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web posted April 22, 2002

Proposal sets national guidelines for state IDs

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) outlined legislation on April 16 that would set national standards for state-issued driver's licenses, permitting rapid data-sharing among certain government agencies.

The measure marks Congress's first attempt at a comprehensive overhaul of state identification systems since last year's terrorist attacks. It would set federal rules for granting licenses, build in high-tech anti-counterfeiting measures and provide funding for states to make changes within three to five years.

The plan is coming before Congress this spring with strong support from police chiefs and administrators of the nation's motor-vehicle departments. Those groups believe the public is more supportive of a national system than ever before, citing a poll showing that 77 percent of Americans favor changes to how licenses and ID cards are issued.

Anticipating objections by civil-liberties and consumer groups who oppose a national ID system on privacy grounds, Durbin emphasized that his measure would leave the authority to issue and revoke licenses solely with the states.

"This [measure] is about state-issued driver's licenses, not a national ID," Durbin said at a hearing in which he invited testimony by government and trade groups. "Since September 11, we have come to realize that this is going to become the coin of the realm in this country. You are going to have to produce a photo ID. The question is, is it reliable and is it accurate?"

Representatives of police, motor-vehicle agencies and the National Governors Association testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that the nation's current system of verifying citizens' identify is broken and vulnerable to criminal use.

The American Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators offered survey results that showed strong support for changes, including an 88 percent majority who favor allowing states to share drivers' identities and motor history. The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of 800 license holders from April 2 to 4 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

There are more than 200 valid forms of driver's licenses and ID cards issued by the states and other levels of government, said Betty Serian, vice chairwoman of the association and Pennsylvania deputy secretary for transportation. Individual agencies have different requirements. Kansas, for example, does not require any document other than a photo to obtain a driver's license.

Eight of the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists obtained official state-issued licenses by exploiting Virginia regulations that grant licenses based on a notarized form vouching for an applicant's state residency. One hijacker, Ziad Samir Jarrah, was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore on Sept. 9, but produced an apparently valid Virginia driver's license and was not detained.

"What we have is a system that is broken, and a product that is not very reliable," Serian said.

A coalition of liberal and conservative civil-liberties groups and privacy advocates disputed the public merits of Durbin's proposal. They said it would create a de facto national ID that would greatly expand government's awareness of people's movements and activities.

"It looks like a national ID, walks like a national ID and quacks like a national ID," said J. Bradley Jansen, deputy director at the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative think tank, in remarks prepared for Durbin's panel.

Critics say that creating a high-technology network of government databases, setting national requirements for issuing IDs and subsidizing it with federal funds would build an infrastructure that could be exploited and expanded by police, marketers and others. They say that terrorists and other criminals would likely still find ways to create fraudulent documents.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center said that support for a national ID card is falling in national polls, to 26 percent, and that motor-vehicle departments rank alongside the IRS in public estimation of trustworthiness to administer such a system.

"The proposal would be ineffective, expensive and would preresent a serious threat to core American liberties," said Katie Corrigan, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union.

A draft of Durbin's proposal would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to develop minimum verification requirements for states, and identify common security features such as holograms or unique identifiers that would be included on cards.

The proposed legislation also would outline how state and federal governments would share information. The proposal would bar independent collection or storage of data and impose other restrictions, as well as enhanced penalties for fraud and fake-ID manufacture and use.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) is also drafting legislation in the House that would require states to have stricter card-issuing standards and to include "biometric" technology on ID cards, such as fingerprint or retinal-scan data.

Boycott targets gave to Jackson

Jesse Jackson's newly released tax forms for 2000 reveal that his top donors that year were a who's who of companies that had been threatened with boycotts or other sanctions by Jackson.

The forms also show that Jackson's Citizenship Education Fund, his primary tax-exempt group, accepted a $50,000 donation from Kevin Ingram, a convicted criminal and the former head of the mortgage-backed securities desks at Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

Ingram — friends with Jackson for several years — last year pleaded guilty to federal money-laundering charges related to Pakistani arms deals. He is in federal prison.

The coffers of the two principal economic engines for Jackson remained full in 2000, as donations from corporate America flowed freely, the forms show.

The Citizenship Education Fund had $9,262,846 in revenue in 2000, according to the tax forms, a $600,000 decline from the previous year. The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which is tax-exempt in its home state of Illinois but does not have a federal exemption, saw a $300,000 increase in revenue in 2000. Tax forms for fiscal 2001 are due in June.

Jackson's Wall Street Project, aimed at securing employment for minorities, received $4.5 million in 2000 from the education fund. His contributors for 2000 include many firms that have had business dealings with Jackson in the past. Viacom, Bell Atlantic and GTE all gave to Jackson in 2000, and all have been threatened with boycotts or other sanctions by him.

Blaylock & Partners, which received a $750,000 account from AT&T at Jackson's behest, donated $30,000 to the education fund in 2000. AT&T contributed $425,000. SBC Communications, which solicited and received the support of Jackson for its merger with Ameritech, contributed $500,000.
The New York Stock Exchange, which Jackson has accused of "redlining" minorities, donated $194,634.

Targets of Jackson boycott threats such as Toyota and SBC Communications have denied any quid pro quo in their subsequent donations.

The civil rights activist is 60 years old, and his organizations continue to incur financial setbacks, requiring a change in accounting practices and a stepped-up effort to collect membership dues in his trade groups.

Earlier this year, Jackson laid off up to 50 employees from his top three organizations in Chicago. His chief financial officer, Billy Owens, and Emma Chappell, executive director of Jackson's Wall Street Project, also have departed.

Jackson is emboldened by a following that accepts his shortcomings, said Mark Thompson, a radio talk-show host on the District's WOL-AM.

"Jesse Jackson is still a very articulate spokesman for the African-American community," Thompson said. "When it comes to the everyday issues that we face, he is the man who has fought for people."

Jackson's critics use the apparent quid pro quo business dealings as "grist for the mill,"Thompson said.

"But among his followers, there may be some concerns and some doubts, but people are willing to hold their noses and still be supportive of him and his service to the community."

Jackson, who earns about $500,000 annually, has repeatedly accused his detractors of having political motivations.

"Jesse Jackson is still telling people that the Republicans are targeting his supporters," an estranged colleague said last week of Jackson's financial situation.

"He has continued to decline this year, after seeing his revenue fall off last year," he said on the condition of anonymity. "His revenues are down — real big. He has these associates who have gotten into all this trouble. And it is still the Republicans' fault."

Jackson warned a black crowd last year that "we are in danger because of the right wing."

"The right wing has seized government. Watch out in coming days of the right-wing media, the FBI, the IRS, targeting our leadership," he told an audience at November's State of the Black World Conference in Atlanta.

But many of Jackson's associates have found trouble on their own.

Chappell, who is founder of the United Bank of Philadelphia, was sued by the bank two years ago and accused of misconduct and fraud. In a confidential agreement to settle the suit, Miss Chappell gave up her seat on the bank's board of directors.

Jackson, though, has relentlessly pushed his agenda. In a column two weeks ago, he insisted that President Bush is "systematically weakening the laws and regulation on clean air, clean water, toxic wastes, workplace safety, civil rights and equal protection."

"If they understood what was coming down, the vast majority of Americans — whether white, black or brown, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican — would oppose this president's assault on the protections and resources we need to meet the challenges we face," Jackson wrote in a column published on the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Web site.

Ads offer food for thought

America's favorite foods are fighting back.

Ding Dongs, nachos and powdered sugar doughnuts are hitting the airwaves, spoofing the studies that say they are bad for you. The advertising campaign is sponsored by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based coalition of more than 30,000 restaurant and tavern operators nationwide. The group is waging a war against what it says are often "baseless" studies used by groups to advocate certain behavior, whether it is cutting back on drinking soda or becoming a vegetarian.

"We're out to protect consumer choice, not promoting one diet over another," said Mike Burita, a spokesman for Consumer Freedom.

The group has spent $200,000 to run three 60-second spots on about a dozen radio stations in the Washington area. The ads direct consumers to its Web site (www.consumerfreedom.com) where they can learn more about the groups that use studies to fuel their agendas.

John Doyle, co-founder of the center, said the objective is to get people to think harder and delve deeper into the studies and who is behind them.

"There is this junk science or sensational science that doesn't hold up to scrutiny once you scratch the surface," Doyle said.

One ad warns that consumers shouldn't eat Ding Dongs or nachos. No such study exists, but the campaign addresses the concept of what the latest studies may be suggesting.

"According to the latest study, you probably won't realize what a load of poppycock some of these studies are," the serious, authoritative announcer says in one of the ads mocking the "latest studies" about how consumers should not eat meat.

The Consumer Freedom ads — which use the tag line "It's your food. It's your drink. It's your freedom." — will run through the end of the month. The center is considering extending the campaign and expanding it to other markets.

"The response has been really good," Burita said. "We think people are just tired of being told how to live their lives."

The group, formerly called the Guest Choice Network, has received positive feedback from e-mails and has seen an increase in hits to its Web site, Burita said. It has been around since the late 1990s, but this year is the first time it has advertised. Consumer Freedom began running print ads targeting Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in January. Those ads have stopped running, but Burita says more print ads will follow.

The group is even mocking the government's newest Body Mass Index standards on its Web site. When changed in 1998, the standards resulted in 30 million Americans going from government-approved to overweight or obese overnight. In March, Consumer Freedom added its own "fat scale" to its Web site to help consumers determine whether they are overweight like Michael Jordan or obese like Tom Cruise.

Earlier this year, the surgeon general said an "obesity epidemic" threatens public health, giving activist groups more fuel to propose taxes on snack foods and tobacco-style class-action lawsuits against restaurants.

One ad addresses the taxing of snack foods by saying: "And while studies show that your brain shouldn't be taxed, they do show that your Ding Dongs should. A 6 percent fat tax to make all of you weak snack-food sinners pay for your polyunsaturated transgressions."

Doyle said results of reports and studies are constantly taken out of context, are distorted to fit a group's agenda or offer findings that don't support conclusions in the studies.

"We want people to be careful who they're listening to, and a lot of times there's a bias," Burita said. "We want to educate consumers on who these groups are and know if there's an agenda behind them."

House GOP seeks to end handgun suits

House Republicans argued April 18 for blocking cities and counties from filing more lawsuits against gun manufacturers, saying anti-gun activists were using nuisance lawsuits to "bleed" gun makers to death.

"They are only suing because they happen to dislike a product that a company produces and markets legally," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on trade and consumer protection. "This is absurd as suing a car manufacturer for drunk-driving accidents, or suing a fast-food company because its burgers have too many calories."

But some House Democrats who oppose the bill say the gun industry doesn't deserve special legal protection from lawsuits while the medical industry and other high-profile industries still have to fight off legal attacks.

"I have a problem with the notion that the gun industry is somehow better than other industries that must stand by all their products, or better than medical doctors who provide health care and work under the pressure of malpractice suits," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat.

Since 1998, at least 33 municipalities, counties and states have sued gun makers, with many saying manufacturers allow weapons to fall into criminals' hands because of lax distribution policies and irresponsible marketing. Many of the lawsuits sought restitution for the costs of handgun violence and improved gun safety.

The manufacturers say they cannot be held responsible for the crimes of gun users and that no court has agreed with the local governments' assertions.

Under the bill, local governments would be banned from bringing lawsuits against gun makers. Twenty-six states have passed legislation banning their cities and counties from filing similar lawsuits, supporters say.

Gun advocates say the lawsuits could sink the entire industry from just the cost of defending against them. H. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis says the industry makes only about $200 million in profit. "One large judgment, such as the $400 million sought in the city of Chicago's lawsuit, could bankrupt the entire industry," he said.

Even the cost of winning lawsuits is placing gun makers in financial difficulty, say advocates, who put that figure at about $50 million. "The tyranny of legal costs can and has driven firearm manufacturers into bankruptcy," said Jeff Reh, attorney for Beretta U.S.A. Corp.

More states loosening wiretap restrictions - study

Proposed changes to state wiretap laws triggered by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 would give states added surveillance power that could erode civil liberties, said a review of state-level legislation released week.

The review, conducted by a Washington-based non-profit that tracks legal and constitutional issues, examined how states approve and implement wiretaps. The Constitution Project seeks to determine whether laws compromise individual liberties.

Many states have proposed that law officers have more leeway to tap criminal suspects' telephones or intercept electronic communications, be given enhanced subpoena power, and receive the authority to conduct "roving" statewide wiretaps, the group said.

As of April 8, wiretap law legislation was pending in 22 states and bills had been passed in 3 states, while no legislative action was pending in 25 states and the District of Columbia, according to the review, which is part of the Constitution Project Liberty and Security Initiative.

"We must make sure that the benefits of these wiretaps are accompanied by continuing protection of civil liberties," said Peter Swire, a professor at Ohio State University law school and initiative adviser.

More than half of the nation's wiretaps are conducted at the state level, said Swire, who served as chief privacy officer for the Clinton administration.

While the federal government has oversight regarding such matters in congressional committee hearings, states have little or none, initiative director, Joseph Onek, told Newsbytes.

"When you have 50 state governments doing the same thing without some capabilities for oversight, that's what concerns us," Onek said.

Arizona lawmakers, for example, may do away with the requirement that a wiretap application specify the crime for which the surveillance is sought, Onek said.

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