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web posted September 11, 2000

Bush runs afoul of an open mike

George W. Bush's claim that he wants to set a different tone in Washington may have run afoul of an open microphone in Naperville, Indiana on September 4. Bush — unaware he was being recorded — called a newspaper reporter "a major-league ass—" in a whispered aside to running mate Dick Cheney.

Bush and Cheney walked up on a stage for a Labor Day rally in this Chicago-area suburb, but apparently did not realize that their microphones were on.

Bush to CheneyBush, smiling and waving, leaned over to Cheney and said, "There's Adam Clymer. Major league ass—— from The New York Times."

Cheney agreed, chiming in, "Oh, yes. Big time."

When asked about the comment at a brief airport news conference in Allentown, Pa., late Monday, Bush said, "I regret that a private comment I made to the vice presidential candidate made it through the public airways."

Asked if he felt he owed Clymer an apology, Bush did not answer directly, only saying, "I regret everybody heard what I said."

Karen Hughes, Bush's campaign spokeswoman, said the remark was meant to be a "whispered aside to his running mate," not a public comment.

The spokeswoman said the governor was unhappy about a series of articles that Bush felt was "very unfair."

Cheney refused to discuss the incident. "The governor made a private comment to me. It was a private comment, and I don't plan to say anything about it," he told reporters later in Chicago.

Clymer, who has worked at the Times since 1977, said he was "disappointed in the governor's language."

Whether Bush's remark will have an impact on the 2000 race remains to be seen. Calling a newspaper reporter a vulgar name might even help him, given the press's low standing among many Americans.

But it also could open Bush to charges of hypocrisy, coming against a backdrop of Bush's frequent claims that he wants to set a different tone in Washington — more bipartisan, less confrontation, less combative.

It was not known which of Clymer's articles Bush was unhappy about, but in April the reporter wrote a hard-hitting piece about health care in Texas, critical of the governor for not making public health a priority.

The article began, "Texas has had one of the nation's worst public health records for decades. More than a quarter of its citizens have no health insurance. Its Mexican border is a hotbed of contagion. The state ranks near the top in the nation in rates of AIDS, diabetes, tuberculosis and teen-age pregnancy, and near the bottom in immunizations, mammograms and access to physicians."

Study suggests Canadian federal government made serious miscalculations on tax income

Ottawa has netted $15 billion in extra tax revenue above what was expected in the past three years - and promptly spent it all, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation charged September 5.

The windfall in additional tax income has been quickly spent outside budget estimates in what the lobby group called "reckless fiscal behaviour" in a new study. And as MPs prepare to return to Parliament Hill this month - with the next federal budget high on their agenda - the federation wants the government to slow spending.

Ottawa should use surpluses for deeper tax cuts and faster debt reduction, says the federation.

"This is not like lottery winnings or found money - you don't have to blow it," said Walter Robinson, federal director of the federation.

"Budget 2001 must go much further and faster to cut taxes and reduce debt."

He calculates that since balancing the books three years ago, Ottawa has:

- Taken in an extra $15.4 billion in taxes above what it projected.

- Paid $6.2 billion less in debt servicing charges.

- Increased program spending by $18.1 billion above forecasts.

"It's clear that the majority of extra tax collections and reductions in debt charges are funding new spending initiatives as opposed to being left in our pockets through tax cuts and debt reduction," said Robinson.

Robinson complained the low-ball estimates are no better than the previous Conservative government's "false promises" to balance the books.

Bona fide police endorse pretend licences for toy guns

Fun and games just became more complicated for children in New Zealand, where four-year-olds are being required to apply for "licences" for toy guns.

The scheme, launched at Tahunanui kindergarten in Nelson, South Island, is spreading rapidly.

Children must answer questions and learn rules before they can play gun games and card licences must then be carried.

Applicants who say they want to shoot endangered animals are told why this must not be done. But children who want to hunt make-believe possums -- seen as a pest -- may be granted a licence.

New Zealand has a high level of gun ownership because of its rural lifestyle, but a series of mass murders during the past decade has heightened public awareness of the dangers.

Police have given the scheme their tacit approval.

Unions had say in Democratic '96 election plans

A federal investigation has found evidence that organized labor had access to "volumes of non-public information" about the Democrats' election plans in 1996, and even had veto power over some of the party's political decisions, USA Today reported September 5.

But the newspaper said the Federal Election Commission had concluded in a report -- which was stamped "sensitive" and has not been released publicly -- that the ties between labor and the Democrats were not illegal as Republicans had charged.

"The evidence shows that the AFL-CIO had not merely access to, but authority to approve or disapprove the DNC's and the state Democratic committees' plans" for political activity in each state, the FEC report says, according to USA Today.

The state plans, known as the "coordinated campaign," aided the party's candidates from President Bill Clinton down to the local level.

USA Today said it obtained a copy of the report from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which had complained that the coordinated activity actually amounted to an illegal donation.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jenny Backus told the paper the party was "proud to work on behalf of working families with our partners in organized labor."

In 1996, the AFL-CIO spent as much as $35 million, much of it on TV ads that began nearly a year before Election Day, to help the Democrats.

FEC General Counsel Lawrence Noble, who directed the inquiry, says the level of coordination between the party and organized labor would have made the AFL-CIO's spending illegal under FEC standards.

But a federal court ruling last year imposed a stricter standard for determining coordination, and that meant the level of cooperation between unions and the party was permissible, according to the newspaper report. By a 4-0 vote on July 11, the FEC agreed.

Steve Rosenthal, the AFL-CIO's political director, said there was nothing unusual about the cooperation.

"This is nothing new," the paper quoted him as saying. "As long as there have been coordinated campaigns, there has been some type of review process, because unions are major contributors to these efforts."

Director Altman to move to France if Bush wins

U.S. director Robert Altman, in France to promote his latest film "Dr T and the Women," said September 6 he would move to France if George W. Bush won the American presidential election in November.

Robert AltmanAltman, a four-time Oscar nominee whose films include "Nashville," "Short Cuts," "The Player" and "MASH," told Reuters he normally did not comment on politics at home (with the exception of Bob Roberts ESR guesses) but thought a Republican victory "would be a catastrophe for the whole world."

"If George Bush is elected president, I'm leaving for France," the director said at the festival of American films in the resort town of Deauville on the Channel.

Altman said he disagreed with Bush's plans to cut taxes and raise military spending. By contrast, he praised Democratic candidate Al Gore as someone who would continue the policies of President Clinton.

"Of course, with women, Clinton was often clumsy but he really did good things for the country and Gore, who has none of these traits, would be a good president," he said.

"I don't think show business personalities should get involved publicly and show their feelings because that ends up working against them," Altman said.

"That's why I stay discreet about these questions in America but, no matter what, it would be a catastrophe for the whole world if George Bush is elected."

Gore promotes 10-point economic plan

Vice President Al Gore unwrapped a long-range economic plan on September 6 that he said would balance the budget, reduce the national debt and keep interest rates low while creating new opportunities for middle-class savings and employment.

Al Gore"I ask for your support on the basis of the better, fairer, more prosperous America that we can build over these next four years," Gore, the Democratic nominee for president, said in a speech at Cleveland State University.

The full proposal is detailed in a 191-page, 69,000-word book titled "Prosperity for America's Families." Gore held up a copy as he spoke, encouraging members of his audience to obtain a copy and familiarize themselves with the specifics of his economic agenda.

Gore's plan sets 10 economic goals. It would:

-Protect the Social Security surplus "into the second half of this century" and the Medicare trust fund for at least the next 30 years.

-Double the number of families with savings in excess of $50,000. At present, just one-third of U.S. families have that much socked away.

-Raise family incomes by a third over the next decade by paying down the debt; fueling growth in productivity; investing in training, technology and research; cutting taxes on the middle class; opening markets; and supporting deregulation.

-Reduce poverty to less than 10 percent -- for the first time -- by raising the minimum wage and expanding tax credits for the working poor; continuing welfare reform; and strengthening Social Security for elderly women who live alone. "Fewer than one in 10 people will be living in poverty," Gore said. "The lowest level in history."

-Reduce the wage gap between men and women by 50 percent over the next decade by increasing enforcement of anti-discrimination laws; training women so that they can move into high-tech, high-skill jobs; and providing loans and assistance to women who want to start small businesses. The intention, Gore said Wednesday, is to bring about a complete end to the gap and the realization of the long-held notion of "equal pay for equal work."

-Enable seven in 10 families to own a home -- a record, if achieved -- by 2004. Bush's plan would drive up interest rates, making home ownership more expensive, the Gore campaign claims.

-Create 10 million high-tech, high-wage jobs over the next decade by expanding education and training programs, opening international markets, and supporting private investment by reducing government debt.

-Cut income taxes of the typical American family to their lowest level in 50 years by 2002 -- an implementation of the "targeted" tax cuts Gore has trumpeted over Bush's planned 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax relief regimen. "I am not going along with a tax cut that wrecks our good economy," Gore said.

-Lift college attendance and graduation rates to new records by making college tuition tax-deductible and giving tax credits and deductions for college saving; keeping interest rates on student loans down; and expanding programs to help disadvantaged students get to and finish college. That would boost the college graduation rate to 50 percent by 2010, the Gore campaign predicted.

-Make America debt-free by 2012 by gradually retiring the nation's publicly held debt. Bush would leave the country $2.8 trillion in debt in 2012, the Gore campaign claimed just prior to the vice president's address -- a claim Bush aides strongly disputed.

"What you hear from Al Gore is not what you're going to get," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told CNN after Gore's speech. "He had overspent the surplus by $900 billion ... and his spending would leave Social Security high and dry."

"The vice president has proposed a series of government programs that are going to explode the budget," Fleischer said of Gore's plan.

Speaking to a group of veterans in Milwaukee earlier that day, Bush did not make specific mention of Gore's new proposal, but he did make a handful of pledges that leveled glancing blows at some of Gore's agenda. Tailoring his remarks to the age group in attendance, Bush said the country owed gratitude to veterans and the elderly through "acts of care and acts of attention."

Among those acts, Bush said, would be his suggestions to "save and strengthen Social Security ... and push aside the politics of Medicare and get a president who would make sure the elderly have prescription drugs a once and for all."

Bush also pledged to modernize the Veterans Administration medical system and its claims process.

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