Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Air Quality: Too Little, Too Late?
Death Row Conference Calls

Environment
Air Quality: Too Little, Too Late?

The EPA has issued an air quality plan that will finally require air polluters to meet the standards of a 1997 law — but not until 2004 . Seth Bornstein of Knight-Ridder News Service reports that the new plan would allow governments and industries that produce “moderate” pollution in metropolitan areas a year or more to adapt to the 1997 standards (which were laid out by the Clinton administration).

The plan addresses ozone gas, which causes smog, but leaves out pollution controls for acid rain or soot. Smog has been implicated in causing asthma, lung-irritation, and other respiratory poblems. The EPA’s proposal would measure allowable ozone levels in eight-hour periods, in contrast to the current one-hour shifts, according to Sabrina Eaton of Ohio’s Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

Environmentalists are calling the Bush administration’s plan pro-industry and charge that it ignores requirements set forth in the 1990 Clean Air Act. The Environmental News Network reports that the 1997 standards have been entangled in numerous lawsuits since their passage. The EPA will hold public hearings regarding the proposal next month in San Francisco, Washington, and Dallas.

LAW & JUSTICE
Death Row Conference Calls

In a slight concession to the demands of human rights groups, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles will now be forced to deliberate each death penalty case over a conference call.

Democratic Senator Rodney Ellis, who tacked the provision onto another bill, wanted to strike the old practice of letting the 18 member board make decisions in isolation and then fax or call in their votes. Melissa Drosjack from the Houston Chronicle reports:

“‘If the board is going to make a decision whether someone lives or dies, they should at least have to hold a meeting,’ Ellis said…Ellis initially wanted to require the board to meet in person, but came up with the conference call plan because of concerns about expenses, said Mike Lavigne, a spokesman for Ellis.”

But the bill has not addressed all of activists’ complaints. The Dallas News reports that:

    [T]he board is not required to meet in public as a group when making such decisions, and members can cast their votes by fax or telephone. That process has been criticized by state and federal judges as well as death-penalty opponents, who say decisions should not be so secret.

Texas reintroduced the death penalty 20 years ago and has executed more people than any other state. Texas executed 33 people in 2002 and has killed an average of 22 inmates annually since 1992.

Dems Degrade the Bush Wars
Deporting the Messenger

Politics
Dems Degrade the Bush Wars

While no peace-loving liberal is about to celebrate the terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco or the post-war chaos of Iraq, the recent events have given the Democratic party an edge. Knowing that the bubble of Bush’s supposed victories in Iraq and over terrorism have burst, Democratic presidential candidates have their foot in a door that’s long been shut, and a window of opportunity to criticize Bush’s defense policy — a policy that, in terms of re-election, has been a major selling point for the GOP. Seven of the Dems’ nine presidential candidates took advantage of that opportunity at a debate attended by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Democratic candidates chided the Bush administration at the debate and in other forums. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman charges that Iraqi oil, which Bush vowed would be a source of independent wealth to Iraq, is not in Iraqi hands as promised. Instead, he writes in an opinion piece for the Boston Globe “the administration’s proposed Security Council resolution would give the United States and our coalition partners control over the Iraqi oil industry and oil revenues during the transition to self-government, a period that may well last a number of years.”

Other candidates were finally able to sound the alarm on the administration’s game of smoke and mirrors, pointing out the absence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, questioning Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorism, and elucidating the absence of information on the whereabouts of Hussein or Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Senator Bob Graham of Florida called the war on Iraq an “ideological war” and accused Bush of trying to distract Americans from greater threats, reports Matthew Engel of London’s Guardian. Graham was former chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee, and has been backed by other intelligence officials in his admonitions that Bush is not doing enough to monitor Al-Qaeda’s activities. Candidate Howard Dean called Iraq a diversion, stating,”We are not safer today than we were before Saddam Hussein left.”

The Dems’ next challenge, writes Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post is to unify, and prove that the party’s potential president could really protect the country — because, despite his failures, Bush remains endeared to some American hearts and minds — and that leaves Democrats with a tall order:

“Whether [Democrats] can exploit the issue — particularly with the aftermath in Iraq looking far more chaotic and shaky than the war itself — is an open question. What would they do differently? Can they convince the public that they’re tough enough on national security? Would they look good in a flight suit?”

Foreign News
Deporting the Messenger

Earlier this month, those hoping to see a restoration of press freedoms in Zimbabwe were given reason to hope, as the nation’s Supreme Court struck down some parts of a draconian media law as being unconstitutional.

But those hopes were short-lived. The government of strongman president Robert Mugabe has again demonstrated its penchant for using transparent, strong-arm tactics to muzzle journalists. Ignoring a pair of judicial rulings, Mugabe’s information minister declared Andrew Meldrum, an American reporter working for the London Guardian, an ‘undesirable’ foreign national. Meldrum, who had been living and working in Zimbabwe for years, was deported to England on Monday.

At the airport in Harare, while being hustled to the gate by Zimbabwe officials, Meldrum denounced the decision. Touching down at London’s Gatwick Airport, he expounded on those comments. As the BBC reports, Meldrum says his expulsion is simply an effort to intimidate the few independent journalists still working in Zimbabwe.

    “Mr Meldrum said: ‘It’s a classic case of shooting the messenger, or in this case, deporting the messenger.’

    Few foreign reporters remain in Zimbabwe, but Mr Meldrum said a ‘committed band’ of journalists were still able to report on the country’s situation.”

Meldrum was held incommunicado before being deported, and South Africa’s News24 reports that officials from the US embassy were illegally barred from seeing him. The State Department was quick to fire back, with spokesperson Lynn Cassel declaring that Meldrum’s deportation “reflects the ongoing erosion of basic rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”

    “‘Mr Meldrum’s treatment is yet another example of the intimidation faced by journalists in Zimbabwe who have endured threats, arbitrary arrests and violence at the hands of the government,’ Cassel said.”

Among the “committed band” of journalists unwilling to be cowed are the editors at Zimbabwe’s largest independent newspaper, the Daily News. In an editorial, the paper declares that Meldrum has “becomes one in a long list of foreign and local journalists who have fallen victim to the government’s worsening intolerance of criticism and views that do not conform to its own skewed idea of the situation in Zimbabwe.”

    “Far from stamping out criticism or dissent through its heavy-handed methods, the government has merely made Zimbabweans more determined to express their growing unhappiness with the impact of the country’s economic crisis. A crisis that is widely blamed on the government’s own discredited policies.

    Through its deportation of Meldrum, President Robert Mugabe’s regime has merely added to the list of journalists who are determined to tell the true story of Zimbabwe, even if they have to do it from beyond the country’s borders.”

Meldrum’s editorial superiors at the Guardian share that assessment. Compared to many in Zimbabwe, “Meldrum was lucky,” the Guardian editors assert. While he was deported, many critics of Mugabe’s government suffer far rougher treatment — while some simply disappear. But, like their colleagues at the Daily News, the editors at the Guardian optimistically argue that Mugabe’s tactics won’t succeed.

    “Meldrum has diligently — and bravely — chronicled this catastrophic collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and its government’s lack of respect for human rights. Hence his expulsion. Thankfully, a few courageous voices still remain in the country. Two different high court judges tried to protect Meldrum’s rights. A brave independent daily paper, plus three independent weeklies, continue to scrutinise the government. A few local reporters still courageously file for the international press. Ultimately, like earlier repressive regimes, Mugabe’s mob will realise that truth cannot be suppressed.”

Blair in Black and White
A Farewell to Fleischer

MEDIA
Blair in Black and White

When New York Times reporter Jayson Blair’s inaccurate and often fictionalized work came to light, the scandal bred a circus’ worth of media commentary. But many pundits, instead of starting a conversation about journalistic ethics, have turned the focus to race and the representation of people of color, specifically blacks, in the media. Blair, a young, black, male journalist, has surely been called every name in the book (and probably some we don’t allow in books anymore). The bubble has been burst: Some journalists lie! But the more pressing danger behind the Blair debacle is that the American public is reading reports and commentary on race by a group of reporters and commentators that is less than 12 percent people of color as of 1998, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

But perhaps, as Andrew Sullivan suggests, the media shouldn’t be so concerned with the representation of differing viewpoints in the media:

“The point of a newspaper is not and should never be diversity. It should be journalism. And the idea that you need minority reporters to tackle minority issues is itself racially blinkered, and condescending.”

Right. What interest does good journalism have in promoting diversity? Surely we should all be content to let newspapers feed us stories that were unabashedly one-sided, and that cited as few sources as possible. And minority reporters’ viewpoints and opinions couldn’t possibly be more incisive on minority issues. Especially when those issues could just as easily be covered by whites.

Or perhaps it’s that the liberal left’s desire for diversity is a passing fad, as right-wing media-watchdog Accuracy In the Media surmises:

“The concept of ‘diversity’ is popular in the media and academia.”

Urging the Times to review William McGowan’s “blockbuster” book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, AIM goes on to expose the outrageous ideas of Gerald Boyd, the Times’ managing editor who was at least partly responsible for insuring that Blair’s reporting was accurate.

“[Boyd] told the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) that attracting ‘young people of color’ to journalism ‘requires a special effort,’ and that he was alarmed at the number of minority journalists leaving the profession or avoiding journalism altogether.”

Surely those are the words of corruption. If not a minority conspiracy, really.

More accurately, as the Times’ own Bob Herbert writes, “this would be a juicy story under any circumstances. But Mr. Blair is black, so there is the additional spice of race, to which so many Americans are terminally addicted.” Herbert continues by saying that “the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair’s reporting.”

The “race issue,” in this context, is the tendency displayed by certain media sources to leap at any chance to blame a push to diversify as the root cause of inaccuracies in the media. That would be bogus. And while some at the Times have alleged that Blair’s race had something to do with his editors’ forgiveness for his mistakes, Terry Neal of the Washington Post sees a bigger picture. Neal recalls that many journalists have forgone the rules of ethical integrity — like white journalists Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass at The New Republic and Mike Barnicle at the Boston Globe. Those white journalists are either back in journalism or capitalizing on their foul-ups with book deals. But fallen black journalist Janet Cooke, for example, was most recently working at a department store for $6 an hour. Furthermore, Neal asserts, an editor’s affection for a particular reporter is hardly rare. What’s unique in this case, he writes, is that Blair was black:

“To suggest somehow that Blair is unique in being coddled by upper management is pure buffoonery. What about all of the young, aggressive white reporters who are pushed along by overeager white mentors and are clearly not ready for prime time? Happens all the time — at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and every other major publication. Their editors intrinsically trust them. They feel more comfortable talking to them. They understand their worldview. They get handed big stories. They get invited to dinners at the boss’s house.”

In the end, Blair’s debacle may serve to illuminate the latent racist tendencies of American media. Some sources, like Sullivan’s or AIM’s, are blatant and absurd. But it remains a truth that people of color — particularly blacks — in the field of journalism are first of all extremely rare, and, more importantly, fighting a battle for voice, representation, and power in a field that, even at its most progressive levels, is dominated by white men. And a person who is black, as The Black Commentator reports, carries a double burden within the field:

“He must prove that the brilliant whites who hired him picked the right Black person for the job, and he must ensure by his comportment in the position that other white institutions will hire more Blacks to assist them in their corporate mission.

Should the Black candidate – a person picked by whites – fail, it is the aspirations of Black people as a whole for upward mobility that are made to seem unreasonable, ridiculous, even criminal.”

POLITICS
A Farewell to Fleischer

Ari Fleischer, that most tight-lipped of presidential press secretaries, announced his resignation Monday. Ticking off all the usual reasons, George W. Bush’s official mouthpiece said he wanted to spend more time with his wife and lead a normal life. This may be true: Fleischer may just be burnt out. Unlike other erstwhile White House figures, Fleischer wasn’t run out of town like former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and he doesn’t appear to be stepping down just before a scandal overtakes him, a la lame duck budget director Mitch Daniels. In fact, the President, in a heartfelt — albeit bizarre — benediction, planted a kiss on Fleischer’s head upon hearing of his impending departure.

To be sure, as press secretaries go, Fleischer was as loyal as they come. He took Bush’s obsession with secrecy to heart and stayed unswervingly on message, through wars, terrorist attacks and a steadily worsening economy. According to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Marc Sandalow, previous press secretaries give Fleischer high marks for sticking to the White House script, for better or worse.

“‘The tone for the White House media operation is set at the very top, and it always reflects the preferences of the president himself,’ said Mike McCurry, who served four years as White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton.

‘This president has a very clear formula — buttoned up, disciplined and staying on message. My guess is we’ll get more of that in whoever succeeds (Fleischer).’

While the President might miss Fleischer, the White House press corps most definitely will not. As Salon‘s Jake Tapper reports, Fleischer will be remembered not only for being an especially opaque window into the White House’s workings, but also for lying to and bullying reporters. (As a bonus, Tapper also includes a “greatest hits” of Fleischer’s most brazen untruths.)

“But while Fleischer served his patrons with loyalty and single-mindedness, he frustrated reporters by going far beyond spinning — telling untruths and taking great effort to intimidate, several White House reporters said. ‘No one’s shedding any tears,’ said another White House reporter. ‘His personal style — the smarminess and unctuousness — was annoying to people. But his deceptions and the telling of falsehoods is what really turned people against him.’

To many in the press corps, Fleischer — to borrow a metaphor from his beloved New York Yankees — became the Babe Ruth of out-of-the-park whoppers. As the Houston Chronicle editorial page — which endorsed President Bush in 2000 — wrote of Fleischer earlier this month, ‘Perhaps not since Ron Ziegler made inoperative statements on behalf of Richard Nixon … has a press secretary exhibited such a brazen and cavalier disregard for the facts.'”

Slate‘s Timothy Noah, however, wonders if Fleischer — whom he decribes as “an energetic teller of lies on behalf of the Bush administration” — just couldn’t face himself in the mirror anymore. As proof, Noah cites Bush’s now-infamous “Top Gun”-style fighter jet landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Originally, Fleischer justified the President’s TV-friendly turn as a necessity, because the carrier was too far out at sea to accomodate a simpler, less photogenic helicopter landing. When it became clear that this explanation was false — the ship was in sight of land — Fleischer was pilloried by the press. Unfairly so, Noah declares, and Fleischer’s explanation bears him out.

“Fleischer said, in essence, that circumstances had changed, and that Bush was told the costly flight by military jet could no longer be justified on the grounds of necessity. Yet Bush was so wedded to the idea of flying by jet that he more or less said, Cost be damned, I want to fly a jet. This explanation is not especially flattering to the Bush administration. It pretty much proves the press’s underlying (and somewhat petty) point that taxpayer dollars were wasted so that Bush could be photographed in a flight suit. It gets Fleischer off the hook, but leaves Bush on the hook. This is precisely what a press secretary is never supposed to do. Sometimes, though, you have to, if you want to tell the truth.

A conspiracy-minded person might speculate that Fleischer created a false alibi that shifted blame to Bush because he knew he was headed out the door anyway. But assuming Fleischer wants a future in public relations, he must know that you don’t improve your marketability by burning the client. The only really satisfying explanation is that Fleischer was telling the truth. The guy is obviously burnt out.”

Mini-Nuke Madness
Feds Mess with Texas

POLITICS
Mini-Nuke Madness

Yesterday, the Senate voted to lift a 10-year ban on the research and development of so-called “mini-nukes,” or low-yield nuclear weapons. It was a momentous decision, taken at the urging of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who grows more Strangelovian by the day — and like-minded hawks in the Bush administration. They argue that developing smaller nuclear weapons is a necessity in the post-Sept. 11 world, both to deter rogue states and to destroy the subterranean bunkers our enemies might retreat to when we attack them. Critics of the White House stance — and they are legion — warn that repealing the ban would reverse a longstanding emphasis on non-proliferation, and could provoke a new nuclear arms race.

Writing in the Washington Post, J. Peter Scoblic notes that, for a host of reasons, nukes aren’t likely to work on deep bunkers. And if we did use them for this purpose, ” … we’d need to be very sure that destroying its contents was worth breaking a 58-year taboo against nuclear use, enraging our allies and friends and scaring our enemies into developing their own atomic arsenals.” Besides, he adds, the White House’s push for new nuclear weapons is a diplomatic and strategic nightmare.

“Logistical and technical arguments aside, using a nuclear weapon to destroy a target in a nonnuclear country would destroy U.S. nonproliferation efforts. Our nuclear policy already balances on the thin edge of hypocrisy — after all, we have thousands of nuclear weapons but we insist that others do not develop them. It’s a one-sided arrangement that has held only because of a treaty promise we made to work toward nuclear disarmament.”

Tom Teepen agrees. Why, he asks in the Columbia State, would mini-nukes be any more of a deterrent than our massive arsenal of conventional weapons?

“The deterrence argument is more vigorously pressed. It goes like this: because our current nuclear weapons are so powerful, relatively small nations with nuclear ambitions simply do not believe that we would use such overkill to prevent them from developing nukes of their own

The U.S. arsenal is now trumping its own 15,000-pound ‘daisy cutter’ bomb with the 21,000-pound Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB or the mother of all bombs).

Using, additionally, an explosive agent stronger than the daisy cutter’s, the MOAB is said to pack the wallop of, you guessed it, a small nuclear weapon. What deterrent difference could it possibly make to a small nuclear wannabe that its facilities could be taken out with one sort of explosive rather than another sort?”

Of course, the administration’s push for renewed nuclear weapons R&D isn’t new. As Robert Scheer points out in the Los Angeles Times, it’s been a consistent neocon theme for at least two decades. The only difference, he writes, is that now they’re using the war on terror to justify their atomic dreams.

“What has been forgotten in all of the patriotic hoopla is that it is our country that pioneered the creation of weapons of mass destruction over the last half-century. And it was our dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that sparked the arms race of the Cold War.

Faced with the reality that nuclear weapons are useful only for mass international suicide, every U.S. president since World War II has pursued a policy of nuclear arms control. Every administration, that is, until this one, which from its first days has made clear its inveterate hostility to arms control. It attacked the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and resurrected the corpse of the ‘Star Wars’ nuclear defense program, even as Bush’s first Nuclear Posture Review telegraphed the development of battlefield nuclear weapons and threatened their use against ‘rogue’ nations.”

Slate‘s Fred Kaplan, meanwhile, zeroes in on one of the men responsible for Bush’s nuclear policy: Keith Payne, a little-known but highly influential policymaker.

“For 20 years before he came to the Pentagon at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Payne was at the forefront of a small group of think-tank mavens — outspoken but, at the time, marginal — who argued not only that nuclear weapons were usable, but that nuclear war was, in a meaningful sense, winnable. He first made his mark with an article in the summer 1980 issue of Foreign Policy (written with fellow hawk Colin Gray) called ‘Victory Is Possible.’ Among its pronouncements: ‘an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million … a level compatible with national survival and recovery.’ (As Gen. Buck Turgidson, the George C. Scott character in Dr. Strangelove, put it, ‘I’m not saying we won’t get our hair mussed up, but 10-20 million tops, depending on the breaks.’)

Payne’s theories, Kaplan notes, became official US policy last year with the publication of Donald Rumsfeld’s Nuclear Posture Review. For the first time, government policy advocated the use of nuclear weapons as “complements” to their conventional cousins.

The upshot of all this, as both Scheer and Scoblic note, appears to be a headlong race by the likes of Iran and North Korea to develop their own nuclear capabilities, and an escalation in weapons production by China, India and Pakistan. Presumably, the administration didn’t want this to happen. But as Scoblic points out, few in the White House seem to have considered the likely consequences of their actions.

“Bush officials who support new nuclear weapons ought to heed an old cliche and put themselves in the shoes of their enemies. What would they recommend to their leader if faced with a United States that declared a doctrine of preemption, named countries against which it was prepared to use nuclear weapons and sought to build new nuclear weapons whose use would be more ‘acceptable’? In that situation, I’d recommend immediately building a nuclear deterrent.”

POLITICS
Feds Mess with Texas

Those vigilante Democrats who protested their Texan Republican counterparts’ redistricting bill by hightailing it to Ardmore, Oklahoma really gave law enforcement officials a run for their money. So much that the GOP and state troopers called in the Department of Homeland Security.

Wait. What?

The Department of Homeland Security. It’s a new, kind of obscure branch of the government that’s supposed to go after terrorists or something. Somehow, reports Christopher Lee of the Washington Post, an unnamed investigator reasoned that the missing Dems were a real threat to National Security. Suspecting that the 51 missing Representatives had skipped town together in former House Speaker Pete Laney’s private airplane, the investigator called the Homeland Security Department’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

” “We got a problem, and I hope you can help me out,’ the statement quoted the officer as saying. ‘We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Oklahoma, to Georgetown, Texas It had state representatives on it, and we cannot find this plane.'”

Believing they had an emergency on their hands, agency officials called the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, and airport officials in two other Texas cities, but were unable to find the plane.

‘When law enforcement calls us asking for assistance in locating an aircraft that may be missing or lost or downed, it’s certainly an appropriate response to try to locate that aircraft,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the bureau. “We take these statements at face value.'”

Oh, but it only gets worse. According to the San Antonio Express-News, National Republican Rep. Tom Delay, who introduced the redistricting plan in Texas, looked into whether the FBI and U.S. marshals could be used to help find the state’s MIA Democrats. What Delay discovered, and whether those forces were used, however, is a mystery. And it will probably always be a mystery because, citing a federal law that requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to destroy all “intelligence information that is not related to criminal conduct,” the DPS did just that — destroyed all information related to the Democrats’ mischievous little game of hide ‘n’ seek:

“DPS spokesmen could not answer why criminal investigation division agents were assigned to look for the legislators if no criminal violations had occurred.

State Rep. Kevin Bailey, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, said the federal law apparently only applies if a federal investigation had been conducted or if the investigation had been funded by federal money.”

That means that the only reason the DPS has for legally destroying those documents is a federal investigation. Which is illegal. And vice versa. But apparently the Texas GOP isn’t too concerned about the people that make the laws in their state.

Whitman Bows Out
Leather and Race

POLITICS
Whitman Bows Out

Rumored to be on the way out for at least half-a-year, Christie Whitman finally announced her resignation as director of the Environmental Protection Agency this week. After more than two thankless years as the public face of the Bush administration’s environmental policy, Whitman had apparently had enough.

In her letter of resignation, Whitman cited the usual desire to spend more time with her family. More likely, though, the moderate former New Jersey governor — who frequently clashed with the White House over environmental regulations — was tired of being a fish out-of-water in a far-right cabinet. So she took the first available opportunity to bail out, in line with a White House request that anyone not with Bush for the long haul step down before the election season got underway. Not that Whitman herself was blameless: Under her watch, the EPA often seemed content to take dictation from industry. But on the occasions that Whitman did put up a fight, she was consistently humiliated for her trouble by the White House (the Boston Globe offers a concise rundown of the major policy spats). Given the circumstances, the editors of the Los Angeles Times observe, Whitman probably did about the best job possible.

“No one knows better than Christie Whitman how difficult it is to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in an administration that mostly gives lip service to protecting the environment. No doubt that situation has produced many uncomfortable days for Whitman, and it isn’t a shock that she has decided to leave the Bush administration effective June 27. Swimming against your instincts wears one down.

Still, the nation’s environment is in somewhat better condition than it might have been had someone with less dedication to the EPA’s goals held the job for the last 2 1/2 years. For that, Whitman deserves thanks and good wishes.”

Noting that Whitman’s appointment as EPA chief was little more than a piece of GOP greenwashing, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s editorial board declares: “The only unanswered question of her unquestionably stormy tenure is: What took so long?

“Whitman, once a moderate Republican governor of New Jersey, was picked for the job to give the Bush administration much-needed credibility with green-leaning voters. But Whitman soon realized that despite (or because of) her credentials, she was the odd woman out among Bush’s inner circle.

Whitman seemed snakebit from the get-go; she was frequently put in the awkward position of having to defend policies that were clearly inconsistent with her own record and the agency’s stated mission. Early on, she was forced to backpedal after trying to delay a Clinton-era effort to reduce the levels of arsenic — a known poison — in the nation’s drinking water. Later, she was blindsided by President Bush’s decision to reverse his campaign promise to categorize airborne carbon as a pollutant that contributes to global warming. Although Bush announced the policy at a full-bore press conference, Whitman was among the last to find out.”

The editors of the Washington Post are less sympathetic. ” … [I]f she really disagreed with some of the decisions, it seems strange that Ms. Whitman stayed in her job as long as she did,” they opine. But they doubt that the White House will be able to find another even vaguely credible “green” face, given Whitman’s troubles over the past years. Instead, the editors argue, the president should simply appoint a friend of industry, rather than feigning interest in the environment while waging a clandestine war against it.

“Now, given the built-in handicaps, who will want to replace her? It’s hard to imagine anyone with an environmentalist background wanting the job — and hard to imagine another ‘moderate’ achieving any more than she did. In fact, the White House ought to take a deep breath and appoint someone whose environmental philosophy closely mirrors that of the president: If the administration does want to alter environmental policy, it should do so in the open and not by stealth, behind the back of — or in opposition to — the EPA administrator. The president should argue his case openly, and the issues should be debated loudly, in public rather than behind the scenes.”

Eric V. Schaeffer, writing on Tom Paine.com, couldn’t agree more. If the EPA is going to be more of a political appendage of the White House than an independent regulatory agency, he asks, why bother appointing a new director at all? In that case, he declares, ” … the president should end the pretense and nominate Dick Cheney to run the Environmental Protection Agency.”

LAW & JUSTICE
Leather and Race

Over Memorial day weekend last year, several restaurants in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina decided it was high time to remodel their kitchens or pave their parking lots. It was an unusual choice of weekends for restaurants in a tourist-trap of a beach town, but sometimes these things can’t wait. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with all those black people on motorcycles riding into town. That would be “absurd,” as a Myrtle Beach city spokesman observed. Maybe so. But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and 25 participants in “Black Bike Week,” a festival of African-American motorcycle owners, are suing the city and a number of its businesses anyway, reports Bob Dart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The federal lawsuit charges that the city’s police department, officials, as well as restaurants and hotels blatantly discriminate against the black motorcyclists.

Proving that a city conspires to keep out a group of people on an annual basis is no small task, but the NAACP contrasts the treatment of black bikers’ treatment with that of annual “Harley-Davidson Dealers Association Week” attendees, who are mostly white. According to Kenneth A. Gailliard of Myrtle Beach’s Sun News, the city’s police department implements “a restrictive traffic pattern that forces one-way traffic on a section of Ocean Boulevard [the city’s main thoroughfare]” during Black Bike week, forcing traffic to run one-way and prohibiting turns. Contrarily, traffic flows almost regularly during the Harley celebration, despite the influx of an extra 250,000 people. Police claim it’s a numbers game, and that the 400,000 people who attend the Memorial day event necessitate stricter traffic laws. Interesting argument. But if half as many people attend the white bikers’ party, why does the police department utilize only a third as many police officers for the event?

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