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Handling China In True Texas Fashion

by Molly Ivins

The role of Texas in international diplomacy is often misunderestimated
During these international pickles, when stuff happens and no one has any idea what to do about it, we shouldn't criticize the people in charge unless we can come up with a suggestion about what they should do instead.

So in that spirit, let me suggest that the Bush team blame the whole spy-plane problem on Bill Clinton and announce that they, being wiser heads, will never do such a thing again.

They should call the policy of sending spy planes off the Chinese coast "reckless adventurism," denounce it roundly and then call off the flights, thus making the Chinese happy as clams.

The beauty of this, as James Bamford pointed out last week in The New York Times, is that we don't need spy-plane flights. They're not only dangerous -- they're dumb. You might even say they're reckless adventurism.

The United States has land-based listening installations that can intercept whatever a spy plane can, not to mention the equipment on our satellites, which, we used to be told, could read license plates in the Soviet Union.

All the cable news networks promptly gave this "crisis" its own logo and a near-Dead-Diana amount of air time. This is not helpful.

Meanwhile, President Bush tried to revive his pat campaign phrase about China being "not a strategic partner but a competitor." Unfortunately, he got it backward. It not only helps not to be dumb -- it helps not to sound dumb.

Texans, of course, have a special stake in good relations with China, since we practically made peace with those folks all by ourselves.

Lots of people give Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger the credit, but Texans know that during the first reign of Bill Clements as governor, the State Department shipped Premier Deng of China to Texas on the first-ever visit of a big Chinese cheese to this country.

Clements, just the guy anyone would want in a diplomatic pinch, promptly announced to the whole state, "Now, we have to be nice to this little feller, whether we like chop suey or not." And so we were.

We like to friendlied him to death and all wore our quaint native costumes so he'd know we were Texans. Who can forget the sight of Deng in a stagecoach at the Houston Fat Stock Show, all but swallowed up by the 10-gallon hat that we gave him, unable to stop grinning like a possum? The role of Texas in international diplomacy is often misunderestimated.

In other news, recent events hereabouts unhappily bring to mind just why President Bush II's new policy of rewarding corporate malefactors is such a bad idea.

According to Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Lockheed Martin, the giant defense contractor, is trying to pull a scam on the Pentagon that could cost taxpayers up to $100 million.

So far this is just an allegation. The Defense Department spokesmen say the case is being taken "very seriously," and Lockheed's spokesman told USA Today: "We are in negotiations and are committed to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on the subject" -- the subject being whether they're ripping off the Pentagon by claiming fictitious losses and through lease-back schemes.

The problem is that even when huge companies are assessed "record fines," the fines never even cause a blip in the bottom line of the multinationals. It's cheaper to pay the fine than to obey the law, be it for illegally disposing of toxic waste, endangering the lives of workers, knowingly producing unsafe products or just ignoring elementary labor law.

Clinton's idea was to take repeat corporate offenders and say they couldn't get any more government contracts, whereat strange noises emerged from many of our most distinguished law-'n'-order demagogues. So Bush II promptly announced that he would suspend that policy, lest it inconvenience corporate contributors.

I'm not quite sure what to make of Bush's decision to ignore health, safety and environmental violations, at least to the extent of rewarding the perps with new contracts.

I wouldn't have thought it politically advisable. Expedient perhaps, but not good for his image, which is how such matters are judged in Washington. I suppose we could just scrap all these laws that are supposed to control corporate conduct and pass a national motto instead: "Buyer beware!"

Hey, it's only your kid's life.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor April 10, 2001 (

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