Strength In America's Values Grow, As We Tackle Tough Issues In 2004

If all goes well, this column will appear in print early in the New Year. We are at the dawn of 2004 and slightly less then twelve months remain in the New Year.

We have spoken to a number of persons from across the age spectrum as to what they see as the hot button issues facing society in the year ahead. A number of issues were presented; in this column, we present the topics mentioned most frequently. We would like to share these with you and a brief comment or two about each from our perspective.

Frequently mentioned, in the minds of most from all ages, is the fact that we are in the year of a presidential election. There are some with a hard edge to their political feelings, and this is on both sides of the political spectrum; the minds of these individuals are largely already made up. But there is a sizable group of those who are undecided; they will be weighing, looking, listening, and participating during the primary period and thereafter. It is this group that political parties and candidates will be concentrating their effort in order to claim their support. We call for all to examine closely all the issues and think ahead in the long term. We call for all eligible voters to vote and those unregistered eligible voters to get registered and participate in the electoral process. This is a noble duty in our republican form of representative democracy.

So close to the heart of nearly everyone with whom we spoke is the seriousness of the war on terror. We are now beginning to realize the viciousness of the reign of terror as perpetrated by Saddam Hussein on his own people. The US-led occupation authority in Iraq has said that at least 300,000 people are buried in mass graves in Iraq. Human rights officials put the number closer to 500,000 and some local Iraqi leaders estimate more than 1 million were executed. It is estimated that 61,000 Baghdad residents alone were executed. The world is rid of one of the most vile, depraved dictators in human history. His regime no longer tortures and rapes people by the thousands, nor encourages acts of murder on his own people or people in other parts of the world. But the war on terror continues and we are a long way before the world is rid of this reign of vicious brutality on innocent men, women and children.

Front and center in the minds of many Americans is the health of the national economy. Right now, people seem to feel more comfortable with their personal finances. An indicator of this feeling is that people are spending more, eating out more with increased investing over the long haul. The U.S. economy grew at an astounding pace of 8.2 percent in the third quarter of this year. According to the Labor Department's latest survey, non-farm payroll increased by 57,000 in November, this is the fourth consecutive rise, bringing the total jobs-gain since July to 328,000. Meanwhile, hours worked and overtime also have been increasing. Household employment gains tell an even more impressive story. The Labor Department's household survey counted 589,000 newly employed workers in November following October's robust rise of 441,0000. This measure has increased in three of the last four month by a total of 1.13 million. Unemployment is down to 5.9 percent--the lowest since March. It is projected to continue to drop this year 2004. A University of Michigan think tank just predicted a 5.4 percent unemployment rate for 2004, a 4.8 percent rate for 2005, and 5.2 million new jobs over the next two years.

Available and affordable health care is of prime importance in the mind of many Americans. The new law recently approved by the Congress and signed by the President gives some hope to many of America's seniors. Admittedly, there are problems with the new law, which modernizes Medicare after 40 years. But, as it stands now, the law helps to make prescription drugs more affordable, offers health choice to seniors and encourages early treatment to prevent illnesses. Further, the law will enable Americans to pay for out-of-pocket expenses through new Health Savings Accounts. Stay tuned, we are bound to hear far more on this subject during 2004.

Quality education, at all levels, is of essential concern to a wide variety of the age spectrum. We are bound to hear more about home teaching, charter schools, best practices and accountability. In short however, believe that good education must strive to develop within each individual a mastery of the essential skills and conceptual understandings as identified by the curriculum. A respect for the work ethic must be inculcated within all levels of instruction. And further, the schools and the community must reinforce within the school life that inappropriate action carries with it appropriate consequences. Education is a complex task. The schools and the teachers cannot do it alone. It appears, in some cases, that parental responsibility has been neglected and passed off to the schools. It takes a close harmonious team of the school AND the home to bring out the best within each learner and an informed public to bring out the best within each school.

The backbone to all the above is a strong and healthy values system which runs through the vital fiber of American society. Without strong principles in which one believes, there emerges an "anything goes" philosophy. If one does not believe in something based on principle, one will accept anything. And to most Americans, that is not an option and that is another reason we look forward to the unfolding of 2004. And that is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.