- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Musharraf, dictator

I was astonished to read your April 29 editorial "The Musharraf referendum," in which you seem to buy into the specious argument that dictators, autocrats and political thugs have been advancing on people for centuries in defense of their claims to power, which is simply, "Apres moi, le deluge."

There can be no disputing that the actions of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf are those of a dictator: The overthrow of civilian government, manipulation of the court system and the suspension of parliament and political parties all support his illegal claim to power. Yet this newspaper worries "what the alternative would be were he not in power: Afghanistan, Part II?"

To be sure, in the country's present political climate, those prospects are certainly bleak. However, this should not be the benchmark by which future regimes in Pakistan are judged. Rather, the alternative we demand should be a free and open political system that helps cultivate a new generation of political leader in order to prevent the past from repeating itself once again in Pakistan.



Mervyn M. Dymally served as a U.S. representative from 1980 to 1992.

Is your editorial page implying that because Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is in power and has cooperated with the U.S. war on terrorism he is the person best-suited to lead his nation for the next five years? Your assertion that Gen. Musharraf is "a strong and indispensable ally whose pro-American sentiments would be difficult to find among his opponents" is as unfounded as it is detrimental to the fledgling democrats still left in Pakistan ("The Musharraf referendum," April 29).

The fact is that the last democratically elected leader in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was forcibly removed from office by Pakistan's military, led by Gen. Musharraf. This happened after Mr. Sharif cooperated with President Clinton's request that Pakistan draw back the forces under its control from India's Kargil region. Since that time, any chances of creating a realistic and democratic opposition to Gen. Musharraf's rule has been stymied. That's how dictatorships survive, or have your editors forgotten this?



Ensuring health coverage for the mentally ill

Your April 29 editorial "A health-care sellout?" correctly notes that I am an advocate of the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2002 (H.R. 4066). However, the editorial argues that the passage of a mental health parity bill would "strip workers of their ability to make the best health-care choices for their families."

The intent of this legislation is just the opposite: Mental health parity will empower families fighting mental illness and give them assurance that their health insurance will not treat their affliction as a second-class ailment. There is no scientific basis for the distinction between mental and physical health care. Yet outdated stigmas and inflated claims of potentially higher premiums have led insurers to provide more generous coverage for physical problems than for debilitating mental disorders.

I am hardly a health care "commissar," and I believe the health care market generally works, but as a state delegate, I voted for the Maryland Mental Health Parity law in 1994. The passage of that law provided greater access to mental health treatment and marginally affected the cost of insurance premiums. Further, Maryland is in the depths of a mental health crisis, and I have been working on this and other solutions to help people receive the treatment they need.

Mandating a new health benefit is a serious issue. Yet the costs of mental illness on our productivity and overall health are astounding. I believe it is appropriate for the federal government to craft responsible legislation that would ensure access to equitable mental health insurance while having a minimal impact on health premiums.

President Bush recognizes that this can be done, and I applaud his leadership and support and the bipartisan support of more than 220 members of Congress who pledged to vote for the language in last year's Domenici-Wellstone bill.

This legislation is not the start of comprehensive, socialized, federally mandated health care, as some conservatives fear. Rather, mental health parity is an opportunity to ensure that those with mental disorders are no longer shunned but that their illnesses are treated affordably in a manner that will save our society from the higher costs of ignoring mental illness.

This approach is sensible, fiscally responsible and the right thing to do. Mr. Bush made the right decision in supporting the Domenici-Wellstone bill.


U.S. House of Representatives


New buses reduce health risks

When I read your April 28 editorial "Clean diesel buses," I thought I had entered a parallel universe where water runs up and the sun sets in the East.

First, the District is not spending $45 million on natural-gas buses, as the editorial states. The federal government covers 83 percent of the cost of these new buses. The District, Maryland and Virginia, which oversee Metro, collectively are paying the balance of 17 percent about $7.6 million, and Metro should be able to find more federal dollars to help defray that cost because our region does not meet federal standards for smog.

Second, the study the editorial cites, by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), did not conclusively find that diesel buses are as clean as natural-gas buses because it made an "apples and oranges" comparison. It evaluated two buses: a conventional, commercially available natural-gas bus with no pollution-control devices and a diesel bus equipped with new, state-of-the-art particulate (soot) traps and running on ultra-low-sulfur fuel. This fuel, which has no more than 15 parts per million (ppm) sulfur content, will not be widely available for at least four years. Metro uses 30-ppm sulfur fuel, which undercuts the effectiveness of the traps.

More important, even with the pollution-control devices, the diesel bus emitted as much as 50 percent more nitrogen oxides than the natural-gas bus. Nitrogen oxides are a major component of ground-level ozone, or smog. Given that our region's major air-pollution problem is smog, that one finding contradicts the editorial's main point.

Remarkably, the editorial approvingly quotes Supervisor Dana Kauffman of Fairfax, the only Metro board member who voted against buying more natural-gas buses, who said: "I think, unfortunately, the symbolism of the natural-gas buses carries more weight than their actual effectiveness in cutting down on smog-producing emissions." The CARB study you applaud contradicts that statement.

It is true that natural-gas buses each cost about 11 percent more than diesel buses and require new fueling infrastructure, which cost Metro about $5 million at its Bladensburg site. (The other $10 million Metro spent was to clean up a 40-year-old maintenance facility that violated current building codes.) But what about the health costs of diesel? While natural-gas buses emit virtually no toxic contaminants, diesel buses emit more than 40 of them, many of which cause cancer. Also, the nitrogen oxides in diesel exhaust not only aggravate asthma, but a recent CARB-sponsored University of Southern California study suggests they may cause it.

Putting more diesel buses on our streets would mean more cancer in a city that already has more cancer victims from vehicle pollution than any of the 50 states. It also would mean more asthma in a city that has an asthma rate twice the national average. Fortunately, Mr. Kauffman's colleagues on the Metro board came to a different conclusion and voted to protect our residents and our environment, not the interests of the diesel industry.



NRDC-Sierra Club Clean Bus Campaign

Natural Resources Defense Council


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