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web posted May 21, 2001

High court strikes down medical use for marijuana

The Supreme Court handed medical marijuana users a major defeat on May 14, ruling that a federal law classifying the drug as illegal has no exception for ill patients.

The 8-0 decision was a major disappointment to many sufferers of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses. They have said the drug helped enormously in combating the devastating effects of their diseases.

Justice Stephen Breyer did not participate because his brother, a federal judge, initially presided over the case.

"In the case of the Controlled Substances Act, the statute reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception (outside the confines of a government-approved research project)," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the unanimous court.

Thomas noted the act states marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use."

The federal government triggered the case in 1998, seeking an injunction against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative and five other marijuana distributors.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, brother of the justice, sided with the government. All the clubs except the Oakland group eventually closed down, and the Oakland club turned to registering potential marijuana recipients while it awaited a final ruling.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court, ruling that medical necessity is a legal defense. Charles Breyer followed up by issuing strict guidelines for making that claim.

Voters in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also have approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana. In Hawaii, the legislature passed a similar law and the governor signed it last year.

The cooperative argued that a drug may not yet have achieved general acceptance as a medical treatment, but may still have medical benefits to a particular patient or class of patients.

Thomas said the argument cannot overcome the intent of Congress in approving the statute.

"It is clear from the text of the act that Congress has made a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception," Thomas wrote.

"Unwilling to view this omission as an accident, and unable in any event to override a legislative determination manifest in a statute, we reject the cooperative's argument."

Advocates of medical marijuana say the drug can ease side effects from chemotherapy, save nauseated AIDS patients from wasting away or even allow multiple sclerosis sufferers to rise from a wheelchair and walk.

There is no definitive science that the drug works, or works better than conventional, legal alternatives.

Several states are considering medical marijuana laws, and Congress may revisit the issue this year. A measure to counteract laws like California's died in the House last year.

Thomas was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The case is United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, 00-151.

Eco-terrorists linked to foot-mouth outbreak

Eco-terrorists may be behind the rash of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks across the globe, two prominent agriculture leaders warned May 14.

An English farmThe heads of both the U.S. and British farming groups said opponents to intensive forms of agriculture could not be ruled out as the source of disease outbreaks.

Ben Gill, president of the United Kingdom's National Farmers' Union, in Canberra for a farmers' conference, said Australia should maintain its tough quarantine measures because of the threat of eco-terrorists.

"There's no doubt foot-and-mouth spread to the U.K. illegally and, unfortunately, we cannot rule out eco-terrorism," he said.

"The last thing you would want to do is ease your quarantine rules in Australia. If you can find a way to further tighten them, then do it."

The head of the U.S. Farm Bureau, Bob Stallman, confirmed his organization had begun talks with the Federal Bureau of Investigation into possible eco-terrorist activity.

Stallman said there were activists encouraging the introduction of foot-and-mouth into the United States to protest against intensive agriculture.

A rash of foot-and-mouth outbreaks have been recorded across the globe over the past three years, most linked to the Asian strain of the disease.

Gill said Australia would have to contend with increasingly militant green splinter groups which would stop at nothing to undermine existing agricultural practices.

"The pressures of the green groups are intense in Europe, and what I understand, building here in Australia," he said.

Australia immediately increased its quarantine restrictions when the foot-and-mouth outbreak erupted in Britain in February.

Tougher inspections at ports and airports, and bans on meat, livestock and used agricultural equipment were introduced.

Gill said he would campaign to have Australia's quarantine laws put in place in Europe.

"I have to say I wish we had your standards in Europe," he told reporters.

Millions of animals have been slaughtered in Britain in an attempt to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

World's poorest nations demand more

While admitting past failures of their own, leaders from the world's poorest countries demanded more aid on May 14 to rescue them from a downward economic spiral.

At the start of a U.N. conference on poverty, leaders of the world's 49 least developed countries sought help from those from richer countries, who pledged to change the way they deliver assistance as a result of years of ineffective development aid programs.

"Few would doubt the general impression that our gathering in Brussels for a third ... conference is an admission of failure," said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

He called for "urgent concrete action" by rich countries to implement previous promises to improve trade and market access to the poorest countries.

Obasanjo and other speakers also called for a commitment to full debt cancellation and a stepped up fight against HIV infection and AIDS.

"We need more resources and resources that can be made available immediately," said Alpha Oumar Konare, President of Mali.

In a declaration, the 49 nations called on rich countries like the United States, Japan and the 15-nation European Union to reverse the "declining trend" in development aid and to provide special status for poorer countries within the World Trade Organization.

But as many participants were quick to blame richer nations for not doing enough, they also said more had to be done by themselves.

"We must own up to our weaknesses before we blame others," said Apollo Nsibambi, Prime Minister of Uganda.

Despite decades of global growth and development aid, the number of countries the United Nations calls "least developed" -- those with per capita income of less than $900 a year and scarce investment in health, nutrition and education -- has nearly doubled since 1971, from 25 to 49. The United Nations has said aid to these nations has dropped by 45 percent since 1990.

More than half of the 630 million people in those countries -- mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia but also Haiti and some Pacific island nations -- live on less than a dollar a day.

"Clearly, this conference has to be different from the previous ones," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Two previous conferences -- in 1981 and 1990 -- ended with wealthier nations pledging to devote 0.7 percent of gross national product to development aid. Yet most have reduced their foreign aid budgets over the past decade.

Annan noted that the conference seeks to produce agreement this time not only on aid targets, but also a "built-in monitoring system" for achieving them.

Other participants, like French President Jacques Chirac, called on all participants to take steps to improve their commitment to helping the poorest. "The unconscionable situation with which the world gets ever richer and the poor remain poor can and must be ended."

It was made clear however, that new aid would come at the condition that poorer countries move to implement not only economic reforms, but political ones too, including improvement of human rights, democracy and the fight against corruption.

Andrew Natsios, head of the United States Agency for International Development, said the lack of strong democratic institutions and systems to make sure money is spent properly is the biggest reason for failure.

"It's not a lack of money," he said. "There has to be local political will."

Hillary Clinton bogged down by Whitewater bills

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is still weighed down by costly legal bills dating back to the Whitewater investigation. However, she also has substantial holdings in a blind trust, according to financial disclosure reports filed with the Senate.

The disclosure is Clinton's first as a lawmaker. It covers the year 2000 and does not include any income from her $8 million book deal with Simon & Schuster, which was negotiated last year but only signed in January.

Clinton reported a government-approved blind trust worth between $500,001 and $1 million. That joint trust with husband Bill dates from the Clintons' White House days and was approved by the executive branch's Office of Government Ethics. It earned between $100,001 and $1 million in 2000.

Clinton's outstanding legal fees total between $2.3 million and $10.6 million, the report said. They are owed to five law firms, two in Little Rock Ark. and three in Washington D.C.

The Clintons ran up hefty legal bills during their eight years in the White House because of Whitewater and other investigations. They have a separate legal expense fund to help defray those costs.

Members of Congress must file disclosure forms annually that outline in the broadest terms their personal fortunes, investments and income beyond their congressional salary of $134,113.

Clinton reported overall assets of between $682,000 and $1.5 million. She listed stock for daughter Chelsea in AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and Lucent Technologies.

New York's junior senator received $8,534 in royalties from her book "It Takes a Village," which was donated to charity, the form said.

Neither Clinton or Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.,reported accepting any gifts, travel or honoraria.

Clinton came under fire for $190,027 in furniture, china and other gifts she and the president took with them from the White House. But none of those had to be reported on her Senate disclosure form because she was not yet a senator, aides said.

Schumer and his wife Iris listed assets worth between $274,014 and $985,000 million. The only liability they reported was a mortgage worth between $15,001 and $50,000 on their home in Brooklyn.

Clinton egged on trip to Poland

Former President Clinton was jeered by anti-globalization protesters and hit by an egg on May 17 while visiting Poland's capital as part of a European speaking tour.

Bill ClintonThe egg struck Clinton's sleeve as he walked through Warsaw's Old Town district. Police detained a 19-year-old man.

"The president laughed at the matter, saying, 'It's good for young people to be angry about something,"' spokeswoman Jennifer Palmeri said. He was not injured.

The incident came one day after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was targeted by an egg-throwing heckler in Wales. The British politician's response, however, was less mild. He punched the man in the face.

About 150 young Poles protested outside the hotel where Clinton was giving an address on globalization to business people. Some of the demonstrators held banners reading "Globalization kills our planet" and "Yes to people, no to profit."

FBI chief acknowledges 'cultural defect'

Director Louis Freeh on May 17 said a "cultural defect" contributed to his agency's failure to promptly hand over documents whose late discovery has delayed the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

A top Senate Democrat said some "heads ought to roll" for the blunder.

Louis FreehAnswering questions from lawmakers for a second day on Capitol Hill, Freeh at first repeated his belief that simple human error was to blame for the papers not coming to light in time to be considered during trials for McVeigh and his convicted accomplice, Terry Nichols.

But Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on a Senate appropriations subcommittee holding the hearing, insisted that Freeh address what he called a long-standing "cultural problem" at the FBI.

Freeh acknowledged that instructions went out 11 times to FBI personnel to compile and forward all papers related to the case. "I think there is a cultural problem here in not taking seriously the very clear and explicit commands that were given in a very important case," he said.

He said additional management training is being instituted to ensure better handling of records.

"That's a cultural defect which I will attempt to address by the stand-down that we're going to do," he added.

Freeh, 51, who plans to retire from the FBI next month, also told lawmakers he plans to recruit and hire someone for a high-level position to oversee documents management and try to prevent such errors in the future.

Hollings was not appeased. "Don't hire anybody. Fire some people," he said. "Make them accountable. They'll know. They'll understand. And until you do that, they'll play the game."

His voice rising, Hollings continued. "Get rid of some -- some heads ought to roll where they didn't respond to these communications appropriately," he said.

We at ESR have been praying for this. Reno may run for Florida governorship

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said on May 18 she was considering running for governor of Florida in 2002.

Though Republican incumbent Jeb Bush has not declared his intentions, many observers expect the president's brother to seek a second term.

Reno, 62, a Democrat, was born in Miami and served as Dade County state's attorney for 10 years before moving to Washington.

Though initially reluctant to consider a return to public life, Reno told CNN in a telephone interview, "I decided I should give it consideration because I love this state so much."

Asked about when she might make a final decision, she said, "When I've properly and thoroughly considered it."

Reno, who since leaving office has been relaxing and enjoying such outdoors pursuits as kayaking, suffers from Parkinson's Disease, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary tremor. She disclosed her possible interest in a run for the state house in Tallahassee in an interview with Miami TV station WPLG.

Asked whether her medical condition could hinder her ability to serve as governor, she said, "I survived for almost eight years in Washington, under a very rigorous schedule ... I'm prepared to go forward."

Reno would not comment on the FBI's bungling of investigative documents and tapes it should have turned over to the defense in the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh case, whose scheduled execution has been delayed until June 11.

"I've not been briefed on it, I was not aware of it, so I cannot comment," she said. "I would not comment while the matter is pending."

On the potential impact on a Reno candidacy of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day in 1999 only to be seized by U.S. authorities many months later so he could be returned to Cuba, she said:

"I'm sure it will be one of the issues."

Reno said she might mull over her decision on a planned trip out West. "I've got my truck, I got the top for the truck the other day," she said.

"What I want to do is make a determination about what's best for Florida," she said.

Poll pinpoints campaign turnaround

One of the most significant shifts in public opinion in the 2000 presidential campaign came in late September when perceptions of Democrat Al Gore's honesty dropped sharply and only gradually recovered, a detailed tracking poll suggests.

The presidential debates in October were some of the highest profile events in the race between Gore and eventual election winner George W. Bush, but may not have been the most important.

One of the most significant shifts in the campaign likely started before the first debate, according to researchers for the Annenberg 2000 Election Survey. The survey was discussed May 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research in Montreal.

That slip in Gore's support and in perceptions of his honesty started soon after a series of misstatements on everything from the cost of medicines for his mother-in-law and his dog to the origin of a union song Gore claimed to have heard as a child, but was actually written after he was grown.

The stories were intended to make a political point, but when they turned out not to be literally true, Republicans seized on them as evidence of Gore's lack of trustworthiness.

The pollsters note they cannot definitively point to which events caused the drop in perceptions of Gore's honesty. But they cite a dramatic shift in late September, soon after the statements and other questions about Gore's trustworthiness became a hot topic on the campaign trail.

The study, headed by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, and Richard Johnston, a Canadian political scientist, suggested the sharp drop for Gore in late September, especially on his personal traits, was "the hinge of the campaign."

"We were stunned by the speed of this decline," said Michael Hagen, a senior researcher for the project.

The Democratic nominee said at the time that the significance of the misstatements was being exaggerated. His wife, Tipper, said the comments were made in the heat of the campaign and should not be put under a microscope.

Gore already was recovering from the drop by the first debate and did not lose significant ground after that debate, the poll suggested. Gore did slip a bit after the second debate, but gained ground after the last presidential debate when perception of Bush's knowledge of the issues dropped.

Gore gained ground on Bush steadily after the last debate, and eventually won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote.

The tracking poll with 100,000 interviews of more than 80,000 Americans was conducted between November 1999 and January 2001. It was one of the largest political surveys ever conducted.

Research on the data is continuing and should provide much more information on the effects of advertising, campaign appearances and other campaign events.

The poll tracked the boost both candidates experienced around their parties' conventions. It also looked at the public's learning curve on candidate positions on issues such as investing Social Security funds in the stock market.

The poll showed that the public was unaware of the candidates' differences on that issue favored by Bush as late as the start of October.

But people became more aware through the debates of Gore's opposition to investing Social Security funds, and he was able to bring many Democrats and some independents to his side on the issue.

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