Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


The Fall of What Liberal Media?
(Not So) Healthy Forests
Getting Even With Monsanto

MEDIA
The Fall of What Liberal Media?

The New York Times never billed itself as a bastion of liberal media, but its right-leaning critics are bent on its portrayal as such. For some, such a pigeonhole might not be an insult. But the conservative media’s latest theory is that the ostensibly forced resignations of New York Times managing editor Gerald Boyd and executive editor Howell Raines stemmed from the paper’s lefty slant. The papers and pundits charge that if the Times weren’t so concerned with being “PC” (read: representing diversity within its pages), Jayson Blair would never have slipped through its editorial cracks.

Compelling. Especially since, as the editors of the Wall Street Journal put it, the problem with the Times of late is “less straightforward reporting and more advocacy journalism.” What the Eds neglect to define is either term — and conveniently so. Were they to do so, they’d be faced with the dilemma of any journalist who has a mission to find a breaking story and report it with fairness. Wouldn’t reporting an untold story be a form of “advocacy?” Or not. Donald Luskin of The National Review pulls no punches, claiming that the Times’ Raines was “the instrument of the destruction, with his rogues gallery of radical liberal op-ed screedsters and his capricious and exploitive ‘flood the zone’ campaigns against Enron, Augusta, the war in Iraq, the peace in Iraq, Bush’s tax cuts, and all the rest.” And of the Times’ mission, which he relays for his readers, Luskin argues that it undermines the whole purpose of a newspaper. Which is, of course, to make money:

” ‘The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.’

Consider all that is revealed in just 18 remarkable words. First, the ‘core purpose’ to ‘enhance society.’ Perhaps such a thing would be a worthy goal for the Ford Foundation, but the shareholders of this for-profit corporation should be quite concerned by this apparent elevation of utopianism above earnings.”

Certainly it’s in the best interest of any organization to be financially successful, but Luskin’s allegation that a journalist covets riches is laughable at best. Of course, the critics lament, the fall of the so-called liberal media is nowhere in sight. Fie on that progressive ogre, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. NYT publisher and “scion of the family dynasty that owns the Times who elevated Raines first to editorial-page editor in 1992 and then to executive editor in 2001, specifically because of his sympathy with Sulzberger’s leftist viewpoints.” One can hear the old men’s false teeth clicking as they tsk the fall of the good old days. John Corry of the American Prospect remembers:

“His father kept his distance from the newsroom, and seldom tried to influence the coverage. Arthur Jr., however, does it all the time, and even the densest Times editor knows what he likes. Who do you think inspires all those stories about oppressed women, gays and minorities?”

Because without coverage of gays, minorities, and women, we’d finally get to read all the incisive, hard-hitting reports on the lives of… wait. Don’t those groups all together make up the majority of the world’s population?

Former editor Raines, on the other hand, was just too PC for his own good. Knowing he’d been possessed by that demon of liberalism, he gave himself the boot. The London Telegraph reports:

“It was political correctness, too, that blinded Raines to the obvious signs that something was not quite right about Blair. His unexplained absences (he had, it later emerged, been a cocaine addict), his failure to submit expenses for trips all over America, discrepancies in his stories were all overlooked, simply because he was black.”

No. Actually, it didn’t have anything to do with Blair’s skin color. Raines’ oversight can’t be put upon anyone but Raines. Jack Schafer of Slate asserts that Raines ran his newsroom like a bad football dad who was more about victory than the spirit of the game:

“Staffers complain of coming out of meetings with Raines feeling beaten and depressed rather than energized. His rah-rah memos to the staff, exhorting them to higher greatness, fell flat on the page. He kept to himself and to the power troika he formed with Boyd and Assistant Managing Editor Andrew Rosenthal… In the hands of another editor, a command-and-control system might have inspired the newspaper. But at the Times, where everybody is a class valedictorian or expects to be treated like one, the savvy thing for the new editor to do is to come in and proclaim the paper is fabulous and that we will lead it to greater fabulosity.”

Michelle Cottle of The New Republic is sick of all the waxing political. Raines was an arrogant editor that liked to play favorites. Blair, cokehead or otherwise, was a liar and a lousy journalist. “Not every misdeed has some darkly romantic explanation behind it,” Cottle writes. “Some people are losers. Period.”

ENVIRONMENT
(Not So) Healthy Forests

The Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests” rule, passed by the House late last month, allegedly attempts to decrease the risk of wildfires by cutting down on administrative appeals. But will the controversial new rule really cut down on forest fires? Or is it just another way for the logging industry to make a quick buck by avoiding a critical process?

Environment News Service ‘ J.R. Pegg reports that many who oppose Bush’s new rules think they are merely a front to give the timber industry carte-blanch access to forests:

“Critics say the Bush administration has not allocated enough funds for effective wildfire suppression and is less interested in reducing wildfire threats than in giving the nation’s trees to the timber industry.”

‘This plan has nothing to do with forest fires and everything to do with money,’ said Robert Vandermark of the National Environmental Trust. ‘If the Bush administration really cared about protecting people’s homes and communities, the President would cut the huge logging subsidies to the timber industry that creates unhealthy, fire-prone forests.'”

Proponents of the “Healthy Forests” rule claim that it protects the future of our forests by allowing private companies to thin out at-risk forests while cutting down on the red-tape involved in the appeals process.

However, they conveniently leave out of the discussion some important factors.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sean B. Hecht attacks the rules, emphasizing not only the importance of citizens’ right to challenge that which they deem unlawful but the usefulness of the appeals process itself:

“The ‘problem’ the legislation’s meant to solve — termed ‘the process predicament’ by the Forest Service in a 2002 report — is that meritless, lengthy appeals and lawsuits make it impossible for the service to implement critical fire protection projects. There are two avenues to challenge Forest Service decisions. Administrative appeals provide a way for citizens to ask management to review the Forest Service’s own lower-level decisions. While administrative appeals are not available for every decision, citizens also can go to court to challenge decisions they believe are unlawful, or to further pursue claims made in administrative appeals that were rejected.

The process appears to work properly. Very few of the administrative appeals affect lands where people are most exposed to fire risk. According to GAO, only 180 of 762 decisions involving fuels reduction projects were appealed. Of the 1.5 million acres of projects in the “wildland/urban interface” — areas where the Forest Service says there is the most risk to people and property by wildfires — only projects involving roughly 200,000 acres were appealed.

This has not significantly slowed the process, and the appeals have in fact called genuine problems to the mangers’ attention. Of the 180 decisions appealed, GAO found, 141 were resolved within 90 days. Put another way, of the total 762 decisions studied by GAO, a mere 39 were delayed more than 90 days. And in 47 of the 180 appealed cases, the Forest Service reversed, modified or withdrew its original decision.”

Also, Pegg observes that the new rule doesn’t combat wildfires in the communities that pose the biggest threat, mainly private land. Nor are there any limits to the type or size of tree that may be removed by the timber industry. Meaning, the editors of the St. Louis Dispatch opine, that decimation of the larger, more profitable trees that preserve the future of the forests is a very real possibility.

Furthermore, the rule leaves no room for environmental studies on the impact of aggressive forest thinning, according to the Associated Press.

Ultimately, critics charge, the risk posed by the ill-named “Healthy Forests” bill — namely stripping the public of the chance to challenge aggressive, privatized forest-thinning — is far greater than the supposed benefit of cutting down on bothersome lawsuits.

Let’s hope that the Senate has a little more invested in our forests than the Bush administration.

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Getting Even With Monsanto

On Monday Brazil’s vibrant Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra, commonly known as MST ) targeted multinational biotech giant, Monsanto, for the third time this year.

Between 200 and 2,000 people invaded Monsanto research facilities in Santa Helena de Goias. Organizers say that the center is being used to develop illegal genetically modified seeds poised to flood the agricultural market if the courts allow their distribution.

The MST action comes in the middle of an eight-year judicial contest over the legal status of GM crops in Brazil. Since 1996 Monsanto has been conducting GM research in Brazil and pressing the courts to legalize their products. Monsanto responded to Monday’s demonstration with a veiled threat: “Repeated invasions like this one, as well as compromising the progress of science in Brazil, damage the image of the country on international markets and threaten the development of national agriculture.”

Well, Monsanto may be trying to convince the da Silva administration to open its borders to its pricy GM seeds, but the million strong MST is building a substantial political challenge.

Members of the MST accuse Monsanto of illegally providing farmers free GM seeds in Rio Grande do Sul — a state in Southern Brazil — in an attempt to sneak their products into the market. In this region alone 70 percent of the soya crops have been found to be contaminated with the GM seeds. In March the federal government decided to allow the GM crops to be harvested and sold within Brazil under the condition that farmers label such products as “GM.” Activists protested this act as setting a dangerous precedent for full-out legalization and the de facto “safety” of GM foods.

Fatima Cardoso, the Agribusiness Editor at Agencia Estado, one of Brazil’s top news services, reports that the Brazilian consumer is now the biggest loser in the controversy.

“The end result [of the GM controversy] is that Brazil has ended up with the worst of both worlds. Illegal planting has spread, and more than 70 percent of the soybean crop in Rio Grande do Sul state – one of Brazil’s main soybean producing regions – is genetically altered. Consumers are unknowingly purchasing hundreds of products that contain GMOs. Hipocrisy [sic] reigns and consumers are the biggest losers: transgenics are officially prohibited, so products that include them do not indicate this on their labels.”

The MST first began protesting GM agriculture in 2001 when the group occupied several Monsanto fields and destroyed crops. Such actions by the politically popular MST have brought the modification debate to the forefront of Brazilian politics.

Since the 1980s the MST has risen as a powerful force in Brazilian politics in their efforts to achieve rights for the country’s 4.8 million landless farmers. During Brazil’s 1965-1984 military dictatorship the nation transformed its small family-farm centered economy to a “modernized” export-based model. A series of maneuvers to attract foreign investment proved to only increase violent conflict and stratify Brazil’s extreme socioeconomic inequalities. During the 1970s regional activists began occupying land throughout Brazil and in 1984 merged to form the national MST. The group strove to address the needs of landless families, to redistribute land in a sustainable manner for rural communities, and to generally work for the creation of a more just society.

During January’s World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, MST leader Pedro Stédile roused the audience with his plea for local land ownership — the antithesis of the Monsanto scheme.

“All the capitalist-type … reforms that have been made don’t work because they are not enough for the rural worker controlling the land. This kind of reform does not change the existing social relations. A peasant who owns 10 hectares of land is still a slave. First, slave of his ideology. Second, slave of his illusion.”

The federal government has promised to reintroduce the topic of GM crops in the next year. The MST is sure to have its hands full.

Still Hating Hillary
Justice For All — But No Pride

POLITICS
Still Hating Hillary

It’s been more than two years since the Clintons packed up and left the White House, but right-wing Republicans are still angry at the former First Couple.

Really angry, in fact. Frothing-at-the-mouth angry.

No matter that Republicans control not just the White House but both houses of Congress — the old grudges persist. This time, all it took to reignite the flame of conservative ire was the release of Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, “Living History.” The right-wing media is suddenly awash in diatribes against the former First Lady — who is now, of course, a New York senator and a possible presidential candidate in 2008. So far, most of the outrage centers on one passage in the book, in which she recounts the moment in which she says she found out about her philandering husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“‘I could hardly breathe. Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him, “What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?” I was furious and getting more so by the second. He just stood there saying over and over again, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I was trying to protect you and Chelsea.'”

Clinton repeated her version of events to Barbara Walters on Sunday night, but Tim Graham, writing in the National Review, doesn’t believe it for a second. Graham argues, quite reasonably, that Clinton must have known about the Lewinsky affair earlier, given her husband’s womanizing. What he doesn’t explain, though, is why he still cares so much — or why we should.

“Is there anyone besides Barbara Walters who’s buying this whole half-genius/half-idiot act, Hillary the trailblazing policy wonk who can testify on managed competition for hours without note cards, but who believes every lame-brained denial that her husband didn’t do it with Gennifer Flowers, didn’t do it with Monica Lewinsky, didn’t force himself on Paula Jones or Kathleen Willey?

All this ‘private-life’ propaganda is designed to steer Americans around the Real Hillary: the one who ceaselessly manipulated her way onto the world stage to be publicly betrayed, and then played to the gallery demanding to be loved for it. She has mercilessly milked the Wronged-Woman routine like a star attraction at the Wisconsin State Fair.”

David Frum mines a similar theme. In a funny, if mean-spirited, diary entry from the National Review, Frum suggests that the former First Lady only stuck with her husband for — gasp! — political reasons, and that she continues to deny early knowledge of the Lewinsky affair not out of embarrassment or loyalty or love but because of rank opportunism.

“Lay aside morality for a moment, and consider the world from Hillary’s point of view. You are an utterly opportunistic, wholly amoral person. You are married to Bill Clinton and are running for president in 2008. Now then — are your evil purposes better served by pretending to be a surprised, wronged wife who has at last forgiven Bill and ‘hope[s] to grow old with him’? Or do you ditch the bum and run as an independent person in your own right? Hillary’s betting on the first strategy, but I fear she’s making a serious error. The whole ‘working on our marriage’ strategy invites the voters to contemplate the prospect of a goatish 60-something Bill Clinton as an under-employed ‘First Gentleman’ wandering around the White House orientation program for new interns … . No it’s too horrible. Lose Bill now, let People magazine do its ‘Hillary: Single — And Fabulous!’ cover story, marry some respectable elderly widower with plenty of ultra-respectable money, and then run for president.”

The book’s release, one suspects, couldn’t have come at a better time for Jason Fodeman, the author of “How to Destroy a Village: What the Clintons Taught a Seventeen Year Old,” a screed against all things Clintonian (Amazon ranking, as of June 9: 5,607). After blaming the Clintons for everything from the corporate scandals to the Sept. 11 attacks, Fodeman settles down to business: He wants you to know that Hillary is really, truly evil, and that no, he is not, absolutely not, trying to boost sales of his own book.

“Why would anyone want to wade through hundreds of pages of spin and circumlocution when Hillary has repeatedly stated under oath and elsewhere that she can not remember or has no specific recollection in response to the tough questions? Maybe there is something to be said for being cunning, deceitful, crafty, two-faced, etc. but I do not know what it is, especially in our leaders.

I am not naive. I understand that people will be lining up to buy Hillary’s book while mine is buried deep in the bowels of Amazon.com. This essay, however, is not about sour grapes, nor is it just about politics. It is primarily about what lessons and values we want to bestow on our youth.

Do not get the idea I am just beating up on an easy target like Hillary in order to sell some chopped liver book of my own. My book is a carefully drawn analysis … “

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, notes the resurgence in Hillary-bashing, and takes a stab at summing it all up. Of course, he isn’t above getting in a few kicks himself.

“It tells you all that you really need to know about the former president’s wife that even now, even after September 11, even after two and a half years of a Bush presidency, people still care about HRC. She polarizes America in ways not seen since Nixon. And her obvious intent to make it back to the White House in her own right has the potential to turn America’s already fractious polity into something bordering on civil war.

Some of this is clearly unfair. She is obviously a highly intelligent, focused, articulate politician. Her Faustian bargain with her philandering husband could be interpreted as a youthful mistake for which she has already paid dearly. At the same time, she clearly does believe not simply that her opponents are mistaken but that they are evil. Her instinctive response to her husband’s betrayal and perjury – that it was entirely a fiction created by the right-wing – revealed how she truly sees the world. Her proximity to liberal bigots like Sidney Blumenthal suggests that her political goal is not to unify the country but to punish and humiliate half of it. Her paranoia in this respect should bar her from much higher political office, especially since her return to the White House would open wounds that have only recently begun to heal.”

If only the right were so worked up over the US military’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Alas, no one seems to care about the untruths that led the nation into war. As David Corn writes in the Nation, “ Now I know how Republicans felt in 1998.”

” Back then, the pursuers of Bill Clinton could simply not believe that the public was not rising up in rebellion against a president who had received Oval Office blow jobs from an employee and then lied about it … Bush is proving — so far — that it is even easier for a president to escape popular outrage when he lies about war and taxes than when he lies about sex.”

POLITICS
Justice For All — But No Pride

The Bush administration recognizes National Hurricane Awareness Week and Save Your Vision Week. But prompted by president Bush’s decision not to sanction Gay and Lesbian events in June (when Gay Pride celebrations usually take place), Attorney General John Ashcroft went so far as to ban the Department of Justice’s annual employee Pride meeting, last Friday. Bush and Co. have not recognized Gay and Lesbian celebrations because, according to Reuters, the administration doesn’t want to “politicize” sexual orientation.

Bush has otherwise demonstrated a ready willingness to recognize other named days, especially when religion in government, say, or pro-life rhetoric is being honored. Not only has the president recognized Leif Ericson Day and White Cane Safety Day , he has also issued proclamations for a National Day of Prayer and a National Sanctity of Human Life Day. But these, presumably, were not “political.” Perhaps the president will soon sanction other “apolitical” movements and create “National Texas Republicans Day” or “Support Bechtel, Halliburton, and Big Oil in the Name of ‘National Security’ Day.”

But it may be US Attorney General John Ashcroft who has done the most dramatic about-face in turning on the gay community. According to Zachary Coile of the San Francisco Chronicle, Ashcroft vowed to the Senate during his confirmation hearings that he would allow the Justice Department’s Pride events, which have occurred annually since at least 1997, to take place.

The Justice Department has maintained a stoney silence since informing DOJ Pride that this year’s event could not take place. The Department has not responded to media inquires from Reuters, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times. Worse yet, DOJ Pride’s own inquiries have received no response from the Justice Department officials, according to a press release:

“We have asked for a written explanation of the Department’s decision to prevent us from holding a Pride Month celebration, as well as the opportunity to meet with a representative of the Attorney General’s Office to register our objections to that decision. Thus far, we have not received a response to either of these requests.”

Aschroft’s retraction of his word, coupled with the Justice Department’s silence, has infuriated Gays and Lesbians both inside and outside governmental agencies. Human Rights Campaign Political Director Winnie Stachelberg, stated that “Mr. Ashcroft pays lip service to equality and tolerance when it is politically expedient, but his actions are not consistent with his pledge not to discriminate.” She also noted the irony of the Justice Department’s ban of DOJ Pride’s annual meeting:

” ‘The attorney general should be protecting the Bill of Rights, not denying rights to his own employees.’ “

ENVIRONMENT
Roadless Turns Toothless

The Bush administration, that pillar of eco-conscious policy, has once again outraged environmentalists by rescinding a Clinton-era policy that protects millions of acres of federal forest from development. Recommending that state governors be granted further jurisdiction over federal lands within their states, the new Bush policy allows state governments to petition for exemption from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. According to Zachary Coile of the San Francisco Chronicle, governors could request special exemptions from the roadless rule under “exceptional circumstances,” like improving access to dams or private property, and thinning forests to reduce fire risk. The pending expiration of a temporary allowance for road building prompted the Bush administration to set forth the new policy now.

The proposal stands to ignite controversy in the West, where arid climates do pose significant fire risks, but the region’s prominent logging industry would also benefit from increased wilderness access. USA Today’s Tom Kenworthy reports that development or road building on federal lands can permanently exempt these lands from wilderness protection status by Congress. The forests in question constitute 58 million acres of federal forest, according to Coile.

Sierra Club Forest Policy Specialist Sean Cosgrove lambasted the proposal, asserting that federal lands were federal for a reason:

“‘To go ahead and allow individual governors to apply to have national forests in their state removed from the roadless rule is completely unheard of,’ Cosgrove said. ‘These are national forests. They are not to be managed by individual governors.’ “

While the logging industry has long held a powerful lobby in the region, outdoor enthusiasts in the West may find they have an emerging lobby of their own. In a collective response to proposed policy, Kenworthy writes, the outdoor recreation industry is pressing local governors to preserve their states’ land. The Outdoor Industry Association, which represents over a thousand gear and clothing manufacturers, has already pressured Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to save his state from off-road vehicles and development. And Colorado Governor Bill Owens, who is looking into loosening federal restrictions in wildlife refuges, parks, and other wilderness areas, is the pro-roadless outdoor industry’s next target.

FOREIGN NEWS
Endgame in Liberia

For Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, the end might be near. While rebel troops shot their way through the suburbs of Monrovia on Monday and French paratroopers airlifted foreigners to safety, Taylor abandoned his palace in the heart of the city and went into hiding. Now, with American-backed efforts to negotiate a ceasefire failing, the rebels have issued him an ultimatum: Step down by Wednesday or be thrown out.

Taylor’s regime may yet survive, or he may be allowed to go into quiet exile in a neutral country — a la Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who whiles away his golden years poolside at his Saudi Arabian villa. On the other hand, few will mourn if Taylor ends up swinging from a lamppost. The editors of Toronto’s Globe and Mail offer a concise take on his legacy:

“Liberian President Charles Taylor is a brutal thug who has long been blamed for fomenting the civil strife that has ravaged parts of West Africa in recent years.”

As Third World warlords go, Taylor is as colorfully murderous as they come. An escaped convict from a US prison, a Baptist preacher with ties to both Al Qaeda and Republican televangelist Pat Robertson, Taylor has been accused of virtually every human rights abuse known to man. As of last week, he is also under indictment for war crimes by the United Nations, stemming from his involvement in the illegal “conflict diamond” trade and for his backing of neighboring Sierra Leone’s brutal insurgents, the RUF, who became infamous for hacking off the limbs of civilians. Charged with “bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law,” Taylor can now be arrested by any country in the world, at any time.

Still, Taylor continues to protest his innocence — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. According to the BBC, this is nothing new.

“When, as president in 1999, he faced accusations from the United Nations that he was a gun runner and a diamond smuggler, he addressed a mass prayer meeting clothed from head to foot in angelic white. The showman, who is also a lay preacher in the Baptist tradition, prostrated himself on the ground and prayed forgiveness before his Lord — although he also denied the charges.

In one famous exchange with Focus Editor Robin White a few years later, Mr White suggested that some people thought him little better than a murderer.

Mr Taylor bellowed with a flourish to the effect that ‘Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time.'”

As the editors of the Washington Post point out, Taylor may not be able to wriggle out of this one.

“The idea of Mr. Taylor working out an eleventh-hour agreement that restores peace and stability to Liberia strikes many human rights observers as ludicrous given both his record of broken pledges and his overwhelming contribution to that country’s misery … Indicted as a war criminal, Charles Taylor today is nothing more than a wanted man.”

POLITICS
A Republican Quid Pro Quo

An internal investigation led by New York U.S. Attorney, Mary Jo White, into Kansas energy company, Westar Energy Inc., has offered a startling glimpse into illegal campaign donations. Late last week, Washington Post’s, Thomas B. Edsall reported that emails found during the investigation could put four prominent republicans — Billy Tauzin, Joe Barton, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Senator Richard Shelby — in the hot-seat.

Apparently, the higher-ups in Westar are no strangers to scandal. Late last year, president, chairman, and chief executive officer, David Wittig resigned after being indicted on fraud and money laundering charges — chief strategic officer Douglas Lake resigned a month later. The editors of CNN write that in a report released last week, both were accused of placing “‘their own interests above the interests of the company in breach of their fiduciary duties.'”

The new intercepted emails from Westar executives to its employees expound in detail on Westar’s plan to “get a seat at the table” at a House-Senate committee on the Bush Administration’s Energy plan:

“‘We are working on getting our grandfather provision on PUHCA repeal into the Senate version of the energy bill. It requires working with the Conference committee . . . . We have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table, which has been approved by David [Wittig, then Westar’s chief executive], the total of the package will be $31,500 in hard money (individual), and $25,000 in soft money (corporate).’

PUHCA is the Public Utility Holding Company Act. Hard and soft money refer to types of campaign contributions.

Lawrence wrote that Tauzin and Barton ‘are key House Conferees on our legislation. They have made this request’ for contributions to other Republican candidates ‘in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns.’ Shelby, according to Lawrence, is ‘the lead Republican on all Senate PUHCA-related matters. He is our anchor on the Senate side. He made a substantial request of us for supporting’ his former aide Tom Young, running for a House seat from Alabama.”

As the Associated Press reports, when the investigation surfaced the provision was withdrawn — much to the dismay of Westar and to the Republicans now accused of foul play.

However, AP further reports that the four Republicans continue to tout their innocence. They claim that Westar was being brash in assuming that their donations would supply them with congressional favors:

“‘It’s presumptuous for someone to think that by contributing to candidates who have challenging elections there’s something they’ll get in return other than helping a candidate win,’ DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said Thursday. He said the documents’ descriptions were ‘simply incorrect and inappropriate.’

Barton’s office said flatly, ‘There was no quid pro quo whatsoever.'”

But some major newspaper editors aren’t swallowing the “mere coincidence” argument. The editors of theWashington Post point out the less-than-coincidental connection between the hard and soft money contributions and the appearance of the provision excluding Westar from government regulations on the energy bill:

“‘So last year 13 Westar officials coughed up $31,500 in individual, or ‘hard money,’ contributions that went to selected Republican candidates. Westar gave $25,000 in corporate ‘soft money’ to the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC [Political Action Committee], a political committee with strong ties to Mr. DeLay, reports The Post’s Tom Edsall. And what next? The provision sought by Westar was inserted in the energy bill last September by Rep. Barton. Democrats tried to strip the amendment out but lost in a party-line vote, with Mr. DeLay, Mr. Barton and Mr. Tauzin supporting the Westar amendment. Two weeks later, it was disclosed that a grand jury was investigating Westar. The provision was dropped from the bill.”

Disarming the Congo (Or Not)
Ashcroft’s Turnabout
Tiny Trackers
Hot Air on Natural Gas

FOREIGN NEWS
Disarming the Congo (Or Not)

So far, about half of the 1,400-strong UN-mandated peacekeeping force aimed at stemming the bloodshed in northeastern Congo has been deployed. The mostly European force represents the first time EU peacekeepers have been deployed outside their continent. While the UN seems poised to avoid another 800,000-dead, Rwandan-style genocide, the question remains: Will the UN troops have the numbers and the will to disarm warring ethnic militias?

Washington has pointedly refused to contribute troops to the effort, and London hasn’t yet announced its intentions. As a result, the Guardian reports, the vast majority of troops in the region will be French, but Canada and Belgium have made small contributions. Germany, Sweden, Norway, and South Africa are expected to send a small number of non-combat troops as well.

French military analysts are doubtful, however, that the recent deployment will have the ability to quell the latest violence in Congo’s civil war — which has claimed nearly five million lives in the last four years. A French military report bluntly states France’s weak commitment to the project:

“‘The operation in Bunia is […] high risk; very sensitive and complex. France has no specific interest in the area except solidarity with the international community.'”

The French intervention forces are scheduled to withdraw in September, when Bangladeshi peacekeepers are scheduled to relieve the current UN force of 700 Uruguayans. In a recent fierce 10-day battle, the Uruguayans remained in their barracks as hundreds of civilians were killed. The peacekeeping team had neither the manpower nor the mandate to prevent the bloodbath. Two were killed and several were hospitalized after suffering nervous breakdowns.

On Wednesday, ambassadors from 15 Security Council member states arrived in Kinshasa on a short visit to promote a national unity government in the Congo. French troops in the region also began establishing checkpoints at the center of the clashes in Bunia, in an attempt to assert their security presence.

But is it enough? Jonathan Power writes in Nairobi’s The Nation that the Rwandan massacres showed the world the danger of a small UN presence when rival factions are armed and dangerous. Further, he reminds us that the US and British governments — not to mention UN Secretary General Kofi Annan — bear much of the blame for refusing to allow a stronger international presence after Belgian peacekeepers were killed. Power argues that now is the time for the UN to change its track record .

“The international community needs to lean more heavily on neighbouring countries that offer rebel movements sanctuary. It needs to be tougher on arms salesmen and the flow of arms. It needs to watch more carefully the financial aid from diasporas who live in the West.

What last weekend’s unanimous Security Council vote [to increase the UN presence in the Congo] shows is that the world, despite its differences of opinion on Iraq, could be made ready for such an effort.

If this prescription could be delivered the global incidence of civil war will decline dramatically. Perhaps this could be the post Iraq cause that could unite the world.”

To be sure, the new troops have more power than the previous Congo peacekeepers — they are allowed to use force to restore security. But they have no power to forcibly disarm combatants . In addition, the new force’s authority does not reach beyond the city limits of Bunia, the region where massacres have recently been reported.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, the undersecretary-general for UN peacekeeping operations, writes in the Los Angeles Times that there are multiple reasons to predict a successful UN mission in the Congo.

“Although a shocking number of people have already died in Congo – reportedly more than 3 million in five years — the armed groups waging the war are not strong. Most of those who died were civilians who were murdered, raped, burned, sometimes even eaten. The rest were killed by disease in a country in which the state has disintegrated and the economy is largely reduced to subsistence and barter, HIV is rampant and the law is literally that of the jungle. Relatively few have died in force-against-force military engagements.

The belligerents are poorly trained, poorly disciplined, poorly led and poorly supported. If they can be weaned off their supporters both in Congo and in neighboring countries and confronted with a modern, mobile force, many would just melt away.”

William Wallis is less optimistic. He writes in Wednesday’s Financial Times that many in the Congo see the UN troops as unable to stop the violence .

“Witnesses say Moroccan soldiers from MONUC, the UN mission in the Congo, did little to stop the killing. Judging by the young soldiers ambling through the streets with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders they have been unable to demilitarise the town since. Their mandate from the UN Security Council has had as much impact, said a bitter priest, ‘as a fart in a gale’.”

Mandate or no mandate, UN forces still aren’t willing to get in the middle of a gun battle, Somini Sengupta reports for the New York Times. As the multinational force’s commander said, “Separating the factions is not part of my mission.”

POLITICS
Ashcroft’s Turnabout

Last Friday, Attorney General John Ashcroft banned the Department of Justice’s employee Pride group from holding its award ceremony at the halls of justice. After an an angry uproar in the gay community, and the threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU, Ashcroft has now reneged on his decision. Chalking the ban up to a “miscommunication,” Ashcroft has agreed to allow DOJ Pride to hold their event. However, it won’t be sponsored by the DOJ — meaning that DOJ Pride will have to foot the bill itself.

Ashcroft and Co. claim that the Pride group is being treated the same as all other groups, and that it’s standard practice for DOJPride to pay for the event. But Pride group members disagree. As CNN reports:

    “DOJPride President Marina Colby said she does not know how much sponsoring the event may cost but that her group should not have to pay since the costs of similar events are picked up by the Justice Department’s Equal Employment Office.

    DOJPride member Greg Friel said his group is asking for the same treatment given to groups marking Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Ashcroft has a reputation, leftover from his days as a Missouri senator when he used to call homosexuality a sin, for anti-gay tendencies. Critics hope his indecisiveness on the DOJPride party won’t overshadow his overall record or hide what this latest “miscommunication” really means. The Christian Right has been pressuring Ashcroft to get back to his roots, and critics see his ban and “miscommunication” as a step back in that direction. As the Boston Globe‘s Derrick Z. Jackson writes:

“No one ever thought Ashcroft would get out of even first gear for gay and lesbian people. But he was so easily badgered into reverse on his own gay and lesbian employees that it will take a lot for him to shift merely back to neutral.”

According to Village Voice reporter, Richard Goldstein, Ashcroft and his fellow Republicans pussyfoot around their stance on the LBGT community because they fear losing the “gay vote” entirely, given that LGBT voters comprise nine percent of large cities. But the proof is in the legislative pudding: Ashcroft and Co.continue to nominate anti-gay lawmakers.

So, whether or not the Justice Department allows or sponsors the DOJ Pride event, it’s something of a moot point. For many in the gay community, the message is already loud and clear — they are not safe. As Alternet‘s Mubarak Dahir writes:

“Of course, the issue here is much larger than the cancellation of one gay pride party. What is really troubling is the clear message this sends to both gay and lesbian federal employees, and to gays and lesbians across the country. And the message is not just coming from Ashcroft and the Department of Justice, but from the Bush administration at large.

This move signals to gay and lesbian federal employees – at any agency – that they are not safe, that they may well be discriminated against, that they cannot count on their agencies and the president to protect them on their jobs.”

LAW AND LIBERTIES
Tiny Trackers

They are every retailer’s fantasy, and every privacy advocate’s nightmare. They’re called Radio-Frequency Identification Chips, and they’re coming to a store near you soon.

Tiny bits of silicon fixed with antennae, the radio chips can pinpoint the location of anything — whether they’re attached to merchandise on shelves, the clothing of the people who buy them, or, more ominously, those shoppers’ driver’s licenses. The benefits for retailers are enormous and, as the Washington Times‘ Audrey Hudson reports, researchers are in awe over the technology.

“‘Put a tag — a microchip with an antenna — on a can of Coke or a car axle, and suddenly a computer can “see” it. Put tags on every can of Coke and every car axle, and suddenly the world changes. No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain, or how much product is on the store shelves.’

The global infrastructure that MIT envisions is an Internet tool ‘that will make it possible for computers to identify any object anywhere in the world instantly. This network will not just provide the means to feed reliable, accurate, real-time information into existing business applications; it will usher in a whole new era of innovation and opportunity.'”

Already, Gillette is running a pilot project in Massachusetts, dropping the tiny trackers into its razor packages, and Wal-Mart is set to adopt the radio chips in the coming weeks. Soon, the technology will be worldwide: it is being considered for use in everything from South African supermarkets to European Union banknotes.

Privacy watchdogs are alarmed. While retailers claim the chips won’t be used past the point-of-sale, critics say there’s very little to prevent the technology’s abuse by an Ashcroftian bureaucracy bent on surveilling its citizens. According to the Hudson, the US government used the chips to track its supplies during the invasion of Iraq, and the Department of Homeland Security has begun using them to monitor border crossings. As privacy advocates observe, what’s to stop the government from going further? “If misused, the potential for abuse is so tremendous,” said one.

ENVIRONMENT
Hot Air on Natural Gas

The nation’s dwindling supply of natural gas has politicians, conservationists, big business, and alternative energy groups brainstorming tactics to avert a consumer crisis. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan voiced his concern Tuesday on Capitol Hill, warning of a natural gas shortage that he and other Republicans claim pose an imminent threat to the nation’s economic recovery. But, as Gail Russell Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor reports, the Republican push to expand the country’s natural gas supply has its drawbacks, and Democrats and sustainable energy advocates aren’t willing to be fooled by a can of worms disguised as a national crisis.

Republicans’ response to avoiding high natural gas prices read similarly to the country’s current approach to oil: import it as cheaply as possible and draw it up from anywhere we can find it within our borders. But conservationists decry the drive to allow natural gas exploration on protected lands, according to Hil Anderson of United Press International. Greenspan’s other proposed solution is to import liquid natural gas (LNG) — natural gas that is converted to liquid by cooling so it can be shipped overseas and transported inland via pipeline. But critics of importing LNG are wary of depending on unpredictable markets from politically volatile nations, Anderson reports:

“The quest for energy independence remains as elusive today as it did in the 1970s when a little-known coalition of Middle East states rudely made Americans aware of the global nature of energy markets and the United States’ dependence on oil from overseas as witnessed by long snaking lines at gas pumps around the country.

Greenspan told the members that a sizable LNG infrastructure would act as a ‘safety valve’ to supplement domestic gas supplies during shortages; however many of the major sources of LNG are nations that have their own political turmoil, including the Middle East, Algeria, Indonesia and the former Soviet Union.”

Furthermore, as the editors of the Washington Post observe, energy bills in the House and Congress don’t appear to be saving the American public money , especially when it comes to accessing natural gas:

“[Greenspan should] say a few words in opposition to a Senate plan that would enable construction of a natural gas pipeline to the lower 48 states from Alaska — where there is ample gas — but would set a floor for the price of gas at the same time. Energy bills in both the House and Senate would mandate a route for the pipeline through Alaska, despite evidence that routes through Canada may well be cheaper. This is unnecessary: The need for more natural gas should not be used as an excuse to force taxpayers to pay for an uncompetitive delivery system or to guarantee profits to natural gas producers well into the future.”

Sutainable-Energy advocate group American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy agrees that government needs to act soon to pre-empt skyrocketing natural gas costs. But the way to do that, the ACEEE asserts, is to make use of available technology to save energy. The group’s Deputy Director says its really just a matter of implementation: “Years of energy efficiency experience show that we can save enough energy in the next 24 months to bring some calm to the gas market,” he said in a press release. According to ACEEE, all the nation needs is “a high-level national commitment to accelerate efficiency investment and smart conservation through education, technical assistance, and incentives.”

‘Compassionate’ Medicare
DeLay’s Political Police
California for Sale?

HEALTH
Bush’s Compassionate Medicare

After passing his “oops, I didn’t mean to cut the kids out” tax cut, Bush finally got down to the business of helping America’s seniors by pushing for Medicare reform.

While campaigning on Wednesday, Bush told the Illinois State Medical Society what the rest of us figured out a while ago: out-of-pocket prescription drug prices are too darn high for Americans on fixed incomes.

    “Medicine is changing, Medicare is not […] As many as one-third of seniors have no drug coverage at all […] we are creating a health care system that is more expensive and less effective.”

Bush’s words of wisdom were a glimpse of what is expected to be a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. Today Bush heads toward Connecticut to woo senior citizens while the Senate Finance Committee works to approve a $400 billion 10-year program. The proposal would subsidize prescription costs for Medicare’s 40 million beneficiaries and provide for a new managed care option. The House also put finishing touches on a similar piece of legislation on Thursday afternoon.

Democrats are criticizing the bipartisan Senate bill for its penny-pinching benefits and for its heavy reliance on private insurance companies to provide the drugs. They are also concerned about Bush’s general plan to move Medicare beneficiaries into private plans. Both the House and the Senate proposals would impose higher costs on seniors who opted to keep their traditional Medicare.

If Bush manages to nudge the Medicare bill into law it will be a victory for his much-touted “compassionate conservatism.” Such a move could help him win key swing states in his re-election bid.

The Medicare maneuver follows last month’s tax cut as Bush moves to cut government down to size and privatize more and more public assistance programs. As Farhad Manjoo writes for Salon, Bush’s strategy of letting Americans keep more of “your own money” is deeply flawed and is slowly killing Social Security . Manjoo quotes the president’s elementary economic analysis:

“[W]hen people have more money, they can spend it on goods and services. And in our society, when they demand an additional good or a service, somebody will produce the good or a service. And when somebody produces that good or a service, it means somebody is more likely to be able to find a job.”

Such insights didn’t really leave political commentators satisfied. Even Thomas “we should fill the rest of Mexico with sweatshops, those people are happy to have jobs” Friedman had to give his two-cents on the topic. And maybe, just this once, we should listen to Friedman’s advice. His wisdom on tax cuts was actually a little bit funny in Wednesday’s column, ” Read My Lips .” Friedman suggests that we should substitute the word “services” whenever Bush says “taxes.”

“That is, when the president says he wants yet another round of reckless ‘tax cuts,’ which will shift huge burdens to our children, Democrats should simply refer to them as ‘service cuts,’ because that is the only way these tax cuts will be paid for — by cuts in services. Indeed, the Democrats’ bumper sticker in 2004 should be:
‘Read my lips, no new services. Thank you, President Bush.’

Although Friedman might have picked up his irony from columnist Molly Ivins, he went on to tease the Dems instead of following the point to its logical conclusion. Ivins did just that and called for a fair system of taxation in the United States.

“The reason people hate paying taxes is because they know the system isn’t fair. We don’t have a progressive tax system in this country anymore, and we certainly don’t have one in Texas. It is mind-boggling that the Republicans took away child tax credits for low-income working people. It was such a gross distortion in favor of the rich and against working people that it created an immediate backlash and forced the White House to ask Congress to reverse itself.”

The Los Angeles Times puts two and two together and asks: How is public health care going to improve with less federal funds to go around?

“With the economy stagnant and new tax cuts taking ever larger chunks out of federal revenue, it’s a job that, unfortunately, is likely to be done with smoke and mirrors.

Bush has proposed a drug benefit that would encourage Medicare beneficiaries to join private managed-care plans and receive more benefits than those who remain in traditional Medicare. His assumption is that up to 40% of seniors will switch, but independent estimates peg the shift at 2% to 3%. Too many people remember the managed-care debacle of the last decade, when HMOs jumped into the Medicare Plus Choice program and then fled the market, stranding seniors who depended on them.”

If seniors are once again left stranded once Bush’s proposals go into effect in 2006, they may feel less than compassionate towards conservatives. You never know when the AARP will get nasty at the ballot box.

POLITICS
DeLay’s Political Police

With the threat of terrorist attacks still so high, it’s comforting to know that the Department of Homeland Security is on the case, using its resources to protect the nation from threats of all kinds.

Threats like, say, Texas Democrats who won’t bow to Republican bullying.

That’s the latest bit of sleaze to emerge from the scandal that’s become known as “ Texasgate,” in which Texas Republican lawmakers all but called out the National Guard against their Democratic colleagues in an attempt to ram through a partisan power grab. As the days pass, the evidence continues to trickle out, and it looks increasingly likely that Republicans broke the law, and the Department of Homeland Security knowingly aided them.

To recap: at the behest of House majority leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, the GOP-controlled Lone Star legislature tried to redraw the state’s congressional map last month — a gerrymandering unheard-of in its audacity, which would result in big Republican electoral gains. Texas Democrats, however, refused to play along. Knowing they’d be outvoted, they split town en masse to hide out in Oklahoma, denying the Republicans a quorum and derailing the bill’s passage. The move broke no laws, but it enraged Republicans. They sent out the Texas Rangers to hunt down the runaway Democrats and bring them home (in the process, police tailed Democrats’ families and even staked out an intensive care neonatal ward, where two sick infants who happened to belong to a Democratic parent were recuperating). In the end, the Republicans didn’t get their men: Texas police couldn’t cross state lines to arrest the recalcitrant lawmakers, and Oklahoma’s Democratic governor declined to help.

Here’s where the story gets really interesting. Some of the recalcitrant Democrats had flown by private plane to their Oklahoma hideout, and in their efforts to find them Republicans called the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security. While the FAA provided Tom DeLay with private information on the getaway aircraft, the Department of Homeland Security used its southern California “air interdiction” center — intended for tracking terrorists and drugrunners — to locate the missing Democrats. Initial reports suggested that Homeland Security had been duped into searching for the plane. As the Washington Post‘s R. Jeffrey Smith reports, though, that no longer appears to be true.

“‘There was never any inference that the plane might be down, or something like that,’ said Marvin Miller, an airport official in Plainview, Tex. — near Laney’s home — who said he was contacted by an ‘air interdiction’ official on the evening of May 12. ‘There was never any safety concern, or indication that it was missing or overdue,’ Miller said. ‘The guy said at the end, “This is just somebody looking for politicians they can’t find.”‘”

Republicans quickly shifted into damage-control mode, destroying documents while Democrats demanded that Homeland Security turn over its records of the affair. All in all, it amounts to a gross misuse of federal power for nakedly political ends, writes the Dallas Morning News‘ Ruben Navarrette Jr.

“What arrogance. The Republicans turned DPS into their private security force. They tried to involve the Homeland Security Department. Then they wanted to draft the FBI.

That’s outrageous. Texas Republicans in both Austin and Washington apparently got so caught up reacting to a crisis of their own making that they forgot about the crucial distinction between the public and the political. Public institutions such as police forces, Cabinet agencies and the state attorney general’s office exist for the collective good. Entrusted with substantial power and authority, they must be handled with care and restraint. They must also never, ever, be roped into doing the dirty work of advancing narrow political agendas.”

The editors of the International Herald Tribune agree. Further, they write, had the positions been reversed — with Democrats hunting Republicans — conservative outrage would be limitless.

“This page was a consistent critic of the Clintons’ ethics problems, but the former president’s defenders should feel free to point out what kind of national outcry we would be hearing from talk show hosts and congressional Republicans if anyone had tried to misuse the government’s anti-terrorism machinery this way during the last administration.”

POLITICS
California for Sale?

Congressman Darrell Issa seems to think so. In an aggressive campaign that could throw Californa politics into chaos, Issa is spearheading the effort to recall Democratic Governor Gray Davis. So far, Issa — a shrewd, slightly shady Republican businessman who made his millions selling car alarms — has funnelled a staggering $645,000 into the campaign in an attempt to secure himself a slot as Governer of California.

The political frenzy that could ensue if the recall effort succeeds is nothing short of frightening — leaving many Californians wondering what’s to become of the world’s fifth largest economy. Reuter’s Adam Tanner writes:

“And if that question is on the ballot, state law requires that voters be asked at the same time who should replace Davis, a question that could entice a number of high-profile Republicans into the race, including Issa and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Eek! Arnold?

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci and John Wildermuth point out, if the recall is successful, the race to become Governor will become a free-for-all:

“If it happens, the green flag will start the engines of a political demolition derby never before seen in the state.

‘It’s the wild, wild West,’ said GOP consultant Sean Walsh. ‘If you’re a political junkie, and you liked the last presidential election, you’re going to love this gubernatorial election. Anything can happen.'”

However, the anti-recall effort, comprised of various organizations including newly formed Taxpayers Against the Recall, has not been sitting on its thumbs. Teachers, firefighters, and union organizers have banded together to form the anti-recall effort that could put an end to the auction for California. But, the limited margin of time that they have to work with is crucial. The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters writes:

“That time frame is important because while Costa and other backers have until early September to submit recall petitions, if they’re completed in the next month, a special recall election would almost certainly be held in the fall, thus giving the recall its maximum chance of succeeding. If, however, certification of the petitions is delayed until September or October, the recall probably would be combined with the March 2004 primary, and Davis’ chances of surviving would improve.”