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For the week of Apr. 5 through Apr. 11, 2000

Kempthorne’s new endangered species powers—an environmentalist’s dilemma

Commentary By PAT MURPHY


Now that the Idaho Legislature has entrusted him with policy responsibilities for endangered species, the burden is on Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to demonstrate he won’t be like a fox guarding the hen house.

Will the governor honor decades of diligent scientific work in protecting species, or will he revert to the antiquated attitude that mocked protection of species as the tomfoolery of addle-headed aesthetes?

It’s a valid question. As a group, Republicans have been hostile to environmental laws since Americans awakened to the poisoning of water and air and the cavalier abuses of flora and fauna. Unlike their environmental activist forerunner, President Teddy Roosevelt, a champion of Mother Nature, modern Republicans are instinctive naysayers—opposing auto emissions systems; opposing creation of the Environmental Protection Agency; opposing stiff workplace enforcement by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration; and, today, trying to undo, or water down, decades of environmental law. They argue that the laws are hardships on corporate America.

But Republicans appear to be out of step with the rest of the country: poll after poll confirms that Americans place the environment high on their lists of concerns, even willing to pay higher taxes to protect it.

If past performance is any clue to Gov. Kempthorne’s attitude, his defense of the status quo and an unwillingness to champion bold decisions in saving the dwindling, endangered salmon stock should give environmentalists shudders about how he’ll use his new powers on endangered species.

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The obscene spectacle of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez being batted around in an international tug-of-war is the payoff for a humiliating, empty-headed U.S. foreign policy promoted by seven presidents, second only to the disaster in Vietnam in senselessness.

From John Kennedy in 1960 to Bill Clinton today, presidents have pandered shamelessly to South Florida’s Cuban-American community, which behaves as though it’s a sovereign banana republic.

By accepting and promoting the myth that a little more muscle and a few more sanctions will bring down Cuba’s pipsqueak dictator Fidel Castro, American presidents have become mindless puppets to a pipe dream.

Nothing works. Castro survives and U.S. presidents come and go.

Cuban-American militants have precious little interest in the welfare of Elian: they believe—foolishly—that by preventing the child’s return to his father in Cuba, and exploiting Elian in carefully orchestrated media events, this, too, may be the magic bullet to bring down Castro.

Just how convoluted the logic has become over the Elian brouhaha is reflected in the position of Miami Cuban-American Mayor Alex Penelas. After saying he would not intervene to maintain order if violence broke out, the mayor backed down—but still insisted local police would not assist federal authorities in removing the boy.

And now, George W. Bush and Al Gore—one of them our future president—have shabbily thrown in with the Miami hotheads for their own political purposes. Which means that an eighth U.S. president will continue allowing exiles and their offspring to dictate a foreign policy that only succeeds in making the United States look like a dunce.

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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