Drop Your Guns
Unconditional Disaster in the Balkans
While international media attention has focused on the nonstop peace diplomacy of Viktor Chernomyrdin over the last month, members of Congress who have attended closed-door briefings at the White House and State Department have been telling a very different story about the real intentions of the Clinton administration.
Returning shaken to their Capitol Hill offices, these members insist that Clinton will settle for nothing short of surrender. And, they add, he is running the war the way he played the Monica crisis— i.e., hanging tough. In this scenario, winning means the fall of Milosevic, the abject defeat of the Serbs, and probably an occupation force. Looking back, some members now suspect the White House has been using Chernomyrdin as a foil while it seeks to sabotage peace talks.
In one meeting with House members last month, Bernie Sanders, the independent congressman from Vermont, asked Secretary of State Albright whether U.S. policies were aimed at forcing Milosevic to surrender. Thumping the table, Albright replied, “You’re damn right.”
Now, with Milosevic branded as an international pariah and facing war crimes charges, why should he quit? He can spread the war by shelling the refugee camps in Albania. Or he can agitate in Montenegro and Macedonia, setting both states aflame with ethnic conflict— although in Macedonia it could drag in Bulgaria and Greece, both of which also have ambitions there. Finally, he could begin a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Vojvodina, the northern province of Serbia where many Hungarians live, and which NATO has been methodically bombing even though the residents oppose Milosevic. If that happens— and there were reports of rising tensions in Vojvodina all last week— Hungary would find itself pulled into the war.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been speaking hopefully of the resurgence of the Kosovo Liberation Army, after mistakenly bombing a KLA camp recently, suggesting that it might function as a foreign legion for NATO. “I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that they could reestablish control of some areas,” Rear Admiral Thomas Wilson, head of the Joint Chiefs intelligence directorate, said at a briefing last week.
Wilson claimed that the KLA now has between 15,000 and 17,000 guerrillas in Kosovo, compared to 5000 when NATO started bombing in late March. Such a surrogate army could obviate the involvement of a large NATO ground force from Europe and the U.S. (although now Clinton is said to be considering sending in 90,000 ground troops). However, reports from the field suggest that the KLA is a pretty feeble fighting force. A Washington Post account last Friday described confused KLA guerrillas charging across open fields into Serb artillery barrages.”It’s madness,” said one military observer.
Perhaps the most menacing news came last weekend, with a top Turkish commander’s announcement that his nation’s armed forces might join the fighting. “There may be a land operation,” said Turkish air force chief Ilhan Kilic. “And we, as members of the alliance, may join in.” Turkey, with about 500,000 ground troops, has ancient territorial ambitions in Kosovo. The war is widely supported in Turkey, and many Turks have family ties to the Balkans, a region that Turkey ruled for 500 years.
An expanded war in Europe means a more chaotic situation within NATO. After the near collapse of U.S.-Russian relations at the start of the war, Germany and Italy are now chafing against U.S policies. In addition, there is the break with China in the wake of the Los Alamos spy imbroglio and the bombing of China’s Belgrade embassy. By Memorial Day, it seemed quite literally true to say that U.S. foreign policy was in chaos.
Helps Drug Companies Nix Cheap Medicines
Al Gore, Internet inventor, hog farmer, and tobacco grower, now has landed in another controversy, leading the charge for pharmaceutical manufacturers against South African AIDS patients struggling to get affordable medicine.
An estimated 3.2 million people are infected with the virus in South Africa, where the cost of multi-drug therapies— starting at $1000 a month— is far beyond the means of most patients, the overwhelming number of them poor blacks. The average annual income in South Africa is $2600.
“Medicines to treat HIV/AIDS are far too highly priced for the mass of our people,” Dr. Ian Roberts, adviser to the South African Health Ministry, said recently. “With up to 16 percent of our people already HIV-positive, this can be seen as a national disaster.”
In an effort to make medicine more available, the South African government this year passed a law to bypass drug company patents and permit the import of cheaper drugs. But the international pharmaceutical industry, led by U.S.based companies, sued to overturn the law, and top U.S. officials led by Gore— who chairs a commission on South African trade— have joined forces with the drug companies in threatening South Africa with trade sanctions.
“Patents are the lifeblood of our industry,” David Warr, associate director of tax and trade policy at Bristol-Myers Squibb, the New Yorkbased pharmaceutical giant, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Compulsory licensing and parallel imports expropriate our patent rights.”
Ralph Nader’s Consumer Project on Technology has been pushing Gore to change his position, and haranguing the government for its tactics on the matter. Led by Nader, a group of public-health activists recently wrote the vice-president a letter, which stated in part: “As an elected official, indeed, as a human, how would you act if 20 percent of all sexually active young people in the United States were infected with a fatal disease, and a foreign country was trying to prevent you from purchasing drugs on the global market to save money, and was preventing you from licensing firms to manufacture lifesaving medicines?”
Gore’s response so far has been to step up trade retaliation against South Africa, threatening trade restrictions on its exports to the U.S. unless it lines up behind the drug makers.
The Disposable Poor
While Clinton and his conservative allies in Congress celebrated the success of workfare last week at a House Ways and Means hearing, the administration did have to admit that some poor families have experienced losses of income.
An analysis of welfare “reform” studies made by the General Accounting Office concluded that, from state to state, between 61 and 87 percent of adults who had been kicked off welfare had found jobs. But many of the jobs are low-paying and short-lived, and between 19 and 30 percent of people who once were on welfare have had to get back on the dole.
The average hourly wage rate ranged from $5.67 in Tennessee to $8.09 in Washington. The minimum wage is $5.15. In Maryland, where statistics are more complete than elsewhere, most former welfare recipients would have earned $9536 if they had worked for the entire year.
Among hard-pressed families headed by single mothers, disposable income dropped from $5688 in 1995 to $4825 in 1997, according to Wendell Primus, a former Health and Human Services official who now works for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The Census Bureau considers a family of four with income under $16,400 to be living in poverty.
Clinton-Gore’s Dirty Little Secret
Despite a barrage of bad news, nobody has been able to figure out how the Clinton-Gore administration can claim the environment is getting steadily cleaner. The news is horrendous: millions of pounds of toxic waste dumped into waterways around the country, hair-raising accounts of pollution from feed-lot operations, and the scary outbreak of pfiesteria, a paralyzing red tide, in eastern rivers.
A study released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization of state and federal environmental workers, makes a strong case that the government has cooked the figures on the environment. It works like this: Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the EPA must collect and report
water-quality data on the nation’s streams and rivers. Prior to 1992, the agency used information from state reports to estimate 1.8 million miles of waterways in the country. But in 1992, the EPA increased its estimate to 3.6 million miles based on mapping information from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The change meant that a state like Montana, which in 1990 had reported 51,212 miles of streams, leaped to 178,896 miles two years later. Arizona jumped from 15,537 to 150,000 miles. South Dakota went from just under 10,000 miles to 103,000 miles.
By juggling the figures to inflate the miles, the government can toss off percentages that make it look as if it’s cleaning up more water when little has changed. Take Tennessee, which in 1992 was reporting 37 percent of 19,124 miles of streams “impaired” (bureaucratic lingo for polluted). By switching reporting methods, the government could claim progress in 1996, with only 26 percent of 61,103 miles of streams impaired.
Another way the federal government rigs the numbers is by letting a state claim a long river as a single unvarying body of water. Although common sense might dictate that judging the level of pollution along a river would require taking samples along its course, that’s not what the government does. It allows the states to determine whether rivers are polluted or not by taking just one sample. So the state of Washington, for example, took one sample from a river system 3900 miles long, and claimed it had
assessed the quality of water in it.
A preview of what we may have to expect from Al Gore in the coming campaign can be gleaned from a 1993 AP account of a Clinton-Gore tour of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
At one point in the tour, Gore pointed to a group of small busts on a wall, and asked, “Who are these people?”
“That’s George Washington on the right,” replied Dan Jordan, the executive director of Monticello.
Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu