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web posted May 14, 2001

Ex-Superman movie star Christopher Reeve praises Canada's health-care system

Actor Christopher Reeve, who went from Superman roles to life as a quadriplegic, said May 6 the U.S. health-care system could learn from Canada's example.

"We look to Canada with the greatest respect and admiration," said Reeve, who was honorary chairman of the 23rd International Symposium on Spinal Cord Trauma at the University of Montreal. "Clearly, in this country, there is a system in place which really takes into account what human suffering is," he said.

Reeve, 48, whose career ended when he was thrown from a horse in 1995, praised Canadian researchers seeking possible ways to regenerate damaged spinal cords.

"In Canada, there is real leadership," he said, citing Dr. Alberto Aiguerro of McGill University who began research into spinal-cord injuries two decades ago.

"He is really the father of the spinal-cord recovery movement."

The New York-born actor said the United States has all the brains, money and facilities needed for pace-setting medical research, but it's held back by "unreasonable attitudes."

Reeve said there have been loud objections in the United States to stem-cell research, which involves manipulating genetic material. He said Canada has tackled the issue in a much quieter and more sensible way.

Draft legislation introduced recently before a House of Commons committee would provide for Canadian government licensing and regulation of stem cell research. It would ban the creation of embryos intended solely for research.

Reeve said President George W. Bush's government is concerned about the researchers using human embryonic stem cells because it's worried about abortion.

"But human embryonic stem cells, that could cure millions of people, are not fetuses and will never become human beings. They're routinely thrown into the garbage."

Canadian Forces 'not capable', says ex-general

Contrary to what senior military leaders say, the Canadian Forces are not as combat-capable today as they were 10 years ago, a retired general says.

At a Commons defence committee meeting on May 8, retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie flatly contradicted what Gen. Maurice Baril, the chief of defence staff, told the same MPs just one week before.

MacKenzie, who won fame in the Balkans war nine years ago, also suggested Canada should pull out of Bosnia after more than a decade.

He was blunt about the state of the army.

"If I was an enemy force commander, I would much prefer to fight the Canadian army of today, rather than the Canadian army of 10 years ago," MacKenzie told the committee.

The outspoken MacKenzie, who led Canadian soldiers into Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in the turbulent summer of 1992, said the army simply isn't up to snuff.

"We're not capable of fighting beside the best against the best in a high-intensity conflict," he said.

Baril said the Forces are more capable today because of new equipment and strong leadership. In disagreeing, MacKenzie suggested Baril was following a required political line.

The army hasn't exercised at the brigade level - about 5,000 soldiers with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery - in eight years, MacKenzie said.

"I have no doubt that the individual soldiers are up to the task," he said, but they haven't trained in large groups, which are the units that fight in combat.

MacKenzie told MPs on the committee the army is no longer capable of meeting the requirements of the 1994 white paper.

That document calls for a vanguard force consisting of a 1,200-member battle group and a 1,000-member battalion, with a brigade to follow in 90 days.

It can't be done, he said. The first two requirements would devour five of the army's nine understrength battalions. The remainder wouldn't be enough to round out the brigade.

He said peacekeeping missions are patched together from various units and lack the coherence and support that comes from training together for prolonged periods.

In 1992, the soldiers he led to Sarajevo - two thirds from the Van Doos and a third from the Royal Canadian Regiment - had lived, worked and trained together for years as part of the Canadian brigade in Germany.

"They were a cohesive battalion who trusted each other," he said. "That's a combat-capable battalion. It's more than a collection of individuals."

Perhaps as a result, he said, there wasn't a single case of post-traumatic stress syndrome in the outfit. In contrast, dozens of soldiers from follow-up missions have become stress casualties.

Soldiers who don't have the support and camaraderie that comes from long service together may be more susceptible to stress, he said.

MacKenzie also told MPs the peacekeeping commitment in Bosnia - currently about 2,000 people - should be abandoned to reduce the strain on the military.

"The army tears itself apart only to provide a couple of thousand of our folks in Bosnia."

Canada has done enough there, he said.

"We paid our dues in Bosnia, with 21 dead and more than 100 wounded and millions of dollars," he said. "Surely the Europeans can take that over."

Celebrities launch Esso boycott over climate stance

Environmental groups and celebrities on May 8 launched a UK boycott of Esso, the European brand of giant Exxon Mobil, over its support for Washington's withdrawal from the Kyoto climate pact.

Activist and former model Bianca Jagger kicked off the "Boycott Esso" effort, which is also supported by pop star Annie Lennox and actor Ralph Fiennes.

"Often, we as individuals feel powerless in the face of this catastrophe that is unfolding. But with this campaign we can make a difference," Jagger, former wife of Rolling Stones rocker Mick Jagger, said in a statement.

The Stop Esso Campaign, an alliance founded by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and People and Planet, is asking the British public to avoid Esso petrol stations until the company pledges support for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Body Shop, another supporter, plans to publicize the campaign in its UK chain of shops selling organic cosmetics.

Greenpeace has taken aim at five U.S. oil companies -- including Exxon Mobil -- for backing President Bush (news - web sites)'s rejection of the Kyoto accord, a move that frustrated and angered many of America's allies around the world.

"Esso are the world's number one global warming villains," said Greenpeace Executive Director Stephen Tindale.

But the company says the drive will do little to change U.S. policy and could hurt local employees.

"The call for a boycott of Esso service stations can only be counter-productive," Esso said in a statement.

"We do not believe it will have any influence on the U.S. government -- but it could harm the thousands of independent British businessmen and women and their staff who operate their stations in partnership with Esso in the UK."

The Kyoto Protocol calls for industrialized nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, but Bush pulled the United States -- the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter -- out of the treaty.

Exxon Mobil has not accepted scientific evidence that fossil fuel emissions cause global warming, campaigners say, and is a member of the Global Climate Coalition, an international business lobby set up to counter that view.

The company says it supports the study of climate change and has invested over $500 million in renewable energy.

Greenpeace is also targeting Chevron, Texaco, Conoco and Phillips in its efforts to influence consumers.

Cannes jury says favors films for heart, not mind

Members of the jury for the 54th Cannes film festival said on May 9 awards would favor emotional films as opposed to intellectual ones.

"We don't have to make movies for the intellect. I would like us to choose films that talk with talent, emotion and professionalism," Norwegian actress and director Liv Ullmann told a packed news conference on the festival's opening day.

Twenty-three films are competing for the top prize, the Golden Palm, as well as other awards.

During the light-hearted media briefing by judges, U.S. director Terry Gilliam, hinted at other criteria with his choice of T-shirt. Emblazoned across his chest was the cheeky message: "I can be bribed."

"I'm willing to take large sums of money to vote for your film. I will choose the film whose producer gives me the largest amount of money," he joked.

French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, also on the 10-member panel, was more serious, expounding on the philosophy of this year's jury.

"What's important is the emotion I feel when I watch a film. And I'll get that across in our meetings, even though people say I tend to keep quiet," she said.

Another juror, English actress Julia Ormond, said going to the cinema should be a complete experience.

"I think the movie experience is a very complete one as it touches you on all sorts of levels. It's a very emotional one," she said.

However, there will be very little opportunity this year at Cannes for British feature films to engage any sort of audience, because there are no British films formally entered in the competition -- a rarity in the festival's history.

Gilliam, who is based in London and shot to fame as a member of Britain's Monty Python comedy team, was not too disheartened.

"Maybe they're crap," he quipped.

Court rules fetus a 'person' in lawsuit

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a fetus is a person in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by a man whose wife and unborn child died during birth procedures.

In reversing a lower court on May 10, the Supreme Court cited a 1999 law that changed the state's criminal code to include a living fetus of 12 weeks gestation in the definition of a person.

The case stemmed from the December 13, 1995, death of Evangeline Aka and her unborn son about 30 hours after she was admitted to the hospital so labor could be induced.

Aka's husband, Philip, claimed the defendants were medically negligent in unnecessarily inducing his wife's labor, failing to discontinue the procedure, failing to perform a caesarean section, failing to resuscitate his wife or the unborn baby and failing to obtain informed consent.

"Given this amended definition of 'person,' the Legislature plainly affords protection to unborn viable fetuses," Chief Justice W.H. "Dub" Arnold wrote for the court.

A circuit judge ruled in early 1999 against Aka's claims, citing a Supreme Court ruling that a fetus was not a person in wrongful-death actions.

Later that year, the Legislature approved a law specifying that an unborn fetus could be considered a person for some purposes in criminal law.

"The relevance of the Legislature's response, by statutorily defining person in the criminal context to include a fetus, cannot be understated," Arnold wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert L. Brown said he agreed with the lower court ruling that viable fetuses are not considered persons for purposes of wrongful-death cases.

"The majority's reasoning is inconsistent and extremely hard to justify," Brown said. "A decision of this magnitude requires clarity and direction, and not a patchwork quilt woven from disparate statutes, constitutional provisions and Supreme Court decisions."

Brown said he believed the public policy shift didn't occur until this year, with the passage of another law specifically amending the wrongful-death statute to include a viable fetus in the definition of a person.

The act was approved April 4 and won't go into effect until August 14.

House votes to withhold U.N. dues

The House of Representatives voted May 10 to retaliate against the United Nations for its vote stripping the United States of its long-held seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

In a measure opposed by the Bush administration because of concerns it might damage relations with the world body, the House voted 252-165 to withhold back dues the United States recently agreed to pay.

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said the House voted on the measure despite White House concerns because "there's an injustice there that needs to be addressed. The House and the Congress has a right to work its will."

The amendment -- co-sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, chairman of the International Relations Committee, and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California, the ranking Democrat on the panel -- is attached to a bill that authorizes spending by the State Department. The bill authorizes a $582 million payment to the United Nations in 2002 but puts a hold on the following year's third and final back payment of $244 million unless the United States regains its seat on the commission.

Both Hastert and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, said they support the bill.

Despite the angry tone of debate over the situation, two senior congressional aides told CNN the bill is more about symbolism than substance.

"Members need an opportunity to express their outrage over what happened last week," one said, "The Hyde-Lantos amendment allows that."

The second aide explained that the State Department authorization bill, which is usually filled with controversial amendments, has not even been signed into law since 1993.

The aide said the bill speaks to the natural tensions between the executive branch, which wants a free hand to run international policy, and the legislative branch, which wants to load up the authorization bill with various mandates on how U.S. international policy should be conducted.

'Million Mom March' draws 100 for gun control

In vastly reduced numbers from last year's rally, mothers who support gun control were back at the National Mall on Sunday, renewing their calls for tougher laws aimed at curbing firearms violence.

2001 march
Here would be most of that 100

Only about 100 supporters attended this year, compared with about three-quarters of a million supporters who took part in 2000.

"Any child in America can get a hold of a gun today," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, congressional delegate for the District of Columbia. "That's why women all across America today are converting Mother's Day into a day for our children; a day of remembrance for children dead from gunfire; a day to renew the battle for the gun bills Congress left on the table last year."

Organizers of the march said this year's attendance in Washington was lower because the focus was on promoting grass-roots action rather than a national event. The group held rallies and related events in 33 states to promote what organizers called "sensible gun laws."

Also at the rally on the National Mall was Washington Mayor Anthony Williams who applauded the participants. "Today's rally and the rallies of 33 other states across the country are visible proof that you're doing something to end violence," he said.

National Rifle Association spokesman Kelly Whitley said the organization noticed an upsurge in the call for gun-control legislation after last year's march, but added the agenda changed with the election of President Bush.

The Clinton administration was actively pushing new gun-control legislation, while the Bush White House says it would like to work with existing laws.

"We are really excited to see a new administration -- one that is looking to actually enforce the law against criminals, which we think will have a great impact on crime in this country," Whitley said.

Whitley said he believes the new Bush administration is why the Million Mom March has not focused its attention on Washington, but has instead gone to the state and local level to change laws.

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