On California & Columbia, Ashcroft & Judges, Survi

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Mar 15, 2001 12:00 AM
A review of items in the news... Lately, California has been in the news for rolling blackouts, its largest utilities at bankruptcy's brink, just about everybody scratching his unbelieving head about what happened - and enviros objecting loudly to practically every suggested remedy. How far California has come - how far from the night when it was a tiger burning bright, to today's toothless puddytat warmed by only a dim bulb. The Ashcroft ambush was really about federal judges. Bill Clinton appointed about 365 of the currently sitting district and appellate judges (about 45 percent of the total 820 authorized), but he left office with about 67 of those seats vacant. And that doesn't even begin to get into any Supreme Court vacancies that may open up. The coming battles over court appointments will make the Ashcroft confrontation look like patty-cake. Then there's the Sacagawea dollar coin - a year after its introduction, practically nowhere to be seen. (How often have you received even one of the 700 million in change?) Wondrous Sacagawea may be heading fast for the oblivion long endured by the ugly Susan B. Anthony silver dollar, which no one uses, either. There's a reason: congressional refusal to withdraw the competing dollar bill. During the debate to yank the bill, the paper and ink industries argued against the move, as did the printers union at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing - as well as historical groups seeking to retain George Washington's visage. 'S funny, but the U.S. government can't seem to bring a dollar coin to market with any more intelligence than California's government can deregulate electricity. It's a flock, or gaggle, of geese - and of course a pack of wolves. As a National Geographic item reminds, it's a busyness of ferrets, a crash of rhinoceroses, a parliament of owls, and - perhaps most aptly - a sloth of bears. And speaking of wolves, their re-introduction in a number of areas has worked astoundingly well for the most part, but at a cost. Yellowstone, for example, received its first 14 Canadian wolves in 1995; today the park has maxed at 185 - as a Washington Post story puts it, "nearly half venturing into the world outside the park where sheep, cattle, hunter-prized elk, and an increasing number of ranch houses and trophy homes share the landscape." The Post goes on to note that residents of nearby Paradise Valley "like to say there are two species on the brink of extinction: the wolf ... and the family ranch, which, if not decimated by wolf and grizzly predations or fluctuating cattle prices, will almost certainly fall victim to skyrocketing land prices and the march of new subdivisions up the valley." Similarly in central Idaho and northwest Montana, where wolves are tangling with ranchers. Montana wolf-related livestock kills have become "so numerous that federal authorities have had to relocate 32 wolves and kill 41." As with so much regarding nature, wolf re-introduction invites problems, no matter how dreamily unproblematic it may seem. Debate persists regarding what should be done about drugs from Colombia, and what can be. (a) The United States is building a major airbase at Manta, Ecuador - 20 air minutes from Colombia's fiercest fighting, for AWACS surveillance aircraft. Last year, not only did Ecuador agree to construction of the Manta base, partly to counter the expansion of narco-terror into Ecuador itself; the country also dollarized its currency. Do-nothing opponents warn darkly that all this recalls the '60s Southeast Asian slide into "wider war" - not to mention the United States gaining too much influence over Ecuador's economy. (b) The European Union recently announced a paltry package of just $321 million in non-military aid to Colombia - well short of the many American billions. Homeboy Europeans seem routinely eager to have the United States help in hotspots there, but get the shivers regarding Western Hemisphere hotspots whose drugs are ravaging not only the United States. In the Middle East, whom to believe? Good buddy Yasser Arafat has termed Israel "fascist." The Palestinian Media Center has issued a memorandum assessing the role of the Clinton administration in recent peace talks - saying the administration (1) advocated "constructive ambiguity," (2) emphasized "process over substance," and (3) became "increasingly identified with Israeli ideological assumptions"; it has hardly gentler words for the Bush administration. And give-everything-away Ehud Barak, trounced by Ariel Sharon and now apparently out of the Israeli political picture, said this on the eve of his 1999 election: "Only those who do not understand the depth of the total emotional bond of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, only those who are completely removed from any connection with their historical legacy and who are estranged from the vision of the nation - from the poetry of that nation's life, from its faith and from the hope it has cherished for generations - only persons in that category could possibly entertain the thought that the state of Israel would actually concede even a part of Jerusalem." "Survivor" is well into volume II. Before the new TV show progresses farther, herewith a reminder of how volume I turned out. Consider this peroration by the final four's Susan Hawk about losing finalist Kelly Wiglesworth and ultimate winner Richard Hatch: "(Kelly,) you lied to me - what showed me the true person you are. You're very two-faced and manipulative to get where you're at anywhere in life. That's why you fail all the time. ... If I were ever to pass you along in life again and you were laying there dying of thirst, I would not give you a drink of water. I would let the vultures take you and do whatever they want with you with no ill regrets.... "This island is pretty much full of only two things - snakes and rats. And in the end, with Mother Nature, we have Richard the snake, who knowingly went after prey, and Kelly, who turned into the rat that ran around like the rats do on this island - trying to run from the snakes. I feel we owe it to the island spirits that we have learned to come to know to let it be in the end the way Mother Nature intended it to be - for the snake to eat the rat." Maybe this one will end more happily.