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Washington Roundup All signs point to a cliff-hanger presidential election Tuesday that very few people care about. Contenders Al Bore and George Dubya are undoubtedly biting their nails; but the populace is not so much excited as befuddled, chiefly from an inability to distinguish between the candidates, who have spent the past four months impersonating each other. The dull symmetry is further refracted in the dozen states which remain in the tossup category. Here we find that while Gore needs more of them, he's also likely to carry more. The whole, rather silly thing will probably turn on a single state, and signs point to it being (what else?) a fairly silly one.

Minnesota, on which Gore is counting, could be the Big Enchilada of the Great Lakes region, and might very well decide the national outcome. The local populace, which put retired pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura into the Governor's Mansion, is clearly too erratic for us to make predictions about. But one thing we can predict: if Bush wins there, he stands a good chance of taking the brass ring unless Gore can nab more of the remaining swing states than pollsters reckon he'll get.

Green Party demagogue, infallible holy man and big business FUD-Meister Ralph Nader may well divert enough votes from Minnesota's potential Gore voters to swing the state back in Bush's direction. If that should happen, Gore will have to carry a state or two that he's not presently expected to win -- which he certainly could do, or then again not. As we said, the race is just too tight to call. But it is immensely entertaining to contemplate that the State of Jesse could determine the national election, and do so based on the campaign efforts of a Green-Party candidate who clearly hasn't got a prayer, and clearly won't be getting one until the voting age is lowered to twelve.



The 106th Congress, meanwhile, threw in the towel on budget negotiations last week and struck out upon the campaign trail, thus making it necessary for all concerned to return for a lame-duck session a week after the elections. Legislators moved for yet another continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government operating until 14 November as they bugged out. To date only seven of thirteen appropriations bills have passed both chambers and been signed by the Prez. Tax cuts, immigration policy, education spending and technology legislation all figure large in the unfinished business.

Republicans have been using the stalemate as a tactic, and with great skill we might add, to bolster Dubya's campaign by casting the Clinton Administration as inept in negotiating productively with Congress. The image of a White House unable to resolve its differences with Capitol Hill is meant to stigmatise Gore, though truth be told the Republicans have been steadfastly insisting on riders and omissions which they're certain Clinton will veto. After the elections, we can expect a good deal more flexibility from the Republican side of the aisle, as the business really does have to get done. But these guys do play a splendid game of hardball, we must allow.



President Bill on Saturday vetoed a controversial measure which would have expanded criminal penalties for leaking classified government documents, saying that it threatened the public's right to know what its Washington Overlords are up to. "As President....it is my responsibility to protect not only our government's vital information from improper disclosure but also to protect the rights of citizens to receive the information necessary for democracy to work," Clinton said.

He also noted that government bureaucrats might be further paralysed by fear of retribution for decision-making, which, as everyone knows, is something a bureaucrat will avoid like the plague. Clinton urged legislators to address the problem of leaks, which he recognised as serious, with a sane bill. US Attorney General Janet Reno, predictably, had supported the legislation with great eagerness, as she does all Draconian measures. Nice to see Clinton finally developing the stones to defy the mighty Amazon child-protector, as his tenure enters its final days.



The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been sued by quasi-registrar

RegLand

-- which offers 'pre-registration' of Internet domains which don't yet exist -- in Texas district court on claims of business disparagement and defamation. ICANN issued a report warning consumers that such services are speculative at best and mere scams at worst. Interestingly, as our friend the

roving_reporter

notes, ICANN Veep Louis Touton urged RegLand to change their marketing language from 'reserve' a domain to 'pre-register' a domain, presumably to nudge them back from the brink of fraud, even though the

ICANN report

compares 'pre-registration' with buying gold-mine shares from a badly groomed door-to-door salesman.



Telecomms Colossus BellSouth will cough up a (relatively) puny $750,000 hairball to settle in lieu of judgment, following a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation into issues of 'compliance' with the 1996 Telecommunications Act -- specifically the disclosure of pricing information relevant to provisions requiring it to make its networks available to competitors. The company was a bit vague on what, exactly, is to change in its disclosure policies, saying only that "the new language we have adopted serves our need for confidentiality and clarifies for everyone concerned what procedures BellSouth will follow going forward and will affirm that there is no intent to shield pricing information from state or federal regulators." Got that? ®

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