Olympics, aids, dollarization, Slobo, Yucca etc.

Posted: Feb 28, 2002 12:00 AM
With spring training camps opening, let's take a romp around the issue bases.... The Olympians have gone home, taking with them their medals and endorsements. Yet the controversies linger. Many of those controversies, when they don't have to do with illegal substances, have to do with the subjective and corruptible game of judging - as in for instance figure skating, a glorious undertaking but an Olympic event? The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Latin for swifter, higher, stronger). It suggests any competition that cannot be measured with a watch, ruler, or scale, etc. - thereby removing subjectivity from judging - shouldn't be an Olympic event. At The Hague, at least one of the principal players is into the game of Pin the Tail on Anyone Else. Slobodan Milosevic, who as dictator destroyed his country of Yugoslavia and killed on a Stalinist scale, is casting himself at his trial for war crimes as a foe of terrorism and - verily - its victim. It's all a frame-up, he says. "It is all lies." "It's all lies" and "I didn't know": They sound like refrains from that great tune these days topping out the charts - "Enron's Song." In Argentina, peso problems persist. No magical cure gets the rabbit out of the hat. Dollarization might help, as it has in Ecuador, but Argentine politicians need to get past their national pride in the peso. Argentina's banking system still would have to be revamped, and the tax-collection system, and government not only would have to shed its massive enterprises but re-embrace the rule of law. Yet dollarization - adopting the U.S. dollar - would prevent the government from devaluing the currency during each day's siesta. And Ecuador? High oil prices have helped, but so has dollarization - adopted two years ago. Last year, Ecuador had Latin America's highest growth rate, and inflation plunged from 91 percent in 2000, to 22 percent. The AIDS monster continues to ravage the landscape with a voraciousness beyond comprehension. From a UN report issued in November: "Twenty years after the first clinical evidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome was reported, AIDS has become the most devastating disease humankind has ever faced." Now 40 million live with the AIDS virus worldwide. It is growing fastest in the former Soviet bloc countries, and fastest of all in the Russian Federation. Given Asia's vast population, the spread of the disease there could have the most cataclysmic consequences. AIDS is the fourth leading cause of death around the world and the No. 1 cause in sub-Saharan Africa. And still in South Africa, where 40 percent of adult deaths last year were caused by AIDS-related illnesses, President Thabo Mbeki denies AIDS' rapacity and restricts the distribution of AIDS drugs. (a) President Bush is renewing his effort to win congressional approval - supported perhaps crucially by big labor, because of the jobs it would provide - of drilling in a minuscule portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (b) He has declared his support for storing nuclear waste under Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Both are important and right. Regarding the latter: The nation has 70,000 tons of undisposed nuclear waste. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has noted that the study process has lasted 20 years and cost $4 billion, and taken "five times longer than it took to build Hoover Dam." Nevadans and enviros will oppose the Yucca site nevertheless. And speaking of labor, its overall influence continues to decline, right along with its declining percentage of the workforce. That percentage has dropped steadily since the mid-1940s, and today - at 12 percent - just about matches its level in 1930. The debate heats up about whether states should execute the mentally incompetent. Does such execution qualify as "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment because mentally incompetent defendants may not know the difference between right and wrong? What constitutes incompetence, what retardation? How is life imprisonment better than execution for a mentally incompetent murderer? Whether the murderer is a genius or mentally challenged, is his victim any less dead or his victim's survivors any less grieved by the perpetrator getting not execution but life? On the question of Bill Clinton's honesty, Dan Rather is still out there trying to have it both ways. Last May - defending Clinton as "an honest man" - Rather told TV's Bill O'Reilly that "you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things." Several weeks ago Rather expanded, telling radio's Don Imus: "I think the fact that someone has told a lie, even a big lie or maybe several big lies over a lifetime, does not mean that they're an inherently dishonest person. ... I believe in redemption and that Bill Clinton - is he an honest person? I think he is an honest person. Did he lie? Yes, he lied, and on those occasions he was dishonest."