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web posted December 3, 2001

Watching the children

London police are planning to register children who exhibit criminal potential in an effort to prevent them from developing into full-fledged lawbreakers.

Kids who tag buildings with graffiti, skip school, or even talk back to adults run the risk of being entered into a database program that will be used to monitor their behavior as they grow up, according to police sources.

Law enforcement officials say the measure is needed to combat rampant juvenile crime, but critics condemn it as an extreme form of police profiling.

The plan was unveiled in November in a speech by Ian Blair, London's deputy police commissioner, to the Youth Justice Board, the government agency that supervises Great Britain's juvenile justice system.

Teachers, social workers, health care professionals, law enforcement agents and other authorities who have contact with troublemakers will contribute information to the database program, which will be rolled out in 11 London boroughs before being implemented nationally, according to a copy of the speech. Special squads formed by police and community workers will supervise the actions and behavior of children included in the registry.

"With partners in those boroughs, we intend to create an intelligence nexus, which will hold sensitive information about large numbers of children, many of whom have not yet and probably will not actually drift into active criminality. This is pretty revolutionary stuff," Blair said.

The deputy police commissioner said the registry was needed to combat a jump in juvenile delinquency. While most crime indicators have dropped in Great Britain, street crimes committed by children have skyrocketed, according to government data. Between 50 and 75 percent of the muggings that occurred on London's streets in the first nine months of this year were perpetrated by minors, studies show.

Local authorities will use the database to identify underlying causes of children's bad behavior and recommend therapy or substance abuse treatment programs.

"In this process, we have every intention of using intensive surveillance and supervision programs," Blair said.

Asked for a comment on the program, a spokeswoman from the Youth Justice Board issued the following statement:

"The Youth Justice Board is supportive of the idea of increasing information sharing in respect of young people at risk of becoming involved in criminality, and we will be joining with the Met Police to look at ways this can be achieved."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman refused to discuss further details of the plan, saying it was still in an exploratory stage.

Privacy concerns aren't expected to derail the effort. In his speech, Blair said that Section 115 of the country's Crime and Disorder Act, which allows for disclosure of private information to investigate crimes, may override the Data Protection Act, which regulates information-sharing among government agencies.

But the director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, said the registries were tantamount to police "profiling gone mad."

"I shudder to think of the action that could be taken by authorities with such a database," Davies said. "All I can see coming out of this is greater criminalization of children and heightened discrimination against certain racial groups."

U.S. steelworkers union loses Supreme Court case over validity of NAFTA

The U.S. Supreme Court refused on November 26 to be drawn into a debate over the president's power in international dealmaking.

Justices had been asked to strike down the North American Free Trade Agreement in a case that also questioned the constitutionality of other deals. The court declined without comment. A union says NAFTA is invalid because it was not endorsed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, a constitutional requirement for treaties.

The United Steelworkers of America claim was rejected in 1999 by a federal judge in Birmingham, Ala., and then again earlier this year by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

"A judicial declaration invalidating NAFTA would clearly risk international embarrassment of both the executive and legislative branches," the Bush administration told the court.

The administration maintains there was nothing wrong with the way the agreement was handled. NAFTA was signed by then president Bill Clinton in 1992 and approved by Congress the following year -- by votes of 234-200 in the House and 61-38 in the Senate.

The union said that since the 1940s, international agreements have generally been treated as congressional-executive agreements, not treaties.

"Whether we are right or wrong, our submission -- and the question we raise -- is one that goes to the heart of the constitution's structural framework for making international agreements," the union's attorney, Paul Whitehead, said in urging justices to review the case.

NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, eliminates trade barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada gradually over 15 years. There have been widespread disagreements over which nations have benefited, or been hurt, the most.

The appeals court had said the constitution "clearly granted the political branches an enormous amount of authority in the area of foreign affairs and commerce." The court also said the union's lawsuit raised a political question inappropriate for the courts to decide.

Cuba conditionally offers to indemnify U.S. firms

Cuba has offered to compensate 6,000 U.S. firms and citizens whose property was nationalized after the 1959 revolution, providing Washington takes into account hardships caused by its nearly 4-decade-old embargo against the Caribbean island.

Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque made the offer shortly before the U.N. General Assembly voted 167 to 3 on November 27 for a resolution urging an end to the U.S. sanctions, saying they violated international law.

The vote against the United States, the 10th in as many years, repeated last year's record result. Those opposing the resolution, besides the United States, were Israel and the Marshall islands, the same countries as in 2000.

Abstaining were Latvia, Micronesia and Nicaragua. Another 16 countries did not vote, some because they had not paid their dues, others because they did not wish to take part.

Perez, in his address to the assembly, detailed the U.S. prohibitions and said Cuba would be willing to reach an agreement "for the nearly 6,000 U.S. companies and citizens" whose properties were nationalized after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

But he qualified his offer by saying, "Cuba recognizes their rights -- and would be willing to reach an agreement that also takes into account the extremely burdensome economic and human hardships inflicted on our country by the blockade."

"The blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba must be lifted," Perez said.

The assembly's nonbinding resolution, as in previous years, referred to the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allowed U.S. citizens who were Cuban citizens before the 1959 revolution to file suit in U.S. courts against foreign companies or individuals who "traffic" in expropriated property.

And the resolution again called on all states to "refrain from promulgating and applying the laws and measures" that impinged on freedom of trade and navigation.

The 15 members of the European Union all voted in favor of the nonbinding resolution because of U.S. laws that seek to prevent foreign firms from having commercial dealings with Cuba. Belgium, speaking for the EU, said Europeans deplored the consequences of the embargo on the Cuban people.

U.S. representative James Cunningham said the trade embargo was designed to promote democracy in Cuba and the United States had moved dramatically to allow Havana to buy food.

"Cuba, long out of step with the trend of democratization in the world ... has proven itself even more out of step with its recent hideous remarks on the U.S. reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks," he said.

Perez last month denounced Washington for waging an "ineffective, unjustifiable bombing campaign" in Afghanistan.

The Cuban minister protested against the placing of Havana on the State Department's list of terrorist states.

"This is an outrage to the Cuban people, who have, in fact, as everyone knows, been the victims of countless terrorist acts organized and financed with total impunity from U.S. territory," Perez said.

"The blockade does not enjoy majority support in the United States," he added.

Global ridicule extinguishes Montgomery's anti-smoking bill

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) on November 27 vetoed legislation that would have regulated smoking in the privacy of people's homes, reversing course after a rash of worldwide attention and a public opinion backlash.

Duncan took the action after a key County Council member who voted for the legislation took a public stand against it, a defection that means supporters no longer have the votes to override the veto.

Council President Blair G. Ewing (D-At Large) acknowledged that political reality, expressing disappointment but saying the erosion of political support had effectively killed the legislation.

Council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large), an opponent, said, "We've become the laughingstock of the world."

The provision, which the council passed the week before as part of a package of indoor air-quality standards, represented one of the most restrictive anti-smoking measures in the nation. Had it become law, the legislation would have set fines of up to $750 for people who smoke in their homes if the smoke crossed property lines and offended neighbors.

The week before the vote, Duncan unequivocally promised to support the measure. On November 27, he said he had changed his mind after realizing that the anti-smoking provision "went way too far" and had received little public input before passage.

"Based on initial discussions with my staff, I believed that this bill could become law and that we could manage the tobacco smoke issues through a combination of education and prudent use of enforcement resources," Duncan said in his veto message. "Upon further consideration, however, it has become clear that the tobacco smoke provisions will be nothing more than a tool to be used in squabbles between neighbors, and that significant resources will be required to address these complaints."

Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) had urged Duncan to veto the bill, announcing that he could no longer support legislation that the public "overwhelmingly" opposed.

The legislation was initially designed to give environmental regulators an enforcement tool to deal with indoor air-pollution complaints involving such irritants as mold, excessive dust, pesticides, paint and carpet glue odors, or gases such as carbon monoxide.

Denis said he voted in favor of the bill, despite the decision by other council members to add tobacco smoke to the list of regulated pollutants, because he believed it was important to address indoor air-quality health issues.

But since then, Denis said, the legislation generated widespread ridicule. Conservative commentator -- and Montgomery County resident -- George Will compared the council to the Taliban on ABC's nationally televised show "This Week." Journalists deluged the council with requests for interviews, and the Moscow Times even weighed in with a column.

"I got put in the same bag as the Taliban," Denis said. "The public has spoken. The reputation of the county is literally at stake here."

Denis's switch was critical because his vote had provided the veto-proof majority.

The version that the Duncan administration originally drafted excepted tobacco smoke from the new regulations, which define indoor pollutants as agents that are "likely to pose a health hazard to humans, plants or animals or unreasonably interfere with the use or enjoyment of residential or non-residential property."

But the council rejected that exception, arguing that secondhand smoke should be treated the same as any other air pollutant.

That prompted tobacco companies to threaten a legal challenge, the American Civil Liberties Union to express concern about the impact on property rights and opponents on the council to charge that the law would unfairly target the poor because it would probably have no impact on people who live in single-family homes on large lots.

Ewing said the council is likely to pass an air-quality bill that is virtually identical to Duncan's original proposal. But he blasted Duncan for doing an about-face.

"I think the public will be disappointed," Ewing said. "Tobacco smoke is a toxic air pollutant. . . . So to have an indoor air-pollution bill that doesn't include tobacco is absurd on the face of it."

The council has supported a number of tobacco regulations, including a ban on restaurant smoking that is tied up in court and a ban on outdoor smoking in Friendship Heights that did not survive a legal challenge.

"It's the same old saga -- there's a significant vocal minority who do not want to see us regulate a lethal product," said council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), a supporter. "What you are not hearing are the people who say this is a good thing, and if it saves a few lives, great."

Residents and nonresidents flooded the council with letters.

Some, like Shana Trostel, of Rockville, praised the council for taking steps to "protect those who suffer from exposure to other people's tobacco smoke." Trostel, who suffers from asthma, wrote that she cannot use her deck or open her windows because of her neighbor's smoke.

But most letters blasted the legislation as paternalistic.

"While I fully support restricting smoking in public places, I am aghast at the prospect of such ridiculous antics arising from this council," wrote Joseph Wilmot, of Poolesville.

Most Americans back U.S. tactics

Most Americans broadly endorse steps taken by the Bush administration to investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists and express little concern that these measures may violate the rights of U.S. citizens or others caught up in the ongoing probes, according to a survey by The Washington Post and ABC News.

Six in 10 agree with President Bush that suspected terrorists should be tried in special military tribunals and not in U.S. criminal courts -- a proposal that has come under increasing fire from civil libertarians as well as some influential Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Seven in 10 Americans believe the government is doing enough to protect the civil rights of suspected terrorists. An equally large majority believe the government is sufficiently guarding the rights of Arab Americans and American Muslims as well as noncitizens from Arab and Muslim countries.

The findings reflect a wellspring of public support as the Bush administration continues even its most controversial investigative methods to bring suspected terrorists to justice. The administration is clearly counting on such support to help counter mounting concern on Capitol Hill.

"They're flying in the face of a lot of influential people, including senior members of the House and Senate from their own party," said Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Instead, they're relying on public opinion."

Nearly three out of four of those surveyed also agree that it should be legal for the federal government to wiretap conversations between suspected terrorists and their attorneys. An even larger majority -- 79 percent -- support plans by federal prosecutors to interview about 5,000 young men here on temporary visas from the Middle East. And nearly nine in 10 believe the United States is justified in detaining about 600 foreign nationals for violating immigration laws.

"If we keep going the way we're going with civil liberties, other countries are going to see us as a patsy," said Marta Salcedo, manager of a dental office in Manhattan. "You have to change with the times."

Salcedo said she had little regard for the rights of suspects held in connection with the attacks. "They should torture them," she said. "Sometimes you have to do things that are uncivilized."

Not all Americans are comfortable with Bush's tactics, with women and minorities somewhat less likely than men and whites to embrace them.

"I am concerned that we not become a runaway train when it comes to civil liberties," said Melissa Atkinson, a retired librarian and community volunteer in Tulsa. "The idea of secret military tribunals makes me nervous. . . . It's always harder to get these basic freedoms back once we relinquish them."

The apparent willingness of many Americans to place security above civil rights protections comes as no surprise to experts on public opinion.

"In periods of high stress and threat, support for civil liberties goes down," said George Marcus, a political scientist at Williams College. "Most Americans don't think of rights as unqualified or universal. There are two codicils: Rights are only for us American citizens. And two, rights assume that people are going to use them wisely or responsibly."

A total of 759 randomly selected adults were interviewed Tuesday night for this poll. Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The survey found overwhelming support for Bush and the war in Afghanistan. Bush's overall job approval rating stood at 89 percent, largely unchanged in the past two months. A similar majority supported the U.S. military action in Afghanistan, and 93 percent said the war was going well, up eight points from earlier this month.

The survey also suggests that Americans would support broadening the shooting war on terrorism to include Iraq. Nearly eight in 10 -- 78 percent -- favored U.S. forces taking military action against Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

The survey also suggests that although the majority of Americans say the nation should play a significant role in ensuring stability in Afghanistan, they are less interested in the United States taking the lead in nonmilitary efforts.

One in three said America should take the lead in providing humanitarian aid or peacekeeping troops, with four in 10 supporting "a large role" in these efforts. One in five said America should play the principal part in establishing a new Afghan government. In contrast, more than half said the United States should play the lead role in ensuring that terrorist groups cannot reestablish themselves in Afghanistan.

"The one issue where you're getting the administration going straight into the wind with the American public is on peacekeeping," said Robert Orr, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer. "The public generally wants the U.S. involved in peacekeeping, which is clearly different from where the administration is going in saying there is no role for the U.S. in the peacekeeping phase."

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