Ross Mackenzie

A rundown of issues large and small currently in the news . . .

President Bush gets most of the ratings ink, with relentless noting that he boasts the lowest public approval of any president in the history of polling. It’s true: One poll has him at 31 percent favorable, another at 32. But approval ratings for Congress are worse — and plunging: One poll has Congress at 22 percent favorable, another at 18, and still another (please sit down for this) at 11.

Let us recall that this is a Democratic Congress, whose distinguished leaders a year ago pledged to take Congress not to new depths of public support, but to new heights. Could it be that Congress has gone in the opposite direction because it, for instance: (1) borks Ted Olson’s prospective nomination for attorney general; (2) attaches a homosexual hate-crimes measure to a bill funding U.S. troop operations in Iraq; (3) plays games with continued aid to Latin America’s toughest (and most successful) regime on indigenous drugs (Colombia’s); and (4) even now refuses to approve just one of a dozen appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 — including the defense authorization bill for the troops the Democrats insist they support?

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In Venezuela, strongman Hugo Chavez has followed his confiscation of the assets of foreign oil companies with (a) threats to take over private schools; and (b) borrowing a page from Leninist cutthroat Robert Mugabe’s book in Zimbabwe, the nationalization of farms and their operation by co-ops of city dwellers (who are blowing the job big-time). (2) In nearby Bolivia, strongman Evo Morales has taken Chavez’ advice and exchanged ambassadors with the inimitable Iran of always peaceful intent.

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Question: On what college campuses these days is it OK to invite Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to present his views, but to disinvite the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)?

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More and more colleges — most of them small liberal arts types — are saying they won’t provide information to U.S. News & World Report for its comparative college survey — a magazine long irrelevant in the news business that probably is equally irrelevant in the college-ratings business. Yet many colleges now are refusing to play with U.S. News, just as many others are refusing to consider SAT scores in their application process. SATs aren’t the be-all, but they can help in a world of vast grade differentials from school to school around the country. As for ratings, two figures can pretty clearly indicate the story about any college: (a) the average SAT scores of the entering class, and (b) in that same entering class — of those accepted, the percentage matriculating.

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The latest word from U.S. commanders in Iraq is that al-Qaida may have been just about rubbed out. If true, will I-was-wrong confessions soon follow from critics of the U.S. enterprise post-Saddam?

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Regarding Blackwater: Why contract protection of individuals and facilities in Iraq to U.S. mercenaries instead of to U.S. special forces — the latter governed of course, as mercenaries are not, by the U.S. Code of Conduct? Has Blackwater been an improvised explosive device, albeit of a different sort, just waiting to go off?

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In the West, where water is the most precious commodity, seven states draw from the Colorado River — the water made possible by major dams. Environmentalists have detested the dams since before John Nance Garner. As if to emphasize their continuing hostility at a time of diminished rain and snowmelt flowing out of the Rockies into the Colorado, five environmental groups have sued the Interior Department to protect certain species of fish native to the Grand Canyon — including the humpback chub and the razorback sucker. The ultimate step on behalf of “native species” would be to decommission — i.e., blow up — the dams. Then environmentalists would have their chubs and suckers, but those in the West depending on the Colorado for water wouldn’t have a drop.

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Quick takes: (1) The unionized percentage of the U.S. private-sector (non-government) workforce now stands at a paltry 7.4 percent (the unionized percentage for government workers is about 36 percent). (2) In August, Ted Kennedy cast his 15,000th Senate vote — an attainment of only two other Senators, Robert Byrd and the late Strom Thurmond. Oh, and (3) from 1999 through 2006, the number of spas in the U.S. rose 232 percent — from 4,143 to 13,757.


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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