News and Features
The Ralph Nader running for President this year is quite a different person from the driven crusader whom I first met as a young reporter, covering the advent of his public-interest movement thre
Despite early stumbles, George W. Bush has the potential to be an
effective foreign policy president. But his willingness to back off from
the "Star Wars" missile defense, which has been soundly rebuked by our
allies, will be the test of his ability to lead.
Although poorly prepared for his world leadership role by a woeful
absence of foreign policy experience or even the benefit of tourist
travel, Bush is an affable and curious fellow who's capable of cramming
on the essentials. On last week's trip abroad, he proved open to
acknowledging that even the world's greatest power must go along to get
along when it comes to dealing with other powerful nations, a number of
which also possess weapons of mass destruction.
That much is clear from Bush's meeting with Russian leader Vladimir V.
Putin, after which Bush pronounced the former KGB leader as "a man deeply
committed to his country and the best interests of his country."
It was a bold and honest recognition of the humanity and skill of an
adversary, akin to Ronald Reagan's appraisal of then-Soviet leader
Mikhail S. Gorbachev after their first meeting at Reykjavik. Recall that
moment when Reagan came out into the hall to report to his shocked,
hawkish aides that he and Gorby had just agreed to eliminate all nuclear
Unfortunately, aides to both men cooled their leaders' enthusiasm for
that sensible project, but their wisdom launched the dismantling of the
cold war and at least led to the last serious spate of nuclear arms
Today, with the continued existence of massive nuclear weapons
arsenals and the deterioration of control over the spread of weapons
technology and material, the world is in many ways an even more dangerous
Despite the end of the cold war, the US and Russia still stand
poised to destroy all life on Earth. Russian control of its nuclear
weapons industry is fitful at best; the risk of accidental launch is
real, and the recruitment of unpaid former Soviet weapons scientists and
the selling of nuclear weapons-grade material to even less stable regimes
is alarming. So-called rogue nations such as North Korea and Iraq are
said to be developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass
destruction, and the historic tension between India and Pakistan has
spurred a nuclear arms race that threatens the survival of humans as a
As a result, it's possible to be pessimistic about controlling and
then eliminating nuclear weapons--the aim of arms control--and in
desperation consider a go-it-alone effort at building a "shield" against
That such a shield will never work, however, has been well known since
the failure of the nuclear pumped X-ray laser developed at the Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory in the 1980s, which promised what lab
scientists referred to as Buck Rogers space fighting machines. Before the
bad news came in that the X-ray laser was a bust, nuclear physicist
Edward Teller had managed to convince President Reagan that a magical
security solution was at hand. But the X-ray laser project has been
abandoned, and antimissile defense is back to relying on hitting a bullet
with a bullet, a game in which the offense, with its maneuverability and
decoys, will always prove the winner.
Another problem with missile defense, even if it could be made to
work, is that one side's defense appears as offense to others. That's why
Richard Nixon, one of the most skilled of modern US foreign policy
leaders, warned that the danger of building a shield is that others will
view it as not just protecting the US but as a means of thwarting
another's retaliation to a US first strike. Thus the end of the concept
of "mutually assured destruction," which has kept the superpowers in line
for four decades.
For example, China, which has abided by the terms of the test ban
treaty and which has been content with a puny intercontinental ballistic
missile force of primitive liquid-fueled rockets, is now threatening to
expand its program in the face of Bush's commitment to an antimissile
program. The nuclear forces of the US and Russia, with their nuclear
warheads based on a triad of land, sea and air forces, would survive such
a first strike. Not so with a country like China, which would be faced
with the ghastly prospect of using or losing its nuclear missiles in the
face of an attack, real or imagined.
This is not an argument lost on hawks in China, who, in the face of
Bush's missile-defense talk, are pressuring for a rapid modernization of
the Chinese nuclear force to make it less vulnerable to US attack.
Bush has dismissed arms control as a "relic" of the cold war, but
abandoning the antiballistic missile and other treaties is the easiest
way to provoke a new cold war with many players, led by China. Missiles
are the true relics of the cold war; they have no operative military role
in the absence of a face-off of the superpowers.
The focus on missile defense represents a denial that the real threat
to the security of the American people comes from terrorists and has
nothing to do with developing an antimissile system. Even if an effective
system could be built to intercept nuclear-armed missiles--and there's no
evidence, after twenty years and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of
dollars, that it's possible--it would not make us safer from the attacks
of terrorists, be they state-sponsored or freelancers.
And for terrorists, the ICBM would hardly be their weapon of choice.
Any nation responsible for firing a nuclear-armed missile at the US
would be obliterated quickly as a matter of established US policy.
That's why terrorists would seek to conceal the base of their operation
and the sponsoring country and instead rely on far more primitive weapons
and delivery systems.
The likely terrorist strategy would be to smuggle into half a dozen
US cities primitive nuclear bombs, which are simpler, easier to produce
and more reliable.
Or, why go nuclear at all when biological and chemical warfare can
more reliably terrorize a civilian population? As the Oklahoma City
bombing demonstrated, even a fertilizer bomb constructed by a couple of
scientific illiterates and transported in a rented truck can create
The emphasis on the ICBM threat is a knee-jerk response that equates a
Soviet-style threat to that of weaker nations and the terrorists they
might support. The Bush Administration has frequently cited the
Commission to Assess US National Security Space Management and
Organization--the so-called Rumsfeld Commission--to support the view that
North Korea, Iran and Iraq could conceivably field a few unreliable and
inaccurate ICBMs, and thus the need for a missile shield. Yet according
to Richard L. Garwin, the commission, on which he served, stressed that
those same countries "already possessed short-range cruise or ballistic
missiles that, if launched from ships against coastal cities, would pose
an earlier, more accurate and cheaper threat to the US population." He
went on to say that a nuclear or biological weapon "could be delivered by
a ship that need go no closer than the harbor to devastate a port
city--without any missile at all."
That is well understood by Donald Rumsfeld, who was the commission's
chair and is now secretary of Defense. But inexplicably he has supported
the deployment of an antimissile program, even if we have no reason to
expect it to work. Clearly, missile defense is valued as an illusion of
safety rather than as an example of the real thing.
Dealing with the threat of terrorism is a complex matter involving
first-rate intelligence utilizing the most sophisticated surveillance
technology as well as old-fashioned on-the-ground spying. It requires
extensive international cooperation to control the materials needed by
such groups to create weapons of mass destruction. It would be far better
to spend the hundreds of billions that will be eaten up by an antimissile
program on those efforts, and yet the inescapable conclusion is that
politicians don't support this approach because such measures are a
less-exciting sell to the public.
It is time to cut our losses on this program.
As our most trusted allies have pointed out to Bush, antimissile
defense is an expensive and dangerous distraction from the work at hand:
how to stop the spread of horridly destructive weapons in the hands of
terrorists that are not made the less dangerous because they are
low-tech, cheap and easily deployed.
Bush seems at times to be a realist, and the notion of quietly phasing
out the antimissile program while at the same time strengthening,
expanding and ratifying the existing arms control treaties, should be a
If Bush reverses himself and takes on the feathers of the dove, he
will be in a fine tradition of Republican presidents: Eisenhower, Nixon,
Ford, Reagan and his own father.
Republicans, less vulnerable than Democrats to attacks from the
weapons hawks, make good peacemakers when they come to their senses.
The good news is that Bush has finally been to Europe. One can only
hope that while there he learned something from other world leaders about
the importance of arms control and the folly of his antimissile defense
Which current candidate for President reversed the abortion stand he
espoused as a Congressional candidate in the seventies and adopted a
position more acceptable to the mainstream of his party
What's the meaning of Al Gore? Or George Bush?
What if First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush had been caught
lighting up a joint? Would the respectable media play down that story the
way they have the Bush children's illegal purchases of alcohol?
Hardly, because marijuana is an officially proscribed demon drug while
alcohol is a mainstay of the culture, promoted incessantly as an
essential ingredient of the good life.
Marijuana use, the drug war zealots insist, despite considerable
evidence to the contrary, leads inevitably to the harder stuff. That's
why the US Supreme Court won't risk the health of dying cancer patients
with a few tokes of physician-prescribed pot. But those margaritas that
the Bush girls grew up to prefer, heck that's just child's play,
something all college students do and soon grow out of.
Not so their father, unless you think abusing alcohol until the age of
40 is still child's play. Had he hit someone on that night when he was
arrested for DUI, it might have undermined George W.'s charmed ascension
to the presidency.
Sorry, but I'm with the tabloids on this one. It is big news that the
commander in chief of the drug war has not been able to control his own
daughters' illegal behavior.
Obviously, Bush has not followed his own advice, offered while
announcing the revving up of the drug war, that parents take more
responsibility for their children's conduct.
Should the Bush children have gone to church more often to be exposed
to those faith-based anti-drug and alcohol programs that the President
embraced? Did the Bush parents always know where their children were?
Perhaps the Bush twins were permitted to watch too many Hollywood movies.
Imagine the vituperation that would have been visited upon the Clinton
family if Chelsea, like Jenna, had used the Secret Service to pick up an
underage boyfriend, accused of public intoxication, from jail. But when
it comes to family values, Republicans' messed-up personal lives are
chuckled off as just another American-as-apple-pie growing up experience.
Did not the President's mother elicit howls of laughter from her
Junior League audience when she made passing reference to her son's
alcohol addiction on the very day that her granddaughters were charged
with breaking the law? "He is getting back some of his own," Grandma Bush
said, with more than a trace of wonderment that her son George W., the
underachiever and, by his own admission, often inebriated prankster, is
now the President of us all.
But alcoholism wasn't really funny for George W. or he wouldn't have
had to go cold turkey and work white-knuckle hard these past fifteen years at
staying sober. Alcoholism is one of the nation's leading problems and
when then-Gov. Bush signed a "zero tolerance" law in 1997 on underage
drinking, the reason offered was that Texas led the United States in
More than 100,000 people die each year from alcohol, so controlling
its use is of public importance. This guy as governor and President has
responded to problems of substance abuse by acting to throw even more
people into jail although that course has already given us the largest
per-capita prison population in the world. Yet, when his own daughter now
stands but one more arrest away from a possible six months in the slammer
because of the law then-Gov. Bush signed, the President is speechless.
"The President views this as a family matter, a private matter, and he
will treat it as such," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer huffed.
Not so fast.
Alcoholism is the social problem that this President best understands,
and instead of slinking off into silence, he should provide a public
example of what he has claimed parenting is all about.
This is the time to talk honestly to his daughters and the nation
about the lessons of substance abuse, and particularly, whether the tough
law and order approach is just dumb. Unless, of course, he really
believes that his daughter would benefit from six months behind bars for
ordering yet another margarita.
Maybe the drinking age should be dropped to 18 years old, as most of
the Bush daughters' classmates seem to feel. Why make criminals of the
young, most of whom are quite responsible in making their own decisions
about when and what to drink? But isn't that even truer of an adult
cancer patient who uses marijuana to ward off nausea?
The Bush Administration is pulling a fast one on energy, and we
will all pay dearly for decades to come. By panicking the public with oil
industry propaganda of an energy shortage, the Bushies are building
support for the most reckless energy policy since the days before the
environmentalist movement, when blackened skies and lungs represented the
vision of progress.
To make things worse, to head off objections to their plans to plunder
virgin lands and obliterate conservation measures, they have thrown in as
a palliative the old oxymoron of "clean" nuclear power.
Of course there is nothing clean about nuclear waste, which can never
be rendered safe.
The public may temporarily accept new nuclear power plants, as long as
one is not built anywhere near their neighborhood and the radioactive
byproduct is shipped to another part of the country.
But trust me, while these things may be better designed today, the
insurance companies are no dummies for still refusing to insure nuclear
power plants. It is wildly irresponsible for the Bush Administration to
now insist that US taxpayers underwrite these inherently dangerous
Does anyone even remember Three Mile Island? Or, more disastrously,
Chernobyl? I was the first foreign print journalist admitted to the
Chernobyl plant after the explosion. Even a year after the fact, and with
the benefit of the best of Western scientific advice, it was still a
scene of chaos. Nuclear power is like that--unpredictable, unstable and
ultimately as dangerous as it gets.
The entire Chernobyl operation is now buried in a concrete-covered
grave, but the huge area under the radioactive plume emitted from the
plant is a permanent cancer breeding ground, as is the sediment in the
area's main rivers and throughout much of its farm land. I traveled from
Moscow to Chernobyl by train in the company of top US and Soviet
experts, but even they seemed to feel lost and frightened as they donned
white coats and Geiger counters to tour Chernobyl. Nuclear power is just
too risky a gamble to push because of a phony energy crisis.
The desperation in the White House is palpable, but it is not over an
"energy crisis," which Bush's buddies and campaign contributors
manipulated in the Western electricity market.
No, the fear of the Bush people, even before Jim Jeffords's defection,
was that their political power would be short-lived and that they had
best move as fast as possible on their pet projects, beginning with
increasing the profits of GOP energy company contributors.
Why else the panic? There is no sudden energy crisis. Known
world reserves of fossil fuel are greater than ever, alternative energy
sources are booming, and conservation measures work. If the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission would do its legally required duty of
capping wholesale prices to prevent gouging, there would not be an
electricity crisis in California or elsewhere.
The FERC has not done its job. Clearly, as the New York Times reported
last week, energy wholesalers are in cahoots with the Bush administration
to use the FERC as their personal marketing tool to drive up their
already obscene profits.
Finally, there is simply no reason to rape America in pursuit of
something called "energy self-sufficiency." If the vast reservoirs of
natural energy resources--resources that are sitting under land
controlled by regimes around the world that we've propped up at enormous
military cost for half a century--are not available to be sold to us at a
fair price, why continue to prop up these regimes? What did President
Bush's Dad, with his buddies Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, achieve in
preserving Saudi Arabia and Kuwait if those degenerate monarchs they
saved in the Gulf War will not now trade fairly in the one commodity of
value that they hold?
We must make our quid pro quo clear: We will pay for a huge military
to keep these sheikdoms and other energy-rich regimes in power only if
they guarantee fair oil and natural gas prices for our retail consumers.
Make that deal and the energy "crisis" is history.
The health news really walloped Rudy.
He dissed his wife, and in that mood he
Went strolling with his good friend Judi--
And found himself in deepest doodie.
Remember when Hillary Clinton dared suggest that a vast right-wing
conspiracy was behind the campaign to destroy her husband's presidency?
Well, the troubles besetting the nomination of Theodore B. Olson as US
solicitor general provide stunning evidence of what she had in mind.
Olson's confirmation hearing was abruptly suspended last week by
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after a report
in the Washington Post raised questions about Olson's truthfulness under
oath about his relationship to right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon
Scaife and the $2.3-million, anti-Clinton Arkansas Project of Scaife's
American Spectator magazine. Olson served as the magazine's lawyer and on
its board of directors, but when questioned by Democratic members of the
committee as to his connection with the infamous Arkansas Project, Olson
stated: "It has been alleged that I was somehow involved in that
so-called project. I was not involved in the project in its origin or its
That statement was subsequently contradicted in testimony before the
Judiciary Committee by David Brock, the writer responsible for the key
American Spectator articles attacking the Clintons. Brock stated that he
was present at "brainstorming" sessions on the Arkansas Project with
Olson at the home of American Spectator Chairman R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
Brock connected Olson with the Spectator's strangest article linking
Clinton to the suicide of his close friend and aide, Vincent Foster.
According to the Post, Brock said Olson told him that "while he didn't
place any stock in the piece, it was worth publishing because the role of
the Spectator was to write Clinton scandal stories in hopes of 'shaking
That is not the sort of judicious, nonpartisan stance that one would
hope for from a nominee to the position of solicitor general, often
called the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," who represents the US
government before the Court.
Since judicial objectivity is key to the performance of this
all-important job, it was irresponsible of President Bush to nominate
Olson, a key leader of the right wing's nonstop attacks on Clinton. Olson
not only was deeply connected with Scaife and the American Spectator but
he also represented David Hale, the key witness against Clinton in the
Whitewater case, and advised Paula Jones. His partisanship was amply
manifested when he represented Bush before the US Supreme Court to halt
the recount of Florida ballots.
But the issues now being raised against Olson's nomination go beyond
partisanship and deal with the honesty of his testimony under oath before
the Judiciary Committee. In addition to the testimony of ex-Spectator
writer Brock, the Washington Post reported that Olson and a fellow law
partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher prepared some of the anonymous
anti-Clinton material that was published in the Spectator.
The Post reported last Friday that American Spectator documents show
that Olson's law firm was paid more than $14,000 for work on the Arkansas
Project. Part of this money was to pay for a hit piece on the Clintons
that Olson purportedly wrote under a pseudonym, cataloging all the
possible laws that the Clintons might have violated if the
unsubstantiated charges hurled at them by their right-wing critics proved
After the Post ran its story last week, Hatch conceded "there are
legitimate issues" justifying his decision to defer action on Olson's
nomination pending further investigation. One issue concerns Olson's
testimony at an April 5 hearing of the Judiciary Committee as to how he
came to represent Hale, a key source for the Spectator. Olson said he
couldn't remember how the contact was made and never mentioned David W.
Henderson, the Arkansas Project director. But Henderson last week told
the Post he was the person who introduced Hale to Olson.
Even if one assumes that Olson has a conveniently poor memory on key
matters relating to his involvement with the American Spectator and its
Arkansas Project, his behavior hardly suggests the stellar qualities
required of the chief representative of the US people before the
highest judicial body. Nor is this the first time Olson's credibility in
testimony before Congress was questioned. The Post article noted that, in
1986, Independent Counsel Alexia Morrison was appointed to investigate
whether Olson had provided misleading testimony to a congressional
committee when he worked at the Justice Department in 1983. Morrison
concluded that Olson's testimony was "disingenuous and misleading," but
that his statements were "literally true" and therefore he could not be
Pretty slippery for the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," but,
sadly, given the recent shenanigans of the Court's right-wing majority,
Olson should fit right in if he is ultimately confirmed.
His considerable portfolio reflects his identity as a Texas oilman and a friend to oil-rich Saudis.
Research assistance was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
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