Did NATO Fabricate Ethnic Cleansing?
BERLIN — A retired German general claims that 1999 reports purporting to show that Belgrade planned the systematic ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s entire Albanian population were faked. The plan, known as Operation Horseshoe, was originally revealed by Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister, two weeks after NATO started bombing. German public opinion about the Luftwaffe’s participation was divided at the time.
Horseshoe — or "Potkova," as the Germans said it was known in Belgrade — became a staple of NATO briefings, presented as proof that President Slobodan Milosevic had long planned the mass expulsion of Albanians. US State Department spokesman James Rubin was still citing it a year later as justification for NATO’s bombardment.
However, Heinz Loquai, a retired brigadier general, claims in a new book on the war that the plan was actually fabricated from run-of-the-mill Bulgarian intelligence reports. Loquai, who now works for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), accuses German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping of obscuring the origins of Operation Horseshoe.
"I have come to the conclusion that no such operation ever existed," he said in April. "The criticism of the war, which had grown into a fire that was almost out of control, was completely extinguished by Operation Horseshoe." According to Die Woche, a German news weekly, Horseshoe was based on a general analysis by a Bulgarian intelligence agency of Serbian behavior. Loquai claims the German defense ministry turned a vague report into a "plan," and even coined the name Horseshoe. Maps broadcast around the world as proof of NATO’s position were drawn up at the German defense headquarters in Hardthohe, charges Die Woche.
The Bulgarian report concluded that the goal of the Serbian military was to destroy the Kosovo Liberation Army, and not to expel the entire Albanian population. Loquai also points to a fundamental flaw in the German account: It named the operation Potkova, the Croatian word for horseshoe. The Serbian word for horseshoe is Potkovica.
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Farmers Say No to Frankenstein Corn
SANTOS CITY — As the Philippine government presses ahead with field trials of genetically modified corn, farmers mount a militant opposition. Some critics are even threatening to burn down fields of "BT-corn," and may enlist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in their fight. Meanwhile, scientists squabble over whether the crop is safe.
About 80 hectares have been sown with BT-corn, which contains a toxin that kills insect pests. Opponents worry that the plant may contaminate the environment, harm human consumers, and make small farmers dependent on high-priced seed. If the toxin won’t break down, it could enter the food chain and cause cancers.
The National Committee of Biosafety green lighted the tests last August, spurring a legal challenge. When the Supreme Court wouldn’t issue a restraining order, NGOs filed a motion for reconsideration. This March, more than 3000 farmers protested during a conference on food issues, only to be beaten by baton-wielding police. They’re now threatening to destroy the crops, with help from the NPA.
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Europe Goes for Car-Free Days
PARIS — Last September, more than 150 cities from Paris to Palermo defied the conventional wisdom and banned automobiles from town centers for a day. Now, France’s environment minister, Dominique Voynet, is urging all European cities to follow suit, making "downtown-without-my-car" day on September 22 an annual event.
The experiment began in France, Italy, and Switzerland. One survey indicates that the percent of residents using cars downtown dropped from 22 to five percent, while pollution levels fell by about 25 percent. An overwhelming 83 percent of people in the French cities involved want car-free days to continue. Traffic is the fastest growing source of pollution in Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more people now die annually due to air pollution than are killed in accidents. A new WHO report says long-term exposure from cars in Austria, France and Switzerland is triggering an extra 21,000 premature deaths a year from respiratory and heart disease.
Pollution from cars causes 162,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis in children, and 15,000 hospital admissions for heart disease.
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WASHINGTON, DC — The political firestorm over Elian Gonzales has also focused attention on the long-standing, costly, and ultimately ineffective US embargo against Cuba. Despite US efforts at overthrow, assassination, and economic strangulation, Fidel Castro remains a popular leader.
Hoping to insert US Cuba policy into the 2000 presidential campaign, the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) notes that mainstream public opinion overwhelmingly supports a change. A 1999 Gallup poll revealed that 71 percent in the US would vote to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. For a copy of the group’s organizing packet, call (202) 546-7010, or e-mail email@example.com.
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Supremes to Decide "Free Trade" Case
WASHINGTON, DC — The US Supreme Court will soon decide on the Massachusetts landmark "Burma law" case. Modeled after successful anti-apartheid disinvestment policies, the state statute established preferential government purchasing policies favoring corporations that don’t do business in Burma, an infamous human rights violator. But the state law has been challenged as a barrier to free trade under the World Trade Organization regime.
In many communities, legislation and standards give preference to products and services with the least impact on the environment. Other places promote anti-sweatshop labor resolutions to encourage businesses to pay living wages. Still others pursue policies that favor local businesses over national and multinational chains in order to keep money circulating in the local economy and fuel economic prosperity for the community as a whole.
"The ‘free traders’ are usurping the rights of our national and state governments," says Elaine Gross of Sustainable America. "Under WTO rules, our elected governments cannot decide what products and services are best for our communities."
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Social Costs of the Income Divide
WASHINGTON, DC — The wider the gap between a nation’s rich and poor, the worse the nation’s health, claims Psychologists for Social Responsibility, which calls for doubling the US minimum wage instead of just raising it incrementally. The group cites studies showing that mental health, lower life expectancy and social cohesion are all related to income distribution. Social cohesion is a strong predictor of crime rates, size of prison population, and tension in inter-group relations.
A prime example is Denmark, where the minimum wage is $14 an hour, and health care is free. Students in higher education are paid a living annual stipend, and the elderly receive quality care. Life expectancy is significantly greater than in the US, and infant mortality rates are much lower.
And Denmark isn’t alone. Japan and Sweden, with narrower gaps between rich and poor than the US, have low crime rates, longer life expectancy, quality health care, and better support for the disadvantaged, Both countries also show more social cohesion. Research indicates that a sudden increase in unemployment (like closing British coal mines, or moving a factory to Mexico) is usually followed by drastic social pathology.
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Web Worms Patrol China’s Highway
BEIJING — In Chinese chat rooms, Big Brother may not be watching. But "Web Worms" probably are. These are the Web site employees who lead volunteers patrolling chat rooms and bulletin boards, zapping risky commentary, foul language, and unwanted ads. It’s a form of self-censorship designed to keep the Web out of the hands of a government distrustful of free information flow.
"This shows how mature the Internet has grown in China," says Oliver Kwan, development director for popular the web site Netease.com. "It’s self-regulating."
The Communist Party constantly prowls for politically subversive or sexually explicit content. Service providers are ordered to put up firewalls against foreign news and pornography sites. CNN is blocked, along with the New York Times and some BBC content.
The ranks of Internet users in China more than quadrupled last year to 8.9 million, confronting security officials with a flood of information. In chat rooms and bulletin boards, where discourse is relatively freewheeling, the government mostly keeps its hands off. The "Web worms" are largely left to do the monitoring.
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EU and Mexico Sign Trade Pact
MEXICO CITY — The Mexican Senate has approved a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU). Although the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution voted against it, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) joined forces to pass the treaty in March.
When fully implemented in 2007, the agreement will give the EU almost unrestricted access to the world’s seventh-largest trading nation. But unlike NAFTA, this treaty includes promises that Mexico will strengthen democratic institutions. Moody’s Investors Service recently upgraded Mexico’s foreign debt to investment grade, a surprising move since presidential elections are slated for July 2. Usually, the economy slows down during turbulent election years.
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Star Wars Stymied by Laws of Physics
LONDON — US scientists have been working quietly on a sophisticated anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system ever since Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) — popularly known as "Star Wars" — in 1983. Now, Russia and China are upset by US proposals to go ahead with the system, breaching the 1972 ABM treaty. "Star Wars" backers want 20 interceptors in place within five years, and 100 by 2010.
Critics like movie star Michael Douglas, who was appointed UN Messenger of Peace in 1998, worry that the planet faces a fresh threat from the militarization of space (see TF, September 1999, "Pyramids to the Heavens"). But research to date on re-usable spacecraft, killer satellites, and such has produced mainly failures and wishful thinking. The biggest drawback is the Comptom Effect, discovered in 1923. When radioactive rays hit air molecules, an electron hurricane is released. In a nuclear blast, the effect is multiplied, causing electrical and radio interference over a wide area.
The US and Britain have been trying to overcome such effects through better circuit design and cable screening. But the US Defense Nuclear Agency calculates that a single nuclear blast in space could cripple defense systems over a 15,000 mile area. Transient radiation effects of electronics (TREE) could black out all military equipment on land and sea, in the air, and in space. As Britain’s Nature magazine put it recently, military research "does not suspend the laws of physics."
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War over Water?
THE HAGUE — Swelling world population, combined with growing affluence for many, is placing heavy demand on food production. And this requires more water, which is unevenly distributed across the planet. According to current predictions, the result could mean crippling shortages for a third of humanity within two generations.
"My fear is that we’re headed for a period of water wars between nations," says Klaus Toepfer, head of the UN Environment Program. "Can we afford that in a world of globalization and tribalization, were conflicts over natural resources and the number of environmental refugees are already growing?"
Flashpoints are reportedly the Middle East, where Israel shares the Jordan River with its Arab neighbors; North Africa, where Egypt and eight other nations share the Nile; and South Asia, where India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan draw water from 140 shared rivers. Africa’s Niger, Volta, and Zambezi river basins are also potential hotspots.
On the other hand, the need for shared water is leading to some cooperation. For example, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian authorities have programs that have weathered years of conflict. In the future, cheaper alternatives such as drip irrigation and food imports could boost water supply without leading to war. More than a billion people already lack safe drinking water, and half the world doesn’t have access to proper sanitation. Water-related illnesses kill up to four million people a year. By 2025, the world will need 20 percent more water to feed the extra three billion people expected on the planet.
"The world’s water resources are in serious trouble," concedes Bill Cosgrove of the World Water Council. There’s actually plenty of water, he says, but we need to manage it differently, "which means we have to change our behavior."