Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Tax Cut Trickery
Further Endangered Species

POLITICS
Tax Cut Trickery

President Bush signed his massive, $350 million tax cut into law last week, and, though smaller than originally proposed, the bill is a GOP victory by any measure. As the days pass, some of the bill’s nastier provisions are coming to light.

In a last-minute decision, Republicans excluded millions of low-income families from a $400 increase in the child tax credit. As UPI columnist Cynthia Tucker points out, however, the working poor are exactly the people who need such credits the most.

“In other words, that child tax credit will not go to those who need it most. (Families earning less than $10,500 a year were not eligible for the tax credits because they pay no federal income taxes.) It was a deeply cynical maneuver.

Let’s be clear: The families denied the child tax credit work for a living. Still, they barely earn enough to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. It’s difficult to pay the bills when you earn little more than $5.15 an hour.”

In its defense of the eleventh-hour cut, the White House contradicted its standard — albeit unconvincing — argument that the tax cut will stimulate the economy. “That tax break was among the few provisions in the gargantuan tax-cut bill that even resembled economic stimulus, since working families are more likely than the rich to spend the money right away on necessities,” Tucker adds.

And if poor families didn’t make out so well in the bill, multinational corporations had plenty to celebrate. Despite the high-profile corporate scandals that dominated the headlines for much of 2002, House Republicans discarded measures that would have prevented corporations from using Enron-style accounting tricks and moving their headquarters to post office boxes in offshore tax havens. As the Washington Post‘s Jonathan Weisman reports, corporations and their hired hands in the Capitol couldn’t help but gloat a bit over the victory.

“‘The things that mattered most were all the things that didn’t get in,’ said a Republican tax lobbyist. ‘That kind of stuff really matters.'”

SUV manufacturers and owners did well for themselves, too. The tax credit for buying a gigantic SUV — a Hummer, say, or Chevy Suburban — was quadrupled to $100,000. It won’t just benefit the owners of Mom and Pop construction companies, either: the language is so broadly written that virtually anyone can claim the tax break. And as the editors of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer observe, the provision is so outrageous that no one has dared take credit for it yet.

Meanwhile, the ghost of fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and his impolitic (read: truthful) pronouncements haunted the proceedings. A study commissioned by O’Neill showed a mind-boggling $44 trillion gap in future federal revenue as Baby Boomers hit their senior years. Numbers like that, of course, don’t make the argument for tax cuts any easier. So, as the Financial Times‘ Peronet Despeignes reports, the White House simply buried the conclusions. Not surprisingly, some Treasury staffers are frustrated.

“‘When we were conducting the study, my impression was that it was slated to appear [in the Budget]. At some point, the momentum builds and you think everything is a go, and then the decision came down that we weren’t part of the prospective budget.'”

ENVIRONMENT
Further Endangered Species

It’s no secret that the Bush Administration has found several insidious ways to rescind environmental protection laws. Now, the latest argument of Bush and Co. professes that the Endangered Species Act is “broken,” reports Guy Gugliotta of the Washington Post. Under the staggeringly eco-conscious tutelage of George W., the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to weaken the 1973 Act. The ESA, which is charged with listing threatened species and protecting them by maintaining their habitats, may be weakened due to Interior Department claims that the Act has lost its effectiveness. Instead of asking for increases in funding, the administration hopes to extend the settlement of lost lawsuits and redefine the Act’s integral definition of “critical habitat.” Supporters of the Interior Department’s plan accuse the Act of creating lawsuits instead of protecting endangered animals.

Environmentalists scoff at the accusations, retorting that the Bush administration’s plans to cut back on protection for species and their habitats will only result in more lawsuits. J.R. Pegg of Environment News Service writes that the environmentalists believe the administration has “engineered a funding crisis as part of a broad agenda to rollback protection for endangered species to benefit oil, gas, timber and mining interests.” Bush’s previous clandestine efforts to cripple the Act have created an alliance of watchful skeptics within the environmental movement — especially since the president routinely capitalizes on the American public’s calls for heightened National Security as a means to weaken environmental protection.

Pegg reports that a rider on the 2004 military spending bill would have given the Secretary of the Interior ultimate jurisdiction over the designation of critical habitat for endangered species. Furthermore, he writes, the Bush administration is the only presidency that has never independently designated a species’ critical habitat. Bush cares for critters only when forced by court order to do so. And finally, California Democratic Congressman San Farr writes in the San Francisco Chronicle (via Tom Paine.com), the House’s May 22nd vote to release the Defense Department from the standards set by the ESA and its counter-part, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, has shown that the military is always the fallback excuse to ravage the American landscape. Farr censured his colleagues for approving a long-term solution to a temporary problem. It’s not as though the military doesn’t usually win out over the environment anyway, Farr’s statement notes:

“What the military is not telling us is that it has the ability to request — and has always received — waivers on a case-by-case basis.”

Well then. If that’s the case, why NOT just retract environmental protection altogether? It would probably cut back on those pesky lawsuits.

Protesting the Party of 8
Zimbabwe’s Tipping Point

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Protesting the Party of 8

Amidst what was otherwise relatively formulaic coverage of the G8 protests, sporadic reporting on the actual motives of protesters in Evian, France did manage to convey some of their underlying messages.

Reuters made the predictable announcement that (gasp!) some protesters became violent. But the Associated Press quoted an activist who was exasperated by the press’s consistent coverage of scattered violence in an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Protest organizer ATTAC France’s Jaques Nikonoff told the AP, “The mass of people is united, and it’s just a very small group of people who want to break things just for the sake of breaking things.” Several other media outlets also commented on the oddity of eight world leaders meeting to make world-wide rules just after their divisive disagreements regarding the US invasion of Iraq.

Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times comments that the G8’s history has left much of the developing world disillusioned with the so-called “Washington consensus.” The populations of many countries share the sentiments of the protestors in Switzerland. In essence, he writes, the Illuminati-like tenor of the G8 summits makes for an angry and isolated global populace:

“In Genoa, the conservative Silvio Berlusconi government in Italy tried to brand as criminals those who opposed what is nothing less than the economic, political and military management (or mismanagement) of the world. It failed. As a result, the G8 is now barricaded against the people, a classic case of the street against the palace, a symbol of the unjust world order denounced by the alter-globalization movement.”

Rather poignantly, the UK Sunday Mirror’s Stephen Hayward chose to investigate the cost of the G8 conference as a means to expose what protestors bill as stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. The nearly $7 million spent on the conference, he writes, is enough to put a stop to the current Ethiopian famine for six years — a famine the Group of 8 have flown in experts to discuss:

“They will stay in £1,500 ($2500) -a-night suites, drink the finest Moet & Chandon champagne and enjoy five-star gourmet food while at the Hotel Royal in Evian, which overlooks Lake Geneva. Ironically, while enjoying such levels of luxury in one of Europe’s most exclusive spa resorts, famous for its bottled water, they will be discussing issues such as Third World debt, poverty, Aids…and drought in Africa.”

Naturally, security is a priority in these uncertain times — enough to merit nearly $575 million worth of fighter jets, anti-aircraft missiles and a heli-port for “those leaders who will fly in over the beautiful lake rather than take a longer trip by road.” Of course, it’s necessary to factor in the expense of those pesky protestors calling for economic equality:

“Anti-riot police have been patrolling the spa town since last month. All campsites within a 30-mile radius have been closed and special forces frogmen and patrol boats are patrolling seven-mile wide Lake Geneva.

The French organisers hope their efforts will not only prevent any terrorist attacks but will also stop 250,000 anti-capitalist protesters who are meeting 28 miles away in Geneva from reaching the area.”

Certainly wouldn’t want those picket-wielding rowdies to get their hands on any of the champagne.

FOREIGN NEWS
Zimbabwe’s Tipping Point

In Zimbabwe, the end game may have begun. A week of protest marches and general strikes against Robert Mugabe’s regime got off to a violent start yesterday, as security forces tear-gassed and beat protestors, sent tanks into the townships, and arrested leaders of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Pressure on Mugabe, a former liberation leader turned dictator, has been building for years — particularly since the 2002 elections, which he is widely believed to have stolen — as once-prosperous Zimbabwe’s economy has been sinking further into the abyss. This week’s strikes are the biggest since the days of white-minority rule, and opposition leaders hope they will force the aging Big Man to negotiate a peaceful exit from office. As the London Independent‘s Basildon Peta reports, even though yesterday’s protests were crushed by police and gangs of armed ruling party thugs, they succeeded in bringing the country to a standstill.

“On Sunday, government helicopters dropped leaflets in major cities and towns calling on Zimbabweans to ignore the protests. The state media repeatedly instructed people to report for work, saying the authorities would protect any strike-breakers. But yesterday, businesses in most urban areas were shut.

Many Zimbabweans interviewed from Harare said that while they had been thwarted from taking to the streets by the government’s use of force, they welcomed the strike. ‘If this can’t convince Mugabe that he is no longer wanted, then what will,’ asked an engineer with a state-owned company, who refused to be named.”

Opposition spokesmen have promised further protests on Wednesday, but it’s too early to tell what effect they will have on the regime. In any case, the stakes are high for both sides, according to the editors of Zimbabwe’s only independent daily paper, the Daily News.

” … [I]t must be clear to all observers that the opposition party could be betting its future and that of the entire nation on this one hand.

A positive public reaction in which Zimbabweans take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands will be a significant moral victory for the opposition … It will tip the odds in the MDC’s favour as it ratchets up pressure against Mugabe to call it quits and make way for a government that could begin to put Zimbabwe’s economy on the path to recovery.”

On the other hand, they opine, if the regime manages to keep a lid on dissent and the protests fizzle out, Mugabe will have bought himself some time and dealt the MDC a potentially crippling blow.

“Indeed, the public’s fear of violence could work against the MDC, convincing most Zimbabweans to stay home and keep their heads down instead of risking life and limb by joining the proposed street protests.

Such a response from the public could be disastrous for Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, which now more than ever needs to demonstrate its continuing relevance to national politics.”

As the editors of the Zimbabwe Standard point out, however, Mugabe can only hold back the tide for so long. Sooner or later, they write, the people will rise up and force him out.

“MDC or no MDC, Zimbabweans are simply fed up. Everybody knows that for international support and assistance to flow into the country, there has to be the political solution to our problems and that begins with the realisation that President Mugabe has become a liability.”

The FCC Rolls Over
Bush’s Conditional AIDS Aid

In Media
The FCC Rolls Over

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to loosen longstanding media ownership rules, setting the stage for a new round of growth spurts among the already mammoth conglomerates that dominate American media. The new rules allow companies to own more television stations, and to own a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market.

So far, the opinion split in the media has fallen predictably along party lines, like the FCC vote itself. Republicans are pro new rules. Democrats are con. Everyone claims that his side is the side of all things American, patriotic, and in the interest of liberty and justice for all. Democrats and progressives are more likely to use words like “public interest,” “diversity” and “minority opinion” as opposed to “freedom” and “competition.” The argument against the rules is that they were established to guarantee the variety of voices that is crucial to a functioning democracy. The argument for looser ownership rules is that the government should butt out, rely solely on existing anti-trust laws, and give companies the freedom to dominate an increasing number of media outlets in any given community. Conservatives also argue that competition, even between godzilla-sized titans, will increase diversity. The giants like Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and Disney have all expressed their satisfaction with the FCC’s decision.

The breakdown is demonstrated nicely in the Washington Post‘s interesting round-up of editorials by paper, along with a description of each paper’s ownership. Big companies that stand to profit from the near total domination of markets are pro. Independent outlets tend to be con.

The Rocky Mountain News, for example, a Colorado daily, opines that the new rules don’t go far enough, that they “don’t maximize free-market competition or encourage the most efficient corporate restructurings,” and that “the FCC should have repealed them wholesale.” The Rocky Mountain News is owned by the EW Scripps company, which publishes 21 dailies and owns 10 local broadcast and cable TV stations, including the Home and Garden and Food Network.

The New York Times was among the minority of papers in larger-sized chain to say, “Though often discussed in eye-glazing arithmetic terms, these media ownership rules are about preserving competitive media markets that enrich, instead of thwart, the exchange of information and viewpoints that are at the heart of our democracy.”

The FCC’s decision to loosen the rules, despite public protest and without a fight in court, is a political one. The commission is following the lead of a conservative administration. As former FCC chair Reed Hundt told Salon “let’s just say that the Bush administration does not think that the big winners in the media consolidation game will be either the New York Times or the Washington Post.” Hundt sees the current rules as another chapter in an ongoing political battle, stretching back through Newt Gingrich’s Republication Revolution. Hundt says the new rules are the “culmination of the attack by the right on the media since the independent media challenged and helped topple Richard Nixon.”

The fight against these rules now falls to Congress and the courts. A group of lawmakers has vowed to take up the struggle, and while Democrats are leading the charge, there’s anger on both sides of the aisle (who knew Trent Lott cared about media diversity?). As The Hill reports:

    “[This] will be seen as a decision that is both dumb and dangerous,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) at a press conference with senators from both sides of the aisle who opposed the new rules.

    Dorgan is considering introducing legislation with Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) that would block the FCC’s action.

    Anger was not confined to the Senate or to the Democrats. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said: “A lot of Republicans, in fact probably most of the Republicans in Congress would not agree with this decision.”

Politicians from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus and Asian Pacific Congress also released a written statement calling the FCC’s rules “a blow to diversity” that would undermine regulations “intended to promote minority participation, and preserve multiple media voices and opinions in the electronic and print media industries.”

But the most remarkable fact, and the politicians’ best weapon in the upcoming fight, may be the huge public outcry that preceded the new rules. The New York Times reports that:

    “More than 520,000 comments on the proceeding were sent in by citizens. And as the two dissenting commissioners pointed out in their statements today, nearly all of them were against relaxing the media ownership rules.

    While the public opposition did not dissuade Mr. Powell and his two Republican colleagues on the commission from voting in favor of the rule changes, some consumer advocates say the protests may have helped set some boundaries — like the slight tightening of radio ownership rules — and could prove useful as some members of Congress seek to roll back the F.C.C.’s actions and opponents mount appeals in federal court.

International News
Bush’s Conditional AIDS Aid

In the role of noble humanitarian, President George W. Bush avows a staunch committment to helping the world’s suffering AIDS population — provided its members are prostrate to a Christian God and the pharmaceutical industry. Just before his departure to Evian, France, for the G8 conference, the President signed a $15 billion AIDS initiative into law, praising it as a huge advance in American Foreign Policy and aid to developing countries, report Amy Goldstein and Dan Morgan of the Washington Post. But exasperated critics and even other G8 leaders charge that while the bill’s signing made for a great photo-op, in reality it does more to push a faith-based agenda and garner kickbacks for big drug companies.

John Lichfield of the London Independent reports that French President Jaques Chirac’s focus as host of the G8 summit was pushing the great eight’s agreement to make AIDS treatment medication less expensive for developing countries. Since the last summit,the the U.S. has gained notoriety for its lone opposition to the exportation of generic versions of AIDS drugs to parts of the world where the AIDS crisis is devastating entire populations. Nathan Ford, the medical director of Doctors Without Borders in the UK, told Lichfield that he supports Bush and the G8’s aims to alleviate the suffering of AIDS patients, but that improving access to inexpensive medicine should be an international priority:

“Under present rules, [Ford] said, a poor country might have to spend $1,500 a year to treat one HIV-infected person with brand name antiretroviral drugs. Generic medicines could reduce the cost to £ 185 ($300) a year per person. In other words, Mr Ford explained, without a change in the trade rules, much of the money offered by America and Europe would simply come back to the large American and European pharmaceutical corporations.”

John Tarleton of Z Magazine notes that, of all the major industralized countries, the US spends the smallest percentage of its wealth on foreign aid. And Goldstein and Morgan note that already, next year’s budget cuts $1 billion from the recommended AIDS initiative spending.

But most infuriating are the provisions Bush attaches to his initiative. The President’s bill dictates that at least a third of its funding be used to promote abstinence. (Note that the provision doesn’t really explain how abstinence assists individuals who are already suffering of AIDS.) It also allows religious groups to qualify certain AIDS treatment strategies as unworthy, regardless of the science or research supporting them. Finally, it paralyzes funding for groups that work with prostitutes.

Bush continues to pretend that his humanitarian interests are based on a genuine concern for AIDS patients, but his initiative and uncompromising attitude only demonstrate that he is, as always, in the pocket of a booming industry with a generous political lobby. Still not convinced? If his humanitarian interests are not in line with drug industry or the Christian right, they somehow seem to fall in line with not-so-small-scale agrobusiness interested in genetically altered foods. Somehow, according to Tarelton, genetically engineered foods and AIDS medication are so closely tied that the 14 countries specified in Bush’s AIDS inititiave might have to accept GM foods from the US before receiving any form of assistance.

Musharraf’s Islamic Woes
Flexible Family Time That Binds

FOREIGN NEWS
Musharraf’s Islamic Woes

Ever since Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf threw in his lot with the United States, post-Sept. 11, observers have been expecting a decisive confrontation between the pro-Western general and his increasingly powerful Islamist opponents.

Now, that long-simmering tension may be coming to a head. Earlier this week, leaders of the country’s fundamentalist-dominated Northwest Frontier Province voted to make sharia, or rule according to the Qu’ran, the law of the land. As the Guardian‘s Juliette Terzieff notes, the sharia bill will force banks, schools and other institutions in the province to conform to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, drastically limiting the rights of women and undercutting Musharraf’s essentially secular government in Islamabad. While the bill has its good points — it bans honor killings, child labor, and bribe-taking — its potential for abuse by hardliners disturbs human rights advocates.

“Palwasha Bangash of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said: ‘This will effectively open the door wide to violations of people’s rights under a banner — religion — that no one can dare challenge for fear of being severely punished.'”

There is plenty of reason to worry. Lately, mobs of zealots have taken to rampaging through provincial towns, tearing down movie posters depicting women, burning music recordings, and attacking the offices of multinational companies, the London Daily Telegraph‘s Ahmed Rashid reports. And, ominously, the bill calls for the formation of a religious police squad, modeled after the Taliban’s infamous Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Discouragement of Vice.

All of which prompts Isabel Hilton to conclude that Pakistan is “losing the fight against fundamentalism.” And for that, she opines in the Guardian, Musharraf has only himself to blame.

“The actions of the NWFP provincial assembly have symbolic importance in a wider struggle for values in Pakistan. The central government can challenge any legislation proposed by a provincial assembly if it conflicts with federal law, but how vigorously will Musharraf fight for the secular values that he appeared to proclaim 20 months ago? He would have been better placed to resist the encroachment of religious parties in Pakistan’s public life had he not been so determined to consolidate his own powers — and those of the armed forces — at the expense of secular democracy.”

At the same time, the religious parties are demanding that Musharraf — who engineered a coup in 1999 and declared himself president — give up his post as head of the Army and cede some of his all-encompassing powers. In effect, his opponents are asking that he begin instituting the democratic reforms he has long promised, which would empower fundamentalists in a country that grows angrier with America — and, by extension, Musharraf — by the day. As a result, Syed Saleem Shahzad observes in the Asia Times, Musharraf is faced with cutting a power-sharing deal with opponents that he shut out of last year’s elections, or taking the more extreme measure of dissolving parliament and dispensing with the illusion of democracy altogether.

Either way, Shahzad writes, Washington has little choice but to continue supporting Musharraf — the alternatives are far worse.

“Critics have argued that the United States would not tolerate its ‘ally’ behaving in such an undemocratic way as to suspend parliament, especially given its recent attacks — both figurative and literal — on ‘rogue’ states.

But with regards to Pakistan, and the future of the US roadmap for stability in nuclear-armed South Asia, Washington clearly is reluctant to change horses in midstream, so it can be expected to turn a blind eye to any domestic shenanigans.”

Politics
Flexible Family Ties

The name of the GOP’s “Family Time Flexibility” bills in the House and Senate rings of benevolent perks for workers, but labor unions and other opponents of the bills are suspicious. The House will vote on HR 1119, which gives workers an option to exchange overtime pay for time off, on Thursday, reports Andrea Coombes of CBS MarketWatch. While the swap seems innocuous — time off for time in instead of money for time — worker advocates argue that the real beneficiaries are employers. According to the Austin-American Statesman, the bill’s critics assert that overtime would actually be cheaper for employers, and prompt employers to give more overtime to workers who opted for time off instead of payment.

Additionally, the AFL-CIO labor union writes of the bill, it allows employers to veto requested time off if the company is too busy. And while the bill’s proponents claim that it gives employees the power of choice, that power is cancelled out by the authority it gives to employers:

“In addition to giving employers ultimate control over when-or even if-workers are allowed to use earned comp time, the proposed legislation gives no meaningful protection against employers pressuring workers to enter into comp time agreements and none against employers assigning overtime only to workers who agree to take time off instead of money.”

Finally, Jesse Jackson reports in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Senate bill eliminates a one-week, 40 hour overtime schedule and replaces it with a two-week, 80 hour overtime schedule: “If you are required to work 50 hours one week and 30 the next, you don’t get overtime pay — you’re just working 80 hours over two weeks.” Surely that will mean more time with the family.

Late-Term Fine Print
Is Yangon Cracking?

POLITICS
Late-Term Fine Print

Fresh from his tour in Iraq into chaos and a turn playing peacemaker in the Abbas/Sharon escapades, President Bush has finally returned home, just in time to sign a bill that could come close to overturning almost three decades of Roe v. Wade.

After hearing the results of Wednesday’s House vote to ban so-called “partial-birth” abortions, Bush praised congress for promoting, “a culture of life in America.” He urged Congress to quickly resolve any differences and send the final bill on for his blessing.

The House’s 282-139 vote brings the anti-choice movement close to a major victory — which has been fighting to ban late-term abortions for the past eight years. Two similar bills have passed through the House floor only to be vetoed by Clinton. The Supreme Court has also blocked several state bans on the abortion procedure by ruling them unconstitutional. Now the pro-choice movement is hanging onto the hope that the Supreme Court will rule similarly on this bill.

The language of the bill prevents women in their second and third trimester of pregnancy from having an abortion. The bill carefully wraps these procedures, medically known as dilation and evacuation, with the so-called “partial-birth” abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that the dilation and extraction (“partial-birth”) procedure is a rarely used.

Three years ago, in Stenberg v. Carhart the Supreme Court ruled that Nebraska’s so-called “partial-birth abortion” ban was an unconstitutional threat to women’s lives. The measure was thrown out because it prevented women from having access to the safest abortion procedures available in the second trimester of pregnancy. Because Nebraska ban didn’t include make any exceptions for women whose health was jeopardized, it flopped, once again, in the Supreme Court. The authors of Wednesday’s bill made sure to remedy such flaws.

As Ruth Marcus writes in Wednesday’s Washington Post late term abortion is not the ideal battleground for the pro-choice movement. It is hard to make a case on women’s right to choose when the opposition focuses on the fact that the medical procedure is gruesome.

Pro-choice groups forgo the gory details and cut to the heart of the issue: a woman’s right to make medical decisions with her physician.

Marcus labels the bill as yet another obstacle that the pro-lifers are throwing up in the path of women who might need an abortion:

“[T]he rest of their antiabortion agenda has been devoted to putting practical and legal roadblocks in the way of women seeking abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Thus, a pregnant teenager faced with multiple hurdles — no abortion provider nearby, no money, a parental consent law — may end up letting her pregnancy progress to the point where she is seeking a second-trimester abortion.”

The editorial page of the New York Times calls the bill a slickster move in a larger strategy to provoke a Supreme Court-showdown as pro-choice justices move out and Bush appointees move in.

“Although promoted as narrowly focused on a single late-term abortion procedure, the measure’s wording adds up to a sweeping prohibition that would, in effect, overturn Roe v. Wade by criminalizing the most common procedures used after the first trimester, but well before fetal viability. Indeed, the measure replicates the key defects that led the Supreme Court to reject a strikingly similar state law a mere three years ago. In addition to its deceptively broad sweep, the bill unconstitutionally omits an exception to protect the health of the woman.

Plainly, the measure’s backers are counting on the public not to read the fine print. Their strategy is to curtail access to abortion further as the inevitable legal challenge wends its way back to the Supreme Court for another showdown. They obviously hope that by that time, there will have been a personnel change that will shift the outcome their way.”

Checkmate for the anti-abortion movement is only one or two Supreme Court positions away, reports Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor. The movement is gearing up for this month’s Senate vote of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. This act — renamed after Laci Peterson and her unborn son were murdered — recognizes a fetus as a crime victim if it is injured in a federal crime. Feldmann writes:

“Proponents of ‘fetal rights’ are on a roll. The publicity surrounding the Peterson case, congressional action, and a Newsweek cover story on fetal rights featuring photos of a developing fetus – including one undergoing surgery – have pushed the already defensive abortion-rights movement further back on its heels.”

Despite the fact that some lawmakers have seemed ready and willing to cozy-up with the anti-choice movement, Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights is ready to lead pro-choicers to fight this battle, one more time.

“Last night’s vote confirms that Congress is willing to turn a blind-eye to women’s health and the Constitution. The Supreme Court has already ruled such laws unconstitutional, so the decision to pass this ban only shows how far some politicians are willing to go to curry favor with anti-choice groups.

This organization has successfully challenged these laws in fourteen states and in the Supreme Court. We are ready to do so again once this federal ban is enacted.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Is Yangon Cracking?

Long-suffering Burmese (or Myanmar-ese, to use the military dictatorship’s term) opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was once again taken into custody on Monday, after a scuffle with the reigning military junta. The Nobel Prize laureate is no stranger to prison, the junta has locked her up on and off for more than 14 years. But while her supporters worry that she may be seriously injured or worse, on the up side, Kyi could be facing the beginning of the end of her oppressors’ regime.

Expatriot opposition groups say that at least 70 people were killed in the clash when government troops attacked Kyi’s motorcade. Other reports place the death toll much lower, although hard facts aren’t easy to come by. Kyi was injured, evidently. The Guardian reports that:

    “Confirmation of the events is difficult, since phone lines to sources in Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in Burma are cut, and much of the party leadership is in jail or under house arrest.

    Sunai Phasuk, of the Asian Forum for Human Rights in Bangkok, said: ‘Was she hit on the head? Yes, that is true. It is almost 100% certain that Aung San Suu Kyi and [the NLD vice-chairman] U Tin Oo both suffered head injuries.

    ‘The extent of their injuries is not known, nor is her whereabouts. It looks very bad at this moment.'”

As Burma’s leading non-violent, pro-democracy advocate, Kyi’s uphill battle against a notoriously violent and vicious regime has brought her much praise but few solid victories.

But the Yangon government is under enormous pressure at the moment, with the United States stomping around, shaking its big stick at the world. As David Simmons writes in the Asia Times:

    “As the United States spreads its tentacles around the globe in the name of promoting ‘freedom’ and democracy US-style, determinedly anti-reformist governments such as those in Yangon and Pyongyang are under enormous pressure.

    When you’re under pressure, you either yield or you push back, which is what North Korea famously has been doing for several months as it belligerently antagonizes the US. Now Myanmar, already languishing under crippling if unevenly applied international economic sanctions, is drawing its own line in the sand.”

It may still be the last line the regime draws. Burma seems to be at a breaking point, and the regime’s actions strike many observers as desperate. Nelson Rand reports, also in the Asia Times, that the country’s two rebel groups are confident that the end is in sight for Yangon’s military toughs:

    “‘ The end is coming,’ said the Karen National Union’s foreign spokesman Saw Ner Dah Mya, referring to the latest developments in the country, which climaxed last Friday with the detainment of Suu Kyi after a violent clash between her supporters and a pro-government group.

    The latest crackdown is a sign of internal fighting within the ruling junta – known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – said Ner Dah, who also commands a battalion of Karen guerrillas who have been fighting for an independent homeland in eastern Myanmar since 1948.

    ‘People are confused, the SPDC is splitting,’ he said in a telephone interview.”

Suu Kyi, wherever she is, can only hope that Rand is right.