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web posted October 15, 2001

Limbaugh going deaf

Rush LimbaughListeners to Rush Limbaugh's talk show heard the conservative commentator announce October 8 that he's suffering from severe hearing loss and expects to go totally deaf.

In a transcript of the comments made available on the show's web site, Limbaugh says he's totally deaf in his left ear and can recognize sound with the other ear, but can't identify it.

He says doctors have not been able to either stabilize his hearing or restore it. He notes that the problems began on May 29th and have rapidly deteriorated.

Limbaugh said he expects within a couple of months he'll be totally deaf, raising questions how he'll continue his popular program.

Limbaugh recently renewed his contract with the Premiere Radio Networks through 2009, reportedly for the highest price ever in radio syndication. Through his call-in show and a 90-second radio commentary, he reaches some 20 million listeners on nearly 600 stations.

California gun group ties firearm ownership campaign to terror attacks

A California gun group launched a billboard campaign October 8 touting firearm ownership as a response to last month's terrorist attacks.

The billboards, with the message "Society is safer when criminals don't know who's armed," is similar to a 1995 campaign. However, the California Rifle and Pistol Association said this year's campaign is particularly timely in light of the terrorist attacks and the current debate over arming flight crews to thwart hijackers.

The campaign was designed before the Sept. 11 attacks, and shouldn't be interpreted as suggesting a handgun can stop a terrorist assault, said association spokesman Chuck Michel.

However, "we think this is maybe a good time for people to consider whether a firearm is a good defense mechanism for their particular circumstances," Michel said. As a result of the terrorist attacks, "people realize we're vulnerable and you can't necessarily count on someone else to protect you."

Roberta Schiller, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, denounced the timing as well as the message.

"Their opportunistic behavior is really disgusting," she said. "It's really reprehensible to try to whip up the fears. I think it's very poor judgment."

The two cited conflicting studies to back their positions.

Michel said guns are more often used to save lives than to illegally take them, and cited lower crime rates he attributed to concealed weapons laws.

"If the bad guys don't know which good guys have guns, crime goes down," he said.

Schiller disputed that assertion, and worried that people who buy guns in response to the terrorist attacks might be more likely to turn the guns on themselves.

"This only goes to increase the terror ... particularly in these times of anxiety and these times of economic uncertainty," she said. "People, if they're depressed, should see a mental health counselor, they shouldn't see a gun dealer."

Michel said about 300 billboards will go up over the next two weeks across California, and will remain up for six to eight weeks.

Bin Laden spokesman renews call for holy war

Osama bin Laden's spokesman issued a strident, televised appeal October 9, for Muslims around the world to rise in a global holy war against the United States and its interests everywhere.

Al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith praised the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon for their "good deed," saying they had "moved the battle into the heart of America."

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith"The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life," Abu Ghaith said.

The fierce warning -- and appeal for help from fellow Muslims -- came on the third day of U.S. and British strikes on al-Qaida posts in Afghanistan, and upon installations of Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

Defiant in the face of the attacks, the statement nevertheless made clear the pressure bin Laden's network felt itself under -- taking the unusual step at one point of specifically urging Muslim women, as well as men, to join in fighting the United States.

"I direct this message to the entire Islamic nation, and I say to them that all sides today have come together against the nation of Islam and the Muslims," Abu Ghaith said.

"This is the crusade that Bush has promised us, coming toward Afghanistan against the Islamic nation and the Afghan people. We are living under this bombardment from the crusade, which is also targeting all Islamic peoples."

"America has opened a door that, God willing, will not be closed," the spokesman said.

Before the attacks on Afghanistan began, Bush had called his war on terrorism a crusade, but a day later the White House apologized for using the loaded term which recalls the Christians' medieval wars against Muslims in the Holy Land.

"America must know that the battle will not leave its land until America leaves our land; until it stops supporting Israel; until it stops the blockade against Iraq."

"The Americans must know that by invading the land of Afghanistan they have opened a new page of enmity and struggle between us and the forces of the unbelievers," Abu Ghaith said. "We will fight them with the material and the spiritual strength that we have, and our faith in God. We shall be victorious."

High court refusal to review ruling boosts gun makers

Gun makers persuaded the Supreme Court not to revive a case testing the companies' liability for the lethal effects of their products.

The court, without comment, declined October 9 to review a ruling that protects weapon makers from a round of local government lawsuits in Louisiana.

The legal landscape has improved for gun manufacturers since 1999, when many cities and counties were filing suit seeking to recover tax money spent dealing with violence by people who used guns.

The Clinton administration threatened a national class-action lawsuit claiming that guns and how they are marketed have contributed to violence in public housing projects, but never filed it.

The Bush administration has not pursued such a case. Critics have said they dislike Attorney General John Ashcroft's close ties to the National Rifle Association. Mr. Ashcroft had written to a high-ranking NRA official earlier this year to reassure the organization of his belief that the Constitution's Second Amendment means the public has a right to keep arms.

New Orleans was the first city to file a lawsuit accusing gun makers of selling unsafe products. The case was blocked by the Louisiana Legislature, which passed a law retroactively banning those types of lawsuits. Twenty-six other states have passed similar laws at the urging of the National Rifle Association.

The Supreme Court declined without comment to review a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that upheld that state's prohibition. The refusal is likely to dissuade cities from suing gun makers in the face of state bans.

Similar Georgia and Michigan laws have been contested, and attorney Dennis A. Henigan said gun makers could eventually face trials in those states.

"We do not believe these special interest statutes will succeed in protecting the industry from accountability for its misconduct," said Mr. Henigan, who is with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He said government lawsuits against gun makers are pending in California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Ohio, and New York.

Jim Baker, chief lobbyist for the NRA, said gun makers have won about 10 of the cases. He said government leaders, not courts, should be reviewing gun policies.

The gun litigation began after states sued tobacco companies to recover tax money spent on smoking-related illnesses. New Orleans filed its suit in 1998 and was copied by dozens of cities and counties around the nation.

The gun lawsuits sought to force manufacturers to repay hundreds of millions of dollars that local governments have spent cleaning up from gun violence. State laws made many of those suits moot.

"The Founding Fathers sought to prevent precisely this sort of targeted legislation," New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial said in urging the Supreme Court to take the appeal.

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, who has maintained that gun makers are legal corporations and should not be sued by the government, said the court's refusal to intervene is "a victory for common sense."

The companies that were sued, including Smith & Wesson Corp. and Glock Corp., said that New Orleans tried to overstep its bounds with the lawsuit: "However described, New Orleans is still a city, not the 51st state," they wrote.

Osama has a new friend

Evil Bert, meet Evil Osama.

Right now, the two appear to be inseparable -- at least on ubiquitous posters carried by fervent Taliban protesters.

Devotees of freak-humor websites will recall the infamous "Bert is Evil" page, a shrine to the gourd-like Sesame Street character, which offers compelling photographic evidence of the muppet consorting with Hitler, the KKK and, of course, Jerry Springer.

Islamic protest
Click for larger version

Now, in a move that defies all rules of logic, a doctored photo showing Bert with the world's most-wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, seems to have made its way into an anti-American Islamic protest in Bangladesh.

Reuters photographs of a rally last week organized by Jaamiat-e-Talabaye Arabia, a radical Islamic organization, show that protesters created a pro-bin Laden sign out of a collage of photos they apparently lifted from Internet sites.

But -- is it fate or coincidence? -- the sign featured a Bert muppet sitting on the left side of the man believed to be responsible for the bloodiest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

One of the first sightings of the Osama-Bert poster was in a news photo on a Netherlands portal site. Enterprising Net-researchers soon reported it appeared in Sweden's leading tabloid, and also on Yahoo's news photos section.

The "Bert is Evil" webmaster replied by writing this on his website: "Yesterday a lot of you alerted me to a picture of a Taliban propaganda poster with Bert! Reality is imitating the Web! I am honestly freaked out!"

A closer scrutiny of one of the photos reveals a second apparent faux pas on the part of the radical Islamic protesters: Another clip art photo of bin Laden used in the photograph seems to show him with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

It didn't take long for word to spread. A discussion on lindqvist.com is titled: "The mystery of the Bert-bin Laden connection evolves with more images coming in every day. Is this a big hoax? Has somebody got too much time? Or is somebody in Bangladesh trying to confuse the world?"

Bert is best known for his role on the long-lived Sesame Street children's show, where he lives with his housemate Ernie.

Gere says love, don't hate, the terrorists

Richard Gere, who is deeply devoted to the teachings of the Dalai Lama, says the best way for Americans to deal with the September 11 terrorist attacks is with "the medicine of love and compassion."

"In a situation like this, of course you identify with everyone who's suffering," the actor told ABCNEWS Radio in an exclusive interview.

But, he said, we must also think about "the terrorists who are creating such horrible future lives for themselves because of the negativity of this karma. If you see it from a much wider point of view, we're all in this together. We're all intimately interconnected in all of these actions."

Gere was in New York on October 10 to help celebrate the release of Good Life, Good Death, a book by Rinpoche Nawang Gehlek, a Buddhist lama, or teacher. The event was planned before the September 11 terror attacks, and included performances from Paul Simon, his wife Edie Brickell, and composer Philip Glass.

One of Hollywood's most vocal advocates of Buddhism, Gere stressed the importance of compassion for everyone — even terrorists.

"It's all of our jobs to keep our minds as expansive as possible," said Gere, star of such movies as Runaway Bride, Pretty Woman, and Primal Fear. "If you can see them [the terrorists] as a relative who's dangerously sick and we have to give them medicine, and the medicine is love and compassion. There's nothing better."

Gere said he was on his way to a Buddhist retreat in Massachusetts on the day of the attacks, and arrived just after the attack on the World Trade Center began.

"I got there about 10 o'clock, and when I arrived there, everyone was in a state because the first tower had been hit," he said. "Within a few minutes, the second tower had been hit and it was, um, extraordinary chaos. An enormous amount of tears and a lot of compassion and suffering was being generated there in this retreat."

This isn't the first time Gere has publicly advocated using love to deal with international incidents. At the 1993 Oscars, he asked the audience and the millions watching the awards ceremony on television to send "love and truth" to then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to persuade him to pull Chinese troops from Tibet.

Terror bill clears Senate

Attempts to inject privacy safeguards into an anti-terrorism bill were soundly rejected.

In a series of votes ending at midnight October 11, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly defeated the last-ditch efforts by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) to limit police surveillance powers.

The Senate then voted 96-1 for the unaltered USA Act (PDF), which includes the biggest eavesdropping expansion in a generation. Feingold was the lone dissenter.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) described Feingold's three amendments as "outdated and nonsensical." Hatch said "current law perversely gives the terrorist privacy rights.... We should not tie the hands of our law enforcement and help hackers and cyber-terrorists to get away."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) said the USA Act was a "delicate but successful compromise" that provided adequate protection for civil liberties. Daschle said his opposition to Feingold's amendments was "not substantative but procedural" because the Senate needed to move quickly on the legislation.

Calling this debate "one of the most important civil liberty issues of our time," Feingold reminded his colleagues that they had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Feingold said: "We will lose that war (on terrorism) without a shot being fired if we sacrifice the liberty of the American people."

President Bush lauded the vote on the USA Act, saying in a statement that the Senate has handed police "essential, additional tools to combat terrorism and safeguard America against future terrorist attacks."

During the three-hour debate, the Senate voted to table -- effectively killing -- Feingold's amendments, which would have:

  • Still allowed police to perform "roving wiretaps" and listen in on any telephone that a subject of an investigation might use. But cops could only eavesdrop when the suspect is the person using the phone. The amendment was rejected, 90-7.
  • Preseved the privacy of sensitive records -- such as medical or educational data -- by requiring police to convince a judge that viewing them is necessary. Without that amendment, the USA Act expands police's ability to access any type of stored or "tangible" information. The amendment was rejected, 89-8.
  • Clarified that universities, libraries and employers may only snoop on people who use their computers in narrow circumstances. Right now, the USA Act says that system administrators should be able to monitor anyone they deem a "computer trespasser." The amendment was rejected, 83-13.
  • Barred police from obtaining a court order, sneaking into a suspect's home, and not notifiying that person they had been there. The "secret search" section currently is part of the USA Act -- and is something the Justice Department has wanted at least since 1999, when they unsuccessfully asked Congress for that power at the time. The amendment was not introduced.

Feingold's amendments would have rewritten only a tiny portion of the vast, 243-page bill. Even if they had been added, the USA Act still allows police to conduct Internet eavesdropping without a court order in some circumstances, lets federal prosecutors imprison non-citizens for extended periods, and expands the duration of an electronic surveillance order issued by a secret court from 90 to 120 days.

Aides for Leahy and Hatch say the USA Act is a welcome improvement over what President Bush originally suggested. It expands the jurisdiction of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, but not as much as Bush wanted; it requires warrants before voice mail can be seized; it does not permit tax return information to be shared with other federal agencies.

The handful of other senators who endorsed Feingold's amendments included Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), and Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania).

Wellstone said that "there's no reason why, in the rush to pass the bill, we can't make changes."

Specter brought up the lack of usual process and the shortened schedule. "The Judiciary committee had one hearing, a very abbreviated one, on the 25th," he said. "I wrote the chairman of the Judiciary committee two letters urging hearings. There was ample time to have hearings."

Specter said the Senate leadership was "elevating procedure over substance, which is not the way you legislate."

Bush has asked Congress for the additional surveillance and detention powers as a response to the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The USA Act stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America."

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