Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Kenya’s Unquiet Ghosts
Antelope or Rhino: Choose One

LAW AND JUSTICE
Kenya’s Unquiet Ghosts

Fresh from decades of strongman Daniel arap Moi’s iron-fisted rule, Kenya is looking to purge the demons of its past. As the London Guardian reports, its new leaders have announced plans to set up a truth and reconciliation commission, modeled on South Africa’s efforts to confront apartheid’s legacy.

“‘We need to reconcile society. Revenge and recrimination or retribution will not help this country,’ Mr Odinga said after touring secret chambers used by the government of the former president Daniel arap Moi to torture dissidents.

‘We are going to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to carry out investigations to give people an opportunity to forgive each other,’ he said. ‘It can call the present president, even the former president … to testify before it.'”

The country’s colonial-era ghosts, too, are being stirred up. The government has announced that the leader of the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in the 1950s, Dedan Kimathi, will be exhumed from his prison grave and given a state funeral, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Still reviled among Kenya’s whites, the Mau Mau rebels waged an often vicious campaign against the British settler population. Authorities hung Kimathi for treason 46 years ago.

ENVIRONMENT
Antelope or Rhino: Choose One

Well meaning conservationists out to save the rhino have accidentally driven an Asian antelope to the brink of extinction, reports Fred Pearce in New Scientist.

A decade ago over a million saiga antelopes roamed the steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan. The population seemed so secure that the World Wildlife Federation actively promoted using saiga horn as an alternative to the horn of endangered rhino, which is used in Chinese fever medicine. The plan worked a little too well, and poachers whittled the antelope’s number to less than 30,000. Biologists say it is the most sudden and dramatic population crash of a large mammal ever seen.

As conservationists now launch an emergency appeal to rescue wild herds of the saiga, WWF ecologist Esmond Martin is unapologetic.

“I supported the use of saiga antelope horn as a substitute for rhino horn in the early 1980’s. In my opinion it was the correct policy at the time. But I stopped around 1995, when I read about the start of the sharp decline in saiga populations.”

Undermining Organic
The GOP’s Gun Gambit

POLITICS
Undermining Organic

An overlooked, one-sentence provision found in the gargantuan spending bill passed in Congress this Thursday would relax the USDA’s standards on organic-labeling. According to Andrew Mollison of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the clause, snuck in by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) would allow organic labels to appear on meat even for livestock raised on non-organic feed. Now, reports Mollison, the Bush administration and USDA are distancing themselves from the rider, even as the President is poised to sign the bill. Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) announced they would seek legislation to counteract the clause.

Deal’s chief of staff Chris Riley responds:

”The point is, if there is ample 100-percent organic feed available, and it isn’t too pricey, and that’s reported by the Agriculture Department, this language becomes null and void.”

An editorial for the St. Petersburg Times argues that, of all the discreet provisions slipped into the 3,000-page budget, this was one of the “sleaziest,” with a plan that would help “a single Georgia chicken farmer but threaten the integrity of the entire $10-billion organic food industry.” Rep. Deal

“had tried before to undermine the rules that determine when poultry products can be advertised as organic. (The USDA organic label on meat means the animals were raised on food grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge and not injected with hormones or antibiotics.) Last year, Deal tried to get the Agriculture Department to make an exception for Georgia’s Fieldale Farms, allowing it to use conventional feed and still slap the organic label on its product.”

The Times adds that Deal, who received $4,000 in contributions from Fieldale, failed in his first attempt and, therefore, resorted to a more clandestine strategy.

The GOP’s Gun Gambit

As it turns out, riders gutting environmental regulations aren’t the only nasty surprises tucked into the new White House budget. As The Chicago Sun-Times‘ Lynn Sweet reports, another eleventh-hour addition to the massive spending bill would allow the government to keep secret the names of gun shops whose guns were used in crimes. Oklahoma Republican Ernest Istook Jr. snuck the measure into the bill and, with the clock ticking, most expect it to pass with the rider intact. Gun control advocates like the Brady Campaign slammed Istook’s last-minute sleight of hand:

“‘Preventing access to ATF gun tracing and multiple sales data would make it almost impossible for the public to detect patterns in crime gun sales by specific dealers. Giving ATF such special treatment only serves to protect crooked gun dealers and to prevent victims of gun violence from seeking justice.'”

Manufactured Memories
Stop or I’ll Shoot!

LAW AND JUSTICE
Manufactured Memories

Casting doubt on some of law enforcement’s most cherished interrogation techniques, scientists have found it frighteningly easy to plant false memories in people’s minds.

As the London Independent‘s Steve Connor reports, researchers convinced nearly 40 percent of test subjects that they shook hands with Bugs Bunny while on a childhood visit to Disneyland — an impossibility, of course, because Bugs is owned by a rival corporation. According to the lead researcher, the study shows how easily the mind can be manipulated, and how easy it is for police to persuade people they have seen things they didn’t.

“‘There are some methods of interrogation that are unwittingly or even deliberately suggestive. But there are some situations where law enforcement agencies essentially lie to people that they are interviewing. They say things like “another witness claims to have seen you there” … some sort of lies that they think will lead to a confession,’ she said.”

ENVIRONMENT
Stop or I’ll Shoot!

Activists are fighting a federal policy that traps and kills bears that damage trees in private timberlands in Oregon, The Willamette Week‘s Taylor Clark reports. Timber harvesters claim that the bears cause significant harm to the trees, reducing the value of their investment, while conservationists say the government should not be spending federal money to kill bears.

In the 1980s, timber companies contacted the Agriculture Department about black bears eating bark off the trees for the sap, and damaging their harvest. Known as girdling, bears can kill a tree or slow its growth rate and cause pest infestations. Conservationists say there are non-lethal ways to keep bears from eating and destroying trees, such as pruning the trees, making sure other food sources such as berries are plentiful and maintaining areas with tree diversity. In any case, critics ask, why should taxpayers foot the bill?

“‘Any corporation should plan on having certain losses,’ Thieme protests. ‘Why aren’t these services being paid for directly? These funds come from you and me.'”

A Dove in the Mix
Confronting Child Prostitution
Fight or Flight?

POLITICS
A Dove in the Mix

The “six-pack” of Democratic candidates for president in 2004 is rapidly growing, with a pool that now include its first potential anti-war hero. Glen Johnson reports in the Boston Globe, that Ohio Representative Dennis J. Kucinich and former senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois are the next hopefuls to join the fray, as numbers seven and eight, respectively. Moseley-Braun would become not only the lone woman in the group, but the lone black woman. Kucinich, celebrated by the left for his vocal opposition to war in Iraq, bills himself as “an FDR Democrat,” who is will bring the party back to its populist roots.

Not only celebrated for his stance on the war, asserts John Nichols in the Madison Capital Times, Kucinich is also a leader in efforts to modernize food labels. He has been

“the most outspoken advocate in Congress for labeling food products that have been genetically altered or that contain genetically modified organisms.

By framing the debate over food labeling as a battle between farmers and consumers on one side and agribusiness conglomerates that oppose labeling and other forms of regulation on the other, Kucinich could push the dialogue about food safety and food quality to a point where it has never before been in presidential politics.”

Additionally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Tom Diemer notes that, with the congressman’s move to run, he has made an about-face from his previous opposition to abortion rights for women. In campaign stops in Iowa this week, Kucinich announced his decision to be a pro-choice candidate. Up until now in Congress, he has “generally voted against abortion rights,” observes Diemer, “and has consistently opposed federal funding of abortion for poor women, a record he acknowledged at a later stop in Iowa City.”

Diemer suggests that Kucinich’s “evolution appeared to recognize that an anti-abortion position would hurt him in early presidential primaries.”

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Confronting Child Prostitution

Long a hub for the international drug trade, post-apartheid South Africa has also become a center for the child sex market, according to a new United Nations study.

As the Associated Press reports, the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town are now awash in child prostitutes, who hail from across Africa and as far afield as Eastern Europe and Thailand. The causes, the report concludes, are as varied as the victims: endemic poverty, widespread hunger and apartheid’s brutal legacy have all combined with geography to make South Africa a locus for one of globalization’s most sinister side-effects.

“‘Hatred has accumulated. Violence has accumulated. The traditional relations of family harmony were seriously damaged by decades of oppression and contempt, and their present manifestations in devious forms are shocking,’ the report said.”

Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the Russian parliament is mulling laws aimed at outlawing human trafficking and slavery, The Moscow Times‘ Nabi Abdullaev reports. It’s no secret that Russian gangs control much of the global sex trade and, a parliament member notes, the new legislation would be a long-overdue first step in confronting the problem.

“‘This is a very serious problem for Russia, which has became an active supplier of slaves to customers here and in foreign countries,’ she said in an interview Tuesday. ‘Slaves are used on farms and they are forced to work as prostitutes. Women are forced to bear babies for childless couples.'”

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Fight or Flight?

Aerospace behemoth Boeing is moving away from commercial manufacturing in favor of taxpayer-supported defense contracting, Daniel Gross of Slate reports. In the wake of Sept. 11, Boeing, once largely supported by sales of commmercial jetliners, now relies heavily on the military and pentagon for funding — a move Gross refers to as “a stealth government bailout.” He finds that commercial sales have decreased sharply since 1999, while defense contracts now account for over half of the company’s revenues, making Boeing the nation’s second-largest defense contractor.

Current proposed revenue sources include the use of Boeing’s satellite technology for smart bombs and a Pentagon budget proposal to lease Boeing 767’s as refueling tankers opposed by several lawmakers, including John McCain, who alleges that doling out money to the aviation giant “has nothing to do with national defense and everything to do with taking care of Boeing.”

According to Gross,

“[t]he $27 billion proposal raised the ire of both Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels and Sen. John McCain. After all, the military typically doesn’t lease airplanes, especially ones that can last a few decades. And it would plainly be cheaper to improve existing tankers.”

Upending Africa’s AIDS Equation
Return of the Sioux
Bush Stymies WTO Drug Talks

HEALTH
Upending Africa’s AIDS Equation

Since the 1980s, conventional wisdom has held that unsafe sex fueled HIV’s spread across Africa, the disease borne along by long-distance truck drivers, roadside prostitutes and poor, uneducated populations. A new study, however, suggests that this oft-repeated story may be more myth than reality, the London Guardian reports.

Indeed, researchers now say that unsafe sex — previously thought to account for 90 percent of all African HIV cases — is the cause of only about one third of infections. Instead, these experts say, health care practices like reusing dirty needles are far bigger culprits than anyone had imagined. While the study’s conclusions are highly controversial, they could lead to huge changes in the way Africa combats the AIDS epidemic.

“Dr Gisselquist said that he had found no reliable study to back up the 1988 estimate that 90% of HIV infections were sexually transmitted. He added that the figure ‘did not fit the data available at the time’, and suggested epidemiology and propaganda had become entwined.

They said that their findings have ‘major ramifications for current and future HIV control in Africa, whose focus has been almost exclusively on sexual risk reduction and condom use.'”

US NEWS
Return of the Sioux

In a surprising and perhaps unprecedented development, many American Indians are returning to the Plains of their ancestors. Laurent Belsie reports in the Christian Science Monitor that Lakota Sioux are migrating back to South Dakota — from all corners of the country — in significant numbers, repopulating the American frontier as whites continue to thin their own ranks.

“Just as the buffalo are returning to the rural Great Plains,” observes Belsie, “native Americans are staging a dramatic demographic comeback – thanks to high birthrates and the return of many who want to reconnect with their land and culture.” South Dakota’s Sioux population has nearly doubled since 1990, growing at a rate nearly four times the national growth rate.

The influx, suggests Belsie, defies economic logic, as most of the Indian reservations are beset by rampant poverty and unemployment rates at around 10 percent, with limited opportunity on the horizon. The trend, rather, comes from a desire among Lakota to reconnect with their culture. And, as the Lakota return, many are engaging in buffalo ranching, a practise more cultural and environmental than economic.

According to the 2000 federal census, American Indians number more than 62,000 in South Dakota, almost 9 percent of the total population.

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Bush Stymies WTO Drug Talks

World Trade Organization efforts to provide impoverished countries with access to inexpensive drugs have been inhibited by the Bush administration’s backing of the pharmaceutical industry, the London Guardian‘s Charlotte Denny reports. At this week’s conference in Geneva, the US blocked the required unanimous approval for the organization’s drug proposal when American representatives balked at allowing under-developed countries the right to import generic versions of patented medications.

Currently, manufacturers of generic drugs in developing countries can mass produce inexpensive versions of patented medicines — in order to treat such illnesses as AIDS and tuberculosis — after paying a fee to the drugs’ initial producer. But countries without manufacturing ability are restricted by strict import laws. The US and its heavily-funded pharmaceutical lobby remain adamant that loosening these restrictions would “help generics manufacturers in India and Brazil to steal their markets,” Denny writes.

    Members like you

    Mother Jones is a nonprofit, and stories like this are made possible by readers like you. or to help fund independent journalism.