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Clinton Confronts Governors

As Al Gore continued to flounder, Bill Clinton's weekend shootout at the National Governors' Conference set the cutting-edge issue of the presidential campaign in sharp relief. The president warned the mostly Republican governors that the GOP's "risky" $792 billion tax cut would negatively affect their state budgets, adding, "Because this tax cut will not save and strengthen Medicare, because it will not add a day to the Social Security trust fund, because it will not pay down the debt and pay it off for the first time in 150 years, this tax cut will not become law."

The Republicans have long been determined to push tax relief, along with their privatization of Social Security and Medicare, as a major plank in the 2000 campaign. And they've fought hard to enliven these dull issues. Senate majority leader Trent Lott's rapturous comments are typical. "When you go through the list of things that are achieved in this tax relief package, it does an awful lot for the American dream," Lott gushed. "It means that every working American that pays taxes will be able to keep a little bit more of their money in their pocket and decide how they will use it."

Of course, the GOP tax bill won't do a lot for ordinary people. What it will do is widen the already enormous gap between the rich and the poor. The nearly two-thirds of taxpayers who are middle-income and below would get less than 8 percent of the cuts. Their average reduction would be only $138 a year.

Meanwhile, 69 percent of the reductions would be lavished on the wealthiest one-tenth of the nation, with these individuals enjoying an average annual tax cut of $7600. The richer you are, the more you would get. Individuals making more than $301,000 would get a $46,000 cut every year.

As for the working poor, i.e., those making less than $13,000, their big break would amount to $24.


Tippecanoe, Arthur Too
Gore Campaign Taking on Water

Poor Gore. In addition to being hounded by AIDS activists and criticized in animal-rights ads by Bea Arthur, he's now taking heat from environmentalists. With the Northeast in the grip of one of the century's worst droughts, questions persist about the vice president's humiliatingly botched photo-op in a canoe a couple of weeks ago.

It seems that the utility PG&E rerouted its electrical supply and opened a dam on the Connecticut River to send half a billion gallons of water rushing into a stream bed so Gore could look ducky on that campaign swing, during which he promoted regulations restricting the amount of water to be used in flushing toilets.

Not only did the ensuing media blitz make Gore look foolish, but last week the New Hampshire Republican State Committee asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate Gore for accepting an illegal campaign contribution.

"It would have cost New Englanders up to $7 million to use the same amount of water that was released to float Vice President Gore's boat," said committee chair Stephen M. Duprey. Gore staffers insist they told the utility not to raise the river, and were surprised when their request was ignored.


Male Call
Respect Mates, Bush Ally Tells Women

James Dobson, one of the Religious Right leaders who was courted by George W. Bush earlier this year, told more than 8000 women gathered in an arena outside Denver recently that they must respect their husbands. In turn, said the founder and president of Focus on the Family, quoting from scripture, husbands must love their wives.

Dobson conceded that it might be difficult to obey an alcoholic or a workaholic. However, the preacher, who has been recovering from a stroke and is photographed only from his left side, told the female throng: "There are needs that men have that you need to meet. Men need respect just as much as you need love."

Commenting on the high school massacre in nearby Littleton, Colorado, Dobson added that there are women so twisted that they just don't deserve love. He said the Columbine shootings are only the latest proof that many young boys are in trouble because feminists have tried to change the way boys are raised and have left them confused.


Matter Over Mind
Fear and Trembling in Texas

In Texas, fundamentalists like Dobson and presidential candidate Gary Bauer are coming to the support of evangelicals in Wichita Falls who are attempting to oust books like Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy's Roommate from the kiddie section of the public library. As the Texas Observer reports, the struggle galvanizes every corner of the community. Wichita Falls, in a rabidly fundamentalist area, is home to Midwestern State University. In May, Midwestern State graduation ceremonies nearly turned into a charismatic paroxysm as student Mary King mounted the rostrum to give the invocation:

"Dear Lord," she began tremblingly, "Before I ask you to bless myself and my fellow graduates, I repent for myself and my peers for the sin of idolatry. Forgive us, Lord, for worshipping the intellectual mind. I repent for the humanism that we have embraced. I repent for our attempt to fill the void in our lives with anything other than you. I repent for impure passions and desires, for our compromise, for our disobedience."

When it came time for the benediction, King rose again, and mumbled, "Mercy on them, Jesus," and collapsed.


Let Us Spray
EPA's Revolving Door

When it was launched in 1970 to clean up out-of-control air and water pollution, there were great hopes for the Environmental Protection Agency. Since then it has become a snake pit of unenforced lawsuits in which bureaucrats cut one friendly corporate deal after another. Recent reports have documented a steady increase in pollution, along with the agency's apparent inability to enforce the laws. Now comes a report by the esteemed Environmental Working Group, an independent watchdog organization, that portrays the EPA as a virtual testing lab for the nation's pesticide companies.

Scrutinizing former top pesticide regulators at the EPA, the EWG found that two-thirds of the highest-ranking agency officials who have left the agency since the pesticide program was set up in 1977 receive at least part of their pay from pesticide interests actively fighting EPA efforts. Some of these revolving-door workers were negotiating their new jobs while they were involved in key pesticide regulatory decisions at EPA, the study found.

Five former EPA staffers now work for Jellinek, Schwarz & Connolly, a top pesticide-consulting firm. Steven Jellinek was a Carter-era assistant administrator for pesticides at the EPA. Other former EPA officials have gone on to work for Monsanto, the Tobacco Institute, and the pesticide manufacturer ABERCO.


Ringing Indictments
Orbit of Plutonium Probe Stirs Concern

As if allegations of thousands of workers at government weapons labs having been exposed to plutonium aren't enough, a NASA plan to whip a plutonium-powered satellite around the Earth later this month is raising new fears.

Antinuclear activists are concerned that one "slingshot" orbit of the Cassini space probe on August 18, to generate enough power to send the craft to Saturn, poses the ominous possibility that the craft's fuel could leak into Earth's atmosphere. Launched in 1997, the Cassini carries 72 pounds of plutonium 238— a man-made substance similar to the plutonium in nuclear bombs and reactors— as fuel. It is scheduled to orbit Earth and dip to within 725 miles of Earth's atmosphere at 11:28 p.m. on August 18 west of Chile in the area of Easter Island.

To reach Saturn, Cassini needs to feed off Earth's momentum. However, the "slingshot" maneuver is highly controversial. Although NASA claims the chances for reentry into the atmosphere are less than one in a million, Professor Frank von Hippel, who was a White House adviser on science and technology policy in 1993 and 1994, is less optimistic. Von Hippel points out that while Cassini's heat shield was designed for reentry at Earth's orbit speed (about seven kilometers a second), it will be going well over that rate— closer to 20 kilometers a second, or approximately 42,000 miles an hour.

"My concern is that the packaging isn't robust enough, and it will burn up completely in the case of reentry," says von Hippel. If the craft burns, its plutonium fuel will be released in potentially inhalable particles. NASA scientists claim that the amount of plutonium would be negligible in terms of its effect on the world's population, positing a worst-case scenario in which perhaps "120 to 2300 people would develop bone or lung cancer if inhaled." Some independent scientists claim those figures are grossly low. They cite a 1997 NASA report that estimated deaths in the tens of thousands in a similar scenario.

Alan Kohn, a former NASA emergency preparedness officer, is disillusioned with the continued use of plutonium to power space vessels. NASA is currently studying the feasibility of eight space probes similar to Cassini between 2000 and 2015. "The intention is to use this for the indefinite future," Kohn says. "In an indefinite series, there are no such things as odds of failure. Failure becomes inevitable."


'Chicken' Hawke Turns Tail

After nearly 1500 cops cleared a corridor for a neo-Nazi march in Washington on Saturday at a cost of $1 million, Davis Wolfgang Hawke's American Nationalist Party called off the demo because only four people showed up. "I can't imagine Britt going down there," his mother, Peggy Greenbaum, told The Washington Post, using her son's former name. Turns out Hawke grew up Jewish. "Number one, he'a a chicken," Mrs. Greenbaum said. "I don't like to say that about my own son, but he is a chicken."

Additional reporting: Ginger Adams Otis

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