Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Fuel for Debate
Managing Malaria
Flying a Flag for Jesus

ENVIRONMENT
Fuel for Debate

In a measure he says is designed to guard national forests from the eminent threat of wild fires, President Bush last week proposed new rules to bypass environmental reviews of “forest thinning” projects that would shave dangerous undergrowth, reports Reuters. The proposal immediately drew harsh criticism from environmentalists and some in Washington, who called the strategy another tactic to subvert existing environmental protections. California Representative George Miller accused Bush outright of, under the cover of executive prerogative, thwarting efforts to form a bipartisan consensus on forest rules: “Obviously President Bush has interpreted the recent elections as a mandate to pollute, cut, and drill.”

Meanwhile, offering the most severe blow yet to the Bush administration’s strides toward environmental deregulation, a federal appeals court has vindicated a Clinton-era ban on new roads and logging in about a third of all national forests, the Associated Press reports. Barring almost all development in 58.5 million acres of roadless forest parcels, the ban will halt planned timber sales in Alaska, and the carving of logging roads in Idaho, but is likely to meet further appeals by lumber companies, who support the Bush administration’s bid to prevent fires by selectively logging old-growth forests.

Idaho Attorney General-elect Lawrence Wasden has already voiced his plans to push for further injunctions against the ban when he takes office in January. “We think it’s a very bad decision. It’s bad for Idaho’s jobs and economy,” Wasden stated, without the customary veil of environmental concern.

HEALTH
Managing Malaria

Malaria, the world’s deadliest tropical disease, has been gaining ground for years, as its resistance to existing medicines grows and drug companies cut back on new research.

A recent study in Gabon, West Africa, however, has scientists hopeful of a breakthrough, the BBC reports. In the first human trials of a new antibiotic, up to 90 percent of patients recovered in two weeks, prompting speculation that a vaccine might finally be on the way. These are still early days, though: researchers note that the new drug must be tested on children, who constitute the majority of the disease’s more than two million victims each year.

Still, the discovery couldn’t come at a better time. Scientists now suspect that global warming is contributing to skyrocketing malaria infections in East Africa, as higher temperatures translate to longer mosquito seasons, Reuters reports.

FOREIGN NEWS
Flying a Flag for Jesus

Only a decade removed from a long-standing policy of state-imposed atheism, organized religion is attempting a come-back in Russia. Or, at least in the Penza Oblast region of Russia, where — following government orders for each region to choose its own flag — local leaders have selected Jesus Christ as a centerpiece.

According to Kevin O’Flynn of the Moscow Times, the design was chosen by a coalition of Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Cossack leaders, who originally placed President Putin as their first choice. “The flag,” writes O’Flynn,

“a radical departure from Penza’s coat of arms with three distinctive sheaves of wheat, is ruffling the feathers of non-Christian groups even though it has yet to be approved by the federal government, which gets the final say on all flags.”

National Muslim and Jewish representatives have been less than enthused about the prospect of this symbolic rupture of the separation of church and state. The state of Penza has a “big Muslim community” and about 5,000 Jews, O’Flynn adds. Penza’s official web-site offers some information on a region that is largely unknown to foreigners.

Al Gore’s Exit
Lotts of Luck, Trent
A Unified Cyprus?

POLITICS
Al Gore’s Exit

The nation’s political pundits are running in overdrive, scrambling to decipher Al Gore’s decision to sit this one out and determine who now emerges as the Democratic favorite.

Like most, Michael Tackett of the Chicago Tribune expresses surprise at the former vice president’s decision, noting that Gore certainly seemed to be grooming himself for another showdown with President Bush. Still, Tackett praises Gore for his sincerity and selflessness in reaching a decision which could boost Democratic fortunes in 2004:

“Perhaps it’s a fitting coda to the star-crossed White House ambitions of Al Gore that he looked his best when he revealed that he would not run for president.

He wasn’t coy. He wasn’t emotional. He wasn’t remorseful. He was simply human in a way that often eluded him when he was a candidate.”

Not surprisingly, The National Review‘s David Frum is less impressed, sniping that Gore dropped out simply to avoid reliving his defeat of 2000. Gore, Frum quips, “miscounted.”

“And in the aftermath, Democrats are coming to recognize the 2000 defeat as a strategic catastrophe, a defeat that gave Republicans their best political opportunity since 1952. Maybe they once thought, ‘Poor Al was robbed.’ Now they think, ‘Bonehead Al robbed us.’ 2004 was shaping up to begin with a long, long dissection by Democrats of every misstep and mistake Gore made in ’00.”

Moreover, Frum insinuates that Gore’s retreat is less than sincere, declaring that the former veep has actually “decided to do a Nixon — sit out the election after his defeat, let some other shmoe get whomped next time out, and start preparing now for ’08.”

As for determining the identity of that ‘other schmoe,’ David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register happily concludes that the Iowa caucuses in January, 2004 will be the first testing ground. And Yepsen asserts that Dick Gephardt, who won in Iowa in 1988, is the prohibitive favorite.

But that’s a year away, and the Democratic aspirants aren’t likely to sit quietly and wait to make their case in Iowa. Gore’s decision changes the game, Deborah Orin argues in the New York Post, particularly for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, whom she labels “the interim front-runner.”

“Until Gore dropped out, Kerry could reasonably hope to energize his own campaign by defeating Gore in key contests. Now others will try to do the same to him.

It also means he will be the target for presidential rivals to shoot at as they position themselves for the campaign. That’s because a presidential race is something between a momentum battle and a demolition derby, where those trailing need to knock off the front-runner to get ahead.”

While Gore’s decision may create problems for Kerry, it clearly helps two other Democrats. With Gore out of the way, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman can now formally enter the contest. In fact, David Lightman of the Hartford Courant declares, Lieberman can now emerge “as both a front-runner and a candidate with some momentum.”

And John Wagner of the Raleigh News and Observer suggests that North Carolina Senator John Edwards will gain not only from Gore’s absence, but from the increased attention the media will now give to all the Democratic hopefuls.

“[Edwards] has gained traction with party elites and created a lot of media buzz but still remains little-known to rank-and-file Democratic voters, who will start casting ballots in the first primaries in just over a year.”

Finally, with a clipped sense of enthusiasm, John Nichols argues in The Nation that the real winner is the Democratic party, which now has a chance to regroup and work on its central message.

“Gore’s announcement gives Democrats a chance to move beyond the reinvention of a man to the more significant task of reinventing their party. Despite his many weaknesses, Gore remained a frontrunner for the 2004 nomination in most polls, largely because of his popularity among the most loyal Democratic constituencies, especially African-Americans. Now, Democrats have an opportunity to offer voters not just a fresh face but a fresh approach.”

POLITICS
Lotts of Luck, Trent

All the apologies in the world might not save Trent Lott now.

While Lott scrambles to explain away last week’s damning remarks — in which he waxed nostalgic for the bad old days of segregation — calls from both ends of the political spectrum for the Senate Majority leader’s ouster have reached fever pitch. Now, liberals are gloating as conservatives howl over the potential damage Lott’s gaffe has done to the Republican party.

The editors of The Nation don’t mince words in their denunciation, slamming both Lott and moderate Republicans for their cautious defense of him.

“Among the obscenities accumulating in the political atmosphere, the most disgusting may be Trent Lott … It is a scandal that he is allowed to hold such a powerful position in the Republican Party.”

Conservatives such as Stephen Hayes, writing in The Weekly Standard are just as harsh in calling for Lott’s head. As Hayes opines, “ The controversy is no longer just about Trent Lott“:

“What’s clear is this: The more Trent Lott speaks as the third-ranking Republican in America, the more his problem becomes the party’s problem.”

Meanwhile, the editors of The National Review condemn Lott not for his remarks but for his poor handling of the firestorm that followed. In any case, they reach a similar conclusion: Lott must go.

“Is Lott a racist? We don’t think so. Are many of the attacks on him dishonest and opportunistic? Yes. But he has been a poor leader of Senate Republicans, and the latest gaffe will only further erode his standing and his ability to lead.”

Salim Muwakkil, however, wonders why anyone would be surprised by Lott’s casual endorsement of Jim Crow. After all, he argues in The Chicago Tribune, race-baiting is a time-honored Republican tradition.

“What did Lott do that GOP god Ronald Reagan didn’t when he opened his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss.? Philadelphia was the town that became infamous as the location where civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were slain.

Republicans consequently have not been squeamish about using race as an issue to wedge whites (especially southern whites) away from the Democratic Party and into their ranks. Indeed, the GOP’s success in using race as a wedge issue is one of the primary reasons new voters in the old Confederacy have developed such an unlikely love affair with the party of Lincoln.”

Pundits notwithstanding, most of Lott’s conservative colleagues have stood by him. As Tom Paine.com‘s John Moyers notes, Lott will probably weather the storm unless moderate Republicans like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island speak up — something they have shown little inclination to do.

“However, if they demonstrate more loyalty to party label than to mainstream American values, they will remain where they are, trusting the fate of their party and the nation to a man who, in the words of conservative commentator David Frum, ‘thinks that desegregation, civil rights, and equal voting rights were all a big mistake.'”

Ultimately, Ronald Brownstein writes in The Los Angeles Times, Lott might only be forced out if politicians of the New South — conservative on guns, taxes and abortion but mostly steering clear of race-baiting these days — decide his fondness for segregation is a liability with their increasingly suburbanized constituencies.

“Not many Northern Republican senators can relish reappointing as majority leader a man they are unlikely to ever again feel comfortable inviting into their states. But Lott’s position probably won’t be endangered unless some of his fellow Southerners also see his old-style insinuations as a threat to the new coalitions they are trying to build.”

FOREIGN NEWS
A Unified Cyprus?

After nearly three decades of partition, the island of Cyprus‘s Greek-speaking majority and its Turkish-speaking minority have begun priming for reunification, following the announcement that at least the internationally-recognized, Greek-dominated government of its South has been approved for membership into the EU, by as soon as 2004, The Economist reports. However, even with a revised UN plan to broker a reunification, the realization of a single Cyprus still hinges on the political interests of Greece, which had threatened to stall the EU’s expansion if the island were not admitted, and of Turkey, whose own chances of EU membership may depend on Cyprus’ admission, according to The Economist:

“If a deal is reached, Cyprus will be able to enter the EU in 2004 as a united entity. But if talks fail, the EU has said it is prepared to admit the Greek part alone, leaving the impoverished Turkish Cypriot community out in the cold. (The Greek bit was one of the ten countries invited to join in Copenhagen.) Were that to happen, the Greek Cypriots would most likely oppose Turkish membership for some years.

If Turkey does what the diplomats want, it will be out of fear that the country’s timetable for starting EU accession talks could be derailed if the Cyprus issue remains unresolved.”

Some 15 years in the making, a revised UN plan for Cyprus’s unification has taken center stage among efforts to defuse the otherwise explosive political tensions of the region. If the plan is implemented, the normalization of relations between North and South will begin with their shared government of the island, according to The Christian Science Monitor:

“‘[The UN plan] is like quinine. You hate it, but you have to take it because it will be good for your health,’ says Dinos Lordos, a prominent Greek Cypriot businessman.

The UN plan proposes that Cyprus be reunited under a loose common government with component Greek and Turkish Cypriot states running most of their own affairs. A country smaller than Connecticut would have three parliaments, three flags, and three national anthems.

Both sides share concerns about the viability of power sharing. And many Greek Cypriots criticize provisions to allow settlers from mainland Turkey to remain on the island.”

However, the pangs of power-sharing may be in part alleviated by the deescalation of Greek and Turkish influence, reports Monday Morning. In particular, the latest version of the UN plan emphasizes detailed strategies for reuniting Cyprus socially, as well as politically, in approach of the island’s 2004 EU admission:

“The modified plan, handed by the UN to the rival Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides last week, still reportedly foresees a ‘Swiss-style’ confederation composed of two equal states.

In the new plan, the proportion of displaced Greek Cypriots allowed to return to the Turkish-held northern part of the island has been lowered from 33 percent to 28 percent of the total northern population. Their return will take place over a period of 15 years, rather than the 20 which was first envisaged. Another change involves the number of troops the island’s guarantor states Greece and Turkey can maintain on Cyprus.

While the original plan allowed for some 10,000 soldiers from each country, the new plan revised the figure down to some 7,500 each.”

Bolstering hopes of negotiating a reunification before February 28 — the deadline set by UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to ratify the plan — over 8,000 Turkish Cypriots took to the streets this weekend in support of reunification, issuing a clear, popular mandate for normalization to the until-now recalcitrant Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash:

“The fiery demonstration, which included calls for Mr. Denktash’s resignation, came as Turkey’s new government indicated that they were tired of his stubbornness.

Last night, the Turkish foreign minister, Yasar Yakis, told CNN: “There will probably be an agreement.

His assertion was interpreted by seasoned Cyprus observers as a coded message to the ailing leader who has resolutely resisted agreeing to a solution that would end the island’s 27-year division.”

The Court and the KKK
Russia’s Weapons Worries
A Victory in The Hague

LAW & JUSTICE
The Court and the KKK

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas raised some eyes (and some legal concerns) when, in defense of a Virginia law that prohibits cross-burning, he spoke out in an emotional release that not only broke his characteristic quietness but also went against court’s tendencies.

Burning crosses constitute intimidation and a threat of violence “unlike any symbol in our society,” Thomas declared. He went on to assert that the 100 year “reign of terror” that cross-burning represents ought to counter any free speech arguments:

“There’s no other purpose to the cross, no communication, no particular message. It was intended to cause fear and to terrorize a population.”

After Thomas’s outburst, the tenor of the proceeding changed, and the Justices are now widely expected to join Thomas in upholding the Virginia law. In doing so, the editors of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette assert, the high court would be removing one of the few legal refuges for cross-burning — a refuge it has upheld in the past.

“[The Virginia] law, dating from the 1950s and aimed at the Ku Klux Klan, makes it a felony for any person to burn a cross in a public place or on someone else’s property ‘with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons.’ But the law also says that the burning of a cross ‘shall be prima facie evidence of an intent to intimidate a person or persons.’

The latter provision presumes what prosecutors are usually required to prove. And in one of the cases before the court last week, a Ku Klux Klan cross-burning took place at a rally conducted on private property with the permission of the owner. The rally also featured verbal denunciations of Bill and Hillary Clinton, blacks and Mexicans.

Yet the Supreme Court has ruled (in a case involving a KKK rally) that such speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it poses the danger of ‘imminent lawless action’ or is part of an attempt to intimidate individuals.”

The editors of Newsday agree that the purpose of cross-burning — historically and today — is intimidation. But, behind that intimidation, they argue, is an idea which must be afforded some protections.

“Thomas got one thing right: The sole purpose of cross-burning as practiced in the American South is to intimidate minorities.

But the burning cross is a clear expression of white supremacy. It’s an ugly, but widely recognized symbol of a racist worldview. As noxious and discredited as that point of view is, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the expression of all ideas or it protects the expression of none. The day people can pick and choose which ideas deserve constitutional protection is the day that speech in the United States will cease to be free.”

The editors of The Baltimore Sun elaborate on this same point, arguing that hatred is not intimidation or a threat of violence unless targeted at individuals.

“No one’s saying bigots ought to be able to burn crosses on other people’s lawns or use their hateful symbol as an advance warning of violence.

But there already are laws against those things. It’s arson, or destruction of property, or trespassing, or assault.

The problem with outright bans on cross-burning, no matter how cleverly they are crafted, is that in addition to illegal behavior, they target protected, though abhorrent, ideas.”

Along those lines, The Boston Globe argues that, by upholding the Virginia law, the Justices would open the door to other encroachments on the First Amendment, with disastrous results.

“If cross burning is an impermissibly threatening symbol, why not the wearing of a white sheet? Why not a noose, or a swastika? What about the Confederate flag? Or the communist hammer and sickle? Surely that recalls a reign of terror in some people.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Russia’s Weapons Worries

With Washington obsessed over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, you’d think it would be equally concerned over the possibility of Russia’s poorly guarded Soviet-era stockpiles getting into the wrong hands. You’d be wrong.

Thanks to Congressional suspicion and a strangely indifferent White House, a US-funded program to destroy or safeguard nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the impoverished former Soviet Union is “living a precarious existence,” the editors of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel warn. Despite the program’s success, unreconstructed Cold Warriors in Congress cut off all funding for six months, and, though the money has been restored, the program’s continuation is far from assured.

“The program’s critics argue that, when the United States pays to dismantle Russian weapons, the Kremlin is spared the expense, allowing rubles to be invested in potentially threatening things such as Russian bombers and tanks. What these critics fail to realize is that the Russian economy is so badly strapped that some — perhaps many — of these weapons won’t be dismantled or safeguarded at all unless the U.S. pays to do so.

The program isn’t cheap; the defense bill that Bush signed authorized spending almost $418 million for Nunn-Lugar activities in fiscal 2003. But it is surely a wise investment to make sure that these rusting but still dangerous Soviet-era weapons can’t be used against anyone. Russia and the other ex-Soviet states are generally friendly to the U.S. and the West now. This program is a good hedge — just in case the new amity doesn’t endure.”

To be sure, Russia needs all the help it can get, as Daniel Sneider of San Jose’s Mercury News reports. Accompanied only by a former major in the Russian army, Sneider walked onto a high-security Russian nuclear base through a hole in the wall.

“We were able to spend nearly an hour on the base, where U.S.-supplied security equipment is stored for distribution, watching Russian nuclear-guard forces repair armored trains that are used to transport nuclear weapons. The path through the hole was well-worn — it is used by residents of the unit’s housing outside the gate to reach a freshwater spring.”

FOREIGN NEWS
A Victory in The Hague

In a major development for the war crimes trials against former Serbian leaders in the Hague, ex-Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has pleaded guilty to war crimes against Bosnian Muslims. Stephen Castle reports in The Independent that Plavsic is the most senior Serb official yet to make such an admission, offering a great boost to UN efforts to prosecute dozens of other accused Serb leaders.

UN Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte exclaimed that Plavsic’s admition of guilt is of “enormous significance” for the trials. Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale added that Plavsic’s decision “will prevent revisionism and will play a major part in the process of reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia.” Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel posed the question: “How could she remain human in the face of such a betrayal of humanity?” and asserted that, “Your sentence will reverberate across national and ethnic borders.”

You Have the Right to…
Children at War
Reef Recovery

LAW & JUSTICE
You Have the Right to …

The Supreme Court is in the process of reviewing whether Miranda warnings represent an unreasonable fetter on police interrogations — even when conducted at gunpoint, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. The case before the court is that of Oliverio Martinez, a farmworker from Oxnard, California, who has claimed that police violated his civil rights by interrogating him at length after he was shot five times in an altercation with officers:

“Martinez was riding his bike through a vacant lot on Nov. 28, 1997, when he was stopped by two officers investigating drug activity. The officers searched him and found a sheathed knife in his belt, which he used to cut strawberries. A scuffle ensued, and one of the officers, fearing that Martinez was grabbing for his partner’s gun, shot him five times in the eye, spine and legs. Martinez was left blind and paralyzed below the waist.

The officers’ supervisor, Sgt. Ben Chavez, arrived soon after the scuffle and began interviewing the wounded man in the ambulance. The sergeant continued to ask questions in the emergency room, even as Martinez twice said he didn’t want to talk and as medical staff urged the officer to leave. Chavez said he feared the man might die and wanted to get his side of the story. Martinez was never charged with a crime.”

Martinez was also never informed of his Miranda rights, which is why the case is now before the high court.

While Martinez’s story is troubling, the most worrisome aspect of the case, Charles Sheehan-Miles opines on Common Dreams, is that the Bush administration has weighed in on the side of the police, arguing that law enforcement authorities need to be given leeway to forcefully extract information from suspects — provided that information gleaned from such interrogations not be used in court:

“Bush, through [Solicitor General Theodore] Olsen, makes the argument there is no constitutional guarantee against coercive police questioning, even when medical personnel are telling the police to move back.

In other words, Bush says it is okay for the police to grab citizens off the street, shoot them, question them without an attorney, keep medical assistance away, and try to cover up a police shooting with impunity.”

The Bush administration clearly sees the case as another opportunity to legitimize its legally questionable treatment of detainees in the War on Terror, Ruben Navarrette Jr. argues in The Dallas Morning News. At this point, Navarrette asks, “What rights do we have left?

“You have the right to worry when you hear the Bush administration, in a case before the Supreme Court, make the argument that — despite what you see on television — police are not required to read suspects their Miranda rights.

You have the right to think that with civil liberties becoming collateral damage of the war on terrorism, now is a dangerous time for the administration to chip away at one of the most important civil protections: the right against self-incrimination.

You have the right to be skeptical when some law-and-order types use combating terrorism as an excuse to let police officers question suspects with impunity, especially since the case before the court has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Children at War

The United Nations has released a report that, for the first time, names countries guilty of using child soldiers in armed conflicts. Allison Lawlor reports in the Globe and Mail that the report submitted to the Security Council on Monday details 23 groups, “including governments and insurgents in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Somalia.” The report also highlights places secondary to the Security Council’s agenda: Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sudan, Uganda, and Sri Lanka, among many other offenders.

However, the report does also note the recent advances in “codifying international norms and standards for the protection and well-being of children,” which include a pair of treaties enforcing age limits on soldiers.

In a grisly example of the phenomenon, Basildon Peta describes in The Independent the life of Philemon Kambale, a 13 year old boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo who has repented after killing and massacring more civilians and soldiers than he can remember. Along with many other boys and girls, Kambale was kidnapped from his village two years ago by the Patriotic Union of Congo. He was trained by Ugandan troops then forced to fight in the Congo’s civil war — often with machetes and knives — without pay or decent provisions. Kambale explains:

“It’s all bad and I am regretting it. They gave me drugs which drove me crazy … I would then kill all women accused of witchcraft without any evidence that they were indeed witches.”

Now, Kambale and others like him have taken refuge in the Let’s Protect Children Centre near Butembo, which offers rehabilitation for former child soldiers and is funded by concerned parents. The center’s director, Jean-Louis Kombi, estimates that, “out of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting for either the government or the five main rebel groups in the Congo, at least 70 per cent are children.”

ENVIRONMENT
Reef Recovery

On the brink of death for years, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef now seems on its way to a full recovery, The Associated Press reports. Severe bleaching had sickened nearly 60 percent of the reef’s coral, but a new study shows the reef has managed to heal itself, and only six percent of its coral is still bleached. Scientists are encouraged by the Reef’s unexpected resilience: “I think we’re about at the bottom of the J-curve and we’re about to see major improvements in coral reefs,” one expert said, while cautioning that global warming now poses the biggest threat to reefs worldwide.

Indeed, the Great Barrier Reef may not be out of the woods yet. A new climate study shows 2002 to be the second warmest year on record, with the 10 warmest years all occurring since 1987, Reuters reports. The culprit? Global warming, researchers say. “If no very effective measures are taken for preventing further release of greenhouse gases, then the trend will continue,” said one.

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