Gun toter is nabbed near Bush, Greenpeace targets Cheney and California fumes over the energy plan.

Published May 18, 2001 9:44PM (EDT)

Daily line

"The future is achievable, if we make the right choices now. But if we fail to act, this great country could face a darker future."
-- President Bush, promoting his energy plan in Minnesota

Bush buzz

After leaving much of the pre-release publicity for his energy plan to Vice President Cheney, Bush played pitchman in Iowa and Minnesota for the just-released National Energy Policy Report.

In a speech Thursday, Bush set up dueling scenarios for the nation's energy future. One was a paradise with an abundant supply of all sorts of fuel, reasonable conservation measures that wouldn't cramp anyone's lifestyle and lots of hybrid cars. But if America failed to follow his energy blueprint, the future would be a nightmare landscape of high prices, rolling blackouts and frustrated businesses and consumers. You know, California.

Despite Bush's assertions that he's "deeply concerned" about the continuing power problems in that state, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis remains unimpressed, as do many other Californians. Davis and other critics assert that Bush's policy, with its emphasis on increasing production and its distaste for price controls, is more proof that the president couldn't care less about the state. Conservatives, however, see Davis and other California Democrats covering up their own culpability for the current crisis by blaming Bush.

So far, congressional reaction to the plan has been predictable. Republicans believe that Bush's energy policy is a welcome change from what they saw as President Clinton's neglect of the issue. Democrats, on the other hand, insist that Bush's plan calls for feeding tax dollars to the powerful energy lobby while doing nothing for poor and working-class energy consumers, who Democrats believe are getting gouged at the pump.

The energy industry itself has roared its approval, and the plan's reliance on stimulating the industry has already paid big dividends, sending the value of energy companies soaring on the stock market Thursday. In the world of power suppliers, only a few criticisms of the Bush plan have been raised, and one of those is that the industry would like the president to stop talking and get his production-loving policies going right now. To help matters along, several major industry groups have joined forces to mount a massive lobbying campaign for the plan on Capitol Hill.

Outside the industry and the Beltway, the policy is being blasted by some as a throwback to decades-old energy strategies, with stale initiatives that have proved faulty and obsolete. Others see a striking similarity between the solutions advocated by the current Bush administration and those of the one that left office in 1992. (Perhaps that's a consequence of the president's reliance on many of the same advisors who served under his father.)

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld is preparing to roll out his plan to reshape the armed forces, including changes in personnel procedures aimed at retaining skilled officers. Ford administration veteran Rumsfeld has been waiting 25 years to mold the military to fit his image, but it could take billions of federal dollars to do it. Rumsfeld also wants to change American commitments abroad, and suggests that the United States pull its 3,300 peacekeepers out of Bosnia.

Back at the White House, Bush is bringing his religious faith to the office. He reads the Bible regularly, speaks with his minister from Texas frequently on the phone and has even prayed with world leaders during their visits to the Executive Mansion.

And don't miss Greenpeace giving Cheney a helping hand in making use of old fossil fuel sources. On Thursday, the environmental group dumped 5 tons of coal and several oil drums outside the vice president's official residence to protest Bush's energy policy. While police observed the action and took the names of those involved, they made no arrests.

The authorities were a little less gentle with a gun-toting Iowa man who came too close to the president in a park there. Before Bush went for his morning jog, his Secret Service agents removed the man from the area because he was carrying a firearm; he had a license for the weapon, but was detained for questioning.

Friday schedule: The president travels to Pennsylvania to promote his energy plan. He later celebrates Cuban Independence Day at the White House.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

May 18, 2000: Texas Gov. George W. Bush sent a letter to 450 Republicans, seeking advice on his search for a vice-presidential running mate, a process that was led by former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Bush sent the letter, according to his spokesman Ari Fleischer, because he thought it was important to listen to people and gather their thoughts and ideas.

"That's My Bush!" convergence alert!

As viewers of Comedy Central's fictional "That's My Bush!" (or readers of the weekly recap in "Bushed!") know, this week's episode centers presciently on whether the president will open up Alaska to oil drilling. The high jinks include that sneakily cynical Karl Rove, who trains an Alaskan Eskimo named Knuk-Knuk to say "oil good!" (when he actually thinks he's saying "I am hungry!").

Why? "Most protesters think that Alaskans don't want us drilling for oil on their land," Karl explains to the president. "That will all change when we put Knuk-Knuk in front of them and have him say that he thinks drilling for oil is good."

On cue, Knuk-Knuk chimes in: "Oil good!" The laugh track erupts.

Uproarious satire, you say? Nay!

Just check out National Review Online contributor Deroy Murdock's Wednesday posting: "Eskimos: Open ANWR Now." Murdock quotes an Inupiat Eskimo, who tells him his fellow Eskimos "do not have running water or a sewer system. That means they are relegated to Third World conditions where people have to melt ice to bathe and to drink. They use 5-gallon containers for sanitation." According to Murdock, "This absence of flush toilets causes sometimes-fatal cases of hepatitis A and contributes to high infant mortality rates."

Another Eskimo tells Murdock: "The standard of living has increased dramatically in the last 30 years since the oil companies came to Alaska." Increased dramatically from what, exactly? Not melting ice to bathe?

"In the form of jobs and tax revenues from the petroleum industry it supports, our land provides the opportunity for economic security, self-determination and freedom," says another.

In other words: "Oil good!"

Karl Rove (either one) would surely be proud.

As a result, this week's reality rating for the "That's My Bush!" recap has been increased from 7 to 9 (out of 10).

-- Kerry Lauerman

Rant: The new nuke thing

As the Bush administration makes its big energy plan push Thursday, advocates of nuclear power are beaming with delight. Vice President Cheney himself has called nuclear power "a safe, clean and very plentiful" source of energy -- perfect for these troubled times. But before we start building any of the new nuclear power plants Bush says we need, it's time to answer a very important question: What do we do with the waste?

The administration assures us that it has that part covered. But judging by massive budget cuts for the Department of Energy's nuclear waste management programs, it sure doesn't look like it. Bush's 2002 budget cuts funding for radioactive waste management by nearly 30 percent, and slashes the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative, which is aimed at improving the cost and safety of nuclear energy, by 48 percent.

For years, people who support nuclear power have insisted that it's gotten a bad rap. To counter that criticism, they point out that America already has 103 reactors that provide 20 percent of the country's electricity -- cheaply, quietly and without incident -- and that nuclear power is significantly cheaper than coal or natural gas. But nuclear power still makes Americans queasy -- most of all, because they don't feel comfortable with nuclear waste. Cheney himself told the Wall Street Journal last week, "Probably the key public policy issue on nuclear power is the waste problem."

So where is the logic in gutting funds for programs that could reassure Americans a week before launching a push for more nuclear power plants?

The emerging, heated debate over the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Nevada isn't the only bump in the road to more nuclear energy. People in Nevada are up in arms about the plan to dump nuclear waste in their backyard, and they insist that if the site does go through, they want the Environmental Protection Agency to keep an eye on it rather than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which many say is too friendly with the industry to put any teeth in its safety enforcement.

Before we even consider a new nuclear dump, we should look at nearby New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a permanent resting place for nuclear waste that got its first shipment just two years ago. Plans are in the works to expand the amount of waste WIPP can take, but Bush's 2002 budget slashed $26 million of its funding.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., issued a statement saying that Bush's budget proposal would make it "impossible" to keep up environmental management goals and called for that money to be restored through appropriations funding. Like other Republicans in the West, Domenici has long been an advocate for nuclear power and research projects, but has also paid serious attention to the environmental risks that come attached. "I've worked very hard to rebuild credible programs in nuclear engineering over the last few years," Domenici stated, lamenting the cuts in an array of energy programs -- including scientific research and nonproliferation.

Even advocates of nuclear power aren't so sure building new plants is the best way to usher in a nuclear power renaissance. In the Washington Post on Sunday, Jennifer Weeks, director of Harvard's Managing the Atom project, argued for extending the life span of existing nuclear power plants from 40 to 60 years, provided NRC inspections conclude they are safe. But the case for new reactors is more difficult to make, she said. "New reactors will not make sense without improvements in cost, safety, radioactive waste management and safeguards against the proliferation of nuclear weapons," Weeks wrote.

Considering that Bush also slashed funds for research and development of solar power (by nearly 54 percent), hydropower (by 50 percent) and wind energy (by 48 percent), it appears that the Bush energy plan -- with the exception of its nuclear expansion -- is vested solely in status quo solutions.

But arguments about alternative energy sources aside, if Bush and Cheney really want to sell the American people on nuclear energy, they've got to keep it clean. And convincing us that the long-term benefits of more nuke plants cancel out any long-term risks will require more answers about how we'll deal -- using less money -- with more nuclear waste.

-- Fiona Morgan

Rant: Paging Mr. Nader

"G.O.P. seems to stand for gas, oil and plutonium."

"We call on the president to move away from the special interests and put the interests of the American people first."

"The president has appointed a host of energy lobbyists to key posts, and they seem willing to put the national interest second."

When I first read these statements in the New York Times I thought I'd see them attached to the phrase "said Ralph Nader." Alas, no. The first was by Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. The second was by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and the third was by Gephardt again.

The Democrats are saying what Ralph Nader used to, which is fine. But where's Nader, and who is he talking to, if not to the press and the American public? I've been reading the reports of how the Bush administration is pushing former corporate lobbyists into key posts where they will become the foxes watching the chickens. I've read about the energy plan and its inherent cave-in to the big energy concerns headed by Bush and Cheney cohorts. And when Bush is asked about energy shortages, he says -- with the straightest face he's capable of -- Pass my tax bill so Americans will have the cash to pay for the more expensive gas!

So where in this consumer fraudville is the citizens' most vociferous advocate? Back in his good and loud old days, he used to be seen almost weekly, stepping up to a lectern in some poorly lit Washington hotel, clearing his throat, putting his hands in his old suit pockets, hunching slightly over the microphone and saying something scathing about the rampant power of multinational corporations, the dangers of nuclear power plants and the insidious greed of the oil and gas companies.

Where's Ralph and why isn't he shouting out loud, as he has for the past 30 years, that this administration or that company is heinous and verging on the criminal? Where are the Nader quotes in the New York Times, Washington Post and wire stories on these issues?

Is the good man tired from his campaign for president? Is he bitter that everyone criticized him for throwing the election to Bush by siphoning off would-be Gore votes? Is he giving up?

I worked for Nader for two years (1978-80) and didn't know him ever to be tired, to be bitter or to give up. His most effective work has always been as an outsider, as an unassailable catalyst for change. He was able to effectively critique the government and multinational corporations because he had nothing to gain by doing so. His whistle-blowing was always strident, but on target. When, in the 1970s, he screamed about the need to rid our country of dangerous nuclear power plants and to mandate air bags, people called him a dangerous air bag in meltdown. But years later he was vindicated -- as usual.

I miss him. I'm angry at him. And I'm curious. What is he doing if he's not yelling at us? If he has decided to take a vacation for the first time in his life, great. He deserves it and I'll shut up. But I hope it doesn't last long. Nader on vacation would be like Bush at a book reading.

-- Karen Croft

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

By Salon Staff

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