2004, Stupid

Starr's Strikes Forever

Ken Starr just won't quit. The weekly Nashville Scene is reporting that his office is questioning three Arkansas businessmen who played golf several summers ago with then White House aide David Watkins. Watkins supposedly told them that Hillary— contrary to what she said under oath— ordered the White House travel office firings. According to the report, one man's wife recalls Watkins saying that Hillary told him to "fire their asses."

Meanwhile, L.D. Brown, the indefatigable former Arkansas state trooper who was a bodyguard for both Clintons while Bill was governor in the early '80s, and who raised eyebrows recently with claims in a self-published book that Hillary kissed him in the front seat of a limo, now is offering his services as a guide to Rudy Giuliani if the sharp-tongued mayor travels to Little Rock.

Finally, some Democratic insiders reportedly are already talking about passing on this presidential election, predicting an inevitable Gore loss and a Hillary win. Amid reports that Hillary is getting ready to leave the White House a year early to move to New York, they are eyeing the next presidential election. The scenario goes like this: stock market blows up on Dubya, who gets creamed like pop in 2004 by HRC, who becomes the first female president— and everyone wants to get in on that act.


House of Ill Repute
Dingell Boosts Christer Brigade

Some of the scorn dumped on puppet Speaker Dennis Hastert for going AWOL again during last week's big House gunfight, as well as on Bob "Take 10 Tablets and Call Me in the Morning" Barr and the would-be exterminator of the teaching of evolution, Tom DeLay, should be heaped on Democratic minority leaders, most prominently the Neanderthal John Dingell.

Everyone knows that former pesticide salesman and GOP whip DeLay is Hastert's puppetmaster, but few Democrats care to acknowledge the lingering stench in their own leadership cloakroom, which for years was stuffed with egomaniacal old farts, most of them thankfully gone. Still remaining, however, is Dingell, "the congressman from GM," who last week sold out on gun control.

Dingell, who took office in 1955, initially won a reputation as hard-driving independent chair of the government operations subcommittee under Democratic rule. But over the years he has become increasingly reactionary, having tied up reform of the air-pollution laws for more than a decade while carrying the torch for the NRA. Dingell's wife, GM heir Debbie Fisher Dingell, bluntly calls the group "a bunch of nuts." Dingell's explanation for the crippling amendment he slipped in on Friday was that he didn't want "to harass legitimate businesses" and "prevent law-abiding citizens from the enjoyment of going to gun shows."

It goes without saying that the slippery Clinton, whose aides have been slithering around town searching for a gun law that doesn't offend the sensibilities of Second Amendment geeks, has little credibility on the issue. But you'd think he'd at least have stopped the government from selling high-powered military surplus to the civilian market, with the result that any kid can buy armor-piercing ammo that can blast through bulletproof windows and penetrate armored limousines.

Under a program to help the military get rid of surplus or obsolete ammo, the Pentagon last year sold l00,000 rounds of 50-caliber armor-piercing ammunition to the civilian market, according to a study commissioned by Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee. The shells, used in long-range sniper weapons, were sold at $1 a ton to a West Virginia company, which then sold thousands of rounds to the Colombian and Bolivian governments. In addition, it refurbished thousands more and sold them back to the U.S. military.

The GAO, which prepared the report, sent undercover investigators into the field who said they easily arranged to purchase thousands of armor-piercing shells from arms dealers with no questions asked, even when one investigator said he wanted the ammunition to target an armored limo and for "taking down" a helicopter.


Slobo Grinds On
Down But Not Out

Far from dropping dead as NATO overran Kosovo, Milosevic plans to retool himself as a sandlot Stalin. Predictions among democratic opposition leaders are that he will leave the formal power of a puppet presidency to a stooge while retaining economic control of Serbia, which he wouldn't mind seeing reduced to a citystate as long as he can retain his vast wealth.

To tighten the screws at home, however, he now needs to focus the machinery of the state against new threats to Serb nationalism. So the next Kosovo may be the region known as Sandzak, a stretch of territory that straddles Serbia and Montenegro. According to the 1991 census, which is the last reliable data, about 54 percent of Sandzak's 420,000 people are Muslim. One possible link between Sandzak and Kosovo is Sulejman Ugljanin, who heads the Party for Democratic Action. In the past, Milosevic has lashed out at Ugljanin, arguing that his advocacy of "special status for Sandzak" and "cultural autonomy" are thinly veiled calls for separatism.

In addition, the multi-ethnic and once autonomous northern province of Vojvodina may provide Milosevic with a pretext for aggression. Recent events suggest that here Milosevic may find Ugljanin's counterpart in Nenad Canak, leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina. Recently, Canak demanded that "a republic of Vojvodina [be formed] with its own police and finances," exclaiming, "I hope that our demands are not just a poke in the eye of the Serbian regime, but also a stab in the back, because the current regime in Serbia is the worst human sausage machine that Europe has seen in the second half of this century."

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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