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web posted March 4, 2002

Condit confident about chances for re-election

Representative Gary Condit made a rare appearance on U.S. television as his Democratic re-election campaign draws to a close, shrugging off questions about Chandra Levy and expressing confidence about his chances of winning.

Condit steadfastly refused to discuss the nature of his relationship with the missing intern and said media attention should be focused on the law enforcement efforts.

"It's about a missing person and somebody knows. Somebody knows what happened," Condit said on CNN's Larry King Live on February 25.

"It's not a romantic novel. It's a tragedy," Condit said.

Condit, 53, is running for re-election in the 18th Congressional District in central California. But his battered image in the wake of the Levy disappearance has made for an uphill fight, and he is seen as the underdog against protege Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza.

Levy, 24, vanished without a trace as she was preparing to move home to Modesto after her internship ended at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Washington police sources have said Condit admitted he had an affair with Levy the third time he was questioned. Law enforcement officials have said he is not a suspect in the disappearance.

Condit, who has said in the past that he had a "very close" relationship with Levy, told King that any discussion about mistakes he might have made in his personal life would not be held in the public forum.

"I think you should, when you make mistakes, admit that you made mistakes," Condit said. "You owe it your family, your wife, your church, your God."

Condit said he weighed the pros and cons of remaining in the public eye with his bid to stay in office.

"I thought really long and hard about it. It wasn't an easy decision," Condit said. "There was just no reason for me to walk away from something I love to do and that's to be a public servant."

The King interview was only the second time Condit has gone on national television for an extended interview since Levy disappeared.

Canadian journalist quits White House job

A Canadian journalist who became a speechwriter for U.S. President George Bush has left his job at the White House. But David Frum says reports suggesting he was fired are wrong.

The speculation centres on an e-mail his wife sent to friends, mentioning that Frum was the author of the widely quoted phrase "axis of evil" used by Bush in his Jan. 29 State of the Union address to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

On CNN on February 25, syndicated columnist Robert Novak said Frum might have been pushed from the job. He pointed out that individual writers are not supposed to take credit for lines in presidential speeches.

But Frum said he submitted his resignation four days before the famous speech was delivered to the joint session of Congress and two weeks before the e-mail surfaced.

The White House said Frum's resignation and the e-mail message were unrelated.

Frum, 41, is the son of the late Barbara Frum, the celebrated CBC broadcaster. He is married to writer Danielle Crittenden, founding editor of The Women's Quarterly, a leading conservative women's magazine. The couple arrived in Washington about five years ago.

Sceptics denounce climate science 'lie'

A group of scientists in the US and the UK says the accepted wisdom on climate change remains unproved. They say rising greenhouse gas emissions may not be the main factor in global warming. They argue that temperature rise projections this century are "unknown and unknowable".

They claim it is "a media myth" to suppose that only a few scientists share their scepticism.

The scientists, a group convened by the American George C. Marshall Institute, first published their report in the US.

It has been republished in the UK by the European Science and Environment Forum (Esef), entitled Climate Science and Policy: Making the Connection.

Esef says it is "the result of an extensive review by a distinguished group of scientists and public policy experts of the science behind recent findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)".

The US group included a former CIA director and defence secretary James Schlesinger, and Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The report says the IPCC's conclusions "have become politicised and fail to convey the underlying uncertainties that are important in policy considerations".

Its detailed criticisms of the IPCC include:

  • projections of climate change based on models and assumptions which "are not only unknown, but unknowable within ranges relevant for policy-making"
  • models which "do not adequately characterise clouds, water vapour, aerosols, ocean currents and solar effects"
  • a failure "to reproduce the difference in trends between the lower troposphere and surface temperatures over the past 20 years".
The authors conclude: "The IPCC simulation of surface temperature appears to be little more than a fortuitous bit of curve-fitting rather than any genuine demonstration of human influence on global climate."

Philip Stott, emeritus professor of biogeography at the University of London, is a prominent British climate sceptic.

He said: "The authors challenge the key contradiction at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate agreement - that climate is one of the most complex systems known, yet that we can manage it by trying to control a small set of factors, namely greenhouse gas emissions. Scientifically, this is not mere uncertainty: it is a lie."

Professor Stott told BBC News Online: "The problem with a chaotic coupled non-linear system as complex as climate is that you can no more predict successfully the outcome of doing something as of not doing something. Kyoto will not halt climate change. Full stop."

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, used to work at the State Department and helped to shape US climate policy.

She told BBC News Online: "This report dismisses the findings of the IPCC as alarmist, yet they are widely accepted as representative of the current state of scientific knowledge.

"A panel of the US's own National Academy of Sciences (which included Richard Lindzen) expressed general agreement with the IPCC's finding that warming is occurring, and that it is at least partly caused by humans.

"Uncertainty cuts both ways. Some of the IPCC's scenarios have been criticized as unduly pessimistic, others as unduly optimistic.

"What is important is that they reflect a balance of reasonable futures, and that the scientific findings should be based on the peer-reviewed literature. The IPCC has been able to accomplish exactly that.

"And Kyoto was only intended to be a first step in a long journey."

CNN's 'Crossfire' getting makeover

CNN is giving its 20-year-old political debate show, "Crossfire," a makeover by hiring former Clinton aides Paul Begala and James Carville as the liberal voices.

The show also will be expanded from half an hour to an hour and air live each weekday at 7 p.m. from an auditorium on the George Washington University campus, instead of from a studio.

Begala and Carville replace Bill Press, who has been the show's liberal commentator for six years. Conservatives Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson remain.

Teya Ryan, general manager of CNN's U.S. operations, said she wanted to "energize" the show.

"The right wing has Bush, Cheney, Novak and Carlson," Begala said. "It also has the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and every foam-at-the-mouth blowhard who can find his way to a microphone. I've got James Carville. I like my odds."

Retorted Carlson: "How do you whimper in Cajun? We'll find out. As for Begala, my bet is he'll be right wing in a year."

Illinois awaits Jackson tax form

The Rev. Jesse Jackson's premier tax-exempt organization has not filed a state tax return for 2000 and is in danger of losing its legal authority to raise money, an official with the Illinois attorney general's office said.

"This is problematic," said Dan Anders, a spokesman for the office, which regulates tax-exempt businesses in Illinois. "The forms were due in June, and over the last eight months, we have sent notices and contacted them by phone.

"They told us a month ago that they would file, but we still don't have the forms. If they can't comply, their registration will be canceled."

He said the Citizenship Education Fund, Jackson's primary funding vehicle, is eight months delinquent in filing and has never asked for a deadline extension or explained the delay.

"They have not described to us what the problem is," Anders said.

Losing the organization's registration would cripple Jackson's empire, which includes the Wall Street Project and the International Trade Bureau. The Citizenship Education Fund provides money for Jackson's most prominent group, the for-profit Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The coalition received $300,000 from the Citizenship Education Fund in 1999, tax records showed.

The Citizenship Education Fund is by far the most lucrative of Jackson's holdings, an organization devoted to "educating voters ... on a non-partisan basis," according to its 1999 tax return.

The fund reported unaudited revenue for 2000 of $10 million. Total 2000 income for Mr, Jackson's four primary tax-exempt and for-profit organizations is listed at $17 million in the groups' financial records.

But the last year for which state and federal tax records are available for Jackson's groups is 1999. Although the returns themselves are public record once filed, privacy laws prevent the Internal Revenue Service from saying whether Jackson's groups have filed for 2000.

Like for-profit companies, tax-exempt organizations are required to file annual financial disclosure documents — Form 990 — stating their amount of revenue, expenditures and the names of paid officers. The state 990s also include audit reports, unlike the federal forms.

Jackson's Chicago headquarters had several personnel changes in the past year, most notably the departure of Chief Financial Officer Billy Owens, who left earlier this month. These changes have aroused suspicions of disarray in the Jackson camp.

"Things happen, and filings can be delayed for 30 to 60 days, but no matter how you cut it, eight months is well beyond the normal time," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity. "An organization doing exceptionally well doesn't miss filings and jeopardize its entire way to survive. It makes you wonder if there is some kind of crisis."

Any tax-exempt organization is obligated by both law and community duty to disclose its finances promptly, said Ed Davis, director of state organizations for Common Cause.

"It is fundamental having that kind of openness," Davis said. "We ask all government agencies to have such openness, and it is important for any group to have that level of disclosure to tell people who they are."

Financial trouble also may have encouraged a recent switch in accounting methods by some of Jackson's groups, from the fiscal basis to an annual reporting year.

In a February 11 fund-raising letter signed by Jackson, he asks that all members of his International Trade Bureau pay their dues.

"As of the close of 2001, all Trade Bureau memberships became due for renewal. We have transitioned annual membership renewal from a fiscal year to a calendar year basis, so please submit your membership renewal today."

Jackson has been dogged by financial reporting troubles in the past, but his organizations have never been threatened with revocation of their fund-rasing ability, the crux of any tax-exempt group's survival.

Jackson's poor stewardship of $5.6 million in federal grants and contracts received during the Carter administration, subsequently missed repayments and last year's debacle over unreported salaries in his organizations have given his enemies plenty of ammunition.

Conservative watchdog groups filed complaints and called for investigations after the disclosure of Jackson's finances last year, which initially were incomplete.

The American Conservative Union filed grievances with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, requesting audits of organizations run by the 60-year-old civil rights figurehead.
Jackson, who earns around $500,000 annually, repeatedly has accused his detractors of political motivations.

"We are in danger because of the right wing," Jackson told a crowd in Atlanta at November's State of the Black World Conference. "The right wing has seized government. ... Watch out in coming days of the right-wing media, the FBI, the IRS, targeting our leadership."

Gun crime trebles as weapons and drugs flood British cities

Gun crime has almost trebled in London during the past year and is soaring in other British cities, according to Home Office figures obtained by English newspaper The Telegraph.

Police chiefs fear that Britain is witnessing the kind of cocaine-fuelled violence that burst upon American cities in the 1980s. Cocaine, particularly from Jamaica, now floods into Britain, while the availability of weapons - many of them from eastern Europe - is also increasing.

Detectives in London say that the illegal importation of guns started after the end of the Bosnia conflict and that they are changing hands for as little as £200. During the 10 months to January 31, there were 939 crimes involving firearms in the Metropolitan Police area compared with 322 in the 10 months to the end of January, 2001 - an almost three-fold increase.

In Merseyside there were 57 shootings during the 12 months to last December compared with 15 in the same period the year before. Greater Manchester also recorded a 23 per cent increase in gun crime and there have been rises in Nottinghamshire, Avon and Somerset, West Yorkshire and the Northumbria Police area which covers Newcastle.

Gun crimes during the first 10 months of the annual period have trebled in most of the urban areas which have so far submitted statistics to the Home Office. Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said gun gangs were spreading across the country whereas, until recently, they were confined to a handful of London boroughs.

Sir John said: "We have to stem the large number of guns coming in. We know you can buy a gun in London for £200 to £300, and that's frightening. The price of hiring or buying a gun has come down because there are more guns circulating. We are having success; we are taking out about 600 guns a year."

The new gun crime figures also show that handgun crime has soared past levels last seen before the Dunblane massacre of 1996 and the ban on the weapons that followed. The ban on ownership of handguns was introduced in 1997, the year after Thomas Hamilton, an amateur shooting enthusiast, shot dead 16 schoolchildren, their teacher and himself in Dunblane, Perthshire.

It was hoped that the measure would reduce the number of handguns available to criminals. According to internal Home Office statistics, however, handgun crime is now at its highest since 1993.

IRS steps up number of audits

The Internal Revenue Service put more low- and middle-income workers under the microscope last year. But wealthier taxpayers continued to face fewer audits.

The IRS reversed a long, sharp slide in the number of taxpayers facing audits, the agency reported. It audited 1 in every 172 individual tax returns in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2001. That was more than the year before, when 1 in 204 returns was audited.

But the number of audits was still down from recent years. In 1996, 1 in 60 returns was audited.

More than 640,000 poor and middle-income workers were audited last year, up from 518,000 the year before. If one's income was less than $100,000, the chance of an audit rose 22%. More than half of audited returns involved people who claimed the earned income tax credit, generally those earning less than $32,000 a year.

If a taxpayer's total income was above $100,000, the chance of being audited fell last year. About 1 in 126 returns with that much adjusted gross income was audited, an all-time low. That was down from 1 in 100 the prior year.

Small businesses also faced fewer audits. Just 0.6% of the tax returns for companies with less than $10 million in assets were audited last year, down from nearly 0.8% the year before.

The difference? The IRS hired 1,301 officers and tax agents in 2001, the first new hires in six years. New computers were able to scan less-complicated returns.

But many of the new hires were in training for much of the year, IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. That meant the agency still lacked sufficient manpower for the complex, face-to-face audits needed for more affluent taxpayers. Audits of wealthy taxpayers should increase in 2002 as the new IRS agents go to work, Lemons said.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti defended his agency's work: Tax collection activities are up, overall audit rates are up, and the IRS is hiring again. In almost every category, the IRS showed it is beefing up its law enforcement. Tax liens, levies and asset seizures jumped by 368,000, to 876,000.

''Clearly, more work needs to be done,'' he said. ''But this represents a good step toward a tax system where everyone pays a fair share.''

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