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Democrats’ Last Stand?
Hunting on the Wane?
China’s New Take on AIDS

Democrats’ Last Stand?

Louisiana’s run-off election between Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican challenger Suzanne Terrell promises to show whether Democrats have learned from last month’s election-day debacle.

The challenge facing Democrats is clear. As Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press: “How do they run against a popular wartime president without alienating their most loyal voters?” Granted, there is one major distinction in the Louisiana race: No Republican has won a Senate contest in the Bayou state since Reconstruction.

With some unintended insight, George Bush Sr. may have best explained the importance of the state’s run-off to his son’s administration: “It’s not so much about the Democrats or Republicans, it’s about support of the president.”

Indeed, President Bush will face drastically fewer roadblocks in pursuing his conservative agenda if Terrel can oust Landrieu, something Kenneth R. Bazinet and Thomas M. DeFrank of the New York Daily News aren’t about to miss:

“The political stakes go well beyond bragging rights. Congressional sources say that if the Republicans win, giving them a 52-to-48 Senate majority, Democrats could lose two seats on every committee instead of the one-seat reduction now envisioned.”

Landrieu is a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who has consistently supported Bush. That played well with swing voters during the general election. But, as Stuart Rothenberg notes in Roll Call, Landrieu must now find a way to “mobilize strongly partisan Democrats” before the Dec. 6 run-off vote.

“Terrell hopes to make it impossible for Landrieu to win both partisan Democrats and admirers of the president. The challenger has tried to paint her opponent as a liberal, and Terrell’s comment that – unlike the Senator, who has a mixed position on abortion – she ‘does not drop her beliefs at the church door,’ is clearly meant to appeal to swing Catholics.”

Ragan Naresh and Mary Clare Jalonick write in the Washington Post that Landrieu has begun to combat Terrell’s tactics by staking a claim to the political center.

“In her brunch speech, Landrieu defended her middle-ground positioning and outreach to conservative voters who tend to decide the Southern state’s elections.

‘We’re proud to be Democrats, but I can’t hang up on people because they’re Republicans,’ she told the crowd. ‘When the phone rings and it’s a Republican woman whose kid has diabetes, I can’t hang up on her.'”

At the same time, Naresh and Jalonick report, Landrieu sought to portray the GOP as “dismissive of the black constituency,”

A poll released Monday only confirms the importance of the swing voters that Landrieu is doing her best to court. The incumbent and her Republican challenger are essentially tied, 43 percent to 44 percent, with blacks and independent votes constituting most of the undecided.

Hunting on the Wane?

Americans seem to be giving up the duck blind and the deer rifle. Which is a major problem for the National Rifle Association.

Evan Osnos reports in the Chicago Tribune that a new government study reveals a “distinct decline” in the numbers of hunters in the US. And, more importantly, analysts suggest that younger hunters are failing to flock to the sport with the same enthusiasm common among previous generations. Some critics observe that “killing animals for sport simply has failed to attract significant interest beyond its core of aging white males in a country that is more diverse every day,” writes Osnos.

All of which spells serious trouble for the NRA. As Robert Spitzer, an expert on gun politics at SUNY Cortland, remarks:

“Hunters have traditionally been the mainstay of the pro-gun movement…But if this decline continues, and there isn’t much reason to believe it won’t, over the next couple of decades there is going to be a major shift in the base and nature of gun practices in America.”

Already, this shift is “reshaping political debate in traditionally gun-friendly states, draining the coffers of wildlife agencies that depend on license fees,” and leading to increased battles between hunters and suburbanites, Osnos notes. If hunting recedes into the realm of marginality, the NRA will be compelled to both redefine its image and make-up for the loss of an important support-base. The gun industry’s response so far has been an amped up drive to recruit younger, more diverse hunters, with efforts including hunting-themed toys and video games, outdoor workshops, and annual youth conventions.

Outdoors columnist James A. Swan laments the sorry state of hunting in America in The National Review, complaining of the myriad modern challenges which increasingly make the joys of killing animals more elusive: “complex fish and game regulations,” shrinking wildlands, difficult access to recreational land, and, “[o]n top of that, opposition from animal-rights groups who consider hunting, fishing, and trapping cruel and inhumane is becoming quite an obstacle.”

China’s New Take on AIDS

China may finally be willing to pull AIDS from the policy closet, reversing decades of official denial. Only months after Beijing officials scoffed at UN predictions that the country could see 10 million infected in the not-so-distant future, the Chinese government has apparently decided that the threat is indeed dire, the Associated Press reports.

The UN report has been given ample attention by China’s news media, and government ministries are openly devoting time to researching the problem and preventative measures.

“All week, newspapers have carried articles highlighting AIDS’s spread, profiling children and others with the disease, encouraging sympathy and condemning discrimination. Dozens of articles have chronicled the travails of a woman from southern China who became the first person known to have HIV to be allowed to marry.

Elsewhere, rallies and exhibitions have been organized to raise awareness. Well-known singers and actors have signed up as spokesmen.”

Among other things, the Chinese government has moved to end a long-standing ban on advertisements for condoms, reports the BBC. The ban, in place since 1989, is included among government regulations forbidding promotions “of all products relating to sexual activity.”

Kerry the Conqueror?
Iron Fists and Oil
Shaming the Fleet

Kerry the Conqueror?

Is principled Democratic leadership finally rolling into Washington? Fans of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry certainly think so.

Adding to an already crowded pool of candidates, Kerry began raising money this week to fund an expected bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Simultaneously, Kerry unleashed some of the most blunt and pointed criticism of the Bush administration heard from any high-ranking Democrat in months.

“Literally on almost every issue facing the country, I believe there is a better choice for this nation,” Kerry declared on Meet the Press, specifically condemning Bush’s handling of Iraq and the War on Terror, and suggesting an alternative to his $1.3 trillion tax cut in the form of a one-time “tax holiday” aimed at the lower and middle classes, David Brown writes for the Washington Post.

The field is already crowded with Democratic hopefuls — led by 2000 runningmates Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman. But Kerry’s outspoken frustration with the Bush administration, and the specifics of his intended policy reforms, are already winning him accolades in the press. Eagerly anticipating a Kerry candidacy, the South Coast Standard Times editorial staff lauds the Massachusetts lawmaker as a “muscular multilateralist,” a principled white knight of his party:

“Sen. Kerry is voicing ideas about domestic and foreign policy that need to be articulated much more loudly. These ideas are a sharp and welcome contrast to the philosophy and actions of the Bush administration.

[H]e has strongly, and we believe justly, criticized President Bush for damaging our nation’s position in the world and the security of our people by engaging in pompous, bellicose rhetoric.

[If] he continues to speak out clearly and intelligently about domestic and foreign policy issues, Sen. Kerry will provide a great service to our country at a time when there is far too little discussion of how we as a nation should proceed in these difficult times.”

Kerry’s home-state Berkshire Eagle, frustrated by his “fence-ride” on Iraq, offers a much more circumspect endorsement, fearing that Democrats will only sink further into a middle-of-the-road muddle were he to become a real contender.

“After speaking out against the White House’s politically motivated rush to pick a fight with Saddam Hussein he voted to give the president carte blanche in attacking Iraq….

If Mr. Kerry does the opposite of what the Democrats did this fall he may have a chance at winning the presidency. That means upholding Democratic principles, appealing to traditional Democratic constituencies, offering clear alternatives to Republican orthodoxy, challenging the flag-waving White House to defend its foreign policy adventures and countering GOP misinformation campaigns with facts. Let’s have the debate we didn’t get this year.”

Well, don’t expect Kerry to deliver on such expectations, Mickey Kaus declares on Slate. Far from being a visionary, according to Kaus, Kerry resembles an “animatronic Lincoln,” with a “perpetually furrowed and perpetually phony” brow, whose recent show of guts is more an articulation of his “long record of opportunism” than of true principle:

“Kerry would never ever take a principled or unpopular stand if losing the argument might actually threaten to derail his precious political career. (He apparently made some anti-affirmative-action noises in 1992 and quickly backed down when the obvious groups complained.)”

Given the ideological distance that Kerry has already carved out between himself and his potential competitors — Republicans and Democrats alike — the editorial staff of The Boston Globe is getting firmly behind its local boy, however, hailing him as “a meaty alternative to the intellectual laziness of the current administration.”

“Kerry has already staked out important policy differences with Bush as well as other Democrats. He would halt the inequitable Bush tax cuts and replace them with a cut in the payroll tax that would be far more progressive and a better stimulant to the economy. He would launch the environmental equivalent of the space race, with massive investments in new energy technologies to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.”

Iron Fists and Oil

Even as Washington’s authoritarian, oil-rich allies go, Kazakhstan seems increasingly in a class of its own.

Over the last year, strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev has tightened his grip on power. The media and human rights groups have faced increasingly harsh crackdowns, and Nazarbayev’s political opponents are beginning to die with suspicious regularity. Even Western oil companies — historically accepting of heavy-handed governments, provided the crude keeps flowing — seem spooked, as ChevronTexaco’s withdrawal from a joint operation in one of Kazakhstan’s massive oil fields demonstrates. As Mark Berniker writes in The Asia Times, Nazarbayev’s increasingly iron-fisted rule, should also give the Bush administration pause, regardless of Kazakhstan’s geopolitical importance:

“The US knew that it was taking a risk when it decided to engage Kazakhstan, but decided its strategic importance not only in military operations in Afghanistan, but in the future global petroleum landscape, made it a risk worth taking. Those decisions may prove to be a catastrophic policy misstep by the Bush administration … And while the Bush administration is engaged, and apparently not outraged with Nazarbayev, it is essentially propping up a morally bankrupt and dangerously repressive regime at an important geopolitical crossroads.”

Meanwhile, in a move to diversify its oil-dependent economy, Kazakhstan has announced its decision to become the world’s first commercial importer of nuclear waste, Paul Brown reports in The Guardian. According to the Kazakh government, the country is so badly scarred by Soviet nuclear testing that the extra waste would hardly make a difference.

“‘If our depositories took 99% of domestic barrels and 1% from outside, the extra radioactivity would hardly register but the profit would be enormous. The question is, shall we do it or not? The answer is, we should.'”

Shaming the Fleet

The environmental toll on Spain’s Galician coastline is rising. Thousands of marine animals have died, a vital fishing industry has been devastated, and dozens of beaches have been contaminated by some of the 17,000 tones of heavy fuel oil which leaked from the crippled tanker Prestige before it sank into the Atlantic depths. Now, it seems the disaster may goad the European Commission into acting to prevent a repeat performance.

According to the BBC, the Commission is issuing a blacklist of 66 ships marked as too dangerous for European waters. It will also to ban all single-hulled oil tankers from transporting fuel throughout any European waterway. France — which was hit with a smaller spill in 1999 — and Spain have been particularly incensed by the recent accident and, together, have “agreed to check all ageing single-hulled vessels in their waters and force them out if necessary.” Those two countries went ahead with the plan without waiting on an endorsement from the EU, following similar measures taken by Portugal and Italy.

The country at the top of the commission’s shame list? Turkey. Of the 66 ships deemed too dangerous, 26 are registered in Turkey.

Others in Europe are taking more pirate-like measures to halt the passage of unfit vessels. A press-release from Greenpeace reports that 20-odd Greenpeace activists followed the Byzantio, a “rust bucket oil tanker” departing from Estonia under the cover of the cold night, and attempted to block the ship’s progress. The Byzantio is among the ships cited by the EC as hazardous, and is owned by the same Russian company which commissioned the Prestige, the group reports.

“‘It is inconceivable that with the scars of the Prestige still raw in people’s memory, the Byzantio is being allowed to navigate these waters,’ exclaimed Greenpeace’s Pernilla Svenberg. ‘This is like laughing in the face of danger. European governments must make tougher legislation for all transport vessels through European waters.'”

Water as a Right
Ivorian Chaos
HIV’s New Front Lines

Water as a Right

Hoping over the next 12 years to halve the more than one billion people who lack access to clean drinking water, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights last week designated water a human right, which all 145 member nations ‘have a constant and continuing duty’ to protect, Environmental News Service reports. In a General Comment, which serves as an official interpretation of its guiding Covenant, the Committee writes:

“Water is [a limited natural resource and a public commodity] fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights… [and includes] the right to maintain access to existing water supplies [and] the right to be free from arbitrary disconnections or contamination of water supplies.”

While the Committee carefully phrased its Comment so as “not to politicize the issue,” its edict carried the important implication — one siding with those who oppose water’s privatization — that governments are responsible for keeping water accessible and free of contaminants, Inter Press Service News Agency reports.

Still, with multinational corporations expected to control nearly a fifth of the world’s drinking water by 2015, water privatization has already ushered in a host of administrative problems, accompanied by widespread epidemics and water shut-offs that promise only to grow worse unless corrective measures are taken, Jon Luoma writes in Mother Jones:

“Around the world, cities with private water-management companies have been plagued by lapses in service, soaring costs, and corruption. In Manila — where the water system is controlled by Suez, San Francisco-based Bechtel, and the prominent Ayala family — water is only reliably available for two hours a day and rates have increased so dramatically that the poorest families must choose each month between either paying for water or two days’ worth of food.”

Now, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy is protesting the contracting out of Ontario’s water utilities, arguing that water has been an issue of public trust since “the codification of law in the Roman Empire by Emperor Justinian, in the mid-sixth century,” Oliver Moore reports in The Globe and Mail. In a new report, condemning the plan, the CIELP further claims that both the Canadian Constitution and the 1998 Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights ‘put into doubt the lawful authority’ of the province to privatize its citizens’ water works and services, which remain governed by public trust.

Ivorian Chaos

All but ignored by the US mainstream media, the civil bloodletting in the Ivory Coast continues, reaching bizarre and terrible proportions. As reports, the situation has become increasingly chaotic and confused, with the conflict leaking across borders, involving neighbors and distant African countries, “and threatening a nervous and volatile region, prone to crises and war.”

Among the many confusing factors of the war, report James Lamont and Michael Peel in the Financial Times, is the presence of South African mercenary soldiers on both sides of the conflict, triggering an investigation which may pressure the South African government into cracking down on mercenary activities. Lamont and Peel note that the

“investigation reflects wider fears that South African “military advisers” controlled by offshore companies might assist rebel groups and prolong civil wars.

Many mercenaries are well-trained former soldiers who saw active service in elite combat units under South Africa’s apartheid regime or Rhodesia’s former minority white government. In the 1990s South African mercenary soldiers played a strong part in helping the Angolan army re-organise in the face of advances by rebel Unita guerrilla forces. They have also been involved in operations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Madagascar.”

French forces, previously posted in certain areas only to protect foreign citizens, have also been drawn into the battle against insurgents. Gato Guillaume Prosper, a rebel commander, warned the BBC that if the French “continue to attack our positions, they will raise the spectre of Rwanda here. They have no right to attack us and we will react.”

HIV’s New Front Lines

Contrary to popular wisdom, America’s AIDS epidemic isn’t running out of steam. It’s merely shifted course.

New research suggests that the American South has become the disease’s new epicenter, with HIV infection rates soaring in states like North Carolina and Florida, Kathryn Wexler reports in The St. Petersburg Times. African-Americans have been hit the hardest, Wexler writes, and most southern states, with underfunded HIV-prevention and treatment programs, are ill-equipped to handle the steep rise in infections.

“‘Portions of the South where the epidemic is so grave are beginning to mirror the Third World,’ said A. Gene Copello, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and executive director of Florida AIDS Action, which hosted the conference. ‘Without more funding, an entire generation may be wiped out.'”

Meanwhile, in a grim footnote to South Africa’s AIDS crisis, Johannesburg is running out of space to bury its dead, Emma Young reports in New Scientist. As a result, city planners might convert tapped-out gold mines into catacombs. The city’s chief of cemeteries, for one, thinks the scheme might work: “If it is designed and developed properly, I think people might not mind burying their relatives in these disused mineshafts …”


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