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web posted December 25, 2000

EPA firing: Gore gets even?

A federal investigator whose revelations about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were damaging to Al Gore's unsuccessful bid for the White House was relieved of his duties by a political appointee of the outgoing Clinton administration.

Hugh Kaufman, a key player in the EPA's national hazardous waste ombudsman's office, was relieved of his investigatory duties on December 14 by Tim Fields, an assistant EPA administrator and Clinton administration appointee.

Fields' move to oust Kaufman from the ombudsman's office came just one day after Democrat Al Gore formally conceded the extraordinary presidential election to Republican George W. Bush, the two-term governor of Texas.

Kaufman, a 30-year EPA veteran who helped to craft many of the nation's major hazardous waste cleanup laws, called the move "politically motivated revenge."

"It's revenge of the EPA bureaucracy and revenge of the politicos who wanted Gore elected," Kaufman told ENS. "After Gore conceded, there was a confluence of revenge from the politicos and the entrenched bureaucracy to cripple to ombudsman's office."

The EPA ombudsman's office is responsible for investigating citizen and congressional complaints leveled against the agency's implementation of the Superfund cleanup program and other hazardous waste cleanup efforts. Headed by ombudsman Robert Martin, the tiny watchdog office has been a major thorn in the side of the EPA, exposing a host of flawed cleanup plans and a rash of government/polluter collusion.

Three of the office's biggest and most widely publicized cases involving EPA wrongdoing came in the states of Ohio and Florida -- both of which Gore narrowly lost in the recent presidential election.

Gore, the self-styled environmental candidate in the presidential race, almost certainly lost credibility -- and votes -- according to Kaufman, because of his ties to those unsavory matters.

"More importantly, the EPA bureaucracy and the politicos think those cases hurt (Gore) in those states," Kaufman said. "It's not what I think -- it's what they think."

Kaufman denied that he was out to unfairly embarrass the EPA or Gore. He maintained that he abided by EPA regulations and all applicable state and federal laws in conducting his investigations, which he said were based on the principle that "the public's business ought to be done in public."

"Tim (Fields) told me that my actions undermined the credibility of the agency," Kaufman said. "That's true -- my actions do undermine the credibility of certain bureaucrats who are not doing their jobs."

Fields' move to oust Kaufman from the ombudsman's office came just one day after Democrat Al Gore formally conceded the extraordinary presidential election to Republican George W. Bush, the two-term governor of Texas.

Kaufman, a 30-year EPA veteran who helped to craft many of the nation's major hazardous waste cleanup laws, called the move "politically motivated revenge."

"It's revenge of the EPA bureaucracy and revenge of the politicos who wanted Gore elected," Kaufman told ENS. "After Gore conceded, there was a confluence of revenge from the politicos and the entrenched bureaucracy to cripple to ombudsman's office."

The EPA ombudsman's office is responsible for investigating citizen and congressional complaints leveled against the agency's implementation of the Superfund cleanup program and other hazardous waste cleanup efforts. Headed by ombudsman Robert Martin, the tiny watchdog office has been a major thorn in the side of the EPA, exposing a host of flawed cleanup plans and a rash of government/polluter collusion.

Three of the office's biggest and most widely publicized cases involving EPA wrongdoing came in the states of Ohio and Florida -- both of which Gore narrowly lost in the recent presidential election.

Gore, the self-styled environmental candidate in the presidential race, almost certainly lost credibility -- and votes -- according to Kaufman, because of his ties to those unsavory matters.

"More importantly, the EPA bureaucracy and the politicos think those cases hurt (Gore) in those states," Kaufman said. "It's not what I think -- it's what they think."

Kaufman denied that he was out to unfairly embarrass the EPA or Gore. He maintained that he abided by EPA regulations and all applicable state and federal laws in conducting his investigations, which he said were based on the principle that "the public's business ought to be done in public."

"Tim (Fields) told me that my actions undermined the credibility of the agency," Kaufman told ENS. "That's true -- my actions do undermine the credibility of certain bureaucrats who are not doing their jobs."

Fields had not responded to repeated ENS queries about Kaufman's removal as of Monday afternoon. But in a story published Friday in the Idaho newspaper the Coeur d'Alene Press, Fields said that he did not "plan tod iscuss why (Kaufman) was reassigned."

"I didn't make this decision based on timing," Fields told the newspaper. "I just felt like it would be inappropriate to leave this problem with a new assistant administrator."

That explanation is not good enough for a host of federal lawmakers who have called on the ombudsman's office to investigate EPA cleanup plans in their districts. Among the lawmakers outraged by the move to oust Kaufman is Congressman Michael Bilirakis, a Florida Republican who chairs a House subcommittee on public health and the environment.

Earlier this year, Bilirakis requested that the ombudsman's office investigate a controversial EPA Superfund site in Tarpon Springs, Florida. On Friday, he drafted a letter to President-elect George W. Bush about Kaufman's abrupt removal. The letter, which Bilirakis circulated on the House floor, alerts Bush to what the lawmakers refer to as a "very serious situation that is occurring at the ... EPA in the waning days of the Clinton administration."

The letter says that Fields has "started the process of what appears to be a retribution against the National Ombudsman and his staff in order to subvert them from doing their very important work." The letter calls on Bush to "restore and support the National Ombudsman and his staff," and adds that "we look to your administration to undo the damage that is being initiated by the Clinton appointees in the immediate wake after Vice President Al Gore's concession speech."

Senator Wayne Allard, a Republican from Colorado, said he was deeply troubled by Kaufman's removal.

Allard, who called on the ombudsman's office to uncover the truth about the Shattuck Superfund Site in Denver, called Kaufman's removal "vindictive."

"I've known some nasty things to come out of (the Clinton Administration), but this has got to be one of the worst," Allard told the Denver Post.

Allard's press secretary, Sean Conway, told ENS that the Senator does view the ouster of Kaufman as a "retaliatory action by EPA."

"The message is clear -- the reassignment of Hugh Kaufman was intended to send a message to other EPA employees who might work within the ombudsman's office, or who might be thinking about doing the right thing," Conway said. "It sends a chilling message that these types of actions can take place, and that ... the EPA can torpedo investigations they don't like by reassigning people."

Allard will be sending a letter to Fields, demanding an explanation for Kaufman's ousting and requesting that his investigatory authorities be reinstated.

Georgia county warns newspaper to print more positive news...or freedom of positive speech only

Screven County commissioners believe most of the content of their local newspaper is too negative. If the Sylvania Telephone doesn't lighten up, the commissioners decided recently, the county may quit using it as the legal organ.

It will not be easy to carry out the threat. There are no other papers in the area that can print the paid legal notices that counties are required to submit.

Don Richeson, editor of the 4,500-circulation weekly, takes the warning seriously, saying the elected officials are clinging to a past that no longer exists.

"They just don't really know a lot about how most newspapers work," Richeson said. "I'm not criticizing the way the paper was years ago. It's just that it's different now, and they maybe aren't quite used to how newspapers commonly do things."

Richeson has worked at the paper, now owned by Community Newspapers Inc., for four years, but the Telephone has a long history in the southeast Georgia county. It was founded more than 120 years ago, and its longtime editor and publisher, the late Dixon Hollingsworth, had a gentler approach to news.

County commissioners liked that approach. They say there is a lot of good stuff to write about: a recreation center about to open, three new schools and a successful hospital.

Richeson writes about ugly crimes. He criticizes City Council for holding workshops outside City Hall. He also writes editorials for the two-man operation.

Sylvania Mayor Margaret Evans says she has repeatedly approached Richeson about what she sees as biased reporting.

"If any potential industry picked up the paper and read it, it would certainly make them feel like they didn't want to be part of this community," Evans said.

Barry Hollander, a journalism professor at the University of Georgia, says it is not a newspaper's responsibility to do public relations for local governments. Threatening the legal-organ status is a common ploy, he said, especially in small towns.

"They're not even being creative in their attempt to censor the press," Hollander said.

"It sounds to me like a case where public officials aren't used to being criticized, having a light shone on them, which is exactly what the newspaper should be doing," he said.

County Attorney Hubert Reeves says the paper "has every right in the world to editorialize."

"As long as you keep the editorials in the editorial column, it's fine," Reeves said. "If you want to take a position that is totally negative toward the county, then we're going to explore other options."

Pentagon report: China could invade, blockade or strike Taiwan

A Pentagon report released on December 18 said China "could launch an invasion of Taiwan ... using amphibious or other sea or air transported forces ... try to impose a blockade on Taiwan's commerce as a means of coercing political concessions ... (or) try to coerce Taiwan by means of air or missile strikes on Taiwan's population, military or economic infrastructure."

The report to Congress cited "gaps" in the ability of the United States to anticipate or respond to any aggressive move by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA). It warned that the communist nation would attempt to disrupt any U.S. effort to come to the aid of Taiwan.

Among the scenarios painted by the report's authors is China creating " a coinciding military crisis on the Korean Peninsula."

China's leadership "claims that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and has reserved the right to use force to unify Taiwan with the mainland if Taiwan declares independence," obtains nuclear weapons or refuses to continue negotiations with Beijing, the report said.

The United States maintains 100,000 troops in the region and has said that it would "consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means ... a threat to the peace and stability of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the U.S," the report added.

Tensions flared in 1996 when the Chinese military conducted extensive exercises in the Taiwan Strait that included the launch of missiles flown into Taiwan's airspace.

"We demonstrated our commitment to maintaining regional peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait by deploying two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region in response to provocative PRC missile exercises in 1996," the report said, noting the U.S. response.

The Taiwan Relations Act requires that "the United States will make available to Taiwan such defensive articles and services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."

In the event of an all-out attack on Taiwan by the communist mainland, the "goal" of the United States "would be that Taiwan defend itself without outside assistance -- or, as a fallback, that it defend itself long enough to permit outside assistance, and that the combination of Taiwan and U.S. forces defeat a PLA attack on Taiwan, should the U.S. decide to intervene," the report said.

The executive summary of the report, required by lawmakers, said there are "gaps" in the ability of the United States to fully assess the situation.

While U.S. analysts have a reasonably firm handle on China's more obvious military capabilities, the report acknowledged they "are less knowledgeable about things that are less visible or tangible -- training, logistics, doctrine, command and control, special operations, mine warfare -- than we are about airplanes and surface ships."

"Asymmetries to be considered are important differences between the forces, doctrines, geographical and political situations, and strategic and political calculations of the several parties to this conflict," the report concluded.

"If some knowledge gaps cannot be corrected," the report said, "it is at least advantageous to be aware that they exist."

Jesse Jackson plans demonstration to protest Bush presidency

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson announced December 18 plans for a national demonstration to protest the "legitimacy" of President-elect George W. Bush during his swearing-in ceremony on January 20.

What's Jesse praying for?
What's Jesse praying for?

At a news conference, Jackson said the "Count the Vote-Every Vote Counts" rallies will coincide with the birthday of the late Martin Luther King Jr. and will adhere to his message of nonviolent civil disobedience to promote equality.

Jackson continued his criticism of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Florida recount, accusing the five justices whose decision resulted in Bush winning the presidency of participating in a "coup d'etat."

"While the crowning will take place in Washington, we will be marching all around America on that day, at federal buildings, including Los Angeles, so we honor the legality of the presidency without legitimacy," said Jackson.

California Assemblyman Gill Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said presidents are elected by the "will of the people" to "govern by consensus."

Cedillo said participants "will be able to express in a nonviolent way our disappointment, our frustration and our outrage at the failure to realize the true promise of democracy."

Jackson was joined by local clergy and members of civil-rights groups, including his Rainbow/Push Coalition at Holman United Methodist Church in South Central Los Angeles.

Balkan exit not likely, Cohen says

Didn't opponents of NATO's bombing of Serbia say this would happen over one year ago?

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said on December 18 that he believes the United States will not abandon its mission in the Balkans under the incoming Bush administration.

During the election campaign, President-elect Bush and his advisers suggested they wanted European countries to assume more responsibility for peacekeeping in Kosovo and Bosnia, leading to concern that some of the 9,000 U.S. troops might be pulled out.

On a pre-Christmas visit to U.S. troops in Kosovo, Cohen told the U.S. contingent at Camp Bondsteel, south of Pristina, "We intend to remain active . . . consistent with security needs in Kosovo and in the Balkans" as part of NATO.

Although Cohen said he could not predict what would happen under the Bush administration, he said Vice President-elect Cheney and Colin Powell, the secretary of state designate, "are internationalists." Cohen serves in the Clinton administration but is a Republican.

"I believe that they will want to see that we remain engaged in world affairs," Cohen said. "They will make an assessment . . . of how we can best fulfill that role."

Cohen's visit came after a weekend that left two Serbs dead and included an attack on a joint U.S.-Russian patrol that was trying to seal Kosovo's border with the rest of Serbia. A company of 150 British troops, with 16 armored vehicles, was sent to the border region the day of Cohen's remarks.

U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo have been under pressure to prevent ethnic Albanian militants from crossing into the buffer zone along the Kosovo border and attacking Serbs.

Chretien cautious on missile plan, Putin says Canada has right to intervene

Prime Minister Jean Chretien joined Russia on December 18 in emphasizing his support for an international anti-missile treaty, but remained cautious on denouncing a U.S. plan that would violate it.

Jean Chretien and Vladimir PutinFollowing talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin - who was in Canada on a three-day official visit - the two leaders signed a statement affirming the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as a "cornerstone of strategic stability and an important foundation for international efforts on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation." But Chretien refused to take direct aim at a U.S. plan for a missile defence shield it says would protect against rogue attacks. Putin insisted Canada has a right to play a mediating role in the conflict over the plan, which Russia says could destabilize global security.

He wants support from Canada and others to oppose the plan he says would undo years of nuclear de-escalation.

Chretien conceded that Canada is concerned about the U.S. plan.

"We want to know all the consequences regarding stability," he told a news conference. "We'll have a lot of questions, and questions will be raised by the Canadian government."

But it's too early to make pronouncements because the plan isn't off the ground, he added.

He acknowledged that Canada's geographical position makes it tough to take sides.

"We're in a bit of geographical bind in a way because Russia is on one side, and on the other side is the Americans," he said.

That position gives Canada the full right to play a pivotal role in mediating a resolution to the impasse, Putin said.

"Canada believes that it would be able to play the role of a mediator between Russia and the United States," he through an interpreter.

Asked if Canada would consider helping implement the U.S. missile defence shield - almost inevitable considering its geographical position - Chretien said such questions are premature because the U.S. hasn't asked.

"There has been absolutely no request by the Americans for Canadian participation in the development of this new system," he said.

"Our preoccupation, the preoccupation of everybody is to make sure that the stability that exists at this moment is not undermined by this plan."

Putin indicated at a state dinner he was pleased with Canada's position on the issue and others the two leaders discussed.

And Russians "very much expect that our positions in the framework of the OEC, the United Nations, the Group of Eight and other international fora will get closer and our co-operation will be intensified," he said.

Reaffirmation of the ABM was part of a wider statement signed by the two leaders in which they promised to work together and with other countries to limit nuclear proliferation and prevent an arms race in space.

They also agreed to find ways to enhance dialogue between Russia and the western military alliance NATO.

The two leaders issued two other joint statements committing the countries to work closer on trade and their common boundary in the North.

They agreed to improve co-operation in the Arctic and called for more work on environmental protection, sustainable development and promoting commercial activities.

The third statement affirms Canada's support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

The two leaders also talked about how to improve trade relations.

Later, at the dinner, Chretien said Canadians were paying attention to the changes in Russia.

"Canadians are following closely all that is going on in your country. We are aware of the challenges that you are facing, as well as the task you have set for yourself to modernize Russia," Chretien said.

Putin indicated he was not satisfied with the current level of Canadian investment, and more can be done.

"Today, the Canadian investments amount to only half per cent of the overall volume of foreign investments in the Russian economy," he told the dinner crowd assembled at the National Gallery of Canada. "And of course, that does not correspond either to our capabilities or to our business interests."

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