No trespassing

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 14, 2003 12:00 AM

Developers aren't the only ones gobbling up land in this country. Uncle Sam's been increasing his spread, too.

Buying up too many acres, says Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wy.), whose "No-Net-Loss of Private Lands Act" legislation would limit additional federal land acquisition in so-called public land states.

"This is especially true for those of us living in the West," says Thomas. "Roughly 50 percent of the land in my home state of Wyoming is owned by the federal government." (If you think that's a lot, more than 80 percent of the surface land in Nevada and Alaska is owned by the federal government - with additional purchases every day.)

Thomas's legislation would require the government to release an equal value of land when acquiring property in states that are at least 25 percent federally owned. And environmentalists will be happy to read that the act would do nothing to limit the government from acquiring additional pristine areas, like national parks.

As it stands now, the senator says, Uncle Sam's quest for additional land has included "too many areas that do not contribute to our natural resource heritage," which has restricted access and created hardships for local communities by destroying jobs and depressing the economy.

"Unfortunately, the federal government has not always been a good neighbor to the people of the West," he says.

SOCCER BOOTS

A U.S. congressman is asking the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation to take the lead in scheduling as soon as feasible home-and-away "friendlies" between the U.S. and Iraqi national soccer teams.

"Sports can be a very powerful means to bring people together," Assistant Majority Whip J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) writes in a letter to S. Robert Contiguglia.

A TV sportscaster in his previous life, Hayworth recalls horrific stories of Iraqi team players, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, being threatened before matches "and tortured after them if their performance was not up to the standards of ... Hussein's sadistic son, Uday, who was Iraq's sports czar.

"Players and coaches were regularly jailed, beaten on the bottoms of their feet with sticks or on their backs with electric cables, spat at, punched and worse," he says. "One particularly horrible torture device was a sarcophagus with long nails pointing inward from every surface to puncture and suffocate victims. Even family members were jailed and tortured as a way to intimidate and control players and coaches."

The congressman says he was touched by the recent story of a local Iraqi soccer team - the Najaf Poets - thrashing an informal squad of U.S. Marines. The score was 7-0.

"By the end of the match, the 600 Iraqi fans were cheering on the overmatched Americans, who played in fatigues and combat boots," Hayworth says.

UNITED EVIL

Rep. Vito J. Fossella (R-N.Y.) was born on Staten Island and today has district offices there and in Brooklyn, both within sight of the United Nations.

The 38-year-old lawmaker is polite in referring to a "culture of carelessness" at the United Nations and resolution H.R. 800, which would "reform" the world body by reducing funding for the Commission on Human Rights - "hijacked by terrorist nations," he says - and other panels like it.

"The latest outrage is Cuba," he says. "The (Cuban) dictatorship is in the midst of a brutal crackdown, having executed three men for trying to escape Cuba and imprisoned dozens of others for daring to speak out," he says. "The United Nations said nothing about the crackdown, but elected Cuba to another term on the human rights panel.

"The current chair of that panel is Libya, that beacon of human rights," Fossella adds. "At the beginning of the year, Iraq was going to head the Conference on Disarmament, (and) Iran chairs that conference. North Korea and Cuba also sit on the Disarmament Committee."

Fossella says it would not be as grave if not for the fact that the United States pays about 22 percent of the United Nations' operating budget.

CHINESE TAILORS

Before the close of business last week, a U.S. congressman introduced the Economic Homeland Security Act, which should make everybody short of the Chinese more secure.

The EHSA, offered by Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), also establishes a "Buy American" mandate for the procurement process of the newly created Department of Homeland Security. And for good reason.

"A few years back," Hayes notes, "we had an unfortunate episode where the U.S. Army purchased over 1 million black berets for U.S. soldiers."

And the problem was?

"The problem was that a majority of those berets were made in China, and I think we can all agree - that is ridiculous."

OLD WARRIORS

Care to retire from the federal government?

No problem. Turn 55, and you can hang up your hat.

But try to retire from the National Guard or Reserve at age 55 and Uncle Sam will tell you to stand in line - for another five years.

"In the interests of fairness, the United States must act quickly to restore parity between the retirement age for civilian federal employees and their Reserve counterparts," says Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J).

The senator, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve - and, we might add, recently turned 56 - explains that when the Reserve retirement system was created in 1947, the retirement age for reservists was identical to the age for civilian employees.

"At age 60, reservists and government employees could hang up their uniforms and retire with full benefits," he says. "However, since 1947, the retirement age for civilian retirees has been lowered by five years, while the Reserve retirement age has not changed."

Corzine has introduced a bill to reduce the retirement age for members of the National Guard and Reserves from 60 to 55, virtually allowing 93,000 reservists who are now aged 55 to 59 to retire with full benefits.

As of today, more than 200,000 reservists - "weekend warriors," they were once called - are serving in the fight against terrorism, from Washington to Iraq.

"The nature and purpose of Reserve service has changed since the end of the Cold War. They are no longer weekend warriors," Charles Cragin, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said recently. "They represent almost 50 percent of the total force."

And as far as Corzine is concerned, "with additional responsibility should come additional benefits."

SOAP BOXES

We had to laugh when Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), in the absence of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) was given the task of introducing the latter's resolution authorizing the use of the U.S. Capitol grounds for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby.

Awaiting the arrival of Hoyer, the clerk read the resolution, authorizing the 62nd annual derby to be held June 21, when racers age 9 to 16 will roll down Constitution Avenue.

When the reading was done, Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) expanded on the importance of the Soap Box Derby. Unfortunately, Hoyer had still not arrived. So Davis re-read the resolution. Still, no sign of Hoyer.

Has the gentleman from Tennessee, wondered the Republican, ever had the "thrill" of being present during the running of the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby?

"I have never had that privilege," replied the Democrat, who commenced describing what a thrill it must be anyway. Still no Steny.

Dialogue between the two lawmakers continued, so to speak. LaTourette noted at one point that the Soap Box Derby championships would be held in Akron, Ohio, and soon digressed into the tough economic times that the former "Rubber Capital of the World" is facing.

Into the chamber walked Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), saying: "I understand that we are trying to use some time while we wait for the gentleman from Maryland." He then recalled a time that he had attended a Soap Box Derby in Knoxville.

Finally, Davis reappeared to announce that Hoyer "has been detained and will not be able to speak on the bill that he is sponsoring."

"I am glad we received that announcement," said a relieved LaTourette, "because I had run out of Soap Box Derby things to talk about."