Ross Mackenzie

Having forced votes — and amassing an 0-40 record — on measures limiting deployments or demanding a pullout of U.S. troops, the congressional Democrats now are refusing to vote until oh, maybe next year on President Bush’s $196 billion request for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Democrats are behaving this outrageously even when a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds Iraq (46 percent) and terrorism (23 percent) two of the top issues voters think the federal government should address.

Notes the president, correctly: “Unfortunately, on too many issues, some in Congress are behaving as if America is not at war. . . . This is no time for Congress to hold back vital funding for our troops as they fight al-Qaida terrorists and radicals in Afghanistan and Iraq.” And this at precisely the moment news from Iraq has turned relatively good.

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Foreign Service officers swear an oath to go where the secretary of state sends them. Now hundreds of them (at least) are objecting to assignments to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Evidently they are (1) spoiled elitists unaccustomed to dirtying their hands in difficult posts, (2) unconvinced by the news of improving prospects for freedom and stability in Iraq, and/or (3) disrespectful of American troops and their achievements there

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Shortages of nurses and of physicians in certain medical subspecialties are well known. Less so is the developing shortage of general surgeons. Dr. James Neifeld, chairman of the department of surgery at Rchmond’s Medical College of Virginia, gets specific in a guest editorial in Surgery News: “The early retirement of many general surgeons (for reasons such as burnout, disgust with bureaucratic paperwork, and declining reimbursement), in conjunction with the increase in population, has resulted in an almost 50 percent decrease in the number of general surgeons per 1 million people” since 1975.

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Anyone suggesting that Rudy Giuliani is a “liberal on social issues” or whatever, should cogitate his November speech to the Federalist Society. Laying out for the assembled lawyers a markedly conservative legal agenda, he cited Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts as models for the judges he would send up for the federal courts.

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Of course, there’s always — inevitably? — Hillary Clinton. Among her Senate efforts this fall was to add a $1 million federal earmark for a museum at the site of the 1969 Woodstock love-in and zone-out concert in upstate New York. Even this Senate killed the earmark — perhaps not so much because it would have been idiotic federal spending, as because the site is owned by a Clinton donor who, worth $1.3 billion — easily could finance the museum himself.

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And speaking of Giuliani and Sen. Clinton, an inquiry. Perhaps the single-naming phenomenon began with Elvis and Ann-Margret — and followed, in the entertainment realm, with Cher, Bono and Oprah. Will the race for the presidency reduce to one without surnames — Rudy vs. Hillary?

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A potpourri of items affecting the young: (a) Sixth- through eighth-grade girls at King Middle School in Portland, Maine now can get a birth-control patch or pill simply for the asking — and parents will not be notified. (b) A Colorado Springs elementary school has banned tag on the playground; running is OK, but no chasing. Other schools around the country have banned, among other things: teeter-totters, merry-go-rounds, crawl-tubes, sandboxes, swings, and (oh, yes) hugs.

(c) In Philadelphia, the Boy Scouts’ Cradle of Liberty Council soon may be booted from the Beaux-Art building its headquarters has called home for $1 a year since 1928. Reason? The Scouts’ policy relating to homosexuality, sustained seven years ago by the Supreme Court because the Boy Scouts is a private organization. Philadelphia’s solicitor says the Scouts’ policy violates the city’s “fair practices” law: “We will not subsidize (the Scouts’) discrimination by passing on the costs to the people of Philadelphia.”

And (d) the National Endowment for the Arts has issued a new report, “To Read or Not to Read” — on reading proficiency among pupils and students. NEA chairman Dana Gioia sums up the findings: “We are doing a better job of teaching kids to read in elementary school. But once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading. Because these people then read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they do more poorly in school, in the job market, and in civic life.”

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Probably no one ever would have thunk it, but now one of the worst evils on the planet supposedly is . . . corn. Really. Prices are up not only for corn but other commodities, because the more corn that is planted the less room, e.g., for soybeans — and so soybean prices rise. High-fructose corn syrup contributes to national obesity. The conversion of corn to biofuels such as ethanol — so long ballyhooed by environmentalists — now is running into doubts about practicality and air pollution, not to mention water pollution caused by fertilizer runoff.

“The gist of the criticism,” according to a page-one story in The Washington Post: “So much corn, doing so many things, serving as both food and fuel, and backed by billions of dollars in government subsidies, has been bad for America and the rest of the world.” Oh dear.


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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