UPI's Capital Comment for May 17, 2002

By United Press International  |  May 17, 2002 at 1:10 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

It never rains but boy does it pour -- Once memos came to light alleging that Enron officials may have tried to take advantage of last year's California power crisis, it looked like Democrat Gov. Gray Davis was going to get a much-needed respite from campaign problems. Unfortunately for Davis, a new potential scandal has come to light in the past few days that may reinforce the image of questionable ethics his campaign has tried to shake in recent weeks.

Currently, there are several investigations under way looking into the close to $100 billion no-bid contract given to the computer company Oracle by the Davis administration. Within days of the deal being signed, a hefty campaign check from the company was handed to a Davis representative in a Sacramento bar. Now, questions are also being raised about a $450 million contract given to Accenture, formerly known as Andersen Consulting, after the firm made a $50,000 campaign contribution to the governor's re-election effort in March 2000. The Davis folks deny any wrongdoing, but his erratic poll numbers suggest the questions may be resonating.

The European Union is taxing our patience -- Americans for Tax Reform, a non-profit citizen's lobby group, is telling the European Union to keep their hands off U.S. businesses. This week the European Union unveiled its plan to tax downloaded goods such as software, videos and music when they are bought by citizens of EU member states -- without regard to the location of the merchant. EU leaders say the scheme is part of an effort to remove competitive handicaps inherent in the tax structure. President Grover Norquist attacked the plan, authored by what he called "The greedy governments in Europe."

Norquist says the problem comes because EU countries "handicap their businesses by hanging boulders like the VAT (value added tax) around the necks of entrepreneurs. If they really wanted to do their businesses a favor, they would get rid of the tax. Instead, they've decided to slap it on companies in America as well."

Honored son -- Those killed and injured in the Sept. 11 terror attack reflect the rich mosaic of colors, types and faiths that make up the human race. So, too, do the heroes of that dark day. In recognition of the sacrifices made that day, the American Muslim Council will give its first-ever Salman Hamdani Award to his mother, Talat Hamdani.

On Sept. 11, the AMC says, Hamdani saw the disaster in lower Manhattan unfold from inside an elevated subway train and headed to the area, intent on rendering whatever assistance he could. A Pakistani-born laboratory research assistant who also had training as a medical technician, Hamdani was missing for more than six months until his remains -- along with his medical bag containing an ID -- were recovered near the wreckage of what had been the north tower.

"We don't know how many people (Hamdani) helped, how many lives he saved," New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told several hundred mourners at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. "But if you look at his life, you know he was determined to make a difference, and he did. He was indeed a hero."

"A good friend and a generous foe" -- On Thursday, former first lady Nancy Reagan received a Congressional Gold Medal issued in honor of her husband, the 40th president of the United States. At a tribute dinner held the night before, Ronald Reagan was praised and lionized for his accomplishments, including from one source that most would have considered unlikely -- Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the U.S. Senate.

"As a leader," Kennedy said, "he was a man of large principles, not details. Some criticized him for that. I always suspected that it was a source of strength. And that truth about him is as clear today as the victory of democracy in Eastern Europe, in Russia, and all across the former Soviet empire."

Kennedy also spoke of Reagan's challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, a defining moment for Reagan at the same place President John Kennedy also made a lasting impression with his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in 1963.

Kennedy summed up Reagan by saying, "The greatness of presidents is measured not only by the deeds they do, but by the contributions they make to the American ideal. Ronald Reagan was one of those rare presidents who lifted our vision and enlarged our very conception of this nation and its mission on earth."

And the White House thought it had problems over the photo flap -- British Prime Minster Tony Blair is standing by his party's decision to accept contributions from a publisher of pornography. According to reports in the British press, Blair -- who says he would love to be relieved of the burden of raising funds for the Labor Party -- is turning aside complaints from some of his members of Parliament that they should not be taking funds from a man who operates such a business.

Publisher Richard Desmond has, according to reports, given about $145,000 to Labor. Not surprisingly, the prime minister said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation that he was not personally familiar with the contents of Desmond's magazines. The issue adds to the debate as Britain considers a move to public financing of election campaigns.

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