On Congress, target practice, ecological curtains, pink tentwear, etc.

Posted: Sep 19, 2003 12:00 AM

Congress has reopened, and aren't you and you and YOU oh so glad?

More debate about Medicare prescription drug coverage awaits, oh groan. And here come post-Columbia hearings on whether the United States should continue with manned space flight. (Drawing back from manned exploration of the solar system and beyond ranks high among the worst things the nation could do.)

Prepare, too, for endless talk about energy independence (will Senate lefties at last relent and sanction oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?). And about judicial nominations (will Senate lefties at last relent on them, too?). And about the budget (none of the 13 spending bills for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 has been approved). And about allocating $100 million for AmeriCorps (why not go to compulsory universal service for every American 18 to 23?).

Oh, and the distinguished congresspersons likely will (a) approximately double spending for special operations (good), while (b) restricting use of Spec-Ops forces without a presidential order giving Congress information about what's up. The latter point means word well could leak out to the public and the very country where Spec-Ops forces are deployed, which is not so good.

Nor will Iraq likely escape congressional prattling. Guerrilla-warfare deaths to Americans now surpass the number of American deaths during formal hostilities earlier this year. Terrorists from all over the Middle East are flooding into Iraq for the opportunity to use Americans for target practice. The UN and many traditional U.S. allies are hanging back with helping out in Iraq - with one official at the ever-intrepid UN citing a "level of discomfort with charging ahead." Persisting American deaths there could do as much to undermine President Bush's re-election as a plunging economy.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch, captured by the Iraqis and rescued by Spec-Ops forces, now has an honorable discharge from the Army, a $1-million book deal, a ghost of note to write it (departed New York Times Pulitzer reporter Rick Bragg), and a fiance. Not bad ancillaries for a patriotic gal who sought simply to serve her country.

Palestinian extremists and Boss Yasser have shot holes in the Road Map to Mideast Peace. The "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas is gone. Israel has declared it will isolate, even exile, the dread Yasser and will continue with taking out the terrorists. Oh, and they will continue with building the Fence. And who can blame them - given the war the Palestinian terrorists are waging against the Israeli people?

Mikhail Gorbachev has had one certifiably commendable revelation - somewhere in the mid-'80s when he probably bapped himself on the head and said something akin to, "Hey, Lenin may have been wrong. This communist thing may not work after all." Now he has another: a nature preserve along the full length of the Iron Curtain, from Finland to the Adriatic. During the 40 years the Soviets kept it free of people, the border between Western Europe and the Soviet bloc grew chock-a-block with flora and fauna. Gorbachev now thinks it ought to be kept that way in perpetuity, adding, "Ecology isn't something we can leave only to politicians."

Heck, why not extend the idea to the area near the Fence the Israelis are building? Two problems: (1) it's desert, where little grows; (2) it's a war zone, so any planting likely would go untended. But then, perhaps joint Israeli-Palestinian tending of such a nature preserve would be a step along the tattered Road Map to peace.

The Naval Academy has a new superintendent, Vice Admiral Rodney Rempt. His goal in steering the Academy away from recent difficulties, including a rank-pulling "contretemps" that led to his predecessor's resignation? In his words: "to help midshipmen develop very high ethical character." Good onya, Admiral. And perhaps character-building is why despite disappointing judicial rulings finding meal prayers violative of the Constitution (including the VMI ruling by 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in whose jurisdiction the Naval Academy lies), the Naval Academy is retaining its midday meal prayer - making it the only service academy to do so. Amen.

And speaking of getting the right perspective on things, tough-guy Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County (Phoenix), Ariz., has allowed 2,000 prisoners at a barbed-wire-surrounded tent encampment at the county jail to strip down to their government-issued pink boxer shorts because of the heat (138 degrees inside some of the tents). Some of the inmates term the tents and pink boxers "inhumane." Sheriff Arpaio, who created the tent city and long ago started making the prisoners wear pink, is unsympathetic. Recently he told the inmates: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."