Why the Drug Industry Opposes Medicare Expansion

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[Editor’s Note: Today’s “Must Read” comes to us courtesy of Public Campaign, a well-respected campaign-finance-reform organization. Since the article is so short, Public Campaign has been nice enough to let us reprint directly:]

Should Medicare cover the cost of prescription drugs? That is one of the key questions before the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, which is due to issue its recommendations by March 1. On one side are the nation’s seniors, three-quarters of whom take prescription drugs to maintain their health. On the other side is the pharmaceutical industry, which fears the government will force deep discounts in their prices.

The pharmaceutical industry has invested heavily in influencing the debate. With final reports not yet in, the industry’s campaign contributions have jumped 53 percent over the last midterm election cycle, reports the Center for Responsive Politics. Individual and PAC contributions for 1998 total $9.7 million, with two-thirds going to Republicans. Drug companies also reported spending $74.4 million on lobbying in 1997, tops among all industries.

Of the ten members of the Congress appointed to the 17-member commission, four rank in the top ten overall among recipients of drug industry campaign contributions. The commission’s co-chair, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), is #2 in the House, with $46,100 in 1997-98. So far, the commission’s chairman, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has spoken generally about including prescription drug coverage, but has offered no detailed proposal for consideration.

A lot is at stake. On average, elderly people spend just over $2,000 on medical care and prescription drugs, almost twenty percent of their annual income, even though most are on Medicare and have some type of private insurance as well, according to a recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons. The Commonwealth Fund estimates that 11 percent of Medicare beneficiaries spend more than $100 per month on prescription drugs.

“The lack of a drug benefit is really dumb medicine,” says Martin A. Corry, director of Federal affairs at the American Association of Retired Persons. “Drugs keep people healthier and out of hospitals.”

But U.S. pharmaceuticals do not want the government buying their products on behalf of America’s seniors. They fear price controls, or the likelihood that such a large buyer could demand deep discounts. Currently, drug manufacturers negotiate lower prices with large customers like health insurers, managed care organizations, the Veterans’ Administration and state Medicaid programs, but these savings do not extend to most Medicare beneficiaries.

Pharmaceutical companies make huge profits on their drug sales here. For example, a September 1998 study by Public Citizen’s Health Research Group comparing the cost of eight leading antipsychotics and antidepressants in the U.S. and seventeen other countries in North America and Europe found that Americans pay anywhere from 1.7 to 2.9 as much for their medication. For example, it cost a pharmacist $72.16 to obtain a month’s supply of Prozac from Eli Lilly & Co.; in Spain the same drugs cost $25.93. A month’s supply of Clozapine, an antipsychotic made by Novartis, cost $317.03 in the United States, compared to $51.94 in Spain.

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Frontline Highlights World’s Failure in Rwanda

January 28

Based on reporting by Philip Gourevitch, who wrote We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, FRONTLINE documents one of the international community’s greatest historical failures: the genocide in Rwanda. Simply put, the international community had the power to stop or least severely reduce the killings, and it failed. Eight hundred thousand people died in a matter of months.

This isn’t a case of hypotheticals. The U.N. had soldiers in Rwanda during the killings. They were withdrawn. U.N. troops sent a warning about the coming genocide, and requested permission to seize arms caches that the attackers were planning to use. Their request was denied. The State Department floated a proposal to jam Rwandan radio, which was broadcasting messages egging on the killers. The proposal was shot down.

The U.S. was no shining light during the killings. The Clinton administration even refused to define the killings as “genocide” until the horror was nearly over — though the term was used in internal State Department documents.

“There was an opportunity to stop the killings,” says the former deputy commander of U.N. forces in Rwanda. “We just missed it.”


Impeachment Hearing Causes Important Law to Lapse

January 27

Among the many bills being sidetracked this month in the Senate, due to the ongoing impeachment hearing, is one that would restore some of the expired terms of the Violence Against Women Act. Before the law was passed in 1994, writes the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, “abused immigrants were virtual hostages to spouses who were citizens or legal residents.” After the law, undocumented immigrant women who could prove they were in an abusive relationship were able to apply on their own for a green card. As of this month, however, some of the provisions of the act have expired. As a result, battered women must now return to their home countries to apply for a green card — at the very least, an extreme inconvenience.

Congress was supposed to debate a measure to restore the provisions, which would have allowed these abused women to stay in the U.S. while applying for a green card. But when the MoJo Wire called the Legislative Office today, we were told the act hadn’t been debated yet, and it was very doubtful the measure would be brought up this week. When asked when they thought the debate would occur, a staffer there said, “With the impeachment stuff going on, who knows.”


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Bob Barr Busted for Fibbing About His Past

January 26

“I can tell you as a United States attorney, serving under two presidents, that I would prosecute these cases because I did prosecute such cases.” — Bob Barr, January 23, 1999, at the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton

As Chuck D. said, “don’t believe the hype.” Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., may have convinced the public and the media that he’s a former hot-shot prosecutor, but Ann Woolner ain’t biting. According to Woolner, a columnist for THE FULTON COUNTY DAILY REPORT (one of Brill’s legal rags), Barr — who’s no F.O.B. but is plenty cozy with racists — has considerably less experience than he implies. Sure, he was a U.S. attorney in Atlanta in the 1980s, but how many cases did he actually try? None, zero, zilch, the big goose egg. Woolner reports that as U.S. attorney, Barr “never made an opening statement or a closing argument as a prosecutor. He never examined a witness, offered an objection or defended against one.” Woolner further points out that although it’s not unusual for a U.S. attorney to take a supervisory role, the last four out of five Atlanta U.S. attorneys have each managed to try at least one case (Barr being the exception).

The result is that Barr, Mr. “Impeach-the-President” himself, has relied on the same kind of semantic distinction that he faults Clinton for making: the major difference being that Clinton made the distinction of not doing something while Barr used a semantic distinction to imply that he did do something.

One of the things Barr can rightfully claim credit for doing is the same thing he does now: raise publicity for his cases. According to Woolner, Barr was notorious for reporting developments in his cases to the media — even for cases in which indictments were never handed down. This practice led Barr’s assistant U.S. attorneys to begin keeping sensitive information from him in fear that he would leak it to the press. In addition, local law enforcement authorities complained to Washington about his publicity tactics leading to two Department of Justice investigations.

But don’t tell that to the pundits. On the December 3, 1998, edition of CNN’s Crossfire Sunday, co-host Bob Beckel said, “well, Mr. Hawk, Bob Barr, you were a U.S. attorney, and I have actually looked at your record. You did a pretty good job.” Beckel, who is no fan of Barr’s, proves the adage that if you repeat something often enough, people will begin to believe it.



More Gays Discharged Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

January 25

Although President Clinton may have made history by addressing anti-gay and -lesbian discrimination in his State of the Union address, don’t expect to see rainbow flags waving atop the White House anytime soon. His record on gay rights issues is a lot shoddier than he’d probably like to admit: after all, he did sign the Defense of Marriage Act, which was introduced by Representatives Bob Barr, R-Ga., and Steve Largent, R-Okla., and legally defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. And remember Clinton’s crafty “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military? It turns out that the number of gay and lesbian soldiers discharged from the armed services has risen every year since its implementation, according to a report released over the weekend by the Defense Department. In fiscal year 1998, a total of 1,145 people were discharged for being gay or lesbian, nearly twice as many as in 1993 and the highest percentage of the active duty force discharged since 1984. Maybe Clinton should change the name of the policy to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Get Discharged Anyway.”

For more information, check out the WASHINGTON POST or the HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN.



Forgetting the United States’ Worst Air Pollution Accident

January 22

Yesterday we told you about the 10 worst corporations of 1998. U.S. Steel should be glad there wasn’t the same kind of list 50 years ago — because it definitely would have earned top billing. In October 1948 (OK, we’re a bit late for the actual anniversary), toxic fluoride emissions from U.S. Steel plants in Donora, Pennsylvania, killed 20 people and injured half of the town’s 6,000 residents. It was America’s first air-pollution accident and it remains among the most deadly. The Donora incident, according to those in the know, started the trend that eventually led to the passage of today’s environmental laws.

Despite this, the 50-year anniversary of the accident passed with little more than fleeting references in the mainstream media. CNN and the ASSOCIATED PRESS both ran good short pieces on the accident. But they left out the striking part of the story: Both the government and US Steel worked to cover up the accident.

Good thing we can count on the hip folks at the EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL to give us the full story. Their article, unfortunately (or not), will confirm some of your worst nightmares about corporate-government collusion and conspiracy, detailing how the town was besieged by a blanket of “death fog” for four days — and the elaborate 50-year cover-up that followed. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) issued a report on the incident in 1949 that concluded that “no single substance” was responsible for the fatalities, despite evidence to the contrary. Even today, researchers are still having trouble accessing relevant documents: Crucial PHS records are “missing,” and US Steel refuses to release any records from the investigation. Where are Mulder and Scully when you really need them?




The Ten Worst Corporations of 1998

January 21

Ever wonder which corporations are most responsible for the decline of humankind, thanks to their environmental misdeeds, political faux pas, labor abuses, and general disregard for life? Here’s where you can find the answer: in the Multinational Monitor‘s annual list of the Ten Worst Corporations of 1998. Monitor editor Robert Weissman and Corporate Crime Reporter editor Russell Mokhiber have published their list for the past ten years, and it’s always a must-read. We couldn’t find it on the Monitor‘s Web site, but the SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN has published it online. The only surprise was the absence of Microsoft, whose efforts to monopolize the computer world were definitely worthy of the list.

Among the ten worst corporations: Chevron, for doing “business with a brutal dictatorship in Nigeria and for its alleged complicity in the deaths of civilian protesters”; Coca-Cola, “for hooking America’s kids on sugar and soda water”; and General Motors, for being a “part of the Nazi war machine, and then years later, when documented proof emerges, denying it.”

Also in the lineup: Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, for dumping oil into the ocean and then lying about it; Monsanto, “for introducing genetically engineered foods into the marketplace without adequate safety testing”; and Wal-Mart, “for crushing small-town America, paying low wages … [and] for relying on Asian child labor.”

The rest of the worst: Loral, for giving $2.2 million to the Democratic Party to ease its technology transfers to China; Mobil, “for supporting the Indonesian military’s action against an indigenous uprising … and allegedly allowing the military to use company machinery to dig mass graves”; Unocal, for “engaging in so many acts of pollution that citizens in California petitioned the state’s attorney general to revoke the company’s charter”; and Warner-Lambert, “for marketing a hazardous diabetes drug, Rezulin, that has been linked to at least 33 deaths.”

The article also has some answers to the question “What did we learn in 1998?” Some gems:

  • “Bill Gates’s net wealth [of] $51 billion is greater than the combined net worth of the poorest 40 percent of Americans.”
  • “Chemical companies are testing pesticides on human beings.”
  • “The Clinton-Gore administration is prosecuting fewer environmental crimes than the Bush-Quayle administration.”




The World View of the State of the Union

January 20

As the impeachment hearings drag on with all the speed and dignity of a half-pound of kielbasa winding its way through Strom Thurmond’s colon, the public was treated to a double dose of partisanship yesterday: Charles Ruff’s defense of the president, and Clinton’s own State of the Union address. In typical fashion, the media pundits raced to analyze both speeches, make comparisons between the two, and remind us that Clinton’s approval rating remains on a level usually reserved for deities and Michael Jordan. Here’s a summary of some of the more interesting articles, including those from international papers, on the day that was.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE contains a nice wrap-up of both speeches, with the requisite sound-bites duly transcribed. The article argues that the Clinton/Ruff orations were little more than a Good Cop/Bad Cop routine. It’s an odd comparison to make, as most of the quotes attributed to Ruff make allusions to our founding fathers. It also describes an emotional Ruff as teary-eyed and trembling, and points out that he is wheelchair-bound. How this makes him the “bad cop” is anyone’s guess. More importantly, the article notes Clinton’s centrist, yet refreshingly activist stance. If anyone has the ability to save Bill’s lying ass, they say, it’s the American people.

THE WASHINGTON POST was positively giddy, describing Clinton as in his “tele-glittery glory” while comparing Dick Armey to Jabba the Hutt (really, I swear). The POST also gushes symbolic over Ruff. When describing an incident in which Ruff dropped his microphone and an aide raced to replace it, the POST states that “It spoke to the humanity and mortality of Ruff and of the man he represented, and it seemed somehow a gesture of rebuke to those who are arguably persecuting Clinton beyond all sense of justice.” The POST article also notes that the American people don’t want to throw Clinton’s lying ass out of office.

Leave it to a U.K. paper to provide some of the more substantial coverage of Clinton’s address. THE GUARDIAN gives a pretty complete account of Clinton’s centrist agenda, mentioning all the key points — but it fails to question any of his positions, including investing Social Security monies in the stock market. There’s a great piece on the site describing “the day on Capitol Hill” — even if it does look suspiciously like it was written before the day began. No mention is made of the American people’s relationship with Clinton’s lying ass.

Finally, for a view from the southside, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD declares that a “Defiant Clinton delivers feel-good gospel.” A second MORNING HERALD article states, “It was a flawless brew of imagery and rhetoric, reflecting an America full of achievement and promise.” Accompanying the text are pictures of a jubilant Bill Clinton, along with a photo of Mrs. Clinton flanked by Mr. Béisbol himself, Sammy Sosa, and some kid who apparently didn’t realize that a sweatshirt is not the usual attire for a State of the Union address. The MORNING HERALD only implies that it is ultimately up to the American people to save Clinton’s lying ass.



Top British Reporter Disses U.S. Coverage of Middle East

January 15

It has been a tough week in the Middle East, with lots of bloodshed (then again, not as bloody as last month). There have been five “incidents” between U.S. and Iraqi forces over Iraq’s no-fly zone, and 13 Israeli airstrikes against suspected Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon. Have you heard much thoughtful reporting on either of those stories?

It’s easy to passively accept the news you receive, especially in these days of authoritative-sounding news correspondents, snazzy graphics, and celebrity voice-overs. But even if you are half-asleep in front of the T.V., it’s important to question whose version of the truth is being presented.

An interview in July’s THE PROGRESSIVE with Robert Fisk, Britain’s most esteemed foreign correspondent, shows you just what you’re missing. Fisk, who’s been living in the Middle East for more than 23 years and is currently the Beirut correspondent for the London Independent, doesn’t mince words. He thinks that most U.S. journalists lack the courage to question American domestic and international policy — and in doing so, fail to uncover a “deeper” truth.

Fisk is particularly critical of American journalists’ coverage of the Middle East. In 1996, he witnessed Israeli helicopters firing missiles into the back of a Lebanese ambulance carrying civilians — an attack that killed four children and two women. The story was largely ignored by the U.S. media. His insights on the effects of the American pro-Israel lobby, the failure of the Oslo accords, and the bleak future of the region are all valuable.

Tip: Be advised: some of the events he describes (in detail) are violent and disturbing.




Sweatshop Labor Accusations in U.S. Commonwealth

January 14

In many ways, it’s the same old story. A number of human-rights groups accuse name-brand clothing labels of using sweatshop labor. The groups trod out evidence of slave-like conditions and U.S. companies say they would never stand for such a thing and promise to investigate.

Here’s the catch: This time, it’s happening on U.S. territory, in the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth. Human-rights groups have filed suit against Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, the Gap, and other retailers. They claim that these businesses are exploiting workers in the Marianas, even though the islands are largely covered by U.S. law. They cite the standard nasty sweatshop conditions: immigrant women in overcrowded working and living spaces, making poor pay (the minimum wage in the Marianas is $2.00 less per hour than in the U.S.).

If you think you’ve heard this story before, you probably have. The horrendous working conditions in the Marianas have gotten a good deal of press over the past 10 years (we’re talking Reader’s Digest). There’s even been a Congressional report about sweatshop labor on the islands. But, according to the folks who filed the suit, U.S. clothing manufacturers have yet to clean up their acts.

Hopefully the lawsuits will have some effect — or else I’ll have to tell my mom to stop buying my clothes at the Gap.




Exxon Valdez Spill Is Still Poisoning Environment

January 13

In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker smashed into a reef in Prince William Sound in Alaska, spewing 10 million gallons of crude oil onto the water, poisoning countless miles of beaches and killing thousands of seabirds, seals, and other wildlife. Over the past ten years, wildlife has been recovering from the catastrophe slowly, and the worst is behind us. However, according to THE LIVING EARTH, a NPR program, Valdez oil hidden in beach gravel and sediment is still contaminating wildlife. In fact, according to the scientists interviewed, the longer the oil has stuck around and “weathered,” the more toxic it has become, especially to fish: Just one part per billion killed salmon eggs in the lab.

Exxon, no surprise here, doesn’t think the leftover oil mess is nearly that harmful. Recently the oil industry asked the State of Alaska to relax its regulations for oil discharges in water, but due to the new lab findings, at least for now, Alaska won’t lower its water quality standards.

The most sticky part of this story (hee hee): You’ll have to have Real Player to hear it. It’s eight minutes long, and well worth a listen.




Microsoft: Purchasing Politicians

January 12

If you can’t beat ’em; buy ’em. As the Justice Department wraps up its case against Microsoft, MSNBC is running an article reprinted from the WALL STREET JOURNAL which details Microsoft’s recent forays into the world of campaign finance. Perhaps because the Justice Department isn’t as easily bullied or bought as Microsoft’s usual competitors, the Redmond colossus has been pouring money into the campaign coffers of state attorneys general and congressional opponents of Justice’s case against the Redmond colossus. The article, based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reports that 63 percent of Microsoft’s nearly $1 million in campaign contributions last year went to Republicans.

Was Gates’ spending spree successful? Well, the jury is still out on that one. Although Microsoft backed losers in California, Washington, and the Carolinas, it did have limited successes. South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon (R) dropped his support for the antitrust case after Microsoft generously donated $20,000 to his state’s Republican party. Condon claims the money had nothing to do with his decision, citing the recent America Online mergers as proof that Microsoft has real competition.

1998 was just the beginning for Gates’ big political spending. Microsoft’s PAC has built an enormous reserve of cash which means, says CRP’s Jennifer Shecter, that “they’re getting ready for a big push of some kind,” in case their troubles spill from the courts into Congress. “They’re clearly building an arsenal and preparing for war.” If Microsoft wages it successfully, look for a victory celebration in Redmond sometime after the 2000 elections.




Leonardo DiCaprio Hits the Beach

January 11

Hysterical teenage girls may not be the only ones screaming at the sight of Leonardo DiCaprio anymore. The producers of DiCaprio’s newest flick, The Beach, have chosen small Phi Phi Island off the coast of Thailand to film — and bulldoze. Maya Beach, the specific spot where they’ve decided to shoot, is currently uninhabited and part of a protected national park. No more. It will be “relandscaped” to fit Fox filmmakers’ specifications (it’s wonderful to know that Rupert Murdoch is keeping himself busy these days). Thai environmentalists and local villagers are concerned about the long-term effects of removing sand dunes and planting several dozen palm trees; Fox has countered by paying $230,000 towards possible damage and promising to rebuild the beach after they’re done destroying it.

Check out this week’s VILLAGE VOICE for more dirt on the debacle.



Monsanto: Sowing the Wind?

January 7

Four years ago, the total acreage of genetically altered crops in the United States was zero. In 1998, that figure rose to 50 million. Last month, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH reporter Bill Lambrecht took a look at what’s behind that growth. He traveled the world — visiting 10 countries on four continents — examining the seeds sown by biotech giant Monsanto Co. around the world. What he found was a behemoth corporation besieged in controversy throughout the world (except in the U.S.).

In Ireland, India, and France, Lambrecht reports on an alarmed populace that has sabotaged Monsanto fields and seeds like B-movie villagers bearing torches on the way to Dr. Frankenstein’s castle, intent on destroying an aberration of nature. Lambrecht goes on to describe the efforts of Europeans (including Prince Charles), Africans, Japanese, and Indians to keep these crops out of their markets — or at least to have them labeled as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Unfortunately, virtually none of this debate takes place in the United States because, according to Lambrecht, Monsanto successfully lobbied in the 1980s to clear the regulatory path for genetic development.

The article also examines efforts by the United States government to export genetically altered crops. Lambrecht describes lobbying efforts on behalf of Monsanto by President Bill Clinton and a good chunk of his cabinet, including the secretary of agriculture (whose department helped develop the “Terminator Seed,” a story first reported by the MoJo Wire).

Why would the U.S. put so much muscle into helping one company? It helps to have Clinton’s former campaign manager, Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, the president’s director of intergovernmental affairs, and a former congressman (among others) all on Monsanto’s staff. Lambrecht digs up the connections and provides a stunning look at a silent giant.

On another note, Molly Ivins’ recent editorial on Monsanto lists some of the company’s previous accomplishments. In case you’re wondering, they include Agent Orange, PCBs, and potential responsibility at 93 Superfund sites.

http://archives.postnet.com/archives/pdarc 98.nsf/562e50b071e
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UNSCOM Has Always Done U.S. Bidding

January 7

[After we read reports of the U.S. using the U.N. to spy on Iraq, we called Phyllis Bennis, an expert on U.S.- U.N. relations to get her thoughts on just how boneheaded the operation was. She sent us this e-mail in response.]

The fact that U.S. officials may have used U.N. weapons inspectors to spy for them isn’t surprising. Whatever Iraqi secrets UNSCOM’s on-the-ground inspectors were able to provide to the U.S. were likely matched by the wealth of NSA satellite surveillance that Washington can gather at will.

The real issue is the willingness of the U.S., once again, to treat the United Nations with the utter disdain of a feudal emperor dissing his vassal king. Certainly that sort of treatment isn’t new. Washington’s current $1.5 billion in overdue U.N. bills is only slightly larger than usual — the U.S. stopped paying its full bills a decade and a half ago, during the Reagan administration.

This is the part that matters most: UNSCOM was largely a creature of the U.S. from its beginnings. It has always been viewed with a jaundiced eye by observers critical of U.S. domination of the U.N. And it has generally lived up to the most cynical expectations.

Although UNSCOM has ended up a disaster, it initially represented a U.N. effort, however flawed, to craft an international enforcer for disarmament — not such a bad idea in these arms-bloated times, especially in Iraq’s arms-bloated neighborhood.

So what now? The U.S. cannot be allowed to claim the unilateral right to determine Iraq policy on its own. Iraq policy must be returned to the United Nations. Not the U.N. that was the victim of Desert Storm’s false consensus and of Desert Fox’s indifferent violations, but a new U.N., working to craft a new kind of multilateral diplomacy.

To begin that effort with policy towards Iraq, the following ideas might be considered:

  • The Security Council’s corner on Iraq policy must be broken. The Council’s undemocratic makeup, and its subservience to U.S. and British vetoes, make it an insufficient venue for serious consideration of Iraq disarmament policy. Other U.N. agencies must be brought into the mix.

  • Real disarmament, not pretext disarmament, must be reinstated as the key aspect of U.N. policy in Iraq. To start with, UNSCOM must be allowed to go public with the records found in Iraq and already in its possession, documenting the source of Iraq’s weapons programs. (Currently — and since its creation — UNSCOM has been prohibited from such disclosures.) This would facilitate campaigns to stop the spread of weapons by going to the root of the problem. Inspectors could identify and shut down supplier companies, and target supplier countries with diplomatic pressure.

  • The U.N. resolutions now governing Iraqi disarmament efforts must be applied evenhandedly. Just for starters, those calling for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone throughout the Middle East — not just in Iraq. With the U.S. responsible for the vast majority of arms flooding into the region, that’s not a bad place to start.

  • The crippling, civilian-slaughtering economic sanctions must be ended. The example of Denis Halliday, who quit his post as the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq to protest the impact of sanctions on civilian Iraqis, should serve as an object lesson for what a new kind of internationalism and a new kind of international organization must look like. Efforts to isolate regimes responsible for their population’s suffering must not be rooted in strategies that make that suffering worse. Answering the Baghdad regime’s long-standing violations of civil and political rights (which were just as bad during its two decades of close military alliance with the U.S.) with new and even deadlier violations of economic and social rights by the U.S. and its allies is not what we can accept as a “human rights-driven foreign policy.”

There’s a long way to go. But it has to start somewhere.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s U.N. and Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader.

Innocent After Proven Guilty

January 6

Since 1976, an alarming 75 prisoners on death row have been found innocent. It’s good to know that our system provides an out for people wrongly convicted, and advances in DNA testing are helping to free more of the innocent. But why were they there in the first place?

According to Craig Aaron, writing in IN THESE TIMES, the wrongfully convicted are victims of a system whose priority is expediency instead of careful judgement. He cites “incompetent defense lawyers, bloodthirsty or corrupt prosecutors, hanging judges, police beatings, hidden evidence, or false testimony” among the reasons why people who haven’t committed a crime end up facing death.

In his article, Aaron also relates brief accounts of a few of the folks who sat in closet-sized cells for an average of 7 years before they were acquitted. Sonia Jacobs was in prison for 16 years before a case showed that two prosecution witnesses had lied at her trial. Her husband faired worse. He had been convicted of the same crime and executed two years before the new evidence was found.



Wars Over Water Worry World Leaders

January 5

Like a scenario from the sci-fi classic Dune, there’s a growing fear that the wars of the future may be fought not over gasoline, land, or Lewinsky, but rather over water — you know, the blue stuff that covers 70 percent of the planet.

According to Klaus Toepfer, director-general of the U.N. Environment Program, interviewed in ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, “Everybody knows that we have an increase in population, but we do not have a corresponding increase in drinking water, so the result in the regional dimension is conflict.” In other words, too many people plus too little water equals war in regions of scarcity.

An article from the ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE, which tipped us off to Toepfer’s comments, also cites Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Jacques Chirac, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and World Bank President James Wolfensohn as water worriers.

Gorbachev, perhaps looking to start a new career as a water-politics expert, chimes in with one of the scarier quotes: “Based on population projections alone, some 33 countries are expected to have chronic water shortages by 2025. Moreover, such projections do not take into account the possibility that climate change could eventually further exacerbate water shortages.”

What’s even more alarming is the lack of solutions. Desalination is a possibility, but that gee-whiz technology is not a practical answer at this point.


Clinton: 6-Year, $110 Billion Defense Increase

January 4

Last year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff made an unprecedented appearance before Congress and warned (whined?) that U.S. military spending was dangerously low. Looks like the pitch worked.

According to Sunday’s WASHINGTON POST, the fiscal year 2000 budget, which President Clinton will send to Congress next month, provides for the largest increase in military spending — $12 billion — since the end of the Cold War. The new budget also stipulates an additional $110 billion in defense spending over the next six years. Congress is going to have to be creative to find a source for all that extra cash. As stipulated by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, any increase in spending in one sector must be compensated for by spending cuts in other sectors.

Why the need for so much extra spending? The Pentagon claims infrastructure need and the desire to stay competitive with the private sector. But many of the proposed increases aren’t all that impressive (like a whopping 4.4 percent pay increase for troops). Instead, a lot of the money is going to bloated weapons-programs that were designed at the height of the Cold War (like the $70 billion F-22 fighter jet program).

Christopher Hellman, a senior research analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information (CDI), puts it simply: “We need to stop spending on unneeded weapons supporting a force that’s still preparing to fight World War III.” According to CDI, the U.S. and its allies already far outspend the rest of the world combined. If you really want to dig into the details and impress your friends the next time defense spending comes up at a cocktail party (although we’re not sure there are cocktail parties anymore. And even if there were, defense spending isn’t likely to be a crowd-pleasing subject), check out CDI’s newsletter, THE DEFENSE MONITOR (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat to read it).



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