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Wishing Won't Make It So

It would be nice if we could count on the honesty of our public figures and not read about congressmen whose ice chests seem to conceal thousands of dollars.

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For a cover story a few weeks ago, Style asked 29 Richmonders what they wished for our city in the new year. The answers were insightful and optimistic. But while Richmond has its own problems, we live in a larger culture that could truly use some help next year. Let's dream:

It would be wonderful if violence — on television, in films, in video games, in public life and in our personal relations — didn't seem to be our predominant method of solving any problem or disagreement.

Take the TV commercial for a fast mobile broadband: The characters seem to believe that hitting each other is a way to prove the superiority of their choice. Take the movie "Commando" that I stumbled onto one evening at 7 on American Movie Classics. The star of the film seemed to be the AK-47, which crackled so much it was impossible to count the casualties.

The very real violence in the nation's public life reached its weird 2006 zenith in the cruel killings of the Amish children in our own country, and abroad in Iraq and in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy and longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Poisoning? Back to the Medicis!

It would be fine if Congress would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to something a family with hard-working parents could live on. It's hard to figure how anyone — let alone a family — could live on the $10,712 that would add up to in a year of work. In fact, The New York Times tells us that this pay would largely go to "dishwashers, short-order cooks, farm workers, ushers, baggage porters," and that this sum is $5,000 below the poverty line. Even if the federal minimum wage should be raised to the proposed $7.25, who would like to try to live on that pay?

I could wish that we would seriously think about mass transit, using much less gasoline, doing a bit against global warming and making travel comfortable again. Instead, we seem to be destroying Amtrak and to be crowding passengers into planes with small seats and narrow aisles, while those on the other side of the income divide often travel on private jets.

And let's oppose those drug manufacturers that don't want the government to have the authority to negotiate prices under the Medicare drug program. They certainly lobby against our right to buy inexpensive medicines from Canada. Why should 100 four-milligram doses of coumadin, for example, cost us as much as $93.86, while the Canadians pay only $52? The American taxpayer has already paid for much of the research. Perhaps Wal-Mart is on the right track with its $4 prescription charges. Let's watch.

It would be nice if we could count on the honesty of our public figures and not read about congressmen whose ice chests seem to conceal thousands of dollars, who would apparently sell their votes for a golf trip to a resort. Thomas Frank's New York Times article, "What Is K Street's Project?" tells us the lobbying industry's "insults to democracy just keep mounting: the mass exodus to the pharmaceutical lobby of the people who wrote the prescription drug benefit, for example. … or the well-known emblems of the rot: Bob Ney's golf weekend in Scotland, … Rick Santorum's Tuesday morning lobbyist parleys."

It would be wonderful if we would hold our elections with a method that didn't leave us afraid that many votes had disappeared into a computer glitch. Today we are left to wonder who would have been elected in November in the district in Florida where 18,000 votes were "lost" without any paper backup, and where, in that district, the winner came away with only 369 recorded votes more than the loser — this, six years after the Florida mess-up in the 2000 presidential election.

And I could wish we would stop our obsession with other people's sex lives. Are they gay or are they straight? It's none of my business.

There's a lot to do in 2007. Let's get to work.

Here's to a happier and kinder New Year. S



Rozanne Epps is copy chief at Style Weekly and editor of the Back Page.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.




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