Ross Mackenzie
The new year begins but old issues endure.... President Bush has proposed an outstanding package of incentives (e.g., for small businesses) and tax cuts (e.g., (a) making permanent the temporary cuts passed in 2001 and (b) eliminating taxes on dividends) - to the predictable caterwauling of the predictable people. Yet, popular support is overwhelming. Take incentives for small-business start-ups: An "Investor's Business Daily" poll found nothing less than 60-percent support among key minorities, all income groups, and all political constituencies (Republicans, Democrats and independents). Among Hispanics support is running at 76 percent - the highest among any group polled - and, among African-Americans, 62 percent. What is the status of support for war with Iraq? Ninety percent of Americans think we're going to war, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll; most believe Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. And consider this, from a Post news story on the poll's findings: "(Sixty percent) favor using nuclear weapons against Iraq if Saddam Hussein attacks U.S. military forces with chemical or biological weapons." Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, a Korean War combat veteran, thinks that under the principle of "shared sacrifice" the United States should re-institute the draft. That way, members of Congress would be voting to send their own children into war against e.g. Iraq, a war he opposes. Rangel may be right, but only partly. What better moment than this to embrace one year of compulsory national service, with an initial eight-week military component, for all the nation's young - men and women - between 18 and 23? It would (a) restore national appreciation for the military and (b) revive the nation's sagging soul. As author Frank Schaeffer asks, "Have we wealthy and educated Americans ... gotten used to having somebody else defend us? What is the future of our democracy when the sons and daughters of the janitors at our elite universities are far more likely to be put in harm's way than are many of the students whose dorms their parents clean They said it couldn't be done, and shouldn't be - development of a system in Alaska to intercept enemy missiles targeted for American cities. Ronald Reagan proposed the concept; critics belittled it, dismissed it as "Star Wars" stuff, and warned such a system not only would violate treaties but also anger - most prominently - the Russians. Yet, this President Bush has persisted - with tests sufficiently successful for the administration to announce the building of a limited system of 20 interceptor missiles by 2004. The system may come just in time. North Korea has a nuclear bomb, and may develop more. It and Iraq, Iran and Libya also are seeking to acquire delivery missiles. Enemy offensive capability demands our own countervailing defensive measures, as in Alaska now. In case you missed it, UN data show a sudden rise in crime in Britain - rendering it one of the world's most criminalized countries. One dismayed British writer notes that British "citizens are much more likely to be attacked or robbed on the street, or have their houses burgled, than their counterparts in, say, Russia or South Africa, let alone the U.S." The response of Prime Minister Tony Blair to the stark rise in crime, much of it carried out with guns? Proposals to tighten Britain's already stringent gun laws. In the face of rising gun violence, how much sense does it make - ever - to further disarm the law-abiding? In the continuing saga pitting the federal government against Indian tribes, the tribes now say that during the past 115 years the Bureau of Indian Affairs has cheated them out of $137 (BEGIN ITAL) billion . And they're going to court - again. This one may last a while, so stay tuned. If the government cheated or thieved, there, of course, should be restitution. One hopes it would come with the stipulation, as should be applied to gaming revenues at Indian casinos, that hefty percentages of the monies must be plowed into the reservations themselves. Ah, the Postal Service. Let's see: Though it just reported a quarterly profit, the USPS owes the Treasury $11 billion. Since 1971 it has lost $6 billion. Recently it has cut 23,000 jobs through attrition, yet 80 percent of its costs still are labor-related. First-class stamps now cost 37 cents, while the USPS contracts the transport of first-class, express and priority mail to Federal Express. The USPS remains a quasi-government operation mired in arcane labor laws allowing only one working window with oh, 2,000 people in line - or something. Here's an idea: Go postal, and while there's still time go whole-hog toward privatization - à la Sweden and New Zealand. And what about the airlines? They're saddled with $100 billion in debt ($9 billion in the current year alone); 80,000 workers have lost their jobs, with more firings on the way. Two major airlines (USAir and United) have filed for bankruptcy, likely soon to be joined by most others. The problem? Again, labor. Airline labor negotiations are governed by the 1926 Railway Labor Act - a law written in a different era for a different industry. Write former Transportation Secretaries Jim Burnley and Neil Goldschmidt: "Instead of preventing strikes, (the act) sours the relationship with employees, leads to unreliable service, and often results in strikes or the threat of strikes. Its legacy is years of crippling mutual distrust and unproductive negotiations." Their solution? Have Congress "fix the Railway Labor Act for the airlines" - and soon. Have standards of right and wrong, good and bad, collapsed into relativistic situationalism in the eyes of certain mainline church hierarchs? Here is New Hampshire's Catholic Bishop John McCormack, in a deposition last fall, on his concerns about homosexual sex between one of his diocesan priests and a teenage boy not in the priest's parish: "You know, one is an activity where you have a trusted relationship with a parishioner. The other is an activity where you're away from the parish and you're off on your own. I'm very concerned about (the incident); he was a young person. But it's quite different from being with a parishioner."

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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