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web posted July 16, 2001

Bush proposal would cut global warming aid

After faulting the Kyoto climate treaty for excluding developing nations from its requirements, President Bush wants to cut U.S. aid for helping Third World countries combat global warming.

While asking Congress for nearly $4 billion to address climate change, roughly the same as last year, Bush proposes reducing assistance to other countries by $41 million from last year's $165 million. He calls for shifting more responsibility to private industry.

The figures are contained in a June 29 report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, that Bush sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the Senate president pro tem.

The White House declined to discuss the report on the record.

One senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, disputed that the numbers reflected a cut and said they were part of a previously planned reduction for the final year of a five-year international aid plan.

The 52-page report provides the first public look at an inventory of Bush spending on climate change. The issue, along with Bush's related energy policies, has become increasingly prominent with Bush's reversal of a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide pollution and his rejection of the 1997 Kyoto accord that has been broadly supported but not ratified by any U.S. allies in Europe.

Much of Bush's climate change budget amounts to shifting about $400 million toward areas such as burning coal more cleanly, insulating homes to use less energy and giving tax credits for electricity produced from wind and less-polluting agricultural waste.

Europeans have been unhappy with Bush's condemnation of the Kyoto agreement, which commits industrialized countries to reduce emissions such as carbon dioxide that are believed to trap heat in the atmosphere, warming it like a greenhouse.

Just before heading to Europe, Bush told reporters on June 11 the U.S. should help reduce heat-trapping pollution from Third World countries. "We want to work cooperatively with these countries in their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and maintain economic growth," he said.

However, his budget would reduce money for programs intended to assist countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine increase their industrial development with only minimal contributions to global warming.

In his report, Bush says several U.S.-backed projects are ready to be privatized. Those include projects creating more efficient lighting in Mexico and wind power in India, using agricultural waste as fuel for electric power and heat in Brazil and expanded coal-bed methane recovery in China.

"Some programs were reduced to eliminate unrequested earmarks or certain projects approaching commercialization that are more properly funded by the private sector," Bush's report says. "Other higher priority programs were increased."

Critics say the report hurts Bush's credibility.

"The president has said he wants to be a leader on global warming and instead he's not only undermined the Kyoto agreement but slashed the programs he's telling the public are important to him. That's not leadership - that's a sham," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

Bush also proposes:

-$1.1 billion in energy tax credits over 10 years for solar and renewable energy sources to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

-Federal environmental regulators in 2002 "will demonstrate technology for an 85-mile-per-gallon, mid-size family sedan that has low emissions and is safe, practical and affordable."

-Cutting NASA's climate change research by $90 million, or almost 8 percent from last year's $1.2 billion.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and 35 other Democrats had told White House budget director Mitch Daniels he must turn over any budget and planning documents related to the Bush administration's policies on global warming. The documents were required to be submitted to Congress as part of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.

The report notably excludes any price tags for the new initiatives Bush announced last month to study the rise in the Earth's temperature, fund research for technology to cut heat-trapping emissions and bolster coordination among research institutions throughout the world.

Legal action halted against Pinochet

Gen. Augusto Pinochet cannot be tried on human rights charges because of his deteriorating health and mental condition, a divided court ruled on July 9, effectively bringing the 85-year-old former dictator's legal troubles to an end.

The trial could theoretically resume if Pinochet's health improves, but that possibility is remote and even his staunchest opponents admitted that the general will never be held legally accountable for a military operation that killed scores of political prisoners shortly after he seized power in 1973.

"The ruling means that there is no hope now for scores of families that still expected that justice would be made," said Mireya Garcia, vice president of an organization of relatives of dissidents who disappeared after being arrested under Pinochet, who ruled Chile until 1990.

Hugo Gutierrez, one of the prosecutors, said the ruling "means that 11 years after democratic rule was restored, Chilean courts still have a long way to go to really make justice."

Pinochet's defense lawyer, Jose Eyzaguirre, lamented "that the ruling is based only on health grounds and not on legal considerations, because Gen. Pinochet is totally innocent."

But Pinochet's older son, also named Augusto, said the family reacted "with calm and satisfaction."

The 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Santiago Court of Appeals to suspend the legal action apparently brings to an end an odyssey that began when Pinochet went to London in October 1998 for back surgery.

British authorities unexpectedly arrested him at the request of a Spanish judge and kept him under house arrest for 16 months before releasing him on health grounds.

Pinochet returned to Chile in March 2000, but his immunity was lifted and he was forced to continue his legal battle in a country under civilian rule where the deep division over the former dictator were reflected in weeks of often violent demonstrations for and against him.

But after extensively citing medical reports on Pinochet, the three-judge panel concluded: "He is not in a state of mental capacity that would allow him to efficiently exercise the judicial guarantees that he must enjoy throughout the legal procedure in order to have a just trial."

Pinochet, who earlier this year was diagnosed with "moderate dementia," now suffers from diabetes and arthritis, has a pacemaker and has had at least three mild strokes since 1998, according to his doctors. And in recent days doctors also grew worried over Pinochet's heart condition, retired Gen. Luis Cortes, a close Pinochet associate, said the day the ruling came.

The former dictator spent six days in the hospital last week and underwent dental surgery and treatment for high blood pressure. He remains at home under a treatment doctors describe as similar to the one at the hospital.

But prosecutors have expressed doubts about his real condition.

"I honestly hope that our courts of justice will not soon be subject to international shame by a sudden recovery of Pinochet," lawyer Hiram Villagra said.

Prosecutors announced they would seek a reversal of the ruling, but that could happen only if they prove the judges made a legal or technical mistake.

The government would not comment on the ruling. "Court rulings are to be respected, not to be commented on," President Ricardo Lagos said. "The government is not satisfied or unsatisfied."

Chilean law exempts from penal responsibility only those pronounced mad or demented, but Pinochet's lawyers insisted that the retired general's deteriorated health prevents him from properly organizing his defense, thus depriving him of his constitutional right to a just trial.

"This is disappointing indeed but Pinochet will remain in history as having been spared from trial only because he is crazy," said Carmen Hertz, a prosecutor lawyer whose husband, journalist Carlos Berger, was one of the victims of the 1973 military operation.

But Pinochet can also have the charges dropped entirely by another panel in the same court that will open hearings in the coming days.

Despite the ruling, Pinochet's arrest and trial are considered significant in a world where it's getting harder for leaders accused of atrocities to avoid facing the charges in their own countries -- or elsewhere. The extradition of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to a U.N. tribunal is only the latest example.

Pinochet is charged in the "Caravan of Death," in which 75 political prisoners were killed shortly after the 1973 coup that ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende. Pinochet faces charges of covering up 18 kidnappings and 57 homicides.

The general said he was innocent of the charges and defended his authoritarian rule as a bulwark against communism. But despite his uncontested control of power, he proved unable to resist the Latin American trend toward civilian rule, losing an Oct. 5, 1988, referendum on a proposal to extend his rule until 1997.

The defeat forced him to call elections for Dec. 14, 1989, won by Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat backed by a center-left coalition.

Federal appeals court rejects libel judgement against anti-Clinton filmmaker

A federal appeals court on July 11 threw out a defamation judgement against a filmmaker critical of former president Bill Clinton, saying one of the conspiracy-laden videos blurred the line between fact and fiction, but two sheriff's deputies mentioned in the film had no standing to sue.

In dismissing a $598,750 judgement against Patrick Matrisciana, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis wrote that it was not saying he was ethical or fair in his documentary about the railroad track deaths of two Saline County teenagers.

The video, Obstruction of Justice: the Mena Connection, focused on the unsolved deaths of Kevin Ives and Don Henry.

In the documentary, Pulaski County sheriff's Lieuts. Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane were listed among six law enforcement officers that alleged eyewitnesses said could be implicated "in the murders and the subsequent cover-up."

The court said the sheriff's lieutenants were public figures and had to prove Matrisciana knew the information was false or that he was reckless in weighing information presented in the film.

Ives and Henry were found dead in 1987 after being hit by a train while laying on the tracks. Their deaths were initially ruled accidental due to marijuana intoxication, but after a second autopsy and a lawsuit filed by Ives' parents, the deaths were ruled homicides.

"As the theory goes, they were first killed and their bodies then laid on the tracks to make their deaths appear accidental," the court wrote.

Matrisciana's defence at his trial centred on his right to freedom of expression.

He said that, according to his research, the boys were walking down the train tracks about 4 a.m. on Aug. 23, 1987, when they came upon a small plane dropping a cargo of illegal drugs as it flew without lights 30 metres from the ground. A witness reported seeing the boys seized by two men, and their bodies were found after they had been run over by a train.

Various conspiracy theories floated during the Clinton administration suggested that illegal drugs were routinely flown into the airport at Mena in western Arkansas during the 1980s and that Clinton, then Arkansas' governor, knew about it but did nothing to combat it.

Matrisciana, who also produced the Clinton Chronicles, which took a highly critical view of the former president, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles that justice had been served.

L.A. County considers taxing space. I guess marijuana has been decriminalized in California

Los Angeles County officials, realizing that there is no tax collector in outer space, hope to fill the void.

Reaching 22,300 miles above the equator, boldly going where no tax collector has gone before, Los Angeles County Assessor Rick Auerbach is angling to impose property taxes on several satellites.

Though never done before in California, the move is legal, say state and county tax attorneys. That's because, they say, nobody else is taxing the satellites and they are valuable property owned by a Los Angeles County-based company. Worth as much as $100 million each to Hughes Electronics in El Segundo, the satellites could bring in millions of dollars a year in taxes to schools and government. County officials are considering assessing at least eight satellites owned by Hughes.

The company is not happy about the tax collector's attempt to extend his jurisdiction beyond this world.

Brian Paperny, Hughes vice president of taxes, described the company's executives as "very concerned with the concept of a tax being assessed on a stationary object 22,300 miles away from the Earth, which is residing in a fixed parking slot . . . over the equator, far, far away from Los Angeles County and the borders of California."

The idea has sparked a debate more cosmic than most in the annals of property taxation.

Auerbach, the assessor, figures that satellites are no different from other movable personal property that he has authority to tax--like boats, construction equipment and ice skating costumes.

Yes, said Auerbach, who has researched the issue, in a 1976 case a judge determined that the property of the Ice Capades could be taxed by Los Angeles County although it spent most of the year traveling elsewhere with the ice-skating extravaganza.

"It happens with a lot of other property," said Auerbach. "The difference with the satellites, obviously, is that they're pretty far removed from Earth."

Hughes argues that the satellites are in a different class altogether.

"The property in question here is geostationary," said Larry Hoenig, a San Francisco attorney representing Hughes Electronics. "Geostationary satellites sit above the equator in a fixed position; they do not rotate around the Earth. So the satellites we're talking about here are not movable property."

Attorneys for the state Board of Equalization, consulted by Auerbach, came down on the county assessor's side.

"While the satellites are in Earth orbit," wrote the Board of Equalization attorneys in a background paper, "they nonetheless have a situs for tax purposes in Los Angeles County, California."

Auerbach's office first began questioning whether it could tax eight satellites during a routine audit this year of the property that Hughes Electronics owned from 1991 through 1994. If Auerbach succeeds in taxing those satellites, presumably other satellites owned by Hughes and its subsidiaries would be taxed.

The satellites serve a multitude of functions, from beaming HBO movies into American homes to speeding up credit card processing for motorists who pay at unmanned gas pumps, said Hughes spokesman Richard Dore.

Hughes launches the satellites either from Cape Canaveral in Florida or from French Guyana, he said. They are then guided to an orbit approved by the Federal Communications Commission. The satellites remain fixed in that orbit for 10 to 15 years, until they run out of the fuel necessary to adjust their positions so they are constantly pointed at Earth. Then they are moved to a designated space graveyard.

The satellites, said Dore, never pass over California territory.

Nonetheless, Auerbach said, he feels compelled to tax the satellites.

"I've read the opinions," he said, "and it's pretty clear in my mind that it's taxable."

The elected officials who oversee the Board of Equalization, an agency that collects one-third of the state's annual revenues, are not so sure.

Two weeks ago, the board backed away from its own legal staff's opinion. In a 3-2 vote, the board moved to warn Auerbach that the advice he got from the board's legal division is not necessarily the opinion of the board itself and that he should not count on it.

State Controller and board Chairwoman Kathleen Connell said the issue of taxing satellites will become more pressing if President Bush succeeds in launching his missile defense strategy. She said that plan, aimed at protecting the nation from enemy missiles, entails the installation of satellite transmitters along the West Coast.

In some future regulatory process, Connell said, the board will determine just how far the tax collector can reach into outer space.

Auerbach said he thinks he knows where the issue will land.

"I do believe," he said, "this will eventually end up in the courts."

Congressional leader calls for action on Ybor City surveillance

U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey on July 11 called for a study and congressional hearings on face recognition technology being used by police to scan crowds in Ybor City.

Armey, joining with the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to study the use of federal money in developing the technology that some fear erodes individual privacy.

Tampa is the first U.S. city to use the FaceIt technology to scan crowds in Ybor City, a nightclub and entertainment district that draws 75,000 to 150,000 on weekend nights. Cameras will scan the crowd matching pictures of Ybor visitors to a database of 30,000 wanted felons, sexual predators and runaways.

Following Tampa's lead, Virginia Beach, Va., is seeking a state grant to use the technology, and Colorado is in the process of installing the system to create a database of facial maps of those applying for driver's licenses.

"There is an alarming potential for misuse of all these systems," Armey and the ACLU said in a joint statement. "Used in conjunction with facial-recognition software, for example, the Colorado database could allow the public movements of every citizen in the state to be identified, tracked, recorded and stored."

Tampa Police deny that they intend to store the pictures of the Ybor City visitors who are scanned. The police department is using FaceIt free for a year as a test for the technology's developer, Visionics Corporation.

Police have said that the technology is no different from an officer who has memorized mug shots of wanted felons standing on the corner looking at faces. There have been no arrests during the two July weekends FaceIt has been used.

Tampa Police spokesman Joe Durkin said the department had not seen Armey's request. Some Tampa city council members want the decision to test FaceIt -- which was made without public debate -- to be reconsidered.

Armey said he was joining with the ACLU in calling on state and local governments "to stop using these dangerous technologies now before privacy in America is so diminished that it becomes nothing more than a fond memory."

U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa whose district includes Ybor City, said a discussion on how the technology can be beneficial and how it can be abused is needed.

"Any technology is only as good as how it's used," Davis said.

U.S. Justice Dept. revisiting gun rights

Reversing a position it adopted nearly 30 years ago, the Justice Department is preparing a formal legal opinion that individuals, not just groups, have a constitutional right to own guns - a view advocated by Attorney General John Ashcroft, department officials said July 11.

They said the department's office of legal counsel was drafting the opinion, which would be a shift from the position it took in 1973 under President Richard Nixon that there was no personal constitutional right to own or use a gun.

The letter, denounced by gun-control groups, is a break from the government's position that the Second Amendment conferred only a collective right to own guns through militias, and not an individual right.

The opinion will incorporate views Ashcroft first expressed in May in a letter to the National Rifle Association. The officials said Ashcroft, an NRA member, expressed official Justice Department policy in the letter, not his personal views.

In another move applauded by the NRA, Ashcroft announced plans last month to slash how much time the government can keep records of instant background checks for gun buyers.

One official said the Justice Department would continue to defend existing gun laws in court, even after the opinion had been completed.

In his letter, Ashcroft said the Second Amendment did not prohibit Congress from enacting laws restricting firearms ownership for "compelling state interests."

The issue of whether the amendment applies to individuals is before a federal appeals court in New Orleans, and the case could then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Second Amendment says, "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Seth Waxman, solicitor general under President Bill Clinton, said in a letter nearly a year ago that successive administrations, the Supreme Court in 1939, and eight U.S. appeals courts had rejected arguments that the Second Amendment extended firearms rights to individuals.

Bush job approval rating bounces back

George W. BushAfter a mid-summer swoon, George W. Bush's job approval rating has rebounded amid growing approval of how he is handling taxes and the perception that he has been more cooperative than the Democrats in Congress.

Bush's job approval rating -- which had dropped to 52 percent at the start of the month -- gained 5 points in the last week and a half to return to the levels he enjoyed through May and June, according to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll.

It is likely Bush's personal image is helping to boost his job rating. By a 48 percent to 40 percent margin, Americans responding to the poll said their opinion of Bush is guided more by his personal characteristics than by his stand on issues.

Some 78 percent of those polled said they respect Bush and 70 percent say they approve of Bush as a person -- almost as high as Ronald Reagan's numbers early in his first term.

The survey of 998 adult Americans was conducted July 10-11, 2001.

With large majorities viewing Bush as someone who is tough enough for the job and is a strong leader, he has some significant advantages.

But two-thirds of those polled said big business has too much influence over the Bush administration, and half said he is out of touch with the problems ordinary Americans face in their daily lives.

Protesters storm Tennessee capitol over income tax plan

Demonstrators broke windows, chanted and banged on the locked doors of the Senate chamber to protest a proposed state income tax.

Most of the hundreds of demonstrators arrived only after lawmakers rejected the long-shot plan, however, said Republican Sen. David Fowler, an opponent of the income tax.

When a budget was passed July 12 without the tax, the crowd erupted in cheers.

"The people are passionate when they say, 'No income tax,"' said Steve Gill, a Nashville radio talk show host who had called on tax opponents to swarm the Capitol.

Passage of the budget ended the state's longest-ever Legislative session, dragging on past a July 1 budget deadline as lawmakers tried to agree on how to raise more money.

Gov. Don Sundquist had promised to veto any budget that relied heavily on a sales tax increase, and said a budget without an income tax was an "excellent candidate for a veto." But a narrow majority of legislators opposed an income tax, and none of them changed their minds.

Lawmakers had discussed a 3.5 percent income tax. Instead, they passed a plan that cuts $339 million from the governor's $19.9 billion spending plan, requires state agencies to save an additional $100 million and draws on $560 million in tobacco settlement money -- four years' worth.

Anti-tax protests had been frequent but peaceful in the past three years.

On the day of the vote, just hours after the Legislature began considering a last-minute effort to keep the income tax alive, protesters gathered to honk car horns and wave signs reading "Tax Revolt!", halting traffic outside the Capitol.

A rock smashed one window at the governor's office, and two others were broken with fists or signs. State troopers escorted lawmakers through the halls and locked the Capitol doors to keep the crowd inside from getting larger.

One state employee trying to lock a side door was injured as the crowd pushed against him.

No arrests were made, and no other injuries were reported.

"I appreciate the right of all Americans to free speech and peaceful protest. I do not, however, approve of those who advocate violence and I regret that occurred at the Capitol," the governor said in a statement.

Tennessee is one of nine states without a broad-based income tax, but it has one of the higher sales-tax rates at 6 percent, with local governments adding up to 2.75 percent.

Sen. Bob Rochelle, a Democrat who favors a state income tax, had argued that the sales tax could be reduced if an income tax was implemented. "The day will come when we won't mistreat our citizens any more with that tax," he said.

Half of the state's revenue comes from the sales tax.

Fowler, the income tax opponent, had offered a compromise that would have put the income-tax question to voters, but said the protest may have "effectively killed" that as an option.

"I don't know if they knew that's what they were doing, but that's what they were doing," Fowler said.

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