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web posted March 26, 2001

U.S. marine loses appeal over anthrax vaccine

A marine court-martialed for refusing to take the mandatory anthrax vaccine lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal on March 19. The ruling follows a similar case in Canada last year, when a Canadian military judge ruled that former sergeant Mike Kipling of Winnipeg did not have to take the anthrax vaccine.

In the American case, the U.S. Supreme Court on today turned down Lance Cpl. Matthew D. Perry' claim that the military prosecution violated his constitutional rights.

The court made its ruling without comment.

Perry had earlier challenged a pretrial ruling that the military order requiring him to take the anthrax vaccination was lawful.

His lawyers argued that the pretrial ruling had violated Perry's constitutional right to proper access to the legal system and his right to a jury trial.

"The trial judge has barred even a hint of a rebuttal to the legality of the order because she has declared the order lawful and will exclude any evidence to the contrary as a result," Perry's lawyers wrote.

Perry was convicted last month at Camp Pendleton in California.

The Pentagon ordered all 2.4 million active duty and reserve troops to undergo a six-shot anthrax vaccination regimen as protection against biological warfare. More than 400,000 service members have been vaccinated since the program began in 1998.

In the spring of 1998, about 400 Canadian soldiers were also vaccinated against anthrax.

The Canadian case started when Kipling, now retired, refused an anthrax vaccination while stationed in Kuwait City in 1998.

Col. Guy Brais, the military judge in the Canadian case, determined that the lot of anthrax vaccine that Kipling had refused was "unsafe and hazardous." He stopped the court martial last May.

The Canadian military is appealing the ruling.

Anthrax is a naturally occurring virus that typically affects sheep and cattle. Dry anthrax spores, when inhaled, can be deadly to humans. The Pentagon claims anthrax exposure is 99 per cent lethal.

A small group of service members in both Canada and the U.S. claim the shots are not safe and have refused to undergo them.

In the U.S., soldiers who refuse the vaccine are first counselled by a superior. Continued refusal is treated as insubordination.

In the Kipling case, the court heard from an American medical expert that hundreds of serviceman have complained about side-effects from the anthrax vaccine, including chronic fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain and recurring rashes.

The symptoms are similar to those in soldiers deemed to have Gulf War syndrome.

The Pentagon, however, has always said the vaccination is safe, although serious side effects happen about once per 200,000 doses. Severe allergic reactions occur less than once per 100,000 doses, the Pentagon says.

Facing a shortage of the vaccine, the Pentagon scaled back its vaccination program last summer and now requires it only for troops headed for the Persian Gulf region. The wider vaccination program will resume when more vaccine is available, Pentagon officials say.

Perry was charged with disobeying his superior officer and disobeying the Pentagon's general order to be vaccinated. He claims the vaccine should be considered unproved or experimental and that service members should have the right to refuse it.

Perry is at least the fourth U.S. service member to challenge the legality of the Pentagon's order for universal anthrax vaccination, one of his lawyers said. The other cases have also resulted in court-martial and conviction.

James Riady pleads guilty to campaign finance breaches

Indonesian businessman James Riady pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations by himself and his corporation and was sentenced to pay fines of $8.6 million for using foreign corporate funds to back Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

"Your honor," Riady told U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall, "mistakes have been made, which I regret. I did not have to come back here but I wanted to own up to what I did and put this all behind me. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here today."

The judge noted that had Riady chosen to stand trial and been convicted along with his company, LippoBank California, the fine could have been as high as $17.2 million.

Riady's low-key statement came at the end of a marathon seven-hour hearing that lasted into the night of March 19 as the judge sought to determine that every detail of a plea agreement involving 87 counts was properly entered into under the law.

"There is a plea agreement in this case. The court has decided to accept the plea agreement and sentence in accordance with that," Marshall said.

In addition to the fines, Riady was put on probation for two years and ordered to do 400 hours of community service.

The judge said the community service figure was lower than that given to others in the campaign finance scandal, but she noted that Riady's fine is larger and that without his voluntary return to the United States "there would have been no proceedings regarding this defendant."

Indonesia does not have an extradition agreement with the United States and Riady could have escaped all penalties by simply staying overseas, the judge said.

Riady was to hand over a check for $1 million the night of March 19 and pay the balance of the fines over three months, plus interest.

"The fines to be paid by Mr. Riady are the largest in the history of the United States," Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel O'Brien said.

He said that Riady's net worth is about $20 million and that the fines represent about 45 percent of his net worth.

Riady, a member of the family that runs the Indonesia-based global conglomerate Lippo Group, has previously been described as a billionaire.

Marshall said that since case negotiations began, Riady's LippoBank had merged into another bank and ceased to exist. She raised questions about how the fines would be paid and whether they would actually come from Riady's personal funds or other entities.

O'Brien said he could not police the issue of where the money will ultimately come from.

Riady's lawyers said he has represented that the fines will be paid from his personal funds.

The judge questioned Riady, his lawyers, the prosecutors and a probation officer for the better part of two hours while Riady stood facing her. She spent more time explaining his rights to him and going through the details of what he could have faced had he not decided to plead guilty.

Foreign campaign contributions are illegal under U.S. law. The money was funneled through Hong Kong bank accounts and Lippo entities overseas, the government has said.

According to the government, Lippo Group hoped to influence U.S. foreign policy for its own advantage. Among its goals was to gain most favored nation trade status for China; normalization of U.S. relations with Vietnam; open trade policies with Indonesia and certain U.S. legal changes that would benefit the bank's business opportunities.

Canadian army commander pondering deep cuts

The commander of the Canadian army can't make financial ends meet and is looking at drastic cuts in the ranks.

Lt. Gen. Mike Jeffery, who took over command of the army last fall, says he can't maintain the status quo with the money he's got.

"The institution requires more dollars to keep it running than there are dollars available," Jeffery told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

Jeffery said he can restructure things to save money and try to save more with better management, but in the end, he's likely going to have to "cash in people to pay the bills."

He would't give any exact figures, saying the numbers are still being crunched, but he offered a hint:

"When my predecessor was going through some of this exercise earlier there were options that included the potential for going from three to two brigades and clearly that is an option if you want some idea of magnitude."

Losing the equivalent of a brigade would mean several thousand people out of a force with an authorized strength of 21,000, and a combat strength of perhaps 10,000.

Defence analysts were aghast.

"It causes any number of problems," said Jim Hanson, associate executive director of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies and a retired general. "I think if I was chief of the land staff I'd think seriously about cashing in my second career at this stage of the game."

"Any commitment is going to become more and more difficult notwithstanding the spin of NDHQ that it's quality, not quantity that counts," said Alain Pellerin of the Conference of Defence Associations.

"We are into big trouble," said Brian MacDonald, a retired artillery colonel.

"We are in the interesting position of seeing a once proud and magnificent institution just simply, suddenly crumbling in front of us."

The general's comments follow on the news that the air force plans to scrap a third of its fighter-bombers and come after the navy tied up one of its West Coast destroyers for lack of a crew. Rumour suggests that an East Coast destroyer may get the same treatment, also for lack of sailors.

Defence Minister Art Eggleton, who recently found another $600 million for the military in the supplementary estimates, has said repeatedly that the Forces will get what they need to do their jobs.

Jeffery said he didn't set out to cut the ranks.

"Shrinking the army is not the objective. It may indeed, and probably will, be a byproduct.

"The bottom line is I believe the army can do what is required of it, but if we don't change what the army is and don't change some of the dynamic, there will come a point when it can't."

He said new equipment and a restructuring of the army can mean that a smaller force remains highly capable.

"We tend to equate capability to numbers of people and numbers of pieces of equipment. I and most professionals don't accept that description."

But given a budget shortfall, which Jeffery suggested was probably around $600 million a year, something has to give.

"I'm living beyond my means. You can't do that in running your own household and the government is not going to allow me to do it either."

David Rudd, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, said Jeffery deserves credit for facing facts.

"Kudos to him for recognizing that the financial handwriting is on the wall," said Rudd. "However, if you do chop people, that will inevitably decrease your ability to remain involved in peace support operations or our ability to deploy a brigade in support of our allies."

Rudd also said there will be that many fewer people to cope with natural disasters at home.

Jeffery stressed that quality equipment and good training will let him field an effective force despite manpower cuts.

But, as it was said about the old Soviet army, quantity has a quality all its own.

"Smaller means smaller, there's no question about that, notwithstanding that overall capability," the general conceded.

Sean Henry, analyst for the Conference of Defence Associations, said the talk about maintaining quality is headquarters "spin."

"All the Canadian army can do right now -- and even that is stretched -- is produce 1,700 people every six months to go to Bosnia.

"That 1,700 commitment to Bosnia is dominating the entire army."

Those soldiers, Henry added, are little more than "glorified security guards."

OMA head urges review of Canada Health Act

The Canada Health Act should be re-examined to determine what services should not be covered by medicare, a spokesperson for Ontario's doctors said March 19.

Dr. Albert Schumacher, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said the 17-year-old act which guarantees that all Canadians get the same standard of care is outdated. It must be revised, he said, to save Canada's beleaguered health-care system.

"We have no provision for quality in the Canada Health Act we have no provision for accountability of either the provincial or the federal government," he said after a luncheon speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto.

"There are some substantive things that need to be examined."

Since the act was approved unanimously in the House of Commons in 1984, Canada's health-care system has changed as a result of new technologies, procedures, and screening and prevention programs, Schumacher argued.

Waiting lists and physician shortages have prompted a flood of patients heading to the U.S. for cancer treatments and other critical surgeries.

Schumacher said the public needs to engage in a debate about what should be considered a medically necessary procedure. He cited the $20 PSA blood test for prostate cancer, which is not automatically covered by medicare, as something that should be discussed.

"What I'm talking about is new things that come on line. Currently we have PSA tests that are unfunded that cost people $20," Schumacher said.

The test made headlines recently when federal Health Minister Allan Rock and former Reform Leader Preston Manning both underwent surgery for the illness. Both said they had undergone regular testing.

"Are we going to bring (these types of tests) on as part of our insured basket of services ... or will they be brought in under some other way of getting them, through private insurance or other ways?" said Schumacher.

Critics have argued that removing services from the list of those covered under medicare pushes Canada a step closer to a two-tier system, such as exists in the U.S.

"We have to look at the kind of services (patients) want and demand," said Schumacher.

"Some people may say 'well, take acne off,' and `take other services off,'

"Now, acne is important for many people. For some people it's the most important thing I've ever done."

Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement said the public should be involved in the debate about the de-listing of services.

"If what (Schumacher) is saying is that people are going to be denied medically necessary services on the basis of money, I don't think our government agrees with that.

"If what he's saying is universal accessibility, but the deliverers of that are going to be a mix of private sector agents and public sector agents which is what we have right now, if he wants to engage in that kind of discussion I think the public should engage in that kind of discussion as well."

Bush ends role of ABA in judicial pre-screenings

George W. Bush on March 22 ended the American Bar Association's special half-century role in screening prospective Supreme Court justices and other nominees to the federal bench.

In writing, White House Counsel Al Gonzales notified ABA President Martha Barnett and two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that the White House no longer will give the ABA advance word on names under consideration and first crack at researching probable nominees.

"The question is whether the ABA should play a unique, quasi-official role and then have its voice heard before and above all others," Gonzales wrote. "We do not think that kind of preferential arrangement is either appropriate or fair."

Republican officials said the move was driven largely by conservatives, especially on Capitol Hill, still bitter about the failure of President Ronald Reagan's 1987 nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

Many conservatives see the ABA as liberal-leaning and blame its mixed review of Bork's qualifications for his rejection by the Senate.

"I can't speak for those who might harbor that view," Gonzales said in an interview. "This is based purely on the principle that it's inappropriate and unfair to give preferential treatment to any single group."

For 50 years, the ABA has isolated a research committee to investigate prospective judges.

The organization has gone on record in support of abortion rights and has called for a moratorium on the death penalty until that issue can be studied further.

PETA drops lawsuit against Rosie O'Donnell

An animal rights group dropped its defamation lawsuit against talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell after she clarified comments she made on her show about the group's opposition to leather.

Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued for defamation after O'Donnell said on a show last year that certain types of leather pants sold at The Gap were PETA-approved.

What O'Donnell was apparently referring to was a decision by The Gap to stop using Indian and Chinese leather after a PETA campaign highlighting alleged industry abuses in those countries.

PETA opposes all use of leather. When the show refused to retract O'Donnell's statement, the group sued in Arlington County Circuit Court for $350,000.

On "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" on March 22, O'Donnell clarified her earlier statement, saying "PETA feels no one needs to wear any leather apparel at all."

Monsanto pulls altered potatoes in wake of consumer resistance

Genetically modified potatoes have been pulled off the market by Monsanto Canada Inc.

The company says its strain of Naturemark potato, genetically modified to resist the Colorado potato beetle, will no longer be sold because the company is concentrating on other crops.

Others in the potato industry say stiff resistance in the marketplace to the altered potato is the real reason for its withdrawal.

"People aren't really too keen on it," said Larry Cappuccitti of Ontario Potato Distributing Inc. in Alliston. "Why, I don't know, but they aren't, from the calls I get from consumers."

His family farm grows 2,500 acres of potatoes, as well as bagging and distributing potatoes from 10 other farmers. They sell to two supermarket chains.

Cappuccitti said he doesn't know enough about genetically modified crops to feel comfortable with them.

"We just decided to stand on the sidelines and stick with the stuff we've grown for the last 30 years."

Adele Pelland of Monsanto said the company was happy with the potatoes but has decided to concentrate on wheat, oilseeds, cotton and corn.

She couldn't provide sales figures for the altered potatoes, which have been developed in three different varieties. The company inserted a gene in the plants that made the leaves indigestible to potato beetles, a major pest for the industry.

The modified crops suffered a blow last year when french fry giant McCain Foods (Canada) sent a letter to growers informing them that it would not accept genetically modified potatoes.

Customer resistance was the main factor in the decision, said McCain spokesperson Scoop Fredstrom.

"Our role is to produce what our customers want," he said in an interview from Florenceville, N.B.

"There were some concerns expressed by a few of our major customers" about selling genetically modified potato products."

Cappuccitti said his firm's next order of bags will have new labels, identifying the potatoes as non-genetically modified.

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