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Small children, big political donations

In a new campaign finance trend, some youngsters who are not old enough to vote or drive are donating generously to candidates, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Children and high school and college students gave a total of $7.5 million in political donations between 1991 and 1998, according to a Times study of federal election records.

In many cases, the children's donations came on the same day or about the same time their parents contributed the maximum amount allowed under federal law.

That has led some campaign-finance experts to dub the practice "family bundling" and say that student giving has become another way affluent donors can circumvent federal limits.

"This is an area of great abuse where you have the absurd situation of small children supposedly contributing their own money to a candidate of their own choice," Donald J. Simon, executive vice president of the watchdog group Common Cause, told the Times. "Obviously, in many cases, what's going on is simply a way for the parents to beat the contribution limits."

There is no minimum age for donors in federal law, but the law does require that the funds be "owned or controlled exclusively" by contributors and that they give "knowingly and voluntarily." Parents are specifically barred from giving money to their children to make political donations.

The Times located youngsters as young as 7, 9 and 10 who made hefty contributions. One 7-year-old gave $1 000 to a candidate, and one 9-old-made three, $1 000 contributions to candidates.

The Times reported that the Federal Election Commission has only closed four cases related to contributions by minors, and imposed one fine against a former Maryland state senator whose son made his first contribution at the age of 18 months.

The Times analysis, conducted for the newspaper by the independent Campaign Study Group of Springfield, Virginia, shows that young contributors are giving increasingly large amounts to federal candidates and campaign committees. Student contributors gave nearly $2.6 million for the 1996 presidential elections, a 45 percent hike over 1992.

DNA samples? Reno calls for new database

Attorney General Janet Reno has asked a federal commission to explore the legality of the government taking DNA samples from every citizen who is arrested.

This would place DNA samples from millions of Americans into state and federal crime databases -- even if they were never convicted of a crime. Over 15 million Americans were arrested in 1997, according to FBI estimates.

Such a move would be an enormous expansion of federal DNA databanks. Currently only convicted sex felons and violent offenders have their DNA collected.

The move follows a new state law in Louisiana that mandates testing of everyone arrested. Similar laws are being considered in North Carolina and New York City. New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir backs the idea, telling USA Today: "This is not an invasive process, and if it's used properly it's going to protect society."

Opponents of the move argue that it is unconstitutional, amounting to a warrantless search prohibited by the 4th Amendment; that it invades privacy; that it gives government information it can later misuse; and that it treats innocent arrested citizens no different than felons convicted of serious crimes.

Mandated fingerprints on drivers licenses, omnipresent Social Security numbers, roving wiretaps, cameras mounted on traffic lights, national ID proposals... what's next?

Who are worse off, serfs or Kiwis?

Claims from ACT Finance spokesman Rodney Hide in late February that New Zealanders are taxed harder than medieval serfs quickly hit a nerve with those of a historical bent.

Hide told a Small Business and Taxation seminar in Christchurch that the NZ government tax take of 36 percent of GDP is 44 percent higher than that experienced through the 1950s and 1960s.

"Government spending is forecast to be $35 721 million this year. That's $30 000 for each and every household, Mr Hide said.

"That's why New Zealanders struggle to make ends meet. The average New Zealand couple with children must now pay $300 a week income tax and $120 in GST and other taxes. That works out to 36 percent of their family income.

By contrast, medieval serfs had to give the lord of the manor only one-third their output.

Wrong! says the Magna Carta Society. Serfs were in fact significantly better off than the ACT Party is claiming, and consequently New Zealanders are even more hard done by.

Responding to ACT's statement Magna Carta Society researcher John Howard said medieval taxes (aids) were often less than 30 per cent and ranged from 10 per cent to 30 per cent depending on the wealth of the manor.

Howard said the Magna Carta guaranteed that all, "aids must be reasonable."

Moreover, Chapter 12 of the Charter - sometimes thought of as the first bill of rights - provides that no aid shall be levied save by the "common counsel" of the Realm. The Crown, therefore, did not have the absolute right to impose taxes as in New Zealand today.

The right to impose general taxation was saved for the "Common Counsel" (now Parliament).

This notion of common consent to be taxed only by Parliament in the Magna Carta was interpreted in later times to mean "no taxation without representation," Howard said.

Consequently the present taxation regime that allowed the government to tax minors was contrary to this rule. If children can be taxed then they ought to have rights of representation, Howard said.

Thus in order of oppression it appears children are the worst off, followed by New Zealanders. Medieval serfs by comparison had it sweet.

Audit finds IRS unable to balance its books

It sounds like a taxpayer's dream: The IRS was audited and struggled to explain its own financial records.

"The IRS cannot do some of the basic accounting and record-keeping tasks that it expects American taxpayers to do," said Gregory Kutz, who oversaw the audit released March 1 by the congressional General Accounting Office.

GAO said chronic Internal Revenue Service problems resulted last year in millions of dollars in fraudulent refunds, failure to keep track of such basic assets as cars and computers and substandard computer security controls.

"Think of this as not balancing your checkbook with the monthly bank statement, and at the same time having a system prone to error," Kutz told the House Government Reform Committee's panel on government management at a hearing.

GAO said IRS is unable to keep track of unpaid taxes properly, which means it cannot concentrate collection efforts on the taxpayers most likely to pay. The upshot is that only about $26 billion of the $222 billion in unpaid taxes as of October 1998 are likely to be collected, with $119 billion -- a whopping 54 percent to be written off.

"It's a national scandal," said Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the government management subcommittee. "It seems to me you shouldn't let people off the hook like that."

IRS officials were quick to take responsibility for the problems, which they said were largely rooted in the agency's antiquated computer systems that date as far back as the Kennedy administration. They were clearly embarrassed by the report, coming as it does as the IRS is makes a high-profile attempt to become more efficient and more customer-friendly.

"I am deeply disappointed that we failed to meet our obligations," said Donna Cunninghame, the IRS' new chief financial officer. "This is unacceptable."

The GAO found the IRS did a good job of collecting $1.8 trillion in tax revenue in fiscal 1998. The main problems were found in the agency's administration of an $8.1 billion annual budget. They include:

* At least $17 million paid out in fraudulent and inappropriate refunds in the first nine months of 1998. IRS sometimes duplicates refunds or fails to compare tax returns with W-2 forms before they are mailed out within the required 45 days. Fraudulent refunds worth another $65 million were stopped by IRS investigators.

  • Improper paperwork to keep track of such items as a Chevrolet Blazer, a $300,000 laser printer, laptop computers, televisions, VCRs and fax machines. Most of these were accounting errors, not thefts. The Blazer, for example, was returned to a leasing company but nobody took it off the books.
  • Poor computer security, including controls on access to sensitive taxpayer information. The audit repeated past criticisms about the use of unarmed bicycle couriers to transport taxpayer checks and sluggish background checks on prospective employees with criminal pasts.
  • Inadequate controls over basic financial reporting and failure to reconcile IRS balances with Treasury Department records.

Many of the problems are chronic, and some lawmakers were frustrated that they have continued to surface annually since 1992.

"I don't see that there's been a real significant effort to deal with these financial management issues," said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas. "The problems seem to be running pretty deep."

Cunninghame, however, said the new management team at IRS is redoubling efforts to eliminate them. She pledged improved performance in fiscal 1999 but said the agency's computer systems must be modernized for a long-term fix.

"It will take time, and it won't be easy," she said. "The IRS must replace nearly its entire inventory of computer applications."

Last year, the IRS awarded a multibillion-dollar contract to a consortium led by Computer Sciences Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., for a modernization project expected to last 15 years. That came after several previous efforts failed at a cost of some $3.3 billion.

Move to unionize doctors gets push

American Doctors, frustrated by stepped-up HMO control over their practices, are increasingly organizing into labor unions, a tactic that only a few years ago seemed remote for well-heeled healers.

The movement got another boost March 1 as groups representing 15 000 doctors joined together under a new National Doctors Alliance, part of the Service Employees International Union, which vowed to spend $1 million over the next year recruiting more physicians and dentists.

"Today marks the beginning of a major initiative to organize doctors nationwide," said Dr. Barry Liebowitz, president of the New York-based, 2,500-member Doctors Council, which joined with the Committee of Interns and Residents and the United Salaried Physicians and Dentists to form the alliance.

Nationwide, an estimated 38 000 to 45 000 doctors belong to unions, up from only about 25 000 two years ago. Experts predict the numbers will continue to grow: They now make up roughly 6 percent of the nation's 600 000 practicing doctors.

Liebowitz and others declined to say where they would target organizing efforts first.

The National Labor Relations Board has watched the number of doctors interested in unions grow, said spokesman Dave Parker.

"They find themselves not independent anymore, but working for hospitals or health maintenance organizations without the rights that they're used to," Parker said. "They're working more like the rest of us, as employees who have bosses, and it's an interesting phenomenon to see."

Many unionized doctors are interns and residents. All work full-time for hospitals or health maintenance organizations. Their contracts cover wages and working conditions, much like other workers' contracts.

About half of the nation's doctors now work in these type of salaried positions, with 80 percent of recent graduates taking such jobs.

But some independent doctors are also pushing for union representation. The NLRB's Philadelphia office is considering whether a group of New Jersey doctors who contract with HMOs can join together to collectively negotiate contracts. HMOs maintain these doctors are independent contractors and therefore fall outside federal labor law.

The American Medical Association, a trade group that represents about half of the nation's doctors, shares the doctors' complaints but has long rejected traditional labor unions. But it said it was looking for ways to help doctors "collectively address these concerns" without giving details.

Among the AMA's chief objections to labor unions was the threat of a strike, which many doctors say would be irresponsible since it could jeopardize patient care.

The Service Employees are not the only union going after doctors. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees includes the 5 000-member Union of American Physicians and Dentists, based in Oakland, Calif. The International Association of Machinists and the United Food and Commerical Workers union have also worked to recruit members.

Buchanan kicks off third White House bid

Saying he intends to "redefine what it means to be a conservative," talk-show host Pat Buchanan announced March 2 he will make a third run at the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

Buchanan, 60, told a crowd of supporters he plans to use his campaign "to reshape our party into the natural home for working men and women in the middle class of this country and to reclaim .... the destiny of our republic from an administration that has squandered our inheritance and soiled its place in history."

"It is our calling to recapture the lost independence and sovereignty of our republic, to clean up all that pollutes our culture, and to heal the soul of America," Buchanan said.

Although unemployment is at its lowest level since 1970, Buchanan began his announcement by tapping into the concerns of disaffected manufacturing workers, warning of the evils of a global economy and the "death of American independence."

"Piece by piece, job by job, factory by factory, (American industry) is being carted off to foreign soil," Buchanan said.

The ultra-conservative co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" promoted his self- proclaimed "protectionist" agenda, emphasizing revitalizing the military, disengaging from the conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia and developing a strategic missile defense program.

"The armed forces are not some experimental laboratory for aging 60s radicals who loathed the military then and do not love her now," he said.

While other GOP candidates have gingerly approached the scandals facing President Bill Clinton, Buchanan boldly spoke out against the president, undaunted by public opinion polls.

Buchanan has sparked divisions among conservatives who either see him as a major asset or a disaster to the GOP in the 2000 presidential race.

Conservative columnist Arianna Huffington believes that Buchanan's candidacy will "bring to the table an appeal to the public's fears -- against foreigners, against NAFTA ... and, domestically, against abortion and gay rights. That's exactly what Republicans don't need right now."

Mark Shields, also a conservative columnist, counters that Buchanan is "a brilliant communicator who knows what he believes. He's a very, very good communicator and I think he's got a claim on the cultural and religious conservatives in the Republican Party that nobody can challenge."

In his first presidential campaign in 1992, Buchanan made a prime-time speech at the GOP convention in which he called the Democratic pairing of Bill Clinton and Al Gore "the most pro-lesbian and pro-gay ticket in history."

The Democrats pounced on Buchanan's rhetoric, saying it revealed the Republican Party as extreme and intolerant. Many political analysts felt that Buchanan's comments embarrassed and weakened then-incumbent President George Bush, setting the stage for Bush's loss to Clinton in the general election.

But Buchanan threw his hat into the presidential ring again in 1996, when he stunned the nation by beating eventual GOP nominee Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary. His victory in the Louisiana primary earlier that year helped knock Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) out of the campaign.

Gov. Bush announces plans for presidential exploratory committee

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, dropping his coyness, announced March 2 he will form an exploratory committee to gauge support for a White House bid in 2000.

"I wanted the Texas press, and therefore my fellow Texans, to hear it from me first, that this coming Sunday I'm going to announce the formation of an exploratory committee to determine whether or not I should seek the presidency," Bush, 52, said.

"Those of you who cover me every day know I don't make this decision lightly," said Bush, who was joined on the lawn of the Governor's Mansion by his wife Laura. "I've carefully considered its ramifications," Bush continued.

Establishing an exploratory committee is usually seen as the first step to launching a run for the presidency.

And while Bush insists he's still genuinely undecided on running, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll shows 54 percent of all Americans say they would choose Bush over Vice President Al Gore.

The governor says a final decision isn't expected until after the Texas legislature adjourns May 31 and possibly later.

Bush has, however, apparently resolved a reluctance by his wife and daughters over joining the race.

"I dread criticism of my husband. On the other hand, I love George and I'm very proud of him and I know he will make a great president," Mrs. Bush said.

Some Republicans see Bush as the best candidate to reach out to voters who often side with Democrats. In his biography on his Texas state government Web page, Bush boasts of capturing 49 percent of the Hispanic vote, 27 percent of the African-American vote and 65 percent of women in his 1998 re-election.

Bush, son of former President George Bush, is also a leading choice among potential candidates in early polls.

According to a CNN/USA TODAY/ GALLUP Poll released the same day as Bush's announcement 69 percent of American have a favorable opinion of the Texas governor; only 12 percent have an unfavorable view. Next to Elizabeth Dole, who has a 75 percent favorable rating, Bush is the best-liked potential presidential candidate.

And Bush has gained some strength since January, when polls show Bush and Gore were in a virtual tie.

Support for Bush has gained steam among many top GOP officials. During the recent National governors conference in Washington, a dozen Republican governors urged him to run for president.

Ventura: State of the state is great

Gov. Jesse Ventura sounded familiar themes in his first State of the State address, a staid 45-minute speech in which he rarely strayed from his notes and didn't tell any jokes. His opening observation was elegantly simple.

"The state of the state is great," the governor said in an address that stressed broad principles.

Aides said before March 2 speech that the former pro wrestler once known as "the Body" wants to be taken seriously. So Ventura, who often shoots from the lip, stayed low-key as he delivered a message heavy on themes of limited government, an involved citizenry and increased responsibility.

"We can't legislate against every stupid thing people will do, and yet the temptation is there to try time and time again," said Ventura, who won election last November as a third-party candidate.

The state is jeopardized by the notion that "taxpayers must step forward to provide nearly unlimited resources to anyone who faces adversity, who lives with circumstances they brought about through their own decision or who lives with consequences of choices to act illegally," he said.

"The free ride is over," said Ventura.

He said his administration's legacy "will be provoking people out of their apathy."

He alluded to one of the biggest issues of the legislative session -- whether surplus revenue should be returned via an income tax rebate or a sales tax rebate. "As soon as you're ready to send me a sales tax rebate bill, I'm ready to sign it," said Ventura.

Official eats 'toxic' fish delivered by environmentalists

Greenpeace activists who tried to deliver a free lunch of fish from a polluted bayou to Gov. Mike Foster could only watch as the governor's press secretary wolfed it down.

About 40 activists rallied March 4 to bring attention to what they said was terrible pollution in Louisiana, particularly near petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

With television cameras rolling, the activists went to the Governor's Mansion with what they called a toxic lunch: fish from a bayou near a plastics plant where signs warn against eating the catch.

The governor wasn't home. But his press secretary, Marsanne Golsby, accepted the lunch, whipped a plastic fork out of her pocket and ate the fish.

Several activists warned her to stop, telling her where the fish came from.

"Why did you bring it if you didn't want me to eat it?" Golsby asked.

When contacted later, Golsby said she was feeling just fine.

Although Foster has agreed to have breakfast with Greenpeace's regional director, he wasn't very impressed with the protest.

"I wish they'd go out and save some whales," Foster said. "They're pretty good at that."

Senator to DOJ: Back off

Slade Gorton, a Republican from Microsoft's home state of Washington, walked onto the floor of the Senate March 4 to say that the delay in the DOJ-Microsoft Corp. trial was a welcome reprieve from prosecutors run amok.

"[It] could only could be improved by making the recess permanent," he said.

Gorton has long been a gadfly of the Clinton administration, which he accuses of suing Microsoft to boost the fortunes of the firm's competitors, not consumers.

In a strongly worded speech, he echoed other free-market advocates in claiming the antitrust suit is designed to placate high-tech companies such as Sun and Netscape, both based in California -- a key state in the 2000 presidential election.

The goal of the suit is to switch "California's electoral votes into Al Gore's column come the year 2000," Gorton said in prepared remarks.

Breaking up Microsoft is not the way to go, Gorton said, and charged that government lawyers should not be contemplating remedies yet.

"Whatever happened to letting justice take its course?" he asked.

Gorton also took a swing at Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. At a hearing where Bill Gates testified early last year, Hatch grilled the Microsoft CEO about alleged anticompetitive behavior.

A source close to the Judiciary Committee said Hatch wanted to reassure the Justice Department that congressional leaders backed the move. Hatch's committee oversees the Department of Justice, which filed its suit a short time later.

Even though Utah is home to 64 technology and 1 153 resale companies that are Microsoft partners, Hatch "has chosen to take the side of the Justice Department and to support the administration's efforts to squelch the freedom of companies in his own state to innovate," Gorton said.

Gorton also pointed to Linux as a possible threat to Microsoft that emerged without government intervention.

Canada's Liberals got Crown corporation donations

An embarrassed Canadian Liberal government moved March 5 to bar federal Crown corporations from donating to political parties -- after it was disclosed the Liberals had benefited from such donations.

Don Boudria, the government House leader in the Commons, said he will bring in amendments to the Canada Elections Act within weeks to prevent Crown-owned companies from giving money to any political party.

The provision will be part of broader reforms to the electoral law that were already in the works.

In the meantime, the Liberals will give back anything they have received and will "invite other political parties who have received contributions to do the same," said Boudria.

It can't force them to return past payments, since there has been no law against such funding until now.

The government is, however, issuing an immediate policy directive to all Crown corporations telling them not to make any future contributions.

Boudria's hasty announcement came after Bloc Quebecois MP Monique Guay produced Elections Canada records showing three Crown corporations had donated to the Liberals in 1995 and 1996.

All the payments were modest -- $1 345 by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., $715 by Canada Post Corp. and $126 by the Business Development Bank of Canada.

But Guay maintained it was improper for a company funded by taxpayers to contribute to the governing party.

"It's morally unacceptable," she said. "It's not the amount that matters, it's the principle."

Conservative MP Peter MacKay agreed that "it's almost incestuous to have government money going back into the party that's in power."

The three Crown companies listed as donating to the Liberals in 1995 and 1996 gave no money to other parties in those years.

But Boudria said further research had uncovered donations from "several" Crown corporations to at least four parties -- the Conservatives, Reform and New Democrats as well as the Liberals-- dating back to 1990.

He could not identify the specific corporations or provide a total for the funding.

A spokesman for NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said party records show the NDP has never received donations from any Crown corporation.

Boudria speculated that in many cases Crown employees may have attended political fund-raising events simply because their business colleagues from the private sector were going along.

"If someone of a local office of a Crown corporation someplace bought a ticket to someone's golf tournament or went to somebody's dinner ... that technically is a contribution.

"That doesn't mean anyone wanted to do anything wrong."

AECL, Canada Post and the Business Development Bank all said they have corporate policies that forbid political donations to any party.

Rhea Cohen, a spokeswoman for AECL, said the $1 345 from her firm came from an employee who bought a table at a Liberal fund-raising dinner in Winnipeg not knowing there was a policy against it.

The corporation didn't find out until it was too late. It never asked the employee for reimbursement because it would have been a personal hardship.

Ida Irwin of Canada Post said her corporation had been unable to trace any donation to the Liberals as of Friday. But it did send the party a refund at one point for the unused portion of a package of business reply mail.

She speculated someone at Liberal headquarters may have mistaken the refund cheque for a donation.

Christiane Beaulieu of the Business Development Bank was baffled by the donation from her corporation.

"We have a clear policy, no political contributions," she said. "It's really weird."

Democratic supporter faces new charges

Democratic supporter Yogesh Gandhi faces additional charges of tax evasion, mail and wire fraud, failing to file an income tax return and perjury, according to a filing by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force.

Gandhi was previously indicted on one count of mail fraud relating to two false applications he had filed for credit cards.

In late 1996 the Democratic National Committee returned a $325 000 political contribution from Gandhi, a distant relative of the late Indian peace activist Mohandas Gandhi, because he would not supply proof of the money's origin. After reports surfaced in 1997 that Gandhi had considerable debts, he told reporters that he used his own money to make the contributions, and that no money came from international sources.

Senate investigators and media reports in 1997 showed Gandhi's donation coincided with seed money Gandhi received from a Japanese spiritual leader's organization.

Prior to the contribution, Gandhi presented President Bill Clinton with the "Gandhi Peace Award" and had his picture taken with the president.

The latest Department of Justice information filing in San Francisco on March 8 includes a second mail fraud charge, five counts of wire fraud, two counts of tax evasion, two counts of failing to file and income tax return and one count of perjury.

The second mail fraud charge relates to funds Gandhi had solicited for his Gandhi Memorial International Foundation that he used to pay personal debts. The mail fraud counts stem from Gandhi's false and improper reimbursement claims to Yoshio Tanaka, who was promoting Hogen Fukunaga, the Japanese spiritual leader.

The tax charges also revolve around Gandhi's relationship with that organization.

The perjury charge relates to stating under oath to the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had never failed to file a federal income tax return.

Gandhi is one of 15 people charged in the Justice Department's ongoing campaign finance investigation.

Judge: NCAA cannot use SAT to determine eligibility

The NCAA said its 302 Division I schools are on their own now in determining which freshmen are academically eligible to play college sports because a federal judge has rejected use of a minimum test score to determine eligibility.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter ruled that the policy known as Proposition 16 -- requiring freshmen athletes to have a minimum score of 820 on the Scholastic Assessment Test no matter how high their high school grades were -- is effectively racial discrimination because blacks were more likely than whites to miss that mark.

The decision was attacked immediately by Project 21, a group representing black conservatives.

"For decades, claims of cultural bias have been used to absolve low-performing African-American students of responsibility for their academic inadequacies. Now, by striking down the NCAA's eligibility requirements, a federal judge had legitimized black athletes' excuse for not studying more or trying harder," said Project 21 member Sharon Hodge.

Four black student-athletes who were denied eligibility to take part in college sports challenged the rule.

Buckwalter also said in the March 8 ruling that the NCAA could meet its goal of higher graduation rates by an eligibility system that lets more blacks through -- such as a system that uses SAT scores together with grade-point averages in core subjects.

The NCAA decried the ruling and said it might seek suspension of the decision "because at this point there is no rule at all" -- which she called a disservice to student-athletes.

"Each school will have to decide itself whether a student can play the first year," NCAA General Counsel Elsa Kircher Cole said. "It could lead to inconsistencies between standards at the schools and leaves the possibility of student athletes being exploited."

Cole also noted that the court did not bar use of SAT scores completely. "While the court struck down the rule setting forth initial eligibility, it left the door open for the NCAA to adopt a rule in the future" using SAT scores as long as there was enough of a correlation between scores and the graduation rate, she said.

"The goal should not be to make it as easy as possible for blacks to participate in collegiate sports. Rather, eligibility should be a privilege bestowed upon those who are legitimately pursing a college education. Academic standards are essential to college, and hence, should be the foundation of college athletics," said Hodge.

Lamar Alexander kicks off second White House run

Promising better schools, tax breaks and a stronger military, Lamar Alexander officially launched his candidacy March 9 for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

In a crowded room in the old State Supreme Court chamber in Nashville, where he spent two terms as Tennessee's governor, Alexander announced his second White House bid: "I'm here this morning to declare that I will be a candidate for president of the United States."

During a 25-minute speech Alexander said he will build his 2000 campaign around three issues: "Raising family incomes by lowering taxes and securing Social Security" and "strengthening national defense, especially against terrorists."

"Fixing public education" is the third and top priority of the platform. It's the area Alexander says "I care about the most and know the most about," as a former governor, university president and education secretary under President George Bush.

Supporters waved red "Alexander for President" signs during the event but the presidential candidates abandoned his trademark red-and-black plaid shirt in favor of a dark business suit.

The Alexander operation is well organized, and the former governor has already logged considerable time in the critical states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He says the experience of running in 1996 and the work he has put in since then will help him win in 2000.

In addition to the Alexander family, Republican Govs. Don Sundquist of Tennessee and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas were on hand to endorse Alexander. Former four-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is Alexander's national chairman, predicted that their campaign could win in the Iowa caucus.

He favors deregulating schools "to give teachers more freedom and principals more freedom," ending teacher tenure and offering HOPE scholarships to allow parents to choose the school their child attends.

Because of his experience, Alexander says he is the best qualified of all the candidates expected to run for the GOP nomination. He said he can take on Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, on "the education issue -- which is the issue Democrats have beaten Republicans into the ground on year after year."

In his announcement speech, Alexander focused all of his criticism on the "wizard Clinton and his faithful assistant Gore," not his likely Republican opponents.

"While it is true that the peace and prosperity that they inherited is still with us, what of the future? Just look behind the screen of their magic show and see what is really happening in the last six years since they took over," Alexander said.

"In just those six years, 12 countries have jumped over ours in high school graduation rates. Our taxes are high. Our federal regulation book is thicker. Our military defense is weaker. It is harder than ever for parents to raise children," he said.

Money for Clinton museum rejected

Arkansas state lawmakers on March 9 rejected a request for $500 000 to be put toward converting President Clinton's boyhood home into a museum.

The bill's sponsor ran from the House chamber in tears.

Many representatives who voted against the bill said it had nothing to do with Clinton, but with the source of the money. The project would have been funded immediately, instead of having to compete later with scores of other local projects.

Rep. Sandra Rodgers, a Democrat from Clinton's native Hope, rushed from the House chamber after the vote and cried in the Capitol halls.

"If they want President Clinton to know that they don't support him, that's fine with me. I'll try to convey that message for him," said Rodgers, her voice breaking. "I'm just really mad."

The defeat came as a shock to Rodgers, who said 85 representatives had signed on as cosponsors.

The bill, which needed 75 votes in the 99-member House, was defeated 41-8. Most members, not wanting to appear opposed to Clinton, either didn't vote or cast a "present" vote.

Speaker Pro Tem Doug Kidd, who co-sponsored the bill but then urged colleagues not to approve it, said many members didn't initially understand that the money was coming from the state's current budget -- not its next one.

"I don't think anyone who didn't vote, or voted no, meant particularly that they didn't want to do something for the president's birthplace," said Kidd, D-Benton. "It's just good government to look at every bit of this stuff."

But at least one representative said he opposed the funding because he opposes Clinton.

"I would have voted for impeachment, and I think he has disgraced our state in a lot of ways," said Rep. Jim Bob Duggar, R-Springdale.

The Postal Service wants .us

The US Postal Service wants to grab control of a key, untapped portion of the Internet. America's postal workers should have the exclusive right to manage the nation's .us top-level domain names, an official said March 9.

The government is the only choice to protect consumers' privacy and make decisions in public, USPS representative Eric Wimer told a US Department of Commerce hearing. "These regulations and administrative procedures are already in place."

About 10 500 Internet addresses -- largely Web sites -- are currently located in .us. Because of long and awkward names -- such as http://www.ci.daytona-beach.fl.us/ and http://www.beth.k12.pa.us/ -- companies have abandoned the space to municipalities.

Proponents of the .us domain hope that increased publicity -- and perhaps rules allowing companies to register names such as acme.us -- will spur interest in the subject.

Wimer said the federal government could create a new subsidy to get more Americans online.

"That phrase is not particularly well-liked this decade in Washington ... but there's a balance between private-sector involvement and accommodating, making sure universal service flows out to the nth degree," Wimer said.

For nearly a year, USPS officials have been itching to take over the .us portion of Internet governance. The White House encouraged the scheme, a spokesman said in May.

The move comes at a time when the venerable USPS is increasingly threatened by technology. According to one recent estimate, the real price of a first-class stamp has quadrupled in the last 30 years, while the cost of a long-distance phone call fell 88 percent. The USPS recently spent US$5 billion on automation equipment, but the number of full-time employees simultaneously increased by 5 percent.

Part of the USPS' revenue base -- it took in $60 billion last year -- is shrinking because of online bill payments and technologies such as email and faxes, said Jim Lucier, a technology analyst at Prudential Securities.

"It's a 19th-century industrial model. It may not be the best model," Lucier said. "The postal service is an organization entering a crisis period. It relies on a 19th-century industrial model and manual labor."

Wimer's proposal came during a full-day meeting convened by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration to puzzle out the future of .us.

The Department of Commerce last year took the final steps toward privatizing global domains such as .com and .net. Through a legal agreement with the University of Southern California, the .us domain is the last remaining public area the government oversees.

Last October, the USPS sent a 14-page proposal to NTIA suggesting that it "coordinate the administration of the .us" top-level domain. Details are still scarce, and Wimer offered few more on Tuesday, but one likely plan would be to link email addresses to US mail addresses. Another would be to provide tax-funded email accounts.

A better solution would be to have the Federal Communications Commission oversee .us, the Domain Name Rights Coalition proposed.

"I'd like an agency with a history of creating rules that foster competition," Kathryn Kleiman said. "I'd like an organization charged with protecting the public interest.... There is an organization that does this everyday. It is called the Federal Communications Commission," Kleiman said.

A third proposal would create domains such as news.us, name.us, assoc.us, and isp.us.

Government officials said they would consider the suggestions and asked for more detailed feedback.

Clinton says U.S. did wrong in Central American wars

Facing anti-U.S. protests over deportations, President Clinton admitted March 10 to Guatemalans that U.S. support for "widespread repression" in their bloody 36-year civil war was a mistake.

"For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that the support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression ... was wrong," Clinton said as he began a round-table discussion on Guatemala's search for peace.

"The United States must not repeat that mistake. We must and we will instead continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala," he said on the third day of a Central American tour.

As Clinton spoke, several hundred demonstrators outside Guatemala City's National Palace could be heard accusing the United States of complicity in the war, in which 200 000 people died, mainly Mayan civilian peasants.

A Guatemalan truth commission the month before told of state-sponsored genocide and massacres in one of the harshest rebukes of the horrors of the conflict between the army and leftist insurgents, which ended in 1996.

The commission also said U.S. military aid and Central Intelligence Agency advisers played a pivotal role in the bloodshed.

Clinton, the first post-Cold War U.S. leader to visit Central America since it moved away from the civil wars of the 1980s and toward democracy, was kept waiting on the tarmac for 30 minutes after arriving because of the protests.

As heavily armed riot police and troops watched over the demonstration outside the National Palace, Clinton faced a controversy over a U.S. decision to resume deporting Guatemalan and Salvadoran illegal immigrants 4 1/2 months after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region.

Clinton is in the midst of a four-day tour of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the four countries hit hardest by Mitch, which killed at least 9 000 people, left millions homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Before leaving El Salvador for Guatemala earlier Wednesday, Clinton said in a speech to the Legislative Assembly there that most illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States were just looking for a dignified life.

"Nevertheless, we must continue to discourage illegal immigration, for it undermines control of our borders ... and even more punishes hard-working people who play by the rules and who wait for their turn to come to the United States.

"Therefore we must enforce our laws, but we will do so with justice and fairness," he said.

Dole announces presidential exploratory committee

Saying "you have to have passion for what you believe," Elizabeth Dole moved one step closer to running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 by announcing the formation of an exploratory committee on March 10.

Abandoning the lectern, Dole walked into the audience as she did during the 1996 Republican National Convention to deliver her announcement "Oprah-style."

Dole said running for president was an "arduous task" requiring total commitment, and she believes "politics has become so negative" that "we as a people are losing faith in our institutions."

"We've got to rekindle something in our hearts, something that is very American that is still there, but is buried underneath ... a thickening layer of cynicism and doubt. And that is belief in the individual, restoring that American sense that one person, no matter how great the challenge, can make a real difference," Dole told a crowd of supporters in Iowa, scene of the first caucuses next year.

Dole also announced the launch of her Web site at www.edole2000.org.

Dole, 62, is the wife of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996. She impressed many campaigning for her husband and has long been mentioned as a possible Republican nominee for president or vice president.

The former Senate majority leader did not attend the Des Moines announcement because of a special trip to the Balkans as a peace envoy for President Bill Clinton.

In a television ad to accompany her announcement, the former Red Cross president positioned herself as an outsider.

"I'm not a politician and, frankly, today that may be a plus," Dole said in the ad.

"If I run, this will be why: I believe our people are looking for leaders that will call America to her better nature. Yes, we've been let down and by people we should have been able to look up to, but it's not just that," she continued.

"Politics and the politics of governing have become so negative, so paralyzed by special interests that as a people we're beginning to lose faith in our own institutions. It's only a short step to losing faith in ourselves and then we would be lost," Dole said.

United Church moderator targets the global market as a false god

After months of planning and preparation, the Moderator of The United Church of Canada, Bill Phipps, officially launched an initiative that he hopes will send shock waves through the marketplace.

The Moderator's Consultation on Faith and the Economy was introduced to the media at a news conference being held in Toronto on March 11. The purpose of the consultation is to spark a freewheeling national discussion of issues related to what Phipps calls "our misguided worship of the market as God."

Phipps says that early in his three-year term of office he decided to commit a significant portion of his time and energy to raising questions about the morality of our market driven economy.

"Many Canadians know something is terribly wrong. They are deeply disturbed by our market-driven economy, which changes people from citizens into consumers, distorts reality, demeans the human spirit and plunders the earth," says Phipps.

Phipps hopes the consultation, which will be staged largely via the Internet, will provide a forum for provocative opinion and thoughtful debate. Phipps also expects that local congregations and community groups will participate by organizing regional events.

Phipps did not comment on whether he viewed the State as his God.

Clinton thanks his impeachment defenders

U.S. President Bill Clinton, careful to express contrition and avoid gloating after his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, began to show his gratitude publicly to those who stood up for him throughout the impeachment process on March 12.

In remarks at a pair of fund-raisers for Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin in Texarkana, Texas, Clinton directly linked his appearance to Sandlin's support when the House voted to impeach the president for the first time in 130 years.

"At a time in the last year when a lot of people were just worried which way the political winds were blowing, that guy was telling people to read the Constitution of the United States of America," he told a $1 000-a-plate dinner for Sandlin.

Clinton also was the featured guest the next night at an Arkansas Democratic Party event billed as a salute to Dale Bumpers, who delivered the defense summation in the Senate impeachment trial.

Earlier that day, the president visited his mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham, who moved to Little Rock from Park Ridge, Illinois, after her husband's death during Clinton's first term in the White House.

Without directly referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal or even saying "impeachment," Clinton cast Sandlin's opposition to the House charges as a stand "to protect the kind of government that we have preserved for more than 220 years."

"Even though he is a very junior member," Clinton said, "he was one of the most serious, substantive, thoughtful and effective advocates, asking all the members of the Congress to read the Constitution, read the history, and uphold their oath."

During his visit to Texarkana, Clinton was greeted by a dozen protesters holding signs that said "sexual predator alert."

Small town roots created me, says Clinton

President Clinton returned to his hometown on March 12 for the first time since his impeachment, braving rain and wind to dedicate his childhood home in a ceremony filled with allusions to his scandal-clouded legacy.

In an outdoor ceremony in Hope, the president dedicated his birthplace as a historic site, and he thanked those who have continued to support him.

"To my family and friends I say thank you for love and loyalty and the lessons of a lifetime. Thank you for being there for me," he said.

"The rain makes this day even more poignant," Clinton said. "To my family and friends I say thank you for love and loyalty and the lessons of a lifetime."

Clinton said that "though far from perfect," he had tried to live up to his hometown values.

The restoration of his maternal grandparents' home, 117 South Hervey Street, an ivory house with green trim, was so fresh the paint was still wet.

Clinton's visit to Hope was his first since 1997, when he came for the funeral of his "Uncle Buddy" -- Henry Grisham. It was his first visit to Arkansas since the end of his Senate impeachment trial over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

A few more than 100 people sat in raw, biting wind on damp aluminum chairs, listening patiently as Clinton reminisced about the place where he broke his leg trying to jump rope in cowboy boots; learned to count on playing cards that his grandparents propped in a window; first prayed; and thought his mother was calling from nursing school in New Orleans each time the telephone rang.

Clinton credited his small town upbringing with instilling in him the values that drove him to public service and the presidency.

"A lot of what I learned that was good, that I took with me for the rest of my life, I learned back then," he said. "It doesn't matter where you came from in life, it matters what you did with your life."

When he arrived at the airport, about 200 people, shivering under multicolored umbrellas, were there to meet Clinton. "I always say that the people here stuck with me through rain and shine, and now it is literally true," Clinton said.

World's glaciers show no evidence of global warming

The world's glaciers are not drastically receding due to alleged man-made global warming but in many cases are expanding, according to a recently released National Policy Analysis paper by the National Center For Public Policy Research.

Proponents of the theory that man-made greenhouse gases are dangerously warming the planet point to retreating glaciers as evidence of global warming affecting the climate. Global warming theory proponents claim that these melting glaciers will cause a catastrophic rise in sea level which may submerge major seaboard cities like New York in coming centuries. By scaring the public with such apocalyptic visions, the environmental movement hopes to build support for the Clinton Administration's agenda of imposing economically-damaging cuts in the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

However, according to National Policy Analysis paper #235, "Behavior of the World's Glaciers Fails to Prove Global Warming Theory," glacial activity disproves the global warming theory. Authored by John Carlisle, director of the National Center's Environmental Policy Task Force, the paper argues that global warming theory proponents are wrong to point to the retreat of some glaciers in the mid-latitude regions of the planet as evidence of warming since glaciers respond to a variety of complex natural phenomena other than global temperature variations. Furthermore, mid-latitude glaciers represent only 6 per cent of the world's glacial ice while Antarctica and Greenland, on the other hand, contain 94 per cent of the glacial ice. Contradicting predictions of alleged global warming's climatic impact, the Antarctic and Greenland glaciers are advancing which has the effect of lowering sea level.

"The advance of the polar glaciers indicates that there is no evidence that global warming is melting glaciers and thus no reason to fear a catastrophic rise in sea level," says Carlisle. "Instead of providing proof of global warming, glacial behavior represents yet another powerful indictment of this already controversial theory."

From the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Judge rejects lawsuit against God

A Pennsylvania man's lawsuit naming God as a defendant has been thrown out by a court in Syracuse.

Donald Drusky, 63, of East McKeesport, Pennsylvania, blames God for failing to bring him justice in a 30-year battle against his former employer, the steelmaker now called USX Corp.

The company fired him in 1968, when it was called U.S. Steel.

"Defendant God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and took no corrective action against the leaders of his Church and his Nation for their extremely serious wrongs, which ruined the life of Donald S. Drusky," the lawsuit said.

Drusky wanted God to return his youth and grant him the guitar-playing skills of famous guitarists, along with resurrecting his mother and his pet pigeon. If God failed to appear in court, federal rules of civil procedure say he must lose by default, Drusky argued.

In early March, U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue found the suit -- which also named former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the television networks, all 50 states, every single American, all federal judges, and the 100th through 105th congresses as defendants -- to be frivolous.

NAACP engages in partisan activity, violating IRS code

The NAACP is a non-profit group, and therefore cannot participate in partisan political activity. Despite this clear IRS rule, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume recently solicited contributions with the boast that "We helped defeat anti-rights incumbent senators in New York and North Carolina [in the 1998 elections], and helped pick up five Democrat seats in the House."

When New York Post columnist Michael Myers sought an explanation to this point of law, he was admonished by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who evaded Myers' request by replying, "We are ever mindful that our enemies will seek any opportunity to embarrass us."

Courtesy of the National Center for Public Policy Research

Key Cuban dissident sentenced to five years:

Risking international criticism, the government on March 15 sentenced one of Cuba's best-known dissidents to five years in prison and set lesser terms for his three co-defendants.

The conviction and sentence for Vladimiro Roca, a former military pilot and son of the late Cuban Communist Party leader Blas Roca, was announced during the midday news.

"It is wrong, it is unjust," said Roca's wife, Magaly de Armas, who learned of her husband's sentence on the government news. "They didn't even call."

"We are going to appeal immediately," she added.

A five-member tribunal tried Roca and three others behind closed doors the first week of March. It set four years each for lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano and engineer Felix Bonne and 3 1/2 years for economist Marta Beatriz Roque, government television said.

The ruling could hold international repercussions for Cuba, which has work hard to improve its ties with other nations, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America. Canada, the Vatican and several European nations have pressured Cuba to free the four dissidents.

"Cuba sends an unfortunate signal to her friends in the international community when people are jailed for peaceful protest," Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said in a terse statement issued by his office.

"In light of the convictions and other related events we have informed the Cuban government that we would be reviewing the range of our bilateral activities."

Cuba plans to welcome King Juan Carlos II of Spain in the spring and play host to the Ibero-American Summit in the fall -- events that diplomats say could be marred by complaints of human rights abuses.

Communist officials insist there are no political prisoners on this island nation of 11 million people, only those jailed for common crimes. They reject the characterization of the four as prisoners of conscience.

The four were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document that they said did not present solutions to Cuba's severe economic problems.

They were also accused of encouraging Cubans not to vote in that year's elections, holding two news conferences with foreign media, exhorting foreign businessmen not to invest in Cuba and asking Cuban exiles to encourage their kin on the island to undertake acts of civil disobedience.

In a detailed report after the trial, the government said that prosecutor Edelmira Pedriz Yumar "demonstrated in her report the existing ties between the activities undertaken by the defendants and the forms of aggression toward Cuba adopted by United States' policies."

The report accused the four of receiving financial and material support from organizations in the United States and using U.S.-based media, especially those in Miami and the U.S. government's Radio Marti, "to encourage civil disobedience and transgression of current law in Cuba."

The prosecution originally recommended a six-year sentence for Roca and five-year terms for the others. Family members say the four rejected government offers to go into exile rather than face trial.

Scores of the defendants' supporters were temporarily detained before the hearings, evidently to prevent any protests outside the courthouse.

Forbes announces candidacy via the Internet

Saying "I don't believe in business as usual, and I don't believe in politics as usual," Steve Forbes kicked off his second run for the GOP presidential nomination on March 16 in an address on the Internet.

"This is going to be a new, information-age campaign about great ideas and enduring values," Forbes said.

"I am happy to announce the beginning of my campaign for president of the United States of America," Forbes told users visiting his web site Forbes2000.com. "Today marks the beginning of a national crusade to restore Ronald Reagan's vision of hope and prosperity for all Americans.

"You and I are entering the information age, and Washington politicians are stuck in the Stone Age."

The flat-tax advocate reiterated his desire to abolish the tax code as well as protect Social Security and curb abortions.

Forbes' Web site will also include reports from campaign "reporters" submitted directly to the site; digital photos filed from the road; and a volunteer section for supporters.

"Internet today will be for Steve Forbes what television was for John Kennedy in 1960," Bill DalCol, who will manage Forbes' campaign, said Monday.

DalCol said Forbes had chosen his Web site as the medium through which to announce his candidacy to "demonstrate the importance the Internet will play returning democracy to the individual, allowing the individual to ... take direct action in support of a candidate who represents their views."

The campaign hopes their Web site will offer voters unfiltered, in-depth information about Forbes' positions and allow users to build their own committee structure.

Forbes' strategy marks a sharp departure from his unsuccessful 1996 campaign, which relied heavily on a series of television ads, financed with his own money. The ads promoted a flat tax and harshly criticized the GOP front-runner, Bob Dole, for being too soft on taxes.

However, Forbes encountered hostility among social conservatives who were concerned about his stance on abortion and other issues important to the religious right.

This time Forbes, 51, has been carefully courting conservatives by running to the right of the early GOP pack leaders, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Cabinet member Elizabeth Dole. Along with his emphasis on tax reform, he has staked out a strict anti-abortion stance and conservative positions on other social issues, such as school choice and making English the official language.

He also has concentrated his spending on recruiting talented organizers and has built a strong grassroots organization.

The web site ended up with four million hits that day, exceeding expecations by 30 per cent.

Canada's NDP, Reform back Communist effort to revamp election law

The Communist Party of Canada got a helping hand from the NDP and Reform on March 16 as all three hailed a court decision that upheld the rights of fringe parties.

They also issued a joint appeal to the Liberal government to accept the Ontario Court judgment and enshrine its principles in a new federal election law.

"We sincerely hope this government will do the right thing," said Communist Leader Miguel Figueroa, arguing that electoral law has historically favoured the major parties.

"Canada and the Canadian political system are not a private country club."

Figueroa was flanked at a news conference by New Democrat MP Libby Davies and Reformer Ted White, as well as Independent John Nunziata, a former Liberal who broke with that party before the last election.

"This has gone far enough," said Davies, rejecting the notion that restrictions are needed to keep frivolous candidates from cluttering up the ballot on election day.

"It's the people of Canada who make the decisions about who is frivolous and who they want to vote for."

White echoed those sentiments.

"We believe that elections are for voters, not for the parties," he said. "This was a bad law."

Under legislation passed in 1993, parties had to field 50 candidates to be officially registered with Elections Canada.

The Communists, who managed eight candidates, were de-registered as a result. The party was forced to sell its assets and, in effect, start over from scratch if it wants to run in future.

Seven other fringe parties have met the same fate in the last six years.

The before the press conference, however, Justice Anne Molloy of Ontario Court, ruling on a challenge brought by the Communists under the Charter of Rights, overturned the 50-candidate provision and the forced liquidation of assets.

She also struck down other sections of the Canada Elections Act that denied fringe parties the right to have their names appear on the ballot and provided for forfeiture of half the $1 000 deposit of a candidate who couldn't attract 15 per cent of the vote.

The federal cabinet is still awaiting legal advice and has yet to decide whether to appeal the ruling, said Don Boudria, the Liberal House leader in the Commons.

A Liberal insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said many within the government agree the old law went too far in ordering that parties be stripped of their assets if they can't field enough candidates.

But the other elements of Molloy's ruling are less clear cut and have provoked greater debate, said the source.

Boudria had already been planning to bring in amendments to the election law sometime this month to deal with other matters. He was urged to forgo an appeal of the Molloy judgment and simply write the judge's views into the new legislation.

"This really is not a question of whether you support or don't support the Communist party," said Nunziata. "What's at issue here is democracy."

Nunziata has threatened to launch his own court challenge on grounds that the present law continues to discriminate against independents. That's because only parties are allowed to issue official receipts that guarantee donors a writeoff on their income taxes.

Reno backs scrapping 'structurally flawed' counsel law

Attorney General Janet Reno told Congress on March 17 that the independent counsel law was "structurally flawed" and should be allowed to expire when its authorization runs out in June.

Reno said that the statute had failed in its key goal of removing politics from the investigation of top federal officials.

The attorney general's role in requesting an independent counsel to investigate colleagues in the same administration opens the process up to political second-guessing, she said, which undermines the public confidence that the statute was created to build.

"I have come to believe, after much reflection and with great reluctance, that the independent counsel act is structurally flawed and that those flaws cannot be corrected within our constitutional framework," Reno told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee is considering whether the statute should be renewed.

The law -- which grew out of the Watergate scandals and first went into effect in 1978 -- requires the attorney general to seek the appointment of an independent counsel when there is substantial evidence of possible wrongdoing by top federal officials.

In 1994, when the law was brought up for renewal last, Reno's Justice Department supported the measure.

The Justice Department's change in policy on the measure was first signaled in early March when Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder went before a House panel to argue the statute should be scrapped.

Holder said that the new opposition was not based on "problems with individual independent counsels," such as Ken Starr, whose nearly five-year investigation of President Bill Clinton led to only the second presidential impeachment in history.

Reno said that she had reversed her support for the law after seeing her decisions on some cases "plunged into the political process."

"Maybe ... it has to do just with your decisions," retorted Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

While Reno used the statute to request the appointment of independent counsels seven times, she has been under fire from Thompson and other Republicans in Congress for failure to recommend one to investigate fund raising by the 1996 Clinton/Gore re-election campaign.

The law is set to expire June 30. It is widely disliked by members of both parties after independent counsel investigations of Republican and Democratic presidents and other government officials.

Much of the criticism of the law stems from the costs incurred. Under the current law, special prosecutors have an unlimited budget to hire aides and investigate their targets. Starr, for instance, has spent nearly $50 million investigating Clinton.

If Congress lets the law expire, as it did in 1992 before renewing it 18 months later, dozens of high-ranking government officials who now could be subject to an independent counsel inquiry would be investigated instead by the Justice Department.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation "honours" ludicrous spending

Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) Federal Director, Walter Robinson hosted the first annual Ted Weatherill Awards at a black-tie news conference on the morning of March 17 in Ottawa.

The Teddies were named after Ted Weatherill, a former senior public servant who was terminated in 1999 for "expenses incurred by him...incompatible with his position as Chairman of the Canada Labour Relations Board," according to the Office of the Minister of Labour.

Federal Nominees:

  • Honourable Sheila Copps – for the tape tax fiasco and questionable multiculturalism funding
  • Honourable John Manley – for his continuing and steadfast promotion of Corporate Welfare
  • Public Works & Government Services Canada – for Parliament Hill construction over-runs and over a billion dollars in sole-sourced government contracts
  • Four Reform MPs (and possibly others) – for opting back into the MP Pension Plan

Winner: Public Works and Government Services Canada for letting $1.4 billion in untendered contracts in 1995 and for managing to allow the Parliament Hill construction and renovation budget to balloon from $440 million to $1.4 billion.

Provincial Nominees:

  • Government of British Columbia – for the Fast Ferry scandal
  • Government of Saskatchewan – for SaskPower's Channel Lake Petroleum scandal
  • Government of British Columbia – for the Photo Radar Scandal
  • Government of Ontario – for tens of millions in taxpayer-funded partisan advertising

Winner: Government of British Columbia for spending $400 000 on a photo radar photo verification manual. At 2 637 words, this manual cost $152 per word.

A Lifetime Achievement Teddie was given in-absentia to Former Conservative Finance Minister Michael Wilson for his work in de-indexing the Income Tax System in 1986. De-indexing, or "bracket creep" as it is known, now accounts for over $10 billion or 14 per cent of the personal income tax revenues that the federal government collects on an annual basis.

Grand juror testifies Starr's prosecutors were not out to get the Clintons

A member of the Whitewater grand jury testified on March 17 she didn't feel Independent Counsel Ken Starr's office was out to get Bill and Hillary Clinton when the prosecutors asked Susan McDougal to answer questions before the grand jury in Arkansas.

The prosecution closed its case against McDougal by calling three former grand jurors to testify. It is rare for grand jurors, who meet secretly, to be called as witnesses or even have their names released to the public.

In a flurry at the end of a day attorney Mark Geragos issued a subpoena to Deputy Independent Counsel W. Hickman Ewing Jr. to testify when McDougal's defense begins its case the next day.

Geragos said that Ewing, who oversees Starr's Arkansas office but is not part of the current trial team, would be the first defense witness, and he would not rule out summoning Starr as well.

"First let me deal with Hick Ewing," he said.

The defense team is eager to change the issue at the trial from McDougal's defiance of a federal judge's order to testify before the Whitewater grand jury to the tactics of Starr's office.

Jennifer Castleberry of Mayflower, Arkansas, was the first of the three grand jurors to take the stand as the prosecution wrapped up its case.

Castleberry, who served as the secretary of the Little Rock grand jury during much of 1996 and 1997, recalled McDougal's refusal to testify.

"She wouldn't talk. She wanted to give a statement," Castleberry recalled. "I wanted to hear from her. I thought she had information."

McDougal refused on that occasion in 1996 and again in 1998 to answer questions from the grand jury, claiming Starr's team wanted her to lie in order to obtain information harmful to the president and first lady.

It was McDougal's refusal to answer those questions that resulted in her indictment on criminal contempt and obstruction of justice charges.

Starr's courtroom prosecutor Julie Myers wanted to know if Castleberry believed that the jurors or the prosecutors were out to get the Clintons.

"Were you out to get the Clintons or anyone else?" Myers asked.

"No", Castleberry replied.

"Was the Office of Independent Counsel out to get the Clintons or out to get anyone else?" Myers asked.

"No," the grand juror replied again.

Under cross-examination Geragos hammered away at the grand jury practices of the Office of Independent Counsel. Geragos attacked the credibility of witnesses brought before the grand jury, including Clinton accusers James McDougal and David Hale.

Castleberry said she was aware that James McDougal had changed his story, to accuse then-Gov. Bill Clinton of knowing about a specific loan which was traced, through a complicated path, to an illegal loan to Susan McDougal. In sworn testimony, the president has denied any knowledge of the transaction.

On March 17, prosecutors showed an April 1998 videotape of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's grand jury testimony in the case.

The first lady told prosecutors that she has no knowledge of a $27 600 Whitewater loan in her husband's name and that she knew nothing on a check for $5 081.82, signed by McDougal, with the notation "payoff Clinton."

McDougal claims she has no information pertinent to the case. She says she refused to answer questions because she believed Starr would twist her words around and use them to suit his own agenda or would charge her with perjury if he did not like what she said.

She also alleges that Starr's deputies used false information from her ex-husband and Hale to pursue their investigation of her and the Clintons.

Privacy bill called excessive by Canadian civil liberties group

Personal privacy protection in a new government bill is actually excessive, says Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Borovoy's argument is an unusual intervention for one of the great champions of civil rights in Canada. He acknowledges his association has long believed that personal information about Canadians must be protected.

In fact, Borovoy said he "warmly supports" Bill C-54, which was created to protect personal privacy in the age of electronic commerce.

"But I believe the bill is excessively protecting privacy and could impede some legitimate social advocacy causes," Borovoy said March 18.

"In some areas they've probably gone overboard and we have to be concerned about . . . the way personal information is described and the restraints that are placed on its subsequent disclosure," he said.

In a letter Borovoy sent to a parliamentary committee studying the bill, he cites an example of how the privacy restrictions could impede a good cause.

He recalls that several years ago the Labour Committee for Human Rights, an anti-racist organization, tested businesses for discrimination.

It would send two blacks, and later two whites, into apartments, tourist resorts and golf courses, for example, and if they were treated differently the committee would release the information to the media.

Borovoy said such efforts were partially responsible for the creation of Canada's human rights laws. But he worries that under Bill C-54, such advocacy would not be possible.

"One of the difficulties is that `personal information' is defined in the bill to include virtually any information about any identifiable individual that is recorded in any form," Borovoy wrote.

"It appears that such (advocacy) methods may violate the requirement for informed consent and even the collection of information by `fair means' that are contained in the bill."

Borovoy is suggesting an amendment allowing collection and release of information without the consent or knowledge of individuals if the accuracy of that information would be compromised by consent.

For example, Borovoy argued that the business owners would not have discriminated against black customers if they had been told in advance of the labour committee's intended purpose, damaging the accuracy of the study.

He said MPs should remember as they study Bill C-54 that publicly disclosing information gathered about inappropriate conduct "can be an important public service."

Since the bill is aimed at preventing commercial invasions of personal privacy, Borovoy suggested an amendment exempting the voluntary non-profit sector.

How the worm has turned...

Clinton mocks his own press conference evasions

President Clinton, who did his best to duck reporters during a year of scandal and impeachment, decided to warm up for his news conference on March 19 with an appearance before a crowd of radio and television journalists.

Forget the questions. On that night, the president went straight for testing out his responses.

"No, I didn't watch it."

"No, I haven't read it."

"She was first, Sam."

Trying to keep the simulation as real as possible, Clinton brought along a tool that has proved invaluable in staving off tough, scandal-related questions in the past months: a foreign head of state.

A sidekick adorned in a red sash and medals joined the president on-stage and helped entertain an audience of more than 2 000 assembled for the Radio-Television Correspondents' Association Dinner.

"If this isn't contrition, I don't know what is," Clinton quipped to an audience obviously wondering how he would deal with the Monica Lewinsky matter. The president acknowledged that if the Senate impeachment votes had gone a different way, he wouldn't be standing before this legion of Washington journalists.

"I demand a recount," he deadpanned.

But the disjunction between Clinton mingling with the very reporters who have plagued him for the past year became apparent at times, most notably when ABC News Correspondent Jackie Judd received an award for her coverage of the investigation of the president.

As she walked across the stage where the Clintons and the vice president were seated, the president shook her hand, drawing cheers from the guests.

"I appreciate the president's graciousness this evening," Judd said.

Clinton spared the House impeachment managers from his roasting, because he said they weren't in the audience to defend themselves.

"They're all at the Taliban correspondents association dinner," he said. At least one Republican manager, Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, looked on from his table.

With the Academy Awards close at hand, the president also gave his vote for some Washington dramas deserving of the honor. "Leaving Los Alamos," "You Got Subpoenas," and "Throw Mama in a Grand Jury" were among his picks.

Clinton orders federal-state plan to disarm the public...errr...criminals

U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered the government on March 20 to develop a plan for closer federal-state cooperation to increase prosecution of criminals who use firearms and to take other steps aimed at reducing gun violence.

He noted the nation's crime rate has dropped by more than 20 percent since 1993, and the rate of murders by firearms has fallen by 33 percent.

But the president, in his weekly radio address, said far too many people still are killed by guns. In 1997, 14 000 people were killed by guns.

"Guns have magnified the malevolence of crime," Clinton said, adding that disarming criminals should be the top priority.

Clinton put Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and Attorney General Janet Reno in charge of developing a strategy against gun violence. He suggested it could be developed along the lines of plans already in place in Richmond, Virginia, where gun-related homicides dropped by more than 40 percent last year.

Among Clinton's goals are:

  • Expanded efforts to identify illegal gun markets;
  • Improved coordination between state and local law enforcers;
  • Closer supervision of criminals on parole or probation;
  • Community-based programs to reduce gun violence.

He singled out Project Exile, headed by the U.S. attorney in Richmond in cooperation with state, local and other federal officials.

Clinton said hundreds of firearms have been seized and hundreds of criminals who used firearms convicted. The key to the project, Clinton said, is using existing federal laws as the backbone of the enforcement effort.

Clinton repeated what his budget for the next fiscal year is proposing to help cut firearms-related crime, including $5 million for dozens of new federal prosecutors and $23.8 million for more than 120 new agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

As he lobbied for his $1.3 billion "21st Century Policing Initiative," Clinton also criticized the Republican majority in Congress for wanting to deny more than $1 billion of that total.

Hollywood awards Kazan honorary Oscar

Director Elia Kazan received his honorary award during the 71st Oscar Awards March 21. The protest against Kazan largely fizzled with only a few big name actors refusing to stand or clap, such as Ed Asner, Ed Harris, Amy Irving and Nick Nolte. Kazan received his award to loud applause and offered no apology for his past actions.

In fact, several people showed up outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion to show their support of Kazan. The Ad Hoc Committee for Naming Facts, set up by the Ayn Rand Institute, sent spokesman to speak with journalists and tell them the truth about Kazan.

"It is the Hollywood Communists, who worked secretly to overthrow the U.S. government, who should apologize; it is Mr. Kazan who should be applauded," Committee Vice Chairman Scott McConnell told journalists. "By waving the hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union during their protest at the Oscars, the anti-Kazan protestors openly showed their support of the bloodiest regime in history. Their only argument has been to call Mr. Kazan a 'rat,' an admission that what he said was true."

Said Kazan receiving his award, "Thank you very much. I really like to hear that and I want to thank the Academy for its courage, generosity, and I want to say that I've been a member of the Academy on and off for I don't know how many years. So I'm pleased to say what's best aboutthem, they're damn good to work with. I also want to thank Marty [Scorsese], Marty? Where are you? Where's Marty? I thank you. And Bobby. Bobby De Niro. Thank you all very much. I think I can just slip away."

For Kazan did for America, he'll never "just slip away" and he will always be thanked.

Lions and tigers and...Bolivians

A Texas judge delivered last month a sharp jab to the funny bone of the Republic of Bolivia after the Bolivian government filed suit against the U.S. tobacco industry in Brazoria County, Texas.

In February, the Bolivian government filed suit seeking to recover health care costs it claims were incurred treating Bolivians suffering from tobacco-related illnesses.

In an strongly-worded order transferring the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Brazoria County Judge Samuel Kent questioned why the plaintiffs don't "seem to have a court system their own government [has] confidence in" and why, "given the number of U.S. jurisdictions encompassing fascinating and exotic places the Republic of Bolivia [has] elected to file suit in the veritable hinterlands of Brazoria County."

Judge Kent went on to dispute the motivation behind Bolivia's filing in Brazoria County, seeing that there "isn't even a Bolivian restaurant anywhere near" Brazoria County, let alone a real, "live Bolivian" -- which the court seriously doubts residents of Brazoria County have ever seen -- "even on the Discovery Channel."

Courtesy of the National Center for Public Policy Research

Labour likes Gore, but not that much

Vice President Al Gore defended Clinton administration trade policies to testy labor activists who warned him they weren't satisfied with the answers.

"You know why I'm here," said Gore. "We need to talk."

Gore attended a conference of the United Auto Workers, and ran into a buzz-saw of questions about the North American Free Trade Agreement, fought hard by labor but pushed by Clinton.

The badgering began from the moment Gore was introduced by Iowa UAW head Dave Neil.

"We are of the opinion that NAFTA does not work," said Neil. "I guess I'll just stop there."

At that, Gore made his arguments in a speech.

"We have not agreed with you on every issue," he said. "You are keenly aware of that. I am keenly aware of that."

Relations between both Clinton and Gore with organized labor have been cool, and the meeting on March 22 underscored those tensions.

"If you want perfection, keep on looking," said Gore. "If you want someone who agrees with you 100 percent of the time, keep on looking."

After making his pitch, Gore took questions from the audience and workers scattered around the room peppered him, not only on trade but on a global warming treaty that critics said could hammer American jobs.

"I see it differently than you," said Gore. "I believe it's a real problem."

Gore did concede "there are still ongoing struggles" in enforcing protections against loss of American jobs, but vowed to continue to press to preserve U.S. jobs.

While Gore insisted that he backed labor's goals, and defended its trade policy, one question shouted from the back of the room drew a cheer.

"How come you don't twist arms on labor (laws) like you do on NAFTA?" shouted the questioner.

"I know there was a perception" that Clinton didn't push hard for labor law reform, Gore conceded, arguing that he would press for changes.

Relations with labor are key for Gore. Many labor leaders feel little real loyalty, and Gore ended up arguing essentially that they would be better off with him than a Republican.

"I want to work with you," said Gore. "I come from a progressive tradition that is in my bones."

'Know Your Customer' killed

On March 23, U.S. banking regulators dropped a controversial proposal that would have required banks to monitor their customers more closely to try to spot illegal activities like money laundering.

The proposed "Know Your Customer" rules sparked a public outcry and drew heavy fire from Congress and the banking industry, with opponents saying they would be a serious violation of personal privacy.

In a joint statement, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision said they had reevaluated the proposal and decided to withdraw it.

"The agencies received an unprecedented number of comments ... from the public, banking organizations, industry trade associations, and members of Congress," they said. "Most of the comments reflect public concern over the privacy of information that would be collected and held by financial institutions."

The proposal would have extended existing rules requiring banks to report suspicious transactions, making them set up systems to screen customers and monitor their accounts for unusual activity.

The regulators said they remained committed to the fight against money laundering, but would seek in future to reconcile this with concerns about personal privacy.

"The agencies agree that there must be an appropriate balance between these legitimate interests," they said.

The FDIC alone received over 225 000 comments on the proposal, most of them from private individuals opposed to the plan.

Spurred by the public outcry, the Senate voted March 5 to scuttle the rules, appending a provision to an education bill to prohibit the regulators from implementing them.

Bank groups also had protested the burden the rules would have imposed on them, and the American Bankers Association welcomed the decision to drop the initiative.

"We commend the regulators for withdrawing the Know Your Customer proposal today," ABA Executive Vice President Donald Ogilvie said.

"The proposal would have put banks in the untenable position of invading their customers' privacy and potentially could have eroded public confidence in the banking industry."

Lawyers' latest litigation target is all wet

Now that the world is safe from smoking and shooting, what might be next on the endangered product list, courtesy of our nation's avenging trial lawyers? The answer may be no further than your kitchen sink, says trial lawyer extraordinnaire Wendell Gauthier.

In a recent New York Times profile, Gauthier cited the next possible target of trial lawyers: "Have I thought about [other industries to sue] since we branched into guns? Yes. Are there other public issues that in my view merit this type of litigation? Water. We have a problem right now with chemicals that are flooding into the water supply and an industry that again just refuses to address the problem."

Trial lawyers keeping our drinking water safe? Make mine straight up.

Courtesy of the National Center for Public Policy Research

The Intellectual Matchmaker premieres on Free-Market.Net

The Henry Hazlitt Foundation introduced on March 24 The Intellectual Matchmaker on the World-wide Web.

Functioning like a cross between a personal networking service and a highly specialized search engine, The Intellectual Matchmaker introduces people who share the same libertarian ideas and interests, and makes personalized recommendations of online and offline resources.

When a user visits the Intellectual Matchmaker Web page at http://www.free-market.net/imm/ he or she is asked ten questions ranging from "What part of the world do you live in?" to "Which, if any, of the following people have most influenced your ideas and opinions?" to "Which of the following news headlines would most interest you?" After answering the questions, the quiz-taker is instantly presented with a Web page of personalized recommendations, selected from over 3 000 people, home pages, news stories, books, e-texts, events, job openings, local clubs, and other resources from around the world.

Since the Matchmaker opened for testing in mid-February, over 800 people have helped beta-test it. When John Fund of the Wall Street Journal tested it, he commented that, "The Hazlitt Foundation's Intellectual Matchmaker helps realize the promise of the Internet. Never before in history have people of kindred spirit and like mind been so easily able to communicate and share ideas. The Intellectual Matchmaker is an innovative and fun way for people anywhere to discover not only how many others think as they do but how they can work together for liberty."

The Intellectual Matchmaker is an entirely free service, paid for by charitable donations to The Henry Hazlitt Foundation. The foundation's supporters believe that individual liberty and free markets are essential for the future of human peace and prosperity. By offering Internet services such as The Intellectual Matchmaker, they hope to show how freedom can be interesting and relevant to people's individual circumstances, to help connect people who share common interests and goals, and to make it easier for libertarians and non-libertarians to connect and communicate with each other.

"People sometimes accuse the Internet of being impersonal and putting up barriers to real human interaction," says Chris Whitten, executive director of The Henry Hazlitt Foundation. "But as most Internet users already know, it's just the opposite. Tools like The Intellectual Matchmaker are bringing people together. One-on-one communication is happening on a massive scale. This is going to have a huge impact on the world we live in."

Courtesy of a Henry Hazlitt Foundation press release

Jackson won't seek presidency in 2000, a nation weeps

Two-time Democratic presidential candidate and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said March 24 that his time is better spent raising issues like minority representation on corporate boards than running for president.

Jackson announced that he would not make a third bid for the White House in a statement posted on the Web site of his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Illinois).

"Money raised and spent to support a campaign for president is money that may never be dedicated to another cause, " he said. " I've got so much work to do. I've got so many issues I want to raise. I've got so many battles left to fight. I simply believe that I can most effectively advance that work, those issues, and these battles outside the context of a presidential campaign. "

Jackson said his "job is not to run for president, but to lead a moral struggle to build a more perfect union."

Jackson said the United States is at the leading edge of the next frontier of the civil rights movement and many decisions affecting communities across the nation are made far from the halls of government.

"They are made in corporate boardrooms, in the suites of investment bankers, in the offices of pension fund trustees and managers," he said. "These unlikely locales will become the battlegrounds of the future."

Jackson cited his efforts to pressure Wall Street to pay more attention to minorities as one way he might be able to do more good outside a race for office. He singled out Apple Computer as an example of a company lacking in minority representation.

"I am not fooled when Apple Computer uses the images of Jackie Robinson, Cesar Chavez, and Miles Davis in its advertising campaigns, but fails to include a single African-American or Latino on its board," he said.

Grand jury forewoman would have indicted Clinton for perjury

Stepping from behind the grand jury's wall of secrecy, the forewoman in the Monica Lewinsky inquiry said she sympathized with President Clinton but would have voted to indict him for perjury if prosecutors had asked her to.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Freda Alexander described her 18 months on the grand jury as emotionally intense. She defended Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr but said she sometimes felt sorry for Ms. Lewinsky and presidential secretary Betty Currie as they were pressed to testify about the president. She portrayed Linda Tripp, the co-worker who turned Ms. Lewinsky in to prosecutors, as determined to damage Clinton.

Jurors are forbidden by law from disclosing what goes on in the grand jury room. But Alexander, 46, said she felt she could talk about the Clinton case because so much of it was made public following Starr's report to Congress. She said she might even write a book.

Alexander, whose grand jury service ended during the second week of March, said she believed Clinton's transgressions were so personal they never should have been made public, much less become grounds for impeachment.

"His crimes were intensely personal," Alexander said from her Washington home. "You know when your mother says, 'Don't make a federal case out of it?' They were making a federal case of it."

But she said Clinton wasn't honest with the grand jury about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. She was offended by his assertion that "a reasonable person" would define sexual relations only as intercourse.

"If they had asked if he committed perjury, I would say yes," Alexander said.

"I don't think Ken Starr is the devil incarnate. I think it's very sad that he's been put in that role," Alexander said. Instead, she blamed the independent counsel law for giving too much power and unlimited money to prosecutors.

Alexander, who is black, said investigating the president was "very difficult" for her because she "had a very high regard" for Clinton for appointing minorities to high-level administration jobs.

Former Law and Order star starts new political party

A former star of the TV drama Law and Order says he has formed a new right-wing political party that aims to elect a woman prime minister and help him become mayor of Calgary.

Michael Moriarty said last January he aspires to be Canada's answer to Ronald Reagan. Now he's started up - appropriately enough - the Republican Party of Canada, he told about 150 University of Calgary students on March 25.

Just last January, the 57-year-old actor was talking about going after Preston Manning's job at the helm of the Reform party, but now he says he's been disillusioned by the formation of the United Alternative.

His Republican party "is the only alternative to the United Alternative," Moriarty told the students during a break from filming a movie.

He added Tory Leader Joe Clark's ego won't allow him to accept a party created by Manning.

Moriarty said he would prefer to see a nurturing woman running the country, and he has just the person in mind - National Post columnist Diane Francis.

"She is as angry and as eloquent as I am - and she's a woman," said Moriarty.

"So I wish she'd just have the guts to say, 'I'm going on the huskings' because we need her."

A transplanted American now living in Halifax, Moriarty said he believes Alberta is the place to make a stand against socialism, "the triumph of mediocrity."

He said he plans to move to Calgary in two years and wants to be its mayor after he attains Canadian citizenship.

"Everything points to my coming here," said Moriarty. "I feel like Churchill on the beaches of Dunkirk. My England I'll retreat to is Alberta and out of Alberta, we'll turn this (socialist invasion) back."

Lady Thatcher defends Pinochet

Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher paid a morale-boosting visit to Augusto Pinochet on March 26 at the rented residence where he is under arrest to express her total admiration for the former Chilean leader.

Carrying her trademark hand bag, Baroness Thatcher lavished praise on Pinochet, who faces extradition to Spain where he is sought for trial on charges linked to human rights abuses during his rule from 1973 to 1990.

"I know how much we owe to you for your help in the Falklands campaign," the former British prime minister told Pinochet, 83, referring to the 1982 South Atlantic war between Britain and Argentina when she was in power.

"We're also very much aware that it's you who brought democracy to Chile," Thatcher, 73, added.

The visit, televised live, was Pinochet's first public appearance since he appeared in court three months ago.

His fight to leave Britain suffered a setback two days earlier when the country's highest court ruled he was not immune from prosecution simply because he was a former head of state.

Pinochet, who was arrested on October 16, is under police guard in the house.

The former leader, who was in a wheelchair at his court appearance, used a walking stick but appeared in good health and took Thatcher's arm as she walked through the door.

"This is a small house but it is full of love and gratitude to you," said the grey-haired and ruddy-faced Pinochet, dressed in a suit and tie.

"It's only a small way to thank you for all your kindness, all your love and all, that you have brought Senator Pinochet and his family."

Thatcher thanked Pinochet and then immediately sprang to his defense.

"The information (on the Falklands) you gave us, the communications and also the refuge you gave to any of our armed forces, who were able, if they were shipwrecked, to make their way to Chile," she said.

After the meeting, Thatcher told reporters Pinochet should be freed and allowed to return to Chile.

"Without his help...we in Britain would have suffered a lot more casualties than we did," she said.

"If there's any resulting jurisdiction, it should be by the people of Chile in the courts of Chile and not here," she said.

Under the terms of his bail, Pinochet is required to stay at the Wentworth Estate house until his fate is settled.

Ventura says some college athletes shouldn't have to attend class

Some academically-challenged athletes shouldn't have to attend classes in order to play college sports, Gov. Jesse Ventura said last month.

Ventura's comments were aired March 26 from an interview with a young reporter for KARE-TV's "Whatever," a show aimed at teen-agers. The interview was conducted after allegations broke about academic misconduct in the University of Minnesota men's basketball program.

"My view is, to eliminate this cheating, or the possibility of it, why not let kids go to college and just be athletes while they're there?" Ventura said. "No classes. Let them simply play.

"Then when they're done, if the don't make it in the NFL, if they don't make it in the NBA, if they don't make it in pro baseball, whatever it might be, then give them their scholarship."

In fact, the former professional wrestler said, colleges should just accept that some students were never meant to study.

"How many great athletes simply aren't smart? But why shouldn't they have the chance to compete?" he said.

Ashcroft says GOP budget would protect trust fund from 'spending raid'

Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft promised March 27 that the Republican budget passed earlier that week would protect Social Security from a "spending raid" politicians seeking to fund new programs.

Ashcroft praised the GOP-written budgets, similar versions of which passed the House and Senate, for strengthening the Social Security trust fund and safeguarding it from lawmakers who might try to dip into the system to pay for other programs.

"The Social Security Trust Fund should not be used as a personal piggy bank for Washington politicians to finance their pet programs," Ashcroft said in the weekly Republican radio address. "This week's budget stops them dead in their tracks."

Ashcroft also applauded the Senate's rejection of a plan by President Clinton to invest $700 billion in Social Security money in the stock market. "Americans should not have their Social Security trust fund invested in the stock market by government bureaucrats who want to play stockbroker for a day," Ashcroft said.

Clinton's budget plan would set aside about $1.65 trillion in Social Security surpluses over the next decade for debt reduction, which is supposed to strengthen the economy and make it easier for the government to raise money to pay benefits. Clinton also would place Treasury bonds in the Social Security trust fund, which he says would extend the trust fund's solvency for decades.

Republicans would leave all $1.8 trillion in Social Security surpluses envisioned for the next decade for debt reduction. That is more than Clinton proposed, but he would set aside more than Republicans would over 15 years.

Ashcroft also said GOP-backed tax cuts, topping $830 billion over the next decade, would help Americans keep more of what they make.

Canadian government tries again to limit campaign spending, free speech

The Chretien government is determined to limit campaigning by special interest groups and to ban publication of opinion polls in the final days of federal elections, even though courts have repeatedly struck down previous attempts to impose such restrictions.

Southam News announced that it learned the government will resurrect both ideas when Don Boudria, the Liberal House leader and the minister responsible for electoral reform, introduces a new elections act this month. But the new measures will be less restrictive than previous versions and, thus, the government hopes, will finally pass muster with the courts.

Sources say the new act will include:

  • A ban on the publication of polls 48 hours prior to voting day. The ban is intended to prevent last-minute polls from influencing voters, who might, for instance, stampede toward the winning party.

The ban is one day shorter than the 72-hour blackout imposed in 1993. That ban was challenged by two newspaper chains, Southam Inc. and Thomson Newspapers Co., and struck down last year by the Supreme Court as "gravely insulting" to voters' intelligence.

  • Limits on the amount of money so-called third parties -- any individual or group not officially registered as a contender in a campaign -- can spend to influence the outcome of elections. Third parties will be allowed to spend $3 000 in each riding and about $200 000 nationally to directly promote or oppose a candidate or political party.

The limits are intended to ensure that wealthy individuals or groups, such as the conservative National Citizens' Coalition, can't unduly influence the outcome of elections or get around strict spending restrictions imposed on official parties and their candidates.

The proposed new limits are significantly more generous than a 1993 attempt to restrict third-party spending, which set the total at $1 000 per person or group. The NCC challenged that so-called "gag law" and the Alberta Court of Appeal struck it down in 1996 as a violation of free speech. A 1983 attempt to muzzle third parties was also challenged by the NCC.

It was also struck down by the same court.

While the federal government never appealed the lower court rulings, it did get some guidance on the issue last year from the Supreme Court, when it struck down Quebec's virtual ban on third party spending during referendum campaigns. The top court said there's nothing wrong with trying to constrain third parties, provided the spending limits are "reasonable." It went so far as to suggest the previous federal limit of $1 000 was reasonable and criticized the Alberta court's ruling in the matter.

Affirmative action review denied

On March 29, the Supreme Court refused to revive an affirmative-action program once used by the Dallas Fire Department to promote more blacks, Hispanics and women.

The justices, over two dissenting votes, let stand a ruling that struck down the program as discriminatory against white men.

The action is not a decision and sets no precedent. But the denial of review could be yet another indication the current Supreme Court has little patience for employers' efforts to give special help to those historically underrepresented in their work force.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both appointed to the court by President Clinton, voted to hear arguments in the case. But the votes of four of the court's nine members are needed to grant such review.

In an opinion for the two, Breyer said the court should use the Dallas case to resolve apparently conflicting rulings in federal appeals courts "in light of the many affirmative action plans in effect throughout the nation."

In its last full-blown ruling on affirmative action, the court in 1995 endangered many programs as it curtailed in sweeping terms the federal government's freedom to give special help to racial minorities.

The court ruled by a 5-4 vote back then that courts must hold Congress and the president to the same strict standards as state and local governments when determining whether they have discriminated against whites.

In a key 1989 decision, the court struck down a Richmond, Va., affirmative-action plan and made it far more difficult for communities nationwide to set aside certain percentages of jobs, construction contracts or other sought-after treatment for racial minorities.

In Dallas, the city council adopted a five-year plan in 1988 for promoting qualified blacks, Hispanics and women ahead of white men who had scored higher on Fire Department promotion tests.

In any one year, no more than 50 percent of the promotions to one rank could be made under the affirmative-action plan.

At the time, white men comprised 85 percent of all driver-engineer jobs within the department and 97 percent of the 103 lieutenant posts. Five years later, those percentages had dropped to 77 and 82, respectively.

In 1992, the city council voted to extend the affirmative-action plan for another five years, but between 1991 and 1995 the Dallas Fire Fighters Association and individual firefighters filed four lawsuits challenging the promotion program.

City officials defended the program, saying it was a necessary remedy for past discrimination that had been acknowledged in a 1976 consent decree between the city and Justice Department.

A federal judge invalidated the promotion program, and his decision finding it unconstitutional was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August.

"The record is devoid of a history of egregious and pervasive discrimination or resistance to affirmative action that has warranted more serious measures in other cases," the appeals court ruled. As a result, it said, the city had failed to show the necessary "compelling interest" for such a program to promote blacks and Hispanics.

Finding "little evidence" of racial discrimination, the appeals court said it had found "even less evidence of gender discrimination."

The 5th Circuit court, however, ruled that the 1990 promotion of Robert Bailey, who is black, to deputy chief did not violate any anti-bias law.

City officials appealed, and the Fire Fighters Association cross-appealed in an effort to revive its challenge of Bailey's promotion. The Supreme Court denied both appeals the union's appeal without comment.

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