Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Reform on Trial
A Smoking Gun in Bhopal?
East Timor’s Lasting Woes

POLITICS
Reform on Trial

Over the past year, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law has been hailed and vilified. Now, having been in effect for only weeks, the bill is already under legal seige.

Opponents of the measure, designed to curtail the flow of “soft money” from corporations, is being attacked as an infringement of First Amendment rights. Not so, The New York Times argues in an editorial. Corporations, unions and other influential donors have effectually silenced the diverse voices of citizens whom the government is meant to represent, the Times argues, and McCain-Feingold is a welcome remedy:

“Our democratic ideals about ‘one person one vote’ are fast being buried under a mountain of special-interest money. Thoughtful debate on the issues has given way to vitriolic attack ads, paid for by well-heeled special-interest groups that want something in exchange.

Far from stifling dissent or censoring speech, McCain-Feingold does the opposite, by drawing rules that help give ordinary Americans of all political views a meaningful role in the electoral process.”

Predictably, the editors at the Times‘s crosstown counterpart, The New York Post, disagree. However, by operating on “the theory that money corrupts candidates and parties,” write the editors of The New York Post, McCain-Feingold will seriously impinge, if not destroy, the ability of individuals to lobby together their common causes in Congress:

“If this isn’t an impermissible assault on the First Amendment, nothing is. Suppose an election’s coming up and the hot issue is a new law on prescription drugs or workers’ rights: Why shouldn’t a pharmaceutical company or a labor union be permitted to advertise for, or against, a candidate based on his or her positions?”

Why shouldn’t they? Well, maybe because, as The Christian Science Monitor points out, “big money is not free speech.” By giving massive soft money donations to political parties, special interests have been allowed to pay their way into the policy-setting process, the Monitor asserts.

“The new law is like a city noise ordinance. It will help all to be heard in Washington, and not just those who can pay to make a very loud noise to needy politicians. Money corrupts, and absolute freedom to buy favors corrupts absolutely.”

In his testimony to the court, former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson described exactly how far politicians played into that corrupting process:

“I have seen firsthand how the current campaign financing system prostitutes ideas and ideals, demeans democracy, and debases debate.

The national parties often ask Senators to make phone calls to raise soft money, and the process is like a boiler room operation. When I was in the Senate, the Republican leadership would take us off Capitol Hill — usually to the Reagan Center — give us a list of heavy hitters, and tell us to make phone calls to get more money from these donors. Sometimes, the party asked us to solicit soft money for attendance at events that included access to the president; other times major donors were given access to certain lawmakers. The more money one donates, the higher-level players he or she has access to.”

Of course, while opponents of McCain-Feingold are challenging the measure in court, just about everybody in Washington is busy finding new ways to conduct business as usual. As The Hill reports, efforts to circumvent the reforms are illustrating the depth of the problem.

“We’ve heard, for example, that Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based watchdog group dedicated to tracking wasteful spending, is seriously considering creating a political action committee in light of the obstacles it has encountered in trying to meet with influential staffers and lawmakers.

A group that’s thinking up ways to save taxpayers’ money should not have to dole out money to get its message across to the men and women who control the purse strings. Whatever money is needed to perform diplomatic functions in a competent fashion should be readily forthcoming from the lawmakers, without any requirement to line their pockets with the diplomats’ campaign contributions.”

ENVIRONMENT
A Smoking Gun in Bhopal?

Eighteen years after toxic leaks at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killed 8,000 and injured at least 150,000, new evidence suggests that the factory’s American parent company skimped on its design, Debora MacKenzie reports in New Scientist. Dow Chemical, Union Carbide’s new owner, claims that the company’s US headquarters had no involvement in the plant’s construction and planning. Internal documents made public by a lawsuit against Dow suggest otherwise, however, and could bolster the case against the chemical giant.

“So who was responsible for this design? Carbide’s 1972 memo specified that the US headquarters would either perform all design work for the plant, or approve designs done elsewhere.”

Campaigners scored another victory last week. After first beating and arresting activists, Indian authorities agreed to allow soil testing and cleanup work on the still-contaminated factory site, Inter Press Service reports.

FOREIGN NEWS
East Timor’s Lasting Woes

East Timor, the world’s newest nation — now only seven months old — is already embroiled in unrest. Lirio da Fonseca reports in The Guardian that what began as demonstrations in Dili against the arrest of a student has morphed into deadly rioting. Violence has erupted onto the streets and the prime minister’s home has been burned down. Not to be outdone, police responded by firing live ammunition into crowds, and the government has called a state of emergency. Still, outside observers are reluctant to assign harsh blame to any side.

As the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald point out:

“The East Timorese are, undeniably, a traumatised people. About a quarter of the population perished between 1975 and 1999 under Indonesia’s repressive occupation. The violence orchestrated by Indonesian troops in late 1999, after the UN-supervised vote which rejected Jakarta’s rule, killed and injured thousands more. For an entire generation, violence has been the only language in which conflicts were resolved.”

The economy is meager — with no industrial or agricultural base, generous international aid hasn’t yet found any suitable outlets, and unemployment stands at 65 percent, the Herald writes. “Nation-building remains a daunting challenge.”

Likewise, the editors of the Melbourne Age find ample room for optimism and forgiveness, suggesting that the riots “do not foretell of the imminent collapse of this young country that has endured centuries of colonial oppression and a bitter struggle for liberation lasting more than two decades.”

“It is hardly surprising given the tiny nation’s recent history that it lacks any sort of stable social fabric.

Little wonder in the face of boredom, unemployment and poverty that there is quick resort to such wantonness, whoever is to blame for fanning the flames.”

Climate Change Cop-Out
How Lott Really Feels
Does Affirmative Action Work?

ENVIRONMENT
Climate Change Cop-Out

The Bush administration has finally released its plan for dealing with global warming. Its prescription? Five more years of research, and hope that the problem just goes away.

Incensed, the editors of The Boston Globe blast the White House non-decision, calling it “part of an unstated policy to avoid serious action by indefinitely studying the problem or pretending it does not exist”:

“Hawks on Iraq, administration officials are ostriches on global warming … In an administration that in 2001 handed the formation of energy policy over to oil, gas and coal companies, there is apparently no room for nagging reminders about the impact of these fuels on the greenhouse gases that trap solar heat.”

As United Press International‘s Kathy Gambrell notes, Washington’s latest move fits an all-too-familiar pattern of photo-op solutions to complex problems.

“It would not be the first time the Bush White House has choreographed a major conference or summit in an effort to redirect awareness on a particular issue. In the past six months, the administration has staged conferences on corporate fraud, minority homeownership, child protection — all of which drew media attention but which resulted in little substantive action on the issues covered.”

Not everyone, however, is worried about climate change. The Vero Beach Press-Journal‘s editorial board buys Washington’s argument, and blames environmental “ideologues” for pushing their agenda on the world:

“There’s time to figure out what is really happening and why; meanwhile, solutions could develop … What the advocacy groups want is action now: economically damaging energy curbs. By any reasonable calculation, people, including poor people, by the way would be hurt far more by those curbs than by short-term, human-induced global warming.”

Meanwhile, the ugly evidence of a long-term problem keeps piling up. Environment News Service reports that more Arctic ice has melted this year than ever before recorded, and, at this rate, there might be no sea ice left by the end of the century.

POLITICS
How Lott Really Feels

Last week, as politicos feted retiring Senator Strom Thurmond and celebrated his 100th birthday on Capitol Hill, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott brought the celebration to an ugly standstill when he suggested that the US would be better off today if more of the country had supported Thurmond’s 1948 bid for president.

“I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

Thurmond, of course, was running on the ‘Dixiecrat’ ticket, and his platform was built around the staunch defense of segregation.

Thomas B. Edsall reports in the Washington Post that Lott’s comment, which began as a simple toast to Thurmond, produced “an audible gasp and general silence.” As Edsall notes, Thurmond’s candidacy is best remembered for his race-baiting declaration: “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.”

Even conservatives, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, were aghast. According to Edsall, Kristol remarked, “Oh, God…It’s ludicrous. He should remember it’s the party of Lincoln.”

The New Republic‘s Daily Journal suggests that commentator Joe Klein offered the most appropriate response when asked to weigh in on NBC’s Meet the Press:

“I think that if a Democrat had made an analogous statement, like if Henry Wallace had been elected in 1948, we would have had a much easier road with the Soviet Union because we would have just given them everything and there wouldn’t have been a Cold War. You would have been jumping up and down. And I think that this kind of statement in this country at this time is outrageous, and it should be called that.”

But Lott’s comment is largely being ignored in Washington, and the Republican leader is refusing to take anything back. “Just another example of the hubris now reigning among Capitol Hill Republicans,” declares blogging pundit Josh Marshall.

LAW & JUSTICE
Affirming Affirmative Action

Nearly 25 years after a divided Supreme Court ruled that race may play a role in student admissions, the high court is preparing to again visit the issue of affirmative action.

The case that the court will hear — alleging “reverse” racial discrimination against white applicants to the University of Michigan and its law school — bears striking resemblance to a precedent-setting 1978 case, in which race-based college admissions were also at issue. But the social debate over affirmative action has changed tenor considerably. While scores of conservatives continue to attack the practice, a growing number of liberals are openly questioning whether affirmative action is really working.

Leonard Pitts, writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer, suggests that African Americans need to consider the depth of that question, and “begin figuring out what to do when it is gone. To marshal our talents, resources and ingenuity to shape the next phase of struggle and determine our own fate.” As for the case itself, however, Pitts has little patience for the plaintiffs.

“It’s hard to buy the argument that white students are materially harmed by what is, in essence, a fairly innocuous attempt to shake up the mix of a campus population. Would we even be having this conversation if the students who got in ahead of the plaintiffs had done so on the basis of, say, life experience or athletic ability?

Of course not. Race is its own planet. For my money, the University of Michigan plaintiffs are using sour grapes to squeeze white whine. I hope a majority of Supreme Court justices feels the same way.”

Michael Kinsley agrees. Writing in The Washington Post, he argues that the primary plaintiff, Barbara Grutter, will be hard-pressed to prove that affirmative action alone was responsible for her failure to gain admission to Michigan’s law school.

“Even assuming, implausibly, that every single one of the special-treatment minority students was less qualified than Grutter and would not have been admitted if they were white, that would have improved Grutter’s own chances by about one-eighth. The likelihood that affirmative action did her in is very small.”

As far as equal footing in admissions in concerned, a “pure academic meritocracy may be an appealing goal, but it exists only in theory,” declares The Memphis Commercial Appeal in an editorial. And, the paper further asserts, assuming that such a meritocracy could succeed in a racially-biases society is foolish:

Still, even if affirmative action has addressed some of society’s ills, is it the best solution? The editors of The Oregonian worry that colleges and universities have relied on affirmative action alone, failing to consider other, perhaps more meaningful tactics for attracting minority students. And the paper argues that affirmative action — at least as it applies to college admissions — must be curtailed.

“The high court should narrow the use of race as a factor in college admissions, and colleges should evolve toward a more race-neutral approach.

[T]he Supreme Court should… allow racial preferences in college admissions only as a narrowly tailored last resort; that’s the only way under the Constitution to justify curbing an individual right for the collective good.”

No Right to Bear Arms
Louisiana Reckoning
Under a Black Cloud

LAW & JUSTICE
No Right to Bear Arms

The gun lobby has been riding high, thanks to a Bush White House and, more importantly, an Ashcroft Justice Department. And, with Republicans in control of both the House and Sente, things were looking even better for the shooting crowd.

But now, thanks to a federal appeals court in San Francisco, embattled gun control advocates have cause to crow. Not only did the court uphold California’s ban on assault weapons, it also declared that the Second Amendment does not give Americans the right to own firearms. In a 70-page opinion guaranteed to reopen the national debate on gun control, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:

“The amendment protects the people’s right to maintain an effective state militia, and does not establish an individual right to own or possess firearms for personal or other use.”

The Baltimore Sun‘s Jules Witcover notes with satisfaction that the decision has thrown a monkey wrench into Ashcroft’s attempts to reinterpret the Constitution in line with the NRA’s philosophy.

“Mr. Ashcroft’s act in interpreting the Second Amendment to square with the NRA position and then instructing federal prosecutors to take the Texas decision as their guide in handling gun cases has put him in a contradictory posture … But Mr. Ashcroft now will have to decide whether to hold to his position in light of the California decision or cave in, to the ire of his NRA friends and supporters.”

The editors of San Jose’s Mercury News, meanwhile, applaud the decision for its declaration that universal gun ownership “was not what the Founders intended.” They also note, happily, that the Supreme Court — historically skittish to rule on the issue of gun control — now could be forced to tackle the matter once and for all.

“It’s not surprising that Ashcroft and the San Francisco-based court would differ. What’s remarkable is that the debate wasn’t settled long ago. The Supreme Court has barely mentioned the Second Amendment in 200 years, hard as that may be to believe. The 9th Circuit’s ruling will add pressure on the high court to take it up.”

Not surprisingly, gun advocates are outraged and worried. Writing in The Washington Times, Balint Vazsonyi unearths a familiar “slippery slope” argument, couching it in patriotic terms.

“[T]he history of smoking teaches us a bitter lesson. Where the enemies of freedom mean business, give them the tiniest opening, and they will rule the field in no time. Make no mistake … Smoking was not about health. It was about freedom. Gun control is not about protecting schoolchildren. It’s about transforming this republic into a country like all others, where only the government possesses weapons.”

Which, of course, is all that Reinhardt says the Constitution allows.

POLITICS
Louisiana Reckoning

Following her narrow victory in Saturday’s run-off vote — the last of an otherwise dismal election cycle for Democrats — Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu announced that, “the Democratic Party is alive and well and united.” But while Democrats trumpet the symbolic win over Republican Suzie Terrell, Landrieu’s victory owes little to the old party line, John Nichols opines in The Madison Capitol Times.

“A couple of wins in Louisiana do not a partisan comeback make…. There are still those in the party who push a Republican-lite line on economic issues — an approach that, had she adopted it in the runoff, would have guaranteed Landrieu’s defeat.

Mary Landrieu was no progressive before Dec. 7, and she is no progressive now. But by putting some distance between herself and Bush, by reaching out to core Democratic constituencies, and by focusing in on local economic issues, she offered an alternative not just to Terrell but to the Bush administration and Republican policies.”

Nichols isn’t likely to convince many at the Democratic Leadership Council. The center-seeking DLC seems resolutely set against seeing the party abandon the moderate positions which Landrieu jettisoned on her way to victory, Robert Borosage argues in The Nation.

“[T]he DLC once more wants to blame the [election] debacle on liberals. In a ‘confidential’ memo titled ‘The Road Ahead,’ the DLC’s Al From and Bruce Reed argue that the party suffers from being ‘too liberal,’ too associated with tax-and-spend politics, ‘not tough enough’ on terror, too identified with gun control and prochoice politics, and too beholden to its base. Their remedy? Democrats should be tougher than Bush on terror and Iraq. They should stop ‘promising the moon’ on programs like prescription drugs. They should be the keepers of fiscal discipline, suggesting no program without showing how they would pay for it. They should ‘respect the values of mainstream America’ by retreating on gun control, choice and states’ rights. Above all, they should stop catering to their base and reach out to independent swing voters — presumably the white ‘office park dads’ whom the DLC has offered up as the key target for the party — the most Republican cohort of the electorate.

It is hard to conjure up a more dispiriting example of ideology trumping reality — or a better recipe for continued Democratic decline.”

ENVIRONMENT
Under the Black Cloud

For the fourth autumn in a row, Egypt’s capital has been blanketed by a thick, fog of pollution so noxious as to be dubbed “the black cloud,” Steve Negus reports in the Beirut Daily Star. In a city already notorious for its poor air quality — a problem that leads to some 16,000 to 20,000 deaths a year, according to a 1996 study — the seasonal menace has become another health catastrophe.

When the black cloud first appeared in 1999, the Egyptian government insisted that it was not dangerous, but doctors and those suffering from breathing difficulties disagreed. Now, Negus writes, “the Black Cloud has returned every autumn since. It has become a symbol of the state’s inability to tackle new problems, or even to explain sufficiently what was going on.”

After numerous theories on the source of the clouds came and went — ranging from American military exercises to flatulent demons — authorities finally identified the true cause: rice farmers burning straw after the harvest. Government programs to illegalize the burning and exact fines for disobedience have been unsuccessful, as have programs to purchase the straw from the farmers and to expand environmental education campaigns. Now the government’s priorities lie elsewhere.

“With the political will draining almost visibly from Egypt’s environmental program, Cairo is slowly becoming accustomed to smoky, acrid autumns,” Negus writes.

Cheney Keeps His Secrets
A Fascist Path for India?
Texaco to Stand Trial in Ecuador

POLITICS
Cheney Keeps His Secrets

Thanks to a legal technicality, Dick Cheney’s secretive energy task force will remain just that — secretive.

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought against the task force by Congress’ investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, ruling that the GAO lacked standing as a plaintiff. The administration is lauding the decision as a triumph of principle, but critics are calling the ruling — and the White House reaction — little more than another example of the Bush team’s penchant for secrecy.

In particular, the editors of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch argue, the ruling merely confirms the suspicions of White House critics: that the administration is trying to conceal the cozy relationship between the Cheney task force and big oil and utility companies.

“Even though the Bush administration has won this legal battle, it reinforces the impression that the administration has something to hide in the records it is clutching so tightly. We already know from Mr. Cheney’s voluntary admissions, and from two related cases, that he met six times with executives of now-bankrupt Enron Corp. We also know that Mr. Bush’s energy secretary met with 109 energy industry executives and exactly zero public interest groups.”

The verdict also sets a dangerous precedent allowing the Bush administration’s tendency for executive concealment to go unchecked, assert the editors of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“If his ruling is allowed to stand, the GAO’s power to retrieve documents and other information would be eroded, and the president and his subordinates could remain largely invulnerable to aggressive oversight by Congress’ official investigating agency. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Bates’ ruling ought to be appealed — and overturned.”

The decision did not comment on the administration’s defense — that releasing the records would have compromised the White House decision-making process. But the editorial board of The Boston Globe do, scoffing at the administration’s logic.

“Claims of damaging precedents to executive branch privilege are specious. During the Clinton administration, a parallel demand arose for information about meetings Hillary Rodham Clinton held with advisers on her health care reform panel. Grudgingly, Clinton turned over the information

Congressmen — and through them, the voters — have every right to know whom the administration talked with before it decided on a policy placing utility profits before the health of Americans.”

While the conservative editors of The Memphis Commercial Appeal are inclined to accept the White House claims of executive privilege, they nevertheless recommend releasing the information — if only to deprive the Democrats of ammunition come 2004.

“Having won its point of principle, the White House should voluntarily respond to the GAO’s bare-bones request — the names of the energy company executives and lobbyists Cheney’s task force met with … Until then, they are vulnerable to the rhetorical query of Democratic senator and possible presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman: ‘What are they hiding?'”

Finally, as the editorial board of Minneapolis’ Star Tribune notes, the vice president’s triumph may come at a steep price:

“The American people do not much like secrecy and insider influence in government. Yes, they are willing to let the White House plan a war without congressmen and reporters looking in on every strategy session. But they’re inclined to resent the proposition that a bunch of oil, gas, coal and electricity executives should quietly steer the country in territory as crucial as energy policy, where the national interest is often at odds with industry self-interest.”

FOREIGN NEWS
A Fateful Choice in India

Tomorrow, voters in the Indian state of Gujarat will decide whether to embrace moderate secularism or to turn toward the strident Hindu nationalism of Narendra Modi, a leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. The rest of India is anxiously awaiting the result.

Catherine Philp reports in the London Times that the controversial Modi — “ the tiger of Gujarat” — has a slight lead over his Congressional opponent in what Philp describes as “a referendum on the politics of hatred.” The theme of Modi’s divisive campaign has been simple: remember Godhra.

“His manifesto was written there when a Muslim mob set fire to a train of Hindu pilgrims, burning 58 to death.

The attack brought a wave of anti-Muslim pogroms as Hindu mobs stormed through Gujarat, setting fire to Muslim homes, raping women and children, and beheading and burning families to death.”

Electoral observers inside and outside of India have been alarmed by the rise of Hindu nationalism in Gujarat, a phenomenon which threatens to migrate to the rest of India — and color the country’s general elections in 2004 — should Modi win. Making an adamant plea to “reject the poisoned chalice” in The Hindu, Malini Parthasarathy opines:

“This is a critical moment not just for the suffering people of Gujarat who have been put through the most harrowing of times as a result of the provocative and polarising politics of the Narendra Modi administration but for the entire nation. Never before in the history of independent India has a State Government been so unapologetic about its deep-rooted communal bias, adopting as it has an explicit Hindu majoritarian platform and never before has an administration been as unabashed about its tendentious and bruising approach to Muslim minority citizens, driving them to the very edge by questioning their nationalist credentials.”

Likewise, Mushirul Hasan asserts in the Indian Express:

“Even at the best of times Narendra Modi should have been incarcerated for his administrative lapses during the communal holocaust in Gujarat. Sadly, he leads an election campaign with his characteristic arrogance, and hides the rankest and narrowest communalism under the cover of Gujarat’s pride.”

Writing in Outlook India, Vinod Mehta offers cautious advice to those in Gujarat, noting that the electoral choice is far from appealing.

“The Congress is instructing you to save “the soul of India”, “the rule of law”, and, yes, that dreaded “secularism”. The bjp is instructing you to “restore Gujarati pride”, to “awaken Hindus” to resurrect the “glory of an ancient civilisation”. It is more than likely that you do not give a toss about the Indian soul or awakening Hindus. You just wish to get on with your life.

If they will let you. Incompetence, sleaze, nepotism, looting public coffers, you have seen. Whoever comes to power in your state can be expected to continue the tradition. However, proximate, lurking, random, senseless danger — in the sense that you go to sleep at night and wake up to find half your city in flames — is, I’m sure, a new experience. From your political masters, you pray for one gift: a promise to eschew murder and mayhem as a style of governance.”

Alternet‘s Miranda Kennedy sounds one positive note, intimating that the “hardliner Modi may be the last hope for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party,” which only holds three states within its power. Nevertheless, writes Kennedy,

“if the BJP succeeds in the Gujarat elections, many believe it will give a green light for the right to push forward its extremist agenda. Syndicated columnist Praful Bidwai predicts that if Narendra Modi wins in Gujarat, he will run for prime minister in the 2004 national elections. With an extremist religious fringe plotting to take control of the nation, India is walking a thin line between democracy and fascism.”

ENVIRONMENT
Trying Texaco in Ecuador

Three indigenous Ecuadorian tribes, and their international supporters, are preparing to file a $600 million lawsuit against ChevronTexaco, charging the petro giant with polluting 2.5 million acres of rain forest and poisoning as many as 55,000 native inhabitants, The Contra Costa Times reports. Plaintiffs claim that, over the course of 20 years, Texaco systematically dumped waste oil and toxic chemicals into ponds and rivers — a cost-saving measure that has left the inhabitants of surrounding villages 1,000 times more likely to contract cancer than elsewhere in the country. In what lawyers for the plaintiffs say is a first, the case will be filed in Ecuador, after an August ruling by a US federal appeals court deemed that the complaints ought to be heard in the country where the alleged violations occurred. Although Texaco justifies its policies in Ecuador, where the company claims it conducted two environmental audits and spent $40 million on clean-up, a spokesman for the tribes says that the Ecuadorian government now stands fully behind the plaintiffs’ claims.

Economic Snow Job?
Peace for Aceh?
Mugabe’s Blow to Conservation

POLITICS
Economic Snow Job?

The honesty-prone Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill — a good businessman, but a consummately poor spear-carrier for the Bush administration — unsurprisingly met the fate of all those who publicy embarrass the White House: he got canned. Unfortunately, having integrity is like wearing cement shoes in Washington, Jim Buckman opines in The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Now that Paul O’Neill is gone, the government has lost a vital truth-teller, and its only transformational leader. Most Americans will barely notice his leaving, but they should know that his absence will eventually lead to policy based on spin, not facts, and that should cause all of us to care.”

Now, with Bush having tapped railroad magnate John Snow to fill O’Neill’s shoes, some are wondering how the seemingly sound businessman will convince himself to support Bush’s shaky economic plans. First, The New York Times suggests in an editorial, he will have to resist any well-intended temptation to examine the Bush tax cuts individually.

“Mr. Snow knows that one reason Mr. O’Neill is headed back to Pittsburgh is that he questioned the need for further tax cuts and whether the nation could afford them. Yet the next Treasury secretary will never be perceived by financial markets as a strong leader of the administration’s economic team if he unquestioningly accepts, and goes about selling, a reckless Christmas tax-cutting wish list compiled by White House political operatives.”

Daniel Gross predicts Snow will have little trouble playing such games of financial self-delusion. Anyone who could fit the Bush team’s horribly deformed policy slipper probably stinks as badly as the economy, Gross opines in Slate. Bush, Gross contends, has appointed “yet another phony businessman, this time as treasury secretary.”

“Snow’s record in business bears more resemblance to that of George W. Bush, marked by poor market performance and outsized compensation. In fact, like Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and OMB Director Mitch Daniels Jr., Snow is a skilled bureaucratic operator who sidled to the top level of a large company from government posts. As a rule, these access capitalists are prized not for their business acumen but for their ability to open doors in Washington and foreign capitals.

Snow is leaving [his] company with more debt than it has had at any time in the past seven years. Today CSX has difficulty generating sufficient cash to meet all its obligations. And this is the man President Bush has hired to manage the nation’s debt? As Jesse Eisinger sharply notes in today’s Wall Street Journal: ‘Mr. Snow is clearly a guy who understands deficit spending.'”

FOREIGN NEWS
Peace for Aceh?

After 26 years of bloodshed, Indonesia’s rebellious province of Aceh may finally be headed for peace. Under strong pressure from the international community, the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement agreed to a deal granting the resource-rich province autonomy, elections and the introduction of Islamic law — along with a hefty share of oil profits, which were previously funneled straight to Jakarta. While a lasting peace is still far from assured, observers note that the signs are encouraging.

As the editors of Arab News observe, the Indonesian government, in signing the peace treaty, might have managed to avert its worst-case scenario — another East Timor-style secession that could destabilize the entire country.

“Aceh’s long struggle to break away was not resisted by Jakarta just because of the local wealth of gas and lumber, but because of the nightmare that has haunted every government since Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch in 1949. That nightmare is that this diverse country of 225 million, the world’s largest Muslim state, with no less than 300 different languages, will break up.”

The rebel group, known by the acronym GAM, also had ample reason to compromise, Leo Suryadinata writes inThe Straits Times. With governments from Russia to Zimbabwe cracking down on domestic opponents under the auspices of the war on terrorism, today’s world is less sympathetic to rebel groups of all stripes, no matter how just their cause.

“Why another peace treaty this time? The situation after the Bali bombings on Oct 12 no longer favours GAM. In fact, since Sept 11, GAM had been in danger of being labelled a terrorist group. In the general atmosphere of anti-terrorism, it had no choice but to return to the negotiating table.”

Finally, while noting that both sides have softened their stances considerably in recent months, Prangtip Daorueng writes in Asia Times that many obstacles still stand in the way of a final peace. Not least among them is the conflict’s legacy of human rights abuses — a history Jakarta appears reluctant to address.

“The Geneva agreement also does not make clear how past human-rights abuses will be handled. It only states that it could lead to compensation and investigation of abuses since 1976, the start of the conflict … History is not encouraging on this point. The Jakarta government has attempted to suppress reports of human-rights abuses by its military and pro-Jakarta militias.”

ENVIRONMENT
Mugabe’s Blow to Conservation

This Monday, South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe made official the creation of a giant, transnational African park set to become Africa’s largest nature reserve. The Johannesburg Mail and Guardian reports that the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park will piece together Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park, South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park in a great feat of cooperation and progress. All three countries are to share responsibility for security and infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the three-member partnership is in name only. Cut-off from funding, Zimbabwe has now all but lost its third of the deal. According to Tim Butcher of the London Telegraph, conservation groups, the World Bank, and the European Union have denied funding for Zimbabwe’s portion in a statement of protest against President Robert Mugabe’s regime. This leaves Zimbabwe unable to fulfill its role in the necessary infrastructural improvements. Nor will it be able to enforce law in the park — something about which Mugabe seems unenthusiastic, in any case.

“Under the Mugabe regime there has been a surge in wildlife poaching. The country’s Gonarezhou national park, which was to have been its contribution to the new game reserve, has been partly invaded by illegal squatters.”

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