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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP


HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN


 


JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, ELEANOR CLIFT,


ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, AND JAMES WARREN


 


TAPED FRIDAY, JULY 2, 1999


AIRED THE WEEKEND OF JULY 10-11, 1999


 


.STX


 


 


TRANSCRIPT BY: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE


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ANNOUNCER: GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From lighting to financial services, GE: We bring good things to life.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Interventionism: Clinton abroad.


 


PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) I think there's an important principle here that I hope will be now upheld in the future, and that is that while there may well be a great deal of ethnic and religious conflict in the world, some of it might break out into wars, that whether within or beyond the borders of the country, if the world community has the power to stop it, we ought to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're calling it the Clinton Doctrine. Congress is back in session this week, and they'll almost certainly deal with it. What it means is this:


 


U.S. military force may be used to resolve ethnic or religious conflict throughout the world, military intervention, even outside of traditional sphere of power, for humanitarians reasons. The policy is interventionism. Its tenets are these:


 


One, disregard sovereignty. Cross-border intervention, as in Kosovo, is okay under the Clinton Doctrine. Unfortunately, it is also a violation of international law. States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.


 


Two, circumvent the U.N. End-run the Security Council and keep the veto power of China and Russia and any other potential adversary to the action off the table. Unfortunately, this is devastating to the integrity and the legitimacy of the United Nations, because the U.S. is the world's surviving superpower, and it was the nation that was the driving force behind the U.N.'s creation under Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat.


 


Three, change the NATO charter.


 


U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: (From videotape.) And NATO is a European and Atlantic, not a global, institution.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't let Secretary Albright fool you. At the NATO summit meeting two months ago, NATO's Europe pushed out to Central Asia, where it is offensively committed to preserving security and prosperity.


 


Four, use humanitarian justification. Clinton says American military power should be used to protect ethnic minorities and deliver oppressed people, as it was in Kosovo. Unfortunately, in Kosovo Clinton's bombs triggered and magnified beyond belief those very evils that he says he was trying to prevent.


 


Five, avoid all American casualties. Kosovo did not claim even one American life in actual combat. Unfortunately, NATO's three-mile-high bombing and antipersonnel cluster bombs killed thousands of innocent Serbian and Kosovar civilians. That's why Clinton interventionism is widely regarded as "poison." It appears to commit the United States to the task of redressing grave crimes against humanity worldwide, even within the boundaries of sovereign states, and even when no American interests are involved. That's how Michael Kelly of the National Journal sums up the Clinton doctrine.


 


Question: How destabilizing is the Clinton doctrine, Arianna Huffington?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: It is extremely destabilizing. It has destabilized the Balkans and our relationship with Russia and China and it is morally indefensible because it is based on a sliding scale of the value of human life, with American lives at the top and African lives at the bottom. If we are going to be intervening on humanitarian grounds, why haven't we intervened in Sierra Leone, where 500,000 Africans have been killed, over a million ethnically cleansed, and instead what we are doing is giving them $15 million in humanitarian aid.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?


 


MS. CLIFT: To argue that we don't intervene everywhere we shouldn't intervene anywhere is a ridiculous notion. And secondly, I never thought I would hear people argue against trying to stop grave humanitarian crimes across the world.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: (Inaudible.)


 


MS. CLIFT: Thirdly, we don't want China and Russia dictating our foreign policy, which is why the president circumvented the U.N. and joined with our allies in Europe. And yes, it is part of Clinton doctrine, if a dictator forces people across boundaries or ethnically cleanses people within a country, that the world does have a responsibility to intervene.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James Warren.


 


MS. CLIFT: And that's a lesson we should have learned in this century.


 


MR. WARREN: I'd argue the Clinton foreign policy up to this point has been one actually of global timidity. We've got more troops in more places than ever before, but we've also been very nervous about putting any really and truly in harm's way. I think if you take a look at Kosovo, one of the lessons is, is exactly the sort of humanitarian mess that it's going to proliferate. And if we're going to have compassion conservatism like Arianna likes, I think we're going to have to come to grips with our being the last big guy on the block and in fact we're going to have to figure out a way to be compassionate, generous, and tough without becoming the world's fireman.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What effect will the Clinton doctrine have on China?


 


MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is, John, you're not talking about a doctrine, you're talking about an attitude here, because there's all sorts of "we'll do it if we can, if we feel like it, if it's the right continent, if it's the right time in the quadrennial election cycle," and so forth and so on. I mean, the fact is I think this will have a somewhat stabilizing effect, perhaps in some areas, by deterring some tyrants from doing some bad things.


 


But it is potentially destabilizing in other areas. It is giving us all these ancillary military tasks, like occupying Bosnia, occupying Kosovo. Look at what happened in Haiti, an earlier example arguably of the Clinton Doctrine, where we manipulated the government there.


 


Aristide, whom Vice President Al Gore, President Bill Clinton, said was a great democrat and a hero -- he was going to redistribute income and be a nice American liberal democrat -- he is now calling off elections, sending out armed thugs and so forth, in line with the history of Haiti. (Cross talk.) (Inaudible) -- on these responses, your point you made about the imprudent things --


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: But listen, Michael --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold it.


 


MR. BARONE: -- that we do in the name of the Clinton Doctrine, are good points we should continue to focus on.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: We shouldn't --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. I want to answer my own question with regard to China.


 


I think its dual role, or its dual objective of military buildup and arms proliferation, is only enhanced. And I think there will be more proliferation of arms to other friendly -- countries -- to China and opposed to interventionism and, therefore, more allies to China.


 


(Cross talk.) But just let me finish. I want to finish the point.


 


The point is that this has moved us into an arms race because those countries that don't have the bomb will say, "If we get the bomb, they will never do to us what they did to Yugoslavia." (Cross talk.) That will be there line of defense.


 


MR. BARONE: It has already happened, John.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secondly, China will try to make itself stronger because it has a problem potentially, as it could feel, with Tibet and with Taiwan. (Cross talk.)


 


MS. CLIFT: That's totally irrational.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is to stop this global police force --


 


MR. WARREN: One second.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- from coming over and striking at us?


 


MR. WARREN: One second. First of all, the premise of Chinese nuclear proliferation is empirically dubious and, at this point, undocumented.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that mean?


 


MR. WARREN: It is undocumented. Take a look at what has come out in recent months despite all your anxiety over espionage.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you heard of the student of this, who lives out in Wisconsin, whose name starts with an "M"? What is his name?


 


MR. BARONE: (Milanese ?) -- or something like that, the Wisconsin --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. I think you had better start reading what he says.


 


MR. BARONE: I think the fact is that Pakistan did not order their nuclear bomb through the Internet.


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They didn't get the bombs in Pakistan through the Internet, he said; they got them from China.


 


MR. WARREN: Try talking to Senator Rudman, who just came out with a very tough report on the security at the labs, who cannot make the link between breaches there and any buildup in Chinese nuclear capabilities.


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think you fail to see my point. They have now a mental attitude that they have to resist this type of aggression and violation of our sovereignty by the United States.


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MS. CLIFT: But, John, that is irrational.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: America is seen as a bully, American credibility is down around the world, and that is what is destabilizing internationally.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?


 


MS. CLIFT: It is irrational to think that countries think, if they get the bomb, they then have the ultimate defense against this country.


 


First of all, if you have noticed, the Congress is putting money into a missile defense system.


 


Secondly, we have a nuclear arsenal that can obliterate any country.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: Oh, come on, Eleanor!


 


MS. CLIFT: It would be mutual suicide. So that is totally incorrect that countries are busy getting the bomb to protect themselves against us.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Eleanor, it poses a basic threat to the nation-state system that we have. And when that goes, we have world chaos.


 


Exit: Will the Clinton Doctrine replace the Monroe Doctrine as the new foreign policy of the United States? I ask you, Michael.


 


MR. BARONE: I think not. This is just ad hoc-ry and a name put over an attitude --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even if Gore is elected president?


 


MR. BARONE: I think Gore has a different history of foreign policy from Clinton. We'll see if that happens.


 


MS. CLIFT: The Clinton Doctrine is a work in progress, and it is more suited for the next century than the Monroe Doctrine.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, it is poison.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: It's going to be on the ash heap of history as soon as he leaves the White House. It is also racist, and a lot of African American leaders are beginning to find that out. It is absolutely indefensible to be intervening in Europe on humanitarian grounds, as opposed to strategic, and not be intervening in Africa.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It ignores national sovereignty -- very dangerous, poisonous.


 


MR. WARREN: For humanitarian reasons, we will become more, not less, interventionist, regardless of who wins the next presidential election.


 


MS. CLIFT: President Clinton is the first president in a long time to pay any attention to Africa at all, Arianna. So I'd watch your words about calling policy "racist."


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: He has paid no attention to Sierra Leone. It is racist, and I'm not just saying that. A lot of African American leaders, starting with Jesse Jackson, are saying it.


 


MS. CLIFT: We don't have treaty obligations with a lot of those countries. Second of all, you do have to take into consideration -- (inaudible due to cross talk) --


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, can I interrupt this -- excuse me, can I interrupt this loving dialogue? The answer is, it will probably not be reinvoked because of the horror that it has unleashed and magnified in its current usage.


 


When we come back, interventionism in the bathroom.


 


(Announcements.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Interventionism on the home front.


 


REP. JOE KNOLLENBERG (R-MI): (From videotape.) The big message is essentially get the government out of our toilets.


 


(Sound of flushing toilets is heard periodically during this segment.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What Congressman Knollenberg is saying is that the U.S. government has no right to regulate the amount of water it takes to flush our toilets. For many, this domestic interventionism by the Feds, right into the toilet, is a seriocomic object lesson on the wild excesses of Washington governance. Ever since Congress passed a toilet-bowl water law back in 1992, it's been a flood of controversy.


 


What the Michigan Republican wants to do is have the '92 law rescinded. Instead of a federal regulation that toilets flush no more than 1.6 gallons of water, which is less than one-half of the previous commercial standard of 3.5 gallons, Knollenberg wants the Feds out. Let the states and localities decide. People are complaining, and plumbers agree, namely, that the old toilets, one, flush better; two, handle more solid volume; three, are much less likely to back up; four, are more hygienic because less surface cleaning is required; and five, would kill the black market in old toilets.


 


The demand for these 3.5 gallon toilets is great, and a black market has sprung to life with people paying top dollar for the hold hoppers. Also, paradoxically, the new toilets' very intended purpose -- to save water -- is defeated. Often two or three flushes are needed to do the job a single flush used to do.


 


Hundreds of letters have been received by Congressman Knollenberg from Americans everywhere supporting his toilet reform. Many of the letters are written on toilet paper.


 


Question: What's the public policy objection to federally mandated toilet tank water limit? Is it in fact some kind of a constitutional matter insofar as states' rights would prevail here, don't you think? Or do you think it's properly a role that the federal government should play?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: You know what, John, I have a sign on my desk that says, "Not everything matters." And there is one thing I learned in my economics course and it is the opportunity cost of things. Anytime we're worrying about toilet flushing we're not worrying about something else that arguably is more important than the federally mandated volume.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James?


 


MR. WARREN: Well, first of all, may I compliment you. Your use of natural sound ranks right up there with Fellini and Francis Ford Coppola. Impressive.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Chuckles.)


 


MR. WARREN: I also assume that you see diminished flushing power as a symbol of diminished American influence and credibility.


 


But the fact also is, Consumer Reports has looked into this issue. They find that the vast majority of the 25 million new toilets are just fine. And something you forgot to mention here is before the federal government mandated this, 17 separate states had done the same thing for environmental and cost reasons.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well I think on the state level that's fine, but for Washington to get involved here, it opens the door where you have a concentration of power here that is totally in appropriate.


 


MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on! (Laughs.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What they would like to do next is the shower heads. In fact, that may be a matter of law now. Is there anything that is more disappointing than a limp shower, than a dribbly shower? Could you -- do you like dribbly showers? Are we going to have that too?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: A limp shower!


 


MR. BARONE: John, I'm not going to get into personal preference on showers on this broadcast. But the fact is I think the federal government is -- constitutionally can intervene here. I think this law goes to the Congress's power --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Under what rubric?


 


MR. BARONE: Under regulating interstate commerce here. You're standardizing -- the argument is you're standardizing things, therefore, it makes it easier to sell.


 


The real harm here is --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that there are --


 


MR. BARONE: I think this is not like the case of the Guns in Schools Act, which the Supreme Court in 1995 ruled unconstitutional because it was too disconnected from commerce, didn't have anything to do with commerce. I think this clearly does. Toilets are for sale; they are sold across state lines. That's okay.


 


I think it's trivial here in part because -- this law -- because it was put in, as many regulations supposedly in the interest of consumers are, by the manufacturers. They wanted to cut their costs by having one standard size --


 


MS. CLIFT: Mike, do you have a book coming out on this subject any time soon? (Laughter.)


 


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to move it forward.


 


MS. CLIFT: I want to make a point.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, before you make your point --


 


MS. CLIFT: There's an easy -- no, this is --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to see whether you can handle this question. If the feds can order us to use water-rationing toilets, what's next? Could it, for example, be gasoline? There are a lot of environmentalists now who really deplore the use of the automobile. They would like to restrict -- they would like to see European style taxes on our gasoline. Is that going to be done too?


 


MS. CLIFT: First of all, I remember the gasoline crisis and we were limited in the amount that we could buy. So there are realities that intrude. And the reality on the toilets is we need to conserve water. But there's a solution. How about a toilet that has a McLaughlin Super Flush and maybe a Clift Mini Flush, and pro choice?


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You raise an interesting point. We may be forced into buying pressurized super flushers, which are, to some people, frightening, okay? (Suppressing a laugh.) But the cost of these is terrific.


 


Now, the fact that you said some Americans happen to like this --


 


MS. CLIFT: Maybe whole people could go down!


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- doesn't mean that it's good public policy. It is vicious public policy!


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: But, John, remember, we are not debating whether this policy should be instituted, we are debating whether we should be wasting time trying to get rid of it. I mean, I have a long list of things I want to get rid of before I worry about toilet flushing volume.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is the camel's nose under the tent, however, Arianna. You have to approach it that way.


 


Exit: Will Congressman Knollenberg get enough support to flush the federal toilet-tank water limits down the privy?


 


I ask you, Michael.


 


MR. BARONE: He might. I don't think it's going to go beyond the House Commerce Committee this Congress.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?


 


MS. CLIFT: I agree. Too trivial even for Congress. (Laughs.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Arianna?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: I agree with Eleanor~!


 


MR. WARREN: No. And furthermore, the Clinton Doctrine will not mandate the change in flushing power in other countries across the globe.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This Congress does not have the testosterone to resist even the "Looney Tunes" environmentalists who have provoked this monstrosity on the American scene.


 


Issue three: Brawl over sprawl. More federal interventionism.


 


VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (From videotape.) With smart growth, we can take back our neighborhoods from sprawl and make the places our kids call home much more than desolate stretches of structures and roads.


 


(Excerpt from song about "Suburbia" is played.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Al Gore wants to end suburbia as we know it. The vice president is worried about urban sprawl; namely, too many Americans moving from densely populated cities to less populated spread-out suburbs. So Gore is pushing his, quote, unquote, "livability agenda" to whit: One, control growth; two, urban redevelopment; three, less traffic; four, more parks. But will the anti-sprawl issue work in the year 2000? Many observers say no. One: "Sprawl is no problem. The current rate of sprawl consumes just .02 of 1 percent of total U.S. land each year, a microscopic mass." Two: "Sprawl is no federal issue. Suburban growth is controlled by local governments using precise legal instruments like zoning laws, sewer extension regulations, home construction permits." As president, Gore could only control suburban development with clumsy, blunderbuss measures -- higher gasoline taxes, cuts in highway construction, eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, even on primary residences. Obviously, Gore wants no part of that unpopular platform, so his rhetoric is predictably silent on details.


 


Three: "Sprawl is beloved. It's popular. People want to live in the suburbs. A single family home with a yard for Junior and his dog and a two-car garage for dual-income Mom and Dad is not a social irritant. It's the American dream, especially for Baby Boomers like himself."


 


James, why is Al Gore running for mayor of the United States?


 


MR. WARREN: Maybe he thinks Bush is going to end up being president of the United States and he's going to need work. The premise here is way off. This is an issue that crosses party lines and the key thing here, if you look at places like Illinois, which has been a big open-market state, suburbanites are voting for increased taxes so they can preserve open land.


 


MS. CLIFT: Well, this is a hot issue --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I would say here that the goal, as with toilets, is to use federal leverage and laws to dictate every element of city and small town planning. It is inappropriate as a national policy.



MS. HUFFINGTON: Now, John, this is an issue produced by pollsters and focus group people. It has nothing to do with the problems facing America. It's about bike paths, worrying about compensation for lost luggage --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Environmentalists?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: No, not just environmentalists. It's really the small issues that prevailed in the last campaign --


 


MS. CLIFT: This is not a small issue. This is a family values issue, because the money people spend sitting on highways comes directly out of the time they spend with their family. And it's also an economic issue. We owe our boom to the Internet and the rapid communication, and when people sit in cars -- (inaudible due to cross talk) -- productivity.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: (Inaudible) -- in their communities --


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael?


 


MR. BARONE: This is a "little things" sort of campaign. It worked for Bill Clinton in '96 --


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: Exactly.


 


MR. BARONE: -- but I don't think it's going to work for Al Gore in '00. The question here, the interesting thing is, the intelligent thing to do if you don't like people moving out in the countryside is make the central cities more attractive. This is, in fact, happening. It is happening largely because crime is going down, the Clinton administration, in a minor way, has been helpful --


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: But Michael --


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. WARREN: One more -- for one more --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear James.


 


MR. WARREN: One more time, Arianna, Republicans and Democrats in the suburbs, in places like Du Page and Lake County, Illinois, Michael, and communities all across that area are voting to impose higher taxes to preserve open lands.


 


MR. BARONE: Yeah, then let them continue to do so, but the idea is --


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Arianna? Arianna?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: The most important thing politically is that let Al Gore run on protecting the suburbs and let George W. run on saving the inner cities. I love it!


 


MS. CLIFT: That won't happen. (Laughs.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do we think of urban -- urban --


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MS. CLIFT: The inner cities are part of --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: May I -- excuse me, excuse me --


 


MS. CLIFT: The inner cities are part --


 


(Cross talk continues.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- I want to make a point. (Cross talk.) Urban redevelopment today -- urban redevelopment is not building up, it's building down. It's reducing square footage in which people live, and that would create more parks. This is ridiculous.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: But it shows how disconnected people are.


 


MR. BARONE: Well, this is -- the fact is that Gore is talking the language of sort of architectural intellectuals who don't like the looks of strip highways. The fact is that --


 


MS. CLIFT: The quality of life -- it's the quality of life and it's families --


 


(Cross talk.)


 


MR. BARONE: The fact is that people are voting with their feet -- people have voted with their feet for the suburbs. Yes, they want less traffic congestion. But the important thing that I think is happening now is that central cities are becoming more attractive because crime is going down, the administration --


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a one-word answer. Will Gore hawk this issue in the 2000 election, yes or no?


 


MR. BARONE: He'll try and fail.


 


MS. CLIFT: Yes, and it'll be hot in California.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: Let him do it. It doesn't matter.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think he will, though?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: He will, but it doesn't matter.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?


 


MR. WARREN: If he is the nominee, perhaps.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no, he will not. He will see it for what it is.


 


We'll be right back with predictions.


 


(Announcements.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, predictions. Michael?


 


MR. BARONE: Trouble ahead for Democratic national chairman Joe Andrew, who did not get raves for his attack Chihuahuas following around George W. Bush around Iowa and New Hampshire.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift?


 


MS. CLIFT: Ben Cohen, CEO of Benny and Jerry's Ice Cream, and other business CEOs are going to put the issue of cutting the defense budget on the agenda in Iowa.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Arianna?


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: Things are going to get much worse in Kosovo. The KLA will get more vicious. Thousands more Serbs will flee. There will be a humanitarian crisis in Yugoslavia.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Making the point that you made in this program.


 


James?


 


MR. WARREN: Despite the commercial and artistic success of the Women's World Cup Soccer Championships, they will have scant long-term impact here. People won't pay to see games. Philistine Americans still don't understand the world's greatest sport.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Putting the accent on the second syllable.) Philistine, second syllable.


 


MS. CLIFT: No, I disagree. (Chuckles.)


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The U.S. trade deficit will climb to over 3 percent of GDP this year, a major worry, especially as the U.S. economy slows.


 


Next week: They're back -- Congress, that is -- and so is the Patients Bill of Rights. Can the Democrats hold their offensive? Bye-bye!


 


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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Big Brother under the hood: more interventionism.


 


WILLIAM WITROCK (Corvette owner): (From videotape.) I am very angry about this. And I would return the car today, if they would give me my money back, or I would like to have the box removed.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The "box" this angry car owner refers to is a "black box," like the data-recording kind found on airplanes. Except now it is in cars, for safety say car manufacturers, for snooping say privacy advocates.


 


Back in April, GM, General Motors, made public that these black boxes, actually computer chips, have already been installed as part of the air-bag sensing systems in hundreds of thousands of 1999 GM cars: Buick Century, Park Avenue, Regal; Cadillac Eldorado, DeVille, Seville; Chevy Camaro, Corvette; Pontiac Firebird. And GM has the federal government's encouragement.


 


PHIL HASELTINE (American Coalition for Traffic Safety): (From videotape.) It has got an air-bag system that is more likely to deploy better, in an optimal manner, in a real-world crash. And that is what it is all about -- designing safer cars.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pre-'99 sensors have always recorded car speed at the moment of impact. But the new chips collect much more data, five seconds before an actual crash, including: one, car speed; two, whether the driver was wearing a seat belt; three, whether the driver used the brake; four, what position the accelerator was in; five, the exact time the air bag deploys; six, whether the warning light signaling that the air bags needed servicing, was illuminated at the time.


 


GM can then plot the collision on a computer. That is where privacy advocates freak out. Lawyers say GM could use the information against drivers in court.


 


LARRY POZNER (defense lawyer): (From videotape.) I didn't license them to use my car as their crash vehicle. They have no right to intrude on my private property.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Should Washington make laws putting limits on data storage in automobile microchips? Eleanor Clift.


 


MS. CLIFT: As you point out, it is the equivalent of the airplane black box. It's entirely appropriate. It's to affix responsibility for faulty cars or for behavior patterns on the part -- we might actually learn something that keeps people from being killed.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the day coming where we will have, implanted subcutaneously, a microchip from birth? Is that what we are headed for, as far as an invasion of privacy?


 


MR. WARREN: Exactly. And probably by the Chinese, too. (Laughter.) You never know.


 


The precedent here is Indianapolis-style race cars have had them since 1993, and it is one reason they are considered the safest anywhere.


 


MS. HUFFINGTON: I don't care what the precedent is; it's completely inappropriate. I don't want the car company putting their black box in my car, to blame me and absolve them of corporate responsibility.


 


MR. BARONE: Arianna, in that case you have a very clear alternative. Don't buy one of those General Motors cars.


 


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of the issue? Quickly.


 


MR. BARONE: Let's keep the federal government out of it and see how the marketplace goes on. If Mr. Corvette owner on the screen doesn't want a car like that, let him sell it and buy another car. It's a free country.


 


MS. CLIFT: Right.


 


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