June 8, 2003
If Surgeon General Richard Carmona gets his way, the nearly 1 in 4 American adults who smoke will be deprived of a right that even a prisoner of war is entitled to.
Carmona told Congress this week that he favors an outright ban on all tobacco products. "I see no need for any tobacco products in society," he said, as if the lack of "need" is a good reason to prohibit a product that millions of Americans peacefully enjoy.
But you don't have to be a smoker to recognize that for some people, the need to smoke can at times be acute -- so acute that access to tobacco rises to the level of a human right. An exaggeration? Then what do you make of Article 26 of the Geneva Convention, which sets the standard for the treatment of POWs: "Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war," it decrees. "The use of tobacco shall be permitted."
As if the mass graves containing the remains of so many Iraqi men and women weren't horrific enough, now comes word of an Iraqi grave filled with children.
"This is different from other mass graves discovered since the fall of Saddam," the Kurdish newspaper Taakhi reported this week, "because it contains the remains of 200 child victims of the repression of the Kurdish uprising in 1991." Found among the corpses were dolls; the little girls who owned them must have been clutching them when they died.
Each of those children, like each of the other victims whose remains have been located in mass graves, deserves a decent reburial in an individual grave. Thousands of people will have to labor for weeks to dig those graves, and US and British occupation authorities should waste no time handing out shovels to the most appropriate gravediggers: the 30,000 or so Iraqis who used to belong to the Baath Party elite. There is no better way to begin the de-Baathification of Iraq than by making those who sustained Saddam's regime confront the enormity of what their collaboration made possible.
"There is significant evidence that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages may reduce the risk of heart disease." That is a perfectly true statement of medical fact. But a winemaker that printed those words on its labels would be prosecuted by the US government, which bars any mention of health benefits on alcoholic products.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that supports free speech and free markets, plans to challenge the government's ban in court. Here's hoping it prevails. After all, it shouldn't be illegal for a manufacturer to tell the truth to consumers. At least, not if the First Amendment means what it says.
Another day, another University of Massachusetts poll purporting to show that Bay State voters would rather plug the commonwealth's fiscal hole with higher taxes than with lower spending. By my count, this is the third UMass poll on tax hikes vs. spending cuts this year, and according to Thursday's story in the Globe, 47 percent of respondents now want their taxes to go up while only 29 percent want the state budget to go down.
I'd be more inclined to trust these numbers if they came from a poll sponsored by an institution that didn't have a vested interest in higher government spending. Considering that 46 percent of Bay State voters wanted to eliminate the state income tax entirely in November, I'm skeptical that a similar percentage is now ready for heavier taxes. Come to think of it, a statewide Boston Globe/WBZ poll just two months ago found that "while 19 percent support raising the income tax, 55 percent oppose it" and that "19 percent are for increasing the sales tax, but 53 percent are against."
According to a report just issued by the scrupulously nonpartisan Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, state residents list "the amount of taxes an average family has to pay" as one of the five worst things about life in this state. Those findings are borne out by the Tax Foundation, which reports that Massachusetts has the 5th-highest per-capita tax burden in the country.
"Taxachusetts" isn't just a nickname. It's reality.
It was a dark road and a drizzly night, and the pedestrian crossing the street in the middle of the block came this close to getting hit by my car as I made my way in the gloom. Why? Because he was dressed in black from head to toe, and I couldn't see him until the last minute.
"Wear white at night" was one of the pedestrian-safety rules diligently impressed on the kids at the Ohio elementary school I attended. Like others I recall ("Walk on the left facing traffic," "Never dart between parked cars"), it was emblazoned on classroom posters the American Automobile Association used to publish each year. Don't grade schools teach these rules any more? Or is it just too unfashionable to wear white at night?
More than 5,500 pedestrians -- one-seventh of them children -- are killed on American roads every year; another 80,000 are injured. Most of the fatalities occur at night, and there's no telling how many could be prevented with a simple change of wardrobe. Okay, maybe wearing white at night is uncool. Getting run over by a car is definitely worse.