Global Notebook 6-30-05


Guard unit formed to track domestic groups. 

SACRAMENTOCalifornia‘s National Guard has quietly set up a special intelligence unit with “broad authority” to monitor, analyze and distribute information on potential terrorist threats, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Although Guard officials claim the unit won’t focus on U.S. citizens, it already has been involved in tracking at least one recent anti-war rally organized by families of slain soldiers, according to e-mails obtained by the newspaper. 

The unit, known as the Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program, is similar to a program pursued in the 1960s and Œ70s, when military personnel collected information on more than 100,000 people, infiltrated church groups, posed as reporters and monitored protests.  

Guard officers claimed they have no intention of breaking long-established rules barring the military from gathering information on U.S. citizens. “The National Guard does not operate in that way,” said Lt. Col. Stan Zezotarski. “We have always had a policy where we respect the rights of citizens.” 

The unit was established last year by Maj. Gen. Thomas Eres, who was forced to retire in June due to allegations that he set up a questionable military flight for a Republican friend’s group and improperly used money meant to stem the flow of drugs for anti-terrorism programs. Before leaving, however, he appointed Col. Robert J. O’Neill director of the unit. According to the job description obtained by the Mercury News, he is expected to “exercise a high degree of independent judgment and discretion.”  

In May, three days before a small Mother’s Day rally held near the California Capitol building, an aide in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s press office alerted the Guard, according to e-mails. The information was passed to Eres and other officials. In response, Col. Jeff Davis, who oversees O’Neill’s operation, indicated that Guard intelligence officers were tracking the event. 

“It’s nothing subversive,” Zezotarski said. “Because who knows who could infiltrate that type of group and try to stir something up? After all, we live in the age of terrorism, so who knows?’ 

The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prevents the U.S. military from taking part in domestic law enforcement. Nevertheless, the push to create intelligence “fusion centers” is gaining momentum. Massachusetts is setting one up, but it is housed in the state police headquarters. 

In Colorado, the Pentagon has created a Northern Command to help protect the nation from terrorist attacks. Its leader, Gen. Ralph Eberhart, alarmed civil libertarians last year when he told a National Guard group that “we can’t let culture and the way we’ve always done it stand in the way” of gathering intelligence. 


Arizona TV goes Native American 

PHOENIXArizona‘s only independent television station has started to make eight minutes of Native American news part of its programming at least once a month, reports The Gallup Independent. KAZ-TV airs the segments on the second Wednesday of each month during the morning Pat McMahon Show.  

McMahon is joined by White Wolf, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe and the Maori from New Zealand, to discuss issues like Native American Recognition Days and the beauty of Indian culture in Arizona. The station also plans to produce two-minute Arizona Native News segments, airing them on a daily or weekly basis during prime time. 

White Wolf says that she proposed the show because nothing was being done on television about Arizona‘s tribes. Since most of KAZ-TV’s listeners are in the 24- to 54-year-old category, she saw this as a good way to reach mainstream listeners. “It’s also a way to break the stereotypes," she added. 

Canyon Records lets the station use music from a different tribe for each show. A Navajo comedy team, James and Ernie, performed during the June 15 installment. White Wolf also plans to include coverage of timely events such as the Navajo Nation Fair. She is best known as a record executive and for her work screening Native American music for the Grammys.  

The show’s producer is Debra Krol, deputy director for the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Xolon Salinan Tribe of Central California. If Native American News goes well, she said, it can eventually air twice a week. In a news release, McMahon was enthusiastic about the segment. "They were here before all of us, yet we know so little about real Native American life. I’m thrilled to be able to do something about it," he said. 


Mentioning Wal-Mart banned 

OLYMPIA, WA – Over the past five months, residents of Yelm, a small town about 15 miles southeast of Olympia, have been allowed to say less and less at city council meetings about Wal-Mart’s plan for an outlet in their community. But Mayor Adam Rivas recently took the ultimate step, prohibiting people who address the council from mentioning the retail giant, according to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Even referring to Wal-Mart in code has been banned. 

"Initially, we couldn’t use the term ‘Wal-Mart,’ so the code word became ‘big-box stores,’ " said Gregory May, who heads a Wal-Mart opposition group in Yelm. "They then just announced they would no longer accept any comments about Wal-Mart or big-box stores." 

Residents call it censorship, but city attorney Brent Dille claims the city is merely trying to protect itself in the event of a legal battle. Council members were fed up with requests for a moratorium on large stores, Dille admitted, but also wanted to avoid looking biased if an appeal of Wal-Mart’s application comes before the council. 

"It’s the council’s meeting,” Dille added. “They can decide what they want to hear and what they’re tired of hearing. You can understand if you’re barraged for two months at meetings – the same people saying the same thing." 

This isn’t the first attempt to silence locals. In April, the council unanimously approved a motion banning the word "moratorium." That came in response to requests for a moratorium on big box stores until the city could review zoning regulations. Earlier, when a group considered building a NASCAR track in Yelm, the council also prohibited public comment. An application was never submitted.  

"They just stop you short in your tracks," said Kellie Petersen, one of several people who have spoken up despite the restrictions. 


Supreme Court ruling triggers waterfront grab 

FREEPORT, TX – Before adjourning last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision on property rights, saying cities may seize and demolish private homes – even in non-blighted areas ‹ to make way for shopping malls and other private development. Armed with that ruling, officials in Freeport instructed attorneys to begin preparing legal documents to seize three pieces of waterfront property along the Old Brazos River from two seafood companies for construction of an $8 million private boat marina, The Houston Chronicle reported. 

Since 2003, Freeport has been locked in a battle to acquire tracts of riverfront land through eminent domain from Western Seafood Co. and Trico Seafood Co. The goal is to use the property for a planned 800- to 900-slip marina to be built by Freeport Marina, a group that includes Dallas developer Hiram Walker Royall. He would purchase the property from the city and, in return, receive a $6 million city loan to develop the project.  

Western Seafood spokesman Wright Gore III said the wholesale shrimp company was disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling, but believes it doesn’t apply to the city’s eminent domain proceedings. A provision in state law allows city residents to circulate a petition for a vote on whether a property can be taken through eminent domain, he said. 

Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice John Paul Stevens called economic development “a traditional and long accepted function of government." But Justice Sandra Day O’Connor issued a scathing dissent. "Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory," she wrote. 

O’Connor was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. 

Land use experts predict the ruling will encourage more cities to clear land for large commercial projects.  


Feds turn back local push on terminal sites 

WASHINGTON – Concerned that liquefied natural gas terminals could be targets for terrorist attacks or pose other safety risks, city officials across the country have been asking for a role in deciding where they are located. But the Bush administration disagrees, arguing that a lengthy approval process could delay facilities crucial to the nation’s economy, and a majority of U.S. senators have endorsed that position as part of a new national energy policy, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

The Senate bill, like energy legislation already approved by the U.S. House, gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the final word on where terminals are built. This reportedly ensures that the provision will be part of the final bill. The Senate voted 52-45 against adding language that would have given governors the authority to veto or impose conditions.  

The debate created an unusual alliance, bringing together conservatives and liberals representing states where terminals have been proposed. Five terminals are operating on the East Coast and Gulf Coast. Dozens of new facilities have been proposed.  

The terminals, which receive natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid so it can be transported in large tankers, are projected to play a key role in meeting the nation’s energy needs. Liquid natural gas currently accounts for about 3 percent of the nation’s natural gas use, but this is projected to rise to more than 20 percent by 2025.  

The legislation grew out of a dispute over a proposed facility in Long Beach, CA. Federal regulators claimed sole jurisdiction over whether the terminal would be built, but California‘s Public Utilities Commission challenged that in court. 

Long Beach opponents of the proposed terminal unsuccessfully lobbied the city to cut off talks with developer Mitsubishi, fearing that congressional action could block any local efforts to cancel the project. However, officials at the city-owned port claim Mitsubishi will need a lease, giving them the final say on whether the project is built. 



Tribunal charges U.S., Britain with war crimes 

ISTANBUL– After listening to testimony from 54 witnesses, the World Tribunal on Iraq issued a declaration last week that charged the United States and Great Britain with “planning, preparing, and waging the supreme crime of a war of aggression in contravention of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles.” 

A panel with representatives from 10 countries concluded that the invasion of Iraq included the intentional targeting of civilians, hospitals, neighborhoods and the country’s infrastructure, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.  

The declaration cites the use of “disproportionate force and indiscriminate weapon systems, such as cluster munitions, incendiary bombs, depleted uranium (DU), and chemical weapons,” noting testimony by expert witnesses that “leukemia had risen sharply in children under the age of 5 residing in those areas which had been targeted by DU weapons.” It also says the U.S.-led coalition failed to safeguard the lives of civilians, used deadly violence against peaceful protestors, and punished people without issuing charges or providing trials. 

Other charges include: 


subjecting Iraqi soldiers and civilians to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment


rewriting the laws of a country that was illegally invaded and occupied


willful devastation of the environment, including contamination b


y depleted uranium weapons and disruption of water and waste removal systems


creating conditions under which the status of Iraqi women has seriously been degraded


failing to protect humanity’s rich archaeological and cultural heritage in Iraq by allowing the looting of museums and historical sites


obstructing the right to information, including censoring of media, targeting international journalists, and imprisoning and killing academics, intellectuals and scientists


the use of torture and illegal detentions, including holding more than 500 people at Guantánamo Bay without charges and using “extraordinary renditions” to send people to torture in other countries.


A section that includes 10 recommendations begins by “recognizing the right of the Iraqi people to resist the illegal occupation,” calling this “a struggle for self-determination, freedom and independence as derived from the Charter of the United Nations.” The panel then calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of coalition forces, along with war reparations and compensation.  

It argues that the laws, contracts, treaties and institutions established during the occupation should be considered null and void, that the Guantánamo Bay prison and all other offshore U.S. military prisons should be closed immediately, and that “an exhaustive investigation” of those responsible should be pursued, beginning with U.S. Pres. George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

Calling for accountability, the declaration also points at “journalists who deliberately lied, corporate media outlets that promoted racial, ethnic and religious hatred, and CEOs of multinational corporations that profited from this war.” 

Specifically, it recommends direct action, consumer boycotts and divestment campaigns against Halliburton, Bechtel, Carlyle, CACI Inc., Titan Corporation, Kellogg, Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton), DynCorp, Boeing, ExxonMobil, Texaco, and British Petroleum, as well as companies that have sued Iraq and received “reparation awards.” The latter list includes Toys R Us, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Shell, Nestlé, Pepsi, Phillip Morris, Sheraton and Mobil. 

The jury included novelist Arundhati Roy (India), mineworker and columnist Ahmet Öztürk (Turkey), physics professor Ay e Erzan (Turkey), human rights activist Chandra Muzaffar (Malaysia), Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Pres. David Krieger (United States), playwright Eve Ensler (United States), Tricontinental Center Director François Houtart (Belgium) , peasant leader Isaias Vedovatto (Brazil), priest Jae-Bok Kim (South Korea), gay rights activist Mehmet Tarhan (Turkey), attorney Miguel Angel De Los Santos Cruz (Mexico), political scientist Murat Belge (Turkey), feminist writer Rela Mazali (Israel), journalist Salaam Al Jobourie (Iraq), Madres De La Plaza De Mayo representative Taty Almeida (Argentina), and legal advocate Thabani Masuku (South Africa). 

Similar tribunals have been held in South Korea, Paris, Brussels, New York, and elsewhere over the past three years. 

Before the proceedings began, political scientist Richard Falk explained the difference between the tribunal and a normal court, calling it “an organ of civil society, not of the state” whose purpose is to “confirm the truth, not to discover it.” 


Draft unpopular despite recruitment gap 

WASHINGTON – As the Bush administration struggles to recruit military volunteers, 70 percent of people contacted for a recent poll expressed opposition to reinstatement of the draft. More than half said they would discourage a son from enlisting, and two-thirds would discourage a daughter, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found. 

The Army has repeatedly missed its monthly recruiting goals this year, falling short by 42 percent in April. All four branches of the military are having difficulty with recruitment for their reserve forces. The shortfalls have led to speculation that the government might be forced to reinstitute the draft, although Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ruled it out.  

In the poll, men, Republicans and those over 50 years old were more likely to favor a draft than women, Democrats, and young adults. Still, even a majority of the former groups opposed it. 

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY, has introduced bills to bring back the draft, saying that military recruiters disproportionately pursue young people in poor neighborhoods. Thus far, the legislation has gone nowhere. If a draft were reinstated, 54 percent in the poll said they would oppose women being drafted. 

"People simply don’t want their kids to be sent off to Iraq to be shot at in a situation in which the value of the war is becoming more and more questionable," said John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University and author of War, Presidents and Public Opinion. 

National right to ban GM crops upheld 

BRUSSELS – Efforts by the European Union¹s executive commission to have more genetically modified (GM) crops grown in Europe suffered a setback last week when EU environmental ministers agreed to uphold eight national bans on GM corn and rapeseed types. The commission wanted the ministers to endorse an order to lift the bans within 20 days. 

A large majority including 22 member states rejected the proposal, Reuters reported. “We were able to give a clear message to the European Commission,” Luxembourg Environment Minister Lucien Lux told a news conference. EU law provides for national GM bans if the government can justify the prohibition. 

The United States, Canada and Argentina are suing the European Union at the World Trade Organization, alleging that EU biotech policy harms trade and isn’t backed up by science. The WTO is expected to issue an initial ruling in October. 

The EU’s unofficial moratorium on approving new GM foods and crops began in 1998, but was lifted last year. In 1997, Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg banned specific GM crops on their territory, focusing on three corn and two rapeseed types. 

The EU executive commission has several options, including returning to the ministers with the same proposals or changing them radically. “Further delays would weaken our position at the WTO,” EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas admitted. In theory, the commission also could opt to overturn the bans, citing a lack of legal justification. But this is unlikely since it fears a backlash from member countries and the public. 

Green groups were ecstatic. “The European Commission asked for more guidance from the member states and they got it,” said Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. But Europe‘s biotech industry was incensed. Simon Barber, speaking for the European biotech industry association EuropaBio, called the vote “another failure of member states to play by the rules that they themselves established.”  

Britain‘s Elliott Morley warned fellow environment ministers in Brussels that they were going against scientific advice and faced the threat of a trade war with the United States over the issue if the ban remained in place, the UK Guardian reported.

The objections to GM crops are based on fears that genetically manipulated genes could escape into the environment and that non-target insects could be destroyed by crops with inbuilt insecticide. 


Dwindling frog population threatens medical progress 

QUITO, Ecuador – A chemical once used on arrowheads to paralyze and kill Spanish colonizers in Ecuador has been isolated to produce a painkiller 200 times more powerful than morphine without that drug’s addictive and toxic side effects. But pharmaceutical companies will have to work fast, since the famous “poison frogs” from which the chemical epibatidine can be extracted are rapidly disappearing.  

Frogs are a traditional source of medicine and food for many of Ecuador‘s Indians. Many varieties produce chemicals with powerful properties. But both frogs and toads are becoming extinct all over the world, according to Luis Coloma, a herpetologist (one who studies reptiles and amphibians) in Ecuador, the country with the third greatest diversity of amphibians. “It’s the same magnitude event as the extinction of the dinosaurs," he said.  

At least 40 percent the 3,046 amphibian types in the Americas, home to 53 percent of known species, are endangered, according to a recent report, "Disappearing Jewels," issued by NatureServe. 

Nine amphibians, including eight frogs and a salamander, have become extinct in the Americas in the past 100 years, including five since 1980, according to the report. Scientists have also been unable to find representatives of another 117 species, which are also possibly extinct.  

Toads and frogs are dying out due to the expansion of agriculture, forestry, pollution, disease and climate change, NatureServe said. "Disappearing amphibians break links in the food chain, with often unpredictable effects on other organisms," its report added. Scientists fear they could be indicator species, the first to disappear and a sign of possible future damage to other parts of the ecosystem. 

The group is urging governments to strengthen controls at existing nature reserves, breed endangered species in captivity, educate the public, and conduct research on the recently discovered chytrid fungal disease, which is killing frogs. 

The jungles and mountains of Ecuador are home to 417 species of frogs and toads. More than a third of them are considered vulnerable or in critical danger of extinction. In the Americas, only Colombia and Mexico have more endangered amphibians. 


Argentina rejects IMF deal 

BUENOS AIRESArgentina has rejected new requirements that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wants to impose before it will agree to renew a suspended loan agreement, reports Prensa Latina. Cabinet chief Alberto Fernández said that it is impossible for Argentina to increase its gross domestic product savings to 4.5 percent, as the IMF has demanded. 

"It is not reasonable to increase our fiscal surplus to pay more debt," claimed Fernandez in his response to an IMF evaluation of the Argentinean economy. The close aide to President Néstor Kirchner argued that the country needs a more mature relationship with financial institutions, especially the IMF, so that Argentina can develop without postponing action on pressing domestic needs.