On celebrity cases, Dean, the Dow, the pill, vapid voices, etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Dec 22, 2003 12:00 AM

A raft of items worthy of comment in the year's end news...

The quote of the year, surely, comes from a 19-year-old Spec. 4 with uncommon presence of mind - standing over the recently opened spider hole in Iraq. As another U.S. soldier was about to toss a grenade into the hole, a head appeared, preceded by raised hands. The head said, "I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate." Responded the Spec. 4: "President Bush sends his regards."

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A Chesapeake jury convicted Lee Malvo in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper case. Now it is deciding whether to fry him, which he amply deserves. Those opposing the death penalty in his case, and John Muhammad's, are the same types suggesting Saddam Hussein does not, in fact, define precisely the sort of individual for whom death penalties are designed. John Hinckley, who tried to kill President Reagan, missed the death penalty by reason of insanity (or jurisprudential stupidity), and now is taking weekends under the supervision of his parents.

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Malvo is down, and the fey Saddam and the effete Michael Jackson (with seven counts of child molestation). What's up? The Dow. Two weeks ago it closed above 10,000 for the first time since May 2002. (The Dow initially broke above the 10,000 level in late March 1999.) The economy is hotting up, driving the Dow and other key stock averages skyward. Was anyone, after 9/11, predicting the economy and stock market would take to heart this quickly the cry heard that fateful day, "Let's roll!"?

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Howard Dean is taking some heavy incoming fire from others in the Democratic presidential pack. Joe Lieberman terms Dean "soft on defense and (in his tax policies) hard on the middle class." John Kerry, noting the contradictions in what flows from Dean's mouth, notes Dean said recently (a) "I never said Saddam was a danger to the United States - ever," yet in September 2002, on "Face the Nation" said (b) "There is no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States. The question is: Is he an immediate threat?"

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Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a blunt-spoken Kurdish mountain guerrilla who fought against Saddam's regime, thinks Saddam is plenty bad - the UN, too. Last week he told the UN Security Council: "One year ago the Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable. The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure." The UN's smug Kofi Annan, speaking perhaps for all champagne socialists too sophisticated to be appalled, responded to Zebari: "Now is not the time to pin blame and point fingers."

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Two panels of experts have voted 23-4 to urge the Food and Drug Administration to drop the prescription requirement for certain post-intercourse "morning-after" pills such as the one marketed as Plan B. This space long has favored the sale of such pills, and of the French-developed abortion pill known as RU-486, by prescription only. Five states already allow OTC sale of Plan B, but the federal government - through the FDA - should not.

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Prescriptions may be inconvenient and embarrassing, yet perhaps in this sort of situation they should remain so. Plan B and Preven and RU-486 are not mere candy or aspirin. In a "me-ist" hour of doing your own thing and worrying about it later, incrementalism is a dubious road. The Pill (pre-intercourse) remains available only by prescription. Where lies right reason in applying a different standard to post-intercourse pills that may prove, for those who take them, even more problematic than The Pill?

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Do key TV voices have objective brains attached to them? ABC's Peter Jennings, on the day of the news about Saddam's apprehension: "People have suggested to us today there's not a good deal for Iraqis to be happy about at the moment. ... In some respects, Iraqis keep telling us life is not as stable for them as it was when Saddam Hussein was in power." And.

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CBS' Lesley Stahl, in an interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, worrying about how Saddam will be treated: "Let me raise the whole question, for lack of a better term, (of) torture. Let's say he's not forthcoming. Would we deprive him of sleep? Would we make it very cold where he is, or very hot? Are there any restrictions on the way we treat him to get him to cooperate more than he has been?"