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April 5 - April 9, 1999

Tuesday, April 6, 1999

One good thing

Ward Valley. On a detailed map of Southern California, the name denotes an area 22 miles west of Needles. On a list of recent rhetorical buzzwords, it connotes a bitter dispute that has pitted environmentalists and Native Americans against the power of the nuclear industry. Throughout the seemingly unending conflict, the local folks' prospects have been bleak. But Aesop's tortoise took on the hare and won. And when the threatened desert tortoise challenged the governments of California and the United States, the improbable became reality.

The modest AP story appeared deep inside Sunday's New York Times, half-buried beneath the war coverage. Its content was dry and its language procedural, but for anyone who has followed Western environmental politics, the headline leaped from the page as though it was printed in neon ink: ìPlan to Build Nuclear Dump In the Mojave Appears Dead.î

The process had seemed innocent at the start. Pete Wilson's administration announced that California wanted to get rid of an accumulation of low-level radioactive waste --- mainly medical refuse from biotech companies, hospitals and research labs. The federal government owned some land in the remote southeastern reaches of the state. The state hoped to purchase the tract and hire a contractor to dispose of the trash.

Innocent, or stupid? In retrospect, the proposal leaked potential problems at every possible level.

Apparently, no one in Sacramento noticed that a number of Indians who live in the Mojave Desert regard Ward Valley as sacred. Visitors to the area describe vivid petroglyphs cut into the red rocks. Native American songs recount mythic journeys to the place where life began, and even today runners follow ancient paths across the valley in preparation for special ritual events. Bureaucrats might not be expected to pay attention to the spectral inhabitants, but flesh-and-blood ones turned out to be harder to overlook. The five Lower Colorado River tribal groups --- Fort Mojave, Chemehuevi, Quechan, Cocopah and Colorado River ---  immediately objected to the incursion and organized. At one point they occupied the area, which came to resemble a war zone. The stars and stripes flew upside down near the clenched fist of the red American Indian Movement flag. AIM security guards searched every car that tried to enter the encampment, while a short distance away Bureau of Land Management rangers watched and listened, using hi-tech surveillance gear. Imagine the embarrassing TV film footage if a genuine confrontation had occurred.

Apparently, no one in Sacramento noticed that Ward Valley lies dangerously near the Colorado River or suspected that materials buried in unlined trenches could leach out into the groundwater. But people in Mexico noticed --- and worried. Once-mighty rivers like the Colorado and the Rio Grande trickle into their towns, carrying whatever wastes their northern neighbors have poured into them. These floating cesspools figure prominently in border politics. Mexican officials have carried protests of our polluting procedures into treaty negotiations. Grass-roots organizers in both countries recently worked together to halt the threat of a U.S. nuclear waste dump in the Texas border town of Sierra Blanca. Before President Zedillo sent Washington an official protest, thousands of Mexicans had filled the bridges between their country and the United States, and a U.S. activist had spent 56 days in a hunger strike on the Capitol steps. Americans are accustomed to horror stories of destructive environmental practices on the part of Mexicans. Imagine the embarrassing TV coverage if anyone at CNN had been on hand.

Apparently, no one in Sacramento noticed that previous nuclear waste dumps have poor records for safety and that the company chosen to do the deed has a poor record for building them. The things invariably leak. The contractor, US Ecology, says the problem stemmed from "outdated operating practices," which won't happen again. Imagine if itís wrong.

Apparently, no one in Sacramento noticed that there's plenty of room for low-level waste in already existing dumps in Utah and South Carolina. Maybe the state just wanted a dump of its own. Or maybe, as environmentalists like Gregory Hayden of the University of Nebraska and David Brower of Earth Island Institute argue, its stated purpose was simply a smoke screen and the goal was really a subsidized haven for the big stuff, the waste from aging nuclear power plants. Imagine if they're right.

Apparently, no one in Sacramento thought anyone would care if Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan closed out the Bush administration with a lame-duck sale of Ward Valley land to California, even though a federal judge had just issued a restraining order. Apparently no one in Sacramento thought the new secretary, Bruce Babbitt, could --- or would --- stop the deal. But the Clinton administration brought with it a recognition of the fledgling environmental justice movement. The EPA designated Ward Valley as a potential hot spot, and Babbitt sang, Let's call the whole thing off.

Like many other social dilemmas, this one was ultimately decided in the courts. Last week, reported the Times,  Federal District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that "Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had acted properly in rescinding transfer of the site to the state."

The new officials in Sacramento are left to find another place for their glow-in-the-dark garbage. And Ward Valley? It can remain unmolested a little while longer. Philip Klasky, co-director of the Bay Area Nuclear Waste Coalition knows the area well: "This part of the Mojave Desert possesses sweeping vistas that make you feel as though you are witnessing the very curvature of the earth. Red-tailed hawks climb heated columns of air effortlessly as a desert tortoise emerges from its burrow to feed on wildflowers....Smoke tree and screwbean mesquite line the washes and during monsoon showers, a wall of water three feet high can speed down the water courses."

Spring has finally arrived, after a long cold winter. Passover began, celebrating liberation after slavery, and Easter reasserted the possibility of rebirth after suffering. America still seems cold, as the media report death and military destruction, with no redemption in sight. But in the Mojave, the sun has begun to shine.

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

Wednesday, April 7, 1999

A Europe whole and free

In the early 1950s Rand Corporation mathematicians like Malcolm Hoag, Samuel Cohen and Herman Kahn  played "scratch-pad" war games in an effort to calculate the effect of an invasion of Europe by an enemy force. In this first blush of U.S. strategic war-fighting analyses, the Rand players' intention was to guess the most likely place on the Continent where the Soviets might mount a conventional attack, and to what extent such an offensive would succeed. Over time, the contention of Rand's Nathan Leites that the unswerving "operational code" of  Soviet leaders inclined them toward preventive war, became the central leitmotif of Cold War defense establishmentarians like Paul Nitze.

NATO would become the means by which the envisioned massive "firebreak" invasion of Soviet forces would be slowed, and then halted by our threat to use nuclear weapons. Enshrined in the minds of Nitze and his fellow thermonuclear prelates was the doctrinal pornography of the evilness of Soviet intentions, a convenient posture which, while bolstering America's own command economy, fueled the arms race and ushered in the baroque nuclear strategizing of Ronald Reagan. Reagan's blatant quest for overwhelming superiority via a first-strike advantage combined with "Star Wars" invulnerability  was convened in an attempt to bankrupt the Soviets economically.

Through 40 years of superpower confrontation, the Soviets directed their greatest enmity toward the creation of NATO. One runs a great risk of regarding as mere caviling a nation's strenuous concerns about feeling encircled, and our ears were deaf to Soviet complaints. They viewed NATO as a mechanism which completely hemmed them in from their sole escape route from possible nuclear annihilation. Surrounded as they were by a superior coalition of forces, if threatened with a nuclear attack their only defensive recourse would have been to overrun Western Europe and hold it for ransom. The Nitzes, the Curtis LeMays, the Richard Perles, et sequentia, of course remained steadfast in their belief in eternal Soviet perfidy, and U.S. strategic war-fighting was thus constructed on the premise that the Soviets would in fact invade Europe without provocation and simultaneously launch a nuclear strike against us.


* * *

Because we wore the Soviets down and were "victorious" in the Cold War, the NATO picket-fence scenario never had to be tested. And up until two weeks ago, one would have thought that a tactical consideration of that sort had been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Instead, the surviving superpower and its trans-Atlantic cohorts face a piker fascist who has stolen the Soviet playbook. Slobodan Milosevic now holds Kosovo ransom against the lethal firepower of the greatest military aggregate in history. The old Soviet in extremis predicament and its logical escape-hatch response is being carried out by a populist butcher with a minuscule army and assorted bands of frenzied irregulars. The credibility and very raison of NATO is imperiled as a consequence.

Had Clinton, along with commencing bombing of only command and support targets, provided the Apache helicopters and even a small force of Special Forces, Airborne Rangers and Airmobile troops to defend the villages in the half-dozen areas Milosevic was ravaging in the first days of the conflict, the vintage NATO self-absorption as the first-line cop of the West might still be a plausibly effective reality. One can have little respect for the bully NATO, and less for a unilateralism which flouts prior U.N. and Congressional approvals for intervention, but utter anathema must be reserved for the ethical scumbaggery which bemoans genocide and fails to apply at least token initial pressure at tactically crucial points while blithely bombing noncombatants.

NATO ought to accept the Serbian offer of a cease-fire, the second in the space of a week. It well knows, after all, that Milosevic has conquered Kosovo, and it surely must sense that the real pitfall of regaining the province by large-scale vengeful invasion and protracted air war is the complete loss of any influence it might bring to bear on the future of Europe. (Need it be said that its grandiose aspirations for out-of-theater operations are totally doomed?) And indeed, by all the latest indications, its backroom diplomacy has been furious in pursuit of a face-saving resolution. Milosevic's offer this morning to release the three U.S. prisoners should be viewed as further evidence of good faith.

It's one thing for NATO to have once deployed itself, however mendaciously, as an assurer that Joe Stalin really meant what he said about wanting "socialism in one country." Certainly by the late 1940s, in dispensing with the support of the Greek and Yugoslav communist parties, Stalin had furnished sufficient evidence of the difficulty of administering within his own borders. But with the departure of Stalin and the vestiges of his domestic  apparat, it's something else to invite three of his former satellites to join NATO and again push up against Russia's borders in order to ensure, post--Cold War, that neoliberal globalism will prevail in all countries.

A Starbucks on every corner, and Dunkin' Donuts and Pizza Hut down the block aren't necessarily compatible with every burg on the planet. The above are just a few companies which have recently fled the newly capitalist Russia, where one-third of the workforce no longer receive a salary and anti-American sentiment is rife. Why it should come as a surprise that the combination of U.S. economic diktat and the latest NATO encroachment on Russia's borders has spurred talk in Moscow for a NATO-free zone stretching from the Caucasus to Central Asia to western China, is rather puzzling.

Once again, NATO has inaugurated an epoch by engendering Russian ire. Bringing Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland into NATO hems Russia in with the notion of the ostensible inevitability of privatization, the supremacy of capital and the loss of long-standing guarantees of a social safety net. And in doing so, NATO has acted to ensure that a potential Russian return to some form of centralization will not spill over to fuel more discontent among disillusioned workers in its newest member countries.

What friends Russia still has, it will cultivate assiduously, as it always has. It has historic ethnic and religious ties to the Serbs, and as it did during the height of the Cold War, it has "leapfrogged" NATO lines to further cement those ties. It must be savoring a bit of glee knowing that Milosevic --- whom Primakov called "scum" in their meeting last week --- has actually undertaken the "firebreak" scenario, and rubbed the West's nose in it. There's a new world order aborning all right, but it's demonstrably different from the one we anticipated just two weeks ago. And for starters, let this much be inevitable: that all the killing, the strategies for killing, and the killers themselves, no longer hold the high ground.

--- Copyright John Hutchison 1999

Friday, April 9, 1999

Reality bytes

So many carrots dangle in front of the business donkeys in this city that it's sometimes a little difficult to tell fact from fiction. This is a happy fiction, transcribed exactly as it appeared on a local café bulletin board.

City & County of San Francisco
1 Carlton Goodlet Way
San Francisco, CA 94102
Mayor Willie L. Brown

 For Immediate Release
 Contact: Kandace Binder

Federal Poverty Funds to Finance Mall

San Francisco, CA: April 1, 1999: San Francisco Mayor, Willie L. Brown, announced today that the proposed new stadium for the National Football League San Francisco 49ers is back on track for completion by 2002. Brown announced that, through the cooperation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., the project will receive all necessary additional funding though a special Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) designed for homeless housing programs.

The $150 million grant will be used, says Brown, to construct 450 units of sorely needed housing in the mall area of the stadium complex for currently homeless and indigent individuals.

"The people of San Francisco will see," says Brown, "that this is one of the most brilliant financing plans ever used to build a sports complex." In addition to ridding downtown shopping districts of these undesirable elements, says Brown, the city-funded stadium will employ 1,000 welfare recipients as laborers on the project and as vendors at the stadium for salaries set at one dollar below minimum wage. "If these people want to continue to get welfare from the City," adds Brown, "they'll have to start doing something productive."

San Francisco 49ers co-owner, Eddie Debartolo, has fully endorsed the CDBG-based plan and assured Mayor Brown that the city could expect continued full support of the stadium project from the Debartolo Corporation, stating, "I'm sure that this plan will be met by my sister, Denise Debartolo York, and the Debartolo Corporation board of directors with the same respect and enthusiasm they have had for all of Mayor Brown's other ideas on the project."

This is the real thing, as it appears on the pages of the city's official Web site.

First, the mayor plays Farmer MacGregor in his 1998 State of the City address: "We're building affordable housing like never before...through our $100 million affordable housing bond passed in 1996 and through public-private partnerships. Added to the stock will be Mission Bay, with 6,000 new units, 1,700 of which will be affordable....

"When we completed our welfare reform planning, we pledged to the people affected that would we spend the money to assist them and prepare them for the labor market. Through the City's commitment of resources, and a strong partnership that includes the Private Industry Council, more than 20 community-based organizations, City College and both large and small businesses, we are fulfilling that pledge....Economic development initiatives...mean that businesses hiring San Franciscans could get state tax credits for hiring San Franciscans from designated below-median-income zip codes."

Then the Mayor's Office of Economic Development unearths its own carrots in the form of incentive programs:

* New Jobs Tax Credit. Businesses that create new permanent jobs in San Francisco receive a two-year credit against their City payroll tax liability for the new employees. The credit is equal to 100% of their payroll tax liability in the first year and 50% in the second year.

* San Francisco Enterprise Zone. San Francisco's enterprise zone, designated by the State of California in 1992, offers a variety of city and state economic benefits for businesses that locate within it. State benefits include hiring tax credits for qualified employees for five years; 8.5% sales and use tax credits for manufacturing equipment and machinery; net operating loss carryover for 15 years; and other incentives. City-sponsored zone benefits include a 10-year payroll tax credit for hiring qualified employees (including a 100% credit in the first two years); permit streamlining; working capital loan guarantee program; and facade improvement loans.

* Manufacturers' Investment Credit. Companies that purchase manufacturing or R&D equipment for use anywhere in California are allowed a tax credit equal to six percent of the costs paid or incurred for acquiring the property. The credit may be used to reduce a taxpayer's state income or franchise tax.

* Mayor's Office of Community Development Loan Fund. Companies that create jobs in the City and meet certain federal criteria are eligible for loans ranging from $1,000 to $250,000. Loan funds may be used for machinery equipment acquisition, leasehold improvements, working capital, inventory, and real estate rehabilitation for owner/occupants.
* Job Training Programs. The San Francisco Private Industry Council (PIC), the organization responsible for administering federal Job Training Partnership Act funds, offers significant benefits to employers who hire PIC trainees.
* The San Francisco Partnership. Under the on-the-job training program, the PIC will reimburse employers 50% of wages paid to participants for as long as the first six months of employment. The California Employment Training Panel (ETP) assists businesses in training employees through a cost reimbursement training program. Reimbursements average $1,000--$3,000 per trainee who successfully completes the program.

* PG&E Economic Development Rate. Businesses with utility loads of 200KW or more, that locate in the City's enterprise zone, are eligible for discounted utility rates of 15% in the first year, 10% in the second year, and 5% in the third year.

* Miscellaneous Incentives. The California research and development tax credit allows companies to receive a credit of 8% for qualified research expenses (research done in-house), and 12% for basic research payments (payments made in cash to an outside company). San Francisco is a state-designated Recycling Market Development Zone, enabling businesses involved in recycling to utilize low-interest loans, technical assistance, siting and permitting assistance, and reduced permit application fees. Companies that work with the San Francisco Partnership in locating their business in the City are eligible to receive at-cost temporary staffing service for 30 days, and at cost spousal placement and job counseling services for 30 days.

Public-private partnerships: a recipe for stewed carrots, best served with ample helpings from the pork barrel.

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

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