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More than half of state's teachers fail reading and writing test...so what?

Massachusetts' education commissioner resigned amid an uproar that started when more than half of the state's aspiring teachers flunked a first-ever reading and writing test.

Commissioner Frank W. Haydu III accused Gov. Paul Cellucci of turning the literacy test into a political issue. Cellucci, a Republican, is running in the November election.

"Our teachers -- because of the governor -- are being tarred and feathered with being incompetent and illiterate," Haydu said June 29 in announcing his resignation. "It's so inaccurate and unfair."

The resignation is effective September 1.

Nearly 60 percent of the 2 000 prospective teachers failed the test under a scoring system recommended by an independent panel of educators. But the state Board of Education, with backing from Haydu, voted late June to lower the passing grade, reducing the number who failed to 44 percent.

If the board reverses itself, the estimated 260 people who benefited from the lowered benchmark will have to retake the test.

"I'm not really concerned about the personnel fallout," Cellucci said. "What I am concerned about is seeing this through. I think the Board of Education made a mistake in lowering standards."

Haydu, a former board member and education commissioner since March, said he recommended the lower standard because the test had never been given before.

Until this spring, Massachusetts was one of only seven states that did not require teachers to pass a test to qualify for certification.

The Education Department released a sample of the exam, which Board of Education chairman John Silber said seemed to be at about an eighth-grade level.

The samples showed some test-takers, when trying to rewrite sentences, misspelled words a 9-year-old could spell, even though the words were right in front of them. Some wrote at a fifth- or sixth-grade level.

Cellucci said current teachers should be tested as well. He said there are "perhaps thousands of teachers who are in the classroom today who are not meeting the standards."

Haydu said Cellucci imposed the literacy test as a "quick fix" that would look good at election time.

"The teacher's test is the proof that the commissioner of education cannot avoid the political race that is going on," he told the Boston Globe.

Cellucci became acting governor when William Weld resigned last year.

CNN retracts nerve gas story

CNN retracted its story that the U.S. military used nerve gas during a Vietnam-era mission in Laos to kill American defectors, apologizing for "serious faults" in its reporting in early July.

The two main producers of the report were fired following a CNN-requested investigation by a prominent media attorney. In addition, a senior producer resigned. The lead reporter, Peter Arnett, was reprimanded.

CNN said its investigation concluded its joint NewsStand report with Time magazine, disputed by "hundreds" of veterans and military officials, could not be supported.

"CNN alone bears responsibility for both the television reports and for the printed article in the June 15 issue of Time magazine," Tom Johnson, chairman of the CNN News Group, said in a statement read on the network at midday.

The Star published an Associated Press version of the story June 8.

"This plays into the whole conservative view of the liberal media, which is that it's a fundamental view of an America that is essentially anti-American. It is saying that the American military is such an evil institution that it will go out and do this to its own people."

- Cokie Roberts, an expert at playing things for the benefit of the public

"We acknowledge serious faults in the use of sources who provided NewsStand with the original reports and therefore retract the Tailwind story," Johnson said.

"We apologize to our viewers and to our colleagues at Time for this mistake. CNN owes a special apology to the personnel involved in Operation Tailwind, both the soldiers on the ground and the U.S. Air Force pilots and the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilots who were involved in this action."

April Oliver and Jack Smith, the story's top producers, told Associated Press they were fired. Pam Hill, senior producer for NewsStand, resigned.

Arnett, the correspondent on the story, has been reprimanded, the CNN official said. Arnett, who covered the Persian Gulf War from Baghdad for CNN and won the Pulitzer Prize while with Associated Press for his coverage of the Vietnam War, reported the story on the air but said he was not deeply involved in the research...yet had his name in the by-line for the Time story.

Time magazine also issued an apology for running a story based on the CNN report. Time and CNN, both owned by Time Warner, co-operate in producing NewsStand.

Ted Turner, who founded CNN in 1980, attributed "poor journalism" in the story to "the incredible squeeze on big journalistic enterprises to make as much profits as they can." He cited the "constant pressure" on TV news "to keep viewership up" and on newspapers and magazines "to keep circulation up."

Students propose new back for American dollar

A group of Virginia middle school students want their fellow Americans to know the U.S. Constitution better, so they are trying to place a copy in their wallet.

The students want to put an abridged copy of the Constitution on the back of the dollar bill. They hail from, appropriately enough, Liberty Middle School in Ashland, Va.

"If we put the Constitution on the back of the one dollar bill, what'll happen is you'll have Americans talking about it. They'll get to know their Constitution better as they talk about it, they debate it, read about it," said civics teacher Randy Wright.

Not yet old enough to vote, the students are walking the halls of Capitol Hill to get support for their idea. Changing the dollar bill requires an act of Congress.

"You want to pump these guys up so you'll get this bill co-sponsored," Wright said to his pupils.

The students already have 27 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"If the committee chairs would come on board, this is a very feel-good provision that I'm sure a lot of people would support," said Paul Prososki, a legislative aide.

But they have run into stumbling blocks, including one question about what they would do if the Constitution is amended.

One student commented, "With one of the people we were talking to, he said, 'How many co-sponsors do you have,' and I said 27, and at first, I was very happy about that. And then he said, 'Well, you need 218.' When I found that out, it felt like my heart sank."

But if the students don't lose their enthusiasm, a dollar bill may be a small price to pay for a good civics lesson.

U.S. Rep Barney Frank and partner split up

We here at ESR are always sad when a relationship doesn't work out...even when it happens to liberals.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and Herb Moses split up recently.

Frank, 58, declined to say why the relationship was over. The split was amicable, though "recently things changed some," Frank said in the Boston Globe.

Moses, 41, recently moved out of their home and left an executive position at the Federal National Mortgage Association to open a pottery studio. The Globe said he could not be reached for comment.

In 1987 -- after allegations that he had had a relationship with Steven Gobie, a male prostitute -- Frank acknowledged his homosexuality publicly. The Massachusetts Democrat and Moses appeared inseparable for over a decade, attending White House dinners and other state functions.

A staunch defender of gay rights, Frank used his position in the House of Representatives to improve the status of gay and lesbian couples. Moses was the first partner of an openly gay member of Congress to receive spousal access privileges through the Capitol.

"They provided the definition for how elected couples can serve public life with dignity and authenticity," said Kerry Lobel, executive director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Well, maybe with authenticity..Frank was never known having dignity.

Civil servants sue Canadian government for intimidation

Two civil servants are suing the federal government charging that superiors harassed and intimidated them after they complained of excessive spending in their department.

The Department of Foreign Affairs employees say they pointed out unwarranted spending by Canadian government offices and embassies abroad.

In their legal brief, John Guenette and Joanna Gualtieri allege superiors systematically ignored rules and proper procedure in managing federal real estate overseas.

Their lawyer Charles Gibson said the two "simply wanted to do their work, which was to respect the (federal government's) rules.

"Instead they were subject to harassment and intimidation and prevented from doing their jobs properly," he added.

Gibson also said it was suggested to the pair that they change jobs in the civil service.

He would not elaborate on the exact nature of the alleged abusive spending.

The suit, filed June 10, is against the government and seven high-ranking civil servants in the department.

The 25-page brief also says the two have suffered clinical depression as a result of their ordeal.

The Justice Department refused comment on the suit.

Would you be surprised to find that Bill Clinton has not asked for the same thing...yet?

The skull-and-crossbones symbol of pirates and poison may one day emblazon cigarette packages in Canada as a graphic health warning.

Backed by tobacco legislation passed last year that allows Ottawa to order changes in cigarette packaging, the Canadian government's department of health is considering using the symbol to deter smokers from lighting up.

"We're gathering the evidence to find what would make effective health warning messages and the skull and crossbones is one of the options we're looking at," Dr. Murray Kaiserman, coordinator of research at the health department's office of tobacco control.

For years, tobacco companies have voluntarily printed black and white health warnings on cigarette packages sold in Canada. But health officials believe that even such stark warnings as "Smoking can kill you" are losing their punch.

"Right now, as the warnings sit, they are among the strongest worldwide," said Kaiserman. "Even today we're leaders in warning labels, but we're looking at increasing our lead."

In 1994, Canada increased to 25 percent the area of a cigarette package that had to be devoted to a health warning from 20 percent. That compares with about three percent in Europe.

In the United States, health warnings are relegated to the side of cigarette packages.

Canada is also one of a handful of countries that forces companies to print information on toxicity, including tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide data, on the packaging.

Health officials acknowledged that tough tactics can backfire. "Death" cigarettes, a brand that proudly features the skull-and-crossbones symbol, have proved popular, especially among young smokers

Yet another Democrat fundraiser breaking the law

The Justice Department's campaign finance task force has brought criminal charges against a fifth Democratic fund-raiser. Miami businessman Howard Glicken has agreed to plead guilty to soliciting a $20 000 donation from an overseas national in 1993.

A two-count "criminal information" charging Glicken violated the Federal Election Campaign Act was filed July 9. A criminal information replaces an indictment when a defendant waives the right to have a grand jury consider the case.

"The agreement is that he will plead to misdemeanor charges," said Ed Shohat, Glicken's lawyer. "He has cooperated with the investigation from the inception and will continue to fully cooperate. Howard is happy to put the matter behind him."

Shohat also said Glicken would pay a fine as part of the plea agreement. Although each count carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100 000 fine, the amount Glicken has agreed to pay is not yet clear.

The charges state that in April 1993 Glicken took a $20 000 contribution for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from someone he knew was a foreign national and not a legal permanent resident of the US.

The charges charges did not contain the name of the foreign donor. But in February, the Federal Election Commission concluded there was "reason to believe" Glicken sought illegal contributions from Thomas Kramer, a German developer.

Although the charges are unrelated to the investigation of 1996 Clinton/Gore fund-raising practices, Glicken -- who has raised millions for the Democrats -- had been expected to play a role in Vice President Al Gore's possible presidential campaign in 2000.

Glicken is no longer associated with Gore, an aide to Gore told The Associated Press.

The Justice Department's campaign finance task force has already brought charges against Charlie Trie, Maria Hsia, Johnny Chung and Yogesh Gandhi.

By the way, all of those charges doesn't mean that Clinton or Gore knew anything about illegal contributions...nope, nothing at all

Yeah, but if Clinton praises it, is it actually a good thing?

Americans are just one signature away from tax collection reform as the Senate July 9 approved a bill that would make sweeping changes in the way the Internal Revenue Service interacts with taxpayers.

The bill, which enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the Senate, passed on a 96-2 vote. The House approved the measure 402-8 before it left for the 4th of July vacation.

Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), who spearheaded the measure, called it historic after the vote. "All we seek is an agency that provides service, civility and fairness to the American people," Roth said.

In a statement, President Bill Clinton also praised the bill's passage and said he will sign it.

"I am pleased that the Senate has finally passed bipartisan legislation to reform the IRS and strengthen taxpayer rights," Clinton said. "This reform will help my effort to create an IRS that respects American taxpayers and respects their values. I look forward to signing it into law."

In the Senate, Vermont Republican James Jeffords said the changes will make the IRS a "kinder, gentler agency."

That's rich.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the reform bill a first step, adding Congress must still act to simplify the tax code.

"Americans have every reason to celebrate," said Roth, chief author of the legislation. "They have let their desire be known, and they have been heard."

The IRS overhaul bill was the result, in part, of last September's highly publicized hearings in which taxpayers told horror stories of their treatment at the hands of the U.S. tax agency.

The IRS reform bill includes the following provision:

The burden of proof in civil court cases involving tax disputes would be shifted from the taxpayer to the IRS.

The IRS must suspend penalties and interest if the agency waits more than 18 months to tell someone they owe additional taxes.

People who face collection actions due to tax problems caused without their knowledge by spouses would be protected from some collection actions.

A nine-member board with six private citizens to oversee the operations of the IRS.

The IRS taxpayer advocate's office will have expanded powers to grant taxpayer assistance orders, which can halt tax collections in cases of hardship.

While the bill has been politically popular in this election year, some say the reform measure will have little effect on most taxpayers. "Only" 4 to 5 million of the 212 million personal and business returns filed annually end up in dispute with the tax collection agency, according to Phil Brand, the IRS's former chief compliance officer.

Over the next 10 years experts predict the reform measures will cost the IRS $12.9 billion, mostly in lost collections of taxes and penalties.

Buy a U.S. green card for $1 000!

Joan Hueter of the American Council for Immigration Reform announced that the Clinton Administration is trying to revive the administrative procedure whereby people can purchase a green card for $1 000 and without a background check, even though Congress voted against this practice last year.

Hueter reports that the appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and State has a provision in it to restore this procedure, which is known bureaucratically (or perhaps James Bond-ishly) as provision 245i. Hueter reported that the immigration department likes this because it gets to keep the money.

Source: The National Center for Public Policy Research

U.S. Government agency says $350 billion can be cut with no reduction of services

It's not just libertarians who are saying that government can be cut dramatically. The General Accounting Office (GAO) of the United States recently declared that the federal government could save a whopping $350 billion per year simply by eliminating program duplication, minimizing waste and fraud, and implementing more careful results-based management.

Furthermore, the GAO says the $350 billion in savings could come without reducing the current level of government service.

Of course, trying to get government to avoid waste, fraud and mismanagement is like trying to train a cat to bark. And many feel the current level of government "service" should be slashed, agreeing with Will Rogers, who said: "Thank God we don't get all the government we pay for."

But the GAO's findings help to confirm that there are plenty of ways to immediately cut the federal budget -- if there was sufficient political will to do so.

Source: Center for Market Processes at George Mason University

DOJ decides not to prosecute capitalism...at least this time...

The US Justice Department declined to file an appeal to reinstate an antitrust injunction against Microsoft, a move that may signal that the government's case is weakening.

July 7 marked the deadline to appeal the 23 June decision, in which a federal appeals court overturned US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's decision against Microsoft. Last year, Jackson ruled Microsoft could be forced to offer its Windows 95 operating system and Internet Explorer software separately.

"It will be very difficult for the Justice Department to win the Windows 98 case in light of the Windows 95 ruling," said Jim Veltrop, an antitrust lawyer at Axinn, Veltrop, and Harkrider in New York City.

"The court panel wrote a lot of commentary on the subject, and it will be powerfully persuasive with regard to any decision handed down in the Windows 98 case," he added.

The Justice Department had also asked the judge to hold Microsoft in contempt and fine the company US$1 million a day for breaking a 1995 consent agreement by tying its browser to its operating system.

In May, the Department of Justice and attorneys general from 20 states filed a multi-pronged antitrust suit against Microsoft. The suit charged that Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive and exclusionary practices designed to maintain its Windows monopoly and extend that monopoly into Internet browser software and other areas.

The case was undercut by that June overturn of the Jackson ruling.

In that reversal, the three-judge panel stated that Jackson had "erred procedurally," by issuing an injunction against Microsoft without giving the company prior notice.

Two of the judges went beyond simply reversing the injunction, concluding that Microsoft had the right to determine the features of an integrated operating system, so long as the software "offers advantages unavailable" to consumers who would otherwise need to purchase the products separately.

In effect, that US Appeals Court ruling recognized Microsoft Internet Explorer and Windows 95 as an integrated product.

Phoenix airport won't be renamed for Goldwater after all

Mayor Skip Rimsza, bowing to public pressure, announced July 9 that he was scrapping a plan to have the city's major airport renamed in Barry Goldwater's honor.

"I have no plans to vote on this issue in the future," Rimsza said in a statement. "But this community should find ... a suitable way to honor this most honorable man."

Goldwater, a five-term senator and 1964 presidential candidate, died May 29 at his suburban Paradise Valley home at age 89.

Rimsza called Goldwater "my hero" and said he wanted to honor the Republican icon "in the biggest way we can."

He said Goldwater's love of flying made renaming the airport a logical choice.

The City Council, at Rimsza's urging, had changed Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Goldwater Sky Harbor International Airport on a 6-3 vote June 16.

A week later, Rimsza ordered the final decision on renaming the airport postponed until Sept. 2 after hundreds of callers flooded city switchboards with objections to the change.

Some critics said the City Council vote came too soon, without the opportunity for public input. Others said Goldwater already has had enough things named after him, including a Phoenix high school, a Scottsdale street, a conservative think tank, an Air Force gunnery range in southwestern Arizona and a terminal at Sky Harbor.

U.S. majority says news reporting often wrong

More than half of Americans think news reports are often inaccurate, and most believe journalists are under more pressure from owners to get a good story than they were in the past, a poll released July 11 said.

The poll was taken after the retraction by CNN of a nerve gas story and the firing of writers at the Boston Globe newspaper and the New Republic magazine for fabricating facts.

The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center and published in Newsweek magazine, said 53 percent of those surveyed characterized news reports as "often inaccurate."

Fewer than half, 46 percent, said they believe almost all or most of what the media reported. Some 61 percent survey said they got their news from television, 24 percent from newspapers and 2 percent from online or Internet services.

The poll surveyed 752 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The poll also found that 76 percent felt the news business and gone too far in the direction of entertainment.

It also found that compared to the past, more journalists were influenced by pressures from owners (77 percent), other journalists (71 percent) or the desire to be rich and famous (70 percent) than by the urge to report the news fairly (33 percent.

The National Citizens' Coalition uses musical pigs to protest salary hikes for Canadian MPPs

The National Citizens' Coalition is using musical pigs to oppose the recent hike in pay and benefits for Members of Parliament and Senators.

In a radio commercial being run in five cities across Canada, the pigs can be heard oinking to the beat of Strauss' 'Blue Danube'. "We call it the Parliamentary Pig-Out Waltz," explains NCC president Stephen Harper.

Harper says the radio ads, which aired in mid-July, urged taxpayers to demand that MPs "stick to the deal they were elected on" when it comes to their pay and benefits.

"Our ad is comical," says Harper, "but so was the pathetic way the five parties snuck their pay grab through Parliament without public scrutiny and then sneaked off on a three-month vacation. But we also wanted to draw attention to the more serious issues of the abuse of trust and conflict of interest in politicians' hiking their own salaries after an election."

Harper notes that on the eve of their summer break MPs, through all-party agreement, rammed a bill through the House of Commons in less than two hours without a recorded vote. The bill gives both MPs and Senators a big pay boost. MPs also doubled their housing allowance and enhanced their severance and pension options.

"If MPs want more money they should have raised the issue with voters in the last election," says Harper. "But they didn't. That's why they should not accept a pay raise during the life of this Parliament."

Harper says the NCC campaign is only beginning. "We plan on making this a long hot summer for MPs," adds Harper, "at least until they do the right thing."

Canada's Klein says no to Kyoto Accord

The Kyoto agreement to reduce so-called greenhouse gases is unacceptable to Alberta and won’t be ratified by the energy-producing province unless it gets major changes, Premier Ralph Klein said July 13.

Klein said Canada’s current pledge to reduce its emissions from burning fossil fuels - largely oil and coal - to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 would have a devastating effect on Alberta.

"I don’t know what the compromise is, but we need something that is sustainable and that we can live with," said Klein after a speech to the annual meeting of federal and provincial energy ministers.

"We understand greenhouse gases are a problem, but we also understand that the Kyoto accord as it now stands is not acceptable."

Klein’s continued pessimism over the Kyoto accord stood in stark contrast to federal Energy Minister Ralph Goodale’s optimism on reaching a Canadian consensus.

Goodale pointed to the extensive consultation occurring between Ottawa, the provinces, private sector and non-governmental agencies in hammering out a process that works for all Canadians.

"We had a very useful meeting in April of energy and environment ministers where we laid out a process for the development of a national implementation strategy," said Goodale.

"All governments are involved and we have 14 issue tables that are drawing together all of the expertise from the private sector and non-governmental organizations and all other stakeholders to develop a whole range of options."

Goodale acknowledged there are going to be bumps along the road to a final plan to reach the ambitious targets agreed to by Canada.

To reach the target of six per cent below 1990 levels, Canada will have to reduce emissions to 531 million tonnes from a projected 669 million tonnes in 2010.

"There’s a tremendous amount of collaborative work going on among all the different levels of government and the private sector," said Goodale.

"Some would have differing views as to the prospects for success coming out the other end of that particular pipeline, but the process has begun very, very well.

Klein welcomed the talks on instituting the Kyoto agreement.

"It’s good if there is strong co-operation. The prime minister indicated in December there ought to be a Canadian consensus before anything is ratified.

"So one way to settle all of this is for the prime minister to keep his word. The prime minister said in December before any accord is ratified from Kyoto it must be agreed to by all of the provinces, that’s his promise."

But no matter how much consultation is done, Klein said the Kyoto deal poses a huge threat to the Alberta economy.

"Initial examinations of the proposal indicate it would be devastating," he said. "There is no deal as far as I’m concerned.

U.S. Steelworkers attack capitalism, issue legal challenge to NAFTA

One of the U.S.'s largest unions launched a legal challenge of the North American Free Trade Agreement, claiming congressional approval five years ago was illegal.

The United Steelworkers of America, with 750 000 members, filed the lawsuit in Washington July 13, arguing Senate approval in November 1993 was five votes short of the two-thirds majority the U.S. Constitution calls for.

"What we need to do is wipe NAFTA off the books," said union president George Becker.

The steelworkers waited five years to file the suit, hoping workers' living standards in the U.S., Canada and Mexico would improve.

"Instead, wages are stagnant and the standard of living in all three countries has been on a steady decline for the last three decades," Becker said.

The union and the Made in the USA Foundation claim "hundreds of thousands" of U.S. jobs have been lost since NAFTA came into force.

"It symbolizes what is so much wrong in America," Becker said.

The union does not want see the deal completely dismantled, just rewritten to include stronger workers' rights. At present, NAFTA has side deals in labor and environmental standards.

The legal argument is based on an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that says all treaties, including treaties of commerce, must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. The Nov. 17, 1995, vote approving NAFTA was 61-38.

U.S. trade historian Susan Aaronson said while the case has some merit, it is unlikely U.S. courts will ultimately decide in the steelworkers' favor. "It's not going to fly," she said.

Congress gave former U.S. president Harry Truman similar powers to negotiate trade agreements in 1944 -- the talks ended in the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade, predecessor to the World Trade Organization.

Other anti-trade groups have made similar legal arguments and failed to get far, Aaronson said.

While the steelworkers complained most U.S. jobs have been lost to Mexico, the union also cited a case where Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. shifted part of its Alabama operations to Canada.

Economist Gary Hufbaurer from the Institute of International Economics said the lawsuit may be a stalking horse for the steelworkers' political agenda. "My guess is that it's a loser suit," he said. "But they are not expecting to win this case."

Instead, he says the union wants to use it to highlight a movement among right-wing Republicans that wants to undercut the administration's ability to negotiate free trade agreements by handing more power to Congress.

At any rate, Pat Buchanan should be happy...

Proving bad acting and bad politics go hand-in-hand

Jack Nicholson, who recently spent a week in the embargoed nation of Cuba at the invitation of the Cuban Film Board, seems to be a big fan of Cuban communist.

Speaking to Daily Variety's Army Archerd, Nicholson had nothing but kind words for leader Fidel Castro, whose scheduled one-hour chat with the star stretched into three. "[Castro] is a genius," the three-time Oscar-winning actor gushes. "We spoke about everything."

Nicholson says it's his hope President Clinton and Castro can mend fences between the two countries. "They are both humanists," said Nicholson. "They should get together. And it would be great for Clinton's legacy. There's no remaining reason for [the schism] to continue. After all, [Clinton] did go to China. And I think Castro never wanted to break it off with us."

As far as the content of his conversation with Castro, Nicholson says, "It was plain old talk. We talked about life, culture—he's in pretty good communication with Ted Turner. He stays up late, like I do. Yes, he's seen some of my movies."

"It was sad to see the buildings crumbling, milk only available to little children," said Nicholson.

Hey wait, I thought Castro was a genius? Don't Communist cows produce more milk than imperialistic cows?

If the robot speaks, it must be the truth

For almost half of June the temperature in Amarillo, Texas, hit 100 degrees or higher each day.

In Tampa, Fla., during that month there were 12 days when it never got below 80 degrees, even at night. Climate experts call it a "one in 1 000-year event."

People in Texas and Florida this summer haven't been alone in suffering through record heat.

The federal government said July 15 that June on average worldwide was the hottest June in more than a century of keeping climate records. In fact, each month so far in 1998 has eclipsed past temperature records on a global average.

"How much more proof do we need that global warming is real?" Vice President Al Gore asked Tuesday after summoning climate officials to the White House to announce the latest temperature data.

Gore, the administration's most strident voice on the issue of global warming, said June's temperature data was "more evidence" that man-made heat-trapping greenhouse gases are leading to long-term climate change.

"It is so incredibly unusual to have six months in a row and every single one of those months sets an all-time new record for being the highest month ever. You can see quite clearly the long-term warming trend," insisted Gore as he chastised Congress for failing to endorse the administration's proposals to curtail greenhouse gases.

Opponents of the global warming orthodoxy argue, however, that short-term temperature data are inadequate to predict long-term trends and point out that the scientific community remains divided about whether significant warming will occur or what impact it will have.

"The observational evidence is not explained by our understanding of how the climate system changes," contends John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama. "You see a situation where the surface of the earth is warming, and the troposphere (up to 10 miles high) is not. In an enhanced greenhouse system it's supposed to be the opposite."

A majority of scientists have criticized the use of the ground temperature data and pointed to satellite findings as well as some balloon data that have shown temperatures 5 000 to 30 000 feet above Earth have changed little over the past 20 years perhaps even showing a slight cooling.

Gore insisted latest findings are clear and "that the time to act is now" to begin curtailing greenhouse gases.

Christy also raised questions about local weather "records" turning up in newscasts around the country.

After both Associated Press and National Public Radio announced that June in Huntville, Alabama, was the hottest ever, Christy researched the local records at the Alabama State Climatology Office. He found that there were six years--1914, 1921, 1936, 1943, 1952, and 1953—with warmer Junes than 1998. He speculated that reporters were inadvertently being given faulty information by the National Weather Service, whose computerized data banks are incomplete. Indeed, the NWS Office in Birmingham, Alabama, admitted its state data only went back to 1958.

A court that upholds the will of the people? It happened in July!

On July 15, a federal judge refused to block a California ballot measure banning bilingual education from going into effect this month.

Proposition 227 requires all public-school classes in the state to be taught in English, rather than another language. Students who speak limited English would be taught in special one-year "English immersion" classes, then returned to regular courses.

After a three-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Charles Legge said the measure -- approved by 61 percent of state voters in the June 2 primary election -- is constitutional, does not discriminate against any group and doesn't violate a federal law requiring schools to overcome students' language barriers.

He said requiring students to learn English through immersion in the language "is a valid educational theory," which is all federal law requires.

Opponents claim that abolishing bilingual education, which has been used in California for three decades, unfairly targets minority students, particularly Hispanics. That, of course, ignores the fact that Hispanics voted for Proposition 227.

Ron Uns, who authored Proposition 227, hailed the judge's decision not to issue the requested injunction.

"For the first time now in California, almost all of those children will be taught English from the first day they enter school -- taught English as quickly and as effectively as possible," he said.

"I think the overwhelming majority of the parents will be happy that their children will finally be learning English in California public schools."

If I were a member, I might be tempted to vote for them

A pot-smoking cleric who lives in a trailer without electricity says he puffed a joint July 16 shortly before he declared his intention to seek the leadership of Canada's federal Progressive Conservatives.

Rev. Michael Baldasaro, a 49-year-old bearded hippie clad in sandals, shorts, a hat and a tank top, said on Parliament Hill that the focus of his campaign would be to legalize marijuana.

A tax on marijuana could be used to pare down the national debt, he said

At a news conference that resembled a scene from a Cheech and Chong movie, Baldasaro and his campaign manager, the equally attired Reverend Brother Walter Tucker, took turns championing what they call the tree of life.

They also deflected charges they were making a mockery of the Tory leadership selection process that culminates in a vote by all card-carrying Tories on Oct. 24.

"It’s not harmful to the health, it’s a medicine," said Baldasaro, who lives off a disability pension after he injured his head in an industrial accident.

Baldasaro is the 15th person to announce they want to lead the Tories. Former strategist Hugh Segal is the only candidate who has paid the $30 000 required to be officially in the race to succeed Jean Charest.

Baldasaro called the fee unconstitutional and undemocratic and has filed a complaint with the party asking that it be waved because he can’t afford it.

Party officials have said they have no plans to change the rules.

Those seeking the leadership must have paid up by July 31.

Baldasaro and Tucker live on the grounds of an abandoned steel mill in Cambridge, Ont. The mill is owned by John Long, a businessman who became the first declared Tory leadership candidate in May.

Maybe that's why governments want weak cryptography

Using the brute force of a single, custom-built computer costing less than $250 000, a team of experts took fewer than three days to crack a widely used method for scrambling sensitive data.

The code-breakers tested 88 billion possible combinations every second for 56 hours until they unlocked a message scrambled using a government-approved method called the Data Encryption Standard.

Two previous attempts at unscrambling similar electronic messages took, respectively, five months and 39 days and used many computers working together across the Internet to test each of roughly 72 quadrillion possible unlocking combinations.

The contest to crack the message was sponsored by RSA Data Security Inc. of San Mateo, California, which has fought U.S. export restrictions on virtually unbreakable data-scrambling products stronger than 56 bits, meaning their unlocking key is a sequence of 56 "1"s and "0"s.

The Clinton administration prohibits the exportation of encryption products stronger than 40 bits, although there are no limits on data-scrambling software used domestically.

The message unscrambled read: "It's time for those 128-, 192- and 256-bit keys."

"This is more evidence that the government's crypto-policy has been overtaken by technology," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. "It's about time to end the limits on strong encryption technology."

The successful computer, using 27 circuit boards each holding 64 computer chips, was built by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit civil liberties group. It won $10 000 from RSA in the contest.

"EFF has proved what has been argued by scientists for 20 years -- that DES can be cracked quickly and inexpensively," said John Gilmore, a director of the foundation, which he cofounded in 1990. "If a small nonprofit can crack DES, your competitors can, too."

"It makes it perfectly clear that somebody could be and could have been doing this for a number of years," said Whitfield Diffie, a cryptography expert and scientist at Sun Microsystems Inc. "The costs are not very high. Government kept insisting this was nonsense, and this wouldn't work."

Rocke Verser, the cryptographer who led the five-month effort in June 1997 to unscramble a DES-encrypted message using thousands of computers across the Internet, called the three-day effort incredible.

"I was expecting it to be cracked pretty soon, but I had no idea it would be this quick," he said from his home in Colorado. "It may be novel this year, but in two years that kind of custom hardware is going to be even more commonplace. It's certainly within the reach of organized crime and terrorists."

And, of course, government.

Giving the black helicopter crowd what they believe

A United Nations summit on human rights is set to hear testimony describing Idaho's workfare policy as an international human rights violation. Idaho requires welfare recipients to spend 20 hours a week working or looking for work, and sets a lifetime two-year cap on cash benefits for most recipients.

The Kensington Welfare Rights Union, which is paying to send two Idaho mothers to the New York summit to complain of their welfare status, says Idaho's aggressive welfare reform is a violation of Articles 23, 25 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Originally appeared in The Flummery Digest

Feminism 1, common sense 0

Vickie Dugan won a $1 million award in a sex discrimination lawsuit after she was fired as women's softball coach at Oregon State University. She argued that her extremely low win-loss record (9-112 in conference games, 0-24 in her last season) and the fact that two mostly-female search teams had recommended she be replaced were irrelevant to her charge that she had been paid less than the men's softball coach.

Originally appeared in The Flummery Digest

Tort D'Jour: lawsuits upon lawsuits within lawsuits

A group of Texas lawyers have apparently filed preemptive lawsuits against ex-clients, anticipating malpractice lawsuits filed against them over another lawsuit. Confused?

According to the Dallas Morning News, one hundred former clients of Roberto M. Garcia, Craig L.
White, John Phillip Watking and Patrick J. Boon have filed a malpractice suit against them accusing malpractice, fraud and negligence in their representation of them in another lawsuit against the Dallas-based Fina Oil and Chemical Company. But this recent malpractice suit only comes after the lawyers filed a preemptive lawsuit against 38 of the former clients asking the court to declare that nothing improper happened during the original lawsuit. Got it?

Originally appeared in The National Center for Public Policy Research Legal Briefs

Lawyers oppose lowering insurance premiums

Most Americans may assume that when they pay their auto insurance premiums, most of the premium goes for the health care costs and lost wages of individuals injured in car crashes.

Wrong. A new report by Michael Horowitz for the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) shows 28.4 percent of insurance premiums for bodily injury go to lawyers' fees and only 14.5 percent to medical bills and lost wages.

As a result, some policymakers, including Democrats Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Joe Lieberman and Republicans Mitch McConnell, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Dick Armey, are promoting a reform plan called Auto Choice. Auto Choice would make it legal for consumers to buy cheaper insurance policies which cover their actual losses in the event of an accident, but which do not permit consumers opting to pay lower premiums the option of suing for pain and suffering. But, NCPA says, "opposition [to reform] comes from the American Trial Lawyers Association, which describes Auto Choice as 'perhaps one of the more insidious tort reform proposals ever introduced at the Federal level... an assault on our livelihood.'"

Originally appeared in The National Center for Public Policy Research Legal Briefs

Propaganda tricks elderly woman

The yellowing articles about the impending demise of Social Security provide the only clues to why a 91-year-old woman left nearly all of her estate - $54 496.49 - to the federal agency.

Adelpha Reed died in March 1997, apparently without any surviving family. The few who knew her say she was intensely private. Her decision to bequeath 90 percent of her estate to Social Security - the remainder went to her church - so astonished federal officials they did not know
what to do. The last time such a gift was made in Florida was more than a decade ago.

"This happens so infrequently, we literally had no rules or regulations in place to address it," agency spokesman John Raffa said. It wasn't until July, after consultations with attorneys, that the agency decided to put the money into its $729 billion retirement trust fund.

Reed retired from bookkeeping in 1971 and collected about $160 000 from Social Security during the next 26 years. She was not rich. Her estate was cobbled together primarily from 30-year-old U.S. Savings Bonds, some silver coins and the $27 000 reaped from the sale of her two-bedroom house in West Palm Beach after her death.

She was a 50-year member of the Eastern Star, the women's division of the Masons, but left nothing to that group. She was a 40-year member of the Union Congregational church. The Rev. Allen Hollis, pastor emeritus of Reed's church and executor of her estate, said he did not know why Reed made the decision to leave the bulk of her funds to the federal agency.

After her death, Hollis found old articles among her papers warning that bankruptcy loomed over the Social Security system. "I can only conclude she must have taken what they said to heart, because she overrode the two biggest interests in her life - the church and the Eastern Star,"
Hollis said. "The Eastern Star didn't get a nickel and the church got a very small amount. I think it's a crying shame."

Judge rules secondhand smoke link bogus

For the past few years responsible scientists have derided the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that secondhand smoke causes cancer and now finally a court has recognized the bogus science behind it.

"EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun; excluded industry by violating the (radon law's) procedural requirements; (and) adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the agency's public conclusions," ruled North Carolina U.S. District Judge William Osteen.

The judge further criticized the EPA for having "aggressively utilized" the report's findings "to establish a de facto regulatory scheme intended to restrict plaintiff's products and to influence public opinion."

Osteen, acting on a lawsuit filed by the tobacco industry, ruled the EPA based its 1993 report on inadequate science and failed to demonstrate a statistically significant relationship between secondhand smoke and lung cancer.

The EPA, of course, is standing by its finding and an appeal is all but a certainty.

The EPA's controversial 1993 report on environmental tobacco smoke concluded that secondhand tobacco smoke should be classified as a Class A carcinogen and was responsible for more than 3 000 lung-cancer deaths a year.

Although the agency never issued formal regulations to control secondhand smoke, the report has been cited widely in decisions by state and local officials to restrict smoking in public places including restaurants, airliners, offices and -- in California -- even bars.

Osteen ruled that the EPA followed improper procedure in compiling its report by not including industry in its deliberations as required by the 1986 Radon Gas and Indoor Air Quality Research Act. That's the law used to support the secondhand tobacco smoke decision.

Free trade critic joins Tory leadership race

The latest candidate to join the Canadian Progressive Conservative leadership race is targeting one of the party's legacies, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

David Orchard spoke at an Ottawa news conference on July 22 and criticized the Chretien Liberals for maintaining the trade agreement negotiated by the Brian Mulroney government.

Orchard, a Saskatchewan native, joins a host of other candidates vying to replace Jean Charest as head of the federal Tory Party, which includes former prime minister Joe Clark, who is considered the front runner.

Other candidates include Former Manitoba cabinet minister Brian Pallister and Montreal lawyer Michael Fortier.

NJ high court affirms jury trial for property owners

The New Jersey Supreme Court held in late July that property owners are entitled to jury trials when the state seeks to confiscate their property under the its asset forfeiture law. This is a big boost for forfeiture victims in New Jersey.

The unanimous decision, written by Justice Stewart G. Pollock, traced the history of forfeiture in New Jersey back to colonial times and found that juries were required in forfeiture actions prior to the revolution. Pollock wrote, "New Jersey colonists insisted on jury trials for the forfeitures of ships and their contents. Automobile owners are entitled to the same protection today. The forfeiture of automobiles today, like that of sailing ships in earlier times, should be subject to the general rule requiring trial by jury."

The state attorney general's office vigorously fought this case, insisting that requiring jury trials would be too costly and time consuming for the prosecution. The court dismissed that argument, holding that "doubtless, the right to trial by jury will be an inconvenience to the State when it seeks to forfeit innocent property. Mere inconvenience, however, can not justify the denial of a constitutional right."

Finally, the court reaffirmed the importance of the right to a trial by jury by stating, "Today, as in the past, the jury often stands as a shield between the individual and the State."

House overwhelmingly reaffirms Taiwan policy

The House joined the Senate on July 20 in affirming a 19-year-old commitment of U.S. support for Taiwan's sovereignty by a nearly unanimous bipartisan majority.

Republicans said the resolution, approved 390-1, would set the record straight after President Clinton's remarks in China, comments critics suggested tilted toward Beijing's views on the island's reunification with the mainland.

"President Clinton has upset the balance of power" in the region, said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the bill's principal House sponsor.

But Democrats supported the nonbinding resolution en masse, as they had in the Senate, diluting its political significance. They said the resolution was little more than a reiteration of long-standing U.S. policy.

While in China, Clinton stated opposition to Taiwanese independence, a separate Taiwan government and the island nation's bid to join the United Nations. He also used the word "unification" in talking about Taiwan's future -- a word that does not appear in U.S. doctrine.

The resolution adopted by both the House and the Senate restates the principal tenets of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that the island's future "will be determined by peaceful means, with the consent of the people of Taiwan."

The resolution also repeats the 1979 pledge to help Taiwan "maintain a sufficient self-defense capability," but like the 1979 act, leaves terms of such support vague and up to the president and Congress.

The lone "no" vote was cast by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

China's Foreign Ministry condemned the House resolution as an "invasion of China's sovereignty." It said in a statement "the issue of China's reunification is domestic, and no foreign power may be permitted to interfere."

And speaking of China

On July 21, a Chinese court sentenced a dissident to three years imprisonment for helping a fellow activist escape China.

The sentencing of Fan Yiping continued a pattern of tightening repression since President Clinton ended a visit to China two weeks ago with calls for greater freedoms.

Aside from sentencing Fan, Chinese authorities have clamped down on an illegal opposition party, detaining 11 dissidents, and charged a veteran human rights activist with fraud.

"Things have taken a turn for the worse since President Clinton left," said Lu Siqing, a human rights campaigner in Hong Kong.

Eight of those detained in the crackdown on the China Democracy Party have since reportedly been released. Three party founders -- Wang Donghai, Wang Youcai and Lin Hui -- remain in detention, facing what observers fear may be possible charges of subversion.

Fan, the dissident sentenced on July 21 in the southern city of Guangzhou, was convicted of "organizing others to cross a border illegally," said a spokesman for the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court.

Aside from sentencing Fan to three years imprisonment, the court also ordered him to pay a $1 207 fine, said the spokesman surnamed Su, who refused to provide his full name.

Fan said he would appeal, Su said.

A food company manager before his arrest in March, the 43-year-old Fan has a history of activism dating to the Democracy Wall movement of the late 1970s, when he edited a journal, "Voice of the People."

A national I.D. card isn't enough apparently...

The Clinton administration is unsure whether it should implement a 1996 law creating a national database to track individuals' medical histories.

The database would assign every American a computer code called a "unique health identifier" to track them as they change doctors and health insurance companies. Lauded by public health researchers, it has privacy advocates frightened that personal information could be misused.

The system was mandated by a 1996 law that allows many employees to take their health insurance with them when they change jobs. The Department of Health and Human Services was supposed to write regulations implementing the identifier system.

But the issue is so sensitive and contentious that HHS has opted to hold a series of public hearings, beginning with a session in Chicago in late July, said HHS spokesman Campbell Gardett.

Rather than issue regulations and ask for public comment on them, HHS will publish a notice declaring its intent to write regulations. But it will be at least two months after that before the department publishes a plan of its own.

Opponents of the identifier system maintain that sensitive health information might be linked to data such as financial information or criminal histories, and could lead patients to become more reluctant about sharing sensitive medical information with their doctors.

IRS admits to improper and illegal seizures

The IRS tried to force a severely ill man to sell the home that sheltered his wife and teen-age daughters, backing off only after the man died and a revenue agent concluded the sale would be "bad publicity," the agency said in an internal report on its collection practices.

The Internal Revenue Service acknowledged last month that it improperly seized property from taxpayers in more than one in four cases studied from the 1997 fiscal year, according to one of two internal audits, totaling 331 pages.

They were the last of four conducted in response to sensational allegations leveled against the tax agency in Senate hearings last year. Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr., R-Del., called them "a stunning confession of the sins of the IRS." The studies were released a day after the Senate voted 96-2 to send President Clinton a bill aimed at remolding the agency.

Neither Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin nor IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti offered comment. But both men have said they are committed to ridding the agency of abuses, and Roth said in a statement, "The fact that the agency is owning up to these problems is a refreshing change."

The studies looked at seizure practices in 11 of the IRS' 33 districts and at the use of enforcement statistics in managing and evaluating agency examiners.

The IRS reviewed 467 of the approximately 10 000 property seizures nationwide in fiscal 1997. It found seizure to be warranted in 337 of the cases. But in 130 cases, it concluded, IRS agents "did not use sound judgment ... or conducted seizures containing legal defects."

Even within the 337 cases in which seizure was justified, the IRS failed in many cases to follow procedural guidelines such as establishing minimum bids in auctions of seized property, the studies found.

Typical violations among the 130 cases of improper seizure included seizing property without adequately pursuing alternatives to seizure, disregarding required waiting periods and failing to make a reasonable attempt to contact taxpayers before seizing their property.

IRS agents also sometimes seized property of little value, raising the question of whether the seizure was a punitive rather than a practical act. And at other times, agents "demonstrated a lack of adequate concern for the taxpayer's financial or medical status," the audits concluded.

One such case involved an unidentified man suffering from extreme obesity, ulcers and blood clots. The first IRS officer working on the case encouraged the family to refinance its home mortgage but recommended against the agency's going after the home because of the husband's poor health and the presence of children.

However, a second revenue officer made plans to seize the home, after noting the children had reached the age of 16 and that the IRS file contained no verification of the man's health problems.

After an appeal, the IRS agreed on March 18, 1997, to let the couple sell the home by July 1. The man died July 22 and the revenue officer then agreed with a higher-level recommendation to release the home.

"Not in Govt's best interest to pursue at this time," the revenue officer wrote. "Would be bad publicity. ... Would certainly been seen as negative to sell his widow & minor children's home when he has not yet been buried." The IRS discharged the tax debt as not collectible on July 24.

In another case, the IRS seized and sold a vehicle from an unemployed woman whose husband was terminally ill. The woman informed the IRS on April 22, 1997, that she was out of work due to knee surgery and facing another possible operation and that her husband was terminally ill and living in another city with his mother. Nevertheless, on June 11, the IRS seized the vehicle and artwork found in the vehicle and sold them for $6 100 on July 22.

In the second study, the IRS found that its Examination Division managers "focused primarily on enforcement statistics." This created an environment at the employee level "that put emphasis on revenue and other statistical goals" at the expense of quality casework, it said.

Are you an American? You paid for this theft.

One hundred best novels? Readers don't think so

Released July 20, the Modern Library's list of the best 100 novels of this century saw James Joyce's "Ulysses" as the literary topper, with "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" rounding out the top five.

The Modern Library's panel, a division of Random House, included Cerf, Daniel J. Boorstin, A.S. Byatt, Shelby Foote, Vartan Gregorian, Edmund Morris, John Richardson, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., William Styron and Gore Vidal.

A reader's poll on the library's web site, however, had it different.

The puts Ayn Rand at Number 1 and 5, with "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead," respectively.

"This list must be a practical joke, either from the Saturday Night Live crew or perhaps Monty Python," posted Howard Paul Burgess. "'Ulysses' as the greatest novel of the century? Sure. And 'Plan Nine from Outer Space' was the best movie of the century, too. 'Ulysses' is the biggest pile of gobbledygook ever perpetrated on the reading public. I defy anyone to make sense of anything in that (admittedly, sometimes poetic) flow of words, words, words."

The Nation responded to the readers in their typical liberal arrogance.

"The Daily News coverage also refers to the fact that 'the Random House/Modern Library Web site yesterday was deluged with hits pointing out omissions.' What it neglected to point out was that many of these hits were from crazy people, most notably Ayn Rand acolytes who rigged the voting process by electronically stuffing the ballot-boxes on behalf of the laughably sophomoric (when it is not dangerously fascistic) 'Atlas Shrugged," cried columnist Eric Alterman.

Who's he?

Iron Lady to campaign for Forbes

Potential presidential candidate Steve Forbes will get an Iowa boost this month from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher and Forbes will combine their financial muscle to raise money for Republican legislative candidates in a state where precinct caucuses begin the presidential nominating season, said the Iowa Republican chairman, Steve Grubbs.

Iowa Republicans were seeking to capitalize on Thatcher's prominence to raise money, and issued an announcement declaring "The British are coming!"

She will appear at an August 13 fund-raiser. Money raised will go to legislative candidates seeking to maintain a GOP majority.

Forbes unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. He carefully has been laying the groundwork for another bid in 2000.

During the last election, Forbes relied almost exclusively on an expensive television advertising campaign but now is spending time carefully assembling a political organization in a state where organization counts.

"Steve Forbes continues to gain ground among Iowa Republicans and his effort with Margaret Thatcher on behalf of Republican legislators will help him continue in that direction," Grubbs said.

During her tenure as prime minister, Thatcher was known for the close working relationship she developed with former President Ronald Reagan, with both advocating supply side and tax cut economics. Forbes based his last bid for the GOP presidential nomination on a call for a flat tax.

Thatcher first won election in 1979 and served until late 1990.

Clinton vetoes school vouchers

President Clinton followed through on a promise July 21 to veto legislation that would have allowed parents to set up tax-free savings accounts to pay for private education, saying the plan would benefit the rich at the expense of public schools.

Clinton said in a letter to Congress he vetoed the Education Savings and School Excellence Act because "the bill would divert limited federal resources away from public schools by spending more than $3 billion on tax benefits that would do virtually nothing for average families and would disproportionally benefit the most affluent families."

"By sending me this bill, the Congress has instead chosen to weaken public education and to shortchange our children," Clinton said. "Just as we have an obligation to repair our transportation system, we also have an obligation to invest in the infrastructure needs of our public schools."

The vetoed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., would have allowed people to place $2 000 a year in accounts which would earn tax-free interest. The money could have used to cover educational expenses including parochial school tuition, after-school tutoring, uniforms and computers.

Coverdell called the president's veto "a new low in shameless pandering" and said it means "America's children lose and the union bosses win."

Other conservatives were critical of Clinton's decision to veto the bill. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer said Clinton caved in to special interests.

"Today is a sad day for America's schools and schoolchildren," Archer, R-Texas, said. "Republicans intend to continue pushing for new ways to improve education in America. The education of our children is a vital priority and I regret the president's action."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich's spokeswoman, Christina Martin, said in a statement that Clinton had "sacrificed our children's future on the mantle of union money" and accused him of bowing to the "influence of the labor union bosses and the education bureaucrats."

The education bill cleared the Senate in June by a margin too slim to overcome a presidential veto, and Clinton immediately said he would not sign it. It was offered as an alternative to Clinton's $12 billion, five-year proposal to build schools, hire teachers and expand after-school programs, and Clinton renewed his call for lawmakers to approve his plan.

Clinton said the bulk of the benefits from the bill would go to families in the top 20 percent of the nation's income structure.

"It would instead reward families, particularly those with substantial incomes, for what they already do," Clinton said. "Families struggling to make ends meet would never see a penny of the benefits."

The measure also included education provisions that had nothing to do with taxes. Those included creation of a program to spend $210 million on helping children learn to read, mostly by training teachers. The bill also would have given states financial incentives to use for merit pay and competency testing for teachers.

Canada's privacy commissioner backs use of cryptography

The privacy commissioner warned last month that Canada could be moving toward a police state if the federal government restricts people’s right to use powerful encryption software for electronic commerce and communications on the Internet.

Law-enforcement agencies in Canada and the United States are trying to halt the sale of encryption software unless they are supplied with electronic master keys that would allow them to decipher coded messages sent via the Internet.

This idea is "somewhat akin to requiring everyone to give local police the keys to our homes in case we might commit a crime in the future and they need to enter," Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips says in a report to Parliament released July 22.

"The scope of this proposed access is unparalleled and moves us a step toward a police state," he says in the report.

The federal government is reviewing Internet privacy issues in anticipation of a boom in electronic commerce and communications. Ottawa hopes to announce a policy later this year.

Canada has a number of encryption-software manufacturers ready to sell programs they say can turn plain text messages into virtually unbreakable code and back again. This kind of software has been available from suppliers on the Internet for several years.

Law-enforcement agencies in Canada and the U.S. are lobbying for restrictions on this software, arguing it allows drug dealers and other criminals to communicate secretly on the Internet.

The agencies want governments to require software companies to supply electronic master keys to decode messages.

But Phillips says law-enforcement interests conflict with individual privacy and business interests.

He and other privacy advocates say police should have to get warrants to intercept and decode electronic messages in the same way they must obtain search and wiretap warrants.

Judges typically require police to make a case that these invasions of privacy are likely to produce evidence of serious crimes before issuing warrants.

What law-enforcement agencies are proposing is far more sweeping and intrusive, says Sally Jackson, a spokeswoman for Phillips.

"The onus is on the government to demonstrate an overwhelming public interest before overriding our right to have private communications," Phillips says.

He says Canadians should have access to any kind of cryptography software they want and be able to decide freely how to handle their keys.

Phillips says parallel developments in the field of electronic communication are running counter to each other when it comes to privacy.

Proliferation of devices like wireless phones and the development of the Internet make it easier for others to intercept private data and communications. On the other hand, encryption technology has advanced to the point where it could take high-powered computers millions of years to breaks some codes.

Son of CDA passes Senate

In a move that critics say seriously threatens the right to free expression on the Web, the US Senate passed legislation July 23 that would restrict access to certain Internet material deemed "harmful to minors."

S. 1482, sponsored by Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), also known as the "CDA II" bill, "would punish commercial online distributors of material deemed harmful to minors with up to six months in jail and a US$50 000 fine." Meanwhile, S. 1619, a bill by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), requires that schools and libraries use blocking and filtering software on public-use computers in order to block children's access to "inappropriate" materials.

Both bills were passed as a part of the Appropriations Bill on July 21, after a unanimous vote by the Senate earlier in the week to add them as ammendments to that bill.

Barry Steinhardt, president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that CDA II makes a lot the same mistakes as the original Communications Decency Act, which was defeated last year after a nationwide campaign against it led by civil liberties organizations and free speech advocates.

That campaign -- famous for the "Blue Ribbon" image that, starting in 1996, graced thousands of Web sites -- marked the most widespread online political protest in history.

"The CDA II bill looks harmless, but it's a Trojan horse," said Steinhardt. "It's meant to apply only to commercial pornographic Web sites, but because of the ambiguous language of the bill, it will end up coincidentally affecting other commercial sites, such as Amazon.com or even our own Web site at [the foundation]," he said.

David Crane, press secretary for Senator Coats, disagrees. "The Coats bill is not prohibitive, it does not ban anything," Crane said. "It merely requires that Web sites that contain material deemed 'harmful to minors' use methods that restrict access, such as use of a credit card, adult access code, etc."

Ari Schwartz, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the problem lies in precisely defining what exactly constitutes material "harmful to minors."

"There is no useful legal test that exists to define what is 'harmful to minors,' that will not accidentally restrict harmless material in the process," said Schwartz.

The McCain bill is also aimed at restricting access to pornography, but is specifically concerned with restricting minors from accessing the Internet at libraries and schools.

"At home, parents can be in charge of what their children see or don't see on the Internet," said McCain's press secretary, Pia Pialorsi. "But in public places like a library or school, there have to be other filters in place."

But those "other filters" -- the blocking and filtering software currently available -- are crude and overbroad, said Steinhardt. They inadvertently end up blocking access to sites such as the Quaker homepage, or the American Association of University Women, he said.

Yeah, Nader's the one to ask Gates for anything

Having already taken on Microsoft's monopoly in the operating system market, Ralph Nader has now come out against the monopoly of riches held by Bill Gates and his 357 fellow billionaires around the world.

The consumer activist, in a two-page letter to the world's "Number One working rich person," invited the Microsoft chairman to team up with his friend and fellow rich guy Warren Buffett and convene a billionaires' summit that will find a way to spread the wealth to the less-monied in society.

To illustrate his point, Nader whipped out "an astonishing calculation" by wealth-economics specialist Edward Wolff of New York University, which puts Gates' net wealth above the combined net worth of the poorest 40 percent of Americans. And that includes home equity, pensions, mutual funds, and 401(k) plans of those who have them.

Gates' net worth is US$64 612 287 600, according to Upside Online's latest daily figure.

The assets of the world's 358 billionaires are greater than the combined incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people, or about 3 billion human beings, according to the United Nations Development Program.

A Gates family spokeswoman noted that her boss and his wife have given more than $800 million to foundations, colleges, medical centers, and other charities in recent years.

Guess that's not enough.

Lewinsky finally to tell the truth

Lawyers for Monica Lewinsky and Independent Counsel Ken Starr have worked out a broad immunity deal for the ex-White House intern, paving the way for her to tell a grand jury about her relationship with President Bill Clinton. The agreement, announced July 28, also applies to Lewinsky's mother, Marcia Lewis.

The dramatic breakthrough in the Lewinsky investigation followed a meeting between Lewinsky and Starr's prosecutors one day earlier, when she told prosecutors she did have a sexual relationship with U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Lewinsky's lawyers, Plato Cacheris and Jacob Stein, announced the agreement. In a brief statement to a throng of reporters outside their law offices, Cacheris said, "We, as counsel for Monica Lewinsky, have reached an agreement today that for her full and truthful testimony, she will receive transactional immunity in this case." The attorneys refused to answer any questions.

Transactional immunity, legal experts said, is the broadest kind of immunity, excusing any of Lewinsky's prior conduct in exchange for her testimony. Because it is unlimited, this type of immunity is rarely granted; "use immunity" is more common.

Lewis' attorney, Billy Martin, announced shortly afterward that the deal "also provides the same level of protection and immunity to her mother, Marcia Lewis. She has also been immunized by this agreement."

Lewis appeared before the grand jury last February, but her testimony was interrupted and has not resumed since then. According to tape recordings made by Linda Tripp, Lewinsky talked frequently to her mother about her relationship with Clinton.

Under the terms of the immunity deal, Lewinsky will not face any legal jeopardy provided she testifies truthfully. That point had been a significant sticking point in the negotiations because Starr wanted her to plead guilty to some charge in exchange for immunity, but that was Lewinsky's primary objection.

Lewinsky returned to Washington July 28, ready to sign the immunity deal. She arrived at her lawyers' office shortly before the announcement, making her way through the crowd of waiting reporters and camera crews.

Despite Lewinsky's immunity, sources at the White House say that the president will not change his story in any significant way.

Another Democratic fundraiser pleads not guilty

Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak pleaded not guilty in federal court July 29 to charges she allegedly steered more than $600 000 in illegal overseas campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Kanchanalak surrendered her passport and was released on a $250 000 bond. The judge set August 12 for her next hearing, but her attorney, Reid Weingarten, is contesting that because he has a conflict.

Ailing and financially pressed, Kanchanalak voluntarily returned to the United States from Bangkok Tuesday to fight the federal criminal charges.

When government lawyers asked for a $500 000 bond, Weingarten said Kanchanalak's personal finances were "not terrific" because of the Asian financial crisis and the disruption to her business caused by her departure from the U.S.

He also said Kanchanalak is suffering from "very significant" health problems, but offered no details in court.

The 24-count indictment by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force accuses Kanchanalak of using the contributions to gain access to top Clinton Administration officials.

Kanchanalak is charged with providing large checks to the DNC the same day she brought Asian business associates to a coffee with President Clinton in the White House in 1996.

Kanchanalak has been living in Bangkok since January 1997, when she fled the U.S. after becoming a major figure in a political scandal over illegal Asian donations to the Democratic National Committee in the last election.

Are we even going to hear gun advocates defend themselves with this information?

The number of school shooting deaths across the United States was lower during the past school year than five years ago, but the horrific nature of several of this term's shootings and heavy media coverage left the opposite impression, a private study revealed July 29.

The study, "School House Hype," says that perception could lead to "counterproductive" new laws and an excessive focus on dangers at school when everyday gun violence outside school is a bigger threat to children.

"There is a big problem of kids being killed in America," said Vincent Schiraldi, director of the Justice Policy Institute, a criminal justice research group that conducted the study. "If politicians spend all of the next year trying to come up with solutions for the 'school killing' problem, they could miss the real problem."

The study, paid for by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that supports many juvenile justice efforts, collected data on fatal school shootings from several federal agencies and the National School Safety Center at Pepperdine University.

It found there were 55 school shooting deaths in 1992-93, 51 in 1993-94, 20 in 1994-95, 35 in 1995-96, 25 in 1996-97 and 40 in 1997-98.

Several of the shootings in the past year were at rural schools where such violence is rare.

"That made it more of a man-bites-dog type news hook, the occurrence of the shootings of kids in rural communities, as opposed to urban kids, kids of color," Schiraldi said.

You know what they're calling him behind his back, don't you?

Asserting a right "to think for myself," a resolute Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told black lawyers July 29 he neither apologizes for nor intends to change his conservative views and opposition to affirmative action.

Thomas told his critics to stop telling him "I have no right to think the way I do because I'm black."

His comments drew little applause and scattered boos. A threatened walkout by some members of the National Bar Association did not materialize although about a dozen people left the two-hour awards luncheon before Thomas spoke. Just prior to introducing Thomas, the group's leaders announced that those in the room could not leave until his speech was over.

Speaking for 35 minutes to nearly 1 000 members of black lawyers' group, Thomas denounced as "pyscho-silliness" the criticism by some leaders in traditional civil rights organizations who have attributed his views to racial self-hatred or a repudiation of his roots.

"I have few racial identification problems," he said. "Nor do I need anyone telling me who I am."

"I am a man. A black man. An American," Thomas said.

About affirmative action, Thomas said, "Any effort, policy or program that (is in someway based on the notion) that blacks are inferior is a non-starter with me."

Being called an enemy to his race "pains me deeply," Thomas said, and added: "I have come here today not in anger or to anger ... not to defend my views but to assert my right to think for myself."

Thomas appeared in defiance of efforts by some NBA members to keep him away, and his reception was not a warm one.

Anticipating Thomas' speech, New York lawyer Malik Shabazz on Tuesday called him "one of the greatest traitors in the history of our people."

Thomas, the only black on the nation's highest court, has enraged traditional civil rights groups with his staunchly conservative opposition to affirmative action and race-based redistricting efforts to boost minority voters' clout.

"Feelings about Justice Thomas and his record run deep in our organization," said NBA President Randy Jones, a federal prosecutor from San Diego. "We are committed to doing everything in our power to save affirmative action."

Thomas was invited by Louisiana Supreme Court Judge Bernette Johnson to speak to the NBA's Judicial Council, a group of state and federal judges. But others in the council's leadership later told him he was not welcome.

Thomas decided to attend anyway, but refused to reveal in advance the topic of his speech.

A. Leon Higginbotham, a retired federal judge and longtime Thomas critic, sparked the controversy surrounding Thomas' appearance by criticizing Johnson for having given the justice "an imprimatur that he has never had from any responsible organization within the African-American community or any non-conservative groups of whites."

"I'll be there," Higginbotham said a day earlier when asked if he would attend Thomas' speech. "I'm going to be civil and I think everyone else will be civil. I don't advocate any protest."

But some community activists urged NBA members to protest Thomas' presence.

"I could not in good conscience allow him to come to Memphis, the city where Martin Luther King died ... and not raise a protest," said the Rev. Billy Kyles, who was a King associate.

Jessie Epps, a union organizer whose work on behalf of Memphis sanitation workers brought King to the site of his assassination 30 years ago, said he opposed Thomas being given such a forum. "We plan to make that physically known outside," he said.

You must know what they're calling him behind his back, don't you?

Old guard Canadian conservatives prove why they are old guard

Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister John Crosbie characterized the Reform party July 29 as "a boil that has to be lanced."

"It's a party based on extremist views, regional special interests and fierce and unrelenting appeal to those who don't understand the need for compromise, conciliation and moderation if our country is to survive," Crosbie told a debate that night on Canada's political right that sounded more like a Reform roast.

Crosbie, fellow Tory and newspaper executive Peter White, political scientist William Christian and Reform MP Jason Kenney presented their views to a mixed dinner crowd of Reformers and Tories on the state of conservatism in Canada and whether a united right was favorable and feasible.

The participants were split on whether a merged or coalition right-wing party was a good idea, but it was the criticism of Reform policy and ideology that set the tone for the discussion.

Christian, who teaches at the University of Guelph, suggested that Preston Manning's Reformers simply couldn't unite the right because they don't uphold the traditional principles of the Conservative party.

"Civility, diversity and choice, freedom and order, compromise. If these are the values around which the right is to be united, let us begin tonight," Christian said. "If not, then true Tories should be more than happy to let Manning unite his right and fulfil his dream.

"At the same time, they should be taking the first strong steps to political recovery by positioning themselves firmly in the centre of the political spectrum."

It is Reform's lack of commitment to minority rights and lingustic duality in Canada that makes small-c conservatives uncomfortable with the party, added White, who nevertheless supported the concept of a synthesis of Canada's right.

Lone Reformer Kenney was left to extoll the virtues of Manning's crusade for a United Alternative and to fend off the barbs of his Tory opponents.

"What we hear is a never-ending stream of invective and hyperbole about the members of the Reform party," Kenney said. "With all due respect, if you're going to say things like that, don't pride yourselves on your moderation, your open-mindedness and your civility.

"You ought to take a long, hard look at the enormous political risk that Preston Manning is taking by opening the door to this dialogue. There is nothing to be lost by a dialogue,and hopefully a conservative national government can be gained by it."

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