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Bush Dragging Us Forward Into The Past

by Molly Ivins

We are being dragged backward toward the past at a truly impressive clip
Virginians are proud of their state's history, of which there is a lot. Still, it's a little startling to find Gov. Jim Gilmore's decision to honor "All Virginians Who Served in the Civil War'' -- for both the blue and the gray -- on the front page.

The governor's proclamation is in lieu of designating April as Confederate soldiers' month, which last year upset the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the point that they threatened to boycott the state. So this year, the governor proclaimed in favor of everybody on all sides (you'll recall that Robert E. Lee was sought as the top general of the Union armies as well as the Confederacy's).

Gilmore especially cited Sgt. William Carney, a former Virginia slave who fought with the Massachusetts Volunteers so heroically that he was the first black to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Unfortunately, the governor's action this year disappoints Confederate heritage groups. Brag Bowling, a top officer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia, told The Roanoke Times: "We are very much opposed to it. He should have honored Confederate soldiers -- that was the whole purpose of this to begin with. But from the pressure he got from the NAACP, he's taken the cowardly way out." More heat to follow.

It's a good thing nobody brought up Vietnam.

Meanwhile, in the rest of our notoriously a-historical country, we are being dragged backward toward the past at a truly impressive clip. President Let's-Bring-Back-the-1950s thinks the 1942 standard for arsenic in drinking water is plenty good enough for government work, and so has decided not to enforce the new standard that called for an 80 percent reduction in arsenic in drinking water.

Arsenic causes cancer. This led to the fetching sight of Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska defending the right of mining companies to dump arsenic into the water table.

Reminds me of the time a nominee to the Texas water pollution control board was trying to defend what a steel company was then dumping into the Houston Ship Channel. "Cyanide,'' he intoned, "is a scare word,'' to the mirth of those in attendance. And that's pretty much the reaction you touch off when you tell people, "Don't worry about the arsenic in your drinking water.''

While both the mining and the lumber industries use arsenic for commercial purposes, it also occurs naturally in drinking water, mostly in the West. According to the Charlotte Observer, in 1999 the National Academy of Sciences did a study concluding that the current standard for arsenic "could easily'' result in a 1-in-100 cancer risk. Goody, only 1-in-100. How come we can't get odds like that in the state lottery?

We note, as always, that the mining and lumber industries were particularly generous contributors to Bush's campaign last year.

When Bush decided to renege on his campaign promise to cut carbon dioxide emissions, first he claimed his original stand on carbon dioxide was "a mistake,'' then it was just a couple of words in a speech, then somebody looked it up. In fact, Bush had made the promise a major campaign issue.

Of course, the real reason we won't clear up arsenic in the water supply or the carbon dioxide that is causing global warming is because it would cost money. Especially it would cost money to business interests that invested heavily in the Bush campaign. But we keep ignoring the question that is the insistent prod toward sensible government: "How much does it cost not to do it?''

Speaking of matters historical, how pleased I was to learn from Gail Collins of The New York Times last week that the mohair subsidy is back. This charming relic of WWII served no useful purpose, or come to think of it, any purpose at all, for many decades. I supported the abolition of this notorious example of government waste, thus costing myself several friends on account of Texas is full of lovely people who are hard-working goat ranchers and do not like to think of themselves as welfare recipients.

But, unlike our officials, I stood for principle on the mohair matter, against wasting the taxpayers' money, against the special interests (even if they were friends of mine) and against the general loopiness of continuing this prize example of government idiocy.

So what happens? During last year's pork orgy at the end of the budget negotiations, someone sneaked the stupid subsidy back in. You can count on Texas fingerprints on this one. Someone in the Texas delegation did it. OK, 'fess up. Which one of you righteous crusaders against wasteful government spending pulled this one off?

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 22, 2001 (

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