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All sorts of rumors are being peddled these days about anti-Israel boycotts in Europe. Here's a tip: don't believe everything you hear. European activists are certainly upset about the military crackdown in the West Bank, but they're not having much economic impact. According to one tale, Norway is actively aiding consumer protests by marking Israeli imports with a star. The facts are quite different. In early April the boss of one Norwegian supermarket chain threatened to stop selling Israeli products--and the chain's parent company promptly overruled him. Israeli goods remain on the stores' shelves. They are labeled, but not with stars and not by government policy.

The 15-nation European Union (Norway is not a member) requires that all Israeli goods be marked as such, even though Israel enjoys preferential trade status with the EU. Imports from anywhere outside the EU are supposed to display their country of origin. The EU's toothless legislature, the European Parliament, voted a few weeks ago to call for a suspension of Israel's preferential status, but the real governing body, the Council of the European Commission, just shrugged at the resolution.

Boycotts can backfire. Take the Norwegian supermarkets' threat to pull Israeli products off their shelves. "It's ironic, because if you try to harm Israeli fruit and vegetable exports, you are actually harming Palestinians," says Ohad Cohen, Israel's commercial attache to Norway, Sweden and Finland. "Most people who work in that sector are Palestinians or foreigners"--that is, migrant farmhands from places like Thailand.

There's also the troublesome case of two Israeli professors fired recently in the name of an academic boycott against Israel. Both were on the staffs of scholarly journals published at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, in England. A win for Palestinian rights? Hardly. One of the two, translation-studies specialist Miriam Shlesinger, was chairperson of Amnesty International's Israel branch and is active in the Israeli antiwar group Peace Now. In short, the only rule that applies to Mideast politics is the law of unforeseen consequences.

REPORTS Arabic Advances The United Nations' verdict is in: the Arab world has made "substantial progress" in human development over the past three decades, but much still needs to be done to provide future generations with an adequate political voice, better social choices and more economic opportunity. So says the U.N. Development Program's Arab Human Development Report 2002, released last week. The study examines the Arab League's 22 member nations, covering issues ranging from Internet access to women's rights. The bad news first:

Now, the good news:

"Things are changing for the better," says Amira A. Hussein of Cairo's Alliance for Arab Women. They have to. Otherwise, according to the report, by 2010 Arab unemployment will double to 25 million, and nearly 14 million children between 6 and 15 will not be attending school and the region's combined GDP will still be less than that of European countries like Spain.

EMISSIONS A Pipe Dream Becomes Possible President George W. Bush wiped his hands of the Kyoto Protocol in March 2001. But he did promise an American alternative. And now we have it--California. Last week a bill to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles in California was approved by the State Assembly and landed before Gov. Gray Davis, who has said he'll likely sign it. If he does, the California Air Resources Board will adopt standards for cars and light trucks (read SUVs) sold in the state to achieve "maximum feasible reduction" in emissions. Only California could get away with this: because its Air Resources Board was established before the federal-level Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), California is allowed to establish tougher standards than the EPA, which so far doesn't regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles. And most important, other states can then follow its lead. Massachusetts and New Hampshire both recently passed laws regulating emissions from power plants, including carbon dioxide, and may soon be in the market for vehicle standards, too.

The best-case scenario for enviros everywhere is that legal moves might not even be necessary for other states to follow suit. California, with an economy larger than all but four of the world's countries, accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. car market. So if the big automakers are forced to manufacture cars for California that have lower greenhouse-gas emissions, they might as well do it for the rest of the country. And that could add up to significant environmental progress in a car-obsessed nation.

Galapagos Oil Overboard They say it's not worth crying over certain spilled liquids. Oil, however, isn't one of them. When nearly 240,000 gallons of fuel were dumped near the Galapagos archipelago in January 2001, international ecologists condemned Ecuador's management of the protected islands, calling for international support in keeping the famous Galapagos habitat out of harm's way.

Apparently, their protests had little impact. Last Thursday a barge spilled close to 2,000 gallons of diesel near the islands. Strong currents were blamed for knocking the barge's haul--a fuel tank--overboard. But once again, ecologists pointed the finger at the government, denouncing its failure to implement adequate safety measures on fuel transport to electric plants on the Galapagos.

On the upside, initial wildlife damage reports from local scientists weren't too grim; most of the archipelago's exotic wildlife would not be affected in the short term. But experts also believed it was too soon to tell about the long-term effects. A recent study showed that 62 percent of iguanas on the island of Santa Fe died within a year of the last Galapagos spill. Let's hope--for the sake of both the Galapagos wildlife and the Ecuadoran government--that this spill doesn't do the same type of damage.

ARGENTINA Menem... Again?> When Argentina's caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde declared last week that next year's election would be held in March, seven months earlier than originally planned, a surprising name popped up as a possible replacement: Carlos Menem, the country's 72-year-old former president. Despite the fact that most Argentines hold Menem responsible for the government corruption and overspending that triggered the country's current economic woes, many loyal Peronists hark back to the mid-1990s, when Argentina was still prospering under his leadership. It doesn't seem to bother anyone that Menem spent five months last year under house arrest on illegal arms-sales charges, either. (The allegations were dropped in November.) Even the country's laws have so far done little to quell the rising Menem tide. The Constitution prohibits former presidents from seeking another term in office until they've been away from the job for four years, and Menem's four-year gap won't be officially complete until December 2003. But these are Argentine politics, which of late have avoided many rules. Within hours of Duhalde's announcement, Menem announced plans to seek the Peronist party's presidential nomination in primary elections scheduled for later this year. Recent polls show that he's got a good chance of winning that vote. Menem's biggest hurdle is likely to be hopping the constitutional law--but even that doesn't look insurmountable. His lawyers have already declared that they will ask the country's Supreme Court for a ruling that gives their man a green light. And getting a favorable decision from the justices shouldn't be all that difficult--most of the court's members were appointed by none other than the former prez himself. At this rate (and taking into consideration the brief residencies of Argentine presidents these days) the toughest challenge Menem's likely to encounter is actually holding on to the presidency if he manages to win it.

BioWarfare Same Old Diseases, New Fears Recent revelations about an alleged 1971 Soviet field test of weaponized smallpox that accidentally killed three civilians and nearly caused a massive outbreak is raising alarms: does the world need new vaccines to protect citizens from terrorists using potent smallpox strains? NEWSWEEK's Eve Conant spoke with Russian microbiologist Gennady Lepyoshkin, who survives on meager U.S. grants designed to keep now unemployed former bioweaponeers out of the employ of so-called rogue states:

How close would you have to be to a weaponized source to get infected?
The highest possibility for infection would be between two to five kilometers. After that, the concentration level goes down, the effectiveness diminishes. The usual form of transmission is from coughing, sneezing or touching the lesions on someone else's skin; for example, if you rubbed up against them on a tram in a big city.

The United States is debating whether to make smallpox vaccines available to the public. Could vaccines fight weaponized smallpox? Is it worth producing these vaccines if such powerful strains of smallpox are out there?
At the moment, we have no defense. The vaccines should be made by all means; they will still work. If some terrorist act should happen right now, there would be very large biological losses. The old generation that was vaccinated has lost their immunity. This is a very scary thing and we are not ready for it now. A number of specialists who are working in this field are vaccinated, but the bulk of the population does not have immunity. There is no need for everyone to get immunized, but vaccines should be stored so they are available at warehouses. I believe smallpox is the worst disease on earth.

What is life now like for former bioweapons specialists in Russia?
We live very poorly, below the level that specialists like ourselves should be living at. But we are adjusting and are looking for additional income--everyone looks to find a way they can make some money. I'm not yet planning to go to countries like Iran, Iraq or Libya that are developing biological weapons.

What do you mean you're not "yet" planning to go to those countries?
We are looking for other options, more acceptable options. I personally will never go to Iran or Iraq; I will work here. But right now I am not working. I get money only through grants. Until recently I made about $100 per month.

Do you think that smallpox as a weapon could be in the hands of terrorist groups?
I think yes, of course. People like bin Laden or his accomplices would gladly get the strains--and they more than likely have them--to scare the entire world with a biological war using natural smallpox. These recent experiences with anthrax are like kindergarten compared to what smallpox can do. People died from smallpox in the millions. They died from plague in the millions. The world is ready to combat plague, but it is not ready for smallpox.

Sin used to be simple to define: a matter of humans hurting other human beings. But Bartholomew I, the current Greek Orthodox patriarch, wants to extend sin to harming the earth, earning himself the nickname "The Green Patriarch." Earlier this month, I traveled with Patriarch Bartholomew and 249 others--holy men, activists, U.N. officials and journalists--on a luxurious Adriatic cruise. Our purpose wasn't pleasure, though; we were there to examine environmental hot spots in the Balkans and ponder where God and conservation converge.

Once at sea, we set upon our rigorous task. We attended plenary sessions, which veered wildly between the sublime and the mundane. A cardinal from Germany and the grand mufti of Syria deliberated on the symbol of water in the Bible and Qur'an. Conservationists showed us scary maps of Adriatic contamination, pointing out the effects of the lethal cocktail of ship pollution, pesticides and untreated sewage that have been spilled indiscriminately into these waters. In Albania, politicians parked their limousines outside the ship and came aboard to declare their commitment to regional peace and stability. Then they berated the journalists among us for asking them tough questions about environmental disaster sites. An impassioned speech blasting the concept of sustainable development by the environmentalist Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan was followed by a woman from Split talking about the disposal of solid waste in the Croatian city.

The Fellini-esque surrealism peaked the evening we sailed into Kotor, on the Montenegrin coast. We filed off the boat to a portside reception at dusk, complete with a brass band, gold braid glinting in the fading sun. Old men danced slowly with handkerchiefs as girls in hoop skirts led the patriarch and his distinguished guests ashore. The brandy and canapes we were served at the dock contrasted with our less festive reception that morning in Durres, Albania. At Porto Romano, outside Durres, northern Albanian squatters live on the grounds of a former chemical plant that until 1990 produced the pesticide lindane, which, along with chromium salt, has since seeped into the groundwater and soil. Near the houses built from the old factory's bricks lie 20,000 tons of toxic waste. The people know it's dangerous here; the milk from the grazing cows tastes funny, they say. Still, they believe they have no place to go. They tend their tin pots of geraniums and string up fading lace curtains in their doorways. Few of them wanted to talk to their uninvited visitors. "So many people come and look," said one angry mother. "And nothing happens." We listened and scribbled in our pads. Then the tour buses took us back to our cruise ship, and we sailed away.

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