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web posted March 12, 2001

NAACP honors Clinton with award

Former President Bill Clinton joined top black entertainers at the 32nd NAACP Image Awards, where he was honored by the nation's largest civil rights group.

Clinton entered the Universal Amphitheatre to a standing ovation from the crowd.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume presented Clinton with the President's Award and credited him with improving the lives of blacks during his eight years in office.

"What really matters is our common humanity," Clinton told the crowd. "When we forget it, we suffer. When we remember it, we prosper."

Clinton's ties to the nation's largest civil rights group were strong throughout his presidency. While in office, the former president spoke several times before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and garnered record high opinion poll numbers with black voters.

The Image Awards honor entertainers and other public figures who present positive portrayals of blacks in American culture.

During one segment, Tucker sat beside Clinton in the audience and joked that the former commander in chief is so popular among minorities that some consider him the first black president.

"That's why I went to Harlem, because I think I am the first black president," Clinton responded, referring to plans for his new office in New York.

U.S. Supreme Court allows KKK to adopt a highway

KKK signOn March 5, the Supreme Court allowed the Ku Klux Klan to participate in a state "Adopt-A-Highway" cleanup program in which volunteers pick up litter along a highway in return for a sign acknowledging their efforts.

The high court rejected without comment or dissent an appeal by Missouri arguing that it could deny the Klan's application without violating the group's constitutional free-speech protections under the First Amendment.

The court also rejected a separate Justice Department appeal arguing the nation's civil rights laws would be violated by allowing the racist group to take part in a program run by a state agency that receives federal financial assistance.

The Justice Department filed its brief supporting Missouri's appeal January 19, the last full day of President Bill Clinton's term.

The case began in 1994 when Michael Cuffley, the top ranking official in the Missouri organization of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, filed the application.

The Klan requested a half-mile stretch of Interstate 55, one of the routes used to bus black students to county schools as part of court-ordered desegregation efforts in the St. Louis area.

The state denied the Klan's application. Missouri said a number of other states have rejected similar Klan requests to join their highway programs. Missouri cited the Klan's membership policy, which is limited to "Aryans." The Klan excludes anyone who is Jewish, African-American, Mexican or Asian.

Missouri also said the Klan had violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws, and had a history of unlawful violence.

The Klan sued, arguing that its exclusion from the program violated its constitutional rights.

A federal judge and then a U.S. appeals court ruled for the Klan. The appeals court concluded the state denied the application because it objected to the group's endorsement of racial discrimination.

"We believe the undisputed facts conclusively demonstrate that the state unconstitutionally denied the Klan's application based on the Klan's views," the appeals court said.

Missouri appealed to the Supreme Court. It argued the First Amendment allowed it to deny the application because the state would violate federal civil rights law if it granted the request.

A group of 28 states supported the appeal, saying the highway sign conveyed more than information or even thanks.

"It also implies a message of acceptance, a message that the state regards the Klan as a valuable member of society just like the Rotary Club or the Jaycees who have adopted the next stretch of highway down the road," the states said.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, representing the Klan, urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal.

They said the First Amendment protected the Klan "against those who would misuse government power to suppress political dissidents."

Double jeopardy rule may be axed in England

The ancient right of a person not to be tried again for the same offence should be abolished in murder cases, according to a recommendation from the English government's law reform advisers.

The "double jeopardy" rule has been part of English common law since the 12th century. If the Law Commission's proposals are accepted by Parliament, it could be possible for the three youths acquitted of murdering the black teenager Stephen Lawrence to face a second trial, but only if "compelling" new evidence became available.

The Appeal Court would also have to consider whether the youths could ever have a fair trial, given the huge amount of publicity the case has received. Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight were formally acquitted when a private prosecution for murder failed.

The report follows a recommendation in 1999 from Sir William Macpherson, the retired judge who conducted the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. He pointed out that the three youths could not be tried again even if fresh evidence emerged. His inquiry report said: "We simply indicate that perhaps in modern conditions such absolute protection may sometimes lead to injustice."

The Law Commission will not comment on whether the Lawrence case, or any other, could be reheard on the basis of its proposals. In an unusual move, the commission recommends that the law should be amended retrospectively. The change would apply to acquittals which had taken place before the new law came into effect.

A provision in the European Convention on Human Rights, not yet in force in Britain, allows a case to be reopened "if there is evidence of new or newly discovered facts . . . which could affect the outcome of the case." The Home Office's National Crime Faculty has calculated that there are 35 murder cases where defendants who were acquitted could be reinvestigated and new charges brought.

The commission's provisional recommendation, in October 1999, was that the change should apply to any offence punishable by at least three years in jail. Last June the Commons home affairs committee recommended that the new law should apply only to cases punishable by life imprisonment. Today's recommendation is narrower still, applying only to cases of murder.

Even then, a retrial would only be possible if the Appeal Court considered it to be in the interests of justice. In addition, there would have to be evidence which, in the Appeal Court's view, made it highly probable that the defendant was guilty. The court would consider the new evidence in the context of the defence put forward at the original trial.

The commission also recommends that the Crown should have the right to appeal against acquittals made on a judge's direction, for example where the case was halted on a point of law. Judge Wilkie, QC, the Law Commissioner responsible for today's report, said the commission believed that its recommendations recognised the need to enhance public confidence "by enabling manifestly questionable acquittals in serious cases to be called into question".

At the same time, the proposals paid "proper regard to the principle that it is not legitimate for the state to continue to pursue a person who has been found not guilty after due process." The Government says that it would consider introducing an amendment to the double jeopardy rule in the light of today's report.

However, ministers have promised to wait for Lord Justice Auld's report on the criminal courts, expected "soon", before reaching any conclusions. John Wadham, of the civil rights organisation Liberty, said: "The protection from double jeopardy is a fundamental part of our criminal justice system and we increase the chances of innocent people being convicted if we remove it."

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, was worried that, if these proposals became law, the police would never look for anyone else after a defendant was acquitted of murder. "If compelling DNA evidence or the like subsequently becomes available against a defendant acquitted of any serious crime he should be prosecuted for perjury or for perverting the course of justice at his original trial, and not twice for the same offence."

CIA patching ECHELON shortcomings

A core objection to rants regarding the US National Security Agency (NSA) electronic eavesdropping apparatus called ECHELON is the simple observation that spooks trying to use it are literally buried in an avalanche of white noise from which it's quite difficult to extract anything pertinent.

But now the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), no doubt with some assistance and guidance from NSA, is making strides towards cracking that little inconvenience.

The CIA's Office of Advanced Information Technology is developing a number of data-mining enhancements to make life easy for those who would eavesdrop on electronic communications, Reuters reports.

First up is a computer program called Oasis, which automatically converts audio signals into conveniently readable, and searchable, text.

And it distinguishes voices, cleverly enough, so that the transcript of an intercepted 'broadcast' (a conference call via mobile phones?) will show each speaker automatically identified as Male 1, Female 1; Male 2, Female 2; and so on.

If the transcript seems implausible at any point, or disappointingly mundane, the operator can easily listen to relevant parts of the broadcast to check the machine's accuracy, and determine that "recognize speech" actually was "wreck a nice beach," and send in the appropriate goon squads to prevent it.

Oasis also references search terms and keywords automatically. Thus text containing the phrase "truck bomb" would pop up in a query for "terror*".

The CIA is planning to develop Oasis for spy-useful foreign languages such as Arabic and Chinese, the wire service says.

Next comes a software tool called FLUENT, which enables an operator to search stored documents in a language s/he doesn't understand by using his or her own language for queries.

So, imagine an uneducated, highly-trained Anglophone with a PhD in some anti-intellectual pseudo-'discipline' like medicine, education, women's studies, engineering, creative writing, economics or computer science, naturally poorly acquainted with languages, but charged with grave national security responsibilities.

Say this person needs to know what the Chinese have been publishing about nuclear warheads.

Salvation: FLUENT allows them to search on "nuclear warhead" in English, and still dredge up Chinese (or whatever) documents for people with actual language skills to translate and evaluate for them. Is that cool or what?

Presently, FLUENT can translate Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Ukrainian, Reuters says.

Bush campaign worker charged in 'debategate' case

A federal grand jury on March 6 indicted Juanita Yvette Lozano, an employee of the media consultant to the George W. Bush presidential campaign, in connection with her mailing of campaign documents and a videotape of debate preparations to the Al Gore campaign.

The three-count indictment returned by a grand jury in Austin, Texas, charges Lozano with mail fraud, false statement to the FBI, and perjury before the grand jury.

The Justice Department, which made the announcement, said if convicted Lozano could face up to 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

Lazano, 30, worked for Maverick Media, which had been hired by the Bush campaign.

"The indictment charges that Lozano secretly gathered and copied more than 120 pages of debate preparation documents and a 60-minute video tape of a private debate preparation session involving Bush and his key advisors," the Justice Department statement said.

The indicted alleges Lozano sent the materials to Tom Downey, a former Democratic Congressman who was assisting the Gore campaign. The indictment says Lozano used the name Amy Smith and provided a false return address. The indictment says Lozano enclosed a note which said, "I will call you soon to find out what other materials can be useful to the V.P. "

Downey has said as soon as he received the package on September 13th he reported the matter to the FBI, which then launched an investigation.

Count One against Lozano charges her with mail fraud for defrauding the Bush Campaign of its work product and of defrauding her employer of honest services.

Count Two charges Lozano with lying to FBI agents who interviewed her the week after the package was sent, and misleading the agents about her reasons for visiting the post office and mailing a package.

Count Three charges Lozano with testifying falsely that she knew nothing about Downey or his location prior to the package being sent.

Gephardt declares 'end' of bipartisanship

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said on March 7 that debate on ergonomics regulations signaled the end of congressional bipartisanship.

Richard GephardtGephardt said the passage of a bankruptcy bill and what Democrats see as a hastily scheduled vote on the ergonomics rule indicated the White House was no longer demonstrating a desire to work together with Democrats.

Gephardt spoke at an event arranged to lobby against the removal of safety standards that are aimed at preventing workplace injuries.

The Senate repealed the Clinton administration rule late March 6.

"This is a hurry-up deal," Gephardt said. "It was done yesterday in the Senate. Now they're rushing it through here with, again, one hour of debate.

"This is the biggest heist of a special interest in the history of the Congress," he continued. "This is breathtaking. This takes your breath away -- that they would come in here in one week, in two days, and rip this thing out that took 10 years to do the scientific work to find out what ought to be done."

Republicans defended the need to move quickly on the issue of workplace safety.

"There is a need to expedite this so the Department of Labor can get to fixing the ergonomics regulations," said Terry Holt, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, pointing out that Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has sent a letter indicating she intends to pursue "a comprehensive approach to ergonomics, which may include new rule-making, that addresses the concerns levied against the current standard."

But Gephardt was unrelenting in his criticism, calling a potential repeal of the standards now on the books an example of the "consequences" of the 2000 election.

"Elections have consequences," the Missouri Democrat said, "This election had a lot of consequences for ... millions of Americans around the country who had no idea when they went to vote that this could happen in such short order."

Schwarzenegger revives speculation about 2002

Terminate that denial. Movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger may still train his political guns on the California governor's mansion.

After first issuing a statement ruling out a bid next year to unseat Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, the Republican action hero reloaded on March 7 and said through his publicist that he remained undecided about whether to go into politics just yet.

The back-and-forth by the Austrian-born former bodybuilder capped speculation, fanned by Schwarzenegger himself, that he might challenge Davis in 2002.

It also came amid signs that Davis views Schwarzenegger as enough of a threat to warrant an effort by the governor's political team to discredit the star by circulating recent magazine articles accusing the star of sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, several leading actresses, including Sharon Stone, have rallied to Schwarzenegger's defense, vouching for his gentlemanly ways and condemning the articles as fabrications.

One of Hollywood's highest-paid actors, Schwarzenegger has long been a Republican activist despite his 15-year marriage to broadcast journalist Maria Shriver, daughter of John F. Kennedy's sister Eunice.

In the latest round of will-he-run-or-won't-he speculation, the 53-year-old star of the "Terminator" series first denied through a spokeswoman that he intended to run in 2002.

"While he's most interested in politics ... and believes that being a public servant would be a great honor in a country which has given him such great opportunities, he (Schwarzenegger) has commitments which will take him through 2004," his spokeswoman, Jill Eisenstadt told Reuters in remarks echoing an earlier statement in the Los Angeles Times.

About an hour later, however, Eisenstadt called back to say Schwarzenegger should not be counted out just yet.

"He's absolutely not made up his mind. Yes, he does have commitments, so yes there would be considerable obstacles should he decide to run for public office," she said. "But he said he would be sorting things out over the course of the next several months and will come to a conclusion then about whether he will or will not run. ... As far as he's concerned, the door is not closed."

Eisenstadt also dismissed the idea that Schwarzenegger's political ambitions may have been chilled by a recent Premiere magazine story and tabloid newspaper articles accusing of him of habitually groping women and cheating on his wife.

The articles were faxed by Gov. Davis' senior political adviser, Garry South, to newspaper offices around the state with a cover sheet that said: "here is the long-awaited Premiere magazine expose on might-be gubernatorial wanna-be AH-nuhld Schwarzenegger. Titled 'Arnold the Barbarian' (what a great campaign moniker in this age of GOP family values and compassionate conservatism!) the piece lays out a real 'touching; story -- if you get what I mean."

The actor's camp has called the articles unfounded tabloid "trash" and categorically denied their claims. Several of Schwarzenegger's colleagues, including female co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis ("True Lies"), Linda Hamilton ("Terminator") and Rita Wilson ("Jingle All the Way"), have sent angry letters to Premiere magazine denouncing its story.

Curtis called it a "politically motivated hatchet job" while Hamilton condemned as "fantasy" an incident in which the Premiere article claimed Schwarzenegger lifted her onto his lap in the presence of her then-boyfriend director James Cameron.

Davis political adviser South told Reuters that he doubted Schwarzenegger could glean enough support from conservatives to win the Republican nomination. And he said Schwarzenegger's celebrity would do little to impress California voters.

"We're not particularly star-struck in this state," he said. "When people of that profile who have never run for office before decide to do so, I think they're in for a rather rude awakening."

But Democratic political consultant Richard Lichtenstein said he thought Schwarzenegger could offer Republicans their best shot at mounting a viable challenge to Davis. "The Republican Party in the state of California is for all intents and purposes in shambles," he said, noting that Schwarzenegger is an attractive, wealthy figure with instant name recognition.

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