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Western Press Review: Hoof And Mouth, Global Warming, Stock Markets

Prague, 15 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the U.S. press today touches on several subjects. They include the United States' decision to ban the import of all animal imports from Europe, President George W. Bush's apparent change of position regarding the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, and the continued fall in stock prices on Wall Street.


An editorial in the "New York Times" calls the U.S. decision to ban all imports of animals and animal products from the European Union -- in the wake of the hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak's leap from Britain to France -- a "sad but necessary step." The paper writes: "American livestock producers will benefit from the exclusion of European products from this and other markets. But no one can rejoice in the proliferating trade bans, which come at a time when globalization is the economic mantra and when an agriculture without borders is the ideal embraced by many governments, if not necessarily by farmers. [However], it is only strict animal quarantines and constant vigilance at the borders that have kept this country free of foot-and-mouth disease for the past 72 years."


A second "New York Times" editorial criticizes President Bush's decision -- made public yesterday -- not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, despite what the paper says were campaign promises to set mandatory reduction targets. The editorial says the move will anger many European leaders who have been pushing the United States to help put some teeth into the 1997 Kyoto Protocol aimed at curbing global greenhouse gases. It goes on to say that Bush's change of position, laid out in a letter to four Republican senators who opposed the Kyoto agreement, "made it sound as if a policy aimed at gradual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would have an immediate and devastating effect on American consumers and the economy. [But] one can conclude only that political considerations carried the day."


An editorial in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" addresses the same subject. But it says that what is now being billed as a Bush "campaign promise" was in fact a single sentence inserted into a speech not by Bush, but by "campaign gnomes who apparently were as unaware as Mr. Bush that if you classify CO2 -- a naturally occurring trace gas -- as a pollutant, the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] can then regulate it." The paper also says that Bush and former Vice President Al Gore made a point of highlighting their differences on environmental issues during last year's presidential election campaign. It writes: "[Gore] was a fierce advocate of Kyoto and its caps [that is, limits] on CO2. Mr. Bush agreed that global warming was something he took 'very seriously' but consistently opposed Kyoto on the grounds [that] we do not yet know the solution."


The "Wall Street Journal Europe" also carries an editorial on the impact of U.S. stock exchanges' second major dip this week, saying: "Volatility in markets is a sign of lively debate, and no bad thing, especially when there are real questions to debate. The economy is a hardy beast. Investors need to know if the Bush Republicans are up to the job of keeping it that way." It adds: "The Clinton boom came to a halt in December, against the background of Florida. Until that point, the macro-economic calculus had been that [Federal Reserve Board Chairman] Alan Greenspan was in control of monetary policy and the Republican Congress was sitting on the worst impulses of the Clinton Democrats. Since then, the market has been coming to terms with a new dynamic, namely the question of whether Republicans will choke when they have a chance to turn their rhetoric into action."


The "Washington Post" says in an editorial that stock markets' irrational highs and lows have often driven policymakers in other countries to restrain them. It cites the examples of Argentina and the European Union's euro-zone nations, which have sought to end market volatility by assigning a fixed value to their currencies.

But, the paper says, "it's important to recall the [U.S.] system's central advantages. First, market prices provide useful signals. [Companies] get a clear message that they need to cut costs. With luck, immediate job cuts of the kind now going on at U.S. firms will forestall the protracted and ultimately deeper pain that would result from deferred restructuring." Second, it adds, "the stock market allows firms to raise capital for investments while dispersing both the risks and the potential gains. If the investment goes wrong, the pain is borne by investors scattered all over the world. The firm's stock price will decline, but at least it won't be [burdened] with huge debt."


A commentary published in the "International Herald Tribune" says it is time for the United States to address the security threat presented by Russia's sale of missile technology to Iran, Libya, and other nations. Timothy McCarthy and Victor Mizin of the U.S. Center for Nonproliferation Studies write: "[U.S. policy to date] leaves unsolved the key structural problem that contributes to illegal sales: over-capacity in the Russian missile and space industry and the inability or unwillingness of Moscow to do anything about it." They say: "There is simply too much industry [in Russia] chasing too few legitimate dollars, rubles or euros. [Downsizing] and restructuring must be a major part of any initiative that seeks to stop Russian missile firms from selling 'excess production' to those who should not have them."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" says that the latest delay in China's 15-year effort to join the World Trade Organization, or WTO, should hardly come as a surprise. But, it adds, the new problem may prove to be more than temporary. The paper writes: "The hiatus reflects growing political reservations in Beijing." It says that China's leaders remain committed to WTO entry in principle. But, it writes, there are signs -- especially, fear that exposure to international competition will destabilize China's economy -- "that [they] have recently come to view its timing with less urgency." It also says that last year's record $60 billion in investment in China may lead some Chinese policymakers to reason "that many of the desired effects of WTO membership have already happened." However, it says, "this is a dangerous delusion."


Britain's "Times" daily says in an editorial that it is time to include the Palestinian Authority when doling out the blame for continued violence against Palestinian civilians in the ongoing Mideast conflict. The paper writes: "The European Union has had plenty to say about the damage inflicted by Israel's economic blockade and military roadblocks in the West Bank. [But] foreign leaders limply shrink from condemning the cynicism with which various Palestinian factional leaders, who themselves are in no firing line, have played upon popular fears and frustration." The "Times" adds that civilian Palestinians whose homes are being used as cover for local snipers "have appealed to the gunmen not to expose their families to returning fire. For response, they get official banners acclaiming their dead infants as martyrs. They too hate Israel. But they do not want to be martyrs to an unending, unwinable confrontation. They want to be left alone."


Which side started the latest round of Mideast violence? Commentator Marcus Gee, writing in Canada's "Globe and Mail," suggests an answer with the following hypothetical test: "If the Palestinians stopped attacking Israelis, the violence would stop tomorrow. But if the Israelis stopped cracking down on the Palestinians, the Palestinian attacks would continue, and might even escalate." He adds: "None of the more than 400 people who have been killed since September would have lost their lives if the Palestinians had not taken the offensive. Of course, the Palestinians claim that their uprising, the second intifada, is richly justified. They say the three-decade-long Israeli occupation is so harsh, and the prospect of ending it so distant, that Palestinians had no choice except to revolt. But that is not true. While no one would deny that the occupation is harsh, it was getting steadily less so until September."


Commentator Kate Holmquist in today's "Irish Times" condemns the recent announcement by scientists that they are ready to proceed with experiments in human cloning, calling it "the Pandora's Box of the 21st century." She adds: "On an emotional level it makes sense to do all that is medically possible to help an infertile couple have a child. Intellectually, however, we need to ask whether everything in life can be fixed. Sometimes we have to live with infertility, just as with death." She herself then asks: "Are the needs of a minority of infertile couples worth the risk of turning humanity into a lucrative product line?" Her conclusion is: "When we accept that people are products rather than individuals we change our definition of what it is to be human. At worst we are de-humanizing everyone by making each and every one of us replaceable."