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web posted July 17, 2000

Bush urges cooperation to better race relations

Texas Gov. George W. Bush presented his brand of "compassionate conservatism" to a tough crowd July 10 -- the yearly gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore. There, in a brief speech, Bush acknowledged the ever-present ravages of racism, and called for a new sense of unity and purpose in an effort to bring more members of minority groups into the middle class.

"Give me a chance to tell you what's on my heart," the presumed Republican presidential nominee asked of the polite but subdued crowd as he opened his remarks. "I recognize the history of the Republican Party and the NAACP is not one of regular partnership."

"While some in my party have avoided the NAACP, and some in the NAACP have avoided my party, I am proud to be here," he said.

Bush's speech before the influential advocacy group's national convention kicked off a planned two-week effort to highlight racial divisions in the United States, and to promote himself as the type of presidential candidate who will work to bridge the differences of outlook and social status that are ages old.

The last Republican nominee for the presidency, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, turned down an offer to address the association in 1996.

In an unusual move for a Republican presidential candidate, Bush said that the legacy of slavery still casts long, dark shadows over modern American society, and he called on members of the NAACP to join him to "promote harmony and opportunity."

He laid some of the blame for ongoing political divides -- including the historical tendency of overwhelming numbers of African Americans to vote for Democratic candidates -- at the feet of the Grand Old Party.

"There is no denying the truth that slavery is a blight on our history, and that racism still exists today," Bush said. "The party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln," he said, to polite smatterings of applause.

Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier that Bush's remarks acknowledging the social and economic divisions sustained by many years of racism were "not very Republican."

The best way to push minority issues to the forefront of the national political debate, Fleischer said, is "for both parties to take up recognition that racism exists."

While not offering new proposals to combat the lingering affects of that racism, Bush spoke of his plans to improve education, and highlighted his record in Texas, where black fourth-graders have the highest math test scores in the nation.

Bush employed one of his most commonly used metaphors as he spoke of holding local schools accountable for student performance, saying the "soft bigotry of low expectations" was intolerable, and parents should be given the means to choose alternative schooling methods for their children if local schools do not demonstrate improved student performance in a three-year period.

Minority children, he said, were those most likely to be "left behind" by an incompetent public education system. "Reading," he said, was the next "civil right."

"No child should be segregated by low expectations, imprisoned by illiteracy. Whatever the causes [of poor student performance], the effect is discrimination."

While again calling for school accountability, Bush touched upon other initiatives he would implement to close the divide between those who were benefiting from this "miracle" era of prosperity, and those "mystified" by the current economic boom.

In an effort to "remove obstacles from the road to the middle class," Bush said he would seek to create a "health credit" for low-income families that would cover up to 90 percent of the their medical costs, and would seek to extend the application of federal Section 8 housing credits toward down payments and mortgage assistance for those below a certain income level.

"I believe in private property so strongly that I want everybody to have some," he said.

Government lawyers say tapes show Davidians set fire

On July 10, Jurors donned headsets and listened to surveillance audio tapes which government attorneys say prove the Branch Davidians set the fire that burned their compound to the ground, killing more than 80 people inside.

The government played the tapes as it began wrapping up its presentation in the $675 million civil lawsuit brought by surviving Davidians and relatives of those who died.

In the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the government, victims' relatives and survivors of the siege say federal agents are responsible for the fire. Government officials have maintained that sect leader David Koresh and his followers were to blame.

The tapes, made from bugging devices slipped into the compound with milk and other supplies, were often unintelligible. Jurors followed along with two sets of transcripts provided by the government and plaintiffs' attorneys.

In portions of a tape made April 17, 1993, two days before the fire, an unidentified Davidian is heard to say, "You always wanted to be a charcoal briquette."

Another voice is heard to say, "There's nothing like a good fire to bring us to the earth."

Jurors listened to the tapes after a judge had ruled earlier that day that government attorneys could present the tapes.

As the 51-day standoff came to an end, the voices recorded inside the building could be heard saying, "pour the fuel" and "light the fire," lawyers for the government claim.

The recordings are proof that the Davidians, not federal agents, caused the April 19, 1993, fire that consumed the rickety wooden complex, the government said in a motion filed July 7 seeking to introduce the tapes into evidence.

Some 80 sect members -- including Koresh -- died from either gunshots or fire that day.

The recordings were made with tiny eavesdropping devices placed in the compound. In a motion filed last month, plaintiffs argued that the tapes amounted to hearsay because of their anonymous nature.

"Absent voice authentication, the tapes are not admissible for any purpose," said the plaintiffs' motion. "At a minimum, the defendant must present testimony from one or more witnesses able to identify the speakers based on his familiarity with their voices."

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith overruled the motion. "I don't think it matters who was talking. These are adult Branch Davidians who were talking," Smith said.

'Carnivore' eats your privacy

An FBI surveillance system called Carnivore is alarming privacy advocates and some members of Congress.

Agents typically install the specialized computer on the networks of Internet providers, where it intercepts all communications and records sent to or from the target of an investigation, the Wall Street Journal reported on July 11.

An FBI spokesman told the paper that the agency typically has about 20 Carnivore computers on hand to use when conducting Internet monitoring in compliance with court orders.

But some critics say the practice of intercepting the network traffic of all users, even for a brief period of time, could run afoul of federal privacy laws and even the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizure.

"It's the electronic equivalent of listening to everybody's phone calls to see if it's the phone call you should be monitoring. You develop a tremendous amount of information," Mark Rasch, a former federal prosecutor, told the Journal.

Representative Bob Barr (R-Ga.), a conservative privacy advocate, said, "If there's one word I would use to describe this, it would be 'frightening.'"

Not all Internet service providers seem to like the idea of a government computer silently recording their network traffic, especially since Carnivore systems are typically kept in locked boxes, and at least one company is challenging the practice in court.

The FBI reportedly dubbed the system "Carnivore" because it has the ability to get at the "meat" of interesting or suspicious communications.

The FBI says such automated monitoring is necessary to perform surveillance on packet-switched networks, and successfully persuaded Congress in 1994 to require telephone companies to make their digital networks readily snoopable. The bulk of legal wiretaps are used to investigate drug-related crimes, according to annual statistics published by the U.S. federal court system.

FBI Director Louis Freeh has in the past pressed for limits on what encryption technology Americans may use, and the FBI last year unsuccessfully asked the Internet Engineering Task Force to build support for wiretaps into network protocols.

Whitman has no regrets over New Jersey photo

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said on July 11 she had no apologies or regrets over a recently published photograph showing her frisking a black man during a night patrol in Camden in 1996.

The picture, subpoenaed in a discrimination lawsuit by two state troopers and published by several newspapers, caused an uproar in the state where the Republican moderate and possible running mate for Republican George W. Bush has played a pioneering role in identifying and combating racial profiling by state police officers.

Taken by a state trooper and showing a grinning Whitman patting down a young black man who was found not to be violating any laws, the photo has been pounced on by Democrats and civil rights leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton.

But in an interview with Reuters at the National Governors Association meeting in State College, Pennsylvania, Whitman said the photo was the product of a two-night stint with a state police patrol that encouraged her to take unprecedented steps to protect the residents of Camden from crime-ridden neighbourhoods.

"I have nothing to apologise for," the two-term Republican governor said. "That photo has absolutely no meaning outside the context in which it was taken."

The popular two-term governor said the time she spent with state patrols in Camden, one of the nation's poorest cities, led to greater state oversight of local police, more effective policing laws and $2.1 billion in aid to the city.

"I'm not going to back away from any of that," she said. "People of Camden asked us to be there. They have to live with bars over their front porches."

A year after the photo was taken, Whitman won reelection while claiming credit for reducing the state's crime rate.

The photo also was taken before the issue of racial profiling -- the targeting of minority motorists by police - exploded into the public eye in April 1998 when two white state troopers shot and wounded three unarmed minority men during a traffic stop along the New Jersey Turnpike.

The Whitman administration launched a broad-based probe that concluded state troopers did engage in the practice. That led to a host of reforms intended to root out the problem.

But Sharpton, who said he was outraged at the photo, later told reporters in Washington Whitman should no longer be considered a likely running mate for Bush if the presidential candidate was serious about winning African-American votes.

"To reach out and then to have someone who is now a poster woman of racial profiling on the ticket would be a contradictory message and the wrong signal," Sharpton said, referring to Bush's overtures to the NAACP on Monday. "A picture is worth a thousand words -- it may be worth the vice-presidential nomination."

New Jersey Democrats have complained the newly published photo could make it harder for the state to heal its racial divisions, particularly given that the black man shown had violated no laws.

Civil libertarians suggested Whitman's search was illegal because the man had already been searched once by state troopers. And the photo was likely to play prominently during protests planned around the state by black activists during the Republican National Convention in nearby Philadelphia in August.

"It has nothing to do with racial profiling," Whitman said. "But I can't stop people from making that leap if they want to for political purposes, whatever they may be."

Players choose Watts as 'Veepstakes' winner

Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, the chairman of the House Republican Conference and the sole black Republican in the chamber, has won the allpolitics.com Veepstakes, an interactive game where players picked their favorite candidate for the party's vice presidential nomination.

Voting in the final round ended on July 12. Watts easily beat out retired Gen. Colin Powell, 59 percent to 41 percent, ending a contest that began in mid-June with 32 candidates. That number was cut in half by elimination voting, round by round, until only Watts remained.

Watts was seeded a mere fourth in his group -- the Southern bracket -- behind Sen. Connie Mack of Florida, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. He beat fellow Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent in the first round, topped Mack and Thompson to win his region, then beat Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, in the semifinals to make it to the matchup against Powell.

In a similar game in 1996, allpolitics.com readers chose Jack Kemp from 32 candidates. Kemp went on to get the nod from the party's presidential nominee, former Sen. Bob Dole, as the GOP vice presidential pick.

Gore: Bradley will be 'important part' of campaign after endorsement

Vice President Al Gore and former Democratic challenger Bill Bradley officially ended their primary feud on July 13 as Bradley endorsed Gore during a Wisconsin campaign stop.

The former New Jersey senator and professional basketball player invoked legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in throwing his support behind Gore in an appearance in Green Bay, Wisconsin. For his party, Gore gave assurances that his one-time rival would be an "important part" of his presidential bid.

"Democratic voters spoke and selected Vice President Gore as our nominee. I'm here in Green Bay today because I believe what Vince Lombardi once said is true: Winning is a team sport," Bradley said.

Bradley spent 15 months running for president, withdrawing in March after failing to win a single primary. The two men fought bitterly at times during the primaries. The former New Jersey senator stated his support for Gore when he left the race, but stopped short of using the word "endorse" until the official announcement.

"Our party is strongest when we're unified, when we speak with one voice, when we work to guarantee a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president," he said. "I will work to accomplish both, because I believe Democrats have a better chance of guiding America to a brighter future than do Republicans -- and it's not even close."

Gore said Bradley "brought high purpose and high ideals to our contest for the nomination." He promised Bradley "will be an important part of this campaign and an important part of America's future."

In particular, Gore said he would work with Bradley on racial issues and campaign finance efforts, both centerpieces of Bradley's presidential campaign.

"No one has done more to put campaign finance reform at the top of our national agenda, and I look forward to working with Bill Bradley in the years ahead to break the special-interest stalemate in Washington once and for all," Gore said.

Bradley said Gore was the best hope for leading the country through an ongoing technological revolution, expanding access to health care and creating a stronger society.

"Under his leadership, we will come closer to solving the problems I mentioned earlier, and under the leadership of George W. Bush, it is not even close," Bradley said.

GST would have reduced Canadian debt substantially, says CTF

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation released calculations on July 13 depicting where the National Debt would be today if successive Canadian governments had not broken trust with Canadians and actually used all net GST proceeds to pay down the National Debt as promised in the 1991 budget document.

"What today's calculations reveal is that a $185 billion burden that could have been lifted off the backs of tomorrow's taxpayers if only successive federal governments had respected yesterday's promises," stated CTF federal director Walter Robinson. "The bottom line is that our debt-to-GDP ratio could have been 38.5 per cent today instead of almost 57 per cent."

In the 1991 budget document, former federal Finance Minister stated:

"I am well aware that many Canadians have expressed concern that revenues from the GST might be used to finance new spending programs instead of helping to reduce the deficit. While the legislated spending limits I have just described should ease concerns about new spending programs, an additional safeguard will be provided … As part of our Plan for Economic Recovery, we will ensure that all GST revenues are allocated solely to the effort to bring the public debt under control."

"Imagine if net GST proceeds had been applied to debt reduction for the past decade," added Robinson. "The end of the national debt would be within the grasp of a lifetime even with the Liberal government's current pathetic pace of debt reduction."

"Debt reduction and tax cuts are the two sides of the same coin. Cutting taxes today allows the economy to grow and tight controls on spending will allow more tax revenues to be applied to debt reduction," noted Robinson. "Today's debt burden represents nothing more than deferred taxation for future generations. But for us not to do more now is tantamount to intergenerational tax evasion."

The CTF will amplify its calls for a government spending caps along with a legislated schedule of debt reduction in the 2001 budget consultations slated for this fall. "A legislated schedule is the only way to protect tomorrow's taxpayers … our children," concluded Robinson.

Advisory jury rules government not at fault in Branch Davidian raid

A five-member advisory jury on July 14 found the federal government was not to blame in the deaths of some 80 Branch Davidians in the 1993 siege of the religious sect's compound outside Waco.

The verdict came in a $675 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the surviving sect members and family members of those who died.

The plaintiffs alleged that the government was liable for the deaths because it used excessive force during a February 1993 raid on the compound, which precipitated a 51-day standoff between the FBI and Branch Davidians. The stanodoff came to a fiery end in April 1993.

The government argued throughout the trial that it was suicidal Branch Davidians, led by their leader David Koresh, who set fire to the compound to avoid surrendering to the government's authority.

The jury recommended a verdict. It is up to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith to make the final decision.

Government attorneys introduced as evidence five burned weapons recovered at the Branch Davidian compound called Mount Carmel, outside Waco.

About 300 machine guns, assault rifles and other high-powered firearms were recovered at the site in 1993.

The lawsuit went to trial June 19, more than seven years after the seige ended.

About 80 Branch Davidians died from either fire or gunshots on the final day of the standoff, including Koresh and 17 children.

Six members of the Christian sect and four agents also were killed on February 28, 1993, during the raid that prompted the standoff.

The plaintiffs contended that the government helped set three fires that engulfed the compound at the end of the siege. The government maintained that the Branch Davidians started the fires.

The plaintiffs also said the agents fired indiscriminately into the building during the February raid. The government said the agents were ambushed by heavily armed sect members and were defending themselves.

The case once again shines the spotlight on the government's actions during the raid and standoff that made headlines around the world and led to congressional inquiries. Though the inquiries cleared the government of wrongdoing, the Waco issue raised concerns about whether the government goes too far to quell dissenting voices.

Smith, in a fairly unusual move, empaneled a five-member jury to help him during the trial. Smith could take until August to make his final decision.

The five-member jury was asked to answer four questions:

1. Did Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents use excessive force?
2. Was the FBI neglegent in their handling of the events at Waco?
3. Were the Davidians themselves negligent?
4. If both were negligent, what percentage of responsibility for the tragedy should each side bear?

The jury found that the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were not to blame for sparking the standoff with a February 28, 1993, raid on the Branch Davidian compound and that FBI agents were not guilty of starting or contributing the fatal fire on April 19, 1993.

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