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web posted April 9, 2001

Many doctors open to medical marijuana use

A recent survey suggests that more than half of the doctors who took part in it favor the drug's use. Very few discount the idea altogether.

Slightly more than half of the physicians in a survey, 51 percent, believe that marijuana should be used for medical reasons when other treatments don't work. The drug is often used to treat chemotherapy- related nausea or AIDS-related appetite loss as well as other problems.

Only 6.2 percent of the 756 physicians and doctors-in-training said that marijuana should not be used at all. Of the rest, nearly 18 percent said more scientific study is needed before it should be used, and 24.6 percent said it should be used in a purified alternative form so patients don't have to smoke it.

Currently, patients who take marijuana for medical purposes must smoke it first. The survey was conducted by Physicians Online over a two-week period in January and February.

Streisand blasts Bush in memo sent to top Democrats

Calling U.S. President George Bush a "destructive man," singing legend Barbra Streisand on April 2 fired off a blistering three-page memo to top Democrats in Washington calling for a "strong, strategic, targeted offense against the Republican revolution."

"This is not the time to be weak," Streisand writes in the memo titled "Nice Guys Finish Last" sent the previous week to several dozen top Democratic legislators and released to media outlets on April 2 through her publicist.

"Unless we win, we'll be consistently on the defensive with our fingers holding the dike against the resurgence of the far right. ... You don't have to be ruthless like the Republicans, just be strong."

In her note she blasts Bush's record on environmental issues, reproductive rights and the protection of people with disabilities, children, and U.S. workers. She lambastes the record of Bush's father, former President George Bush, on pardons, and urges Democrats and journalists to investigate Republicans vigorously, charging that they are controlled by big business.

Streisand writes: "We have a president who was selected rather than elected. He stole the presidency through family ties, arrogance and intimidation, employing Republican operatives to exercise the tactics of voter fraud by disenfranchising thousands of blacks, elderly Jews and other minorities."

Streisand's publicist Dick Guttman said that she has no aspirations to become a politician and her motivation to send the memo was concern about the issues and the American people.

"She said people confuse political passion with political ambition," Guttman said, adding that since releasing the memo to Democrats Streisand has been flooded with offers to speak publicly.

"She sent it to top Democrats who responded very favorably, to it calling it a very important wake up call," Guttman said.

San Diego council bans word "minority". Stops short of outlawing corruption

San Diego city council unanimously banned the word 'minority' from city documents and discussions, saying the word is disparaging.

"When you see all people as children of God, you then see all people as your brothers and sisters," said Mayor Dick Murphy.

In supporting the ban, Councilman George Stevens said people sometimes expect less of those who are labeled minorities. Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr. said the term no longer applies because the latest Census figures show some areas don't have one predominant racial group.

Several people who favored the ban also spoke at the April 2 council meeting.

"To have that term really made me feel inferior," said Robert Ito, who identified himself as a fourth-generation Japanese-American.

Only one person opposed eliminating the term. "Each of us is born a minority of one and shall die that way," said Pacific Beach activist Al Strohlein.

The action follows the San Diego Unified School District, which approved a policy in 1988 of avoiding the use of the words "majority" and "minority."

Rather spoke at Democratic fundraiser

Dan Rather, the longest-serving and most outspoken of the major network news anchors, recently served as the star attraction at a Democratic Party fundraiser.

Dan RatherDonors paid as much as $1,000 for a private evening in Austin with the CBS newsman, according to an invitation obtained by The Washington Post. Rather's appearance at the March 21 gathering generated about $20,000 for the Travis County Democratic Party -- and will undoubtedly provide ammunition to critics who have long accused Rather of leaning to the left.

Rather said April 3 that he hadn't realized beforehand that the event was a fundraiser. "I didn't ask the question, and I should have," he said in an interview. "I take full responsibility for it. I'm responsible and I'm accountable."

But the Texas native stopped short of calling his appearance a mistake or saying he would not have attended had he known in advance that he was being used to raise money.

Acknowledging that he didn't want to sound like Al Gore at a Buddhist temple, Rather said: "When I got there, I was very aware that it was a fundraising event. I'm not going to say I had no idea what was going on. . . . If someone wants to fault me for that, I wouldn't blame them."

Rather said he agreed to discuss election coverage at the invitation of an old friend, Austin City Council member Will Wynn, who drew 150 people to the event in his back yard. He was not paid for his appearance. Other hosts included Scott Ozmun, the county Democratic chairman, and Robin Rather, the anchor's daughter and a Texas environmentalist and marketing executive.

The Austin American-Statesman said Robin Rather is considering a run for mayor and has been consulting with another host of the event, David Butts, a campaign adviser to Mayor Kirk Watson. The CBS veteran said he didn't know that his daughter was an official host.

Asked for comment, CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said: "Obviously our standards don't allow correspondents to participate in political party fundraisers. No one believes in this and upholds it more fervently than Dan Rather. This was an honest oversight on his part."

Rather has long disputed suggestions that he is a Democratic Party sympathizer. But he consistently draws the most flak of the major anchors from viewers who see him as less than objective, even spawning a Web site called RatherBiased.com.

"I think the stereotype of Rather is occasionally unfair, but this feeds the stereotype," said Republican consultant Mike Murphy. "Generally, television anchors should not be in the business of helping political parties raise money. He ought to make it real clear that it was a huge mistake and he should never do that sort of thing."

Said National Review Editor Rich Lowry: "He is perceived as the most buffoonishly biased of any of the anchors, as far as conservatives are concerned. He's the favorite media pinata for people on the right. He arouses their ire. This, obviously, will just increase that. This will enter the lore about Dan Rather."

In one widely quoted example, Rather said on "Larry King Live" in 1998: "I would not be astonished to see Hillary Clinton be the Democratic nominee in 2000. . . . As far as I'm concerned, she's the Person of the Year [for] Time magazine."

The fundraising invitation, 1,000 of which were sent out, says: "Please join us for an evening with DAN RATHER. Mayor Kirk Watson & Other Honored Guests. 'Power Shifts & Aftershocks.' An Insider View on Politics & Power."

The RSVP form -- which asks that checks be made payable to the county Democratic Party -- says a donor can be a "host" for $1,000, which buys tickets for "four guests for private reception & evening event." A "sponsor" gets two tickets for $500. A "guest" gets one or two tickets (for $150 and $250, respectively) but doesn't get into the private reception.

Wynn, describing himself as a close friend of Robin Rather, said that "it wouldn't surprise me at all if Dan wasn't aware that technically this was a fundraiser. I'm sorry if somehow there might have been some miscommunication. . . . His comments were completely nonpartisan."

Eddie Rodriguez, the party's executive director, called it "a very successful event. . . . There was just a lot of interest in hearing about the election from someone who had such an insight into what happened in the media."

Rather, who maintains a home in the Austin area, noted that the night before he sat with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at an arts dinner and posed for a picture with the Republican.

"This is part of what I do -- I circulate among politicians," he said. "Over a long period of time, I've met with political groups large and small, Democratic and Republican, Green Party, mugwumps, you name it, because that's what reporters do."

Rather said he "wouldn't be surprised" if critics use the incident to call him a closet Democrat. "I'm going to get that criticism whether I deserve it or not."

At least it's less than 50 per cent. IRS help wrong 47 per cent of time

Internal Revenue Service workers, in person and on the telephone, gave incorrect information almost half the time to Treasury Department investigators posing as taxpayers, the department's inspector general for tax administration told a congressional subcommittee on April 3.

In addition, more than one in three telephone calls to the agency's help line did not get through, the investigators found.

The issue of inadequate taxpayer assistance has dogged the IRS for years, and is a major irritant to taxpayers. In addition, there are numerous tales of taxpayers who called the IRS with a question, relied on the incorrect answer they got, and had to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.

The agency has sought to correct the problems. Its latest effort, a new system designed to route calls to IRS workers most likely to be familiar with the caller's topic, was supposed to begin service this spring, but did not because of software design failures and other problems, Inspector General David C. Williams told a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

"As a result, the expectation of answering an additional 9.6 million calls during the 2001 filing season will not be realized," he said.

Williams said the agency seems to have a solid overall technology plan in place, but "most ongoing modernization projects are taking longer and costing more than originally estimated. As a result, benefits to taxpayers have yet to be realized."

Treasury's test indicated that reliance on IRS answers remains a perilous course.

"Over a four-day period this filing season, our auditors made 368 random test calls to the IRS's toll-free number and were unable to gain access 37 percent of the time," Williams said.

And when the callers did get through, "the IRS incorrectly responded to 47 percent of the questions," Williams said, adding that "the topics of the test calls were obtained from the IRS's list of frequently asked questions."

The testers also visited 47 Taxpayer Assistance Centers in 11 states. In most cases they were dealt with promptly and courteously -- but 49 percent of the time were not given correct answers to their questions, Williams said.

IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti, who testified before Williams, said that the IRS's own data indicate that about a third of calls don't get through, and the agency is working to correct the problem.

"We are completely reorganizing the telephone system," he said, noting that the changes will affect 14,000 to 15,000 IRS customer service employees.

He also said that the calls IRS workers are handling are becoming increasingly complicated. Phone answerers deal with some questions once referred to compliance workers and simpler calls are being routed to automated services.

"However, I concur with Treasury Secretary [Paul H.] O'Neill's characterization of IRS's current level of phone service as 'unacceptable,' " Rossotti said.

In addition to clearing lines so that calls are answered, the key is getting calls routed to appropriate workers, he said.

The General Accounting Office said its studies indicate that telephone access has improved this year. It found that three-quarters of calls got through, but included calls to an automated refund-information line.

Bush wins...again. Recount of Florida undervotes confirms Bush victory

If a recount of Florida's votes in the close presidential election last year had been allowed to proceed by the United States Supreme Court, Republican George W. Bush would still have won the White House, a Miami newspaper reported April 4.

The Miami Herald conducted a comprehensive review of 64,248 ballots in all 67 Florida counties. Their count showed that Bush's razor-thin margin of 537 votes would have tripled to 1,655 votes if counted according to standards advocated by his Democratic rival Al Gore

"In the end, I think we probably confirmed that President Bush should have been president of the United States," said Mark Seibel, the paper's managing editor. "I think that it was worthwhile because so many people had questions about how the ballots had been handled and how the process had worked."

Ironically, a tougher standard of counting only cleanly punched ballots advocated by many Republicans would have resulted in a Gore lead of just three votes, the newspaper reported.

The Herald's review also discovered that canvassing boards in Palm Beach and Broward counties threw out hundreds of ballots that had marks that were no different from ballots deemed to be valid. The paper concluded that Gore would be in the White House today if those ballots had been counted.

The Herald's experts began counting the undervotes -- ballots without presidential votes detected by counting machines -- on December 18, 2000. They concluded their work on March 13.

Postal waste

Government auditors have just placed the U.S. Postal Service on its "high-risk" list, meaning that among government departments, they are most susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse. The reason? A federal audit indicates the Postal Service wasted more than $1 billion over the last four years, Good Morning America's Consumer Correspondent Greg Hunter has learned.

Hunter tried to get an interview with Postmaster General William Henderson to discuss the auditors' findings, but Henderson would not talk to ABCNEWS.

"The postmaster is highly accountable," said USPS Senior Vice President Deborah Willhite. "He's just simply not doing an interview with you."

Postal officials say the Postal Service is a $65 billion business. Waste, and abuse are a small fraction of that total budget, they say.

Meanwhile, Americans are paying more to have their mail delivered. The Postal Service recently boosted the price of stamps by a penny, to 34 cents. Now it seeks another increase that would raise stamp prices anywhere from 3 to 5 cents. And the agency is planning to study how much it could save by ending Saturday service.

Over the past four years, government auditors have discovered that more than $1.4 billion have been wasted because of mismanagement, abuse and fraud. While the service was raising rates for first-class mail, they discovered, some managers were treating themselves to a variety of perks and bloated benefits.

The USPS Office of Inspector General found that some managers had misused chauffeur-driven cars, hundreds of times, for their personal use.

Government watchdog groups say that kind of abuse by top managers sets a bad example.

"The whole limo thing is emblematic of a whole culture of waste," says," Leslie Paige, of Citizens Against Government Waste. "[It] goes right through the Post Office from the top down."

The Postal Service has not revealed the names of the managers misusing chauffeur-driven cars. Some of them have gone to other positions, but to Willhite's knowledge, none had been fired.

Postal service managers have also received unusually large relocation packages in some cases.

When Richard Porras, the former chief financial officer of the Postal Service, moved from Fairfax, Va., to Vienna, Va. — a distance of 15 miles — he was given $142,000. On top of that he received $25,000 for miscellaneous expenses.

Porras has since retired, but he told ABCNEWS by telephone that the expenses were approved.

The inspector general's report reveals managers at the Postal Service have also squandered millions of dollars on buildings and equipment.

In Charlottesville, Va., the Postal Service leased a building for $4.2 million for 20 years. Then it left that building empty for two years before subleasing it to a tractor supply company.

In Chicago, the construction of the main post office ended up costing $128 million more than the original budget.

In Seattle, postal officials bought a building without getting a detailed inspection. Later they discovered the building needed $23 million in repairs.

"It's outrageous," says Edward Hudgins of the Cato Institute. "If it did happen in the private sector, heads would roll, the people who wasted $23 million would be out looking for a job."

The Postal Service has also been criticized for spending $158 million in advertising for their overnight delivery services. Critics argue that the post office is a monopoly, and there is no need to advertise. The government agency even sponsors Lance Armstrong and the United States Cycling Team.

Despite criticism and big losses, postal officials have said that they will not cut their advertising budget.

"No business our size would operate without advertising to make people aware of the products they produce," Willhite said.

First-class mail volume is dropping, so the post office has spent and lost millions on new ventures.

It has spent $3.9 million trying to sell stamps from foreign countries. And it lost $84 million selling things like phone cards and postal clothing — everything from bike shirts to hats to socks.

Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is frustrated at what he calls postal mismanagement.

"The post office would have broken even if they hadn't paid themselves a couple of hundred million in bonuses," he said. "And that speaks for itself."

Taxpayer groups say the government should stop giving the Postal Service money until it cuts the waste.

The Postal Service says it may lose $2 billion to $3 billion this year, prompting another stamp price increase. The agency says it has addressed some of the abuses, such as the town cars, which will not happen again.

Hillary Clinton says she's not running for president

Hillary ClintonSen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long been speculated as a possible presidential candidate, told The New York Post that she has ruled out running for the White House not just in 2004, but in 2008 and beyond.

The statement came when the former first lady was pressed to clarify a comment she had made earlier, referring to the presidency as "not something I'm going to be doing."

Clinton was asked by the Post: "So, Sen. Clinton, are you ruling out a run for president not just in 2004, but in 2008 and beyond?"

"Yes," replied Clinton, according to the Post account.

A top Clinton aide, who was nearby and listened to the entire exchange, later told the Post that he is unsure whether Clinton had ever made such an ironclad refusal.

Campaigning last year, Clinton repeatedly said she intended to serve her six-year Senate term if elected and would not speculate beyond that. But she is frequently asked whether she will run in 2004, and at least one recent poll in Iowa -- where caucuses launch the presidential nominating season -- has showed her running second behind Al Gore among Democrats.

Clinton made her initial remark about the presidency after she delivered a 20-minute speech and took questions from members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which is holding its annual conference.

Judge: Clinton freen regs violated law

A federal judge said on April 6 the Forest Service violated federal law, before approving a plan to put millions of acres of forestland nationwide off-limits to logging.

Ordered in the closing months of the administration, it bans roads on 58 million acres across the nation. Six million acres of Montana forest would be affected.

The judge in Idaho says there is strong evidence the process was hurried, and the Forest Service was not prepared to produce a coherent proposal or meaningful dialogue.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge says it looks like the end result was predetermined. He says the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

The judge says he'll decide whether to block the plan, after reviewing a report next month from the Bush administration.

Clinton pays fine in law license suspension

Former President Clinton has paid a $25,000 fine that was part of a sanction in which his Arkansas law license was suspended for five years.

Clinton paid the fine with a personal check on March 21, said Marie-Bernarde Miller, the lawyer who handled a disbarment lawsuit brought by a committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

"The case is completed," Miller said April 6.

Clinton agreed Jan. 19 to the fine and suspension as part of an understanding with Independent Counsel Robert Ray to end the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

The agreement also satisfied the legal effort by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct to disbar Clinton for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. No deadline was set for Clinton to pay the fine.

The fine was intended to cover the committee's cost to pay Miller and another lawyer involved in bringing the case against Clinton.

"I think the outcome was a very good resolution of this case," Miller said. "The penalty that the president received -- a five-year suspension to take effect while he was a sitting president and a
$25,000 fine -- was, I think, an acceptable penalty."

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