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(Saturday, July 4) As Americans marking the 222nd birthday of our country, we'd all be wise to stop for a moment and contemplate just how fragile our independence is.
We tend, as citizens of these United States, to take many things for granted, and this tendency has grown worse in the last quarter of the 20th century.
It seems we just assume that we'll be able to live, worship, pursue our chosen careers and whatever other privileges we've been blessed with forever without interruption.
For years, we've been regarded by most of the world as the most powerful nation on earth. Yet shocking as it may be, we could find ourselves quite vulnerable to the wiles and intents of some other countries.
In recent weeks, we've learned that both India and Pakistan have tested their own nuclear weapons. In the past decade, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has proven what a nuisance he is and what potential danger his lunatic mind could pose.
Did we somehow lapse into a complacency of sorts when the governments of Russia and other communist bloc nations toppled like dominos?
Did we somehow consider that we were much safer in this world, although Red China and Cuba continue to be communist menaces?
As we see it, our independence as a nation and the freedoms that each of us enjoy are rather tentative. That is, nothing is a given.
The next skyrocket we watch in awe after night has fallen ... the next hot dog we enjoy during a Fourth of July picnic ... the next time we hear John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" ... we must break out of our cocoons of complacency and be responsible people.
We are without a doubt one of the strongest countries on the face of the earth. But we have to be ever-vigilant. It's not only the weapons of mass destruction that could destroy us. It is also, to a very great degree, our collective mindset that could cause us to topple like an unguarded fortress.
Let's adopt a new attitude of greatness derived from our allegiance and our prayers that the U.S. of A. will continue to be great throughout the 21st century.
--Robert F. Stealey
(Sunday, July 5) It is, as Alice once said, getting curiouser and curiouser. The questionable spending at the state Public Service Commission became even more questionable when it was revealed that purchases were made that included a $350 table lamp and a bunch of power tools.
Records were turned over to the Charleston Gazette this week that showed the purchases were made by someone at the PSC, but it remains a mystery as to whether the items were intended for official use.
Of course, that's probably a mystery that's easily solved. It's doubtful that anyone who works at the PSC really needs a Craftsman electric drill, a soldering iron or hand saw. They probably don't really need a table lamp with a replica of a Colt revolver and a stirrup.
This latest report comes after earlier revelations that the PSC made purchases of $300 pens, pocket knives, cameras and luggage Ñ all merchandise that cannot be accounted for.
These purchases all took place under the tenure of former PSC Chairman Boyce Griffith, who, for now, isn't saying anything. Current Chairman Charlotte Lane has been releasing the purchase orders and has made an effort to try and find the items.
It is now apparent that what may have been extravagant spending or unwise purchasing is now just plain criminal activity. It would seem a sizeable sum of taxpayer money was being spent on items that can't be found at the PSC offices and obviously were never intended for use at the agency.
A legislative interim committee has turned over the results of an audit over to the Legislature's Commission on Special Investigations and some of the evidence has been turned over to federal authorities.
What is perhaps most infuriating about this whole mess is that someone was brazen enough to think he or she could make these purchases and get away with it. The culprit was either extremely audacious or incredibly stupid. One way or the other, we hope that the person is brought to justice.
(Exponent -- Monday, July 6) Come Dec. 1, anyone wishing to purchase a rifle or shotgun will be required to pass an instant background check. Not surprisingly, it has those lobbying groups opposed to gun control in an uproar; however, we find it a little difficult to empathize with their indigence.
The pending national law will mark the first time that hunters, target shooters and others attempting to buy "long-barreled" guns will have to undergo background checks.
Such guns had heretofore been exempt from the Brady Act's requirement of a background check and five-day waiting period for handgun purchases that have been in effect since 1994.
It was compromise legislation at the time. Lawmakers looked ahead five years to the creation of an instant, national computerized background check system, the implementation of which would eliminate the need for a five-day waiting period and allow for the expansion of such a screening to all gun purchases from registered dealers.
There had previously been no real comprehensive way of checking whether the purchasers of long guns were telling the truth on federal firearms forms. Those wanting to buy those types of guns were simply asked if they were a felon or if they belonged to any other sector of the population that is barred by law from owning guns.
It's hard to understand why anyone, save for those who have backgrounds making a gun purchase illegal, would be angry over such a check. When it comes to this forthcoming screening, the key word is "instant."
Unless you have a criminal past or questionable mental health record, you'll likely walk out of the store with your gun. It's a screening process that even the National Rifle Association will have trouble arguing against.
After all, the NRA is the group that pushed for the switch from a waiting period to an instant check system when the Brady Bill was before Congress in the first place.
--Kevin S. Courtney
(Monday, July 6) Texas Governor George W. Bush's push for an approach that favors teaching English while not ruling out bilingual education seems quite sensible to us, even though West Virginia is far from a state that has had a strong contingent of Spanish-speaking Americans.
Gov. Bush scored points with members of the League of United Latin American Citizens last week in Dallas in a pitch for his own bilingual approach that he calls "English Plus."
He's of the opinion that if the bilingual program serves to teach our children English, then we should say, "Thank you very much" and leave them in place.
But if the bilingual program locks someone into Spanish and does not achieve state objectives, then we must say, "Change the program (or) eliminate the program."
To our way of thinking, such broad-minded approaches to education as subscribed to by the Republican governor of Texas should be more universally adopted.
Delegates of the League who have voiced their opposition to English-only proposals in their states were quite pleased with the ideas expressed by Gov. Bush, who frequently spoke in Spanish, even to answer some questions during a pre-address press conference in Spanish.
Not all Republican office-holders have gained favor with Hispanic voters. In fact, some have been blamed for driving these voters away from the party, especially California.
Our point is that educational programs in any state should be "open-ended" enough to welcome a broader spectrum of learning and prudent enough to discourage plans that would limit schools' curricula Ñ whether it be English-only or "anything-else-only," regardless of geographic location.
--Robert F. Stealey