U.S. Leading Obstacle to Nuclear Disarmament

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The U.S. just can’t stand the idea of giving up its nukes. On November 13, the U.N. Disarmament Committee passed a resolution declaring an “unequivocal commitment to the speedy and total elimination” of nuclear weapons. Ninety-seven countries voted for it, but 19 voted against it, including the United States, Russia, and the two recent nuclear users, Pakistan and India. Thirty-two countries abstained from voting, including 12 of America’s 15 NATO allies. A diplomat told the CALGARY HERALD—one of a few papers that reported the story—that Canada and several Western European countries resisted tremendous pressure from the U.S. to vote against the resolution, and abstained instead.

Gwynne Dyer, a London-based historian and journalist, finds the U.S. stance “hypocrisy” in an opinion piece in the MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE. Just months ago, Dyer notes, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned other nations of the risks of nuclear weapons, chiding them, “Don’t rush to embrace what the rest of the world is racing to leave behind.” Dyer goes on to address the budding effort by Germany and Canada to abolish NATO’s Cold War-era “nuclear first use” policy, by which the U.S. and other NATO nuclear powers reserve the right to use nukes in response to a non-nuclear attack. American diplomats have attacked the idea, insisting that “deterrence rests on uncertainty.” In other words, translates Dyer, “If you really get us annoyed, we might go crazy and start using nuclear weapons.”




New Revelations in JFK Assassination Documents

November 23

Sunday was the 35th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and conspiracy theorists haven’t lost any steam. In fact, the wrapping up of the official Assassination Records Review Board has brought an avalanche of newly released declassified documents, even new theories as to who helped Lee Harvey Oswald—if indeed Oswald pulled a trigger at all. Medical evidence that might have proved JFK was shot from the front was covered up or destroyed; just this month a WASHINGTON POST headline blared “Archive Photos Not of JFK’s Brain, Says Assassinations Board Report.”

To save you from reading thousands of undoubtedly heavily redacted documents from the CIA or the Dallas police department, political humorist and radio commentator Bob Harris, who also happens to be co-author of the CD-ROM “Encyclopedia of the JFK Assassination,” has done your homework for you. In a clever tribute to JFK’s 35th, Harris explains in his weekly column THE SCOOP why we should care about curtain rods, magic bullets, and the difference between a 7.65mm Mauser rifle and a Mannlicher-Carcano. The “X-Files” crowd may already be privy to this information, but for most of us this is an eye-opening update.

Tip: Bob’s Web site for THE SCOOP is temporarily down, so we took the liberty of posting the column here on the MOJO WIRE. Thanks, Bob!




Good News: Fewer Nuclear Workers on Drugs

November 20

If you’re concerned about the safety of nuclear power, you’ll be happy to learn that fewer nuclear plant workers were on drugs last year than eight years ago, according to a new drug-testing report by the NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION. (We were tipped off by a brief item by ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE earlier this month, and after a bit of searching we’ve turned up the original report on the NRC’s Web site.) The NRC report includes handy statistics by region so you can figure out if your local Homer Simpson is a crack-addled menace to society.

As ENS reported, “Roughly half the number of nuclear workers were detected with cocaine in their blood in 1997 than in 1990.” Even so, 336 nuke workers tested positive for cocaine last year, not exactly a reassuring number. Drug use also declined for marijuana (842 workers in 1997), alcohol (262), amphetamines (49), and opiates (39).

Tip: To find the drug testing results in the NRC report, use the “Find” command in your browser to find the word “cocaine.” Scroll around to find the regional breakdown.



Congress Stifles Medical Marijuana Vote in D.C.

November 19

You’ve probably heard that five Western states voted to legalize medical marijuana on Election Day, but you may not know that our nation’s capital city did too. That’s because Congress doesn’t want you to know. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to allow AIDS patients and other sick people access to pot—an exit poll showed 69 percent in favor—but Congress refuses to release the results because they’re politically embarrassing to a government that considers medical marijuana an outlaw drug.

Because Congress runs the city, it was able to stifle the pot vote by forbidding the city to spend any money certifying the results, in an appropriations amendment sponsored by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.).

The results have already been tallied automatically by a computer, reports the WASHINGTON POST; the city’s just not allowed to output them. According to a Nov. 13 story in the NEW YORK TIMES, city officals have offered to pay “the $1.64 estimated cost of having a clerk push a computer button to let the people know the result of their choice.” In the meantime, the city and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing Congress to release the results; the next hearing in that case is scheduled for Dec. 18. As WASHINGTON POST columnist Steve Twomey says: “That’ll be Democracy Held Hostage, Day 45.”

Tip: The NEW YORK TIMES story is already stashed in a pay-per-view archive, but we found it posted on ACT UP/DC’s Web site.




Toys “R” Us Pulls PVC Baby Toys from Shelves

November 18

As of the close of business today, Toys “R” Us has pulled from the shelves all “direct-to-mouth” baby toys that contain the chemical diisononyl phthalate, reports the ENVIRONMENT NEWS NETWORK (ENN). As the MOJO WIRE reported in July, the main phthalates that are used to soften PVC plastic toys have been found to damage the liver, kidneys, and reproductive system when ingested by animals. These phthalates are used in children’s toys that are often sucked on, such as rubber ducks and teething rings.

Although Toys “R” Us is the world’s largest toy retailer, and had announced its decision last Friday, its action has received surprisingly little attention in the major U.S. press. A combined NEXIS and Web search this afternoon showed just a short item on GREENWIRE, and one ASSOCIATED PRESS story picked up by the WALL STREET JOURNAL and BERGEN (N.J.) RECORD on Sunday. By contrast, several of Canada’s biggest newspapers ran the story. On Monday, Canada’s national health department warned parents to “immediately” throw out PVC mouth toys containing the chemical, and asked toy stores and toymakers to get rid of them as well. That story hasn’t made U.S. headlines either.

The Toys “R” Us action came after the National Environmental Trust (NET) released test results Friday which showed that 33 common plastic toys contain the chemical. The NET has complained that by removing only “direct-to-mouth” toys, Toys “R” Us is still endangering children’s health by leaving other toys containing phthalates on its shelves, including a Teletubbies doll and a Little Pony doll. “Infants and toddlers put everything in their mouths, often for extended periods of time,” said NET president Philip Clapp in a letter to the store. “They certainly don’t discriminate between ‘direct-to-mouth’ toys and other toys.”




Exploring the Cost of Sanctions on Iraq

November 17

In 1991, MOTHER JONES was one of eleven organizations to file suit against the Bush administration to end news censorship during the Gulf War and allow full combat coverage. Although that censorship is no longer in effect, you would not know it from most of the media coverage today. Seven years down the road, as the United States and Iraq continue to do their semi-annual dance over weapons inspections, the media has still largely ignored those most affected by the games: the people of Iraq.

Although Saddam Hussein may be a first-rate villain, the average Iraqi is not. Yet there’s been very little reporting on the effects of the world’s economic sanctions upon the Iraqi people. As the sanctions have clearly failed to topple Hussein, perhaps it is time to look at exactly what they have accomplished. To that end, the MoJo Wire invites you to check out the IRAQ ACTION COALITION. The coalition, which advocates lifting the sanctions, has compiled some interesting, if one-sided, information—including the story of the former head of the U.N’s “oil for food” program, Denis Halliday, who resigned in frustration after pointing out that 5,000 Iraqi children are dying prematurely every month as a result of the sanctions.

The idea of lifting economic sanctions (and keeping military ones) isn’t so radical. Forty-three members of Congress support it. Whether or not you believe we should lift the sanctions, you should know what effects they have.




Paper Accuses Israel of Developing “Ethno-Bomb”

November 16

The LONDON SUNDAY TIMES, owned by Rupert Murdoch but otherwise a very reputable newspaper, reported yesterday that Israel is working on a biological weapon, dubbed the “ethno-bomb,” which would use genetic biotechnology to target only Arabs.

It’s an extraordinary accusation, and it’s hard to believe (not the least because Jews and Arabs are so closely related). But the SUNDAY TIMES isn’t a tabloid paper. Its reputation is comparable to the NEW YORK TIMES—and the paper is known for its reporting on Israel.

The Israeli government quickly responded to the story. The article was attacked by an Israeli spokesman who said such stories only proved “that there is no limit to human gullibility and also no limit to the desire to sell newspapers.” When asked if he was denying the story, he told the ASSOCIATED PRESS, “This is the kind of story that does not deserve denial.” Hmmm.

If Israel really is developing a weapon to target a specific race, they wouldn’t be the first to consider it. According to many press reports, South Africa started development of “skin pigmentation” weapons targeted at people with dark skin.

http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/Sunday-Times/front …



Behind the New Tobacco Deal

November 13

The next big tobacco deal may be on its way. The deal hasn’t been officially released yet, but no matter—the accusations are already flying.

The ARIZONA REPUBLIC claims it has obtained a draft of the agreement between the tobacco industry and several state attorneys general—but some public health experts claim that the “draft” is really just a “Friday the 13th” PR trick by tobacco companies eager to portray the agreement in a better light.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped some tobacco critics from writing a point-by-point rebuttal of the draft.

Their biggest worry: The deal itself will probably be released Monday and signed Friday the 20th. Many in the public health community are worried that this won’t be enough time to review the agreement. The American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and many other health groups are calling for a thirty-day review period.

As Stan Glantz, a well-known tobacco control advocate, told the SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, “If this deal is so good, they wouldn’t mind putting it out there and letting people take potshots at it.”

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file …



Microsoft Booby-Trapped Windows to Sabotage Competitors

November 12

Microsoft argues that its almost total monopoly on operating systems is the result of customers preferring Windows. And that’s a convincing argument—unless you look at their business practices. The Justice Department is contending that Microsoft has intentionally disabled competitors’ software on a number of occasions.

Perhaps the best example: When a challenger to Microsoft DOS, called DR DOS, started to gain steam, Microsoft struck back. They programmed Windows with a booby-trap that made it crash whenever users tried to use the competing software. Not surprisingly, sales of DR DOS dropped more than 90 percent in one year.

The best story we’ve seen about the sabotage and demise of DR DOS was written for EAT THE STATE! by Brian Dellert, who used to work for Microsoft.




Deforestation Worsens Effects of Hurricane Mitch

November 11

Hurricane Mitch has caused enormous destruction in Honduras and Nicaragua, but humans share in the blame. A number of agricultural experts believe that widespread deforestation has exacerbated the floods and mudslides that have claimed more than 11,000 lives in the region.

Every year the two countries destroy as much as a half-million acres of tropical forest, chopped down mostly by multinational fruit and timber corporations and poor farmers. The result is increased soil erosion during heavy rains, and Mitch brought it on with a vengeance: A massive mudslide on Nicaragua’s Casitas volcano buried five villages, killing more than 2,200 people.

When the MOJO WIRE contacted James Gollin, an expert on Honduran environmental issues, he pointed out that Honduras, which used to be almost totally covered by forests, has destroyed 60 percent of its forests.

Others have pointed out that too many people in Central America live in flood-prone areas to begin with. Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga, director of the National Human Development Report, told the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, “We have to change this perspective of what the river did to us, to ask instead what we did to the river.”

Though a number of U.S. media reports have mentioned deforestation in passing, none have focused on it. The best report we found was from AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE (that’s the French Associated Press to you). Here it is:

http://www.yahoo.com.sg/headlines/111198/world …



The Wrong Man: Death Row Mistakes

November 10

Election season is a great time to watch politicians “get tough on crime”: Otherwise progressive candidates, jockeying for a “moderate” label, line up to embrace the death penalty as if it were a particularly cute baby in need of kissing along the campaign trail.

However, opposition to the death penalty is growing, and not just among the progressive community. This week’s U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT makes a strong case for a reevaluation of the status quo. The newsmagazine reports that for every seven executions since 1976, one person on death row has been found to be wrongly convicted. It also reports that the American Bar Association last year called for a moratorium on executions, “citing bad lawyering and mistaken convictions.”

How many mistakes? No less than 74 men have walked free from death row after their innocence was proven. The article drives its point home with the chilling stories of a farmer falsely convicted of killing his own parents, and of two men who sat on death row while the real killer murdered another child.




Who is Bob Livingston?

November 9

Ruth Conniff examines the two sides of the next Speaker of the House, Bob Livingston (R-La.), in a June 1998 article from THE PROGRESSIVE. (It’s a bit dated, but it’s the best profile we’ve found.) One side of Livingston is the “courteous and charming” Louisianan who offered to use his own campaign funds to oppose former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Livingston is known for having a soft touch; instead of Newt’s famously asinine comments, Livington tends to offer up gentlemanly clichés like, “I think we can disagree without being disagreeable.”

But, there is a less heart-warming side to Livingston. He is a union-busting, anti-abortion Republican who shepherded $50 billion in cuts to social programs while fighting cuts to the Pentagon. (The defense industry is the single largest contributor to Livingston’s 1998 campaign). While Livingston may be an advocate of personal responsibility for private citizens, he doesn’t see the same need for legislators: He has fought to reduce funding to the already under-funded Federal Elections Commission, and he rewrote House ethics rules so that citizens and outside groups can no longer file ethics complaint against House members.




Enviros claim election victory

November 6

[Okay, we’re a day late; Friday afternoon was our farewell party for Jeffrey Klein. Newt resigned with truly impeccable timing.]

Green groups are proclaiming victory for the environment after Tuesday’s elections, and taking credit for some of the big wins. According to a roundup by the ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS NETWORK, the Sierra Club gave more than $500,000 directly to pro-environment candidates, and 38 of their 43 targeted candidates won, including victorious Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); the club spent about $6.5 million total on elections. The League of Conservation Voters, spending $2.3 million, is claiming partial credit for the defeat of nine of its 13 “Dirty Dozen” opponents (although notable anti-enviro Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) and three others survived).

Of 25 state ballot initiatives affecting the environment, greens claimed “15 victories for biodiversity and 10 losses,” according to the report. Winners included a California ban on leghold animal traps, and a Montana ban on cyanide-leach gold mining.




Memo: Microsoft Plot Against the Open Source Software Movement

November 5

As if the Justice Department’s antitrust case wasn’t providing enough fodder, Microsoft-haters were thrown another bone last week: “The Halloween Document,” a confidential Microsoft memo which describes the open source software (OSS) movement and how Microsoft can fight it.

The memo was reportedly leaked by a Microsoft employee to open-source advocate Eric Raymond, who then posted it on his Web site OPENSOURCE.ORG. If genuine, the document could prove damning to Microsoft because it suggests the company is plotting to lock Linux and other open-source competitors out of the market. “OSS poses a direct short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft,” the author writes. “OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market.” In the document’s introduction, Raymond states that “Microsoft has publicly acknowledged that this memorandum is authentic, but dismissed it as a mere engineering study that does not define Microsoft policy.” Yeah, sure it doesn’t.




One-Fifth of Africans to Die of AIDS?

November 4

The AIDS pandemic will cause a truly cataclysmic number of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new United Nations report on world population. The report, based on much better statistics than previously available, finds that HIV infection rates are already 10 percent or higher in nine countries, and 20 and 25 percent in Zimbabwe and Botswana, respectively. Because such countries cannot afford the expensive Western AIDS drugs that might avert calamity, at least one-fifth of Africans there will die of AIDS, experts told the NEW YORK TIMES. “In looking at global epidemics,” said Worldwatch Institute chief Lester Brown, “one has to go back to the 16th century and the introduction of smallpox in the Aztec population of what is now Mexico to find anything on that scale, and before that, to the bubonic plague in Europe in the 14th century, to see that kind of heavy toll.”

You’d think that would be front-page news, but aside from the TIMES piece last week, there’s been precious little print. The TIMES story is already stashed in a pay-per-view archive, but we found this CNN report online. And if you’ve got the stomach for it, there’s the U.N. population report itself.




Yosemite Rock Climbers Halt Plan
to Wreck “Camp Four”

November 3

Often called the “Sistine Chapel” or “Mecca” of rock climbers, Camp Four in Yosemite National Park is considered a holy place where climbers from all over the world gather. They are not about to stand by while the National Park Service plans to build two new three-story motels and a dozen quadriplex cottages near their sacred ground: The Sierra Club and a group of climbers including a co-founder of Patagonia Inc. have succeeded in getting a temporary injunction to halt the development of the site, the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE reported Saturday.

A previous article in the CHRONICLE talks about the significance of Camp Four to climbers. Both are worth a look.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi …



Exclusive and Disturbing Photos from Kosovo

November 2

Usually, “Must Reads” is devoted to articles we think you should check out. Today we are doing something a little different. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has posted a series of photographs of war-torn Kosovo on their Web site. Not suprisingly, the photos are extremely disturbing. Arranged in galleries with names like “Massacre in Forest Part I,” many of them are so graphic that you’re probably not going see any of them in newspapers or magazines (though HRW is offering the photos for that use).

We don’t know whether the HRW photos are representative of the situation in Kosovo, but on their own, they make a powerful statement.




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