Still under God

Posted: Jul 05, 2002 12:00 AM
The State Department wants the rest of the world to hear that the United States, for the time being at least, remains "under God." An unclassified dispatch obtained by this column Tuesday from Secretary of State Colin Powell's office in Washington to all diplomatic and consular posts around the globe, states: "SUBJECT: PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE RECITATION "Wednesday's decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals found that the teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools violated the Constitution because it includes the words 'under God.' This decision has not yet taken effect, and has been placed on hold indefinitely while the other judges decide whether to reconsider the case. "Furthermore, this was a specific court opinion applicable to that particular situation and location. "Consequently, the State Department's legal (adviser) assures me that employees at post may publicly recite the pledge at any appropriate event, including official Independence Day events, as well as all other occasions." HARDENING THE CIA American citizens could turn out to be the biggest obstacle to preventing domestic terrorism, says a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "It is a decent bet that many, if not most, Americans would have little stomach for a real war on terrorism on the home front," writes former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht, citing public opposition to "extensive ethnic and religious profiling that could come to dominate numerous aspects of American life." American values, he explains, instead will require that the war be fought overseas - by a beefed-up CIA that thus far has been unable to penetrate Osama bin Laden's world. "While this job is extremely difficult, it is not impossible," says Gerecht, although he says the CIA will have to abandon its "Cold War structure" of posting operatives under embassy and consular cover far removed from radical Islamic terrorist cells. "Washington-based (CIA) officers jet-setting out to the Middle East aren't likely to cross paths with Muslim militants either," he points out. Rather, the current enemy "operates out of religious schools, Muslim fraternal associations and import-export businesses," he says. "To deal with this threat, the agency has to have a majority of its operatives abroad operating under non-official cover. We need Arabic-speaking officers and foreign agents able to penetrate Muslim communities in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, where terrorists are finding shelter and recruits." Gerecht concludes that much now depends on President Bush's willingness to take on the intelligence establishment and "force the CIA to become more clever, more aggressive and much less comfortable." EDUCATE ELSEWHERE A new paper by Harvard economist George Borjas argues for a wholesale re-evaluation of this country's foreign-student program. The good professor says the seemingly sensible, and even noble, aims of the program mask the fact that it fails to serve the national interest. Consider these findings: The net gain to the economy from the employment of foreign students and foreign graduates is less than $1 billion per year. The 275,000 foreign students at public institutions alone receive a subsidy from U.S. taxpayers of about $2.5 billion per year. About 74,000 U.S. schools have been certified by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to accept foreign students. SOLAR SAWING Those catastrophic forest fires burning in Arizona are now 60 percent contained, and Matthew Specht, spokesman for Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, tells us fire crews are hoping for "complete containment by Sunday (July 7)." Flake, a Republican member of the House Resources Committee, will no doubt be paying close attention to future preventative measures to decrease the severity of such fires, including controversial forest thinning. "Since the beginning of the devastating fires in Colorado and Arizona, many environmentalists finally conceded that some forest thinning is needed to prevent these types of severe fires," notes Flake. "However, one group, Forest Guardians, suggests thinning the forest using 'solar-powered' chain saws." Solar-powered chain saws? "I know my way around the hardware store pretty well," the congressman chuckles, "but I've never seen the solar-powered-chain saw section." Kirsten Stade, a member of the Forest Guardians, was quoted in a recent East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune article as saying the group supports forest thinning so long as it does not benefit commercial loggers and is done with solar-powered chain saws. "We all know that some radical environmentalists have too much influence on our forest policy," notes Flake. "But it's clear that some also have too much time on their hands." FEAR OF AMERICANS Everybody in Washington - or so we hope - is well aware that 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers of Sept. 11 obtained visas to enter the United States in Saudi Arabia, where Uncle Sam still permits them to be distributed by travel agents or "drop boxes." In fact, Saudi Arabians wishing to travel to the United States typically are not interviewed by the State Department. On the other hand, Americans desiring to travel to Saudi Arabia won't find the going easy - if they can go at all. "Tourist visas are not available for travel to Saudi Arabia," says a written notice issued by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington. As for those Americans applying for business visas (not to exceed 30 days), an "invitation" from the Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia is required, the embassy notice adds. And get a load of this: Work permits will not be issued to any American who doesn't first undergo an "AIDS test." "U.S. test sometimes accepted," add the Saudis, who obviously prefer their own testing methods. AMERICA'S DISCONNECT The 2000 presidential election was the closest in 125 years in terms of electoral vote difference. It was the second closest election (behind 1960) in the percentage of vote difference between the two leading candidates. Yet, a bare majority of the voting age population - just 50 percent - cast ballots. "Hardly an endorsement of the idea of electoral resurgence," concludes the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate in Washington, which has uncovered a continuing and progressive generational decline in voting. In fact, Americans aged 18-20 have reduced their rate of participation by more than 40 percent since they were given the franchise in 1972 in both presidential and mid-term elections. And worse yet, as each succeeding generation moves up the age ladder, they are reducing the rates in the age cohorts above them. Consider these facts: -- The rate of presidential voting participation of Americans aged 18-24 has declined 40 percent since 1972, according to U.S. Census data. -- The rate of participation for ages 25-34 has declined 32 percent since 1964. -- The decline for 35-44 year olds is 23 percent since 1964. -- The voting rate for 45-54 year olds is down 16 percent since 1964. -- There is a 9 percent decline for 55-64 year olds since 1964. "Only those over 65 have actually increased their rate of participation," the committee finds, noting that Americans above age 75 casting presidential ballots has jumped 21 percent (part of the reason is Americans are living longer). What do these numbers spell for the future of America? "This generational decline will not be reversed until some new generation gets different stimuli in the home, their schools and in the macrocosm of American politics," says the CSAE. LESS ELEGANT Americans are applauding Laura Bush even more than they did a year ago, and her public image is said to be better defined during these hardened days of war. In fact, Mrs. Bush's negative rating - unchanged from last year at just 8 percent - remains much lower that those of other recent first ladies, according to the Pew Research Center, which finds 70 percent now approve of the way Laura Mrs. Bush is handling her job. Asked for one-word descriptions of the first lady, responses are almost uniformly positive. The word "nice" leads the list, but terms like "honest," "confident" and "sincere" are mentioned much more often than a year ago. And fewer people now describe Mrs. Bush as "elegant," which these days isn't such a bad thing.