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web posted October 23, 2000

Gus Hall, American Communist Party boss, dies at 90

Gus Hall, the American Communist Party boss who steadfastly stuck to his beliefs through years in prison and the collapse of communist regimes around the world, has died. He was 90.

Hall died October 13 at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan of complications relating to diabetes, Scott Marshall, a Communist Party official, said on October 16.

Good riddance

A communist activist since 1926, Hall never repudiated his ideas, even after the dissolution of Communist societies in eastern Europe and the dismantling of the Soviet Union, events he bitterly lamented.

He called former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin "a wrecking crew."

His revolutionary beliefs landed him in jail for 81/2 years.

"I did what I believe in. I believe socialism is inevitable," he said in an interview in April 1992. "Life cannot go on forever without that step (socialism), and setbacks don't change it."

He was convicted in 1949 for conspiring to teach the violent overthrow of the federal government. He jumped bail after his arrest and fled to Mexico, where he was arrested and sent back. He spent most of the 1950s in jail.

Hall, whose name became synonymous with the American communist movement, said harassment had ranged from FBI surveillance of the party's Manhattan headquarters to his inability to get a credit card for many years.

Such persecution, he said, was responsible for the decline in party membership, from about 100,000 in the 1930s to about 15,000 in the 1990s.

He ran for president four times and never garnered even 1 percent of the vote. He blamed that on election law requirements, which kept him off the ballot in half the states when he last ran in 1984, polling 36,386 votes.

He wrote several books on the evils of market economics, including "Fighting Racism," "The Crisis of U.S. Capitalism and the Fight Back" and "Ecology: Can We Survive Capitalism?"

A big man with thick, gray hair and a barrel chest, Hall was born Arvo Kusta Halberg in Virginia, Minn., on October 8, 1910. He was one of 10 children of Finnish immigrants. His father, often jobless because of union activity, headed the local chapter of the Communist Party.

Hall worked as a lumberjack and a steelworker and, at 16, joined the party. He studied at the Lenin Institute in Moscow from 1931-1933.

He later organized worker protests in Ohio and Minnesota, and was frequently arrested on charges such as inciting riots.

He was elected Communist Party chairman in 1959 after his release from prison, and received the Order of Lenin, the highest medal in the Soviet Union.

Before the demise of the Soviet Union, Hall traveled there about once a year, appearing in Soviet media as an American spokesman for the poor and disenfranchised.

He kept on his office desk a pink box of Insam tea -- a birthday gift from the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. On the wall was a painting of a forest, a present from the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

In 1987, Hall received $2 million from the Soviet government for his party's expenses, according to formerly top secret documents quoted early in 1992 by The Washington Post. Payments to client parties ceased in 1990, after anti-communist revolutions swept across eastern Europe.

More recently, his schedule was heavy with speeches at universities and appearances on radio talk shows.

McCaffrey to leave White House drug office

Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy adviser for five years, is leaving his job to pursue opportunities in the private sector -- including mulling two job offers from universities to teach national security issues.

In announcing the surprise move on October 16, McCaffrey said in statement that "he was grateful for the leadership and support" of the Clinton administration. His resignation is effective Jan. 6, 2001, two weeks before President Clinton leaves office.

He said in the statement that federal funds to fight drugs have increased and that adolescent drug abuse has fallen since he was appointed to the post.

A retired general, McCaffrey has been President Clinton's director of national drug control policy since April 1996 and previously was commander of the Army's Southern Division.

Besides the college offers, McCaffrey will also write books, a spokeswoman said.

"He has found this job very, very rewarding," said spokeswoman Jennifer Pike.

Canadian socialist party headed for oblivion, says union chief

The New Democratic Party is heading for collapse in the imminent general election and a new labour party could emerge from the rubble, according to Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

Delivering a body blow to a party that depends on union support, Hargrove told the National Post: "After the next election, I think there will be a serious discussion on the left about whether or not we can rebuild the NDP or we have to form a new party."

Just weeks after Roy Romanow, NDP Premier of Saskatchewan, cast doubt on his party's future by publicly musing about a united left-wing party to take on the Canadian Alliance, Hargrove said executives representing the 215,000-member CAW have not yet decided whether to finance or otherwise support the NDP election campaign.

"My sense is the NDP is going to take a real beating in the election," Mr Hargrove said.

"That doesn't have to be. I think the greatest opportunity we've ever had in the history of our party is now. There is so much room on the left, there are so many issues out there, so many people searching for answers, but what we are trying to do is be the same as the other guys, the other parties, with a kinder, gentler face. I do not believe we can survive with that kind of strategy."

While the labour movement serves a central role in financing and staffing the NDP's election campaigns, Hargrove has been an outspoken critic of the party's direction since the last NDP policy convention in 1999.

But a decision by the CAW executive to sit out this next election would be a serious blow, admits Pat Martin, head of the NDP's labour caucus.

"We wouldn't really notice it from a financial point of view, but the army of workers the Auto Workers provide -- very well-trained, well-educated campaign workers -- that would be a huge loss."

Even if the CAW decides not to withdraw its support, Hargrove's public discussion of the possibility hurts the NDP just days away from the start of a general election campaign.

Martin, the MP for Winnipeg Centre, described the NDP's standing going into the next election as "depressing" and "desperate," but he argues a new labour party would fail.

"What Buzz raises is an ongoing debate with the labour movement. Do we try to rebuild the NDP and fix it up so that it meets our needs better, or should we start with a brand-new labour party," he said.

"But if we dismantled the NDP, you will never rebuild a better, stronger labour party out of its ashes."

However, Hargrove said the New Democrats had waited too long to reach out to their traditional constituency in labour.

"People may decide there is no alternative but to put forth a good left platform, but because they haven't been doing that up until now, I think they are going to find it is too little, too late."

Hargrove's disenchantment with the NDP emerged last year at the party's policy convention, where Ms. McDonough announced middle-class tax relief would be part of the party's next campaign platform.

In response, Hargrove established a union task force to examine whether his members are satisfied with their ties to the NDP. That review is still in progress, but Peggy Nash, head of the task force, said so far, it appears the membership's voting preferences don't favour the NDP any more than the general population.

"What comes out loud and clear is a lot of cynicism about politics," she said.

Canada's privacy commissioner under attack by government

Canada's information watchdog says his efforts to fight government secrecy have been met with a "backlash" that's undermining his office.

Information Commissioner John Reid released his annual report on October 16 under the title "Mayday-Mayday."

It gives the federal government poor marks for the way it handles access-to-information requests from Canadians and says some problems have become worse since last year.

Reid suggests senior government officials have done their utmost to make his job as difficult as possible ever since he warned he was adopting a zero-tolerance policy for late responses and a new pro-openness approach.

"There has been a worrisome hardening of attitudes and increased resistance to the commissioner's investigations," he wrote.

"When the commissioner's subpoenas, searches, and questions come too insistently or too close to the top, the mandarins circle the wagons."

His report raises a number of complaints.

Reid said he's extremely worried about how the people who work for him are being treated by top bureaucrats.

"The future careers in the public service of the commissioner's staff have, in not so subtle terms, been threatened," he said.

He has a fixed seven-year term as commissioner to insulate him from retribution, but his report points out that his staff don't enjoy the same protection.

"If members of the public service come to believe that it is career suicide to work, and do a good job, for the information commissioner, the future viability and effectiveness of the commissioner's office is in grave jeopardy."

As further evidence of a backlash, Reid complains:

  • The federal Treasury Board has refused to provide his office with the money he needs to hire the staff that a consultant concluded were necessary.
  • A Privy Council Office official launched a government-funded constitutional challenge of provisions in the Access Act giving the commissioner the power to enforce his investigatory orders. (The challenge was rejected.)
  • The Prime Minister's Office has taken the unusual step of denying the commissioner's request to review records during an investigation.

Reid's report gives failing grades to several departments: citizenship and immigration, foreign affairs, defence, transport and Canada customs and revenue.

In an interview, Reid said he hopes that attention to his public SOS will help fix the situation.

Canadian Alliance MP Diane Ablonczy (Calgary-Nose Hill) said that citizens should be alarmed by the commissioner's report.

"When he labels it Mayday-Mayday, I mean how much stronger can you get to blow the whistle on a government," she said.

Duff Conacher, who speaks for the group Open Government Canada, said it's clear the country needs stronger access laws.

Bush, Gore stalk stage and each other in final debate

Speculation that the final debate between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush would be somber and restrained before a mourning Missouri and an expectant nation crumbled within moments of their pre-debate handshake the night of October 17, as both tried to turn audience questions into nails sharp enough to halt any of their foe's forward movement. [Read transcript here]

George W. Bush with Al Gore in the backgroundWith the sting of the tragic death of state Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan dominating thoughts of most of the small group who participated directly in the contest, Bush and Gore took the stage at Washington University and set into a complex game dominated not only by their answers to audience questions, but by their body language and aggressive claims to portions of their round stage.

But Gore attacked Bush early, ramping up the severity of his verbal assaults as the night progressed, first by slamming Bush on health care from a variety of angles, then by attempting to sustain the effect of his assaults by stepping away from his chair toward Bush's section of the stage as Bush spoke.

Bush, hoping to show Gore and the seated audience that he was unfazed by the vice president's movements across the stage, smiled, appeared to relax his frame as he balanced himself against his chair, and met many of Gore's attacks with the occasional snort, chuckle and his trademark smirk.

The aftermath left observant, undecided voters -- whose ranks will clearly decide what is the closest presidential election in four decades -- with a host of factors to consider aside from Bush and Gore's verbal responses to a variety social and international policy queries.

Domination of the sparring area, according to some Gore advisors, could be compared to how a president has to conduct himself in negotiations with a strong partisan or international foe.

"They weren't tactics," said Gore Campaign Chairman Bill Daley, "What it was, was somebody showing they could be in command of an evening, and therefore be commander-in-chief."

Bush's people read the night's events differently. They saw Gore ranging across the stage, seeking to block out the governor as he spoke. The vice president's attempts to curtail Bush's personal space, Bush strategist Karl Rove said, were transparent and "juvenile."

"He tried to psyche the governor out," Rove said. "And it didn't work."

The evening's 90 minutes consisted of a series of questions presented by St. Louis-area residents vetted by the Gallup organization, and determined to be "undecided" voters.

Their questions were often expanded upon by the debate moderator, PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer, who attempted to maintain control of the evening's pace even while Bush and Gore asked for extra time to respond to their opponents' previous assertions. Once audience members had asked their questions, their microphones were turned off.

Health care -- specifically Medicare and a so-called patients' bill of rights -- dominated much of the discussion, as did broader issues of health insurance coverage for uninsured children and families. Gore, following up on a method he employed to some success last week in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, consistently tried to turn Bush's pronouncements against him by citing his record as the governor of Texas.

And Bush replied that he was the one person on tonight's stage capable of getting anything accomplished on the issues over which they argued.

"The difference is I can get it done," Bush said directly to Gore as the two sparred over the possibility of a federal patients' bill of rights. "I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That's what the question in this campaign is about."

Gore had pushed Bush, in violation of the debate's rules barring the candidates from questioning each other, to declare if he would or would not support the bipartisan patients' bill of rights that now languishes in Congress -- the so-called Dingell-Norwood bill.

That bill, which is opposed by the Republican majority in the Senate who favor a less comprehensive measure, would allow medical patients to sue their health maintenance organization or insurance company in the event a coverage decision caused direct, documentable harm. The bill would also block insurance companies from dictating treatment options to doctors, and would allow patients direct access to specialists, without need for insurance company approval.

While Bush argued that he had, in fact, worked to pass a patient's bill of rights in Texas -- which he would use as a model for a national version should be become president -- he insisted he would not allow the federal government to become too involved in the distribution of health care, and the provision of health insurance. Gore leapt at him, accusing him of doing the bidding of insurance companies, "big drug companies" and other special interests.

That characterization, Gore argued, carried over into almost all of the governor's other social policy planks -- including his proposals to overhaul the 35-year-old Medicare system and provide prescription drug coverage to seniors by encouraging the participation of private insurers with the enticement of federal subsidies.

"Now look, if you want someone who will spend a lot of words describing a whole convoluted process and then end up supporting legislation that is supported by the big drug companies, this is your man," Gore said, taking long strides across the stage and gesturing gingerly toward Bush.

"If you want someone who will fight for you and who will fight for the middle-class families and working men and women who are sick and tired of having their parents and grandparents pay higher prices for prescription drugs than anybody else, then I want to fight for you," he said.

The verbal slaps grew sharper as the debate broadened.

On the wider issue of universal health care, Gore said he hoped that some time in the near future, universal health care could be enacted in the United States, but he did not wish for the government to be the only participant.

Bush, Gore added, has presided over a state whose low rolls of the insured warranted serious scrutiny.

"Under Governor Bush, Texas has sunk to be 50th out of 50 in health care -- in health insurance for their citizens."

Bush then tied Gore to the Clinton administration's failed 1993 universal health access plan.

"The question is are people getting health care and do we have a strong safety net? Bush asked. "There needs to be a safety net in America. There needs to be more community health clinics where the poor can go get health care."

"We need a program for the uninsured," he said.

The governor took an opportunity to sink his teeth into Gore as the two addressed planned tax cuts and projected federal spending over the course of the next decade.

Bush assailed Gore as a "big spending" Democrat, resurrecting an argument used to great affect by Republican candidates for high office through much of the last two decades. Gore, Bush said somewhat respectfully, was advocating an explosion in the size of the federal government, and a significant boost in government spending.

He should be proud of it, Bush said.

"When you total up all the federal spending he wants to do, it's the largest increase in federal spending in years," Bush argued. "And there's just not going to be enough money."

"This is a big spender," Bush said, dismissing Gore's citing of articles by "journalists" that break down the governor's tax proposals. "Forget the journalists."

"He ought to be proud of this part of his record. It's a different philosophy," Bush said. "I think if you're going to have tax relief, everybody ought to benefit."

Bush ended his response with a conspicuous wink that strategist Rove said was directed at his wife Laura, seated just feet away.

Gore responded that Bush's pledge to provide "the top 1 percent" of the population with tax relief, coupled with his proposal to allow young workers to invest portions of their Social Security payroll taxes, would wreak havoc upon the nation's projected $4.5 trillion, 10-year surplus.

"Gov. Bush, this is not about me, this is about you," Gore said. "If you want somebody who believes we were better off eight years ago, then he is your man," Gore then said, turning toward the seated audience. "If you want middle class tax reform, then I am your man. I want to be."

"Instead of ballooning the debt and multiplying it four times over we've seen it go down, (in the past eight years)," Gore said.

"Here are some promises I will make to you now. I'll balance the budget every year. I will pay down the debt every year. I will give middle-class Americans tax cuts, meaningful ones. And I will invest in education, health care, protecting the environment and retirement security."

The tense exchange lasted the full length of this last debate with little letup. Bush on occasion stumbled on his answers, but maintained a firmly confident and conversational demeanor that he often employed as a bail-out tool.

One such awkward moment came as the two were questioned on the effectiveness of affirmative action, with Bush responding that while he believed he had presided over one of the most diverse administrations in the history of the Lone Star state, he did not believe in quotas.

"That's not what America is about," he said before he turned a new phrase -- "affirmative access."

Affirmative access, he explained, allowed minority kids who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes to benefit from college assistance.

"I don't know what affirmative access means," Gore said. "I do know what affirmative action means. I know the governor is against it and I know that I'm for it."

Again, bending the debate rules, Gore chided Bush into defending his position by describing affirmative access as a "red herring." Lehrer exerted further pressure on Bush, and asked him to state equivocally whether he supported affirmative action, or not.

"If affirmative action means quotas I'm against it," Bush responded. "If it means what I'm for, then I'm for it. You heard what I was for. He keeps saying I'm against things."

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