2004, Stupid

Starr's Strikes Forever

At a conference in Budapest last week, NATO top gun Wesley Clark declared Milosevic still a menace: "He's down, but he's not out. He has other targets— Montenegro, Vojvodina. . . . "

Meanwhile, even though NATO diplomats can scarcely disguise their contempt for Russia, a troop deal worked out at week's end could be a face-saver and PR for the literally teetering Yeltsin.

E. Coli
Australian for Meat:

Every year, about 500 people in the U.S. die from tainted meat and more than 20,000 become ill. Now comes news that the USDA is about to approve imports of Australian meat inspected under a recently approved system that could further pollute this nation's meat supply.

That's because the meat will not be inspected by the Australian or the U.S governments but by the companies that sell it under a gimmicky scheme called the Meat Safety Enhancement Program. Since this program was set up in 1997, salmonella poisonings in Australia have almost doubled. According to press accounts, meat contaminated with fecal matter as well as meat from sick, injured, or dying animals is regularly repackaged from and resold in Australia.

Why do the Australians get to dump their meat here? Under free-trade rules, the Aussie self-inspection program is deemed the equivalent of U.S. government inspection. And in fact the Australian system of self-regulation is considered to be a pilot program for a deregulated U.S. meat-inspection system, under which USDA inspectors are to be replaced by packing company employees.

Young Blood
Kids Work Worldwide

Despite attempts to put an end to child labor, children are an important and growing part of the work force. This despite last week's International Labor Organization (ILO) treaty aimed at abolishing the worst child-labor abuses. In the U.S., where family income has been steadily declining, child labor is a seldom discussed but important factor in keeping some underclass families together.

In an average week, according to a 1998 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 147,700 children and adolescents are estimated to be working illegally. They include 73,000 14- and 15-year-olds, and 33,700 children under 14. Although people generally think of children working in migrant labor camps, most of these kids don't work in agriculture but in urban settings. At some point during the year, according to this study, nearly 300,000 children are illegally at work. They make an average wage of $5 an hour. The ILO treaty, promoted by Clinton and other world leaders, aims to stop only the most outrageous aspects of child labor, such as children used in pornography and as prostitutes.

"Regardless of country, regardless of circumstances, these are not some archaic practices out of a Charles Dickens novel," Clinton said. "These are things that happen in too many places today."

Including in the U.S., he might have added. With growing pressures on families as a result of the administration's attack on the social-welfare system, child labor in this country is spreading. In New York recently, eight young producers in their teens, who are part of the Global Action Project, went into the streets to film interviews with young prostitutes who said they got involved in the sex trade because they were homeless.

While child labor secretly flourishes, the U.S. officially promotes the use of teenagers for the military, having fought the broad prohibition on the use of child soldiers in the ILO agreement.

Pana Mania

With the U.S. scheduled to give up control of the Panama Canal at the end of the year, right-wing presidential hopeful Gary Bauer sees a threat from Red China on the isthmus, and he's making it a campaign issue. Bauer is suspicious of the fact that ports at either end of the canal have been leased to a Hong Kong company, Hutchison-Whampoa Ltd. "This deal raises concerns because of that company's very close connections with the Chinese People's Liberation Army," Bauer said in a press release.

Additional reporting by Ginger Adams Otis and Ioana Veleanu

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