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News Briefs 2

Canadian Leaders Prepare For QuebecSeparation Vote

Los Angeles Times

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland - When the premiers of this nation's 12 provinces and territories gathered in this port city for their annual meeting this week, the issue of Quebec's possible separation from the country was not even on the agenda.

But, with a provincial referendum on Quebec independence looming on the autumn calendar, they found themselves drawn irresistibly into the incipient campaign.

The meeting, similar to the U.S. National Governor's Conference, ended Friday after bitter wrangling between the leaders of Canada's English-speaking provinces - who favor continued Canadian unity - and Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau, leader of the separatists.

Each side is maneuvering for early advantage with Quebec voters, who according to a poll released Friday are nearly evenly divided on the likely referendum question. In the next 10 days, Parizeau is expected to announce an election date, probably between Oct. 30 and mid-November.

The separatists have risen in the polls since they announced a major change in strategy last spring. Faced with near-certain loss if they asked Quebec voters to endorse an unconditional declaration of independence, Parizeau and his separatist allies now are coupling Quebec independence with an offer to negotiate an economic and political partnership with what would be left of Canada.

If Canada rejected such an offer, however, Quebec still would go its own way, according to Parizeau.

Clinton Pledges to Protect Park System

Los Angeles Times

President Clinton, standing before Old Faithful geyser in a driving rain, on Friday pledged to protect the national park system against what he considers wrongheaded Republican plans to cut federal funds for the parks.

Clinton accused Republicans in Congress of attempting to close as many as 200 national parks and "sell some of our national treasures off to the highest bidder."

"And that's wrong," Clinton declared, as billowing smoke from Yellowstone's famous geothermal geysers was highlighted against a rain-darkened sky. "I am commited to preserving these parks."

Clinton spent the day hopscotching around the park by helicopter to mark the 79th anniversary of the National Park Service, the Interior Department unit responsible for maintaining the national park system.

He returned to work for a day from his two-week Wyoming vacation to excoriate Republican budget proposals and to score points with environmental-minded voters in other parts of the country.

He took pains to weave into his remarks at Yellowstone a theme he has adopted this summer in an effort to position himself in the broad middle of the political landscape. He called Yellowstone and the other national parks, visited by 270 million people last year, the nation's "common ground," the phrase he has been using to describe his position on affirmative action, school prayer and public morality.

Perot, Republicans Prescribe Similar Health-Cost Cures

The Washington Post

Ross Perot may be a political maverick, but not when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid. His prescription for curing the financial ills of the two weighty programs closely resembles the strong medicine being concocted by House and Senate Republicans as they prepare for a tremendous Capitol Hill fight next month.

"If the United States can put men on the moon and bring them back, then surely we can figure out how to save and improve Medicare and Medicaid," the optimistic titan of United We Stand America declares in a just-published book called "Intensive Care."

The book lays out Perot's ideas on how to overhaul the Medicare and Medicaid health programs and cut their growth rates to avert a budget train wreck. It outlines the problem as he sees it: Program costs are rising so fast that without some action, Medicare's hospital program will go broke in 2002 and combined federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid will skyrocket from $267 billion a year to $690 billion in 2005.

Perot's options for holding down the growth of Medicare, which covers 37 million elderly and disabled Americans, include cutting payments to doctors and hospitals, forcing beneficiaries (particularly the well-to-do) to pay more out of pocket, and giving beneficiaries an option to buy their own health policies on the private market with a government-funded voucher. His theory is that competition for business will hold prices down.

Sweatshop Merchandise Destined For Major Retail Stores

Los Angeles Times

Merchandise manufactured at three alleged Los Angeles sweatshops raided by federal agents this week was destined for major national retail chains, including Disney, J.C. Penney and Bloomingdale's, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday.

At one of the sites - where authorities say they discovered a 12-year-old girl toiling in violation of child-labor laws - workers were assembling Classic Pooh label children's clothing for Disney, said Scott Sutherland, a spokesman for the Labor Department, which is investigating the matter. Disney-destined clothing was also found at a second alleged Los Angeles sweatshop, the Labor Department officials said.

A Disney spokesman later said the company was unaware that any goods were manufactured in violation of the law.

Meantime, as revelations continued about how clothing produced at Los Angeles-area sweatshops is winding up on the racks and counters of prestigious national retailers, a California legislative committee subjected the garment industry to intense scrutiny during a hearing in nearby El Monte.