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web posted May 28, 2001

Charlton Heston re-elected NRA president

Charlton Heston, who has electrified the National Rifle Association with his rousing, musket-waving speeches, was re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term as NRA president on May 21.

The 77-year-old actor was chosen by the NRA's 76-member board of directors.

"There really wasn't much discussion" about whether to keep Heston in the job, said NRA spokesman Bill Powers.

Heston was first elected to head the 4.2-million-member gun-rights group in 1998. Presidents serve one-year terms.

Two days earlier, he told NRA members at their annual meeting that he had expected his most recent term to be his last but that he was asked to stay on.

To a roaring crowd, he thrust a Revolutionary War musket above his head and said, "I have only five words for you: From my cold, dead hands."

It was an encore of his performance at last year's convention, when he issued a challenge to gun-control forces he said want to disarm NRA members.

Powers said Heston is "a tremendous resource" for the NRA because of his history of civil rights involvement, including marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King and working for free-speech and gun rights.

"Given that long life of service to those important issues, he brings to bear a tremendous amount of credibility on our behalf," Powers said.

GOP will court its libertarian wing

Influential Republicans are preparing an election game plan to put reliable majorities in Congress.

The trick, they say, is to go back to the limited-government basics of the party's libertarian wing without generating friction with social and religious conservatives.

"Our party's broad center-right coalition includes social conservatives as well as libertarians, so it's doable," Republican strategist Grover Norquist said.

He said that if Republicans had sought to win over even a tiny percentage of the Libertarian Party vote in Nevada and Washington state, it would have a 52-48 Senate majority instead of a 50-50 split.

Norquist notes that in Washington state's Senate race last year, Republican incumbent Slade Gorton lost to Democrat challenger Maria Cantwell by only 2,229votes. Libertarian Jeff Jared gathered 64,734 votes in that race. If Republicans had grabbed only 4 percent of Jared's vote, Gorton would be in the Senate.

Two years earlier, Republican John Ensign lost to incumbent Democrat Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada by a merely 428 votes, while Libertarian Michael Cloud took 8,044 votes. If Republicans had appealed directly to conservative-minded voters who went for Cloud and won just 6 percent of them, the Nevada Senate seat would have gone Republican.

And in New Mexico, Al Gore beat Bush by only 366 votes. "Bush could easily have peeled that many votes from the 2,058 that Libertarian candidate Harry Browne got, if Bush had only gone after that vote," said state Republican Chairman John Denhahl. "Democrats made the case that a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush, and we could have made the case that a vote for Browne was a vote for Gore."

To avoid such disasters, Republicans are pinning their hopes, in part, on something called the Republican Liberty Caucus.

"The most important thing is to get the libertarian-leaning voter to vote Republican," said Liberty Caucus National Chairman Chuck Muth. "To do that, Republicans can't just say, 'Let's slow the spending growth to just 4 percent, adjusted for inflation [as they did in the federal budget].' Government is already too big and too intrusive."

"Since 1995, the Republican Congress has been expanding government, and that is precisely why so many voters who voted for Republicans in 1994 have been staying home or have fled to the third party movement," said Muth.

One inevitable source of conflict, however, that will pit the Liberty Caucus against many establishment Republicans is that the caucus will recruit, train and support Republican candidates to go up against other Republicans, including incumbents, who don't support cutting government and taxes and maximizing personal freedom.

"It will cause friction with the establishment that always wants to support incumbents like [Vermont Sen. James M.] Jeffords and [Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln] Chafee for not supporting the Bush tax cuts," Muth said. "Other 'RINOs' [Republicans in name only] and the establishment won't support us on that, but the grass-roots Republicans will."

The Liberty Caucus, he said, also will "keep an eye on" wavering Republicans like Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, New Jersey Rep. Marge Roukema and Maryland Rep. Connie Morella. "But we have to be careful not to give away a seat to the Democrats by targeting a Republican."
"Make no mistake," Muth said. "Grass-roots Republicans are angry as hornets at Jeffords and Chafee right now and have been at other RINOs for five years, such as [Connecticut Republican Rep.] Chris Shays," co-author of the House version of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation bill.

Norquist said that a caucus goal is to "avoid disasters" like Gorton's loss inflicted by a Libertarian. "This also happens for House races and for state legislative officers. It's why the Republicans lost control of the Colorado state Senate. So looking for areas of cooperation between libertarian conservatives and Republicans is very important."

Muth thinks the Republican Party "should be comfortable doing that. Our job as the Liberty Caucus is to return the Republican Party to its limited-government roots."
But is the party itself on board, in spite of the risks?

"I'm a libertarian Republican," said Montana Republican Chairman Matt Denny. "And I don't see much conflict with social and religious conservatives. At bottom, we want the same things. Libertarians believe we don't need a paternalistic government telling us how to run our businesses or raise our children."

Free speech more vital than privacy, court rules

The Supreme Court on May 21 ruled that news organizations may not be prevented from broadcasting or publishing material of public concern, even if it was obtained illegally by someone else.

By a vote of 6-3, the court concluded that the First Amendment protected the right of a Pennsylvania radio commentator to broadcast a secretly made tape-recording of a cellular phone conversation in which two local labor officials discussed a teachers' strike.

Federal law prohibits such eavesdropping, but the radio host had not made the tape-recording himself. It came to him from a resident who had himself received it, unsolicited, from an unknown person who dropped it in his mailbox.

The case involved a labor dispute in Pennsylvania and the repeated airing on the radio of a 1993 cellular phone exchange between Gloria Bartnicki, negotiator for the teachers union, and Anthony Kane Jr., the union president.

During the conversation, Kane discussed what might happen if the union's pay demands were not met.

"We're going to have to go to their homes," he said, referring to school board members, " to blow off their front porches."

The tape was ultimately turned over to the talk-show host Frederick Vopper, who played it repeatedly on the air. Ms. Bartnicki and Kane sued, saying Vopper should have known the tape was acquired illegally.

The court decided that the public's interest in hearing the information outweighed the privacy interests of Ms. Bartnicki and Kane, as long as the broadcaster himself did nothing illegal.

"It would be quite remarkable to hold that speech by a law-abiding possessor of information can be suppressed in order to deter conduct by a non-law-abiding party," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an opinion for the court.

In dissent, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, raised the specter of future high-tech invasions of privacy in an era where forms of communication such as e-mail are widely used and relatively easy, they said, to intercept.

They said the court's decision would "chill the speech of the millions of Americans who rely upon electronic technology to communicate each day."

Little Rock to seize man's property for Clinton library

Little Rock is defending its plan to seize land from a private property owner for President Clinton's presidential library.

Eugene Pfeifer III has asked the Arkansas Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling allowing the city to take his 2.9 acres, based on a state law that allows the city to take land from property owners for public parks.

Pfeifer argues that the 27.7-acre Clinton library site does not fit the definition of a public park, so the city has no right to his land.

The city of Little Rock has filed a motion with the court arguing that the definition does apply.

"For several years, the city has talked about a chain of parks along the Arkansas River," city attorney Tom Carpenter wrote.

The city has offered $400,000 for Pfeifer's property.

European report downplays Echelon's abilities

A global surveillance system known as Echelon does exist and has the ability to eavesdrop on telephone calls, faxes and e-mail messages, a European Parliament committee has concluded.

In a 250KB draft report, the committee said that Echelon -- operated by English-speaking countries including the United States, Canada and Great Britain -- is designed for intelligence purposes but that no "substantiated" evidence exists that it has been used to spy on European firms on behalf of American competitors.

While impressive, Echelon is not "nearly as extensive" as news reports have claimed, the 33-member committee concluded, saying the system continues to rely heavily on satellite and radio intercepts and can intercept "only a very limited proportion" of the growing amount of telecommunications traffic that flows through fiber optic and land lines.

The report, due to be finalized and released in June or July, caps a year of research that became more politically charged as the group's investigation progressed. When representatives of the committee traveled to Washington this month, National Security Agency officials refused to meet with them, prompting the European Parliament to pass a resolution in protest.

"The U.S. has arguably aggravated this situation by its treatment of the EU delegation during its visit," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which received a leaked copy (PDF 867KB) of the report and published it on its website last week.

"By snubbing them, they basically said, 'You're on your own, go do what you've got to do, we don't care very much," Aftergood said. "I don't think that's a constructive posture for the U.S. to have taken."

Perhaps the most complete description of Echelon comes from Body of Secrets (Doubleday), a recent book by James Bamford. It says that Echelon is the name of the software package the NSA created in the 1970s to allow participating intelligence agencies to dip into the pool of information gathered from listening posts around the globe.

Analysts with access to the classified network can use an AltaVista-like search engine to forward queries through the Echelon system that contain keywords, names, phrases or telephone numbers, Bamford says.

Last June, the European parliament created a temporary committee to investigate how extensive the Echelon system -- operated by the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand -- was, and whether it had been used to spy upon and give American firms an advantage in international business decisions.

The European Parliament mandate that created the committee asks the group to consider whether Europeans' privacy rights are being violated, and "whether European industry is put at risk by the global interception of communications."

The committee's draft report, which appears to have been written before the abortive visit to the United States, says that any European Union country -- that is, Great Britain -- using Echelon for corporate espionage would violate its treaty responsibilities.

The NSA's general counsel, Robert Deitz, said in 1999, "I wish to make clear that the agency does not violate the Constitution or the laws of the United States. NSA operates under the eyes of Congress, the executive branch and the judiciary, and an extensive oversight system regulates and limits its activities."

Don't revel in Alliance misfortunate, Mulroney tells party

The creation of regional parties such as the Canadian Alliance and Bloc Quebecois may have been well-intentioned but has served no one except the federal Liberals, former prime minister Brian Mulroney said May 23.

But Mulroney urged the 400 Conservatives at a fundraiser not to revel in the current problems of the Alliance or its leader, Stockwell Day.

''Let us not delight in the misfortune of others,'' Mulroney said. ''They have families, too.''

Mulroney joined Tory leader Joe Clark at the $175-per-ticket affair at the upscale Ritz-Carlton Hotel to cheerlead for the party and recount past victories.

Mulroney said the Tories are the only opposition party capable of forming a national government, suggesting the Alliance and the Bloc are too focused on regional concerns.

He said the legacy of the Alliance and the Bloc was to ''give the Liberals three majority governments.''

Clark, who was prime minister from June 4, 1979, until March 2, 1980, has been looking for votes among Canadian Alliance supporters who have become disillusioned with Stockwell Day's leadership.

For Mulroney, who was prime minister from 1984 to 1993, the occasion marked the third time in a year that he has played the star draw at a major Tory event.

It's a return from political obscurity for Mulroney, 62, who spends much of his time on the boards of top corporations and has apparently outlasted at least some of the enmity that he drew during his years in office.

Things aren't that simple for Clark, 61, who was minister of external affairs in the Mulroney cabinet. It's not clear how much voter support Clark could gain or lose if he gets too closely identified with his old boss.

In Quebec, Clark has been trying to revive the popular support that helped to keep Mulroney in office before the Tories' vote-delivering network collapsed.

Mulroney, who gave unequivocal backing to Clark when he badly needed it to keep the party afloat, hasn't shaken off all the wounds suffered at the hands of critics.

In each public appearance, Mulroney has taken trouble to defend his record and to argue that his positions favouring free trade and other initiatives have been vindicated.

The fundraiser was held under the chairmanship of Senator David Angus, a Montreal lawyer appointed by Mulroney to the upper chamber in 1993.

Clark's latest visit to Quebec included a headline-grabbing statement of his personal belief that the simple possession of marijuana should be decriminalized.

The Tory leader, who hopes to gain seats from the Bloc in the next federal election, held talks earlier in the week with Premier Bernard Landry, whom he described as a longtime friend.

However, Clark made it clear at the Quebec City talks that he's strongly opposed to the Parti Quebecois sovereignty goal.

Republican senator to sit as independent

U.S. Senator James Jeffords bolted the Republican party and declared himself an independent on May 24 in a move that will give the Democrats control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since 1994.

''Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party,'' Jeffords, 67, told cheering supporters.

James JeffordsStanding in front of a Vermont state flag in a crowded hotel ballroom, the veteran politician made his announcement after a failed last-ditch effort by Republicans and President George W. Bush to keep him in the fold. His decision will give control of the 100-seat U.S. Senate … previously split 50-50 … to the Democrats.

About two dozen people stood outside the hotel on Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront to greet Jeffords.

''Wow! A politician with a conscience,'' read the hand-lettered sign of one onlooker.

''In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience and principles that I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican party and become an independent,'' Jeffords said as his supporters erupted in cheers.

Jeffords said that he had been ''struggling with a very difficult decision'' for the past several weeks.

The senator said as recently as the November elections he had ''no thoughts whatsoever'' about changing parties. But he said that the Republican takeover of the White House had made it more difficult for Republican members of Congress to take positions at odds with Bush.

''I understand that many people are more conservative than I am and they form the Republican party,'' Jeffords said.

''Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them.''

The White House took exception to Jeffords' remarks and pointed to votes the day before in Congress on the president's education and tax cut proposals as evidence that Bush works with both parties.

Bush ''emphatically disagrees with what was said,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

With supporters chanting ''Thank you, Jim! Thank you, Jim,'' Jeffords said he came to his decision with the history of his small state in mind.

''Anyone that knows me knows I love Vermont,'' Jeffords said. ''Vermont has always been known for its independence and social conscience.''

Declaring that he felt ''as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders,'' Jeffords said he made his decision the night before after meeting with moderate colleagues in the Senate.

''It was the most emotional time I have ever had in my life, with my closest friends urging me not to do what I was about to do because it affected their lives substantially,'' he said.

Loss of control of the Senate will cost Republicans their committee chairmanships and other perquisites.

But Jeffords said he felt unwelcome in a caucus so dominated by conservatives.

''Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I'll disagree with the president on very fundamental issues … the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defence, energy and the environment, and a host of other issues, large and small,'' Jeffords said.

Barbara Snelling, a state senator and former lieutenant governor, said she thought it ''unfortunate that the Republican party has been such a difficult place for moderates.''

''The party has changed, and now it doesn't seem to be able to live with moderates,'' Snelling said.

Jeffords won re-election to a third term last year. Polling shows him to be the state's most popular politician. He has served in elected office in the state since the 1960s and in the Congress since 1975 … 14 years in the House of Representatives and 12 years in the Senate.

Some state Republican leaders were furious about Jeffords' decision. ''My concern for Jeffords is that his legacy will be as one of Benedict Arnold,'' said Skip Vallee, the state Republican party's national committeeman.

Others called on Jeffords to resign his Senate seat, then run again in a special election without a party banner.

But interviews in Jeffords' home town of Rutland found most people supportive of the senator.

''I think the rest of the country is getting a little bit better picture of what it is to be a Vermonter,'' said John Alexander.

''He's voting his conscience. I just wish the rest of the Congress was like that.''

Rutland lawyer Arthur Crowley, a longtime Republican activist, said he would stick with Jeffords.

''This issue is based solely on Jim's moderate political philosophy and what he thinks is best for Vermont,'' said Crowley, a former county and state Republican committee chairman.

''I will agree with whatever decision he makes,'' Crowley added. ''He has always represented us well in Washington, and I'm sure he will continue to do so.''

Judge frees driving range owner, still rules against him

A Reston golf driving-range owner has been freed after 97 days in jail, but he's also had a new landscaper foisted upon him: Fairfax County.

Circuit Court Judge Michael P. McWeeny, frustrated by the refusal of John Thoburn to plant 270 trees and shrubs around his golf range in compliance with zoning rules, on May 24 authorized the county to come onto Thoburn's property and do the landscaping work itself. He also levied a $48,500 fine on Thoburn — $500 for each day he was in jail — and ordered that Thoburn reimburse the county for its work.

McWeeny acknowledged that putting Thoburn in jail under a civil contempt citation had not been successful in compelling him to comply with a court order issued a year ago to plant the trees and shrubs.

Thoburn's incarceration became a rallying point for property-rights advocates across the country. But McWeeny said there was no doubt that the county was within its rights to enforce the zoning rules.

"What's been before me is simply a question of obeying the law," McWeeny said. "Before I incarcerated him (Feb. 16), I gave him the option to comply or close the facility. He chose to do neither."

Thoburn left the jail in a crumpled blue suit, declaring victory.

"They did not succeed in closing my business," he said.

Nevertheless, he was clearly displeased with the judge's ruling and said he was considering either an appeal or a motion asking McWeeny to reconsider his verdict.

"I used to think that constitutional property rights, that you could rely on the courts to protect you," he said.

Thoburn says he's already planted 700 trees and shrubs at a cost of $125,000 and that a previous county official had agreed the landscaping work he had done was sufficient. But the county arborist, Michael Knapp, testified that nearly 100 trees were planted in the wrong place on the 46-acre site and that Thoburn needed to plant 270 additional trees and shrubs to comply with the zoning regulations and site plan.

Thoburn's attorneys argued that what the county sought was impossible because Thoburn doesn't have the estimated $30,000 to $40,000 that would be required to do all the plantings.

Thoburn testified that the range loses $500,000 a year, that he was 60 days behind on his mortgage and owed $100,000 in back taxes to Fairfax County and $25,000 to the IRS.

County attorney J. Patrick Taves scoffed at the notion that Thoburn is destitute, and Thoburn acknowledged under cross-examination that his property in Fairfax County has an assessed value of $7.5 million.

"He's a very wealthy man, at least land-wise. If he can't make a profit, then perhaps he ought to sell some of the properties he owns," Taves said.

Taves said the only way to bring the property into compliance was for the county to do the work itself.

"He's an extraordinarily stubborn man who refuses to comply with this court's rulings," he said.

County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said the county is pleased with the ruling and wants to complete the landscaping work as soon as possible.

Thoburn's lawyers were optimistic the work would not begin until at least June 5, when the Board of Zoning Appeals will again review Thoburn's case.

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