Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


The First Amendwhat?
Redress for Rape Victims

LAW & JUSTICE
The First Amendwhat?

As the US falls to a mediocre rank of 17th in the world in levels of press freedom, the federal government is moving to do away with the last barrier in place against media monopolies. Appalled pundit Molly Ivins notes that Federal Communication Commission chief Michael Powell plans to allow single companies to control unlimited numbers of television, radio, print, and communication outlets in one area, thereby undermining the already modest competition that has developed over the past decades. Even now, says Ivins, “10 companies own over 90 percent of the media outlets” in this country. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, both media watchdogs, call this “the most sweeping changes in the rules that govern ownership of American media since the 1940s.” Ivins asserts:

“To point out the obvious, broadcasters and their national advertisers have a clear stake in promoting the views of those who advocate lower taxes on the rich and on big corporations. What is so perfectly loony about the FCC’s proposal to unleash yet another round of media concentration is that it is being done in the name of “the free market.”

Is the free market not supposed to encourage competition rather than lead to its disappearance? The U.S. now ranks 17th, below Costa Rica and Slovenia, on the worldwide index of press freedom established by the Reporters Without Borders.”

LAW & JUSTICE
Redress for Rape Victims

In South Africa, where a rape occurs every 10 minutes, a groundbreaking legal experiment is taking place. Appalled by the sheer number of rapes and low conviction rates due to an overburdened legal system, the government set up a series of “ rape courts” three years ago. The results, The Christian Science Monitor‘s Nicole Itano reports, have been encouraging.

Despite limited funding, the dedicated courts have created a gentler atmosphere in which victims — 70 percent of whom are children — can testify, and allowed overworked prosecutors to devote more time to each case. The biggest problem, it seems, is that there are too few courts to handle all of the rapes.

“‘The success rates in these specialized courts is very good,’ says Lorna Jacklin, medical director of the Teddy Bear Clinic, which works in Soweto and in other, regular courts around Johannesburg. ‘But there are just not enough of them.'”

No Double Standard?
Killing a Free Press

LAW & JUSTICE
No Double Standard?

While the Bush administration has clarified its beliefs on affirmative action following the well-publicized case at the University of Michigan, it’s recently come to light that the federal government uses its own quota program elsewhere: the West Point Military Academy. Wayne Washington reports in the Boston Globe that West Point enforces a policy to achieve a 10 to 12 percent black student body.

West Point admissions director Colonel Michael L. Jones says that, in order to approach their goals, “admissions officials rely on aggressive, targeted recruiting that would increase the number of minority applicants who meet the school’s rigorous academic and physical standards.” A targeted system involving such quotas, say affirmative action supporters, “would probably be impermissible if the courts rule the way the Bush administration urges them to in its [legal] briefs [on affirmative action].” Senator Edward Kennedy also opined that

“It’s remarkable that this administration hasn’t questioned the affirmative action programs for our military academies…Clearly, diversity in our military is a national priority. But it’s also a national priority for our colleges and universities, which are the gateways to opportunity. If we followed the administration’s policies, we’d be a lesser nation, a lesser society.”

Columnist Cynthia Tucker notes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a respected group of retired military officers is preparing its own brief in support of the University of Michigan’s policies. Those officers, writes Tucker, have joined in the battle because “an adverse Supreme Court ruling in the Michigan case could also force the service academies to dismantle their affirmative action programs.” The logic of affirmative action in the service academies is the same as that of university admissions offices: “They want a diverse student body that reflects the nation,” Tucker writes.

“Bush and other conservatives often offer the U.S. military forces as an excellent example of integration in America, suggesting that diversity in the officer corps has come about through individual accomplishment alone. But that’s just not true. Without affirmative action, the service academies would be quite white.

And Colin Powell would not have had the chance for the advancement that led to his eventual post as secretary of state.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Killing a Free Press

The verdict in Mozambique’s “trial of the century” is in, and six men have been sentenced for the murder of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso. Mozambique’s top independent journalist, Cardoso was gunned down in broad daylight after uncovering a massive bank fraud that implicated some of the southern African country’s most prominent citizens. As Johannesburg’s Sunday Times notes, however, plenty of questions remain — not least whether authorities will indict the President’s son, who was alleged during the trial to have ordered Cardoso’s killing.

Speaking with The BBC, Mozambique expert Joseph Hanlon sees cause for hope in the verdict. While declaring that “justice has half been done,” he calls it “a very important first step in challenging high-level corruption in Mozambique.”

“It was the result of a lot of courageous people in Mozambique challenging an increasingly corrupt elite, and it’s proof that there are still good people in Mozambique who can fight and who can win.”

Fiscal Irresponsibility
Bush’s New Environmental Foes

POLITICS
Fiscal Irresponsibility

President Bush has unveiled his new 2004 federal budget and 10-year tax-cut plan and, so far, general enthusiasm for the proposal is not high. The budget threatens to create the largest federal deficit in US history, even as it cuts funding from numerous social programs. According to Susan Milligan and Kimberly Blanton of the Boston Globe, the $2.23 trillion budget proposes a $1.5 trillion dollar tax-cut, a major increase in military spending, and projects a $300 billion dollar deficit this year. Noting that the federal books showed a $236 billion surplus as recently as 2000, critics, including Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, are not taking the shift lightly: “Today’s budget confirms that President Bush is leading the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history,” Daschle declares.

Similarly skeptical, David Lightman notes in The Hartford Courant that there will be insufficient funding for social services and, Democrats say, for “63 education programs, including arts education, school counseling, and literacy.” What’s more, Lightman writes, there is a huge hole in the Bush spending plan.

“[T]he budget does not include what could be one of the biggest upcoming expenses – war with Iraq. When asked how much it might cost, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitchell Daniels, said he hoped there would be no war.”

Believing the proposed budget to be a disaster in the making, Working for Change columnist Geov Parrish sees an unhappy similarity between the president’s budget and the weekend’s space shuttle tragedy:

“It’s a fluke of timing, but today’s White House release of President Bush’s proposed 2004 budget is eerily reminiscent of exactly the sort of NASA budgetary priorities that have preceded and accompanied the last three years’ worth of safety incidents, up to and including Saturday’s tragedy. Like the modern NASA, George W. Bush’s America circa Fiscal Year 2004 will make unprecedented, secretive, and largely unaccountable investments in militarism. As with NASA, Dubya’s proposed $2.2 trillion FY 2004 federal budget downplays investment in the basics… One out of every seven federal dollars spent next year will not actually exist. Over half of that spending will be for military purposes, without even including the cost of a possible war with Iraq or an ensuing occupation — or the possible counterattacks throughout the Islamic world.”

The budget fails to “invest in the country’s infrastructure and its people,” continues Parrish.

“Bush’s budget…is not about spending money in the most effective way to give the maximum help to the maximum number of Americans. It does not prioritize the basics that keeps us, and our economy and society, safe and healthy. Its authors are as unlikely to heed criticism, or to respond effectively to warning signs of trouble, as any entrenched NASA bureaucrat. And those warning signs are everywhere: persistent unemployment, staggering consumer debt, shattered retirement plans, accelerated global warming and environmental degradation, rising anti-Americanism around the world, the expanding gap between rich and poor, endless James Bond sequels.”

Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post suggests that, with Bush’s new budget blueprint, the president “appears to have stepped back from his ‘compassionate conservatism’ agenda and picked up the fallen standard of the Reagan Revolution.” Only Bush is taking the revolution farther, Weisman notes. For instance, Bush is proposing tax cuts that “Ronald Reagan could only dream of,” Weisman writes.

“The words “ambitious” and “bold” — even “radical” — rolled off the tongues of supporters yesterday as they digested the five-inch stack of books that make up the 2004 budget request. Detractors chose another word: “hubris.””

Among those unsurprisingly singing the budget’s praises is The National Review‘s David Frum, who calls the speculation of mass program cuts unfounded. Other than a few labor and housing programs, programs Frum clearly sees no need for, “it’s up, up, up — just up less faster than in the giddy Clinton years,” the former Bush speechwriter declares.

Nor does Frum believe the hype about projected deficits, claiming that, as a percentage of the total US economy, the proposed deficit is “barely” one-third of its 1983 level. It’s the Democrats who are at fault, contends Frum, those whose “real ambition” is to “continue the mad spending of the late 1990s.”

Likewise, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. argues in the USA Today that the budget is, in fact, a “vision” that “portrays the great challenges and opportunities facing the nation.” And, like Frum, Daniels claims that Bush’s policies did not cause the currents deficits, nor will his new plan exacerbate them.

“Let’s stop looking for blame where none exists. A weak economy and a war we did not ask for put us in the red. Only a re-energized economy and spending discipline will bring us out. Let’s never forget that a strong economy produces surpluses, not the other way around.”

But, if a new poll conducted by the USA Today/CNN/Gallup is to believed, Americans are far from convinced that the President’s ‘vision’ on domestic issues is entirely sound. According to the poll, while Bush’s general approval rating is presently 61 percent, his approval on the handling of the economy is only 47 percent. On other domestic topics, he ranges from 44 to 54 percent approval ratings, with his lowest marks on his handling of Medicare.

ENVIRONMENT
Bush’s New Environmental Foes

While the latest polls show widespread support for President Bush’s handling of foreign affairs, approval of his domestic policies has slipped considerably in recent months. Ironically — given the White House’s relentless efforts to roll back environmental regulations — Bush’s record on the environment is still getting one of the highest marks. Political opposition to Washington’s environmental agenda, however, appears to be building.

As The Boston Globe‘s David Abel reports, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, which is the primary cause of global warming. The reason for the suit? Frustration with Washington, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly.

“‘In the face of continued inaction, we, at the state level, have no choice but to use the remedies available to us to fill the void left at the federal level,’ Reilly said. ‘We need to begin tackling this problem today.'”

Similarly, Senate Republicans have staged a mini-revolt over the Bush administration’s long-cherished plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, Reuters reports. The White House had quietly slipped the proposal into the new budget, but six Republicans — including Arizona’s John McCain and Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chaffee — weren’t having it.

“‘Because the opening of the Arctic refuge to drilling raises a host of policy concerns, including serious environmental ramifications, we do not believe this issue should be injected in the budget process,’ the lawmakers said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles.”

As The Modesto Bee‘s Bonnie Erbe sees it, McCain et al. did the right thing.

“Why are these six politicians so deserving of admiration? They did something partisans rarely do: They placed party loyalty in the back seat, way behind principle. They chose to take on a singularly destructive, anti-environmental force more powerful than Hurricane Hugo and Three Mile Island combined: THEIR president, President Bush.”

In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the White House. According to a leaked document, Washington is plotting to torpedo a California forest protection plan that has been hailed as the most environmentally friendly policy ever carried out in national forests, The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Glen Martin reports. The news comes as no surprise to environmentalists, who see it as simply the latest in a long line of attempts to overturn Clinton-era advances.

“‘It undoes the reforms of the Clinton years,’ he said. ‘The framework was predicated on fuel reduction, on reducing fire hazard. But now they appear to be opening up the entire range to small-scale clear-cut logging.'”

Judging Estrada
Snowmobile Secrecy

POLITICS
Judging Estrada

Last week, as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s nominee for the US Court of Appeals, the final showdown between Republicans and Democrats began, as they set out to debate the merits of this conservative Latino. Jesse Holland reports in the Associated Press that Democrats are attempting to stall the confirmation for lack of substantive information into Estrada’s views on major issues. Democrat Senator Charles Schumer remarked that Estrada’s stance of neutrality and objectivity simply aren’t credible, writes Holland. “By remaining silent,” began the Senator, “Mr. Estrada only buttressed the fear that he’s a far-right stealth nominee, a sphinxlike candidate who will drive the nation’s second most important court out of the mainstream.”

Antonia Hernandez opines in The Los Angeles Times that, if confirmed, Estrada would be a significant setback for Hispanics in the US and she observes the oddity of the GOP’s sudden push for diversity:

“It is ironic that President Bush, whose lawyers excoriated affirmative action at the University of Michigan, would nominate Miguel Estrada, an unqualified Latino, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in order to achieve diversity.”

Many prominent Hispanic and civil rights organizations, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Leadership Conference of the Hispanic and Black Congressional Caucuses, have voiced their lack of support for Estrada, writes Hernandez, because his views don’t resonate with those of the minority communities.

“Estrada has neither demonstrated that he understands the needs of Latino Americans nor expressed interest in the Latino community. A thorough review of his sparse record indicates he would probably make rulings that roll back the civil rights of Latinos. Simply being a Latino does not make one qualified to be a judge.”

Meanwhile, many Republicans have charged that Democrats are opposed to Estrada’s nomination only because of their own intolerance — intolerance for a Hispanic judge and for a court representing diverse political persuasions.

Kim Daniels argues in The National Review that the Democrats have absolutely no good reason to filibuster Estrada’s confirmation during the coming sessions.

“Few are better suited to the position. A brief examination of Estrada’s record makes it clear why the American Bar Association unanimously rated him a “well qualified” judicial nominee, its highest possible rating.

During Estrada’s subsequent career as a partner in one of the nation’s preeminent law firms, he has built a reputation as one of the best appellate lawyers in the country. He has argued some 15 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one case involving the defense of a death-row inmate.”

Daniels adds that there are actually many within the Hispanic community that do support Estrada, including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Hispanic National Bar Association.

ENVIRONMENT
Snowmobile Secrecy

When the White House overturned a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks last fall, it ignored the findings of its own National Park Service, Julie Cart reports in The Los Angeles Times.

Concluding that snowmobiles caused unacceptable environmental and health damages to the parks and their visitors, the study had recommended phasing them out in accordance with a Clinton-era plan. Instead, the Bush administration buried the report and — touting “cleaner” snowmobile technology — pushed ahead with its own plan, which allows up to 35 percent more snowmobiles in the parks. Amid much anger over White House dishonesty, an environmental group released the hitherto-secret document to the public last week.

“‘They’ve been telling the American people one thing, while they know another, based on their own data,’ said Jon Catton of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. ‘They’ve been saying the new generation of snowmobiles will make all the difference when they know they won’t.'”

Plutonium Pork
Yet Another Wrong-headed Republican Remark

POLITICS
Plutonium Pork

When the White House announced last month that its perennially underfunded program to destroy or safeguard nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the impoverished former Soviet Union was getting a $300 million boost, observers of all political stripes cheered.

Until they read the fine print.

As The Nation‘s Matt Bivens points out, more than 80 percent of the new money is earmarked not for securing vulnerable weapons stockpiles but for a program that uses plutonium in American and Russian nuclear reactors. While there are far cheaper ways to deal with all of this unwanted — not to mention dangerous — plutonium, Bivens notes, Washington instead sees it as another potential subsidy for the utility industry.

“But the Administration instead plans to assemble taxpayer-funded billion-dollar factories that will mix plutonium with uranium to create a hybrid fuel called MOX, which will then be given to US utility companies to use as fuel (an uneconomical, tax-subsidized fuel) in their nuclear reactors — and then to bury it. That would mean plutonium on our roads, our rails and our seas, in an ever-expanding worldwide commercial trade.”

POLITICS
Another Wrong-headed Republican Remark

US Representative Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) has provoked a torrent of criticism following his declaration yesterday that placing Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II was a sound decision. John Wagner reports in the Raleigh News and Observer that the Congressman, who is the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing homeland security, explained in a radio interview that President Roosevelt’s internment solution was correct because Japanese-Americans were vulnerable to attack by other Americans. “We were at war,” said Coble during the interview. “They were an endangered species. For many of these Japanese-Americans, it wasn’t safe for them to be on the street.”

UNC Constitution law professor Eric Muller reacted with shock, suggesting that “[t]hat is quite simply a ludicrous suggestion. It’s an uninformed thing for anyone to say, but for the chairman of the committee on homeland security to say it is inexcusable.” Barbara Allen, the chairwoman of the Democratic party in North Carolina, suggested a GOP pattern: “You can’t throw a rock in Washington, D.C., without hitting a Republican who’s offended minorities.”

Wagner also notes that Coble numbered among the 156 House members who voted against legislation passed in 1988 to apologize and pay $20,000 to surviving internees.