Washington is bracing for Bill Clinton’s swan song in the form of an October Surprise that will both etch his own legacy and push Al Gore into the presidency. There are two possibilities. The first calls for ordering the Delta Force commando team now training with NATO guerrilla teams in Europe to capture Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb war criminal still at large in the Balkans.
Second, if they’re really lucky, Delta Force might snatch Slobodan Milosevic himself, who is in the process of rigging another election. Problem is, such actions could backfire in the manner of Somalia. Milosevic is probably untouchable, and Karadzic is surrounded by tough fighters who might well inflict casualties in an attack.
Carla del Ponte, the Balkans war crimes prosecutor in the Hague, will meet this week in Washington with Secretary of Defense Cohen. Last week she told the Swiss newspaper Les Temps, “Karadzic keeps on moving, and it is of no use to know where he was. What we want to know is where he is and where he will be.”
Says another World Court official: “The biggest success will be getting him here alive. The worry is that there are a couple of Milosevic stooges waiting to put a bullet in his head before he gets here.”
The real October Surprise probably will arrive too late to help George W. Bush. It is, of course, inflation spurred on by the soaring cost of oil. Petroleum prices have set off a storm of protests in Europe, which gathered new momentum on Monday.
This year alone natural gas prices have doubled, and oil prices are up by a third. “Shortages”—in a world awash in oil—are the industry’s response to last year’s glut, which sank prices to all-time lows. Tightening the market is a way to regulate supply.
In part, the crisis is due to the American appetite for gas-guzzling vehicles. The U.S. response to the vicissitudes of the oil market has always been shortsighted. The current shortfall almost certainly will put more pressure on the government to open up oil and gas drilling off Alaska and along both coasts. And oil isn’t the only inflationary factor.
Health insurance is going through the roof, with the administration announcing a 10.5 percent rise in premiums for federal employees just last week. Premiums for federal employees have risen by more than a third since 1998. Clinton actually raised the prospect of a recession while in New York last week, but when asked later whether he thought recession loomed, said, “Well, in the short to medium term, the answer is no.”
When last it was in the news in the spring of 1998, the old industrial city of Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania was struggling to fend off an avalanche of garbage. The trash was being hurled its way down I-78 from the Fresh Kills landfill and other New York City-area dumps that export their garbage throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere along the mid-Atlantic coast.
Time has not been kind to Bethlehem. After years of managing its modest municipal dump—even floating million of dollars in municipal bonds to improve it—the city council abruptly voted to sell the landfill to Eastern Environmental Services, one of the big new garbage firms. Eastern was anxious to buy up dumps along the East Coast, hoping to make a killing when New York and other cities ran out of space and began to export garbage in earnest. Bethlehem, strapped for cash, fell for Eastern’s pitch and, with scarcely any study, sold the dump for $25 million—which unfortunately was $12 million short of the amount needed to pay off the outstanding debt. Soon after the sale, Eastern merged with USA Waste, which in turn merged with the giant Waste Management. Somewhere along the way, the garbage kings kissed off the Bethlehem dump, selling it to a firm called IESI. Although when the dump was first sold, Bethlehem officials were told that it would never be used for garbage from large metropolitan areas, now half of its contents come from the New York metropolitan area.
Complicating Bethlehem’s situation was the arrival of the IRS, which, decreeing that the city must pay off the debt promptly, presented it with a bill for a quarter of a million dollars a month. In desperation, the city fathers tried another quick fix, okaying a scheme to log the forests bordering the watershed that supplies the city’s drinking water. Environmentalists point out that Bethlehem can’t possibly get enough money from logging to retire the debt, and note that by cutting down the trees it will eventually ruin its water supply. Nevertheless, plans for the logging continue.
Arguing that the timber project is environmentally sound, Mayor Don Cunningham threatened higher taxes if the deal flops. “Whether it’s $1 million or $5 million, every dollar we generate with this is another dollar we don’t have to allocate in taxes or reallocate from elsewhere [in the city budget],” Cunningham said.
Dead Men Fasting
Although conditions in Pennsylvania’s jails got a welcome airing when Philadelphia cops incarcerated demonstrators during the Republican convention, what was exposed was very tame when compared to the wretched death row hidden away in Waynesburg, in the southwestern part of the state. Indeed, the situation there is so horrible that 45 of 162 men awaiting execution launched a hunger strike on August 24, and held out until late last week when they finally gave up in the face of harassment by guards.
“We are prepared to go out of here in body bags unless they force-feed us,” wrote Craig Williams in a letter posted on the Internet. “We are on strike to disclose the punitive policies here.”
The SCI-Green Prison, in which the death house is located, charges inmates $2 for every visit by a doctor, but the prisoners say this is a farce, since doctors are only allowed to peer at them through a small glass window. They complain of phone calls being tapped and having to wait eight to 10 days to use typewriters in the prison law library.
Brenda Kemp, whose son Matthew is on death row, said the prisoners began the hunger strike by eating only soup and drinking juice, which they had stockpiled from the prison commissary. But once the strike was under way, the guards seized the items. Matthew, who suffers from hypertension, quit the strike last week after his mother implored him to stop lest he suffer a stroke.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections said the hunger strike ended on Friday. “We don’t negotiate with inmates,” she said. Brenda Kemp, who visited her son on Sunday, said the strikers gave up because “too many got sick. They figured nobody would come to help them.”
According to prison sources, two strikers have serious medical complications. Although corrections officials say the strike began September 3, it is understood that one inmate began his fast on August 7.
Accustomed as we are to Bush campaign accounts of U.S. soldiers scraping by on food stamps, Colonel David Hackworth, the decorated military veteran turned Pentagon scourge, presents a startlingly different image in his Internet newsletter, Hack’s Weekly Mail. A report by an anonymous crew member of a fuel supply ship paints a picture of paradise cruises in which the officers bring their own autos aboard so they can tour the countryside at ports of call.
According to the whistleblower, a Cadillac is rented for the captain when the ship docks in San Diego. The supply officer orders the baker to prepare fresh pastry served on a silver tray daily, and has special packets of coffee labeled as his own brand. The ship reportedly purchased an embroidery machine for more than $50,000, but forgot to buy the software to run it. That cost $7000, but it didn’t make much difference since no one knew how to operate it. “The fraud, waste, and abuse I witnessed firsthand was unbelievable,” writes the anonymous crew member.
“The captain raffled bullets to guests on our return from Hawaii . . . to raise money for the Navy-Marine Corps relief drive. Civilians and military members alike bought bullets for 50 cents apiece and then fired them into the water.”
“In the rare event of an erection lasting more than four hours, seek immediate medical help.”
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Additional reporting: Rouven Gueiss and Theresa Crapanzano