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web posted April 24, 2000

Democrats cash-in from stars, computer execs

In an unofficial contest between computer nerds and the beautiful people, Hollywood stars dug a little deeper into their pockets than high-tech executives this weekend for Al Gore and the Democratic Party.

Kevin Spacey, Melanie Griffith, Jimmy Smits, Whoopi Goldberg and a cast of other Hollywood stars donated $2.8 million at a Democratic Party fund-raiser in Beverly Hills on April 15.

The financial pot was only about $200,000 more than high-tech executives forked over the night before at a party of their own in Silicon Valley, home to some of the world's biggest computer companies.

Hollywood has traditionally been a major money donor in politics, particularly on such liberal causes as environmental protection, gun control and abortion rights. Yet high-tech chiefs preferred until recently to keep their minds on their own work and their hands in their own deep pockets.
That began to change with the Internet explosion, which prompted industry titans to see the advantage of giving money and hopefully gaining access in Washington, where decisions are made on such matters as whether to tax Internet sales and break up potential monopolies.

Joel Hyatt, the co-founder of Hyatt Legal Services and high-tech entrepreneur who helped host Friday's night's fund-raiser at his Silicon Valley estate, said, "I have only been out three and one-half years but in that time there is a far greater understanding that public policy matters."

"There is an increased awareness that this is not an island here and people are getting involved," said Hyatt, who now serves as financial co-chairman of the National Democratic Committee as well as a professor at Stanford University Business School.

Vice President Gore, in addressing the people at Hyatt's home, said, "This is not only the most successful event ever (in Silicon Valley) for either party, but it has broken the old record by a long shot."

With tickets going for about $25,000 a pop, the Silicon Valley fund-raiser drew about 80 people, while the one in Beverly Hills attracted more than 100.

President Clinton did not go to Silicon Valley, but he was at the Beverly Hills gala with Gore, the presumptive 2000 Democratic presidential nominee.

Clinton asked Hollywood to help make Gore his successor.

He also expressed appreciation to the star-studded crowd for having assisted in putting him and the vice president in power the past seven and a half years.

"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve," Clinton said. "If it wasn't for our friends in California, in particular a lot of people in this room, I'm not sure we could have done it."

The next day, Gore went to nearby Santa Monica where he climbed aboard a yellow flat-bed truck and addressed a rally on behalf of 8,500 striking janitors.

"I want you to know that my wife Tipper and I stand with you in this struggle," Gore, speaking alternately in English and Spanish, told a crowd of more than 1,000 predominately African American and Hispanic people. "We shall overcome."

Gore vowed that if elected president he would "fight for all of the people ... including janitors."

Clinton decides not to sell destroyers to Taiwan

U.S. President Bill Clinton, backed by his senior advisers, decided April 17 against the sale of four Aegis destroyers to Taiwan, but approved a smaller package including long-range radar designed to detect missile launches, two senior U.S. officials said.

Clinton, who was in California, acted on the recommendation of top advisers who met earlier in the day at the White House and also of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was traveling in Uzbekistan, said the officials.

The Pentagon had recommended that the administration put off Taiwan's request to buy new weapons, including the destroyers, submarines and anti-submarine aircraft, in order to avoid angering China, which views Taiwan as a rebellious province.

The officials spoke on condition they not be further identified.,

Besides the long-range radar, known as PAVE PAWS, the weapons package approved by the president will include new missiles, training and help in integrating $18 billion worth of weapons already sold to Taiwan, one of the officials told The Associated Press.

He called it a robust package and said Clinton had deferred sale of the destroyers and other items, not permanently canceled the deals.

Still, the decision could touch off a fight with Congress, where support for Taiwan and its growing democratic trends is strong, especially in light of menacing gestures by the Beijing government toward the island.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said the Pentagon was succumbing to pressure from the State Department and the White House "to sacrifice Taiwan's security in order to appease the dictators in Beijing."

"There is, quite simply, no military justification to deny Taiwan these crucial defensive items. These denials are driven by knee-jerk appeasement on the part of the White House and State Department," Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

A showdown between the White House and Congress could develop over legislation backed by Taiwan supporters to strengthen U.S.-Taiwanese military ties.

"The politicized handling of Taiwan's defense request -- and the utter failure of this administration to consult with Congress -- is a clear demonstration why the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act is so urgently needed," Helms continued.

Administration officials have said they would recommend a presidential veto if Congress tries to force the sale of arms to Taiwan.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., took steps the previous week to push the bill to a floor vote by the end of the month.

He issued a terse statement saying "until more details are known and a final announcement is made by the administration I will have no further comment."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., immediately imposed a "hold" on the measure that under Senate tradition could, in effect, block Lott's efforts.

Baucus is a leader in a drive to grant China permanent trade benefits.

An aggressive Taiwanese lobbying effort sought to persuade the administration to sell the Aegis warships, with price tags of $1 billion apiece, to Taiwan.

For years, analysts have said Taiwan's military, with its highly motivated troops and advanced U.S.-made weapons, could repel or at least bloody any People's Liberation Army force if China made good repeated threats to attack the island. Lately, however, some military analysts have began doubting the Taiwanese war readiness.

Tory Binns wins P.E.I. election

Premier Pat Binns urged Prince Edward Island voters, in a campaign slogan as low-watt as the man himself, to stay the course.

On April 17, they agreed.

The laid-back bean farmer from Montague was given a second consecutive mandate as his Conservatives easily won the Prince Edward Island election with an even bigger majority than before.

The party, which had 18 seats in the 27-seat legislature at dissolution, took 26 this time. The Liberals fell to one seat from seven, while the New Democrats were wiped out.

"You've just witnessed the biggest electoral victory in the history of the P.E.I. Conservative party," an elated Binns said.

"I can't tell you how this feels. It's really tremendous. We wanted to increase our majority because we felt we needed the confidence of the people of P.E.I. to move into this new millennium and we've been able to do that."

Liberal Leader Wayne Carew, who entered the campaign without a seat in the legislature, still doesn't have one. He lost to a Conservative in his riding of St. Eleanors-Summerside.

"The tide comes in and the tide goes out," Carew said. "We got caught in the tide going out."

Herb Dickieson, the lone New Democrat to ever sit in the house, lost in West Point-Bloomfield by 22 votes to a Conservative.

"We didn't quite make it this time," he said, his voice breaking slightly.

"We've actually increased our support across P.E.I., but it's not how many votes that counts, it's the arrangement of votes."

The lopsided Conservative win came after an uneventful 27-day campaign that resulted in few fireworks between the three leaders.

Binns, who retained his seat in Murray River-Gaspereaux, ran a cautious, low-key campaign that seemed geared more to minimizing screwups and preserving his popularity than igniting passion among the province's 94,087 eligible voters.

Bush uses filing day to tout tax plan

Texas Gov. George W. Bush used tax filing day as a backdrop to tout his $483 billion tax-cut plan during a campaign stop in Arkansas on April 17, arguing that the current tax code serves as a "toll gate" limiting access to the middle class.

"I can't think of a better day than tax day to say that if I become president, I look forward to sharing some of that money with the people who pay the bills," Bush said.

During an appearance at a high school in rural northwestern Arkansas, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee was flanked by three working mothers who said they would benefit under his five-year plan to drop the lowest rate from 15 percent to 10 percent.

The Bush plan would also drop the top rate from nearly 40 percent to 33 percent, leading many critics to argue that the Bush plan overwhelmingly favors the wealthy.

Democratic presidential hopeful Vice President Al Gore has routinely derided the Bush plan as a "risky tax scheme" that will consume most of the federal budget surplus without leaving money aside to shore up programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Bush brushed off those criticisms, arguing that "giving people their own money back encourages economic growth." His plans also calls for eliminating the inheritance tax and doubling the child tax credit to $1,000.

"You're going to hear all kinds of rhetoric out of Washington. They're going to say it's risky, it's this, it's that ... Al Gore believes the surplus is the government's money. I believe the surplus is the people's money," Bush told students and parents at Bentonville High School.

Bush also criticized Gore for not convincing fellow Democrats in Congress to get rid of the so-called marriage penalty tax.

"It's time for Vice President Al Gore to stand up and show some leadership ... to defend the marriage penalty reform and to tell the Senate Democrats to let that bill come up for a vote," he said.

Gore campaign spokesman Chris Lehane quickly fired back, repeating his campaign's charges that Bush's plan is "irresponsible."

"That's a real choice," Lehane said. "The American people will have to choose."

Gore has focused his energies on major education and health care initiatives. He has also proposed limited tax breaks, including some for education and retirement, and an increased earnings cap for the earned income tax credit.

As Bush was speaking the crowd of parents and students, campaign aides set up a link to the campaign's Web site where taxpayers with incomes of $100,000 or less can calculate how much money they could save if Bush's tax-cut plan becomes law.

Cuba diplomats summoned to explain alleged pummeling of protesters

To "express concern" over allegations that people from the Cuban diplomatic mission pummeled protesters who favor keeping Elian Gonzalez in the United States, the U.S. summoned top Cuban diplomats to appear at the State Department on April 18.

The State Department wants the diplomats "to explain the incident," and it plans to pass a "diplomatic note" to spell out U.S. displeasure over the alleged altercation, one State Department official said.

A diplomatic note is the standard way that governments which do not have diplomatic relations with each other officially communicate.

About a dozen demonstrators have said they were assaulted late April 14 outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington by members of the diplomatic mission. They say they suffered minor injuries and that some of them needed medical attention.

In Geneva on April 18, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights censured Cuba for the second consecutive year for what it said is "the continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement, "It is bitterly ironic that the Clinton administration is rushing to send Elian Gonzalez back to a country that has just been singled out by the U.N. for its systematic violation of human rights."

China blocks rights review

China blocked on April 18 a full-scale review of its human right record by the U.N. Human Rights Commission despite U.S. criticism.

As in previous years, Beijing mobilized support from developing countries, which dominate the 53-nation commission, to prevent discussion of an attempt to censure China for the first time. The vote on China's "no-action" motion was 22-18, with 12 countries abstaining and one absent.

Countries from Yugoslavia to Equatorial Guinea also face scrutiny by the U.N. panel. But the China measure was the toughest battle, and Washington took the unusual step of announcing well in advance -- on Jan. 11 -- that it would propose the censure resolution.

"We must acknowledge that the situation of human rights in China remains very poor," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh. "Its human rights record has not improved and has in fact deteriorated markedly over the last 12 months."

Chinese Ambassador Qiao Zonghuai responded that Washington was engaging in an "anti-China political farce" which was "a mockery toward the commission and its members."

He accused Washington of using the commission "to make unwarranted attacks on China" and repeated Beijing's accusation that the U.S. motion "serves the needs of its domestic party politics."

Chinese officials have been keen to justify the crackdown on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, one of the points covered by the U.S. resolution.

"The United States is giving unreserved support to the evil cult in China," Qiao said.

The resolution on China cited "severe restrictions on the rights of citizens" over the past year and also protested "increased restrictions" on Tibetans' freedoms and the "harsh crackdown" on opponents of the government.

Censure by the U.N. panel brings no penalties but brings international attention to countries' records. Both sides have lobbied hard among commission members.

Chinese authorities appeared to be delaying the verdict of an anti-corruption campaigner to avoid negative publicity ahead of the U.N. vote. A court in Xinyang in the central province of Hunan confirmed today that a verdict in An Jun's trial would be announced Wednesday.

Last year, the Chinese "no-action" motion passed 22-17.

The 15-nation European Union refrained from sponsoring the China resolution but opposed the Chinese "no-action" motion.

"Little progress has been made on the ground," Portuguese Ambassador Alvaro de Mendonca e Moura said on behalf of the EU.

"Today's decision represents a sorry failure of political will," said Joanna Weschler, a representative of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "The credibility of the U.N. commission has been seriously damaged by its unwillingness to censure China or even to discuss its rights performance."

"This is not surprising," said Xiao Qiang, executive director of Human Rights in China, expressing particular disappointment that the EU failed to back the resolution more strongly.

But Russian Ambassador Vasily Sidorov described the U.S. motion as a counterproductive and maintained that "one cannot ignore the positive changes" in China.

Among other motions, the human rights group condemned Iraq for its "all-pervasive repression and oppression" of its population. The EU motion was supported by 32 nations. There were 21 abstentions.

Cuba faces a motion submitted by Poland and the Czech Republic that expresses concern about continued repression of political opponents and the detention of dissidents. The communist island last year was rebuked by a single-vote margin.

A potential showdown on an EU motion expressing concern at allegations of abuses by both sides in the Chechen conflict was delayed.

Appeals court rules Elian must stay in U.S. pending appeal

A federal appeals court on April 19 upheld the restraining order keeping Elian Gonzalez in the United States until the court hears his U.S. family's appeal for an asylum hearing for the boy.

"Plaintiff is entitled to an injunction pending appeal. Therefore, it is ordered that plaintiff Elian Gonzalez is enjoined from departing or attempting to depart from the United States," the decision concluded.

The decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which got the case last week, left unclear whether the 6-year-old boy will be reunited with his Cuban father.

Earlier that day Attorney General Janet Reno said she knew what orders she would give if the court rules in favor of the Justice Department.

But she declined to reveal those plans, which could include force. "I know where I'm going," Reno said, without elaboration.

"We will utilize all law enforcement options if appropriate under the 11th Circuit order," Reno told reporters in Washington. While determined to retrieve Elian from his Miami relatives and return the boy to his father in "the least violent way," the attorney general did not specifically rule out a stronger option.

"There may come a time when there is no other alternative. But we've got to do it in a careful, thoughtful way," Reno said, adding that she remained open to suggestions from the Miami family on how to proceed with a government-ordered custody transfer.

Judge wants tobacco talks

A federal judge has ordered tobacco companies and plaintiffs' lawyers to nail down a settlement that would probably end all major tobacco litigation in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported April 19.

"The time for bringing a close to tobacco litigation is nigh," U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein said in an order issued in federal court in Brooklyn, the Journal reported. The settlement would include a class-action suit pending before the judge on behalf of all U.S. smokers with lung cancer.

The move is significant because it represents an effort by one judge to end the escalating legal battles against U.S. tobacco makers, the report said. Judge Weinstein currently has six tobacco lawsuits pending before him.

In the order, Judge Weinstein reportedly told lawyers in all six cases to "begin preliminary discussions designed to set a framework for settlement negotiations." He suggested that a mediator be selected and said he would appoint one himself if necessary, according to the Journal.
Weinstein also said current class-actions suits should really encompass all people with tobacco-related illnesses in the nation, rather than just those with lung cancer, "so that tobacco litigation may be fully resolved in a comprehensive fashion," the report said.

The judge's order apparently startled lawyers on all sides. "It was certainly unexpected," William Ohlemeyer, associate general counsel at Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the world's biggest cigarette maker, was quoted as saying in the Journal. "Obviously, we're going to have to look at the order and look at the law, but it's not something that anyone can disregard out of hand, regardless of how strong we feel our defenses are."

Ballmer: Microsoft didn't break law

Regardless of the recent ruling by a federal judge who found Microsoft in wide violation of antitrust law, the software company has always strived to behave with ''the highest integrity,'' its president says.

''It still matters in business what your values are,'' said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's president and chief executive officer.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft violated antitrust law by illegally using its monopoly power. The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and 19 states.

But Ballmer said his company did not break the law as accused.

''We remain convinced that we have a very strong set of factual legal arguments,'' he said April 18 before an audience at George Washington University.

Values are ''super important'' to Microsoft, Ballmer insisted.

''It matters to me that we're a company of fine integrity. It matters to me a lot. It matters to me when I address my kids,'' he said, referring to his two children, including an 8-year-old who is ''old enough to know that Daddy's company is in the paper.''

A May 24 hearing has been set on what penalties should be imposed against Microsoft, which will appeal the ruling.

Ballmer said Jackson suggested in his April 3 verdict that ''he and the D.C. Court of Appeals - he thinks they have different point of views, so we'll have to see what happens as that whole thing plays out.''

Earlier that day, at a technology convention for government workers, Ballmer made only an oblique reference to the antitrust case and its high profile in Washington.

''I suspect there is far more opportunity for those of you in the D.C. area to read about Microsoft than I wish there was recently,'' he quipped.

Ballmer also told his audience that the federal government is one of Microsoft's top clients.

''The U.S. government, overall, is certainly our largest customer in the world,'' he said.

Ballmer's appearance at the trade show came within two hours of a keynote address by Attorney General Janet Reno.

Reno made no reference to the Microsoft case, focusing strictly on how the industry and government can work together better to make information technology more accessible to people with disabilities.

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