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[Weekly Review]

Weekly Review


Russian president Vladimir Putin gave a speech about the Chechen hostage debacle and declared that Russia will attack terrorists wherever they may be (“I stress, wherever they may be located”), suggesting that the Bush Doctrine, which disregards traditional principles of national sovereignty, has become the new international norm. Billboards went up in Moscow quoting Putin’s remark that “We could not save everyone. Forgive us.” Russian TV stations were playing war movies, flags were flying at half mast, and most people seemed to be supportive of the government’s decision to use a deadly gas to save the hostages even though it killed 120 of them. Russia’s press ministry was already applying the Bush Doctrine domestically in a new assault on the media (websites were shut down, newspapers were raided), and a bill passed the lower house of parliament giving the government even more authority to ban any reporting deemed a hindrance to the war on terrorism. The United States Department of Justice defended its use of secret evidence in a case against a Muslim charity accused of giving money to terrorists but acknowledged that the use of secret evidence should be avoided in a free society whenever possible. A federal appeals court heard arguments about the detention of Yasser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen who as an “enemy combatant” has been denied counsel, a hearing, or any outside contact; Hamdi’s lawyer argued that the detention is unconstitutional. Several old men were released from the Guantánamo prisoner-of-war camp; one said he was 95 years old, another that he was 105. They complained that they were kept in their eight-foot-by-eight-foot cells 24 hours a day, and that they received only two 15-minute exercise breaks per week. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that the military’s nine regional commanders may no longer be called “commander in chief” of their areas, thus reserving the title exclusively for the president. Vandals attacked four girls’ schools in Kabul, Afghanistan, firing rockets at two and setting fires at the others. A note was tacked to a tree near one of the schools urging Afghans to rise up against the American occupiers: “We call on all the countrymen to save their clean sisters and daughters from this infidel net.” One newspaper said that these attacks were a “hint” of a “lingering split” among the Afghan people.

North Korea at first refused but then agreed to negotiations about its nuclear-weapons program, though Under Secretary of State John Bolton said it was “hard to see how we can have conversations with a government that has blatantly violated its agreements.” The Bush Administration threatened to withdraw support for the 1994 United Nations accord on population control, which was largely written by the United States and has been ratified by 179 nations, because it contains the terms “reproductive services” and “reproductive health care,” which, the Administration says, imply abortion. “This document was agreed to by everybody in the world, including the Vatican,” said former senator Tim Wirth. “The document affirms that where abortion is legal, it ought to be safe.” General Sir Robert Ford, the senior frontline officer on Bloody Sunday, the British massacre of unarmed Irish protesters in 1972, denied that he had ordered a shoot-to-kill policy but admitted that his secret memo suggesting that a good way to maintain order would be to “shoot selected ringleaders” might have been misinterpreted. Kuwait agreed to exempt Americans from prosecution for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. American warplanes were practicing bombing runs in southern Iraq, and President Bush declared that Iraq “has made the United Nations look foolish.” New Hampshire was considering naming a mountain after Ronald Reagan, and a town in California was thinking of changing its name to “Got Milk?” The European Union unveiled a draft for a new constitution as part of a plan to add 10 new member nations; new names were also being contemplated, including “the United States of Europe.” Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former president of France, said that “we need a name which gets across our brand.”

A federal judge approved what some commentators have mocked as the “Seattlement” of the Microsoft antitrust case; the judge rejected arguments by nine states attorneys general that real punishments and reforms be imposed on the company, which was found guilty of being an illegal monopoly. Investigations were opened into the creation of a new oversight board for the accounting industry; the Securities and Exchange Commission appointed William Webster to chair the new board, but Harvey L. Pitt, the SEC chairman, neglected to tell his colleagues that Webster was implicated in an ongoing fraud investigation of a small technology company whose audit committee he chaired. One of the investigations will be carried out by Pitt’s own agency. “Pitt Seeks Probe of Himself,” read one headline. Kim Hong Up, a son of President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and fined $475,000 for taking bribes. The Democratic and Republican parties established state organizations to circumvent the ban on soft-money donations enacted by the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law. The National Rifle Association held a pro-gun rally in Tucson, Arizona, just two days after a Gulf War veteran shot and killed three nursing professors there. Army investigators declared that an antimalarial drug was not responsible for several domestic killings by soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Three of the four soldiers had just returned from Afghanistan. The head of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority returned from a visit to Israel and declared that bus bombs would soon be coming to New York City. Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to become Israel’s foreign minister, and Governor Ahmed Sani of Nigeria’s Zamfara state had his shoes stolen from a mosque. London police arrested five people in connection with a plot to kidnap Posh Spice. Cornell University was trying to decide whether to sell vibrators to students in the health-services dispensary. “I’m sure there are people who are dying to find vibrators,” said one student, “and they don’t know where to go.” Another student said that “one of the most important things is for women to be able to get themselves off.” Scientists found that male leopard frogs are being feminized by the herbicide atrazine, which is commonly used on corn and soybeans. “Some testes are so invaded by ovary cells it looks like they are converted, and technically, they could be considered ovaries.” Mount Etna was spewing lava.

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November 2008

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