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web posted August 7, 2000

An evolution referendum -- Kansas voters suggest change

Sending a strong signal in the debate over how to teach about the origin of life, voters chose three candidates for the Kansas Board of Education who promised to back science standards with a greater emphasis on evolution.

Two incumbents and another candidate who support the state's current standards that play down the importance of evolution were defeated in Republican primaries on August 1. The lone incumbent survivor, Steve Abrams, helped write the standards.

The elections pave the way for a potential reversal of the board's 6-4 vote last year that put the standards in place. In the November 7 election, the four primary winners will face Democrats who also want to scrap the guidelines.

"I think it's a foregone conclusion that we get a new set of science standards in January," said Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who voted against the standards.

Wagnon did not have a contested primary but will face Patrick Hill, a Topeka Republican who supports the standards. Five of the 10 board seats will be filled in November.

The standards, which school districts do not have to follow, omit the big-bang theory of the universe's origin. They also provide the basis for statewide student assessment tests to be introduced next spring.

The issue drew international attention and generated unprecedented campaign contributions. It also created rifts in the Kansas Republican Party by becoming the new litmus test of whether someone is conservative or moderate.

Critics argued that the move makes the state look backward, but proponents said it lets local school districts decide what to teach. Some of those who have attacked the teaching of evolution believe in creationism.

Linda Holloway, who supported the new standards as board chairwoman last year and spent thousands of dollars in her re-election campaign, lost to Sue Gamble, 60 percent to 40 percent. Holloway said she was surprised and blamed her loss on weeks of criticism about the board's decision.

"Unfortunately, I guess propaganda still works," she said.

Gamble saw her nomination as a rejection of the standards: "I think it's a validation of parents and other community people speaking for their schools and quality education."

Incumbent Mary Douglass Brown was defeated by Carol Rupe, 52 percent to 48 percent, and moderate Bruce Wyatt beat conservative Brad Angell, 58 percent to 42 percent. Wyatt won a seat vacated by a member who voted for the standards.

Abrams defeated Roger Rankin, 62 percent to 38 percent.

It was the first time voters got a chance to decide whether the standards approved last year should cost board members their jobs. Holloway, Abrams and Brown, conservatives who voted for the standards, were challenged by moderates who opposed the decision.

The theory of evolution, developed by Charles Darwin and others, holds that the Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over hundreds of millions of years.

Creationism maintains that evolution cannot be proven and that the Earth and most life forms came into existence suddenly about 6,000 years ago, largely as described in the Bible.

Debate over the issue has heated up in other states. Efforts have included attempts to delete evolution from science standards and tests, and including a disclaimer in textbooks playing down the importance of the theory.

In the state's lone congressional primary, moderate Greg Musil criticized the board's decision in radio and TV ads. His conservative opponents, including state Rep. Phill Kline, did not make evolution a campaign issue.

Musil's strategy didn't work against Kline's promises to fight for tax cuts, however. Kline defeated Musil 50 percent to 37 percent. Gary Morsch, a political newcomer, had 13 percent.

Kline will face first-term Rep. Dennis Moore, the state's only Democratic congressman, in November.

Banner day for Canadian flag flyer

A judge has upheld a lower court's decision dismissing the case of the flapping Canadian flag.

"All Canadians can feel free to resume flying their country's flag on their own property without fear of interference," said a jubilant Roger Gardner after an August 1 decision in the Ontario Court of Justice.

Gardner, 54, was acquitted last year after he was charged under a local noise bylaw with disturbing neighbours by allowing his flag to flap in the wind. But the Town of the Blue Mountains appealed.

Mr. Justice Donald Downie dismissed the appeal, calling the matter "a tempest in a teapot." He agreed with a justice of the peace's June 1999 decision that the bylaw was too vague to include a flapping flag.

Gardner sold his Blue Mountains chalet last year and moved to Big White, near Kelowna, B.C., where he proudly flies his Canadian flag - and, he says, with no complaints from neighbours or the municipality.

He told the judge he drove across Canada to be in court in Meaford, 35 kilometres west of Collingwood.

"This has cost me a lot of money, but it was something I felt I had to do," said Gardner, a retired school principal, who faced a fine of $240 to $2,400 had he been convicted.

Gardner said the town had wasted a great deal of taxpayer's money "to persecute" him for flying the flag.

Paul Shaw, a solicitor hired by the town, said the case was not about Gardner demonstrating his patriotism. The town launched the appeal because its bylaw was under attack.

Shaw, who refused to say how much the town spent on the case, said the decision has ramifications for other municipalities.

He argued in court Gardner had raised his flag to antagonize a neighbour who opposed Gardner's application for a zoning change to allow him to operate a bed and breakfast.

Poorest U.S. states ahead of Canada

Canada has a lower standard of living than the poorest region of the southern United States, according to a new Industry Canada study comparing incomes between U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

On average, the U.S. standard of living -- the amount of income per person -- was 22 per cent higher than that of Canada, the study said.

But the overall figure conceals some profound regional differences. The study grouped the U.S. states into regions and found that there was a 40 per cent gap between Canada and the New England states, the highest-income region.

At the same time, the lowest-income American region, the southeast states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, had a standard of living that was still 10 per cent above the Canadian average.

In fact, only seven states had standards of living below the Canadian average.

"Standards of living of Canadian provinces are well behind those of the U.S. states. In fact, the best Canadian performer, Alberta, ranks 18th among the 60 states and provinces while Ontario is in 37th place. Most Canadian provinces are concentrated at the bottom of the list," the study said.

The study, titled A Regional Perspective on the Canada-U.S. Standard of Living Comparison, compares the states and provinces based on data gathered between 1992 and 1997.

It converts U.S. dollars to Canadian currency based on a U.S. dollar worth Cdn$1.23. This measure, called purchasing power parity, is based on the cost of similar goods in the two countries. The market valuation of the difference between the Canadian and U.S. dollar is much larger.

A third of the 50 states had a standard of living more than 25 per cent higher than the Canadian average. In particularly high-income states, such as Delaware or Connecticut, the wealth gap was 50 per cent, the study said.

Previously, most comparisons between Canada and the U.S. concentrated on national differences. Industry Canada said a comparison of both income levels and the productivity of the regions and individual states and provinces provides additional insight into the economic differences between the two countries.

The U.S. economy has been a powerhouse, adding growth and wealth through nearly nine years of growth. The Canadian economy has just recently begun to show similar growth and increased income.

In ranking the states and the provinces, Delaware, Alaska and Connecticut led the United States in income per person. The highest ranking province was Alberta which was 18th in terms of standard of living. Ontario was 37th, British Columbia ranked 49th while Saskatchewan was 51st and Quebec 52nd.

All the other Canadian provinces ranked below Mississippi, the state with the lowest standard of living.

The Industry Canada study also measured the productivity gap between the states and provinces and concluded that there is a clear link between productivity performance - GDP per worker - and income levels.

"Productivity is the main driving force behind the standard of living," said the study. "Overall, U.S. states are about 18 per cent more productive than their Canadian counterparts which is slightly below the 22 per cent gap observed for the standard of living."

All the U.S. regions recorded productivity levels above the Canadian average for the 1995-1997 period, with the gap ranging from 3 per cent to 40 per cent, the study said.

Alberta, Canada's most productive province, ranked 23rd among the 50 U.S. states and Ontario ranked 31 st. All the other provinces were at the low end of the spectrum.

Judge sets FBI e-mail scanning disclosure

A federal judge ordered the FBI on August 2 to set a timetable for responding to a privacy group's request for details of "Carnivore," a tool designed to capture e-mail messages in a criminal investigation.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson gave the FBI 10 working days to say when it would start rolling out records under "expedited" Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing.

David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, hailed the order as a "very good result." He said it indicated the court planned to supervise the FBI's production of documents.

In an application to the court, EPIC had accused the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department of breaching the law by failing to act on a request for fast-track processing of its FOIA query about the snooping system.

But at the opening of the hearing, Sobel said he had received a fax 90 minutes earlier in which the FBI and Justice Department granted the "expedited" treatment at issue.

In so doing, assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Barsoomian told the court the FBI planned to make the documents available "as soon as practicable."

Robertson, responding to a request from EPIC, said he would consider 10 days a reasonable definition of what was "practicable" in the matter. He ordered the FBI to let him know by then its timetable for starting to meet the FOIA request.

In July, the FBI told Congress Carnivore is designed to intercept data from the electronic mail of a criminal suspect by monitoring traffic at an Internet service provider. EPIC and the American Civil Liberties Union, fearful that its use may violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, want the FBI to spell out how it works.

Attorney General Janet Reno said the week before that technical specifications of the system would be disclosed to a "group of experts." Sobel has argued that there is no substitute for a full and open public review of the Carnivore system.

"Unless the public gets access to relevant information, we will not have a fully informed debate on these issues," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday before the judge granted an emergency hearing on the matter.

EPIC filed its initial FOIA request on July 12. Six days later it asked the Justice Department to expedite the pending query on the grounds that it had become a matter of exceptional news media concern raising questions about "the government's integrity which affect public confidence" -- one of the legal standards that qualifies a request for "expedited processing." Although Carnivore reportedly "sniffs" or scans all traffic at an Internet Service Provider once it is installed by court order, the FBI says only the data or messages relevant to a criminal investigation get stored and reviewed.

All other information it sifts through is discarded, Donald Kerr, director of the FBI lab that developed Carnivore, told Congress at a July 24 hearing.

Some lawmakers suggested the tool may infringe on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure.

'The night is passing,' Bush says

In a strongly worded acceptance speech, George W. Bush closed the Republican National Convention by offering a new era of good feeling in Washington while accusing the current administration of wasting eight years of opportunities.

"Americans live on the sunrise side of the mountain," he said. "The night is passing, and we are ready for the day to come."

Bush formally accepted his party's presidential nomination on August 3, making the case for restoring a Republican to the presidency for the first time since his father, George Bush, left office in 1993.

His remarks closed a four-day convention notable for party leaders' success in filing down the GOP's sharp partisan edges, drove home his campaign theme of "compassionate conservatism" by showcasing minorities and highlighting issues such as education and health care, while concurrently staking out conservative positions on abortion, taxes and national defense.

Distancing himself from the battles between Congress and the Clinton administration, the two-term Texas governor told convention delegates: "I don't have enemies to fight and I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."

In his address, Bush focused on what he called the "squandered" years of the Clinton administration.

"They had their chance. They have not led. We will," Bush said. "And now they come asking for another chance, another shot."

"Our answer? Not this time. Not this year," he said.

Bush, like running mate Dick Cheney the previous evening, tried to link Gore with Clinton, telling the crowd: "This is not a time for third chances, it is a time for new beginnings." By contrast, he said, "We will seize this moment of American promise."

"We will use these good times for great goals. We will confront the hard issues -- threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security -- before the challenges of our time become crises for our children."

He repeated his standard campaign pledges: to improve education standards and accountability; to cut taxes; to pay more attention to a military that Republicans say has been neglected; and to allow workers the chance to divert some of their Social Security taxes to private investment accounts.

While reaching across party lines, however, Bush did not skip the conservative appeals that are the foundation of the Republican Party.

Although he tried to downplay abortion for much of the primary campaign in order to avoid splitting the party, Bush drew strong applause when he brought up. While noting that "good people disagree on this issue," the nominee nonetheless promised to sign bills that would ban late-term abortions and require minors to notify their parents before getting an abortion.

"I will lead our nation toward a culture that values life -- the life of the elderly and the sick, the life of the young and the life of the unborn," he said.

He made an oblique reference to Clinton's legal woes and the Monica Lewinsky scandal by promising again to "uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."

And, taking aim at what appears to Bush to be calculated decisions by the Gore campaign, he told delegates, "I believe great decisions are made with care, made with conviction, not made with polls."

"I do not need to take your pulse before I know my own mind. I do not reinvent myself at every turn. I am not running in borrowed clothes," he said, in a reference to Gore's revamped wardrobe filled with earth tones. "When I act, you will know my reasons. When I speak, you will know my heart."

Gore has tried to paint Bush's proposals as "risky schemes" that would dissipate the federal budget surplus. Bush said that those critiques show Gore has only one message: "The politics of the roadblock, the philosophy of the stop sign.

"If my opponent had been there at the moon launch, it would have been a 'risky rocket scheme,'" Bush charged to cheers and laughter. "If he had been there when Edison was testing the light bulb, it would have been a 'risky anti-candle scheme.' ... He now leads the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the only thing he has to offer is fear itself."

Clinton vetoes marriage penalty tax cut

President Clinton vetoed the Republican-sponsored tax cut for married couples on August 5, calling it "the first installment of a fiscally reckless tax strategy."

In his weekly radio address, Clinton ticked off economic successes of his seven-year administration and said the course he charted "is the right path for America."

"We can't retreat from this opportunity of a lifetime to keep our economy strong and move our country forward," Clinton said.

Clinton vetoed the legislation before his morning round of golf on the Massachusetts resort island of Martha's Vineyard, where the first family is vacationing this weekend.

Clinton's veto of the $292 billion, 10-year tax cut is no surprise. He promised to kill the measure even before the Senate gave final congressional approval to the legislation on July 21.

"On Capitol Hill, the Republican majority has passed a series of expensive tax breaks to drain nearly a trillion dollars from the projected surplus," in federal budget coffers, Clinton said in the radio address.

He contrasted his own proposal for smaller tax cuts with the GOP package.

"I support tax cuts, but tax cuts we can afford. We can't afford a $2 trillion U-turn on the path of fiscal discipline and economic progress," Clinton said.

Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has said that the House's "first order of business" upon returning from its summer recess in early September would be trying to override the veto Republicans had anticipated.

Many Republicans believe Clinton's veto gives them a winning political issue by demonstrating that with a GOP-controlled Congress, a Democratic president is the only obstacle to sweeping tax reductions.

At a campaign rally the day before in Akron, Ohio, GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush ridiculed Clinton's decision to veto the bill. "What kind of a tax code is it that discourages marriage?" he said.

Clinton and Gore call the GOP tax cut plan irresponsible because, they claim, it would spend all the projected budget surplus over the coming decade. Some of that money may not turn up, Clinton says.

Republicans got some help from Democrats in passing the marriage tax cut package. The marriage penalty is the popular name for the extra taxes 25 million couples must pay because of a structural quirk in the tax code.

But the bill would also cut taxes for about as many additional couples who now enjoy a marriage "bonus," paying less than they would if they were single. This largely affects families in which one spouse earns most of the family income.

Most of the bill's tax reductions come from enlarging the bottom 15 percent tax bracket and increasing the standard tax deduction for couples filing jointly.

Republicans argued that the measure would benefit millions of middle-class Americans while using just a small portion of the projected $2.2 trillion, 10-year federal surplus. The figure excludes even larger projected Social Security surpluses.

The bill passed both the Senate and House last month by less than the two-thirds majorities needed to override a presidential veto.

Castro says Bush and Gore are 'boring'

Accomplished murderer and Cuban President Fidel Castro celebrated the communist revolution he began more than 40 years ago by offering his analysis on August 5 of the American presidential race, saying both George W. Bush and Al Gore are "boring and insipid" candidates.

Speaking to about 200,000 people massed for a speech in this western tobacco-growing province, Castro focused his remarks on the Texas governor. If Bush reaches the White House, Castro said, he should not waste his time becoming the 10th American president to try to change Cuba's political system.

"Cuba, yes! Yankees, no!" the crowd chanted in the provincial capital of Pinar del Rio, located about 90 miles west of Havana.

Forty-seven years after his attack on a military barracks that launched the Cuban Revolution, Castro's mission is getting the United States to ease off this communist island.

The Cuban leader focused mostly on Bush, who accepted the Republican presidential nomination two days earlier , and on the GOP.

Castro warned Bush that if he wins, it would be pointless to try to use the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate Cuban leaders -- as was done in the 1960s.

"I exhort you to not forget that for each one of those revolutionary leaders you decide to eliminate in that way, there will remain in Cuba millions of men capable of occupying their place," he said.

Castro, who turns 74 later this month, blasted a stance the Republican party adopted during its national convention in Philadelphia this week, saying it catered to the "terrorist and annexationist mafia of Miami" -- a reference to Cuban-American exiles.

Castro also said Bush's support for a missile defense system could take the world on a "new, dangerous and extremely costly arms buildup." Americans who are unaware of the possible risks involved will simply think that Bush is "a strong, forward-looking and tough man who the United States needs in the face of all dangers imagined or real," he said.

Russia and American allies oppose creating the new system, saying it could launch a new nuclear arms race. Vice President Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, supports building a limited missile defense system.

The Republican platform's plank on Cuba sets tough conditions at a time when the Clinton administration and some lawmakers are trying to ease sanctions. The platform says no trade or travel restrictions should be eased until Castro releases all political prisoners.

It also has new language calling for "active American support for Cuban dissidents" and says sanctions will be lifted when Castro also legalizes opposition political parties and commits to democratic elections.

The U.S. government has been backing off on some sanctions, and a measure has passed the House easing 38-year-old restrictions on exporting food and medicine to the country.

Proponents of the embargo worry that if Gore wins the presidency in November, sanctions would be further eroded.

Even so, Castro did not spare Gore in his comments.

"Perhaps never in times so complex and chaotic ... has there been a competition between two candidates more boring and insipid," he said.

Castro spoke during the last of this year's national events to commemorate the 1953 beginning of his revolutionary fight.

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