Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Hot Air on Hydrogen Cars
Cozying up to Colombia

ENVIRONMENT
Hot Air on Hydrogen Cars

With its potential for reducing auto emissions to zero, hydrogen may indeed be the fuel of the future, as President Bush declared in his State of the Union address. A rising chorus of critics, however, says that future is a long way off, and Washington needs to get serious about fuel consumption sooner rather than later.

By its own estimate, the White House doesn’t expect fuel cell cars to hit the highways until at least 2020, and some experts say even that timetable is optimistic. Given the realities, the editors of The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal term hydrogen research “ an excellent long-term investment,” but urge Washington to tackle America’s love affair with gas guzzling SUVs in the meantime.

“In his State of the Union speech, the president said the money would go to help bring hydrogen-powered cars to the market. Yet his idea does nothing to mitigate this fact: Despite technological advances, American vehicles are burning more gas than ever before, largely because of SUVs.”

Green groups, meanwhile, see more cynical motives in Bush’s embrace of hydrogen technology, Environment News Service‘s J.R. Pegg notes.

“‘President Bush’s new, “big” idea allows this former Texas oil man to give the auto and oil industries exactly what they want — an opportunity to continue to profit from highly inefficient, polluting cars,’ said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, president of the conservation group Friends of the Earth. ‘Any increase in funding for cleaner cars must be viewed as part of a much broader budget context that is terrible news for the environment.'”

POLITICS/FOREIGN NEWS
Cozying up to Colombia

A long-standing relationship between the US and Colombia’s militaries appears to be gaining in momentum. Included in President Bush’s recent budget proposal, writes Marcela Sanchez in the Washington Post, is a request for $110 million in “good old-fashioned military assistance for the Andean nation,” establishing a relationship which is “exactly the kind Washington so long sought to avoid.” The increase in aid, argues Sanchez, is less significant than the easing of restrictions on how that money can be used: the funds could be put toward any goal justified as counterterrorist. Sanchez opines that

“[t]his would amount to a radical change in U.S. policy at a time when Colombia already is the recipient of the highest level of Washington’s security aid in the region since the Cold War.

It was barely a year ago that U.S. officials began to move the terms of the debate about Colombia from drugs to terrorism. Then, five months ago, what had been unimaginable for years was written into law: U.S. aid intended to fight drugs could be used to fight insurgents.”

Human rights observers are concerned that the money will simply help the Colombian military’s relationship with right-wing paramilitary organizations which routinely brutalize the population.

That growing alliance between the US and Colombian militaries is perhaps embodied in the visit of Colombia General Carlos Ospina to the Pentagon last week, on the day of Bush’s State of the Union address. Ospina, writes George Monbiot in the Guardian, has been closely linked with paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño’s death squads, groups guilty of terrible atrocities against Colombian campesinos. According to Monbiot, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe himself first mobilized such paramilitary groups as governor of the state of Antioquia several years ago:

“The civilian forces he established there, like all the paramilitaries working with the army, carried out massacres, the assassination of peasant and trade union leaders and what Colombians call “social cleansing”: the killing of homeless people, drug addicts and petty criminals. They joined forces with the unofficial death squads and began to profit from drugs trafficking. They were banned after Uribe ceased to be governor. One of his first acts when he became president in August last year was to promote General Ospina, and instruct him to develop similar networks throughout the contested regions of Colombia.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s the US which has supported these leaders, Monbiot notes:

“The United States has been at war in Colombia for over 50 years. It has, however, hesitated to explain precisely who it is fighting. Officially, it is now involved there in a “war on terror”. Before September 2001, it was a “war on drugs”; before that, a “war on communism”. In essence, however, US intervention in Colombia is unchanged: this remains, as it has always been, a war on the poor.”

Golden State Rules
Nepotism on the Nile

LAW & JUSTICE
Golden State Rules

Only weeks ago, California Governor Grey Davis raised considerable ire in announcing the state’s new balanced budget: a plan which cuts funding for virtually every (already underfunded) educational and social program just as it offers a generous boost to the ample prison industry. Now, reports Sara Catania in the LA Weekly, Davis supports the construction of a $220 million “state-of-the-art” death row prison facility for 938 in rural California. Catania surmises that the facility is not being planned out of Davis’ altruistic desire to improve housing for the state’s 618 death row inmates, nor out of a wavering belief in the practise of capital punishment. “The more likely explanation,” writes Catania,

“is that Davis is trying to toughen up his image (a Democrat can never be tough enough) while helping out his number-one fan, the prison guards’ union. The union gave $3 million to Davis’ last campaign and runs a vigorous lobbying effort in Sacramento.”

Catania also notes that this plan comes at a time when 73 percent of California voters support a moratorium on the death penalty.

FOREIGN NEWS
Nepotism on the Nile

As Egypt’s aging strongman, Hosni Mubarak, mulls a successor, all signs increasingly point to the accession of his son, Gamal. The younger Mubarak, a Western-educated banker who is being positioned as a free trade-friendly reformer, made the official rounds in Washington last week, feeling out the Bush administration’s view of such a regime change. As Jackson Diehl writes in The Washington Post, however, it is “ a tricky maneuver” — not least because Egypt is supposed to be a democracy.

“They are trying to execute a handoff of power from the 74-year-old father to the 39-year-old son in a country that calls itself a constitutional republic, and at a time when the United States — provider of Egypt’s economic lifeline — has committed itself to promoting a democratic transformation of the Middle East.

Gamal has been sold to Egypt’s intelligentsia as a progressive, the only hope for those who yearn to ease decades of stifling state socialism and de facto dictatorship. Many have been won over. Those who persist in calling a dynasty a dynasty are censored — or thrown in jail.”

Opposition to the succession plan, meanwhile, has sprung up in an online petition — one of the only venues in which the regime’s critics can air their grievances, Associated Press reported last month.

Gunning for Edwards
Going Hungry in Gaza

POLITICS
Gunning for Edwards

Presidential elections may still be nearly two years away, but Democratic hopefuls have already launched their opening salvos against the Bush administration. In the boldest attack yet, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry slammed the White House’s ruinous environmental record last weekend. Bush, however, is still riding high in the polls, and has all but ignored such criticism.

One contender, though, appears to worry the White House very much: John Edwards. As The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank notes, Republican operatives have been “stalking” the North Carolina senator for months, smearing him as a lightweight, a liberal and a trial lawyer to boot. Indeed, Edwards is a first-time senator with little name recognition, and he is running fourth in preliminary polls. So why, Milbank asks, is President Bush so frightened of Edwards?

“In private conversations, Republicans linked to the White House often talk of Edwards as the most dangerous of the Democratic candidates, because he is handsome and southern and ‘undefined’ in the public imagination. That gives him the potential to create a populist challenge to Bush, and Edwards has begun his campaign on what might be termed the Metamucil platform: ‘I run for president to be a champion of regular people.'”

FOREIGN NEWS
Going Hungry in Gaza

As Western governments consider a new war in the Middle East, more than a million Palestinians are running out of food in the Gaza Strip, the London Guardian‘s Chris McGreal reports. The UN Palestinian refugee agency says that its plea for almost 100 million dollars to feed over a million people in the occupied territories has been unsuccessful, and supply warehouses will be empty within the next few weeks.

“‘If we don’t get money coming in soon,’ says Unrwa Commissioner General Peter Hansen, ‘we will have a rupture in the food distribution which will be very serious, as we already have malnutrition levels of 22% among children, and that is bound to rise if food aid stops.'”

As Palestinians in Gaza live behind barbed wire in what the UN calls the most crowded place on earth, they are also reaching new depths of poverty. Palestinians face unemployment, disease and are losing hope in the peace process. When the Intifada began two years ago about 70,000 Gazans went to work in Israel, many as building laborers or in Jewish settlements. Now only 15,000 day permits to enter Israel are issued. Abdalhadi Abu Khousa, head of the Gaza section of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, explained:

“‘We had very many things: cars, furniture, travel. We had five or six years that were very good,’ he said. ‘From the beginning of the intifada, step by step, laborers working in Israel were dismissed. People were forced to spend their savings. Month after month their savings were whittled away.'”

The British Department for International Development said Britain had already increased its annual support to the Palestinians to about 52 million dollars, and more would be forthcoming.

State-sanctioned Insanity
Viva the Death Tax!

LAW & JUSTICE
State-sanctioned Insanity

In a bizarre and unprecedented case, the state of Arkansas is planning to force a mentally ill prisoner to take medication in order to become sane enough to be executed. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has voted 6-4 to allow Charles Singleton to be executed, announcing that “his medically induced sanity makes him eligible for execution.” Without the medications, the state would be unable to proceed, according to the Supreme Court’s decision against executing the insane.

Judge Roger L. Wollman stated that the courts need not rule based on the long-term effects of medicating the prisoner, writes the Post. “Eligibility for execution is the only unwanted consequence of the medication,” suggested Wollman.

The four dissenting judges opined that it’s unjust to execute Singleton, who can be psychotic sometimes even when medicated.

Singleton was convicted for a fatal stabbing in 1979.

POLITICS
Viva the Death Tax!

Who says altruism is dead?

Not Bill Gates, Sr., one of the ringleaders of a movement of fantastically rich people intent on preserving the estate tax, that levy on inherited fortunes and Republican bugbear. Much to the chagrin of their wealthy compatriots and the Bush administration — which has declared war on the so-called “death tax” — the father of Microsoft magnate Bill Gates has banded together with other like-minded rich Americans to fight the tax’s repeal, the London Guardian‘s Duncan Campbell reports. Acknowledging that his stance amounts to “a classic man bites dog story, I suppose,” Chuck Collins, heir to a meatpacking empire, argued that the estate tax was nevertheless necessary.

“‘It is our country’s most progressive tax,’ he said. ‘It’s fiscally reckless to remove it and it is a tremendous incentive to give to charitable organisations.’ Mr Collins said that repealing the tax would lead to a greater disparity between the rich and poor. ‘What kind of country do we want to have? As John Paul Getty said, ‘money is like manure — it’s most effective when it’s spread around widely.'”

Meanwhile, opposition to the White House’s new round of tax cuts is gaining steam. Earlier this week, more than 450 economists — including 10 Nobel Laureates — signed a petition condemning the administration’s budget-busting ways.

 
Mother Jones Daily
 

Stealth Logging #


Tools Thursday, February 13
Wednesday, February 12
Tuesday, February 11
Monday, February 10
Friday, February 7

#

ENVIRONMENT
Stealth Logging

In a last-minute maneuver, a Republican Senator snuck measures that would dramatically increase logging in national forests into a long-stalled federal spending bill. Moving under the congressional radar, Alaska’s Ted Stevens — one of the timber industry’s best friends — inserted the riders into a $400 billion bill that has been held up since last fall, Elizabeth Shogren reports in The Los Angeles Times.

Despite Democratic protests, most observers expect the bill to pass with the riders intact, and the results could be dire. The measures would gut Clinton-era logging restrictions and, in an ironic twist, install the timber industry as stewards of many national forests — essentially, as The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Zachary Coile notes, loggers would be paid in trees for looking after the health of forests. So as Stevens and loggers crowed over their victory, Shogren writes, environmentalists predicted a spike in old-growth logging.

“‘It lacks accountability and it may provide perverse economic incentives for timber companies to take out the bigger and more ecologically valuable trees rather than focusing on the ecological objectives of stewardship,’ said Michael Anderson, an analyst for the Wilderness Society, a national environmental group.”

Outraged, the editors of The St. Petersburg Times declared Stevens’ eleventh-hour addition a dirty, undemocratic trick.

“Antienvironmental forces in Congress are trying to trick the American public. Where they have failed in their frontal assault on rules protecting America’s most pristine national forests from logging, they are trying to sneak through the back door.

When the democratic process didn’t get Stevens and the others what they wanted, they found another way. But by attaching special interest giveaways to an important appropriations bill, they undermine the democratic process.”

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