SeaViews: Insights from the Gray
(formerly the _Rochester Rag_, formerly the _News
Motto: The surest way to get a reputation for
being a trouble maker these days is to go about repeating
the very phrases that the Founders used in the struggle for
-- C.A. Beard
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On last month's Fix;
the answer to last month's Fix,
"What should be done with Elian Gonzalez?"
At first I thought, like probably many of you, that Elian
should go back to his father. I was thinking, as an American
would, that this was a child custody case. It is not. The
father, Juan Miguel, divorced the mother 2 years before
Elian was born, and he has not seen the boy since he was
three (Juan has a new wife and child). [In fact, the
Drudge Report questions whether this guy even is the
biological father.] Furthermore, Juan took his damn
sweet time getting here (his son, after losing his mother,
reached US soil last ThanksGiving). Why is he only coming
now? Because Castro now wants him to. A US registered Leat
jet, with a tailor on board, was flown to Cuba to pick up
Juan and his family and drop him off in D.C. with his
freshly tailored suit.
How many of you realize that since 1960, there has been a
law in place that gives any Cuban (of any age) instant
sanctuary once they reach US soil? They need only ask, and
will be granted citizenship. Also, do you know that when
Cuban kids turn 11, they are taken from their parents to go
to state schools and work in the fields? Parents may visit
monthly. By age 18, males have to serve 2 years in the
military. By 20, all of them are thouroughly
Castro's own daughter, exhiled to France for political
treason, says the boy should stay in America. She said that
the father should also, except he likely is covered by Cuban
guards in the US and knows that his new wife and child's
lives would be forfeit if he escaped.
Juan was "praying" in the National Cathedral yesterday
(April 14) for the return of his son. Interesting, since the
state religion in Cuba is atheism. Every action this man
takes is scripted from Havana folks.
On a New Look;
In the past I have always been careful to
keep most of my opinions above the Guest Editorial, and if a
news item demanded comment, I put mine in Italics below it
with the prefix Ed:. But, I don't think that's immediate
enough anymore. So for the next few issues, I'm going to
wrap my commnetary around the news item (which will be in
italics) to provide insite where it may do more good.
As Life for Family Farmers Worsens, the Toughest
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
RYON, Neb. -- Walking across the prairie, stepping
carefully around cow pies, Mike Abel confesses that he has
told his son and daughter not to follow in his line of
work.He sounds for a moment like a repentant bank robber.
But Mr. Abel, 45, is in an even less promising field: He is
a cattle rancher. Ranchers like Mr. Abel on the lovely
desolation of the Nebraska prairie near this hamlet, miles
and miles from nowhere and nothing, evoke the gritty
determination and toughness of John Wayne on a good day.
These days the ranchers evoke something else -- poverty.
This rural area, McPherson County, is by far the poorest
county in the country, measured by per capita income.
Federal statistics show that people in McPherson County
earned an average of $3,961 in 1997, the most recent year
for which statistics were available, compared with $5,666
for the next poorest county, Keya Paha, also in Nebraska.
The richest, New York County, better known as Manhattan, had
a per capita income of $68,686 in 1997.
Cowboys like Mr. Abel might seem the last people to cry.
But with much of the agricultural economy in deep distress,
with dreams of family farms fading like old cow bones on the
prairie, even the cowboys' lips
are sometimes trembling.
"What always hurt us was when we're at the table trying to
figure out how to make a land payment, and the kids are
seeing us crying as we wonder what happens if we can't make
the payment," said Mr. Abel, a sturdy man with flecks of
gray in close-cropped hair. "We'd always hoped this would be
a family operation. But why should my son, Tyler, struggle
and make money only two out of five years when he could get
good-paying job in the city somewhere?"
While most of the American economy is going gangbusters,
many rural areas are undergoing a wrenching restructuring
that is impoverishing small ranchers and farmers, forcing
them to sell out, depopulating large
chunks of rural America and
changing the way Americans get their food. The gains in
farming and ranching efficiency are staggering, but so is
the blow to the rural way of life.
Just a few years ago, the United States thought it had a
plan to revitalize the agriculture economy: the Freedom to
Farm Act. Passed by the Republican Congress and signed by
President Clinton in 1996, the law aimed to phase out
subsidies but ease regulations and promote exports to make
farming profitable without government aid.
Almost everyone agrees that the law has not worked
(although there is also a consensus that it is the
other guy's fault). Direct federal payments to farmers last
year rose to a record $23 billion. That is far more than
the federal government spent on elementary and
secondary education, school lunches and Head Start programs
With the failure of American farm policy, no one has much
of a plan anymore, even though the present course
appears unsustainable. The growing cost of
federal farm programs, the replacement of small family
farms with huge factory farms, the fading of rural hamlets
-- all these point to historic changes under way in American
agriculture. Yet the changes are happening without anyone
guiding them or the nation paying them much heed.
The poverty statistics can seem misleading to city
dwellers, for the poor farming areas rarely have homeless
people or anything like a slum, and in any case cattle
and hog prices are rising this year. But prospects
look dismal, adding to the pressure on many rural
areas. The depopulation is evident in the grade
school in Ringgold, a crossroads village in the east end of
McPherson County. Leah Christopher, an effervescent eighth
grader who is an outstanding gymnast, will graduate from the
school in a few months at the top of her class, and at the
bottom. She is the only eighth grader.
The entire school, from kindergarten to the eighth
grade, has only one teacher and seven students, four of them
from Leah's family. Another grade school in the county has
just four students and will drop to three next year.
"I took a training course once where the other teachers were
talking about using the school psychologist and other
resources like that," said Elnora Neal, the teacher at the
Ringgold school. "Well, I'm everything. At this
school, I'm teacher, nurse, psychologist, P.E. teacher and
McPherson County had 1,692 people in 1920, and since then
its population has been steadily falling, to
about 540 today. At its peak, it had 20 post offices,
5 towns and 63 school districts; now it has 1 post
office, 5 schools and, if one is generous enough to include
Ringgold, 2 towns. The average age in the county is in the
late 50's, the average American farmer today is 54.
Surge in Output Keeps Prices Down
Rusty Moore, a lanky, rail-thin fifth-generation rancher,
complains bitterly about the difficulties as he sorts cattle
on an icy, overcast day on his 13,000-acre
ranch. "I went to college for four years and
decided to come back and live in poverty," Mr. Moore, 26,
said laughing, as he stomped his feet against the cold.
But while there are many reasons for the misery in the
agricultural economy, perhaps Mr. Moore's greatest adversary
is himself -- and all the other farmers and ranchers like
him who have figured out how to increase the output of their
land. In Mr. Moore's grandfather's day, it took about 18
acres of this land to sustain a cow and her calf. Now,
ranchers have improved efficiency so that they need just 7
acres for a cow and a calf.This surge in output is the main
force driving the restructuring of agriculture. In
1969, the average pig used for breeding produced 6.7 piglets
per year. By last year, that had risen to 16 piglets per
year, and the most efficient operators got 22.
Those kinds of productivity increases have resulted in a
world awash with grain, pork, beef and milk, even
though the proportion of the American public living on farms
and ranches has tumbled to 1.5 percenttoday from 42 percent
in 1900. Some experts believe that with biotechnology, the
productivity increases are now beginning to accelerate.
For many years, the agricultural equivalent of the
four-minute mile has been the yield of 400 bushels of corn
per acre. The average is about 150 bushels, but last year an
Iowa farmer, Francis R. Childs, achieved celebrity by
producing 394 bushels under tight monitoring. Just as Roger
Bannister changed the world's understanding of human
athletic potential when he ran a sub-four-minute mile in
1954, so Mr. Childs is waking up agricultural economists. If
his techniques could be replicated and spread widely, that
could mean a doubling of corn output. "I don't see any
reason why that can't be done," Mr. Childs said. Yet
he acknowledges that he is a bit worried about what could be
done with all that corn. Historically, increases in
productivity have brought falling prices that punish the
farmers, while rewarding consumers. "Consumers have a great
life ahead of them," said Neil E. Harl, anagricultural
economist at Iowa State University. "We're entering a new
era, especially in crops but also in livestock."
Mass Producing Under Contract
You can smell the future of farming as you approach it on
a narrow dirt road just west of McPherson County, in
neighboring Arthur County. A series of long, low warehouses
contain what is less a hog farm than a pork factory. The
factory is still being expanded, but ultimately it will cost
$5 million and produce 120,000 pigs each year.
To anyone who thinks that hogs are dirty and humans are
clean, a visit to this farm is an indignity. Before
being allowed near the pigs, all employees and visitors must
strip, shower, shampoo and change into new underwear, socks,
boots and overalls that the farm provides. The aim is to
protect the pigs from diseases brought in by nonhygienic
The sows spend their days lying in tiny pens, eating,
drinking and growing piglets inside of them. After giving
birth, the sows suckle their piglets until being weaned at
17 days and then after a few days' respite they come in heat
and the process begins again. The sows are taken into
a pen next to several boars, whose sole job is to sweet talk
the sows and get them sexually excited. At that point,
a technician artificially inseminates the sows, as the boars
watch from the next pen. "It must be a frustrating
existence for the boars," acknowledged Dwayne Fritzen,
the manager of the operation.The pregnant sows even get
ultrasound examinations at 30 days and 60 days to make sure
their pregnancies are going well.
"This is efficiency," Mr. Fritzen said. "I grew up
on an old-fashioned hog farm, where you go out and buy hogs
and you don't know the pedigree. Here, you know everything
about these gals" -- gestured to the sows -- "and if you
don't like the results, then you switch genetic companies"
and get new sows or new semen.
Industrialized agriculture began to replace traditional
family farms in poultry, and one study found that
these days the average poultry farmer raises 240,000
birds a year and earns just $12,000 for his labor.Many
scholars say that increasingly, livestock and crops alike
will be produced under contract to large food companies.
"The farmer in those contracts is somewhere between
what you'd call a businessman and a laborer," said Chuck
Hassebrook, program director for the Center for Rural
Affairs, a Nebraska research center. "Management decisions
are typically made by the company." Mr. Hassebrook
added: "More and more, the people on the land become simply
laborers. The returns are siphoned out of their
Being Squeezed by the System
With the welfare system hugely curtailed in the last few
years, there is more scrutiny than ever of what critics see
as a major welfare system for grain and cotton
farmers. Moreover, though the evidence is mixed, some
economists argue that the billions of dollars in federal
payments are helping to drive out family farmers and
ranchers. "Congress talks about saving the family
farm, but it pours the money disproportionately to larger
farmers," said John A. Schnittker, who runs an agricultural
economics consulting firm in California. "As you subsidize
these large farms, they can pay more in buying land, and
they can pay more in renting land. And so the system
we have now really concentrates farming among the
large operators." Two situations loom, neither one
encouraging: payments may continue to soar until they
threaten the budget, or Congress may be forced to cut
payments, leaving farmers in desperate shape.
"We're in a quandary," said Keith Collins, the chief
economist for the United States Department of Agriculture.
Mr. Collins said the department's projections were that this
year's price for wheat would be the lowest since 1986, for
cotton the lowest since 1974 and for soybeans the lowest
since 1972. While grain farmers are ever more
dependent on the agricultural dole, ranchers -- who get left
out of the payment system -- are often irritated by
the payments. "Just to subsidize people because the
price is low -- that kills ingenuity," said Doug Schmidt,
45, struggling to make a go of cattle ranching on a
small spread, near Ringgold.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman says that farm
policy has to be revamped and broadened to do more
than make payments to distressed farmers.
He says that it should also help them add value to their
products, make it easier for them to insure against risks
and work on mechanisms to help people run
businesses in rural communities.
"As much as we'd like to use farm programs as the
panacea for problems out there affecting rural
America, they cannot be," Mr. Glickman said. He added,
"We've also got to make rural America economically thriving,
so that people will have a reason to stay on
family-sized farms even if they can't get all their income"
The larger question is why the government should work so
energetically and expensively to preserve the family
Family-owned restaurants, bookstores and newspapers
were all widely regarded as beneficial to their
communities, yet in each case America allowed many of them
to fade and be replaced by more ferocious and
efficient economic competitors. Only in the case of family
farms, presumably because they are so rooted in
American mythology and in Jefferson's ideal of the yeoman
farmer-citizen, are Americans willing to spend
$23 billion a year fighting economic change.
Corporate Flags Over Giant Spreads
As dawn comes in McPherson County, a glorious orange sun
rises from the prairies and casts a glow on LaVerne
Neal, a 73-year-old rancher feeding his
cattle. Mr. Neal has 240 cows and 3,840 acres,
and he had always assumed that his family would
ranch here forever. But he now realizes that his land
is really too small for future generations to make a living,
and he sees his problem as emblematic of a larger
pattern of the decline of the family farm. "I don't think
there are going to be family farms for too many more
years," Mr. Neal said wistfully, driving his pickup over the
fields. "Those big outfits are taking over."
That is one of the most common laments in agriculture.
The underlying problem for small farms and ranches is
diminishing margins and a tiny return on capital. Many
farmers and ranches have million-dollar investments
that are losing them money, and so the country's poorest
county probably has a high proportion of millionaires.
Yet paradoxically, for all the fears of corporations
sneaking into agriculture, dismal returns are the best
protection family farms have. If McDonald's announced that
it were going to produce its own beef, wheat, lettuce
and tomatoes, its shareholders would sell in panic,
because the return on the investment would be
"Why would they want the aggravation?" asked Ed Sowder, a
county commissioner. "If you've got ranchers out there who
think they're working for themselves, why bother?" Only
about 2 percent of farms are run by corporations. But
corporate oligopolies dominate both the input side (selling
seed and equipment) and output side (four companies
now control 80 percent of the beef market).
The consolidation of farms under way today seems to
be a continuation of a trend that goes back 100 years. The
average American farm has gone from 139 acres in 1910
to 435 acres today, and the driving force behind this change
is simple: economics and a yearning for a better life. For
all the rosy glow that is conjured by the phrase "family
farm," it was often a harsh life. "When I was a boy, for my
birthday all I'd get was a pair of socks," Mr. Neal
recalled. "Come to think of it, that's all I used to give my
children, as well. But these days, you walk into a kid's
room, and you have to kick aside half a dozen teddy bears
just to step inside."
As the pain in the farm sector drags on endlessly,
farmers like the Abels decide that if they are to keep their
children in teddy bears, they may be better off in other
lines of work.
"If you pass on your ranch to your son," Bob Long, a
county commissioner and rancher, said, "then it's
My apologies, I was Microsoffed again and lost all the
letters for this issue. The story:
Usually, I cut and paste laetters from PINE into the news
which I was editing on WinNT Svr with Netscape's composer.
As I was copying the notes to this area, I marked them for
deletion in PINE.
Then - I made the most unforgivable of sins - I hit Save
in Composer. Naturally, the appliction locked - and took NT
with it. No problem, thought I, I never cleanly quit PINE,
so I'll just start up, return to my PINE mail and do the job
over. Except ... PINE lost everthing that I had marked for
delete, even though I didn't really exit the damn thing.
So, there we are.
Quote(s) of the month:
"You know you're a liberal if you feel generous with other
people's time and money"
--SGL, liberal definition #3
Fix of the month:
"Is the direction of the federal govt. on the right
track, when we punish legal businesses with bankrupting
policies, purposely distort the markets, and return
political refugees to dictatorships?"
1. April 29, Redmond: The govt. plan tp break up
Microsoft does not seem to be causing all that much turmoil
in the home turf. "I really don't see the need for it, but
if you ever did split up Microsoft, I think the new
companies would just grow like weeds," explained Dana
Nielsen, the owner of Ray's Cafe, a diner in a mall near the
Microsoft campus here. "So your stock would be worth more
Some express an almost messianic faith in the company's
chairman. "This is Bill Gates we're talking about here,"
said Alan Paisley, a Seattle guitarist. "I wouldn't put it
past Gates to somehow come out of this whole thing smelling
like a rose. You get two or three little Microsofts running
around out there, it could be very profitable for all
Interviews with small-time Microsoft investors, who are
remarkably easy to find in malls and streets here, turn up
only isolated cases of semi-woe. One man explained that he
recently backed out of a deal to buy a house -- not because
he could no longer afford to do so, but because he just
could not bear to cash out any of his Microsoft stock at
$65, even though he bought most of it for a fraction of
that. Whatever happens in the antitrust case, he said, he
was sure it would come back up.
1. Miami, April 23: Showing that she's willing to
go out the way she came in, Janet Reno ordered the forcible
extraction of Elian Gonazalez from his family and friends in
the style that she started with Ruby Ridge and Waco --
stormtrooper raids at gunpoint -- in this case of unarmed
people -- on Easter Sunday.
Interestingly, a Dade county attorney who was trying to
broker a peaceful exchange said he was actually on the phone
with Reno, with whom he used to work with and knew for 30
years, when his family showed him the raid in progress on
CNN. Saying that his son need's friends from home, the
Senior Gonzalez requested that a cousin, schoolmate and 6
psychiatrists come up from Cuba to help Elian deal with the
mental anguish he's endured at the hands of his capitalists
1. April 14: File this under, "I told you so." Last month's
issue pointed out that I felt the Justice Dept.
investigation of Microsoft should have been called off, but
they had gone to far to risk that embarrassment. Two days
later, Judge Jackson made his rulings, and on April 3 to the
present the Stock Market has had the worst decline in this
decade. Clinton, standing by British Prime Minister Tony
Blair last week, quipped "I guess Tony and me crashed the
Stocks Suffer Historic Losses
April 14 2000 5:28PM ET
Cash tumbled out of top technology, computer-chip
makers, financials, retailers and manufacturers in a
slide that left trading floors with only sell orders.
Traders were dumbfounded as sell orders flooded the system,
saying they couldn't even look at their own
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) lost a record
617.78 points, or 5.66 percent to 10,305.77 as financial
stocks erased all their recent gains, joining technology
leaders to drive the blue-chip gauge further into the red
for the year.
Investors were stunned and hushed, crowding around
outdoors stock monitors in New York all day.
Yes, Mr President, you have crashed the NASDAQ. Bully for
you. But this is not an isolated event. Two weeks ago you
succeeded in putting the life science stocks into a spin
when you said that genome research shuld not be patentable.
And of course your influence on guns and tobacco is well
I predicted in 1992 when this group came to Washington
that the Misery Index would sky rocket - and I've been
plotting that trend for you every new year (although I think
I forget this one). I predicted that inflation, interest
rates, and taxes would increase - and they have. I predicted
that the price of gold would increase as a hedge against
those things - and it it is. Let's - just for a moment -
review what the White House and Feds can and cannot do to
help the economy.
Help the Economy
- Cut taxes (personal and corporate)
- Reduce regulatory burdens on business
- Return power to the states and their citizens
- Appoint responsible Fed Chairs
- in other words, get out of the way
Hurt the Economy
- Target businesses with destructive regulation
(Tobacco,Pharmacy, High tech, guns)
- Raise taxes
- Centralize power
So, economically at least, the govt. that governs best -
governs least. Seems that I've heard that before. [We
will no doubt have occasion to test the theory in
non-economic areas in the future.]
Some of you may recall that when Cliton debated Bush he
claimed we had the worst economy in 50 years, yet at the
very moment he said that, it was growing at about 4~4.1
percent. It's less now, but somehow the press reports it as
healthy. The stock plunge is therefore "inexplicable" or is
only related to the price of Gas.
I have another theory. The economy is debt heavy, and
it's only becuase of a very prescient Allen Greenspan, the
payoff of the S&L Bailout, and a reduction in the
military that Clinton has enjoyed the continuance of the
Reagan economic expansion that started in the 80's. As
those gains are undone, the weight of debt will crash
So folks, remember when Al Gore says he is the heir
apparent to his mentor's econmic success what that will mean
to your 401K (you know, the one that's got a 30% stake in
1. Showing that the Constitutional "right" against
unreasonable search and seizure has been antiquated - view
Protesters' Headquarters Raided
Apr 15 2000 10:34AM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) - Police staged a lightning raid
and closed down the headquarters of world finance
protesters today after fire officials declared the old
warehouse unsafe.``We're simply concerned about their
and we want to make sure there are no fire hazards,''
Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey said.
He said around 300 people were in the building at the
time.``We probably saved their lives,'' Ramsey said, when
asked why fire officials ordered protesters to vacate the
building set up as demonstration headquarters.Ramsey spoke
to protesters on the streets earlier. When one asked whether
police would use tear gas, the chief replied, on WRC-TV,
``We could light this town up if we had to, but we don't
intend to do that.''
Patrick Reinsborough of San Francisco, who was in the
warehouse, said two police officers and two fire officials
came to the center unannounced and began inspections.
Several of the protesters demanded a search warrant, but the
fire officials said they didn't need one for a fire
inspection ``The police said they found things that were a
fire hazard,'' Reinsborough said. ``As soon as they claimed
they found a fire hazard, a large number of police were in
the area. They demanded the space be evacuated.''
Interesting, the Fire Dept. is not held to constitutional
standards, but they can give the Police the probable cause
to break in without a warrent. So, take note friends, the
next time you see an inspector at the door - call your
Record shows Gore long embellishing truth
By Walter V. Robinson and Michael Crowley, Globe Staff,
Vice President Al Gore brings a
remarkable life story to the presidential
race: His father was such an unwavering supporter of
civil rights that it
cost him his Senate seat. His older sister was the
first-ever volunteer in the
Peace Corps, that heroic outpost on President Kennedy's New
By Gore's account: He was raised in hardscrabble
Tennessee farm country.
He was a brilliant student, in high school and at Harvard.
And despite his
political pull, he received no special treatment, opting
instead to go to
Vietnam where he was ''shot at.''
After his Army service, he spent seven years as a
journalist, and his
reporting at the Tennessean in Nashville put corrupt
officials in prison.
As a junior member in the US House, he was a major force:
He wrote and
then spearheaded passage of the Superfund law. He even
authored the US
nuclear negotiating position. And at a time when President
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev faced off on the superpower
had his own meeting with Gorbachev.
And, of course, he created the Internet.
At various times in his political career, Gore, the
presidential nominee, has said all those things about
himself and his family.
None are quite true.
Some are exaggerations grown up around kernels of
Others are simply false. A few, like the boastful claim
about the Internet,
have become comic fodder, even for Gore.
The mystery, even for Gore's friends, is why he has
a political resume and pedigree that shorn of embellishments
by any measure. Gore did press for early funding of the
network that grew
into the Internet. He served in Vietnam when he could have
arranged a safer
setting, unlike his Republican rival, George W. Bush. His
unearth corruption. And in Congress, he exerted uncommon
technology and national security matters, notwithstanding
his lack of
But for Gore, the facts have never been quite enough.
Starting as a junior
congressman and continuing through this year's primaries,
Gore has regularly
promoted himself, and skewered his opponents, with
misleading, and occasionally false statements to a degree
that even some of
his allies concede is rare for a politician of his
Many of Gore's inflated claims have been reported, though
only a few
prominently. But a review by the Globe of Gore's public
more than 20 years, as well as two recent biographies,
suggest that the
pattern has been more pronounced than previously believed,
and that it
Earlier fears that Gore would be hobbled by President
failings have abated. Now, it is Gore's credibility that
could become an issue.
Behind the scenes, according to sources, top campaign aides
have met to
consider the issue's potential for damaging Gore's
candidacy. His Republican
opponent, Texas Governor Bush, has already telegraphed his
plans to attack
Gore's recent campaign rhetoric has invited scrutiny of
freewheeling treatment of facts. Several times, he misstated
his own record
and that of his Democratic opponent, former senator Bill
Bradley. In Iowa,
Gore's misleading claim that Bradley voted against disaster
relief for the
flood-stricken state dealt a serious blow to Bradley's
''Why should we believe that you will tell the truth as
president if you don't
tell the truth as a candidate?'' Bradley asked Gore at a
debate in New
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of
School of Communications, said she is troubled that Gore
continues to use exaggerated or inaccurate claims even in
the face of public
evidence that he is wrong.
''You wonder if it's a failure to listen or an impulse to
Jamieson, who monitors the accuracy of political statements.
is, is there a basic personality flaw there that will make
it more difficult for
him to be president? Is there a tendency to exaggerate? Is
there a tendency
to reconstruct the past? When you start counting on the
fingers of both
hands you start to say maybe there's a pattern here.''
Douglas Hattaway, a campaign spokesman, said Gore could
interviewed on the issue.
''Everybody makes mistakes, and every politician's
utterances are pounced
upon. But it is not fair to pull out every misstatement and
honest mistake and
attack him for it,'' Hattaway said.
Many political candidates portray themselves as more
courageous than the facts justify and paint their opponents
in the worst
For example, Bush has made claims about his gubernatorial
record that are
open to challenge. To cite one case, Bush takes credit for a
reform in Texas. In fact, he opposed the bill and it became
law without his
signature. And during the New York primary, Bush's campaign
advertisement that falsely characterized Senator John
McCain's record on
breast cancer research. Bush narrowly won that election.
But even some of Gore's supporters glumly acknowledge
that Gore stands
out for the extent to which he has created myths about his
life and his record.
As the Globe reported in January, the issue so troubled his
campaign staff in 1988 that aides twice sent him memos
warning him about
More recent Gore claims make it clear that the
predilection persists. In
announcing his candidacy last June, Gore praised his
father's courage on civil
rights but sidestepped an obvious contradiction: The elder
opposed the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. And his sister
was a salaried
midlevel political appointee at Peace Corps headquarters,
and not, as Gore
has said on a couple of occasions, a ''volunteer,'' the
label reserved for those
who serve overseas.
Newsweek reporter Bill Turque, the author of a new
Al Gore,'' said Gore is prone to ''self aggrandizement.''
Yet in most
instances, Turque noted, the embellishments are not made up
out of whole
cloth, but involve a ''nugget of fact'' that Gore has
''The most bewildering thing is that, in most of the
cases, the straight story is
as praiseworthy as the one he inflates,'' Turque said last
Turque and Bob Zelnick, a former ABC News reporter and
the author of a
1999 Gore biography, ''Gore: A Political Life,'' both trace
to exaggerate his resume to the vice president's childhood.
They said the
child of prominent parents could never quite measure up to
In his parents' eyes, said Turque, ''it was not enough
for him to be good, to
be excellent. He had to be transcendent, he had to save the
desire of his to please them left him with a compulsion in
the retelling to
stretch what are honorable, credible accomplishments.''
In the 1988 presidential primary campaign,
Michael S. Dukakis, needled once too often by Gore,
upbraided him during
a debate: ''Please get your facts straight. If you want to
be president of the
United States, you better start by being accurate.'' Another
former Senator Paul Simon, scolded Gore during another
debate for making
In recent interviews, Simon and Dukakis were reluctant to
scrapes with the man who is now their party's standard
bearer. But Simon
said Gore's rhetorical excesses that year ''could accurately
be described as
brashness, which obviously didn't get him anywhere. ... It
was a combination
of youth and inexperience.''
But what raised the most eyebrows in 1988 was not what
Gore said about
his opponents. It was his inclination, during his first
audition on a national
stage, to add lustrous detail to his own resume.
Many of the embellishments were unearthed at the time,
but attracted little
attention because Gore's 1988 campaign proved a hapless
The aides in 1988 who warned Gore about sticking to the
facts had plenty
to worry about: Gore's claim that he grew up in Carthage,
Tenn., when he
was reared in a Washington hotel suite; his exaggeration of
background; his statements, later debunked, that he had been
under fire in
Vietnam and that his investigative reporting at the
Tennessean in Nashville in
the 1970s had sent people to jail; his claim to have been
schooled in rural
Tennessee and urban Washington, when he was educated at an
school in the capital; and his insistence that he had been a
small businessman when he had minimal involvement in a small
Last March, Gore reasserted his claim to have been a
developer and small
businessman. And, starting in 1994, Gore has added two years
journalistic experience, upping the figure from the five
years he once claimed
In one 1988 ad, Gore claimed to have been a ''brilliant
student,'' but that has
been contradicted by Turque's biography. Gore's transcripts
show that his
high school and college grades were predominantly B's and
C's. The same
campaign ad also said Gore ''refused any special treatment''
when he joined
the Army for two years and went to Vietnam, where he spent
Yet Turque discovered evidence that General William C.
played some role in Gore's enlistment. And when Gore arrived
Turque reports, his commanding officer issued instructions
that Gore be kept
away from danger.
Hattaway, Gore's spokesman, said that if there was any
treatment, Gore was unaware of it. ''The fact is,'' Hattaway
in Vietnam was in danger. And Al Gore served in Vietnam,
when a lot of
people were doing their best to avoid it altogether.''
In his campaigns in 1984 and 1988, Gore awarded himself
national policy accomplishments that a junior member of the
Senate could only dream of.
For example, Gore immersed himself in the nuclear arms
one of a number of House moderates whose support was coveted
Reagan administration. The Democrats, led by Representative
and Senator Sam Nunn, and backed by Gore, wanted a less
option than the multiple-warhead MX missile. Their plan,
by the White House, called for the single-warhead Midgetman
Yet when Gore ran for the Senate in 1984, one TV ad
wrote the bipartisan plan on arms control that US
negotiators will take to the
''That is a vast overstatement. He had nothing to do with
what we proposed
to the Soviets,'' Kenneth Adelman, who was the director of
the US Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency, said in an interview.
Adelman's view is
supported by the two biographies, and by contemporaneous
When he ran for president four years later, Gore aired
showing him shaking hands with Gorbachev. And he told
audiences that he
had met with the Soviet leader. But Gore's only ''meeting''
took place when the two men shook hands during a luncheon
had with 26 members of Congress.
And further seeking to highlight his national security
credentials in that race,
Gore visited the naval base in Norfolk, Va. in February 1988
to chastise his
Democratic primary opponents for opposing funds to build new
carriers. As for himself, Gore said, ''I would stand for a
Gore neglected to mention that he had voted in the Senate
funding for carriers.
In two other campaign ads in 1988, Gore awarded himself
credit for the
landmark 1980 Superfund legislation, saying he ''led the
fight to clean up
toxic waste'' and was the ''author of a tough Superfund law
to protect the
environment and crack down on toxic polluters.'' But someone
else was the
author. Gore played only a supporting role as one of 42
Tobacco is another issue where Gore's statements have
been open to
question. Despite his assertions, repeated this year, that
he worked for
tougher restrictions against tobacco, Gore was a reliable
vote for tobacco
interests while he was in the House.
But it was an emotional speech at the 1996 Democratic
Convention in Chicago that biographers like Turque and
Zelnick find even
more troubling. In it, Gore recounted his sister's death
from lung cancer,
caused by cigarettes she began smoking at age 13.
''Tomorrow morning, another 13-year-old girl will start
smoking. I love her,
too,'' Gore declared, bringing tears to the eyes of many
thousand young people in America will start smoking
thousand of them will die a death not unlike my sister's.
And that is why until
I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into
the cause of
protecting our children from the dangers of smoking.''
A day later, Gore was accused of hypocritically
exploiting his sister's death
for political gain. The reason: For seven years after his
sister died, Gore
remained an ally of big tobacco and accepted both tobacco
contributions and federal subsidies for the tobacco grown on
Even in the face of lingering questions about his
tendency to embellish, the
vice president nevertheless misstated his own record and
at several critical junctures in the last six months.
Jamieson, the University of Pennsylvania scholar, said
this year's most
egregious example of Gore's willingness to stretch the truth
continued repetition of the charge that Bradley had opposed
flood relief for
midwestern farmers in 1993.
During a Jan. 9 debate in Des Moines, Gore chastised
Bradley for opposing
flood aid. The attack had been choreographed in advance:
Gore asked a
local farmer hurt by the floods to stand for dramatic
Soon after, Gore unveiled television advertisements in
which Iowa Senator
Tom Harkin touted Gore as ''the only Democratic candidate
who helped make sure that Iowa got the help we desperately
Caught off guard in debate, Bradley failed to respond.
But Gore was widely
criticized when details of the flood votes emerged, showing
that Bradley had
voted for $4.8 billion in Midwest flood relief and opposed
amendment to add $900 million more. Even the White House
amendment until the last moment.
Under criticism, the Gore campaign briefly stopped
running the ad. But on
the weekend before Iowa's caucus, it reappeared on Iowa
Bradley was badly drubbed in Iowa, sending him into a
tailspin from which
he never recovered.
Biographer Zelnick, who now teaches at Boston University,
disaster relief accusation a ''premeditated falsehood.''
That incident, Zelnick
said in an interview, ''was far different from speaking off
the cuff and having
an irresistible impulse to embellish. The farmer was a total
plant, and the
assertion misrepresented Bill Bradley's position. It is and
should be a subject
of concern for voters.''
Family members get praise
But it is not just his own life story and record that
Gore has selectively
Since his father died 16 months ago, the vice president
has described the
elder Gore in several speeches, including one last April
before an NAACP
audience, as an early champion for civil rights during his
three Senate terms
from 1953 to 1971.
''Halfway through this century,'' Gore said, in declaring
his candidacy last
June, ''when my father saw that thousands of his fellow
forced to obey Jim Crow laws, he knew America could do
better. He saw a
horizon in which his black and white constituents shared the
same hopes in
the same world.''
It was a moving tribute, but with a notable omission: The
elder Gore voted
against the landmark civil rights legislation of his time,
the Civil Rights Act of
1964, which repudiated the Jim Crow laws.
To be sure, Albert Gore Sr. stood out among Southern
Democrats in the
Senate. He refused to support the Southern Manifesto in the
supported the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and voted against two
Court nominees who opposed civil rights.
`Those brave stands probably cost him his career,'' Gore
told the NAACP
audience in Detroit last April 25.
But historians and the elder Gore have attributed his
1970 defeat mostly to
his opposition to the Vietnam War. Before other audiences,
Gore has cited
the war as the issue that cost his father his Senate
And, during his lifetime, the elder Gore made no claims
to match his son's
recent recollections. Late in his life, he said he regretted
his vote against the
1964 measure. In his memoirs, he said he was ''no white
knight'' on civil
Hattaway played down the contrast between Gore's claims
and his father's
record, noting that many civil rights leaders have praised
Nancy Gore Hunger, who was 10 years older than her
brother, worked as a
paid staff aide at Peace Corps headquarters from early 1961,
agency was founded, until 1964, according to Peace Corps
Yet Gore, in a 1992 appearance on C-SPAN, called his
sister ''the very first
volunteer for the Peace Corps.'' In 1994, when the
University of Tennessee
at Knoxville established a chair in her name, Gore said:
''She was the very
first volunteer in the Peace Corps. She did so much for so
In 1996, when Gore addressed a meeting of Peace Corps
whom the ''volunteer'' label has special meaning, he did not
describe her as a
Coates Redmon, author of a book about the Peace Corps and
Corps colleague of Nancy Gore Hunger's, said the agency's
have always been afforded special status.
For the vice president to describe his sister that way,
''amounts to stretching the truth.''
© Steve Langer, 1995-2000