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Five CJD deaths in north N.J. in 15 months
By Steve Mitchell
United Press International
Published 3/24/2004 1:14 PM
WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- A 62-year old man in Northern New Jersey has died from a brain disorder that appears to be Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which, if confirmed, would be the fifth case of the rare disease in a little over a year in a two-county area, United Press International has learned.
The death last Friday of Ronald Swartz, of Denville, also would be the second CJD case in 2004 in New Jersey, where federal and state health authorities are investigating a potential cluster of cases of the rare brain disorder in the southern region of the state.
UPI also has learned that officials have reopened the case of a Philadelphia woman who died in 2000 and that case also is included among those in the possible cluster. Carrie Mahan, 29, died from a brain disorder that was never identified, but which physicians initially suspected of being the nation's first case of variant CJD, the form of the disease linked to mad cow disease.
The possible CJD cluster is associated with the Garden State Race Track in Cherry Hill, where as many as 13 CJD deaths might have occurred among employees and patrons who ate at the now defunct track. Both variant CJD and the spontaneously occurring form of the disease -- called sporadic CJD or simply CJD -- are incurable conditions that degenerate the brain and ultimately cause death.
Swartz's case does not appear linked to the racetrack, but if his death turns out to be due to CJD, it would make five confirmed or probable cases of the disease in the adjoining area of Somerset and Morris counties within a span of only 15 months.
Somerset already had recorded a probable CJD death this year, as well as two confirmed cases last year, according to data from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Morris county, where Swartz resided, recorded a probable case in 2003.
This would be an unusually high number for a uncommon disorder that is thought to occur at the rate of only one case per 1 million population per year.
The combined population of the two counties is approximately 789,000, so they would expect to see no more than one case of sporadic CJD in that time frame. According to DHSS figures, which go back to 1979, the two counties have never experienced two CJD cases in the same year -- let alone five.
Asked about the seemingly high rate, DHSS spokeswoman Jennifer Sciortino said, "New Jersey's incident rate (for the entire state) is approximately 8 per year and thus there is no indication that we are exceeding the average case count per year." Sciortino added, "In fact, over the last 25 years there have been instances where the total number of cases topped out at around 14 per year."
DHSS officials, who are looking into the racetrack cluster, might be investigating Swartz's case.
Carolyn Swartz, Ronald's wife, said through his brother Wayne that infectious disease specialists from the New Jersey Health Department had contacted her about the case while Ronald was in St. Clare's Hospital in Sussex, the facility where he initially received treatment prior to being transferred to New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
Wayne Swartz said he was uncertain what information the New Jersey officials were seeking, and the DHSS declined to comment on the case, citing federal regulations that prohibit such disclosure.
"We do not comment on individual CJD cases because federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws prevent us from disclosing any information that might help in ascertaining a patient's identity," Sciortino told UPI.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which is assisting the DHSS in the investigation into the potential cluster, also declined to comment on the Swartz case. CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said last week he would look into it but did not return UPI's phone call and an e-mail.
In an interview prior to Ronald Swartz's death, Wayne told UPI, neurologists at Presbyterian had informed the family they were nearly certain Ronald was suffering from CJD.
"They are 100 percent certain that's what it is," Wayne said. The only way to conclusively diagnose the disease, however, is via an autopsy, which Wayne said the family plans to have done on Ronald, who would have turned 63 on Wednesday.
Concerns about vCJD have been heightened since the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Washington last December. There have been no confirmed cases of vCJD in the United States, except for a 22-year old woman in Florida in 2002 who was a United Kingdom citizen and was thought to have contracted the disease while in England.
Ronald Swartz's age makes him an unlikely candidate for vCJD because the disease typically strikes those under age 55. But vCJD is a possibility because it previously has been detected in elderly people in the United Kingdom -- including a 74-year-old man and a recently discovered case of a 62-year-old man, who appears to have contracted the disease via an infected blood transfusion.
Janet Skarbek, a private citizen in Cinnaminson, N.J., who identified the CJD cases tied to the Garden State Race Track, thinks they are due to the consumption of beef contaminated with mad cow disease that might have been served at the track.
Both the DHSS and the CDC doubt Skarbek's hypothesis and downplay the possibility of a cluster related to either the racetrack or mad-cow-tainted beef.
Carrie Mahan, the subject of the newly reopened case, worked at the racetrack and is included in the list of potential cluster victims compiled by Skarbek.
Mahan's physicians at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia initially suspected she was suffering from variant CJD due to her young age. Subsequent tests at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland -- an institute set up by the CDC to autopsy possible vCJD cases -- ruled out both vCJD and CJD.
The case has baffled neurologists, such as Dr. Pierluigi Gambetti, director of the Surveillance Center, because Mahan's condition was never identified conclusively. However, many experts, including Dr. Nicholas Gonatas -- the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Mahan -- thought it was CJD.
Now Gambetti plans to determine if newer, more sensitive tests developed since 2000 can detect the presence of prions, the agents thought to be responsible for both CJD and vCJD, in Mahan's brain tissue.
Allen Mahan, Carrie's brother, said Gambetti requested permission from him last week to retest Carrie's brain tissue.
"Gambetti said they've developed new testing methods and they want to try them out on her case," Allen told UPI.
Gambetti declined to comment on the case due to patient confidentiality restrictions, but he said CJD tests are now more sensitive and offer "better detection ability" than in 2000.
Another factor driving the decision to re-examine Mahan's diagnosis could be the opinions of neurologists who observed the slides of her brain when Gambetti recently presented them anonymously at a neurology meeting. Allen said Gambetti told him most neurologists there had agreed the condition looked like CJD.
He added Gambetti said he expects to have the updated results in about three months.
Steve Mitchell is UPI's Medical Correspondent. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ? 2001-2004 United Press International
Analysis: EU tackles terror threat
By Roland Flamini
Chief International Correspondent
Published 3/24/2004 5:46 PM
WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- In the NATO treaty, it's the famous Article 5: An attack against one member of the Atlantic alliance "shall be considered an attack against them all." By Friday, the European Union will get its own Article 5 in a declaration expressing Europe's determination to act in concert in the fight against terrorism.
Drafted last week in the aftermath of the March 11 bombings in Madrid, the declaration is expected to be signed by the EU's foreign ministers at their March 25-26 meeting in Brussels, and its aim is to take anti-terrorist cooperation between the member states to more determined levels.
Echoing the NATO document, the draft EU declaration says that in the event of a terrorist attack against one state, the EU members will "act jointly ... with all the instruments at their disposal, including military resources." But as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw put it, "Words are not enough to fight terrorism." EU ministers and officials have spent the past week discussing ways of tightening up security to prevent a repetition of the Madrid outrage, and of countering it effectively when, despite their best efforts, it happens anyway.
This was the purpose of Tuesday's meeting in Madrid of intelligence and counter-terrorism chiefs of the five largest EU countries -- France, Spain, Britain, Germany and Italy. The Madrid bombings were the first full-scale terrorist attack by al-Qaida -- or in this case its apparent Moroccan affiliate -- in Europe. For the first time, Europeans had to focus on the real danger at home, and not the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, or the threat of another attack in the United States.
Islamist terrorism was no longer a problem at a distance, with U.S. intelligence taking the lead and Europeans providing support. In fact, neither the CIA nor the FBI were listed as participants in the Madrid meeting. And the EU's high official for international affairs, Javier Solana, went out of his way to emphasize differences in attitude from the Bush administration.
Unlike President Bush's characterization of the United States, Solana stressed that Europe was not in a state of war. "Europe must oppose terrorism energetically, but we must not change our way of life," Solana said.
But things will change in Europe: They are already doing so, and the first casualty of a more robust approach to the terrorism threat is likely to be the Schengen agreement. Named after the Luxembourg town where it was originally launched, the Schengen agreement established open borders between 15 EU member countries. After the euro, it is probably the most important symbol of European unity, establishing freedom of movement throughout most of the continent. Since 1995, it has given EU citizens free access to each other's countries without border checks.
But European governments are finding that open borders are a luxury their security can't afford. Following the Madrid bombings, the Portuguese government decided to suspend the agreement in June while the concluding rounds of the European soccer cup are being played in Portugal. Last week, Spain announced that it was temporarily re-establishing passport formalities for anyone, regardless of nationality, entering or leaving the country in the week prior to the wedding of Prince Felipe, the heir to the Spanish throne, and TV news anchor Letizia Ortiz.
Observers said Greece was likely to follow suit and suspend Schengen privileges for the period of the Summer Olympics, starting Aug. 10. While this does not spell the end of Schengen, observers argued that the whole principle would be undermined when Europe introduced another proposed anti-terrorist measure -- fingerprinting and photographing at airports and border crossings.
The Europe-wide arrest warrant signed last year to make it easier to extradite terrorist suspects will also be enforced E.U.-wide. Initially, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had put up a vigorous resistance to it, and Italy has been slow to implement it. But that was then. Last week, the proposal to enforce the warrant more vigorously came from the Italians, reflecting the level of alarm in Europe over the post-Madrid Islamist threat.
The Italians were also lobbying for wider powers to deport terror suspects. The Italians have a point. With large populations of Muslim immigrants already living in the country (4.1 million Muslims in France, or 7 percent of the total population) and providing ready-made support groups for militants, tightening border controls may have been too late in coming.
EU states are also close to appointing a Brussels-based anti-terrorism coordinator and European sources said Wednesday that former Netherlands Interior Minister Klaas de Vries was likely to get the job. But a proposal to form "a European CIA" that had been doing the rounds of the EU capitals has gained little support.
Some observers find it hard to see how Europe's apparent decision to launch an anti-terrorist mechanism independent of Washington is going to help either side. At the root of the Europe's independent approach is the split over the Iraq war. Bush believes -- at least publicly -- that the Iraq conflict was essential in combating Islamist terrorism. The Europeans, for the most part, don't. This difference has already helped bring down one government. The others would prefer to remain in office.
Copyright ? 2001-2004 United Press International
Al Qaeda supporters strike back in Pakistan
By Owais Tohid | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
WANA, PAKISTAN - After the Pakistani military's week-long offensive here inside the country's semiautonomous tribal belt, Al Qaeda supporters have launched a series of counterstrikes.
On Tuesday evening, guerrillas attacked the headquarters of Pakistani paramilitary troops as well as government establishments in the Northwest Frontier Province's capital, Peshawar. In the nearby town of Bannu, a bomb exploded moments before a military convoy was to pass a bridge, killing three policemen and a civilian. In the tribal region of Korram Agency, masked men attacked a military camp, killing three troops. Villagers in South Waziristan have reported a series of explosions, mostly in the evenings.
Significantly, these attacks have taken place well outside the 30-square mile area cordoned off by the Pakistani military in its roundup operation against Al Qaeda fighters. This broadening of the fight suggests that Pakistan could be facing a wider guerrilla war from Al Qaeda and their local supporters.
"They are trying to hit back by adopting guerrilla tactics in an attempt to hurt Pakistani security forces," says Mohammad Noor, a local journalist. "By attacking in other cities and towns, they want to engage [Pakistani] forces beyond the troubled region and want to demonstrate their strength."
The authorities have imposed a ban on riding motorbikes in South Waziristan as militants using bikes are believed to launch rocket attacks on kiosks and military bases. "They operate after sunset in small numbers, mostly two or three, and run away after carrying out attacks," says a local intelligence source.
"Once the darkness covers the mountains, we could see the movements of a few suspicious men carrying rockets over their shoulders, their bodies and faces covered with blankets. They disappeared and we could see only their shadows," says a tribesman in South Waziristan.
The counteroffensive started Monday when a group of guerrillas attacked a military convoy 25 miles outside Wana in Sarwaki village. Ten military and three paramilitary troops were killed. Several convoy vehicles carrying troop supplies into South Waziristan were damaged.
The militants are "feeling the heat, as they fear being uprooted from the region that has provided them shelter and given them a hope of survival. But now it has become a death trap, so they seem to be desperate and will fight a battle for their survival," says Sailab Mehsud, sociologist and a writer in South Waziristan.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities are still trying to secure the release of 14 paramilitary troops and administration officials held hostage by Al Qaeda militants and local men. The hostages are believed to have been captured when the fighting began March 16 between paramilitary troops and "foreign terrorists," as Pakistani authorities describe them.
Officials are trying to force cooperation from the Zalikhel tribe, which is accused of harboring Al Qaeda militants. Several tribesmen's houses have been demolished and their businesses shut.
Around 10,000 well-armed and equipped military and paramilitary troops, backed by gunship helicopters, are engaged in fighting with 400 to 500 Al Qaeda militants and their local supporters, known as Men of Al Qaeda, in South Waziristan. Pakistan says that its security forces have struck "solid blows" to foreign terrorists who had been hiding here after crossing the border from Afghanistan into this tribal belt following the ouster of the Taliban by the US and allied forces in 2001.
Several foreign and local militants, said to be mostly Chechens and Uzbeks, were killed during the operation launched on March 16, while around 125 have been arrested. The security forces have cordoned off several towns and villages spread over 30 square miles. Troops are conducting search operations in two of the towns, Schin Warsak and Kallu Shah, which are located some 10 miles west of Wana.
"Pakistan wants to control this region and to cleanse it from Al Qaeda and the Taliban militants. By doing so they will try to finish this problem once and for all and strengthen their presence along the western border [with Afghanistan] as well," says Mr. Mehsud.
Pakistani military troops have entered semiautonomous South Waziristan for the first time since Pakistan was founded in 1947. Most of the tribesmen are enraged as they believe the presence of security forces might take away their independence.
"We are against the operation because of the miseries of innocent tribesmen. Not every tribesman is involved with Al Qaeda and cannot be punished for a sin or crime committed by a few tribesmen," says a tribal elder. "The tribesmen are ready to cooperate and will fully cooperate if the security forces pledge to withdraw from towns and villages after the operation."
Canada's new plan for generic-drug sales
Thursday, Canada crafts legislation that would allow its generic drugmakers to sell medicine to developing countries.
By Doug Alexander | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Canada is on the verge of becoming the first country to allow drug companies to legally make and export cheap, generic medicines for needy nations.
Thursday, a parliamentary committee in Ottawa will review draft legislation that would let drugmakers seek licenses to make generic versions of patented medicines to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in developing nations. The legislation could become a template for other countries to follow.
But what should be good news for poor countries is being overshadowed by a looming battle in Canada's Parliament. The battle pits pharmaceutical companies that have poured billions of dollars and countless research hours into developing these medicines against the generic-drug industry and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that say the world should "do the right thing." Canada's challenge is trying to strike the right balance between the two sides.
"The question is whether Canada gets it right," Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the group spear- heading NGO lobbying efforts. "Will it be a good precedent or a bad one?"
Canada is the first country to act on the World Trade Organization's Aug. 30, 2003, decision to revise international patent rules to let developing nations import copies of brand-name drugs in cases where they can't make their own medicine. Strict rules prevent drugs from being diverted to wealthy countries.
The WTO's decision aimed to soothe the controversy sparked by Brazil and India, which have been exporting AIDS knock-off drugs to Africa, but in violation of WTO rules. Brazilian and Indian generic-drug firms must implement the WTO's patent rules by next year, which means they'll be following Canada's lead.
But not everyone is happy with Canada's prescription to tackle the world's health woes. Critics say the proposal undermines efforts to deliver affordable drugs to nations needing them most.
"The existing legislation is flawed because it includes the opportunity for brand-name companies who hold the patents on medicines to block or undermine potential competition in the marketplace," Mr. Elliott says.
The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association (CGPA), which represents 22 companies, says generic drugmakers aren't interested in making medicine under these conditions.
"The government's intention is laudable, but it is unlikely that any generic pharmaceutical company in Canada will use it unless substantial amendments are made," says Jim Keon, CGPA president.
The chief concern has been a clause offering patent holders the "right of first refusal" - an option to take over a contract negotiated by a generic-drug company. Critics say this removes the incentive for a generic company to negotiate a deal, which take months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to pursue.
Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D), which represents 55 multinationals, has countered with a proposal dubbed "equal opportunity to supply."
"This clause itself ensures that the research-based pharmaceutical companies are made aware of any discussions out there of any need for a developing country for the new medication," Rx&D spokesman Jacques Lefebvre says.
Rx&D says such measures are necessary to ensure that life-saving drugs get to a country in need as quickly as possible.
Mr. Lefebvre says pharmaceutical companies may be better equipped to supply drugs more quickly than generic firms, which may need three to five years to produce a generic drug.
"As long as affordable medicines are made available - whether it's the generic drugmakers or the research-based pharmaceutical companies - that's the priority," Lefebvre says. "Under the alternative we put forward, it does ensure that either one of us will be in a position to provide those medicines. This is an opportunity for both industries to put their traditional rivalries aside and work together."
Canada's minister of industry, Lucienne Robillard, has stressed the need for balance between aid and patents. "We must be true to the humanitarian nature of this initiative," she commented last month. "At the same time we must never forget the importance of intellectual property rights such as those embodied by patents. After all, such protection supports the continued advancement in medical science upon which we all depend."
The future of the bill lies with a parliamentary standing committee, which will review the draft legislation Thursday and suggest changes to break the deadlock before handing it over to Canada's lower House of Commons for approval.
"They have a tough job, there's no doubt about it," says Eric Dagenais, patent policy director at Industry Canada, the government ministry behind this bill. "They have three groups of stakeholders - the NGOs, the brands, and the generics - and all three have their own interests."
South Korea Reports N. Koreans on Hunger Strike in China
24 Mar 2004, 17:39 UTC
Published reports in South Korea say about 100 North Korean asylum-seekers detained in China have gone on a hunger strike.
The reports quote various sources who say the would-be refugees are being detained at a camp in northern Jilin province, which borders North Korea. The sources also say that some of the detainees are in poor condition.
South Korea's government is trying to confirm the reports. A Foreign Ministry official says if the reports are true, the government will ask China to allow the asylum-seekers to go to a third country.
As many as 300,000 North Koreans are believed to have fled across the border into China in recent years, to escape starvation and repression in their country. Some of the asylum-seekers reported on the hunger strike in Jilin are said to have begun their action some three weeks ago.
These reports come as China issued a statement Wednesday saying it had repatriated more than 16,000 foreigners who entered the country illegally since October of last year.
Although China is obligated by treaty to send illegal North Korean asylum-seekers back home, Beijing has allowed some of them to leave for South Korea in cases that attracted international media attention.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters.
Israel terms Arafat as block to peace
www.chinaview.cn 2004-03-25 03:58:47
UNITED NATIONS, March 24 (Xinhuanet) -- Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said here Wednesday that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains a block to the peace in the Middle East region, but his government so far has no plan to remove it.
"Our cabinet hasn't taken any decision about Yasser Arafat. The only decision that was taken, a few months ago, was to consider to expel him," Shalom told reporters after a private talk with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The meeting was held just hours after a swarm of speakers, at an open debate of the Security Council, slashed the Israeli "extrajudicial" killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group of Hamas.
It is reported that after Yassin's killing, Arafat has expressed concern that he might be the next target.
The minister recalled that after the decision was made to expel the Palestinian leader, he received many calls from his colleagues urging "not to do it."
"They believe that Arafat is an obstacle to the peace, but he can cause more damages while he is outside than he is inside (the occupied territory)," he explained.
"While Arafat is there, there is no way that the moderate new Palestinian leadership will emerge," he said, "because (the new leadership) is very much afraid of him and not willing to confront him."
He noted that the only choice for Arafat is to give up authority and transfer powers to the Palestinian prime minister. Enditem
Covering Clinton: The President and the Press in the 1990s by Joseph Hayden. Westport, CT, Greenwood Publishing Group. 168 pp. $55.00.
If you find it fascinating to learn how Houdini managed to get himself into impossible situations and then magically managed to extract himself and escape to his next entanglement, this is your book. Joseph Hayden, a freelance writer and former journalist, tells the William Jefferson Clinton sequel. He starts with Clinton's 1992 run for the presidency and ends with the rainbow of speculations about the expresident's place in history.
The most astounding Houdini-like trick happened in 1992, when a badly flawed, obscure governor from a smallish southern state, who lacked support from his party's power structure, managed to propel himself into the presidency. How did he do it? How could he overcome the blemishes of rumors of corrupt real-estate dealings, evidence that he weaseled out of serving in Vietnam, and proof that he lied about engaging in repeated extramarital escapades and about using marijuana? Novel uses of peripheral media were at the heart of the trick. Hayden chronicles how a young team of inexperienced yet savvy advisers steered Clinton into new media venues like MTV, Phil Donahue, Arsenio Hall, and Larry King Live, as well as multiple town hall meetings. In these settings, his personal charm and uncanny ability to connect with people allowed him to win a large, loyal following.
By using these new media, Clinton traded the prosecutorial interrogations of traditional reporters for mostly respectful questions by young, star-struck audiences. What is more, these audiences gave him a chance to air his ideas about politics and policies in his own words, showing his impressive mastery of the field, rather than having his proposals paraphrased and often interpreted and even distorted by hostile, suspicious, cynical reporters.
Many mainstream commentators sneered at this soft, Oprah-style news that pulled at people's heartstrings and forged personal ties between the speaker and the audience, rather than inviting listeners to find faults with his policy proposals.Yet it gave Clinton the core of unwavering supporters that the wouldbe president so badly needed in 1992 and on many later occasions. The likes of James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, and Mandy Grunwald had invented an effective new style of political campaigning that would last beyond the 1990s.
Political Science Quarterly Volume 118 Number 2 2003 315
316 | political science quarterly
While the title of the book suggests that media coverage of Clinton is the main focus, this is not the case. Rather, this is a smoothly-written general account, laced with quotes from journalists and pundits, that targets the largely self-inflicted political troubles plaguing the Clinton presidency. Hayden records the boyish charm and political deftness with which Clinton extricated himself again and again from near-fatal political disasters. He also notes the president's good fortune of often benefiting from inept opponents. In the latter category, the 1996 election was a cakewalk, because Clinton faced a lackluster Republican opponent and because he was blessed with a robust economy, thanks largely to forces beyond his control. Newt Gingrich, the Republican Senate leader, who rode into power propelled by Clinton gaffes, in the end selfdestructed thanks to Clintonesque flaws like political arrogance and politically damaging moves.
In most of these instances, the press, which Clinton feared and detested and often tried to manipulate, played a relatively minor role. This became especially clear during the 1996 election and during the Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment procedures. A major reason for press impotence was Clinton's success in personalizing his relationship with the public and in persuading majorities to accept his framing of political events. Images based on stronglyfelt personal reactions to a politician invariably override contrary images featured in news reports. Still, when Clinton and his publics pass on, the warmth of human relations will dissipate and the final verdict about the Clinton presidency will be rendered in the cold light of dispassionate scholarship. If that light focuses on Hayden's text, it will show a presidency marked by superb style and acrobatic political flexibility but short on principled actions and sorely lacking in lasting substantive political achievements.
Doris A. Graber
University of Illinois at Chicago
Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East by Mohammed el-Nawawy and Adel Iskandar. Boulder, CO, Westview, 2002. 228 pp. $24.00.
For decades, the Arab world was forced to rely on national presses that were often monitored or controlled by authoritarian regimes or Western media, BBC, CNN, etc. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of Arab newspapers and satellite television stations. None has been more successful nor more controversial than al Jazeera. As Americans post-September 11 struggled with the questions, "Why do they hate us?" and "Why is anti-Americanism so widespread?" few realized that a powerful source of al Jazeera's success was its graphic coverage of the second intifada or Palestinian uprising. Arabs and Muslims across the world could have their morning cup of coffee or evening dinner and see live reports from Israel-Palestine or other parts of the Muslim world, often conveying a news coverage absent in the American media.
Americans discovered al Jazeera during the invasion of the Taliban's Afghanistan, as it provided live coverage to the world. In the ensuing days and weeks American officials like Candoleeza Rice, head of the National Security Council, and Ambassador Christopher Ross, a longtime Middle East hand fluent in Arabic, went before al Jazeera's cameras in an attempt to explain American policy to the Arab and Muslim world. In Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East, Mohammed el-Nawawy and Adel Iskandar attempt to explain the Arab world's most independent and most controversial media.
The Qatar-based satellite station is a testimony to the globalization of communications and the ability of an outlet located in a small Gulf state to attract a global audience and enjoy a global impact. The authors' analysis of the origins, influential forces, and voices of al Jazeera and the nature of its programming goes a long way toward effectively addressing the question of whether it broadcasts independent journalism or is a platform for extremists. They emphasize the diversity of its founders and staff as well as the financial support and surprising independence the station has enjoyed from their patron, the emir of Qatar. The signs of al Jazeera's most important diversity and independence come from its programming, which has included interviews with not only Arab and Muslim voices but also with Israeli, American, and European guests. Its hard-hitting journalism has targeted Arab regimes as well as the Israeli and American governments. The station has addressed political, social, and religious issues that would never have been permitted by most Arab and Muslim governments: from Jordan's King Hussein's secret relations with Israeli leaders and exposes on Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, to debates between secularists and fundamentalists on politics, sex, and polygamy. As a result, al Jazeera has been praised for its free and open journalism, accused of being a mouthpiece for fundamentalists and extremists' pandering to anti-Semitism as well as anti-Islamism, and being influenced by the Mossad and the CIA. While the U.S. government had often praised al Jazeera as a rare and important example of the development of a free and critical media, its coverage and criticism of American foreign policy in Israel-Palestine and the conduct of the American-led war against global terrorism has drawn public and private complaints to al Jazeera's patron, Qatar, from the Bush administration. El-Nawawy and Iskandar provide rich description and detail, enabling readers, especially those that have not watched or are unable to follow itsArabic programming to see the accomplishments and pitfalls, the positives and negatives, of al Jazeera's phenomenal success. That situation will change as al Jazeera begins its English programming. While celebrating its successand global impact, the authors do not shrink from addressing hard issues and criticisms, from al Jazeera's failure to cover Qatari politics to its bias and provocative politicized coverage. In particular, they provide substantial coverage and nuanced analysis of al Jazeera's controversial role in airing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda taped interviews. However, too often al Jazeera's
318 | political science quarterly
critics forget that similar questions have been raised over the years regarding the exposure Eastern media have given to hijackers and murderers. Moreover, they gloss over the serious questions raised post-September 11 of the stark differences between the more independent European and increasingly passive American media as well as their ideological biases--from liberal to neoconservative-- of American newspapers and media such as the New York Post, Wall St. Journal, New York Times, The Nation, New Republic, Weekly Standard, Fox News, and CNN.
One of the lessons of post-September 11 is the importance of the media as a communicator and interpreter of news as well as a formative influence on public opinion. The failures and dangers of a lack of a free press are obvious in many Arab and Muslim countries as well as the need for governments in America and Europe to communicate their message more effectively to the Muslim world. The increased talk of the need for democratization in the Arab and Muslim worlds and attempts of some governments to proceed along a path to democratization will underscore both the importance of the media and continue to draw attention to the example and track record of al Jazeera. Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East provides an excellent starting point for understanding the changes and challenges that are underway.
John L. Esposito
You Call This an Election? America's Peculiar Democracy by Steven
E. Schier. Washington, DC, Georgetown University Press, 2003, 176
In an especially compelling metaphor, Steven Schier compares an electoral system to a calendar: as the calendar structures our lives, the electoral system structures our political process. His evaluation of electoral systems is based on four cogent goals: stability--political, governmental, and regime; accountability; high voter turnout; and deliberation of public policy. He offers an analysis that is at once rich and lucid, arising from a distillation of the research results and the conclusions of an amazing number of experts in the field. He discusses the characteristics and consequences of electoral systems beginning with the theories of John Locke and James Madison and extending to the practices of the world's other constitutional democracies. It soon becomes clear that the goals of electoral systems, including his own four, are not necessarily compatible in practice. As a result, readers are forced to rank order their own goals and to confront their own personal tradeoffs. Which is more important: stability or accountability? What kind of accountability-- party or individual official--is most desirable? Is a swift and decisive election more or less important than achieving the most humanly accurate
book reviews | 679
vote count? Is direct democracy superior to representative democracy? Is a plurality system less legitimate than a majority one? Is a locally-based constituency more functional than an ideologically-based one? Is the more representative multi-party system preferable to a stable two-party system? Like the rest of us, Schier makes choices. Of the evaluative four criteria, only voter turnout merits its own chapter. At times it appears to be his paramount concern, shaping more of his recommended reforms than the other three and explaining his endorsement of the instant runoff system in a single member district with a majority requirement. Under this system, used in Australia, voters must rank their preferences, and if no candidate receives a majority in the first round, the second choice ballots of the lowest candidates are counted. Such counting continues until one candidate achieves a majority. Although this system appears to increase turnout, it is a curious choice because it might very well create a multi-party system which would undermine both stability and accountability. At the very least, it would give influence and appointive offices to extremist candidates. The average citizen's response to this voting mechanism usually is that it gives some voters two votes. Further, it is very complex, though endorsed by a theorist who wants "to make America's electoral system simple and user friendly" (p. 143).
Schier's analysis of the Populist-Progressive reforms and their consequences for the political process is quite devastating. He points out that these reforms undermined party-based elections and made ballots too complicated for most voters. Favoring legislative democracy over direct democracy, he finds the referendum, the recall, and most particularly, the initiative promising, but they do not provide accountability. Instead, they are disruptive of the deliberative Madisonian system because they ask too much of voters and empower the special interests. As for campaign finance, he concludes it is an antiparty reform that helps interest groups and incumbents and harms parties and challengers. Other topics examined are the electoral college, redistricting, and racial gerrymandering.
This book is a keeper, not only as a stimulus to sorting and ranking personal political values, but also as a useful reference work--it is chock full of information. The bibliography is extensive, the text provides easy source and page references, the organization is excellent, and the argument flows smoothly. His students must love his classes.
Judith A. Best
State University of New York
College at Cortland