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September 16, 2003, 1:30 P.M.

I read with interest a report that Colin Powell visited a museum and mass grave dedicated to the 5000 or so Kurds who were killed in the 1988 chemical attack in Iraq. Powell apparently acknowledged that the world (the U.S. included) was "indifferent" to the use of chemical weapons to massacre thousnds of innocent civilians.

Two things are obvious. FIrst, Powell is attempting to use the tragic circumstances of 1988 to justify the invasion of Iraq in 1993. What he, and by extension, those who sent him, are saying is that the 1988 massacre is evidence that weapons of mass destruction did exist and were used by Saddam, and therefore, it is no great leap to suggest that he would use them again. Of course, this ignores the fact that in the intervening years hundreds of tons of weapons were destroyed and there was another war. It also ignores the fact that the U.N. had inspectors on the ground during that time and no chemical weapons were used during or after the first Gulf War. Any connection between the tradegy at Halabja and the invasion in 2003 is tenuous at best.

The second obvious observation is that the Halabja visit is great politics. The Bush administration is using the Halabja connection to bolster its efforts to deflect attention away from the lies it has told about the existance of WMDs as a justification for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. The argument suggests, as Bush has already done, that it really doesn't matter that they lied about WMD evidence. What matters is that Saddam was a really bad guy so that means used to justify the invasion don't really matter as long as the ends are just. The truth is, we let Halabja happen in 1988 and were still calling Saddam an ally against Iran at that time. We should hang our collective heads over Halabja and our sorrow should be unqualified. Any attempt to use those deaths to justify our actions is base and vile.

September 15, 2003, 12:00 P.M.

President Bush either considers the Northeast to be politically expendable or “in the bag” for the upcoming election. As evidence of this, he recently visited a coal-fired power plan in Monroe, Michigan. The choice of a coal-fired power plant to discuss the administration’s air pollution policies sends a strong message to the tail pipe states of the Northeast: “Take gas.”

Bush lost Michigan to Al Gore in 2000. Since that election he has made 11 trips to Michigan and 22 trips to Pennsylvania, another key industrial state that Bush lost to Gore. Between Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Bush has spread his message that, despite the negative impacts on the Northeast states and Canadian provinces, he will relax clean air standards in order to ostensibly stimulate jobs and harvest votes.

The plant that Bush chose to visit in Monroe, Michigan is considered by environmentalists to be among the dirtiest in the Midwest. If the administration’s Clear Skies legislation passes, that plant will be given incentives to modernize its operations, but it will not be required to clean up its emissions. In fact, the Monroe plant was in the process of installing catalytic converters to cut emissions, but stopped the work pending the issuance of new standards under the Bush legislation.

The Clear Skies moniker in no way suggests that the legislation will result in reduced emissions. It won’t. The name relates more to the “sky’s the limit” easing of restrictions on Midwest producers intended, by Bush at least, to stimulate investment in those facilities and thus create jobs. Of course, there is no guarantee that industries exempted from the clean air emissions requirements will invest in modernizing or improving their plants. Even if they do, the effect is a continued and worsening of the air and water quality for all of us who are downwind of the big, industrial polluters who Bush sees as his best hope for re-election.

There are standards in the new legislation that will curtail nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions. These standards, when weighed against the rollbacks in the plan, represent a net loss in air quality protection. It is for this reason that 10 downwind states, including New Hampshire, have banded together to sue the EPA and block implementation of reduced emission standards. The suit has widespread bi-partisan support among New England legislative delegations. New Hampshire’s Sen. Judd Gregg and Rep. Jeb Bradley (both Republicans) support the lawsuit.

Judd Gregg has been way out in front on this issue in a way that shows great courage. It almost makes me forgive him for No Child Left Behind, but not quite. Gregg has co-sponsored with Republican Sen. Lincoln Chaffee (RI) and Democratic Sen. Tom Carper (DE) the Clean Air Planning Act of 2003 that is intended to reduce emissions of pollutants including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury from power plants.

John Sununu, on the other hand, has had a much lower profile on this issue. So low, in fact, that he’s just about invisible. Perhaps this is because of his practice of putting political loyalty ahead of the best interests of his constituents.

When considering how far the current administration will go to get re-elected, the sky is truly the limit. It is obvious that Karl Rove and Co. are willing to throw the tail pipe states under the bus in order to garner support in the industrial Midwest. In a New Yorker article in May Karl Rove admitted that efforts at outsourcing government jobs in an effort to reduce the size of government is political. It seems that big government is perceived as benefiting Democrats at the polls. Conversely, less government employees seems to be better for Republicans. The net result is the loss of thousands of jobs. When it comes to getting and keeping power, these guys have no limits.

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