers about 3,500 such items for sale, he said.

Florida appeals court rejects gun suit

A Florida appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a product liability lawsuit against gun manufacturers that sought to recoup millions of tax dollars spent treating gunfire victims and investigating gun-related crime.

The Third District Court of Appeal recently rejected a bid by Miami-Dade County to overturn the 1999 lower court ruling, which tossed out the county's lawsuit against two dozen gun makers, distributors and industry groups on the grounds the county lacked legal standing.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, who was behind the lawsuit, was considering options to continue the litigation, his spokesman said on February 22.

"The mayor is obviously a little disappointed by the decision," spokesman Juan Mendieta said. "He feels it is necessary to move ahead and see what can be done to keep this legal action alive."

The Miami-Dade lawsuit, one of a series brought by more than two dozen municipalities including San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, sought reimbursement for public spending related to gun violence.

It alleged that gun-makers sold products that were defective because they lacked safety devices such as trigger locks and load indicators that would reveal whether the firing chamber contained a bullet.

In December 1999, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Amy Dean granted the gun manufacturers' request to dismiss the suit, ruling that the county was not a proper plaintiff.

She said Florida law required plaintiffs in product liability cases to show that they were harmed by a specific defect in a specific product made by a specific manufacturer.

In upholding Dean's decision, the appellate court called the lawsuit "an attempt to regulate firearms and ammunition through the medium of the judiciary.

"Clearly this round-about attempt is being made because of the County's frustration at its inability to directly regulate firearms...," the appeals court wrote. "The County's frustration cannot be alleviated through litigation."

Firearms dealers hailed the ruling, which was issued on February 14 but made public by gun companies on February 22.

"The Florida appeals court ruling is yet another strong indication that our nation's courts will not allow themselves to be used to mandate a radical anti-gun agenda," Carlton Chen, general counsel for Colt's Manufacturing Co. Inc., said in a statement.

Penelas, who filed the lawsuit in hope of forcing gun-makers to produce childproof guns and to change distribution and marketing practices, was to be briefed by county lawyers this week on his options for pursuing the litigation.

"There are several avenues. There is the possibility of a direct appeal to the (Florida) Supreme Court. We could petition the Third District for a rehearing. Or we could not pursue it," Assistant County Attorney Javier Soto said.

Defendants in the Miami-Dade lawsuit included Smith & Wesson Corp., a unit of the British conglomerate Tomkins Plc; Beretta U.S.A. Corp.; Glock Inc.; Sturm Ruger & Co Inc; Colt's Manufacturing Company Inc.; Browning Arms Co. and Carl Walther GmbH.

Opponents say 'commercial terrorism' bill would limit free speech

The American Civil Liberties Union and animal rights activists spoke against a bill on February 22 that they say targets animal-rights protests, arguing the measure would limit speech.

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee voted 3-2 to send Roy Republican Rep. Gerry Adair's proposal to the full Senate for consideration. It passed the House, 54-17, the week before.

The bill would increase criminal penalties for anyone committing a crime against farms, research facilities, fur plants or other businesses that use animals if it is determined the crime was intended to harm that business.

The bill, when defining commercial terrorism, says that entering a business includes an "intrusion of any physical object, sound wave, light ray, electronic signal, or other means of intrusion under the control of the actor."

That would make it illegal for lawfully assembled demonstrators to gather on a public sidewalk and chant, yell or verbally dissuade people from patronizing a business, criminalizing free speech, ACLU attorney Janelle Eurick wrote in a letter to the committee.

West Valley City Democratic Sen. Ed Mayne, who is also president of the Utah chapter of the AFL-CIO, said he was concerned the bill might also outlaw strikes or protests.

Adair argued his bill only addresses terrorist acts and not protests, strikes or other legal activity.
But David Berg, of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, said the bill "is very, very chilling on all free speech in Utah."

Arlene Quickstorm, who spoke in favor of the measure, said her friend's fur shop in downtown Salt Lake City has been targeted for demonstrations by animal rights activists and the protesters have harassed its customers.

"The continual harassment has all but ruined my friends' lives. Mentally and emotionally they can't take much more," she said.

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