pResident George dWi Bush's motto
Bush declares war on environment
March 23, 2001
WASHINGTON - Tribune Media Services
How many ways did George Bush find to destroy the environment today?
Chainsaw in hand, Bush has rolled back virtually every environmental regulation issued by Bill Clinton in his final months in office -- and turned environmental decision-making over to the major polluters. Whatever the logging and mining companies want, the logging and mining companies get.
In barely 60 days, Bush has attacked clean air, clean water, national forests and federally protected lands. And he hasn't even started on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge yet.
This guy makes Ronald Reagan look like John Muir.
How far is Bush willing to go? Consider this. He'll even leave more arsenic -- yes, arsenic! -- in your drinking water, if that's what the mining companies want. They do. He just did.
Acting on orders from the White House, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman stopped implementation of new rules, scheduled to take effect March 23, reducing the level of arsenic in drinking water. Current regulations, adopted way back in 1942, allow 50 parts per billion; new rules would have reduced that to 10 parts per billion.
You almost have to feel sorry for the hapless Whitman. She came to Washington, having built a good conservation record as governor of New Jersey, hoping to be the chief environmentalist of the new administration.
Instead, she's been made to play the role of chief hatchet lady. She tried to defend suspension of the tougher, new arsenic rules by saying more scientific study was needed. Nonsense.
Excessive levels of arsenic in drinking water -- caused, in part, by run-off from mining operations in Western states -- have been identified by the National Academy of Sciences as a cause of bladder, lung and kidney cancer. How much more study is needed?
The problem wasn't lack of scientific evidence.
The problem was opposition from the mining industry.
It was the second straight day Bush caved in to mining interests. In another little-publicized action, the EPA cancelled new regulations on mining on federal lands. These rules, also adopted during the last few weeks of the Clinton presidency, merely required hardrock miners, operating on federally-owned lands, to post a bond guaranteeing to clean up their sites when finished in order to prevent groundwater contamination. One would think that would be standard procedure. But mining companies balked. And Bush walked.
At the same time, the Justice Department is in federal court, seeking to delay implementation of a ban on new roads and virtually all logging in 58.5 million acres of national forests. Those rules were adopted 3 days before Bill Clinton left office. The timber industry doesn't like them. Out the window!
But Bush's environmental assault doesn't stop there.
That's just the beginning.
Just last week, remember, he first forced Christie Whitman to walk the plank, reversing her commitment -- and breaking his own campaign promise -- to add carbon dioxide to the list of regulated pollutants in order to help prevent global warming.
Again, science said yes.
Utilities and mining companies said no.
Bush suddenly changed his mind.
Now Prime Minister Dick Cheney has taken the anti-global warming crusade one giant step further. Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball" on March 21, Cheney said the solution to clean air was to bring back nuclear power plants :
"If you're really serious about greenhouse gases, one of the solutions to that problem is to go back and let's take another look at nuclear power, use that to generate electricity without having any adverse consequences."
No adverse consequences?
Tell that to the people of Chernobyl.
Or Three Mile Island.
There's a good reason why no new nuclear power plant has been authorized in the United States since 1975. But that won't stop Cheney and Bush in their zeal to destroy the planet.
Next target, of course, is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. No doubt Bush will soon unveil plans to hand over to big oil companies our last and greatest expanse of wilderness, first recognized and protected as a national treasure by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.
But that's not all. Department of Interior sources say Bush's energy plan will also call for new drilling off the coast of California.
Damn the environment. Full speed ahead!
Now here's the spin. Bush and Cheney say they aren't out to destroy the environment, they're just out to provide a little "balance." Balance?
After clear-cutting the forest, strip-mining the land, polluting the air and water and destroying the wilderness, where's the balance on the other side? There is none.
There is no environment left. George Bush has declared war on the environment.
Quick! Does Ralph Nader still believe there's no difference between Bush and Gore?
With last week's reversal of his campaign pledge to limit power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, a key contributor to global warming, President Bush surrendered to coal companies and utilities dependent on coal. He had little choice. It's payback time, and every industry and trade association is busily cashing in. There's no longer any countervailing power in Washington.
Business is in complete control of the machinery of government.
The House, the Senate and the White House are all run by business-friendly Republicans who are deeply indebted to American business for their electoral victories.
If corporate America understood its long-term interest, it would use this unique moment to establish in the public's mind the principle that business can be trusted. But it's doing the opposite, and the danger for American business as a whole is profound.
Credit-card companies are getting a overstretched people who succumbed to these companies' blandishments ever to get out from under the resulting debts.
Oil companies are on the way to obtaining rights to drill on Alaska's coastal plain.
Cigarette manufacturers are confident the administration will drop the federal lawsuit against them.
Pharmaceutical companies are hoping to get longer patent protections.
Big, labor-intensive businesses want to get rules that weaken unions, and they've already killed the Labor Department's ergonomics rules, which would have protected workers against repetitive-stress injuries.
Airlines with labor problems can count on White House actions to ward off strikes. And so on.
In normal times ?when business has to cope with some political resistance ?its leaders are forced to set strict priorities. There is only a fixed amount of political capital to spend. The Business Roundtable, comprising the chief executives of large American companies, typically establishes at the start of a new Congress a legislative agenda reflecting what its members consider the most important issues.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, after canvassing its mostly small and medium-sized member businesses to determine their priorities, also develops a strategy. The National Association of Manufacturers weighs in with its wish list. And the National Federation of Independent Business, composed of small firms, goals.
These groups do not always see eye to eye, but under normal circumstances they understand that legislative success requires coordination. Separately, they lack the political clout to overcome determined resistance in one or both houses of Congress or from a president at least partly dependent for his political future on organized labor, environmentalists and other interests besides business. The trade associations representing specific industries —coal-powered utilities, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, electronics, securities, oil and gas, for example ?typically play supporting roles.
Their own parochial legislative goals can't interfere directly with the priorities of business as a whole because the industries often have to depend on the larger business groups to be heard. Specific firms may retain their own Washington lobbyists, but they, too, have to work with others in order to have significant effect.
Political resistance, in other words, forces the business community to decide what's most important to it. It thereby enables corporate America to exert some discipline over itself. Business leaders can prevent or at least distance themselves from excesses by any single company or industry that might otherwise taint business as a whole in the minds of the public.
American business notably did not come to the aid of cigarette manufacturers when lawsuits against them began several years ago.
Nor has corporate America as a whole fought on behalf of the gun lobby.
Labor and environmental rules with broad consequences typically become high priorities for legislative attack, but not all such rules.
In the first Clinton administration, the business community was quite happy to let the Labor Department target apparel manufacturers and major retailers in its crackdown on sweatshops. I recall a number of White House meetings in which the leaders of major business organizations quietly assented to the administration's plans to block subsidies flowing to a particular industry, or to impose new clean-air rules on another industry, or to move aggressively with an antitrust complaint.
With political resistance gone, the business community can, paradoxically, no longer discipline itself. Every business lobbyist on K Street is under enormous pressure from clients to reap something from the new bonanza.
Every trade association must demonstrate to its members large returns from their investments in getting an all-Republican business-friendly government.
And the pressure only ratchets upward : Every time one company or one industry receives its reward, other Washington lobbyists, representing other firms or industries, come under even more pressure to score victories.
Nor can the Republicans themselves provide any discipline. Washington is awash in corporate i.o.u.'s, all waiting to be cashed in, and George W. Bush can't argue that the Democrats will block the payoffs. Under these circumstances, the Bush forces are finding it next to impossible to maintain order.
Demands for regulatory relief are growing louder, and most will have to be met. Corporate welfare will flow ever more freely. Once the tax bill is open to amendment, corporate tax breaks will blossom like the cherry trees.
At some point ?perhaps as soon as the 2002 midterm elections, surely no later than the next presidential election ?the public will be aghast at what is happening. The backlash against business may be thunderous. Hence the great danger that corporate American confronts.
Robert B. Reich, former labor secretary, is professor of economic and social policy at Brandeis University and the author of "The Future of Success."
George W. Bush is making a sharp right turn
"The business of America," Calvin Coolidge said, "is business."
It's only in light of this immortal trope that the first two months of the George Bush II presidency make any political sense whatsoever.
Having lost the popular vote by more than a half-million, and "won" an Electoral College majority only because the U.S. Supreme Court prevented a full count in Florida, Bush is acting as if he's been given a sweeping mandate to turn the nation sharply rightward.
The "compassionate conservatism" of the campaign has yielded to a Bush White House atmosphere, one admiring ideologue recently told The New York Times, "more Reaganite than the Reagan administration."
In effect, the United States government has been acquired by leveraged buyout. With the GOP narrowly in charge of all three branches of government and Democrats in seeming disarray, it's as if the nation were being run directly from corporate boardrooms.
Over recent weeks, Republicans have :
*** Eliminated workplace rules aimed at limiting repetitive stress injuries that were originally proposed by Bush I Labor Secretary Liddy Dole;
*** Passed tougher bankruptcy laws demanded by the friendly folks who peddle credit cards to teen-agers;
*** Decided that carbon dioxide isn't a "greenhouse gas" after all.
*** Assisted by timely new OPEC production quotas, the Bush administration has declared an "energy crisis," and is sure to call for loosening air quality standards and oil drilling restrictions from sea to shining sea. If Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney get their way, there'll be offshore rigs everyplace but Florida and Kennebunkport.
Is it necessary to point out that United Parcel Service, which dropped more than a million bucks into GOP campaign coffers, found ergonomics standards particularly burdensome?
That MBNA America, the nation's largest credit card company, also was the single largest contributor to the Bush presidential campaign?
That coal mining interests donated more than $1.9 million during the 2000 election cycle, more than 75 percent of it to Republicans? That coal producers ponied up $324,000 in "soft money" to the Bush campaign and helped deliver West Virginia, a normally Democratic state, without which none of these things would be happening?
Bush's abrupt reversal of a campaign promise on carbon dioxide emissions was most instructive. In a speech last Sept. 29, he had gone one better than Al Gore, whom his father had mocked as "Ozone Man" during the 1992 campaign.
A born-again environmentalist, Bush II pledged to "establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants : sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide."
Gore had proposed voluntary CO2 reductions. Bush also claimed that Texas enforced mandatory limits, but nobody called him on it. After all, he was "a different kind of conservative." Read my lips, no new gases.
CO2 is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, especially coal. Harmless to humans and animals, it's nevertheless one of the main culprits in global warming, about which environmental scientists around the world have reached near unanimity.
A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that Earth's temperature could increase up to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years if nothing is done, causing ecological, social and economic catastrophe on a vast scale.
But since CO2 also stimulates plant growth, coal industry shills now style themselves (swear to God) the "Greening Earth Society" and argue there's no evidence to cause alarm. They're the climatological equivalent of tobacco company "scientists" who denied for decades that cigarettes cause heart disease and cancer.
Of course, nobody really thinks George W. knows carbon dioxide from Shinola. He's also expressed doubts about evolution. He'd question gravity if an industry rep with a handful of electoral votes and a seven-figure campaign donation in his pocket told him it would help some blue-chip corporation's bottom line.
In selling out the environment, Bush also undercut Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, both of whom understand the gravity of the issue.
Whitman gave up the New Jersey governorship largely on the premise that Bush was serious about global warming. Only weeks ago, she assured leaders of the G-8 nations at the Environment Summit in Trieste, Italy, that the administration was committed to CO2 reductions. They cheered.
If the United States, which has 4 percent of the world's population but burns 25 percent of its fossi fuels, won't do its part, there's little hope for international treaties like the one negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. The European Union has issued a statement expressing "deep concern" about Bush's broken promise.
Bush isn't the first politician ever to dissemble to win an election, to let the next century worry about the next century or to reward a campaign contributor many times over. Even so, it was ironic to observe Washington pundits, still flushed and panting from the Thirty Days Hate against Bill Clinton, taken aback by the nonchalance with which Bush -- much praised for his brisk, corporate-CEO efficiency--undercut his own cabinet and went back on his word.
The awful Marc Rich pardon benefited one man; Bush's environmental sellout threatens generations yet unborn.
As some of us argued at the time, Bush signaled a hard right turn when he picked Cheney as his running mate. How long before voters figure out that most of his campaign promises, from the size of his tax cut to his Social Security "reform," are written in sand of precisely the same consistency as his CO2 pledge?
In a recent New York Times article, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich argues that business is far from monolithic. Even most corporate CEOs really don't want the country to go where Bush is taking it, but they'll line up to cash their individual IOUs anyway.
Reich predicts that "perhaps as soon as the 2002 congressional elections ... the public will be aghast at what is happening. The backlash against business may be thunderous."
Maybe so. But right now, the administration is acting as if there isn't going to be another election.
Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.
This article was published on Wednesday, March 21, 2001
CRITIC : A BOUGHT PRESIDENT
A STRONG BOW TO THE RIGHT MARKS FIRST MONTHS
David Axelrod is a Chicago-based Democratic political consultant.
April 1, 2001
Well before the campaign of 2000 began, many of America's most powerful corporate and industrial lobbyists met and pledged themselves to the election of George W. Bush as president of the United States.
Together, they helped Bush shatter all fundraising records, plying his campaign with more than $100 million and raising substantially more for supporting party committees.
When Bush's candidacy teetered on the brink of extinction in the face of John McCain's muscular challenge, they helped finance the brutal anti-McCain blitzkrieg in South Carolina that all but assured Bush's nomination by the Republican Party.
The money and independent expenditures they provided throughout the campaign, combined with the determined support of right-wing clerics and the National Rifle Association, delivered Bush the presidency.
Judging from the first months of the Bush administration, they've hit the jackpot.
Some expected that, after winning the White House in the most tenuous of elections, without a popular majority, much less a mandate, our new president would tread lightly, emphasizing bipartisan initiatives and seeking consensus.
Forget about it.
Soothing rhetoric and symbolic gestures notwithstanding, Bush has moved swiftly and surely to reward the special interests who put him there.
Reversing worker-safety regulations, gutting environmental protections, promoting anti-labor initiatives and making his top priority an outsize tax cut skewed to the wealthy, Bush has proven himself a faithful factotum to his corporate sponsors.
Bush also displayed his gratitude to the Reverends Falwell, Robertson and Dobson by naming as attorney general their fallen champion, John Ashcroft, and by making one of his first official acts an executive order banning family-planning funds to overseas organizations that provide abortion services.
All of this has made the corporate lobbyists and Republican ideologues positively giddy.
Their mood was best reflected by the gleeful observation of Edwin J. Feulner, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, who chortled recently that the George W. regime "is more Reaganite than the Reagan administration."
For the rest of America, Bush's early actions leave us wondering what happened to the temperance implied by the slogan "compassionate conservatism."
Far from the moderation and bipartisanship that candidate Bush promised, President Bush has quietly and uncompromisingly steamrolled his special interest agenda, relying on executive orders and party-line votes.
Gilding the rich
Rather than compromising with Democrats on the size, timing and composition of a tax cut, Bush has held firm for his plan, which, when all is factored in, will cost in excess of $2 trillion, with more than 40 percent of the benefits going to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
Backloaded as it is, the Bush tax plan won't have the short-term impact on the economy as he suggests. But its size threatens to crowd out other priorities, such as debt reduction, Medicare prescription coverage and extending the life of Social Security and Medicare for America's aging population.
At the same time he energetically promotes this huge and imbalanced tax plan, Bush's budget calls for cuts in such federal commitments as child-care assistance for the working poor and child abuse prevention programs, and for the elimination of federal funding for anti-drug programs in public housing developments.
Bush quickly marshaled his forces in Congress to repeal new federal workplace safety standards issued after 10 years of study and aimed at protecting workers from repetitive motion injuries on the job.
He has systematically chipped away at labor rights, with a series of new rules and regulations aimed at thwarting the ability of unions to organize.
It's toxic, so what?
But perhaps most appalling has been Bush's assault on the environment.
A century after another Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, made conservation and environmental protection a hallmark of his presidency, Bush is quickly earning a reputation as an aggressive advocate for the polluters.
In his first months, Bush quashed new regulations to combat cancer-causing arsenic in drinking water and strictures designed to prevent toxic byproducts of surface mining from polluting surrounding waterways.
Then there was the carbon-dioxide pirouette
After vowing as a candidate to enact limits on the carbon-dioxide emissions that are responsible for the greenhouse effect, Bush shocked even his own environmental chief, Christie Whitman, by reversing his position and opposing them in the face of intense lobbying from his friends in coal and oil industries.
And, using the electric crisis in California as a dubious justification, the onetime Texas oilman is pursuing full-throttle his plan to allow drilling in Alaska's precious, unspoiled Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Bush has lived up to his reputation for affability, tagging Republicans and Democrats alike with affectionate nicknames and slaps on the back.
The tone is nice, calculated to signal a new civility in Washington.
But the policies, dictated by special interests and ideologues, are not.
"More Reaganite than Reagan," indeed.
Tuesday, April 3, 2001
A series of tone-deaf environmental and budget decisions is getting the new administration off to an ominous start.
Even where we find ourselves now ?on the far side of the Bridge to the Twenty-first Century, in a post-millennial America so long at peace abroad that it has entered into a chronic state of warfare with itself at home, just to have something to do with its nastiness ?even here, there are rules of decorum. And there are laws of political physics.
There are things you can and cannot do. George W. Bush and his friends don't seem to know this. I'm afraid they are going to find it out the hard way, in November 2002.
That's a guess. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the Bush conservatives will get the working majorities they need and will, after 2002, ride from triumph to triumph in chariots of fire, rescinding Clinton and completing Reagan and building a New Jerusalem.
But the Gingrich Republicans overinterpreted their mandate of 1994, and look at the ditch they landed in. The George W. Bush Republicans have no mandate to overinterpret. They are proceeding now by the metaphysics of Wile E. Coyote, who ventures bravely into midair, until he notices that he is standing on thin air above the deep canyon, into which, presently, he begins a long, whistling plummet that ends in a distant "poof!" on the canyon floor.
I do not say that Bush is entirely wrong in the positions he has staked out. Nothing, in any case, is more satisfying to behold than the indignation of the Streisand Left when it has been given the finger. But it's not enough to be right, or to think you're right; Bush could be right about everything (he's not), and still fail.
America is not divided in two. It is divided in three : a third (liberal), a third (middle) and a third (conservative).
Bush is losing his touch with the middling third. The left third and the right third operate from principle, and are stable in their allegiances. The middle third may change loyalties, blown this way or that by sometimes fatuous notions of decorum. If Bush continues to offend the middle's sense of the American story, he is headed for disaster in less than 18 months.
Decorum about what? The environment, above all. Bush is repeating the Clinton administration's early errors of symbolism and priority. As Clinton stupidly allowed gays in the military to become an opening issue of his administration, so Bush has given early prominence to carbon dioxide emissions, arsenic in the water, rejection of the Kyoto treaty , and oil drilling in Arctic Alaska. Dumb.
A successful president needs timing and an instinct for the emotional chemistry of issues. The middle third care about environment, more than ever. In just 10 weeks, the Bush environmental dossier has gotten to be a toxic political accumulation. I'm not talking about the merits of individual policies. I'm talking about the moral impressions on which Americans will cast their votes next time. A presidency develops like a Polaroid picture. The emerging picture of the Bush administration is ugly.
The middle third respond to issues of economic unfairness. They may reject leftist class-warfare rhetoric, but they get a scrupulous twitch when people with plenty of money seem to be having too much of a party while the markets dive, and too many others seem to be sleeping under bridges. Bush's tax cut and his banker-friendly plan to make bankruptcy tougher may lead the middle third to think they are watching a Charlie Chaplin movie.
There is a rock of ideology in the snowball of George W. Bush's frolicksome charm. Fine. He's a conservative. But in this country, now, conservatism without discretion is mere doctrine, and principles without brains or strategy are indistinguishable from stupidity : dead weight.
If George W. Bush begins to suffer an ignominious nightly death-by-Leno ?the vast middle third of America tucked in bed and laughing derisively at the Homer Simpson in the White House ?then Bush is gone.
He's in greater danger than he thinks.
Monday April 9
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Federal funding for an array of environmental programs in fiscal 2002 would shrink by about $2.3 billion under the budget proposal President Bush (news - web sites) submitted to Congress on Monday.
The budget would prohibit the United States from spending any money to implement the 1997 Kyoto treaty that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions suspected of contributing to global warming.
Bush last month announced that the United States would try to pull out of the international agreement, saying its cost to industry could harm the U.S. economy and complaining it was too lax on developing countries.
Bush is requesting $26.4 billion for federal natural resources and environment programs for the fiscal year that begins October 1, down from the $28.7 billion that was planned for the current fiscal year.
Among the federal programs included are clean air and clean water protections, research on global warming, national park and national forest activities and land conservation. The programs are run by several departments and agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites), the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Interior Department.
The proposed cuts, which still must be reviewed by Congress, would include a four percent reduction in agencies' research on global warming. Funding would shrink to $1.6 billion in the next fiscal year, from the current year's $1.8 billion.
But the White House budget proposal also argues that the United States will ``lead other nations'' in efforts to reduce environmental risks from climate change, ozone depletion and other international environmental hazards.
The Bush administration on Feb. 28 submitted to Congress an outline of its spending priorities for the coming year. On Monday, the administration filled in the budget details for all federal agencies.
Under the Bush plan, most federal agencies are facing budget cuts, in part to help finance a massive tax cut that is estimated to cost $1.6-trillion over 10 years.
The Bush environment and natural resources budget plan calls for management reforms within the National Park Service to improve maintenance of parks that are increasingly stressed. Over the past 30 years, visits to national parks increased to nearly 287 million, from 164 million a year.
The Bush budget also aims to improve federal management of wildfires on federal lands. Over the past several years, the government has been criticized for its handling of fires that threatened communities near federal lands.
Despite the proposed budget reductions, the administration claims it will improve air standards for 2.9 million people and reduce toxic emissions being put into the air by five percent next year.
The administration also says that its budget will allow the EPA to clean up an additional 65 hazardous spills and abandoned hazardous waste sites under the ``Superfund'' program by the end of the fiscal year.
April 4, 2001
Let no one 'misunderestimate' Bush and his abandonment of Kyoto
In his own inimitable words, let no one "misunderestimate" George W Bush. He is the most rightwing president in living memory. If this is compassionate conservatism, what does the other sort look like? In less than 100 days he has turned America into a pariah, made enemies of the entire world, his only friends the dirty polluters of the oil industry who put him there. His foreign non-policy is a calamity, brilliantly uniting Russia and China with gratuitous offence and threat.
The Republican leader of the senate environment committee's last-minute cancellation of an urgent global warming meeting with the EU environment commissioner on Monday was like a cold war tactical snub from the Khrushchev era. Europe gets the message, so did an outraged Japan. The rest of the world draws instinctively together in its repudiation of the Bush Jnr White House. Through this strange global vandalism, the leader of the free world has become the rogue. Ungracious in victory, absolute power corrupting absolutely, the only super-power is morphing into an evil empire of its own.
Where to begin on America the Horrible? Start with it tearing up the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty to install a national missile defence system, recreating a new cold war with China as No 1 enemy. North Korean "sunshine" detente is over. NDM only gives the US an illusion of invulnerability in a world it makes more dangerous. World trade negotiations were wrecked by US self- interest. Not a cent has been paid of the US promised $600m for third world debt-relief. While US wealth soared in the last decade, only 20% of its citizens gained but his budget includes a $1.6 trillion tax cut, most for the richest. The toxic Texan (he left behind the filthiest state) denies global warming and urges oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Arctic Refuge. He even abolished regulations limiting arsenic in drinking water and cut black-lung benefits. This richest nation on earth will never lead a redistributive global politics while so unconcerned about third world poverty among its own. No, there is no lack of material for a thoroughly satisfying rant.
It was at a press conference an insulting half an hour before meeting German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder that Bush spoke his heart on the Kyoto climate change treaty. Those words will become a classic clip, pursuing him through eternity. It was the way he thumped the podium and smirked as he said it, (even this was inarticulate): "We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America." There we have it. Screw the world, Americans always come first.
In the past presidents always gave Americans a self-image that was noble, a global purpose in the vanguard of democracy, spiritually still a young revolutionary state, with quotes aplenty. That raw energy and self-belief has always thrilled and mesmerised outsiders. Whatever hot debates about America's true intentions (selfishness lurks beneath altruism in all international horse-trading), the country always had a fine story to tell itself about its mission. Late and reluctant into two world wars, the star-spangled cavalry did arrive at last. Delinquent or deluded in Vietnam, there was a fight to be had for freedom against Ho Chi Minh's communist invaders, a good story to be told.
In Kosovo the zero-body bag cowardice of fighting from too high to hit the targets was matched by the nobility of fighting at all in a place so far from Kalamazoo. American huddled masses yearning to breathe free always needed the Hollywood version of their politics and quite rightly so. Who can bear to be bad? So the brazen nudity of Bush's words must have shocked millions of Americans from coast to coast - and in that is the best hope of better to come.
The global response was instant and visceral. Blistering editorials poured out of the press from Brazil to Belgium, Tokyo to Turin. Politicians were barely more controlled. Some 45 editorials across American newspapers condemned their president. Our own John Prescott said: "The US cannot sit in glorious isolation ... It must know it cannot pollute the world while free-riding on action by everyone else." What next? Attack! Boycott Gallo wines, McDonald's, Texaco and Exxon-Mobil. Why not? It may satisfy revenge, it may even deliver a jolt or two, but as official policy this is as unlikely to change hearts and minds in the evil empire as futile gesturing was against the USSR in cold war days.
One way or another the US has to be persuaded to take global warming seriously. The fierce argument among Kyoto signatories is how to do it. The US agreed (but never ratified) cutting emissions by 7% from its 1990 levels, by 2010. Due to Clinton's self-destruction and his "third way" ducking of anything difficult when faced with republican obstruction, that commitment is now effectively impossible. The US boom means it would now take a 30% cut to hit the target. Cheap fuel is designed into America's unimaginably vast prairies of suburbia without buses or town centres. True, the fashion for four-wheel drive monsters has eaten up all technological gains in fuel efficiency. True, that $1.6 trillion tax cut should go on public transport and clean energy, but only a cultural revolution could deliver a one third reduction now.
Since a quarter of the world's carbon output is here, letting America progress at a slower pace makes sense. Blame is satis fying, but survival depends on results.
It was the detail of this debate that made Prescott storm out of the stalled Hague negotiations in November. He said realism required letting the US cheat a bit by buying spare emissions from Russia and planting forests. Greens said their calculations showed this meant the US need make no other effort at all to change its ways. But getting Americans to accept the idea of fundamental change is the crucial first step. The world needs a 60% cut within 50-100 years and the crunch will come. If Kyoto progresses to ratification by all the other countries, the hope is that the US will want to join a carbon emissions trading bloc. The threat of trade tariffs against US goods to balance their unfair lack of pollution control was posed by the EU environment commissioner: "Why should the US play by other rules than European companies?"
With all eyes fixed on US public opinion, some polls find 75% "very concerned", but Californian black-outs make energy shortages hotter news. Democrats and some Republicans think Bush has made a bad political mistake: his mangled words will have to be eaten soon. For the rest of the world, how much threat and fury, how much backroom dealing it will take to reel the rogue state back in, is a delicate calculation : there must be no further splits. Good, bad or ugly, saving the world without America may not be impossible, just exceedingly unlikely.
April 19, 2001
George W. Bush has made Earth Day a day of mourning for environmentalists at home and abroad. They get on his nerves, of course. He's an oil and gas man, and they keep yapping about "renewable energy" -- wind, sun and water sources. They whine about a little arsenic in drinking water and a little carbon dioxide in the air. He has expressed his irritation, big time, in his first budget.
Our new president wants us to pull up our socks, while he takes care of the strong -- the big corporations and the billionaires. The Earth, he seems to be telling us, can take care of itself. He has quit the so-called Kyoto agreements, which he thinks pick on his pals, U.S. polluters, and exempts Third World countries from restrictions on fossil fuel emissions. Ironically, the United States has been reinforcing his argument: Two U.S.-funded entities, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Export-Import Bank, bankroll, sometimes with the help of the World Bank, huge fossil fuel plants in places such as Indonesia. There is no sign that Bush will end the practice. The Institute for Policy Studies has documented the outrage.
Said Earth Day founder Denis Hayes, who is now chief executive of the Earth Day Network and is trying to make environmental rights part of human rights : "Bush is the worst president for the environment since Ronald Reagan."
The ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, John Spratt of South Carolina, has been studying the budget for the last two weeks, looking for patterns. He found none. Spratt, who is notably more forward-looking than his state, thinks the budget is "bizarre."
"None of the cuts are completely devastating; it's just death from a thousand pinpricks. It shows complete insensitivity to environmental needs."
Bush has cut funds for solar energy research by 54 percent -- and wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power, all by 48 percent.
Rep. Spratt : "If not Kyoto, what? Of course Bush could rationalize dumping the treaty on the grounds that the Senate will not ratify it, and the Senate rationalizes that Bush won't sign it, but where is the international leadership?"
The budget also details the president's antipathy to arms control. As all environmental concerns give way to consideration for the corporations that might be inconvenienced by pesky pollution patrols, arms control is seen through the prism of the Bush obsession with the nuclear missile defense system. This is the only possible explanation for the baffling $117 million cut in the Nunn-Lugar program, a highly regarded effort to bring order into the chaotic nuclear weapons situation in Russia.
Most people, and Rep. Spratt is among them, think that Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and former Democratic senator Sam Nunn really accomplished something with a bill that could actually impede nuclear weapons proliferation. On National Public Radio, Nunn, now head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative foundation, pointed out that there is enough weapons-grade material in Russia to make 60,000 to 80,000 nuclear weapons. "And it's not under safeguard, it's not under, in most cases, safe storage, and it's exposed to both theft and illicit traffic. And then we also have thousands of scientists that know how to make these weapons but don't know how to make a living.
"Just to cut the program before they come up with alternatives or before they even review them," said Nunn. "I certainly don't understand it."
It sounds a lot like Kyoto.
The summit of Bush's arms control aspirations is the destruction of the ABM treaty, which forbids the deployment of anti-missile contraptions. His intention is to couple that with a little symbolic cutting of our own nuclear force and call it peace.
Bush wants to wring every dime he can out of programs to preserve his tax cut. As for leaving no child behind, Bush make exceptions for children with inferior addresses: He cuts the money for the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program and stops funds for projects for the Boys and Girls Clubs. The clubs have made good photo-ops. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson used one for a backdrop, and the president visited one, too. But they are disposable -- and so, it seems are the children when it comes down to helping them or the tycoons.
The party of Theodore Roosevelt has ditched conservation and the party of Dwight Eisenhower has deep-sixed the ideal of nuclear peace. It's up to Congress to restore the most egregious cuts. House Republicans, who blindly endorsed the blueprint, may have to row back on the end product. The kindest thing you can say about the document is that it is mindless. If you don't think that, you would say he was mean, and that Calvin Coolidge has come back to the White House.