Daily Briefing

Taking Stock of Lost Liberties
Water for All?
Washington and the “T-word”
The Little War on Drugs

Taking Stock of Lost Liberties

With the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, American pundits are reflecting en masse on how the national psyche has changed. A few, however, are also taking a moment to consider how our civil liberties have changed. Marty Durand of the Idaho Statesman expresses what has become a familiar concern, worrying that the infringements deemed necessary during a time of war will become permanent. Durand laments the “frightening consolidation of power in the executive branch,” the government’s unflagging secrecy, the “sweeping new powers of detention and surveillance” given to law enforcement agencies, and the lack of “meaningful judicial oversight” which might check future infringements. Seth Rosenfeld notes in the San Francisco Chronicle that the full effects of last year’s Patriot Act remain unknown. At the very least, Rosenfeld argues, the new law has given federal authorities frightening and unchecked approval to spy on anyone remotely suspected of involvement in terrorism. The Associated Press provides a quick list of some of the most significant changes to legal rights, ranging from Freedom of Speech and Right to Legal Representation to Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Right to a Speedy and Public Trial. The Bush administration and many in Congress continue to argue that such infringements are necessary, claiming that terrorists are taking advantage of American freedoms to escape American justice. Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, emphatically disagrees, claiming in a new statement that our freedoms define us as Americans and aren’t to be bartered so carelessly. While Romero and other civil libertarians continue to fight for rights in general, Allan Turner of the Houston Chronicle points out that American Muslims remain the clear target of the government’s activities. Turner notes that members of Houston’s large Muslim community “have seen their comfortable lives eroded by uncertainty and fear.” Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Mary Robinson tells the Associated Press that the Bush administration has set the tone for the rest of the world in using the fight against terrorism as a blanket justification for trampling rights and liberties “The world needs leadership in human rights and the United States could give great leadership. It’s not giving it at the moment, unfortunately,” Robinson says. Finally, Nat Hentoff, never one to shy from attacking the heart of the matter, suggests in The Village Voice that the blame for the unprecedented attack on rights and liberties can be laid at the feet of one person: Attorney General John Ashcroft. Arguing that Ashcroft “has subverted more elements of the Bill of Rights than any attorney general in American history,” Hentoff says it’s unlikely that the Justice Department plans to back off any time soon.

Water for All?

European Union President Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark announced today that a landmark agreement to “supply clean drinking water and sanitation for every village, town and city on the planet,” signed at the recently-concluded World Summit in South Africa, would cost only $200 billion, Environment News Service reports. Currently, over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, over 2.4 billion people do not have adequate sanitation, and more than 2.2 million people die each year from water related diseases, ENS reports. Meanwhile, the EU has its own plan for tackling the quality of water at home — a plan which Reuters reports could face European governments to “revolutionize farming in their countries.” Scientists say the EU’s new initiative, which must be ratified by all 15 member states by the end of 2003, sets tough new limits on pollutants in rivers and ground water and will likely force land use changes.

Washington and the “T Word”

The White House is claiming that international opposition to a preemptive military strike against Iraq is softening, citing recent comments by officials from France, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands. And, while German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has already declared his opposition to an attack, Francois Heisbourg of the International Herald Tribune reports that most European leaders will probably become reluctant backers of an American offensive, provided the US is able to present the UN Security Council with a convincing case for attacking. Still, European leaders other than British Prime Minister Tony Blair continue to express doubts about Washington’s plans. In an interview with The New York Times, French President Jaques Chirac warned that “it’s Bush and Blair on one side and all the others on the other side. That skepticism appears to exist at the popular level, as well. USA Today reports that a recent USA Today/CNN Gallup Poll indicates that only Americans and Canadians support sending troops into Iraq. The poll, conducted in the US, Canada, Great Britain, Spain and Italy, also found that support for President Bush and Washington’s War on Terror is also muted outside the US. Of course, the Bush administration does have some supporters overseas — particularly in Israel. The Jerusalem Post‘s Douglas Davis, for instance, argues that “not only has [the US] won the political argument, but it has prevailed militarily, economically, technologically and culturally.”

The Little War on Drugs

The War on Drugs appears to have regained some momentum — at least when it comes to the fight against medical marijuana use in California. The San Jose Mercury News reports that federal drug enforcement agents raided a well-known marijuana farm near Santa Cruz, California, despite the fact that local and state political leaders had given the farm clearance to operate. AlterNet‘s Sarah Phelan writes that Valerie and Michael Corral, who founded the medical marijuana club a decade ago, were arrested by federal officials during the raid. Within hours of the raid, however, the couple had been released, with the U.S. Attorney’s office declining to file charges.


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