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web posted May 13, 2002

U.S.: Cuba developing biological weapons

Cuba has developed a biological weapons program and may be sharing it with rogue nations, a State Department official said May 6.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that Cuba's exceptional and sophisticated biomedical industry, supported by the Soviet Union until 1990, has led the way for pharmaceuticals and vaccinations sold worldwide and may also be using the industry for other purposes.

"Analysts and Cuban defectors have long cast suspicion on the activities conducted in these biomedical facilities," Bolton, the United States' chief non-proliferation official, told audience members at Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Cuban President Fidel Castro visited Iraq, Syria and Libya last year, all nations that, like Cuba, are on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Bolton did not say whether Cuba has transferred biological weapons to those states but said they are all trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and are allied with Cuba.

"We are concerned that such technology could support biological warfare programs in those states," Bolton said.

Bolton called on Cuba to cease transfers of biological weapons technology to "rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention."

He made the demand as another State Department official said the United States will not soften its policy toward the island nation.

Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich told the Council of Americas that no future deals are in the works to "throw a lifeline to a regime that is sinking under the weight of its own historic failures."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also spoke to the Council, said the United States is prepared to push Cuba toward rapid democratization and free markets.

Bolton said the country's potential terrorist threat may have been overlooked because it was not labeled a military threat during the Clinton administration though it was known to conduct widespread and aggressive intelligence operations in the United States. The most notable activity was its recruitment of the Defense Intelligence Agency's senior Cuba analyst, Ana Belen Montes, to spy for Cuba. Montes drafted a 1998 report that said Cuba is not a threat.

"Montes not only had a hand in drafting the 1998 Cuba report but also passed some of our most sensitive information about Cuba back to Havana," he said.

Montes was arrested last fall and pleaded guilty to espionage on March 19.

Law brands BB guns firearms, not toys

"Be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out," is the strongest warning most youngsters hear when playing with BB guns.

But a law passed in Cleveland on May 6 classifies the guns as weapons, and mandates only adults can own them. The measure, passed by the Cleveland City Council, also bans the guns from public places across the city.

Councilman Mike Polensek proposed the law last year after 13-year-old Raymond Bozak was killed by a BB air rifle in a drive-by shooting. State Rep. Ed Jerse has proposed a similar one for the state.

"I don't think any of us could even imagine the damage this type of weapon can do," Polensek said to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. "This is no longer a little pea shooter. These kill, and it's proven they kill."

The 19-year-old who fired the air rifle shot that killed Bozak pleaded guilty in March to involuntary manslaughter and endangering children. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

A similar ordinance passed earlier in the year in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, has outlawed the use of BB guns, pellet guns and paint guns for children under the age of 16.

Supporters say kids have been roaming the neighborhoods, killing cats and maiming each other with the so-called toys. But detractors complain this is just another step closer to a total "nanny state," where the government tells its citizens how best to run their lives.

Jim Matoney, an Alpharetta City Councilman who introduced the ordinance, said he has no problem with parents allowing children to play with BB guns in their own backyards or at licensed facilities.

"If the damage is only being done within their own household, that’s one thing. It’s another thing for parents to let their kids go out of the yard and shoot the guns in the neighborhood," he said.

Opponents to such laws say the Alpharetta council has stepped beyond its purview in trying to legislate good parenting.

"My response is, a BB gun is to a real firearm, as a pencil is to a knife," said Colorado State Rep. Mark Hillman, who recently failed to get a bill passed easing the designation of BB guns as a "deadly weapon" after a boy caught with one had to serve several days in jail before pleading to a lesser charge.

In most states, BB guns, pellet guns and paint ball guns are not considered firearms because they use carbon dioxide cartridges, springs or pump action to shoot projectiles through compressed air.

In October, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission filed a suit against the Daisy Manufacturing Co., which has produced the Model 856 and Model 880 BB guns since 1972. The agency says both models are defective and are responsible for at least 151 serious injuries and 15 deaths. That suit is still pending.

The commission also claimed that in 2000, 17,896 injuries related to the use of gas, air or spring-operated guns were reported.

Pat Bratton, a member of the Single Action Shooters Society and the Libertarian Party of Georgia, agrees these types of guns aren't taken seriously enough. But he doesn't think more laws are the answer.

"I certainly don't think that either paint ball or BB guns should be an object of legislation, but a public awareness of proper safety when using these devices is justified," he said.

The National Rifle Association has refused to take a public position on the issue, but Hillman says the debate is more than just the role of government in restricting Second Amendment gun rights.

"I think it’s the paranoia of the nanny state liberals who are concerned that anything that could conceivably look like a gun is dangerous. It’s the mindset that the state has to protect everyone from themselves," he said.

Justice Dept. reverses stance on Constitution including right to bear arms

A footnote in a Supreme Court filing written by the Bush administration's top lawyer marks a full reversal of the government's 40-year-old policy on gun ownership and lends weight to the interpretation that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to bear arms.

"The current position of the United States ... is that the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to possess and bear their own firearms," Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote in two court filings last week.

That right, however, is "subject to reasonable restrictions designed to prevent possession by unfit persons or to restrict the possession of types of firearms that are particularly suited to criminal misuse."

Olson, the administration's top Supreme Court litigator, wrote the footnote as part of the government's filings in two cases that are up for consideration by the Supreme Court. The first case involves an appeal by a man who was charged with carrying a gun while also subject to a restraining order filed by his wife.

In that case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment does guarantee rights to individual ownership, but "limited, narrowly tailored specific exceptions" can be made, for instance, denial of gun ownership rights to individuals bearing restraining orders.

Olson's briefing to the high court urged it not to take the case, leaving the Circuit Court's ruling intact.

The filing comes six months after Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the appeals court's decision.

"In my view, the (Circuit Court) opinion, and the balance it strikes, generally reflect the correct understanding of the Second Amendment," Ashcroft told prosecutors last November.

In a second case involving a man convicted of owning two machine guns in violation of federal law, Olson made the same notation. In that case, the government also won a lower court decision endorsing a federal gun control law.

The change in policy is an extension of views expressed by Ashcroft in a letter to the National Rifle Association last year.

In it, the attorney general said that the Second Amendment confers the right to "keep and bear arms" to private citizens, and not merely to the "well-regulated militia" mentioned in the amendment's text and used by gun control advocates to argue that the Second Amendment only refers to individual gun ownership when the individual is a member of the military or police forces.

"While some have argued that the Second Amendment guarantees only a 'collective' right of the states to maintain militias, I believe the amendment's plain meaning and original intent prove otherwise," Ashcroft wrote.

Critics, who earlier accused Ashcroft of kowtowing to the NRA and of undermining federal prosecutors, are infuriated by the solicitor general's latest filing.

"This action is proof positive that the worst fears about Attorney General Ashcroft have come true — his extreme ideology on guns has now become government policy," said Michael D. Barnes, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which promotes gun control.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on a Second Amendment case since 1939. In that case, the court ruled that the Second Amendment protects those with "some reasonable relationship to the preservation of efficiency of a well regulated militia."

The cases are Emerson v. United States, 01-8780 and Haney v. United States, 01-8272.

Quayle: Osbournes have family values

A decade after criticizing television's Murphy Brown, former Vice President Dan Quayle has found a sitcom star whose family values he can applaud: Ozzy Osbourne.

"You have to get beyond the sort of dysfunctional aspect," Quayle said April 9 in praising the MTV show built around the profanity-filled and bizarre home life of heavy metal rocker Osbourne, his wife and two children.

Noting that the offensive words are bleeped and the show features two "loving parents," Quayle said, "I think there are some very good lessons there that are being transmitted, of not doing drugs, of not doing alcohol"

Quayle returned to television criticism as he marked the approaching anniversary of his May 19, 1992, "Murphy Brown" speech. In it, he criticized the show's title character for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.'"

Delivered in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, Quayle's campaign speech blamed the riots, poverty and other ills on a breakdown of social mores and tried to hold Hollywood to task for promoting loose lifestyles.

He triggered a furor, and drew ridicule from Hollywood and Democrats.

In retrospect, Quayle bemoaned the "controversy and the nonsense and the outrageous coverage" but said the speech probably did not affect his losing bid for re-election alongside the first President Bush. Quayle said he does not regret targeting a popular television character many saw as a feminist icon.

"I felt I was right at the time and I feel I'm right now," he said, taking some credit for renewed interest in promoting marriage and discouraging teen-age pregnancy.

He extended his disapproval to some of today's celebrities, but took a gentler approach, describing several performers as happily married, good parents in their real lives who glorify out-of-wedlock sex and unwed pregnancy in their acting roles.

He pointed to movie star and father Warren Beatty; Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex and the City," who is married and expecting a child; and Jennifer Aniston, who is married but plays an unmarried expectant mother on "Friends."

He noted that even "Murphy Brown" star Candice Bergen raised her own daughter with her husband of 15 years, Louis Malle, who died in 1995. Malle also had two children from previous marriages to two other actresses.

After his speech at the National Press Club, Quayle elaborated on the moral value of watching father Osbourne, known for biting the head off a bat on stage, using satanic imagery in his act and abusing drugs and alcohol:

"In a weird way, Ozzy is a great anti-drug promotion. Look at him and how fried his brains are from taking drugs all those years and everyone will say, 'I don't want to be like that.'"

Taiwanese demand independence

A former president argued for Taiwanese independence from China as thousands of people marched May 11 demanding the island's official name be changed from the Republic of China to Taiwan.

About 8,000 people took part, many wearing purple headbands that said in Chinese: "The parade for Taiwan's correct name." Large banners read, "We are Taiwanese" and "We love Taiwan; we hate the Republic of China."

The issue of renaming the island is extremely sensitive because such a change could provoke China, which has repeatedly threatened to attack if Taiwan should try to move toward independence.

Former president Lee Teng-hui, who retired two years ago after 12 years in office and is still a major force in the island's politics, took a strong stand for independence in a letter read to the marchers.

"Taiwan and the People's Republic of China are two countries. This is a reality," said the 79-year-old Lee, who organized the march but did not participate because of heart problems.

China and Taiwan split more than five decades ago amid civil war, but the regime in Beijing considers self-governing, democratic Taiwan a province of China under the Communist party's rule.

In China, the official Xinhua News Agency issued an editorial saying that Taiwan has always been a part of China and that the pro-independence marchers were ignorant of history.

"Taiwan independence supporters' actions and deeds are a betrayal of the Chinese people and a betrayal of their Taiwanese ancestors," it said. "The more they step up their trouble making, we believe, the sooner they will be spurned by the people of Taiwan."

The pro-independence marchers tussled with a small group of China supporters who pulled up in a van topped with loudspeakers. Protesters threw clumps of grass, rocks and a bowl of instant noodles at eight men standing on a platform atop the van, which sped away after a few minutes.

Wearing a white T-shirt with the English slogan "Taiwan yes and that's good," junior high school math teacher Yang Jeng-horng said it made more sense for the island to be called Taiwan than the Republic of China.

"We're all Taiwanese, not Chinese," Yang said. "Look at the American President (George W.) Bush. He's an American, not an Englishman."

Most Taiwanese families immigrated to Taiwan from China during the past 400 years. Many believe that Taiwan -- which has had loose ties with China throughout Chinese history -- has evolved into a separate country and should never unite with China.

However, most polls say the majority of Taiwanese would not support changing its name or political status, instead favouring the status quo: de facto independence with the option of joining with China if the Communist party collapses and the mainland becomes democratic.

Candidates who overtly supported Taiwanese independence have done poorly in recent legislative and presidential elections. President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party was once a strong supporter of independence, but the party and the president have significantly softened their statements on the issue.

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