The draft, Congressional spendthrifts, CEO compensation, etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Jan 06, 2005 12:00 AM

Brief comments on five items in the news:

The Pentagon will increase the number of troops in Iraq as the elections there approach - elections President Bush resists delaying, contrary to the wishes of anti-democrats everywhere. The increase in troops will cause yet another hardship on those in the U.S. military - active duty, Reserves, and National Guard.

A standard line says, I told you so, and the force augmentation takes us another step toward the inevitable resumption of a draft. There can be no doubt the nation requires a larger military cohort and greater appreciation of what the military does. But a draft is not the way to go. Reason: Because some serve and some do not, a draft is inherently unfair.

A fundamental lesson of the 1960s was that in a modern liberal democracy, the fairness issue renders politically unsustainable any draft that is substantially less than universal. What the nation needs is a one-year civilian-based program of universal service for all men and women 18-23, no exceptions, with a front-end military component - the equivalent of boot camp. The nation would receive one year of give-back from the young, with the added benefit that the military would win (a) greater appreciation and (b) a partly trained manpower pool from which it could draw in times of a stressed and stretched military - such as now.

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Dan Rather is about to leave and Tom Brokaw has gone. Some are saying good riddance to both. Others see Brokaw as the less-egregious and wish he were still at NBC anchoring on.

Among network anchors, CBS' Rather scrapes along the bottom - no doubt about that. Over Thanksgiving weekend America Online asked its customers to rank the anchors on the basis of excellent, good, fair or poor; more than 110,000 responded.

Brokaw's numbers: 41 percent excellent, 11 percent poor. Rather's - close to a mirror image: 41 percent poor, 22 percent excellent. Even an apology from Rather to President Bush for the former's autumn slam on the latter with bogus "memos" about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard - an apology yet to come - probably would not raise Rather above the level of a bottom-feeder in public esteem.

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Are spending growth and wild-blue-yonder deficits always caused by a president, as some charged regarding President Bush during the elections? No indeed. A large part of the problem - the largest? - is Congress.

Think about it.

Congress has concluded its 108th session. Beginning with the 102nd session, members of the House submitted 5,756 bills to increase spending, and just 1,158 to cut it. In the same period, senators offered 3,896 bills to raise spending and 504 bills to reduce it. What's more, the trends are headed the wrong way: In both houses the 107th and 108th sessions marked the low point for the numbers of bills to cut spending and the high point for bills to raise it.

So Congress is heavily complicit in soaring federal spending, whether of the deficit variety or not. And it even may be the principal perpetrator.

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Buried in a news story about Bill Clinton's heart bypass surgery was this comment by the wifely Hillary: Bill is going to be fine, and "we're delighted we have good health insurance. That makes a big difference. And I hope someday everybody will be able to say the same thing." She was talking about the federal health insurance program in which the Clintons are fortunate to participate - a program she says she wants "citizens" to be able "to buy into."

Whereupon the mind said: "Huh?"

Then during the campaign, other key Democrats raised the point time and again. In the vice-presidential debate, John Edwards said: "We're going to make the same health care that's available to members of Congress available to all Americans." John Kerry's Web site noted with eerie similarity: "The Kerry-Edwards plan will give all Americans access to the same range of affordable plans currently available to members of Congress."

This space long has advocated offering the choice-loaded Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) to everyday average Americans, a notion long opposed by congressional liberals. The fact that leftist pols have recanted is great good news, because - now having changed their words - they can change their votes and thereby help Congress extend the FEHBP to everyone. But they might not be so eager to put their votes where their mouths are. Hillary, for instance, says she thinks all Americans should be able to buy into the FEHBP, yet when a pilot program analogous to it was proposed, the lifelong Yankees fan wanted her state to be exempt.

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And speaking of the mind going "Huh?": How about the obscenity of big-time CEO compensation as compared not with the everyday rest of us but with the president of the United States?

In 1960, presidents pulled down $100,000 a year; in 1970, their annual salary went to $200,000. The presidential salary rose to $400,000 in 2001, where it remains.

Now consider the compensation of the CEOs of the country's 500 biggest companies. In 1960, their average compensation was 1.9 times the president's. The CEO average peaked at 65.5 times the presidential salary in 2000, only to drop back in 2002, largely reflecting a stumbling economy and stock market.

But even given a discrepancy factor just one-fourth the peak, the inquiring mind has to wonder what makes any board of directors anywhere think any CEO - in any year - should earn $7 million, or 18.5 times as much as the individual holding the world's most crucial job.