Wednesday, April 17, 2002


Don't play politics with plutonium

     Gov. Hodges' persisting opposition to new plutonium shipments into South Carolina in the face of reasonable reassurances from Washington is misguided. At the least, the governor's repeated warnings that he might use the S.C. Highway Patrol to block those transfers by the U.S. Department of Energy are premature.
     Gov. Hodges should accept Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's repeated assurances, given again last week in writing, that "no plutonium will move into the State of South Carolina without a pathway for that plutonium to come out."
     And the governor, despite any tempting political benefits he might perceive from such an election-year challenge to federal authority, should refrain from issuing confrontational statements like this one given by his spokesman, Jay Reiff, Monday: "Troopers blocking shipments is an option. Legal avenues will be aggressively pursued. You use every feasible tool."
     DOE has clearly met the reasonable requirements, set forth last year by Gov. Hodges and other state leaders, that the plutonium to be sent into the state not be left here in perpetuity. DOE also has given clear notice that on or soon after May 15, those shipments will begin.
     DOE needs to transfer excess plutonium from various weapons facilities across the nation to the Savannah River Site near Aiken to stay on schedule for closing the Rocky Flats weapons facility in Colorado by 2006. The material will then be converted into mixed oxide fuel for use in commercial nuclear reactors. This process is an important step in upholding a U.S.-Russia agreement for each nation to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium - and a wise precaution against the alarming possibility that weapons-grade plutonium now inadequately secured in Russia could fall into the hands of terrorists.
     Secretary Abraham has already made a formal commitment to retrieve the plutonium if the conversion plant falls behind schedule or lacks sufficient funding. But the secretary has rejected Gov. Hodges' latest demand that a federal judge oversee a formal consent agreement as "an attempt to conduct ... national security and foreign policy affairs through the judicial process."
     Instead, Mr. Abraham has issued numerous pledges that satisfy South Carolina's initial conditions for new plutonium shipments - and pledged to work with members of Congress to pass legislation further confirming the federal obligation to remove the plutonium and its byproducts from this state on a definite timetable. Indeed, Mr. Abraham has gone so far as to pledge that if Congress hasn't formalized the agreement with the state by Oct. 15, the shipments will be suspended.
     Gov. Hodges and other elected officials in this state were right to demand firm federal commitments that South Carolina would not become a permanent plutonium dumping ground. If Mr. Abraham fails to live up to his Oct. 15 deadline, that will be the time for dramatics. Until then, South Carolinians - particularly our governor and our state troopers - shouldn't stand in the way of DOE's national security mission.
Al-Jazeera and al-Qaida

     Al-Jazeera is, or was, the favorite television station of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network. So it is no surprise that the latest videotape that appears to feature the terrorist leader has been previewed on Al-Jazeera and will be broadcast in full exclusively on Thursday. What is surprising is that the Qatar-based station, which broadcasts by satellite to millions of Arabs, has never been questioned on its relationship with bin Laden and al-Qaida.
     According to Al-Jazeera's editor in chief, Ibrahim Hilal, the new tape, which shows bin Laden with his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, was "hand delivered." The video includes a sequence showing a man identified as Ahmed Ibrahim A. Alhaznawi, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, announcing his intention to carry out a suicide mission in the United States. He declares, "It is time we kill the Americans in their heartland, among their children, and next to their forces and intelligence."
     Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expressed skepticism, in what he called "very preliminary remarks," about the tape's authenticity. "I was advised," he said, "that what I was watching very likely was using a patchwork of clips from previous periods along with some dialogue of more recent periods.,"
     What is clear is that Al-Jazeera is being used by al-Qaida, as has been true from the inception of the television station.
     Al-Jazeera has been welcomed for providing far broader television coverage for the Arab world. Before the advent of its BBC-style broadcasts, viewers in the Arab world had access in Arabic solely to rigidly controlled and censored state-owned TV networks.
     But wider coverage is not cause for congratulation unless it is accompanied by high standards in reporting and a consistent attempt to maintain impartiality. Al-Jazeera fails both these tests. Even more important, the TV station's close contacts with al-Qaida's messengers and its role as the primary purveyor of the terrorists' propaganda are bound to raise questions about where Al-Jazeera stands in the war against terrorism.
The horror of misplaced 'rage'

     The troubling modern phenomenon of "road rage" demonstrates a repeated failure to keep life's assorted aggravations in a proper perspective. And reports of two more recent "road rage" incidents, if accurate, paint an ugly picture of human tempers boiling out of control.
     Incident No. 1: Friday's Post and Courier reported that, according to Mount Pleasant police, two drivers rammed each other's pickup trucks late Thursday afternoon, then pulled over to engage in a fistfight after one of the vehicles supposedly cut the other one off on the Silas Pearman bridge. One of the drivers was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. Each driver was charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and reckless driving, and a passenger in one of the trucks was charged with disorderly conduct.
     Incident No. 2: Monday's Washington Post reported that, according to Prince George's County (Md.) police, a Laurel, Md., man was killed - as his 4-year-old daughter and her three young cousins watched - in a brutal beating triggered when the rear bumper fell from his car into the path of another car. Heated words quickly escalated to mayhem - and death. The suspected assailant was still at large Monday.
     Such appalling "road rage" stories have lost some of their shock value through grim familiarity. Even some otherwise mild-mannered people seem strangely inclined to vent their fury at fellow motorists who swerve into their lanes, or drive too fast - or too slowly.
     Certainly sharing congested roadways with inept, rude and hazardous drivers can be an irritating experience. But it's not worth risking your life - or anyone else's life - with real-life chase-scene episodes that can end, if not in tragic accidents, then in bloody brawls.
     So the next time another driver's actions stir an urge for vehement, perhaps even violent response, slow down, cool off and resolve to reach your destination safely. Traffic annoyances don't merit your "rage."

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