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web posted July 3, 2000

Oracle hired detectives to investigate Microsoft's allies

Oracle Corp. confirmed it hired a detective agency to investigate allies of rival Microsoft Corp., and said the work showed that Microsoft paid the trade and policy groups to "influence" public opinion during its federal antitrust trial.

The work by Investigative Group International Inc. allegedly included a $1,200 US offer to janitors to get a peek at the trash of the Association for Competitive Technology, a trade group.

While Oracle did not take specific responsibility for the probe of ACT, the company said it was necessary to hire IGI to investigate the Independent Institute of Oakland, Calif., and the National Taxpayers Union of Arlington, Va., to expose Microsoft's actions.

The groups "were misrepresenting themselves as independent advocacy groups, when in fact their work was funded by Microsoft for the express purpose of influencing public opinion in favour of Microsoft during its antitrust trial," Oracle said June 27.

The Oracle statement and details of the incident involving the rival software giants were reported June 28 in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Oracle said it told the detective agency nothing illegal was to be done during the investigation.

"This is a sad day," said Mark Murray, a Microsoft spokesman. "(Oracle is) basically trying to justify these inappropriate actions and it's unfortunate that Oracle won't admit that it's wrong."

Oracle said it retained the detective agency a year ago to investigate the Oakland free-market policy institute after it placed full-page ads defending Microsoft in national newspapers. The Times has reported that the ad was paid for by Microsoft.

The taxpayers' union at one point issued a study blaming the antitrust case -- which Microsoft lost and has appealed -- for a loss in value of state pension funds. The Journal later reported that the group had received funding from Microsoft.

The Journal also reported that Oracle hired Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates, a Washington public relations firm, to disseminate potentially damaging information about Microsoft to the media.

That work included suggestions that a company headed by political consultant Ralph Reed -- a top campaign strategist for George W. Bush -- was trying to persuade the presidential candidate to support Microsoft.

The company, Century Strategies, later apologized for encouraging "a small number of individuals" to lobby Bush. The company said Reed never asked Bush to take a position on the court case.

"We were disappointed to learn that our San Francisco Bay Area neighbor, Oracle Corporation, hired Investigative Group International in an unsuccessful attempt to smear us by calling into question the legitimacy of our 14-year scholarly, public policy research program.

"Instead of being willing to address the issues openly, Oracle has apparently felt the need to employ back-alley tactics, subterfuge, and disinformation in order to achieve its aims.

"We challenge Oracle's executives -- and renew our invitation to Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein -- to publicly debate the central economic, legal, and social issues of antitrust, competition, and high technology.

"Evidently, Oracle's clandestine campaign was triggered by the impact of the Institute's research findings and public discussions resulting from our Open Letter on Antitrust Protectionism -- which criticizes the antitrust prosecution of Microsoft and other high-tech firms as having nothing to do with consumer welfare and everything to do with corporate welfare," said Independent Institute founder and president David J. Theroux.

"To set the record straight, the Open Letter was organized, written, and promoted entirely at our initiative. Two hundred and forty of the nation's leading economists and other scholars signed the Open Letter, none of whom was paid for his or her involvement. The Institute used its general funds to publish the Open Letter on June 2, 1999 in two national newspapers as a public service."

Reno grilled on Gore by Senate panel

Attorney General Janet Reno was in the hot seat June 27, taking questions from her critics in the Senate Judiciary Committee about her failure to put a special investigator on the trail of Vice President Al Gore's 1996 fund-raising activities.

Reno and the Justice Department have had "ample time to be thorough (in deciding how to investigate the fund-raising) and it is now time to make a decision and be held accountable for it," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chair of the committee, said at the start of the hearing, which he is leading along with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa, head of the special committee to investigate campaign finance irregularities.

Early on, Reno said the fact that Gore attended a meeting where illegal fund-raising activities were planned did not necessarily implicate him. "There is no evidence that he heard the statements or understood their implications," she testified. "Can you be expected to remember everything you hear at every meeting you go to?"

She defended her record and the work of the Justice Department but acknowledged her investigation has been imperfect, saying, "We have not done it as well as you have liked; I'll keep trying harder in the time I have remaining."

The grilling comes as Fox News reported that Reno abruptly cut off weekly meetings with one of her top prosecutors after he interviewed Gore about his fund-raising.

Reno and Robert Conrad, the head of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, had been meeting every week since January, according to investigation sources.

Conrad later recommended to Reno that she appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Gore, according to Specter.

Officials at the campaign finance task force refused to tell Fox News why the meetings ended, as did a spokesperson for Reno.

Conrad and three other DOJ officials say a special counsel should be appointed to look into whether Gore improperly used his White House office to raise money for the Clinton/Gore 1996 re-election and attended a Buddhist Temple event, hosted by monks who had taken a vow of poverty, that raised $55,000 for the campaign.

Reno has said she is not ready to make any final decisions about an outside prosecutor, and an actual memo has not been presented to her yet.

"The attorney general has done a disservice to the vice president in not moving on this matter a couple of years ago so it would be resolved one way or another. Now, in the midst of a campaign for the president, it's very bad timing obviously," Specter said.

Specter also said that there is a big difference in the standards needed to appoint a prosecutor and to actually prosecute a case, but he is curious why Reno has stymied the process.

Specter spokesman Charles Robbins said the senator does not expect Reno to appoint a special counsel, but he is not done investigating the issue. Specter wants to hear from FBI Director Louis Freeh, who questioned Reno in a 1997 memo about why she refused to appoint an independent counsel after her own staff had complained that there was an attempt to exculpate Gore despite evidence that he knew about the fund-raising. No invitation has yet been sent.

Supreme Court says Boy Scouts can bar gay troop leaders

The Supreme Court ruled June 28 that the Boy Scouts of America can bar homosexuals from being troop leaders.

The justices by a 5-4 vote overturned a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that the dismissal of a gay Scout leader had been illegal under the state's anti-discrimination law.

The Boy Scouts, which also exclude atheists and agnostics as leaders, said it has the right to decide who can join its ranks.

Forcing it to accept gays would violate its constitutional right of freedom of association and free speech under the First Amendment, it said.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist agreed. He said for the court majority that applying a state public accommodations law to require the Boy Scouts to admit a gay troop leader violates the group's constitutional right of expressive association.

He added, however, "We are not, as we must not be, guided by our views of whether the Boy Scouts' teaching with respect to homosexual conduct are right or wrong."

Rehnquist's opinion was joined by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Dissenting were Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The case was brought by James Dale, who wanted to become an adult leader of the local Boy Scouts after distinguishing himself as a member.

When he was fired as assistant Scout master of the Matawan, New Jersey, troop in 1990, Dale was 20.

Now 29, he sued the Boy Scouts in 1992 after the Boy Scouts of America rejected his application for the adult leadership position and subsequently fired him. The Boy Scouts told him in writing that homosexuality was contrary to the organization's values.

The Scout oath requires members to be "morally straight." The organization "takes the position that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the Scout oath ... and contrary to the Scout Law to be 'clean' in word and deed," according to Thomas E. Baker, a constitutional scholar at the Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, who wrote an impartial analysis of the case for the American Bar Association.

The Boy Scouts found out that Dale was gay after a newspaper article revealed that fact. Dale, as co-president of Rutgers University's Lesbian/Gay Alliance, gave a speech in July 1990, which was the subject of the article, and later that month, he received a dismissal letter from the Boy Scouts.

Dale sued under New Jersey's anti-discrimination act, which bars discrimination based on race, national origin or sexual orientation, among others, in places of "public accommodation."

Last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the Boy Scouts illegally terminated Dale in violation of the "public accommodation" provision and ordered the organization to reinstate him.

The court ruled that the Boy Scouts, whose membership is vast and varied, is not essentially a private club that can exclude members based on this criterion or that.

The court ruled that the anti-discrimination law applies because "Scouting was not sufficiently personal or private," according to Baker's analysis.

In other words, the New Jersey high court rejected the Boy Scouts' arguments that it was a private group and therefore the anti-discrimination law does not apply in the case.

The Boy Scouts appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the case on January 14 of this year and heard oral arguments on April 26, the last day for arguments this term.

The Boy Scouts argued that its First Amendment free speech and freedom of association rights were violated by the New Jersey high court.

The Boy Scouts insisted that it is up to them, not to any court, to decide who will be an adult Scout leader and who will not and who is an appropriate role model for younger Scouts and who is not.

Elian Gonzalez and family back on Cuban soil

Elian Gonzalez and his family were back in Cuba on June 28, seven months after he was rescued off the shores of Florida.

Immediately upon their arrival, the 6-year-old Cuban boy, his father, stepmother and infant half brother were engulfed in hugs from grandparents, uncles and cousins.

"Elian! Elian! Elian!" chanted about 800 children from the first-grader's elementary school, waving small red, white and blue Cuban flags. They cheered as the boy was carried from the plane by his father.

Elian appeared overwhelmed by the attention.

Cuba's National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, who had been advising Elian's father during the custody battle, was also at the airport. He was the only government official present. Cuban officials said they wanted to make the family's reunion low key.

The legal battle over Elian ended earlier in the day when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case brought by Miami relatives seeking to keep the boy in the United States.

Cubans learned that Elian was headed home from a statement read on state television and radio after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the Miami relatives.

"Now more than ever, our population must behave with the most dignity, serenity and discipline," the Cuban broadcast statement said. "Let us remember that at all times, our fight has just begun and that a long road before us still remains."

Juan Miguel made a brief statement before boarding the aircraft at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

"I would like to thank the North American people for the support they have given us, and the U.S. government," he said in remarks translated from his native Spanish.

He said he has met "beautiful and intelligent people in this country" and he hopes "this same friendship" will some day exist between "both our countries, Cuba and the U.S."

He closed his remarks in English, saying, "We are very happy to go home. Thank you."

He then walked to the plane with Elian, picked him up and they waved goodbye, both smiling broadly.

Elian and his entourage arrived at Dulles in a five-car caravan with a police motorcade. The officers escorted the caravan from the temporary Gonzalez home in the Washington area at the Rosedale Estate past a few demonstrators outside the house.

While the group filled out custom forms, bomb-sniffing dogs checked the charter jets and the group's luggage.

In Miami, outside the house of Elian's U.S. relatives, a small crowd watched Elian's departure on a television.

"Frustration, sadness, tears," Ramon Saul Sanchez of the anti-Castro group Democracy Movement said in describing the mood.

Many Cuban-Americans had supported Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, in his fight to keep the boy in the United States.

After Elian's plane was in the air, the legal team for Lazaro Gonzelez's family held a news conference.

"This is a very rough time for us," family spokesman Armando Gutierrez read from a statement.

"We are devastated that at this very moment Elian is going back to live in a country where he'll never be free, to a country where his father will simply not be allowed to give him the freedom that his mother, Elizabet Brotons, wanted so desperately and died for," Gutierrez said.

At a news conference a few hours after the Supreme Court decision, President Clinton expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the international custody battle.

"Do I wish it had unfolded in a less dramatic, less traumatic way for all concerned? Of course I do," Clinton said. "I have replayed this in my mind many times. I don't know that we had many different options."

Attorney General Janet Reno said she was "very pleased" with the decision.

"The law has provided a process, and this little boy now knows that he can remain with his father. All involved have had an opportunity to make their case -- all the way to the highest court in the land. I hope that everyone will accept the Supreme Court's decision and join me in wishing this family, and this special little boy, well," said Reno.

No flat tax for Ontario

Premier Mike Harris has poured cold water on the idea of a provincial flat tax. The implications haven't been adequately studied, he told reporters June 29. The Canadian Alliance party is advocating a 17 per cent flat tax federally.

Alliance leadership candidate Stockwell Day was Alberta's treasurer when that province introduced an 11 per cent flat tax last year.

Ontarians pay a higher percentage of tax as they move into higher income brackets. People with incomes of less than $30,000 pay a provincial tax rate of 6.37 per cent, those with incomes between $30,000 and $60,000 pay a rate of 9.62 per cent and Ontarians earning more than $60,000 pay 11.16 per cent.

The premier echoed Finance Minister Ernie Eves' sentiment earlier this year that those who are well off should contribute more of their income in taxes.

The better off have "an obligation then as well to give back to those less fortunate," Harris said.

Harris said his Conservative government will continue its tax cutting agenda, but will not rush to board the flat-tax bandwagon.

Ontario is revamping its taxation system to separate it from the federal system. The new system will allow the government to levy taxes based directly on income. In the old system provincial taxes were a percentage of federal taxes.

Harris made his flat-tax comments after receiving an award from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Harris was named Tax Fighter of the Year by the taxpayer advocacy group and was given a plaque by Walter Robinson of the federation.

Robinson said Harris received the award after fulfilling his 1995 promise to enact a Taxpayer Protection Act and balanced budget legislation that prevents future governments from running deficits.

"This legislation is the most comprehensive in the country and protects future generations of taxpayers from abuse by free-wheeling and free-spending politicians," Robinson said.

The bill, which also prohibits tax hikes without a referendum, passed into law last November after being derailed twice.

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