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web posted November 15, 1999

Jesse Helms' committee confirms Moseley-Braun nomination; he dissents

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on November 8 to confirm the nomination of former Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand.

By a vote of 17-1, the committee approved Moseley-Braun's nomination after weeks of resistance from Chairman Jesse Helms over questions of what he called "ethical misconduct."

The North Carolina Republican was the sole senator on the committee to vote against Moseley-Braun.

He finally scheduled a hearing on the nomination the previous Friday after receiving documents he had requested from the White House, Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service relating to allegations of ethics abuses.

Helms, who had a stormy relationship with Moseley-Braun during her Senate term, did not attend Friday's hearing -- which was replete with words of praise from her former colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia) was given the task of asking Moseley-Braun specific questions about allegations she misused campaign funds and about her controversial trips to Nigeria to meet with then-dictator Sani Abacha. Most senators seemed satisfied with her answers.

Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, was defeated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald after a campaign based largely on the same allegations of ethical abuses brought up by Helms.

Mosley-Braun was later confirmed by the Senate as well.

Judge rejects Free Republic's argument in copyright infringement suit

A federal judge has rejected arguments that an Internet site has the legal right to post articles copied without permission from two major newspapers.

U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow denied a motion to dismiss a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post against Fresno-based FreeRepublic.com.

Her ruling, issued November 8, was accompanied by a 28-page opinion attacking FreeRepublic.com's fair-use defense.

The newspapers contend the Web site's practice of posting articles cost them money because their own sites charge users $1.50 to view archived articles.

The case has been closely watched by attorneys and scholars. It is scheduled to go to trial in June.

"What this means is that copyright laws do apply on the Internet and people are not free to ignore those laws," said Rex Heinke, a lawyer representing the newspapers.

Morrow's decision could dampen the free flow of information on the Internet, said Brian L. Buckley, who represents FreeRepublic.com.

Unless FreeRepublic.com prevails at trial, he said the ruling "will have a tremendous chilling effect and will impinge free discussion."

Pamela Samuelson, a University of California, Berkeley professor who specializes in copyright law, said FreeRepublic.com should be given latitude because it copies and posts articles primarily to let Internet users comment on them.

"They're not trying to set up an alternative publication system," Samuelson said.

Trump proposes massive one-time tax on the rich

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has a plan to pay off the national debt, grant a middle class a tax cut, and keep Social Security afloat: tax rich people like himself.

Trump, a prospective candidate for the Reform Party presidential nomination, is proposing a one-time "net worth tax" on individuals and trusts worth $10 million or more.

By Trump's calculations, his proposed 14.25 percent levy on such net worth would raise $5.7 trillion and wipe out the debt in one full swoop.

The U.S. national debt decreased by $9.7 billion in September but remains at $5.66 trillion, according to the latest U.S. Treasury figures.

The net worth tax is the cornerstone of Trump's economic plan released November 9.

"No one has put forward a plan to make this country entirely debt free as we enter the next millenium," Trump said in a written statement.

"The plan I am proposing today does not involve smoke and mirrors, phony numbers, financial gimmicks, or the usual economic chicanery you usually find in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac," Trump said.

Trump would exempt the value of an individual's principal home from the net worth total.

"By my calculations, 1 percent of Americans, who control 90 percent of the wealth in this country, would be affected by my plan," Trump said.

"The other 99 percent of the people would get deep reductions in their federal income taxes," he said.

Eliminating the national debt would save the federal government $200 billion a year in interest payments, Trump said. He proposes to earmark half the savings for middle class tax cuts, and the other half for Social Security.

Trump said depositing $100 billion annually in the Social Security trust fund would generate $3 trillion "over the next 30-years, when the trust fund is scheduled to go broke" and instead keep the fund "solvent through the next century."

The tax also would lead to the repeal the current federal inheritance tax "which really hurts farmers and small businessman and women more than anything else," Trump said.

Trump, whose own net worth is an estimated $1.3 billion, says the wealthy would not suffer if his economic plan were enacted.

"Personally this plan would cost me hundreds of millions of dollars, but in all honesty, it's worth it," Trump said.

Trump predicts his debt elimination combined with his tax cuts would trigger a 35 to 40 percent boost in economic activity, with more business start-ups, more jobs, and more prosperity.

"It is a win-win for the American people, an idea no conventional politician would have the guts to put forward," Trump said.

Last month, Trump formed a committee to explore seeking the presidential nomination of the Reform Party, which will automatically be on the ballot in 21 states next year.

Two US Army divisions rated unfit for war

The U.S. Army has rated two of its 10 divisions as unprepared for war in a classified evaluation that reflects the strain of open-ended troop commitments in Kosovo, Bosnia and elsewhere, the Washington Post reported on November 10.

It was the first time in at least seven years that any of the Army's divisions had received the lowest of four possible readiness grades, the Post quoted Defense Department officials as saying.

A Pentagon spokesman declined comment.

The "C-4" rating means that the units in question -- the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, New York, and the 1st Infantry Division headquartered in Germany -- are considered to need additional manpower, equipment or training before being able to fight in a major regional war, the Post reported.

Republican lawmakers, who have long accused the Clinton administration of underfunding defense and overcommitting U.S. forces, seized on the report as proof of their argument, the Post said. But some Pentagon officials portrayed the evaluation as a dramatic effort by the Army to highlight long-standing concerns and lobby for more money.

Army authorities acknowledged that the two divisions probably are more ready to fight than the new evaluation would suggest. The primary reason for the lower rating is that each division has one brigade, up to half of its troops, doing peacekeeping duty in the Balkans: the 10th Mountain in Bosnia, the 1st Infantry in Kosovo.

The Army has been rotating troops into and out of the Balkans for nearly four years, so there has been no sudden change in the underlying situation.

But the preparedness of the units was assessed differently this month as a result of congressional directions to place greater emphasis on the ability of U.S. forces to wage two major wars at nearly the same time, officials said.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness, said the report meant it was "unlikely that these units would be able to engage in a major theater war without unnecessary loss of life."

He told the paper that that some of the Army's other eight divisions also had been downgraded, with none listed at the highest level of C-1. The Army said that all the other divisions were rated C-2 in the monthly report.

The Pentagon's military chiefs warned Congress last month that any sudden new cut in defense spending would devastate fragile recent gains in U.S. fighting readiness in the face of growing worldwide commitments.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff who head the armed services told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the recently passed $267 billion defense budget for current fiscal year 2000 - the first military spending increase in 15 years - must not be reversed by any agreement for a sweeping federal budget cut.

Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the JCS, testified the military was just beginning to reverse a slip in fighting readiness after more than a decade of spending neglect.

The military chiefs stressed that despite a 40 percent cut in military strength over the past decade, commitments were increasing so fast the armed forces could not keep up with the requirements.

Klein happy for antitrust trials without settlement

Justice Department antitrust chief Joel Klein, who is handling the landmark Microsoft case, said on November 11 he likes to see important antitrust cases go to trial rather than get settled.

Without ever mentioning Microsoft Corp. by name, Klein told an American Bar Association antitrust workshop he takes pride that his division emphasizes litigation instead of settling cases.

A Federal District Court judge sided largely with the government the week before when he released his findings of fact in the case, holding that the firm uses monopoly power to harm consumers.

Klein said it is important for courts to adjudicate antitrust cases because that is the way antitrust law is brought up to date.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky and legal scholars have also emphasized the importance of litigation in establishing antitrust precedents.

Klein told the gathering he was sorry that two other recent high-profile cases were settled.

"I frankly was disappointed -- although we prevailed in both -- in two cases that I thought raised critical issues, that didn't get to go to (litigation) because the parties folded," Klein said.

Those deals, both abandoned last year, were Lockheed Martin's proposed purchase of Northrop Grumman for $9 billion and the cable industry-owned satellite TV company PrimeStar's proposed $1.1 billion acquisition of a satellite slot owned by News Corp.

Klein said the lack of trials in those cases "actually concerned me because I think that the development of the law is as critical as anything else we do."

Experts say the Microsoft trial may set important precedents if it ever goes to the Supreme Court, instead of being settled.

District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has yet to rule Microsoft violated the law, although virtually all legal experts say he will because of his strong findings of fact. If he rules against Microsoft the judge would later set remedies, which could include the break-up of the company.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates last week set conditions for settling the case, which are at odds with Jackson's findings.

"If we can't define the user experience of Windows so that all windows machines operate the same way, then the Windows brand is meaningless," Gates declared.

Jackson found that Microsoft demanded computer makers provide uniformity in the "Windows experience" only intermittently.

The judge found Microsoft required the uniformity only when its "interest in protecting ... barriers to entry" by competitors -- in other words, protecting its monopoly -- was at stake.

In media interviews earlier last week, Klein made it clear that defiance of the judge's findings will not get the company very far if it tries to talk settlement.

"We would need a settlement that deals with the very findings that the court made in this case," Klein has said repeatedly.

Canadian gun registry spending soars to $100M this year

Canada's Justice Department is expected to spend $100-million this fiscal year to operate its controversial federal gun registry, which forces gun owners to license and register all of their firearms.

The federal government has already spent $195-million to set up the registration system at the Canadian Firearms Centre in Miramichi, N.B., and a separate facility in Montreal, which serves as a Quebec-only registry.

When the gun law was passed four years ago, the government said it would cost $85-million, spread over five years, plus an annual operating cost of $50-million to $60-million.

While this year's annual operating budget has soared to about $100-million, Jean Valin, a spokesman for the Canadian Firearms Centre, said the cost will average out to roughly $60-million annually over a 10-year period.

"We are expecting higher levels of expenditures in the start-up years, which is this year, next year and the year after that in terms of getting people aware of their licensing requirements, processing them and issuing them," he explained.

The registration system, which has been criticized as overly bureaucratic, inefficient and costly, took effect Dec. 1, 1998. At the time, the government said user fees would cover the cost of the registration system. However, in the first six months of operation, only $2.9-million in user fees were collected.

A government advisory group, including the Canadian Police Association and Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, warned in June that the gun registry, which it supports, is too complex and is creating a black market in illegal weaponry.

"Both current and future non-compliance by otherwise law-abiding Canadians is directly related to the burdensome nature of the regulations created pursuant to the Firearms Act," according to a memo to Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, from the Users Group that was obtained under Access to Information by the Reform party.

"This body of regulations has resulted in a system which has changed from one intended for voluntary compliance and reporting, to one being complicated by a series of control mechanisms."

The law requires an estimated three million owners of seven million guns to obtain licences and photo ID cards by Jan. 1, 2001. A possession licence is $10 and an acquisition licence to buy more guns costs $60, renewable every five years. The applications must be co-signed by a spouse or partner.

By Jan.1, 2003, all guns must be registered at a cost of $10 with the fee rising to $18 in subsequent years. Anyone wishing to sell their weapons must pay $25 to transfer the ownership of the firearm.

So far, Valin said 450 000 Canadians have registered about 1.4 million handguns and other restricted weapons, but he concedes there have been problems getting Canadians to register, which has been exacerbated by a delay in the Supreme Court of Canada hearing on the gun law.

Six provincial governments -- Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as well as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories -- are challenging the constitutionality of the gun law. The hearing of the Alberta-led challenge has been delayed until the spring.

"It is like your income tax, you are going to wait until the last moment to file it because unless the government owes you money there is little incentive for you to do it," Valin said. "The complicating factor is the postponement of the Supreme Court hearing. For those who believe the law will go away because the provinces will win their constitutionality argument, they will wait until the decision ... Then we will be flooded."

The Users Group advisory body complained that the registry system is incapable of handling the volume of firearms that need to be registered in Canada and recommended an extension of the licensing deadline and elimination of the $25 transfer fee until Jan. 1, 2003. Consideration should also be given to extending the 2003 registration deadline as well.

However, Valin said Ottawa intends to push ahead with the law as it stands, regardless of the concerns raised by the Users Group. He expects that the government's recent public relations campaign will help convince Canadians to obtain licences by the first deadline of 2001.

Garry Breitkreuz, a Saskatchewan Reform MP and outspoken opponent of the gun law, said the only solution is for Ottawa to turn the licensing and registration of firearm owners over to the provinces to manage as they see fit.

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