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web posted May 27, 2002

NEH halts backing for gun historian's grant

The National Endowment for the Humanities has withdrawn its name from a fellowship for a professor facing accusations of research fraud over his book about the history of gun ownership in America.

Chicago's Newberry Library "was in error when it awarded an NEH-supported fellowship" to Emory University history professor Michael Bellesiles, NEH Deputy Chairman Lynne Munson wrote May 20 in a letter to Newberry officials.

The library, Munson wrote, awarded the fellowship in February 2001 despite "serious challenges to Professor Bellesiles' research" in his 2000 book, "Arming America," which claimed that gun ownership was rare in early America.

"Because the name of the National Endowment for the Humanities represents a standard that Professor Bellesiles' application [for the fellowship] did not meet, we are revoking the NEH's name from this fellowship," Munson wrote to James Grossman, vice president for research and education at the Newberry Library. "Please remove from all Newberry materials, including your Web site, any association of Professor Bellesiles with the NEH."

Mary Lou Beatty, acting director of communications policy for the NEH, said that no federal funds were involved in the Bellesiles fellowship.

"Our money was never in that project," Beatty said.

She emphasized that the NEH dispute was with the grant process of the Newberry Library, an independent research library concentrating in the humanities.

"Essentially, our business is with the Newberry Library and whether they did due diligence in looking at the application for a grant," she said. "We had asked for some verifications from them about their process and the answers just weren't satisfactory."

Published to critical acclaim in October 2000, "Arming America" won the prestigious Bancroft Award and was embraced by advocates of gun control, who said his research contradicted the view that the Second Amendment was intended to protect private ownership of firearms.

But the book has come under increasing criticism from scholars who say that Bellesiles misrepresented or even fabricated historical records to support his contention that gun ownership was rare in the United States before the Civil War.

Among several inaccuracies cited by critics, Bellesiles asserted he had accessed California court records that experts say were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

Ohio State University history professor Randolph Roth, writing in the latest issue of the scholarly William and Mary Quarterly, concluded that the assertions in "Arming America" are "not supported by the sources Mr. Bellesiles cites, the sources he does not cite, or by the data he presents."

Bellesiles has refused all media comment for months. He has responded to the charges only in an article in the William and Mary Quarterly in which he impugned the motives of his book's critics.

In February, Emory University in Atlanta announced an internal investigation into Bellesiles' research. Last month, the university said it had "concluded that further investigation would be warranted by an independent committee of distinguished scholars from outside Emory." That investigation is expected to be finished by September.

In her letter to the Newberry Library, Munson wrote that "it is the Endowment's opinion that the Newberry's procedure for handling cases of research misconduct is flawed. The federal research misconduct policy calls for investigation and adjudication of fraudulent claims made not only in grant products, but also in applications for federal funds submitted to federal agencies and to their institutional grantees."

The Newberry Library will host a seminar this week in which Bellesiles will argue that "an invented tradition of heroism" surrounds the War of 1812.

Merger-review plan scuttled

The Bush administration on May 20 dropped a controversial plan to change the way the government's antitrust agencies review corporate mergers and acquisitions.

In face of strong opposition from a key senator, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission wrote Senate committees that they would abandon an agreement to codify which agency should review mergers in specific industries. The agencies have often squabbled about which mergers fall into their areas of expertise.

The administration's notice came just days before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee was scheduled to consider budget items for both agencies. The chairman of the subcommittee, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), had threatened to cut the agencies' budgets if they carried out the agreement, first disclosed in mid-January. Congressional sources said a compromise suggested by both agencies last week was rejected as insufficient.

Drafted by FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris and Justice's assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust, Charles A. James, the agreement gave Justice authority over mergers in the Internet, software, telecommunications and entertainment sectors. The FTC would review mergers in health care, energy, computer hardware, automotive and biotechnology.

Muris and James had planned to sign the agreement on Jan. 17 but backed out at the last minute -- canceling a news conference where reporters were waiting -- after Hollings protested that Congress wasn't properly notified.

Subsequently, Hollings and consumer groups criticized the agreement because it gave oversight of media and entertainment mergers to Justice instead of the FTC, an independent agency with five members from both political parties. Last year, the FTC approved the AOL-Time Warner merger after imposing a number of restrictions, and some consumer groups argued that the Justice Department might be more lenient in reviewing such deals.

Congressional sources said the compromise suggested by the administration last week would have given the FTC greater oversight in some entertainment industry mergers, but Hollings turned it down because he felt it would still place too many limits on the FTC's ability to review such corporate marriages.

Through a spokesman, Hollings called the decision "appropriate."

In his letter to Hollings, Muris did not repudiate the agreement but acknowledged it was void since Justice had repudiated it in a letter it sent the Senate earlier in the day.

Muris declined to comment. James issued a statement that said while he believed the agreement was "good public policy," it was not worth "the prospect of budgetary consequences for the entire Justice Department."

Barkley blasts PETA

Charles Barkley has blasted PETA. Now the group wants him to become one of its spokesmen.

The former hoops star stunned animal lovers when he protested the NBA’s decision to switch from leather balls to synthetic ones by saying, “Animals are only good to be eaten and tested.” He ate a hamburger, in protest, he said, and went on to attack People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals by saying, “I hope those PETA people are outside by my car . . . I will run over them like dogs.”

“It sounded like mad cow disease was getting the better of you,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote in a letter to Barkley on May 22. “This stuff isn’t funny. Boasting about being cruel, as if it’s synonymous with being cool, should be out of bounds. . . . Please do something kind, something decent, to make up for these harmful messages. . . . May we hear from you and see you on the air, with a veggie burger in hand and an admonition to kids to be kind?”

Barkley’s office didn’t return calls for comment.

Act would permit snail mail searches

Just a few years ago, the U.S. Postal Service got savaged by privacy advocates after suggesting that private mailbox services were somehow objectionable.

Since services like Mailboxes Etc. could encourage fraud, the post office declared, businesses must limit anonymity by demanding photo ID from all customers.

Three years later, the Postal Service's lobbyists are fighting for Americans' privacy rights -- and opposing a bill in Congress that would allow U.S. Customs agents to open any mailed letter or parcel for almost any reason.

So far, the Postal Service has had little luck: On May 22, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the new surveillance powers by a 327 to 101 vote. The bill, titled the Customs Border Security Act, says that incoming or outgoing mail can be searched at the border "without a search warrant."

The vote on the larger bill -- which deals mostly with the budget for the U.S. Customs Service -- came after a surprisingly heated debate on the House floor over an amendment that would have deleted the mail-snooping sections.

"Exercise of these new powers could infringe on the right of innocent Americans to travel and communicate internationally free of unnecessary federal control," says Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Congress' most ardent libertarian. "Please say no to unconstitutional searches and unaccountable government, and say yes to liberty and constitutional government "

Under current law, it is already legal for Customs agents to open packages they deem to be suspicious.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) sponsored the amendment, which also would have preserved the current legal status of Customs officers, who can be sued civilly for wrongful searches.

It failed. On a largely party-line vote of 197-231, with only five Republicans voting in the affirmative, the House rejected Waters' proposal and voted to keep the bill intact.

In other words, that retains the Customs Border Security Act's original language, which says a customs agent cannot be held liable for any type of search, including racial profiling, as long as the "officer or employee performed the search in good faith."

Last December, the House's previous attempt to pass the bill failed by a 256 to 168 vote. It was considered under a procedure reserved for ostensibly noncontroversial bills that requires a two-thirds majority.

Even critics of the Postal Service say the agency has -- at least in this particular legislative tussle -- been sticking up for privacy rights.

"While I have been publicly critical of the U.S. Postal Service for their poor overall record on privacy, I will admit that they have been consistent and resolute in their adherence to our Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches," says Brad Jansen, deputy director of the Center for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

But, Jansen says, the politicking may be mostly "a bureaucratic turf battle with Customs trying to poach authority from the Post Office."

Customs boasts that it "is considered one of the most effective agencies at congressional" lobbying and says that the Customs Border Security Act "carries a great number of important legislative requirements for the agency."

Other opposition to the mail-surveillance proposals comes from industry groups. The Direct Marketing Association says "this would be the first time since Ben Franklin created the Postal Service that seizure and searches, without warrants, of outbound international mail would be allowed."

White House reportedly was target

New information suggests the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, intended to smash the plane into the White House, government sources said.

Abu Zubaydah, the senior al-Qaida terrorist leader now in U.S. custody, is believed to be the source of the information. He is being interrogated by U.S. officials at an undisclosed location.

United Flight 93 took off from Newark, N.J., and crashed in Somerset County, Pa., after passengers apparently battled the hijackers. The San Francisco-bound flight had turned toward Washington and U.S. fighter jets were flying to intercept it, and possibly shoot it down, when it crashed. All 44 people aboard were killed.

Officials previously had assumed the White House was a likely target, but said the Capitol and CIA headquarters in McLean, Va., near Washington were other possibilities.

Abu Zubaydah is believed to have played a key role in organizing the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said.

As al-Qaida's top operational planner, he ran the Khalden camp in Afghanistan, where U.S. investigators have learned many of the Sept. 11 hijackers trained. This suggests Abu Zubaydah may have had direct contact with the hijackers and chosen them for training.

He also had telephone contacts with at least one Arab student at U.S. flight schools, according to a July 10, 2001, memo from a Phoenix FBI agent.

The CIA, FBI and Pakistani authorities captured and wounded Abu Zubaydah in a raid by in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March. He is believed to have masterminded the failed millennium bombing plots in Los Angeles and Jordan, and has been linked to failed plots on the U.S. embassies in Paris and Sarajevo.

Abu Zubaydah was also indirectly linked, through a web of associations with other al-Qaida members in Europe, to lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and his cell in Hamburg, Germany. Three members of the Hamburg cell were suicide hijackers; three others are still at large.

Ziad Jarrah, believed to be the pilot-hijacker of Flight 93, was a member of the Hamburg cell.

President Bush was in Florida, not the White House, on the morning of Sept. 11.

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