On missiles, congress, drugs, Harry Potter, etc.

Posted: Dec 13, 2001 12:00 AM
The War Against Terror proceeds rather nicely, yet it is not the only item in the news. Among other items.... The United States is about to tell (or by the time you read this, may have told) Russia of its intention to build an anti-ballistic missile shield despite the provisions of the 1972 ABM treaty signed with the Soviet Union - an entity that no longer exists. Good. The United States needs such a shield, and in the interest of peace should share the technology with any country desiring to build its own. Suddenly, tests allowed under the ABM treaty are succeeding - to the pooh-poohers' dismay; a third succeeded 10 days ago. And speaking of Russia, the world's foremost defense alliance is moving toward the inclusion of its hitherto bitterest enemy - or what's left of it. NATO's 19 members have just agreed to include Russia in some of its planning and decision-making. Should this limited relationship work, full membership for Russia may come sooner rather than later. Good, too. Boss Yasser continues to self-destruct - and it's not pretty. Asked on Israeli television whether he intends to follow American urgings to rein in his own terrorists, he exploded: "Dear God, who cares about the Americans? ... Do not talk to me about the Americans!" Much of Washington not involved in the Terror War cannot seem to accomplish much. Another panel on how best to salvage Social Security basically threw up its hands: The only thing its members agreed to was a recommendation that younger wage earners ought to be able to invest some of their Social Security money in the stock market. And, separately, some congressional wizards proposed stimulating the economy by giving wage earners and employers a month off from paying Social Security taxes - but luckily that one went nowhere. Congressional bipartisanship has just about collapsed on a proposed economic stimulus package - the Democrats insisting on giving away more money, the Republicans seeking to accelerate already-approved tax reductions. The president is proposing and (largely) the Senate is obstructing. The president's needed stimulus package may founder. Yet Congress is not so divided that it cannot vote itself its third pay raise in four years. Democratic senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin challenged the timing when "our economy is in a recession and hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off." Alas, after a debate lasting less than five minutes, the Senate voted 2-1 to quash his motion to delay the hike. A year after the Florida 2000 contretemps, Congress may be moving toward an overhaul of the nation's election procedures - maybe. Election laws are fundamentally state matters. If Congress wants to force the states to move away from butterfly ballots and the voting equivalents of dart boards, here's a solution: Find a fast and nearly foolproof voting machine, and make it available in large numbers to the states - with, say, a 50-percent federal subsidy - for use in federal elections. States choosing to (and most probably would) could use the machines for state and local elections as well. The feds waved the subsidy carrot to convert states to Drink 21 and Drive 55, and the Vote 18 constitutional amendment denied the states the right to set a higher age threshold for their own elections. The lead lawyer for confessed bomb-plotter Sara Jane Olson (26 years ago, with the Symbionese Liberation Army) reached a new height of frivolous arrogance when he faxed the judge that he could not be in the courtroom for a crucial hearing in Ms. Olson's case because "bad karma" when he awoke sent him back to bed. Understandably unamused, the judge scheduled Ms. Olson's sentencing for Jan. 18. Staggering Statistics: (1) From The Wall Street Journal's Robert Bartley: "[Congress has changed the tax code] 32 major times since 1954, or once every 1.4 years. This year it's doing two. The tax code has swelled to 1,670,000 words from 409,000 in 1954. Form 1040, used by 69 million of the 122 million taxpayers in 1997, has 79 lines, 144 pages of instructions, 11 schedules, and 19 worksheets, and still often requires incorporating other forms. Even with computer tax programs widely available, in 1999, 55 percent of taxpayers had to hire someone to prepare their form, up from 48 percent as recently as 1990." (2) Former federal drug czar (1989-1990) William Bennett: "Some 14 million Americans use illegal drugs on at least a monthly basis. Nearly one in four of these users are children between the ages of 12 and 17. In 1999 (the most recent year for which we have data), there were some 2 million new marijuana users - more than 5,000 new users per day - with an average age of 17." In a recession for 42 months, Argentina is about to go toes up - again. The banks are hemorrhaging pesos; the nation has $132 billion in debt it cannot pay. The air is thick with talk of devaluation, default and collapse. The globe-rattling 1997 Asia Crisis began in Thailand, with an economy about the size of Argentina's. Will Argentina continue to head south via more profligacy and an insistent 1-1 tying of the peso to the dollar? Or will it move all the way to full dollarization - actually adopting the dollar as its currency - and get on fast with growing its economy? About Harry Potter. (1) Syndicated radio-ist Michael Medved: "Organizations and public figures who demand attention (and raise money) with hysterical denunciations of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard lend credence to the notion that conservative Christians are illiterate and irrelevant. ... Indeed, the sudden, ferocious opposition to Harry Potter seems willfully blind to the whole history of children's literature. Witchcraft has always played a prominent role in stories and films for kids, from 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' (including 'Snow White') and the timeless fables of Hans Christian Andersen, to 'The Wizard of Oz' (with its good and wicked witches)." (2) Harvard's Maria Tatar: "A fantasy world rivaling Oz and Narnia, coupled with the cathartic pleasure of defeating the forces of evil, have made the Harry Potter series children's 'classics' for our time. Whether they are classics for all time is irrelevant. Regardless of what we adults think, we aren't the intended audience. Roald Dahl believed that it was the duty of every author of children's books to conspire with children against adults. With her books, J.K. Rowling has formed a powerful alliance with our children."