A Rubber Stamp Congress?
Testing the Death Penalty
Smoke and Lies
A Rubber Stamp Congress?
While some Democratic leaders in Congress have said they will scale down the sweeping war authorization proposed by President Bush last week, the Associated Press reports that the president is sure to get the heart of what he has demanded — quick approval of an attack on Iraq.
Christopher Marquis reports in The New York Times that Democratic leaders, “especially those with their eyes on the White House, are loath to be seen as undercutting a president on foreign policy.” Still, as Carl Hulse reports, also in The New York Times, that “a small group of Democratic die-hards in the House is trying to rally opposition to military action.” Not surprisingly, the dissenters are attracting conservatives’ wrath, with Brendan Miniter of The Wall Street Journal going so far as to suggest their opposition is motivated only by fear.
The Democratic doves are unlikely to make headway on Capitol Hill, either, as Congress rushes to accomodate the president. The editorial board of USA Today declare that rush to act a mistake: “in prodding lawmakers to act in such haste, Bush risks depriving the public of the full debate a potential war with Iraq demands.” In a similar editorial, the Los Angeles Times urges Congressional leaders to “interrupt their president’s tough rhetoric with a barrage of tough questions before risking young Americans’ lives and launching the nation on the radically new course of preemptive first strikes.” On a down note, E.J. Dionne, writing in The Boston Globe, wonders whether “even asking such questions become politically dangerous now that the president has simplified the choice to being either with him or against him?”
Finally, David Winston of The Washington Post suggests that the silence on Capitol Hill has clear political roots: “People believe this country is facing a clear and present danger from both al Qaeda and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the last thing they want is a raw partisan fight over war.”
LAW & JUSTICE
Testing the Death Penalty
State courts are testing the legal subtleties raised by the Supreme Court’s recent landmark anti-death penalty rulings. In the Ring v. Arizona decision, the high court ruled that juries, not judges, should determine whether to administer the death penalty. Now, according to The New York Times, “the Ring decision has created intense procedural confusion in several states.”
Most recently, the chief judge of Delaware’s Supreme Court halted all capital murder trials in the state until the high court can determine if the state’s death penalty law has been rendered unconstitutional. The Wilmington News Journal welcomed the ruling in an editorial, arguing that legal confusion would result if the state went forward with the 30-odd capital cases currently before Delaware courts. A similar freeze is being considered in New Jersey, where the state’s public defenders, with support from prosecutors and the state Attorney General, are calling for a moratorium until constitutional questions can be answered, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.
Florida’s Supreme Court is also considering whether the Ring decision invalidates the state’s capital punishment law. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the legal questions in Florida are particularly thorny, as judges and juries collaborate to determine when the death penalty should be imposed. Still, the state has not acted to freeze capital cases in the meantime, and Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perry this week sentenced John Huggins to death for a 1997 murder, the Orlando Sentinel reports, telling the convicted man, “you have not only forfeited your right to live among us as a free man, but under the laws of the state of Florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all.”
LAW AND JUSTICE
Earlier this week, a federal judge blasted the Interior Department and held Secretary Gale Norton in contempt for failing to sort out the disposition of millions — and perhaps billions — of dollars held in Native American trust funds, Los Angeles reports. Norton has acknowledged major flaws in her agency’s attempt to manage the trust funds, but Judge Royce Lamberth blasted the secretary’s effort as “deceitful and disingenuous.” The legal slap mirrors one handed down by Lamberth to Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary during the Clinton administration. Newsday‘s Sheryl McCarthy applauds the judge’s finding, noting that, while Norton may be only the latest federal official to mishandle the trust, Lamberth is warranted in claiming that Norton “deliberately misled the court” about her agency’s progress on the trust issue. McCarthy and others recommend setting up an independent trustee to oversee the fund.
Smoke and Lies
An alliance of watchdog groups is demanding that Indonesia readdress its environmental record, after it was revealed that ministers from the country lied in a report to the World Sustainable Development Summit earlier this month, reports the Jakarta Post. The environmental coalition claims that the Indonesian government intentionally underestimated the amount of forest lost during recent fires started near logging and plantation sites. While the country’s Ministry of Forestry warns that any change will be slow to come, Reuters reports that fires continue to burn in Indonesia’s Borneo province, degrading air quality to new lows and closing schools and businesses. Ironically, a Jakarta meteorologist stated, “only markets seem open.”
As the Bush administration lobbies Congress for sweeping authority to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, Washington is also pressing at least one of Iraq’s neighbors to fall in line. Matthew McAllester reports in Newsday that Jordan has agreed to allow US troops to be stationed along its border with Iraq, ostensibly to block Iraqi missile attacks on Israel. In exchange, McAllester writes, Washington has guaranteed that Jordan will have access to cheap oil. The tiny kingdom is currently dependent on discounted oil from Iraq.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s political gamble has paid off. His Social Democrat/Green Party coalition captured a narrow victory, retaining control of the government in what was Germany’s closest postwar election.
As expected, many in the US, Jody K. Biehl of the San Francisco Chronicle among them, are attributing Schröder’s slim victory to his stand against a US-led attack on Iraq. But John Hooper of The Guardian reports that a closer reading of the vote shows that Schröder’s success was actually built on the gains of his Green Party partners. And the Greens, Hooper writes, fared well because a growing number of German voters care about environmental issues. Mary Dejevsky, writing in The Independent, suggests the prevailing sentiment is only half right. Schröder’s victory, Dejevsky says, was built on his media-savvy responses to the escalating threat of war and the devastating floods in eastern Germany. In both cases, Dejevsky writes, Schröder managed to turn bad news into political gold.
Still, as The Economist notes, the bad news remains unchanged. Germany is “the sick man of Europe,” The Economist suggests, its economy recovering slowly from last year’s recession. But the most pressing problem for Schröder, the magazine’s editors say, is the political fallout created by his anti-US rhetoric. Similarly, the Times of London argues in an editorial that Schröder should be concerned by “the dangers of inertia at home and isolation abroad.”
Several right-leaning pundits in the US, including William Safire, suggest that Schröder’s reelection should prompt Washington to rethink its relationship with Germany. In particular, Safire argues, Washington should consider whether Germany is the best location for 70,000 US soldiers and their dependents. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal openly wonder whether Schröder can “climb back from this campaign posturings” and into Washington’s good graces, while the editorial writers at The Washington Times add some vitriol to the cogitation, declaring that “Schröder has let a wildfire of anti-Americanism rage out of control in a desperate attempt to secure a victory.”
Of course, some are suggesting that Schröder’s victory might also provide Washington with a reason to reconsider its recent go-it-alone foreign policy doctrine. Liam Pleven suggests in Newsday that the German vote may actually harden the resolve of other European nations concerned about a unilateral, pre-emptive US strike. Sounding a bellicose note in The Guardian, Peter Kilfoyle, a member of the British Parliament and the country’s former Defense Minister, claims that new resolve is necessary to counter “an increasingly paranoid and hawkish America.”
Town vs. Country
In what is being called Britain’s largest civil protest in 150 years, more than 400,000 people marched through the streets of London this weekend, intent on sending a message to Prime Minister Tony Blair: Keep fox hunting legal if you want to keep your job.
In fact, as demonstration organizers admit, the controversial fox hunting ban has become a rallying point for the country’s farmers and rural residents, upset over what they feel is government-led campaign to destroy the rural way of life. As Baroness Mallalieu, president of the group which organized the march, told The Independent, “hunting is the trigger for this march, but I would imagine that everybody on the march wants the Government to deal with a wide range of problems in the countryside.” Gordon Cameron, an actor from Ayrshire who attended the demonstrations, summed up the rural discontent for The Guardian: “I’m fed up with urban people telling people in the countryside how to run their lives.”
Silenced on Campus?
While critics warned of a government crackdown on free speech following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the worst abuses so far have occurred on college campuses, writes Dahlia Lithwick in Slate. Describing the harassment and violence directed at students and professors voicing unpopular opinions — a situation at odds with the popularly held view of colleges as bastions of free thought — Lithwick declares that, “wartime censorship is alive and well, but it’s happening only in our colleges, our ‘laboratories of democracy.'” The activist spirit is still thriving at some colleges, however, as Mother Jones notes with its annual list of the top ten activist schools.
Canada’s Kyoto Crisis
As Canada’s left and right fight over whether or not to adopt the Kyoto agreement on global warming, Prime Minister Chretien has come under fire from liberals and conservatives alike for his reluctance to take any meaningful stand on the plan’s 10-year goals, reports The Star. The Globe and Mail derides the prime minister’s evasiveness, declaring that environmental reforms should at least have a specific target from which to fall short. Finally, The Guardian reports that Chretien’s domestic disaster is even becoming an international embarrassment, as the European Union has blasted Canada for seeking a reduction of its terms under the accord.
A Deficient Dossier
While the Bush administration continues to press Congress for authority to launch an attack on Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is making his own bid for legislative approval, presenting Parliament with his much-anticipated dossier on Iraq’s weapons-production plans.
In addition to detailing the Baghdad government’s horrid history of transgressions, Blair introduced a new charge, claiming that Iraq recently tried to obtain weapons-grade nuclear material from Africa, the Associated Press reports. Warren Hoge of The New York Times reports that the dossier, released only hours before the start of a Parliamentary debate on Blair’s aggressive stance, is unlikely to sway opinion at home or abroad.
As expected, the White House hailed Blair’s case, calling the prime minister’s dossier “frightening.” But Blair’s critics in Parliament — and even some members of his own cabinet — remain unconvinced. The BBC reports that, while Blair has won “cautious support” on the need to tackle Iraq’s weapons-production plans, Parliament steered clear of any vote on military action, and nearly 50 members of Blair’s own Labour Party registered their opposition. Moreover, as The Guardian reports, Blair reportedly had to assure members of his own cabinet that he would seek a United Nations-sponsored solution before getting their undivided support.
British experts and pundits also remain skeptical of Blair’s case, with Charles Heyman, editor of the respected Jane’s World Armies, telling The Guardian that the prime minister’s dossier “does not produce any convincing evidence, or any ‘killer fact’, that says that Saddam Hussein has to be taken out straight away.” In a similar vein, The Independent argues in an editorial that Blair’s report shows Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to be a tyrant and a horror, but fails to make a case for immediate unilateral military intervention.
Still, some outside Washington are praising Blair, if only for adeptly presenting the issue and the evidence. At the very least, Peter Fray writes in The Sydney Morning Herald, Blair stakes out a clear moral argument for moving against Iraq if efforts by the United Nations fail.
LAW & JUSTICE
Higher Security vs. Higher Education?
America’s colleges and universities are increasingly finding themselves on the front lines of Washington’s ongoing battle to tighten national security. Mark Clayton of the Christian Science Monitor reports that universities are already feeling the pinch of new restrictions, which include highly selective new visa rules for foreign students and new limits on foreigners’ access to research and “sensitive information. As a result, Clayton reports, a growing number of professors and researchers are worrying that the quality of American higher education may suffer. According to Jenna Russell and Mary Leonard of The Boston Globe, the State Department has already rejected or delayed thousands of requests for student visas. But some are questioning just how effective the new rules will be. An editorial in The New York Times, for instance, claims that the failure of immigration officials to track Sept. 11’s terrorist was “one of intelligence, not visa processing,” and argues there is no justification for preventing tens of thousands of law-abiding foreigners from studying here. Noting that many of many of these students are the very people who might fight terrorism in their own societies, the Times bemoans the fact that many potential students have actually abandoned their efforts to study in the US.
Less Debt, More Trees
Last week, the Philippine government signed a deal with the US under which Manila will use $8.2 million in foreign aid debt payments to protect the country’s tropical forests, the Environmental News Service reports. The funds will protect coastal forests in three regions, helping to protect habitat for the endangered Philippine Eagle, ENS reports.
China Attacks Airwave Activists
Chinese authorities are condemning the recent media hijacking carried out by members or supporters of the Falun Gong religious group, during which the satellite signal carrying China Central Television to outlying rural areas was seized and used to transmit Falun Gong messages, Newsday reports. Subsequently, China sentenced 15 Falun Gong followers to lengthy prison terms for breaking into cable television signals in northern China six months ago. Philip P. Pan of The Washington Post says the harsh sentences “appeared to reflect the ruling Communist Party’s concern about an ongoing Falun Gong campaign that has challenged the government’s control of the media.”
Gore Stands Up
Former Vice President Al Gore has broken the Democratic silence, speaking out strongly in San Francisco against the Bush administration’s push for war against Iraq. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Democratic leaders in Washington have the fortitude follow suit.
As expected, Gore has been praised and pilloried for his speech, in which, as USA Today reports, he attacked the president’s war plans as poorly thought-out and a distraction from the ongoing fight against terror. In a strikingly mean-spirited editorial, the Boston Herald argues that Gore “is resorting to the all-purpose excuse of liberals: The president’s course doesn’t conform to international law.” Claiming that President Bush can be best characterized as “an enforcer of international law,” the editorial suggests that “[t]he better characterization of Gore was offered by Jim Dyke, spokesman for the Republican National Committee: ‘political hack.'” Andrew Sullivan, writing on Salon, also gets in on the name-calling, labeling Gore “a political coward,” and dismissing the former vice president’s speech as a sign that Gore is “one of the most naked opportunists in American politics.” Similarly, Zev Chafets writes in the New York Daily News that Gore simply hopes to use the war issue to position himself for a presidential bid in 2004.”If the war is going badly, Gore can run as the I-told-you-so candidate. If it is going well, he can re-reposition himself and even try for some credit,” Chafets opines.
Larry Eichel of The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that, while Gore’s speech might have been politically-motivated, that fact shouldn’t diminish the importance of his message. And Eichel asserts that, “compared to his fellow Democrats, Gore gets credit for not being afraid of his own shadow.” Robert Kuttner of The Baltimore Sun, calling Gore’s speech a “surprising act of leadership,” suggests that the former vice president may have “made it safe for Democrats to express serious doubts about this reckless war.” Praising Gore, the editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune argue that Congressional Democrats must take advantage of the opportunity the former vice president has created.
There is some reason to believe that may happen. Mary Lynn F. Jones and Alexander Bolton report in The Hill that several Democratic senators, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, praised Gore for “giving voice to their own qualms.” Daschle, in particular, seemed emboldened by the former vice president’s stand, taking the offensive and, as the Associated Press reports, attacking the Bush administration for politicizing the war debate. Still, several Congressional Democrats took pains to distance themselves from the former vice president’s comments, among them Gore’s 2000 running-mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Dave Boyer of The Washington Times reports. Lieberman and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt have thrown their support behind the president’s plans, and Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post reports the emergence of dissenting voices “is exposing a rift between many rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers concerned about the consequences of war with Iraq and their party leaders.”
Finally, Peter Grier and Liz Marlantes of The Christian Science Monitor report that some observers and some politicians believe the issue is probably moot. Gore’s speech, they say, may simply have come too late to sway the debate in Washington.
After Saddam, What?
With the Bush administration’s energies focused on selling an invasion of Iraq to an anxious world and a fractious Congress, some are suggesting that too little attention has been given to mapping the future of a post-Saddam Iraq. As Tom Bowman of the Baltimore Sun reports, senior military officials and analysts are worried about the dangers of occupying Iraq if Saddam is overthrown. They warn that limited US forces would be stretched to the breaking point by the additional manpower needed to occupy Baghdad and, as was discovered in Somalia, initial goodwill towards liberating US troops could quickly turn ugly. Moreover, as Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times writes, Iraq’s volatile ethnic mix could lead to broader civil conflict, with Shi’ite Muslims rebelling against the Sunni minority that has ruled the country for decades, and the Kurds in the oil-rich north pushing for independence. Ultimately, writes James Fallows in The Guardian, the US must prepare for a long, difficult commitment. Awaking to this possibility, House democrats called a special meeting yesterday to discuss their worries about a post-war Iraq, Newsday‘s William Douglas reported. For the time being, however, the optimists are ascendant in Washington, as administration officials talk of fashioning the Arab world’s first real democracy from the ashes of Saddam’s Iraq, and perhaps of transforming the entire region, Peter Grier reports in the Christian Science Monitor.
A Thaw in Tibet?
A delegation led by the Dalai Lama’s special envoy Lodi Gyari traveled to Beijing earlier this month, at the invitation of the Chinese government. The Chicago Tribune reports that Chinese leaders are attempting to downplay the significance of the meeting, but there is widespread speculation, as the BBC reports, that Beijing’s recent actions suggest a likely shift in its Tibet policy. John Pomfret of The Washington Post explains that the first signs of the thaw came after a secretive meeting at Harvard University this past January between Tibetan activists and a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official: “Over the past few months, the government has released six political prisoners … Groups of Western journalists have been taken to the region — more than at any time in recent memory.” As to why Beijing is easing tensions, Pomfret explains that many suspect President Jiang Zemin is attempting to smooth over US-China relations before his meeting with President Bush in October.
Scientists are citing last week’s devastating avalanche in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains as “ a sign of the gradual yet vast climatic changes sweeping the world’s mountainous regions,” reports Usha Lee McFarling of the Los Angeles Times. The avalanche, which potentially killed over 100 people, is “part of a subtle chain of events that has transformed once-frozen mountains and is altering the course of nearby human settlements,” researchers explain. As hundreds of the world’s glaciers melt throughout such far-flung places as Montana, Venezuela, Tanzania, and the Himalayas, the net increase in flooding and drought could exact a major human toll, McFarling reports. And, as Joseph Verrengia reports in The Independent, the changes are more rapid and dramatic in extreme climates. Verrengia writes that signs of climate change are everywhere in Alaska, where glaciers and sea-ice have declined by 15 percent and there has been a four-degree average annual increase in temperature since 1971.
Democrats in Congress have been trying for much of the summer to redirect the country’s attention to the ailing economy. With six weeks to go before mid-term elections, that effort appears to be flagging.
Democrats and Republicans have been duking it out over whose agenda — and whose issues — will resonate more deeply for American voters. The Los Angeles Times‘s Ronald Brownstein suggests the result is an ongoing rhetorical battle in which Republicans are aggressively focusing on national defense, while Democrats push their economic plans. Writing in Roll Call, Chris Cillizza notes that the Democrats might be fighting an uphill battle, as strategists for both parties now conced that neither the country’s economic woes nor the recent spate of corporate scandals are expected to become significant election issues. Instead, Cillizza writes, Iraq has become the single most important issue for voters. Conservative pundit Robert Novak agrees in the Chicago Sun-Times, suggesting that “ the crowding out of corporate corruption by war against Iraq unquestionably has brightened Republican prospects” in both House and Senate elections. A victory for the GOP, writes Novak, would usher in a legislative with nary a vision for righting the ailing economy.
Can the IMF Change?
Anti-globalization protestors are threatening to shut down Washington as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have their annual meeting, USA Today reports. Historically, the annual gatherings have drawn thousands of protestors, and Washington police have warned commuters to expect “extreme delays” as demonstrators take to the streets.
Robert Weissman of Mobilization for Global Justice — one of the organizations that plans to march in Washington — argues in The Washington Post that the World Bank and IMF are leading developing countries astray by focusing on “marketization, deregulation and privatization” — elements which Weissman says were key to the rise and fall of Enron and “are now discredited in the United States.” David Schepp of the BBC reports that some IMF officials have publicly acknowledged their lending practices need to be reformed. Still, Schepp reports IMF boss Horst Koehler remains committed to the basic framework of globalization, saying “the objective should not be less globalisation but more and better globalisation.”
While much of Europe remains deeply concerned about the ecological threat posed by genetically-engineered crops, the same is not true down under. On Monday, Australia became the first country to approve the planting of a new, engineered strain of pest- and herbicide-resistant cotton, reports Reuters. The country’s regulators granted Monsanto Australia permission to plant trial crops of the strain in southern states, but refused the company’s application to grow it commercially in the north, citing fears that GE cotton could become a super-weed if introduced into a tropical climate. The refusal came after community opposition to Monsanto’s bid, with local groups claiming the engineered strain will not produce higher yields than traditional crops, but requires more potent herbicides to control it. Australian regulators could look to India for an example of the problems they may now face. As Douglas McGray reported in Mother Jones, New Delhi is learning that government bans on engineered crops are not always enough.