Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


A Statesman Passes
Rewriting War Crimes Law
Afghanistan’s Opium Boom

POLITICS
A Statesman Passes

The death of former Ambassador and New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on Wednesday has released the flood of praise standardly issued for recently-deceased public figures. But Moynihan, with his probing mind and unflinching principals, is one of those rare statesmen who has genuinely inspired others, no matter what shade on the political spectrum.

The editors at the Christian Science Monitor call the late Senator “one of the country’s best thinkers.” “He wrote 18 books; nine while a senator. He was the Republicans’ favorite Democrat and was widely viewed as the Democrats’ best intellect.” The Monitor notes that he was exemplary for his prescience, having foreseen the crisis of African-American families in the 1960s and predicting the collapse of the USSR in the 1970s. The paper concludes that, “His passing is a reminder that political discourse needs more of the eloquence and down-to-earth intellectual rigor Moynihan brought to the table.”

Likewise, the American Prospect‘s Mary Lynn F. Jones points to Moynihan’s reputation for “intellectual merit,” and finds him exceptional for his boldness in freely criticizing leaders and policies that troubled him. Not squeamish about blasting presidents for their sins, Jones writes,

“Moynihan wasn’t afraid to criticize his party either. He said liberal policies and rhetoric weren’t doing enough to advance equality for blacks. He was one of the harshest critics of Clinton’s health-care plan.”

The London Times also lauds Moynihan’s varied achievements:

“Even in the United States, where it is easier to pass freely between the universities and the world of government, Moynihan’s versatility as high government official, elected politician, diplomat, professor, author, journalist and controversialist was acknowledged as prodigious.

“He was a forceful speaker, an elegant writer and an instinctively accomplished politician, with a truly remarkable gift for what might be called ‘higher journalism’, that is, for spotting important issues earlier than others, successfully insisting that people must think about them, and predicting shrewdly what their political impact was likely to be.”

According to the Times, Moynihan was also notable for the cross-over he made from liberalism to the (then-fledgling) neo-conservative movement in the 1960s, after his views on race were misconstrued by liberals and he himself was accused of racism.

Indeed, such mutability helped Moynihan earn the respect of conservatives like George Will, who pays homage in a Washington Post obituary entitled, “A Beautiful Mind.” “His was the most penetrating political intellect to come from New York since Alexander Hamilton,” suggests Will. During Moynihan’s career,

“he wrote more books than some of his colleagues read and became something that, like Atlantis, is rumored to have once existed but has not recently been seen — the Democratic Party’s mind.”

Moynihan, Will continues, pointed out the “inanity” of the United Nations’ logic and, “[s]triving to move America ‘from apology to opposition,’ he faulted U.S. foreign policy elites as ‘decent people, utterly unprepared for their work.'” Moreover,

“Moynihan carried Woodrow Wilson’s faith in international law, but he had what Wilson lacked — an understanding that ethnicity makes the world go round. And bleed. The persistence of this premodern sensibility defeats what Moynihan called “the liberal expectancy.” He meant the expectation that the world would become tranquil as ethnicity and religion became fading residues of mankind’s infancy.

“His last home was an apartment on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. That “Avenue of Presidents” was transformed from tattiness to majesty and vibrancy by three decades of his deep reflection about, and persistent insistence on, proper architectural expressions of the Republic’s spiritedness and reasonableness, virtues made wonderfully vivid in the life of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”

LAW & JUSTICE
Rewriting War Crimes Law

Stung by criticism from all sides, Belgium has announced plans to significantly weaken its global war crimes law. The legislation, which allows victims from anywhere to press charges against anyone at any time in Belgian courts, has apparently proven to be more diplomatic trouble than it’s worth, the London Guardian‘s Andrew Osborn reports.

Under the Universal Authority Law, Belgian prosecutors have considered complaints against world leaders such as Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat, and have signalled that the prosecution of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (for his role in the Lebanon War’s Sabra and Chatila massacres) can go ahead once his term in office ends. Most recently, however, a group of Iraqi families lodged a complaint against former president George H.W. Bush and other planners of the first Gulf War. This, Osborn writes, might have been the final straw for Belgium’s increasingly embarrassed politicians, as US leaders threatened diplomatic retaliation if Brussels allowed the prosecution of US leaders to go forward.

“‘We have warned our Belgian colleagues that they need to be very careful about this kind of effort, this kind of legislation, because it makes it hard for us to go to places, it puts you at such easy risk,’ said Colin Powell. ‘For a place that is an international centre, they should be a little bit concerned about this.'”

The changes will strip much of the universality from the law — the slack will likely be taken up by the new International Criminal Court in the Hague — and will allow prosecutors far more leeway in rejecting politically-motivated cases. In spite of the dramatic revisions, Brussels hasn’t managed to extricate itself from the controversy entirely. As Osborn notes, the prosecution of Sharon will continue apace, but the changes should head off Belgium’s ultimate nightmare: having to deal with a case against George W. Bush and Tony Blair over their invasion of Iraq.

“[T]he authorities say they are bracing themselves for the day when a complaint is lodged against US president George Bush and UK prime minister Tony Blair for war crimes in Iraq. It is only a matter of time, officials believe, before such a complaint lands on their already overflowing desks.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Afghanistan’s Opium Boom

The US’s ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan did wonders for the country’s warlords. The Associated Press reports that Afghanistan is once again the world’s leading producer of opium. The number one status was held three years ago, but the Taliban government’s Muslim dictates staunchly forbade opium production and worked to eradicate it. The country’s reconstruction and a steady influx of refugees have added to a growing class of rural farmers that rely on poppy production for profit, and the current government lacks the resources to rid the country of the crops, reports the UN affiliated IRIN News.

Efforts by the present Afghan government to offer cash incentives in exchange for the destruction of crops backfired, as farmers planting the crops reasoned they would benefit from either the destruction or yield of poppy crops, reports IRIN. And the price offered by the government was hardly comparable to the profits gained from selling opium, especially with the optimal growing conditions of the past year. Worse yet, the overstretched budget of the Afghan government can no longer afford to offer the incentives.

The country’s Counter-Narcotics Directorate has plans to address the poverty of rural farmers in hopes that new infrastructure projects will provide alternative jobs and access to the most deprived regions. The AP states that the head of the Directorate, Mirwais Yasini, also maintains that the new Afghan government is inflexible regarding the ban on opium: “Carrying on with this is a crime and they are breaching the law. We are not going to bargain with [farmers that cultivate poppies],” he said. But without a strictly enforced religious mandate, that law’s enactment appears rife with obtacles. IRIN reports that even authorities in the some of the country’s most impoverished regions cultivate poppy fields as a means of survival — and that the alleged inaccessibility of the regions befuddles some residents: “[The government] comes by helicopter to destroy poppy, but not to bring us medicine, evaluate our needs and tackle our problems,” said one farmer.

Clinton’s Revolving Door
Cashing In on Prisoners

POLITICS
Clinton’s Revolving Door

The Bush administration’s close ties with lobbying firms and their corporate clients is no secret. Most prominent in this category, perhaps, is Vice President Dick Cheney, whose special relationship with his former employer, Halliburton, has prompted outrage from critics.

Lest anyone forget, however, Democrats also make frequent use of the so-called “revolving door,” in which industries hire ex-government officials to cash in on their influence in Washington. According to a new study by the Center for Public Integrity, many of the Clinton administration’s movers and shakers have segued into lobbying, too — and more than half of its top 100 officials now represent the interests of companies in areas they used to regulate. Former secretary of state Madeline Albright, for instance, now heads up an international business consulting group; Rudy deLeon, former deputy defense secretary, now lobbies for Boeing. Observers continue to question the ethics of hopping between policymaking and the private sector, but, as the Center’s director told the Associated Press, the revolving door policy is flourishing.

“‘It just means the revolving door is alive and well in Washington,’ Lewis said. ‘When you’re one of the top officials in an administration, you’re valuable because of your connections and your perceived clout and your perceived access.'”

LAW & JUSTICE
Cashing In on Prisoners

While some prison programs allow an inmate the opportunity to gain marketable skills while incarcerated, the state of Connecticut apparently hopes to capitalize on them. An ambiguous law on the state’s books allows Connecticut to charge inmates for the cost of their incarceration, reports Mary Wiltenberg of the Christian Science Monitor. In practice, the state seems to track down only the prisoners who’ve recently acquired a sum of money. In the case of eight women prisoners from the state’s York Correctional Institution, the state seeks to recover the profits gained from a published anthology of their writing — the result of a facility-endorsed writing workshop with novelist Wally Lamb.

The book, “Couldn’t Keep It To Myself: Testimonies From Our Imprisoned Sisters,” was originally planned to be a personal collection of stories for women within the workshop. Its resultant publication was the boon of an offer from Lamb’s publisher. The state of Connecticut stands to collect anywhere from $100,000 to just under a million dollars from each of the inmates, depending on the length of time each woman was imprisoned. But after donating a portion of the profits to a battered women’s shelter, the grand total collected by released inmates thus far is just $6,000 apiece. No money has been received by those inmates still serving sentences.

Oil’s Well That Ends Well?
Non-Citizen Soldiers

ENVIRONMENT
Oil’s Well That Ends Well?

An already ecstatic preservationist movement may have another reason to celebrate restrictions on oil drilling in the US. Fresh from a defeat in Congress over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Bush administration made the staggering decision to drop its legal battle over offshore drilling on the coast of California, reports Kenneth R. Weiss of the Los Angeles Times. After being defeated twice in federal court, the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service chose not to appeal a court decision granting the California Coastal Commission the right to review drilling leases and their potential impact on the California coast. In addition, the federal government will likely buy back the leased lands — a move that makes offshore oil drilling even less likely, writes Weiss.

But the time isn’t quite ripe for a preservationist beach party, as some critics caution that the administration’s decision doesn’t guarantee an all-out moratorium on drilling . David Whitney of the Sacramento Bee reports that environmental groups worry that the Coastal Commission might still be pressed by the federal government to develop offshore drills, which could lead to “a long and costly environmental review process.”

Oil companies’ leases usually expire after five or 10 years without efforts to develop. But when the Interior Department continually extended the leases, Weiss reports, the Coastal Commission stepped in, hoping to insure that new drills would not appear along the coast. Their case was helped by a recent Bush debacle in Florida, where the administration bought back leases along the Florida coast just in time for Jeb Bush’s re-election campaign, and proceeded to slight Californians when Interior Secretary Gale Norton said, “Florida opposes coastal drilling and California does not.” Some skeptics warn that this apparent victory might just be an attempt by Bush to save face in light of the coming presidential elections. But preservationists spy a different agenda:

“Less than a year ago, Norton rejected Davis’ call for the federal government to buy back the leases as it had in Florida. There, the administration pledged $115 million to buy back undeveloped oil and gas tracts off the Florida Panhandle and an additional $120 million in the Everglades. The companies holding leases off the California coast argue that they are entitled to the $1.2 billion initially paid for the leases, plus hundreds of millions more spent to drill 38 exploratory wells and other costs.

‘All the Bush administration has done is give up on a losing court case,’ said Drew Caputo, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. A more significant step, he said, would be for the administration to allow the offshore leases to expire, which state officials contend should have happened years ago. If that happened, the leasing companies would get no money. ‘We would support a buyout if it’s necessary,’ Caputo said. ‘But we are not persuaded that it’s necessary.'”

LAW AND JUSTICE
Non-Citizen Soldiers

To date, 10 Californian soldiers have died in the Iraq war. Only about half of those, however, were US citizens. As the Los Angeles Times‘ Rich Connell and Nora Zamichow report, it is an increasingly common situation in today’s armed forces.

Indeed, immigrants now make up some five percent of all US soldiers. And with immigration rules tightening over heightened fears of terrorism, Connell and Zamichow observe, military service is now one of the few remaining fast tracks to citizenship. Noting that the military has long offered such enticements to non-citizen soldiers during wartime, officials insist it’s simply a way of rewarding those who risk their lives for their would-be country. In any case, they say, green card holders are the only immigrants eligible for the shortcut. Critics, however, call it a devil’s bargain — one that US citizens, by definition, would never have to make.

“‘Especially at a time when the doors for citizenship are closing, this may be one of few routes left,’ said Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney. ‘It’s a tough but well-worn path. Is it fair? No.'”

Fair or not, immigrants with high hopes continue to sign up. As the writers note, some recent enlistees have agonized over whether to join. 22-year old Alex Thong, from Hong Kong, summed up his dilemma:

“‘I want to serve, but I don’t want to die,’ he said.

‘To be part of America, to be part of society,’ Thong said, ‘would mean that doors would open for me.'”

Uranium Unease
Accounting for Apartheid

POLITICS
Uranium Unease

Advocates of nuclear nonproliferation were disturbed by a proposition to lessen restrictions on the export of weapons-grade uranium introduced to the House Energy and Commerce Committee by North Carolina Representative Richard Burr. According to the Associated Press, medical research facilities abroad use uranium to produce medical isotopes, and have been lobbying Congress for some time to relax export restrictions.

But in the age of terrorism, nonproliferation activists argue, it makes little sense to ship weapons-grade uranium to over 50 countries. Even low-grade uranium can fall into unintended hands, as Chris Smith and Berween Shoreh reported in the Middle East Times. Furthermore, the AP notes, 1992 legislation that mandated the current restrictions requires that any facilities using high-grade uranium make efforts to eventually switch to low-grade, which can’t be used to make bombs. Isotope manufacturers argue that the changeover is more complicated than the 1992 conditions imagined. But nonproliferationists counter that easing exportation restrictions would discourage facilities from changing over, and prolong the unnecessary use of weapons-grade uranium worldwide. At the very least, they say, the proposal is a bizzare contradiction of the White House’s aggressive new policies on weapons disposal and homeland security.

FOREIGN NEWS
Accounting for Apartheid

Last month, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body designed to heal the country’s apartheid-era wounds, released its final report. As Nicole Itano reports in the Christian Science Monitor, the results of the seven-year probe had something in them to anger virtually everyone.

With its call for reparations, the report lent credence to a tidal wave of lawsuits against corporations that did business with the white regime. Further, its findings tarnished the reputation of the country’s last white president, F. W. de Klerk, who has strenuously — albeit unconvincingly — denied knowledge of apartheid death squad activity. Similarly, the Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party was cited for human rights abuses during its collaboration with the white-minority government. Still others were dismayed at the Commission’s failure to get testimonies from most of the regime’s senior officials.

All of this, though, was expected. The fact that all sides expressed dissatisfaction with the report’s conclusions, some observers note, is perhaps the surest sign of its fairness. Writing in Johannesburg’s Mail and Guardian, rights researcher Tom Lodge argues that the Commission, whatever its failings, at least put a moral accounting of apartheid’s sins on record, while paving the way for a brighter future.

“There is no question that the public violations hearings both helped to discredit the previous political order among white South Africans and offered an important kind of acknowledgement of the suffering and sacrifices that people had experienced in 30 years of violent conflict.

Whether people told the truth or not, or whether or not they could feel themselves reconciled to their former tormentors, the TRC was a crucial agency in reconstructing the South African state’s moral authority, in remaking the body politic.”

The editors of the Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, laud the Commission for making the best out of an impossible situation. They warn, however, that the government must act on the Commission’s recommendations if the healing process is to continue.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an imperfect vehicle for healing a traumatized nation, but it was the most promising one. President Thabo Mbeki needs to make it work — by prosecuting those who declined to come forward and keeping the promise of reparations to their victims.”

Liberal Spending
Lazarus Legislation

POLITICS
Liberal Spending

In an attempt to bolster support for ailing state and city governments, Democrats proposed an amendment to increase Bush’s $78 billion war budget by $4.8 billion, the Associated Press reports. The amendment was quickly defeated along party lines Wednesday in the Senate. Bush’s war budget was expected to clear the House Thursday, but it’s unclear what recommendations the House will make to aid local governments in their newly defined homeland security responsibilities.

The Bush administration insists on prioritizing homeland security nationwide. But insuring that security takes precedence leads to cutbacks in already underfunded arenas, like education and medical care, the Washington Post‘s Dale Russakoff and Rene Sanchez report. While the federal government flounders in debt, state governments are increasingly being called upon to bear spending burdens. When cities solicit states for help securing potential terrorist targets, their already anguished budgets only stretch so far — in the case of California, sending the National Guard to Los Angeles International Airport added $100,000 every week to a burgeoning $30 billion deficit. While both parties favor stepped-up security, designating responsibility is a sticky issue, according to the Post:

“The federal government — not states and cities — is responsible for protecting the nation’s borders, although state and local governments regularly have provided reinforcements. Under the Constitution, it is unclear whether homeland security — a concept unheard of until 18 months ago — is a federal or state responsibility.

Asked about the burden on states and cities, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the Bush administration “believes this is a shared responsibility, and we’re going to help do much of it.” However, he acknowledged that the administration has not figured out what share of the responsibility the federal government is paying — or should pay.”

In an effort to encourage further federal funding, the Democratic amendment to the budget requested added funds for “first responders,” like firefighters and police officers, reports United Press International. But Republicans want to keep the numbers as close to Bush’s plan as possible, and worry that added amendments will only lengthen the budget’s approval process.

ENVIRONMENT
Lazarus Legislation

The Senate may have voted it down just two weeks ago, but Republicans have already revived their plan to drill for oil in an Alaskan wildlife reserve. As the Associated Press reports, the GOP’s proposal for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has once again reappeared, Lazarus-like, in a larger energy bill the House is considering.

As before, drilling proponents are citing national security concerns and the need for energy independence to justify sinking wells into the refuge. Conservationists, however, scoff at such arguments, pointing out that it could take up to 10 years to start pumping oil out of the reserve. In any case, they say, no one knows how much oil it contains, nor how much could be drilled profitably. While the proposal’s passage through the House is virtually assured, the Senate is just as likely to strike it down again.

Given its chances for success, then, why does the GOP keep flogging this dead horse? As the pundits at Tapped see it, the endless debate over the refuge’s fate has less to do with energy than it does with pure, hardball politics.

“Every time House leaders can muster a vote on ANWR — which itself is easy — they force Democratic members to choose between their environmentalist constituency and the unions, in particular the Teamsters and the building unions (who would benefit, if only somewhat, from drilling). And every time that split is played out, those same Democrats have to waste time mending fences. It’s wedge politics, pure and simple. Cynical, but effective.”

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