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web posted September 13, 1999

The March for Liberty

There is a growing grassroots effort to hold a watershed event in Washington DC on October 2nd called The March for Liberty.

It is focused on Constitutional Restoration in general, and the 2nd amendment specifically. I will involve common, every day Americans getting the opportunity to address Washington DC for 3-5 minutes each regarding these issues. We're inviting all elected officials to come and listen.

Steve Vaus, a popular patriotic singer/song wrtier will perofrm and a petition will be circulated, signed and delivered to the capitol.

Please visit the web site at http://www.myplanet.net/jeffhead/LibMarch

Murdoch launches 'self-serving' attack on Dalai Lama

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation, was condemned by human rights activists and Tibetans on September 6 after criticizing the Dalai Lama and condoning the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Murdoch, who hopes to expand his business interests in China, said of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism: "I have heard cynics who say he's a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes."

Murdoch, 68, who recently married a 31-year-old Chinese woman, Wendi Deng, also excuses China's disregard for human rights on the ground that the average Chinese person cares more about "his next bowl of rice" than democracy.

Tibetan groups in America reacted furiously to Murdoch's comments in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, calling them "ignorant", "cynical" and "self-serving". His attack comes at a time when the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibet are more popular than ever in the United States.

Murdoch expresses his support for China's forced occupation of Tibet by asking whether Tibet's own culture was ever worth preserving: "It was a pretty terrible old autocratic society out of the Middle Ages. Maybe I'm falling for their propaganda," he says of the Chinese government, "but it was an authoritarian, medieval society without any basic services."

"Rupert Murdoch knows nothing about Tibet," said Tashi Tsering, a spokesman for the Tibet Fund, which sends money from the West to Tibetans exiled in India and Nepal. "People like him who work with the Chinese government are directly supporting the occupation of Tibet. He is definitely not someone to make moral judgments, particularly about someone like the Dalai Lama. He should stick to making money."

Murdoch says that Tibet's main problem is "that half the people of Tibet still think that the Dalai Lama is the Son of God". The Dalai Lama, however, is supposedly the reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama rather than the son of God.

In his ambition to expand his Star satellite television business in China, Murdoch has already been accused of placing his commercial interests above freedom of speech. In 1994, he dropped the BBC from Star after it was critical of Chinese leaders and of the Tiananmen Square killings. Last year, he ordered his publishing company HarperCollins to abandon publication of Chris Patten's recollections of his time as Governor of Hong Kong because they too were critical of the Chinese government.

Expended flares found in Waco siege evidence

Several spent illumination flares were found in the tons of evidence recovered from the charred rubble of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, The Dallas Morning News reported on September 8.

The newspaper said Texas Rangers discovered a star parachute flare while sifting through a storage facility for missing pyrotechnic tear gas grenades.

Evidence logs showed more such incendiary flares were recovered in the weeks following the FBI siege and assault on April 19, 1993, said James B. Francis Jr., head of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"These flares are potentially a very important issue, inasmuch as the government had enormous spotlights trained on the compound throughout the standoff."

"They didn't need these flares to light the compound. One or more was fired," Francis told the newspaper. "For what purpose or reason would these rounds be used?"

John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, told the newspaper he could not flatly rule out the agency's use of illumination rounds during the deadly siege but said they played no part in the final assault.

"Several times during the standoff, they had people sneaking in or out of the compound at night. Whether they ever used them then, I don't know," said Collingwood. "But I can say categorically, we did not use illumination rounds on the 19th."

David Koresh and 78 followers died in the fire and assault at the compound following the 51-day siege. The government has maintained that the fires that destroyed the compound were deliberately set by the Branch Davidians.

Some GOP lawmakers want to know whether the FBI lied for several months about using incendiary tear gas canisters during the final raid. The possibility of launching an independent inquiry has been discussed.

Use of the pyrotechnic rounds, Attorney General Janet Reno has said, violated her strict instructions that nothing capable of sparking a fire be used during the FBI tear-gas assault.

Some 24,000 pounds of evidence has been recovered from the burned compound, plus more than 300,000 rounds of ammunition and other ordnance stockpiled by the sect.

Canadian Supreme Court rules fitness requirements are discriminatory

A female firefighter in British Columbia won her bid to get back to work on September 9, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled she was the victim of sex discrimination.

Tawney Meiorin, now 33, was ordered re-instated with back pay in the firefighter job she lost in 1994 when she couldn't run 2.5 kilometres in 11 minutes or less.

It's the first time the high court has ruled on whether mandatory fitness requirements for a job violate human rights laws.

Meiorin, who had spent more than two years as part of an initial attack forest-fire crew, was fired after failing the running portion of a fitness test four times.

She passed the other assessments - including chinups, situps and pushups - but missed the running cutoff by 49 seconds.

Meiorin and interveners in the case argued the fitness standard discriminates against women.

Men have an unfair advantage because women naturally have less aerobic capacity, they said.

Meiorin also argued the test was an inaccurate measure of a firefighter's required job skills.

"These tests should be related to the actual requirements of fighting fires. . .and doing it out in real fire scenarios where you have smoke and heat and terrain to deal with," she said in February after a Supreme Court hearing on the case.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union originally grieved Meiorin's dismissal, alleging she was the victim of sex discrimination.

Union lawyers said the fitness standards are needlessly high and exclude women who might capably fight forest fires.

An arbitrator agreed and ordered Meiorin rehired with back pay.

But a B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the award, saying there was no discrimination because all applicants faced the same test.

Clinton again urges Congress to pass new gun restrictions

Bill Clinton on September 9 announced the federal government will spend $15 million this year to buy back guns in urban areas, and again urged Congress to pass new gun restrictions as part of a juvenile crime package.

"We need legislation that will strengthen our current gun laws, not weaken them," Clinton said in a speech at the White House. Surrounded by chiefs of police from across the country, and speaking to an audience of mayors and county officials, the president urged Congress to overlook pressure from the National Rifle Association and pass new gun restrictions.

He also said the White House would provide the $15 million to help mostly inner-city neighborhoods take guns out of circulation. The program will give local police departments up to $500,000 to buy guns in and around public housing projects for a "suggested price" of $50. The guns will be destroyed, the White House said.

The program is modeled after similar buyback plans already in place in several cities, including Washington.

Many gun deaths are accidental, Clinton said. "It is not just through crime that guns lead to tragedy," he said,

Clinton said accidental shooting deaths for children under 15 in the United States are nine times higher than the combined total of such deaths in the world's other 25 major industrialized nations.

Jim Fotis, executive director of the 65,000-member Law Enforcement Alliance of America, said at a Capitol Hill news conference that the mayors and police chiefs meeting with Clinton on gun issues "simply do not represent rank-and-file cops."

Fotis said his group's message was "no to more gun control, no to more government control in our lives and no to Bill Clinton."

Smile for the US Secret Service

A New Hampshire company began planning in 1997 to create a national identity database for the federal government, newly disclosed documents show.

Image Data's US$1.5 million contract with the US Secret Service to begin digitizing existing driver's license and other personal data was widely reported early this year. But documents unearthed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center reveal the details and scope of the project.

An Image Data presentation to the government -- marked confidential -- stressed that pilot projects in three states would "ensure the viability of deploying such service throughout the United States," according to about 300 pages of files EPIC obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a February 1999 report, Image Data CEO Robert Houvener ridiculed the idea that there were any legitimate privacy issues at stake, including those raised by civil libertarians when the project was first disclosed.

"Many other newspapers, television programs, magazines also did news stories on Image Data LLC and its system [that] in some cases... focused on the 'Privacy' concerns and presented an inaccurate presentation," Houvener wrote.

But privacy groups aren't wavering.

"We think that their proposal for a national database of photographs runs directly contrary to the types of privacy safeguards that should be developed," says EPIC director Marc Rotenberg, who met with Houvener the week before. "This is not a database that people can easily opt out of. You have to give up your photograph when you get a driver's license."

Houvener, who says he has been a "victim of identity fraud," says his national photo file will be targeted at "identity criminals" that he estimates cost businesses billions of dollars a year.

US legislators who funded the project believed the database would be used to stop illegal immigrants and terrorists.

"The TrueID technology has widespread potential to reduce crime in the credit and checking fields, in airports to reduce the chances of terrorism, and in immigration and naturalization to verify proper identity," said a September 1997 letter from eight members of Congress to Image Data.

Image Data's "True ID" technology currently feeds photos into its database in one of two ways. The company has contracts with state motor vehicle departments that supply the analog negatives or the digital images on magnetic tape. It also persuades shoppers to scan their IDs into the database by inserting them into devices at specially equipped stores.

After news reports appeared focusing on the project, the governors of Colorado and Florida halted the transfer of images to Image Data, and South Carolina filed suit asking for the return of millions of images already in the company's possession.

How did Image Data feel about South Carolina's actions? "The PR, legal, and legislative situation in the pilot State will continue to be evaluated and dealt with," a January 1999 company report says.

Image Data has publicly downplayed the Secret Service's involvement, but the documents show that the agency decided which states would be part of the initial pilot project and directed the timing of the effort.

According to one of Image Data's monthly reports sent to Special Agent Cary Rosoff of the Secret Service's financial crimes division, company representatives were negotiating a contract with Missouri officials, too. "Missouri [is] in the final stages of implementing a digital driver license system. Most issues are resolved, and we expect closure within 4-6 weeks," the document says.

The Secret Service deleted some information from the documents before releasing them, and only a few pages prepared by the government are included. But it seems that discussions of the project began in early 1997. The government signed an agreement with Image Data in late 1997 and the contract took effect on 15 December of that year.

Soon after, the company began to work closely with Telecheck, a subsidiary of First Data Corporation. By mid-June 1998, the computer interface between Image Data and Telecheck was complete and images could readily be exchanged.

One frequent problem: Scanning millions of existing 35 mm photos into the database. "The digitizing machine is behind schedule.... There has also been some slippage due to the custom machining of the components for the scanner itself," the documents reported about Colorado DMV photos.

Another headache for Image Data executives was Florida's policy of allowing drivers to renew their licenses twice by mail. That means people are less likely to come in and be photographed by digital cameras, which can automatically forward the photo to Image Data.

"For a state like Florida, [up] to 45 million negatives would have to be digitized to get an on-line image of all current licenses," a November 1998 report says.

The documents show how Image Data planned to sell the idea not just to the federal government, but also to state officials.

"This program will demonstrate a highly effective way of ... increasing tax revenue. The positive impact of this demonstration cannot be ignored. Once government agencies and businesses see the effectiveness of this technology and implement it for their own programs, the positive impact to state and federal budgets will be in the billions of dollars per year," says one Image Data proposal that is marked "proprietary."

Waco probe seeks evidence of 'bad acts'

Former Sen. John Danforth, named on September 9 to head an independent investigation into the FBI's 1993 Branch Davidian standoff, said his primary goals will be to find out, "Was there a cover-up?" and "Did federal officials kill people?"

"Our country can survive bad judgment," the Missouri Republican said at a news conference convened by Attorney General Janet Reno. "But the thing that really undermines the integrity of government is whether there were bad acts -- whether the government killed people."

In announcing the appointment, Reno said she looked for someone with impeccable credentials, bipartisan support, independence and intelligence -- and Danforth fit the bill.

"I know I will be given independence because I would not do it without it," said Danforth, who plans to run the investigation from St. Louis, where he lives, but will also open a Washington office.

Danforth will hold the title special counsel and is empowered to use a federal grand jury for his investigation.

Despite being the person who picked Danforth, Reno said she will not supervise his work. "As for any limited role that I would otherwise have in supervising such an outside inquiry," she said, "I've asked Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder to handle those duties since he was not involved, in any way, with Waco."

A Justice Department news release quoted FBI Director Louis Freeh as saying, "I welcome the attorney general's selection of Senator Danforth."

Danforth said U.S. Attorney Ed Dowd has agreed to assist him in the investigation, describing Dowd as "a person who is very highly regarded in our community, a very respected prosecutor," and will be deputy special counsel.

The appointment of an outside investigator had been sought since the FBI recently disclosed, after six years of denials, that it had fired potentially flammable tear-gas canisters near the main Branch Davidian compound several hours before it burned down.

Reno said she had no plans to resign, despite calls from some Republicans to do so. "I don't run from controversy," she said.

President Clinton has expressed continuing confidence in Reno, but has not done the same for Freeh.

Danforth said he had accepted the job with some misgivings, joking that a friend told him it was "not a good career move."

"On the other hand," he added, "it is very important to try to get answers to questions that are important for the whole integrity of our government."

Danforth said he will try not to rely on FBI agents to do the legwork of the inquiry. "My basic thought is the FBI should not be investigating the FBI," said Danforth

Asked about the clamor on Capitol Hill for a series of committee inquiries, Danforth said: "I am not going to try to tell Congress what to do or what not to do."

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