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Clinton jokes with the press at black-tie dinner

After each tumultuous turn of his presidency -- congressional defeat, re-election, impeachment -- President Clinton has been known to muse about his greater role in history. Last month, he sat down with 2 000 or so journalists to ponder where he'll be in two years.

Raising the possibility he may have to fill out a co-op application in New York, where his wife is considering a run for the Senate, Clinton asked the crowd to imagine what he would have to write:

"Intended employment: Unknown. Expected earnings: Unknown. Current residence: Public housing. References: Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Steven Spielberg. Outstanding debts? Williams & Connelly, the House Democrats."

The occasion for Clinton's banter the evening of May 1 was the 85th annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association, one of the few times each year when the president and the journalists who cover him get together simply to laugh at and with one another.

Clinton showed up late enough to miss the presentation of the association's Edgar Allan Poe Award to Michael Isikoff, the Newsweek reporter who devoted the past year to unearthing the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Instead, Clinton came in time to hear MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, master of ceremonies for the black-tie affair.

Williams poked fun at the media elite, mocking The New York Times, which boycotts the dinner, and telling the audience that The Washington Post was late to the event because it has been "going out to dinner on the same story since 1974," a reference to its breaking much of the Watergate scandal.

Williams also took shots at political leaders, frequently mocking Vice President Al Gore for his claim that he invented the Internet. Clinton took the podium and defending his No. 2, pointed out that Gore, who attended the Kentucky Derby that day, never claimed he sired the winning horse.

Clinton took his own friendly shots at the press, inviting the audience to imagine what would have happened had the 1990s media been around to cover other wars.

He suggested some headlines that would have emerged: "Paul Revere's warning: Too little too late?" "Lincoln speaks at Gettysburg: Fails to articulate exit strategy." "MacArthur to Philippines: 'I Shall Return' -- Refuses to set specific timetable."

The president turned back to his own role in history. He told the audience that he saw a list of the top 100 news stories of the century compiled by the Newseum, a journalism-oriented museum in across the Potomac in Virginia, and noticed that "something about the events of the past year" were on it.

Clinton, smiling, revealed his number on the list: No. 53.

"No. 53! I mean, what does a guy have to do to make the top 50? I came in six places after the invention of plastic, for crying outloud. And I don't recall a year of 24-hour-a-day saturation on the miracle of plastic."

Sun writer a wanted man

Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis said last month that the Communist Chinese tried unsuccessfully to recruit him as an "agent of influence" -- or friendly journalist -- in the mid-1980s.

Margolis told a Toronto Sun reporter the Chinese conducted the year-long campaign to recruit him in numerous meetings in both Toronto and Ottawa.

But he stressed he was not being recruited to act as a spy for China.

"They had wanted to recruit me and other prominent Canadians as agents of influence, in other words, to create a favourable impression towards China," Margolis said May 1.

Margolis said they wanted him to "shape public opinion in their favour and perhaps go further and deliver them strategic intelligence information."

And he wasn't alone.

"I saw a number of prominent Canadians who were also being approached and some of whom accepted free trips to China, paid for by the Chinese government," said Margolis.

He first mentioned the attempted recruitment in his March 14 Toronto Sun column.

Margolis said he declined the offer by the Chinese, and although he's had similar offers from other countries, he's always said no.

He said he's never accepted money, favours "and equally important -- no free trips."

"I've been approached by a number of other countries, most recently a major Asian power, not China. And in this last case they offered substantial sums of money."

The money would have been paid as "consulting fees, stipend, a figure wasn't quoted. I don't know how much it was, but they said it would be substantial."

"And the point was to supply them with political analysis," he said.

"I said in the last case, thank you very much, but I don't accept money from anyone, or any other favours.

"And in the first case I made the same point, except that in the first case, with the Chinese, the recruitment effort was much, much more sophisticated and much more discreet."

The veteran foreign affairs journalist declined to name which other Canadians were approached by the Chinese in the 1980s.

"Because I have no indication that they did anything for the Chinese government."

But Margolis said they included "some media people, some people in the retired military, the foreign policy establishment."

He maintains this is not an indication the Chinese are being overly aggressive and need to be reigned-in. "We just need to be aware of the realities of the world."

Geraldo in the wrong again

A law school student is still waiting for his payoff for proving Geraldo Rivera wrong.

Last September, on his CNBC show "Rivera Live," Rivera said criminal prosecutions aren't brought for lying about sex, and offered $10 000 to anyone who could prove him wrong. He made the challenge as he discussed the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

Steve A. McCloskey, 46, a law student at North Carolina Central University, checked the computer databases and found about a dozen such cases.

McCloskey sued Rivera in March for breach of contract when the network wouldn't pay. Three weeks later, NBC agreed to pay McCloskey the $10 000 and an extra $86 for court costs and postage. McCloskey declared victory.

"After winning my first case with somebody like NBC, I hope it's not all downhill from there," he said.

It was the third payment NBC has made resulting from Rivera's challenge.

They used to let you do it...now it's life imprisonment

A Toronto woman's desire for a couple of smokes aboard an airplane could land her in prison for life if the maximum penalty is applied.

She also faces a fine equal to the value of the plane she was on, a Lockheed L-1011.

The Air Transat jetliner was returning to Toronto from Las Vegas on May 2 when the cabin crew saw a woman leaving the lavatory amid a cloud of smoke.

The smoke detector did not go off. Cabin crew later reported batteries and parts had been removed, disabling the device.

After being warned, the woman went to a second lavatory. The smoke detector there was also later found to have been taken apart.

Crew members called police at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and they were waiting when the plane landed.

Toni Lynn Rizzuto, 26, is charged with mischief over C$5 000 and damage to an aircraft in service.

The maximum penalties for damage to an aircraft in service are life imprisonment or a fine equal to the value of the property damaged, in this case the Lockheed. Damage to the smoke detectors was estimated at about C$50.

"They (police) take it quite seriously. Smoking can jeopardize other individuals' safety," said Const. Carol Taylor of Peel Regional Police without cracking a smile.

The maximum penalties, however, are unlikely to be applied.

Rizzuto will appear in court on June 1.

Five women bare all in Madrid to protest war

Five women protesting NATO action in Yugoslavia startled people lining up to pay their taxes in Madrid on May 3 by stripping naked in front of them.

The taxpayers who headed to the tax office probably expected nothing but a long wait, but they were surprised by five women who stripped off their clothes and, covered in nothing but some brown paint, demonstrated against NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia and actions in Kosovo by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Accompanied by other protesters, the women held signs calling for peace and shouted slogans against Milosevic and NATO, state radio reported.

After 15 minutes of protest, they put their clothes back on and were escorted out of the building by security guards.

Come to America...beat up its citizens...it must be baseball diplomacy!

The Cuban batters weren't the only ones hitting hard at baseball's Camden Yards on May 3.

An anti-Castro demonstrator was body-slammed and punched by a Cuban umpire behind second base in the middle of the night baseball game between a Cuban all-star team and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Cubans already led 6-3 in the rain-delayed exhibition game when it became a real slugfest in the fifth inning.

An inning after three protesters ran into the outfield and were arrested, a man jumped onto the field, carrying a sign that said, "Freedom -- Strike Out Against Castro."

Second base umpire Cesar Valdez, one of three Cubans on the six-man umpiring crew, charged after the fan.

They tangled briefly, then Valdez lifted the fan over his head and threw him down to the ground hard. Valdez began swinging, and appeared to land a couple of blows to the man's head, before Orioles left fielder B.J. Surhoff rushed in and pulled Valdez off.

Police said the four people who ran onto the field were arrested on a charge of trespassing.

At least one of the protesters wore a T-shirt that said, "40 Years Is Too Much," an apparent reference to Fidel Castro's leadership of Cuba. As police led one fan past the Cuban dugout and the Cuban delegation, he yelled at them while the Cubans booed and gave him the thumbs-down sign.

There was a heavy police presence outside the ballpark to monitor demonstrations, and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents stood by just in case of potential defections.

Unlike in Havana, where Castro sat in a front-row box, there was no obvious presence of American government officials. U.S. Senators Christopher Dodd, Patrick Leahy and Paul Sarbanes attended, but sat in private boxes on upper levels.

Nothing wrong with Canadians paying over half their earnings to taxes, says Prime Minister

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said he won't cut taxes to levels in the U.S. because his Liberal government needs to protect poor Canadians and maintain health care standards.

Chrétien has said he will cut taxes in only a "reasonable way" and without increasing the deficit, but he came under attack in the House on May 3 to reduce the burden on Canadian taxpayers.

Reform MP Chuck Strahl noted that Industry Minister John Manley was quoted the past weekend as suggesting Canadian taxes are too high and should be reduced to U.S. levels.

The prime minister fielded all questions and at one point signalled to Manley that he should remain seated, the National Post reported.

Even when the Reformers called on Manley to explain his comments on taxes, Chrétien jumped on the questions, suggesting he would not stand for mixed messages from his party, the paper reported.

Chrétien said his government has lowered taxes by 10 per cent for a family of six earning C$60 000 a year and said employment insurance premiums have also dropped.

The prime minister countered Reform claims by saying the Opposition never mentions how 40 million Americans have no medical coverage when they compare Canadian and U.S. tax systems. Of course, Chrétien never mentioned that most of those Americans choose not to have medical coverage.

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