WASHINGTON -- What can we look forward to this year? Even the most optimistic among us have to admit that we will probably be living in a more dangerous world. But then hope springs eternal, and I have a wish list for many things.
First, I hope that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's boast that we can fight a war on two fronts --Iraq and North Korea -- in addition to our war on terrorism was simply part of his typical braggadocio posturing and that wiser heads will prevail.
It would also be nice if President Bush would call a halt to Attorney General John Ashcroft's rampaging drive to curtail civil liberties, particularly of those caught up in his dragnet sweep-searches for terror suspects. That may be too much to ask for since Ashcroft would not be doing what he is doing without a green light from the White House.
I also hope that our key intelligence services -- the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency -- will drop their territorial rivalries and share more information. Why should they keep battling one another?
In foreign policy I hope we will win back the respect we once enjoyed around the world. But we can touch the hearts and minds of the disenchanted only by doing the right thing, becoming more aware of the sensitivities of others and once again displaying our traditional tolerance.
We have lost much of our shine as a beacon of freedom and have not asked why.
I hope the Bush administration will stop tearing up collective security treaties and start initiating conferences on disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. Otherwise, we will learn the full meaning of Albert Einstein's warning that if World War III is a nuclear disaster, we will be fighting World War IV with sticks and stones.
Don't most people see the irony in our desire to deal diplomatically with North Korea while we threaten every day to militarily crush Iraq? Pyongyang admits it is developing nuclear weapons and has the missiles to deliver them at least as far as Japan. But Baghdad has no nukes that we have been able to detect.
I hope Americans are as appalled as I am by reports that we are abusing suspected al-Qaida terrorists in secret CIA interrogation centers overseas. Last week The Washington Post detailed a "brass-knuckled quest for information, often in concert with allies of dubious human rights reputation." Those who refuse to cooperate are deprived of sleep and are kept standing or held in other painful positions for hours. Some are turned over to foreign intelligence services known for more horrific torture.
Is this really us? Is this type of treatment going to win friends around the world?
On the home front I hope we will return to a prosperous economy and that the high-flying moguls of early 2002 will understand the harm they have done to their companies and employees with corporate scandals.
I hope Congress puts universal health care high on its agenda. There is no reason why a country as wealthy as ours cannot find a way to ensure that health services are available to all who need them.
In that respect, the high cost of prescription drugs has to be tackled. The elderly, in particular, should not have to choose between spending their monthly stipends on food or medicine.
In education let's truly leave no child behind. The Head Start program, which gives deprived children a pre-school boost, should be fully funded. Too many eligible youngsters are denied this early training because the government has skimped on the money.
The states, which only a few years ago were riding high, have plunged into financial crisis, largely because of federal stinginess. So I hope the president will scrape off a few billion from the bulging, $400 billion military budget to help them.
I hope Congress will drop some tax cuts, especially for the rich, to meet our growing domestic needs. For example, the lawmakers should properly fund Amtrak and bail out the faltering airlines to keep us moving.
President Bush could do us all a favor if he would stop rolling back environmental and anti-pollution regulations designed to preserve our health and safety.
I also hope he will halt the administration's attempt to chip away at Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in collegiate sports.
He could warm up the administration's cold approach to affirmative action by taking a stand in the Supreme Court supporting the University of Michigan's admissions policy, which promotes diversity on campus.
I hope Bush has learned a lesson from the slumping stock market and that he will give up his burning desire to privatize part of Social Security. The system ain't broke.
I find it troubling that he injects religion into government operations, such as allowing church charities to get more federal money for their social programs. Separation of church and state has stood the test of time.
Finally, I hope Bush will realize that it's important for people to know what their government is doing and that he will hold more news conferences to inform them. Seven in two years is hardly enough.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
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