- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Supreme allegiance

He died fighting with the U.S. military in Iraq, yet Sgt. Riayan Tejeda, of Washington Heights, N.Y., wasn’t an American citizen.

So Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, has offered the Riayan Tejeda Memorial Act of 2003, a bill to extend automatic citizenship to immigrant soldiers who served (or continue to serve) the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“[It is] in honor of soldiers like Sgt. Riayan Tejeda … who laid down their lives so that all of the people of the United States, regardless of immigration status, could continue to enjoy the freedoms that our Constitution lays out,” Mr. Rangel explains.

The bill goes beyond current congressional efforts by granting citizenship to all service members that request naturalization and have served in a combat zone designated as part of the Iraqi operation. It also ensures that not only spouses and unmarried children, but also parents of soldiers killed as a result of service in the U.S. military, can apply for citizenship or legalization of status.

As Mr. Rangel sees it, “For men and women who decide to don the uniform of the armed forces, their actions on the battlefield should be enough to prove their allegiance and dedication to this land and our families.”

Magnificent mosquitoes

While the mosquito-borne West Nile virus is certainly no laughing matter, we had to chuckle at Democratic Rep. Chris Johns when he introduced the Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (MASH) Act, observing that in his swampy state of Louisiana “mosquitoes are jokingly considered our state bird, given their size and numbers.”

Red or white?

The news media’s (not to include newspapers) insatiable taste for gloom, as in the current heat wave gripping Europe, is no better captured than the article written by Denis Dutton in the Christchurch (New Zealand) Press.

“You’ve heard the news: after years of overcast, cool summers with damp garden parties and drenched concerts in the park, the [Europeans] have something novel to worry about — an unusually hot, sunny summer,” Mr. Dutton writes. “You’d think they’d be grateful, but that’s not how the human mind works. For every silver lining, a dark cloud must be found.”

So, as we’ve all been hearing, it’s the hottest European summer in half a century (which means that 50 years ago, it was pretty hot, too).

“There is a psychological pattern in this. We love bad news,” the writer explains. “Don’t blame it on editors. Our addiction to gloom, doom, and misfortune is as much a persistent fact of the human psyche as our love of sweet and fat.”

As Mr. Dutton notes, “We are more impressed by personal stories of joy and distress than rational facts and figures.” And “astute” TV producers are constantly aware of this twisted intrigue.

“Television producers, who think the zoom lens was invented for close-ups of tears rolling down cheeks, know how to exploit it,” he writes, which means important issues are not adequately reported or understood. The fact is there are always blistering droughts, deadly heat waves, dreadful cold spells, and monsoon rains — such as what we’re experiencing in Washington this year — that won’t shut off.

“What has changed is reporting,” Mr. Dutton says. “Since a dramatic weather event is likely to be happening somewhere on Earth every day, television will always have plenty of footage for extreme weather.”

By the way, thanks to the heat wave, French and German wineries are predicting a spectacular harvest this year, perhaps exceeding the legendary 1947 vintage.

“Great weather? Superb wine? Surely the media will be able to turn that news into tales of deadly heat stroke, skin cancer and alcoholism,” he concludes. “Don’t shoot the editors. They are giving us what we want.”

Drought anyone?

“Here in Washington, it’s been raining all month, so people aren’t talking about drought,” complains Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat. “However, just because we aren’t talking about it, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing something about it.”

Apart from recent forest fires engulfing Montana’s Glacier National Park, the media have virtually ignored the severe drought out West, which has seen little rain and snow for several years running.

That’s one reason Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Dennis Rehberg, both of Montana, have joined Mr. Hastings (the latter’s state is currently blessed with an abundance of rain) in introducing companion National Drought Preparedness Acts.

Congress five years ago passed legislation creating the National Drought Policy Commission to examine current U.S. policy on drought. Mr. Hastings summarized the commission’s 50-page findings by saying: “The U.S. does not have a policy on drought.

“I wish I had just made a joke,” he says. “The fact that we don’t have a drought policy, however, is a joke — and not a good one at that. Drought is not just an agriculture issue, nor is it only a water-management issue. When droughts occur, forest fires erupt, small businesses close, crop yields decrease, and in many instances, people die.”

The bill would provide for better preparation and planning, improved delivery of federal drought programs, and improved weather forecasting and monitoring abilities.

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected].

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