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Dark clouds on otherwise sunny day

By By Sonny Callahan
U.S. Representative
By nature, I'm an optimist.  
I most always see the glass as half full, not half empty. Truthfully, I've been this way all my life.
Traveling to developing, often-third-world countries over the past six years as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations has, if nothing else, only renewed my belief that there's no other country anywhere in the world quite like the United States of America.  
As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, "there's no place like home."
Despite our problems and we've got our share of them the U.S. is still the envy of the rest of the world, whether it is our political system, our military, our economy or simply our way of life. 
That said, the headlines of the past few days, both local and national, should make even the most optimistic of us take pause for some honest evaluation and self-analysis.
To wit:
The news earlier this month that 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole were killed, along with dozens more being injured, was a stark reminder that we live in a world where darkness and evil still exist.
In a memorial service last week for the sailors killed aboard the USS Cole, President Clinton aptly said, "Their tragic loss reminds us that even when America is not at war, the men and women of our military still risk their lives for peace."
It's no secret that I've never been a political supporter of the president.  That said, his successor, regardless whether it is Vice President Gore or Governor Bush, will have some mighty big shoes to fill when it comes to being our nation's "Great Consoler."  
In my mind, Mr. Clinton rivals only President Reagan in this regard.  Unfortunately, he's had a lot of experience in it during his eight years in office, from Somalia to Oklahoma City to Columbine and now to the USS Cole.
At the memorial service, the president went on to say "today we honor our finest young people, fallen soldiers who rose to freedom's challenge.  We mourn their loss, celebrate their lives, offer the love and prayers of a grateful nation to their families."   
The president's words truly spoke for an entire nation.  At a time like this, we should all speak as one.
Closer to home, the news that International Paper Company would close its Mobile mill by year's end, putting more than 790 loyal employees out of work, wasn't the kind of headline you like to have in your morning paper.
Shortly after the announcement was made public, I contacted Mobile's own Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman to urge that she use every means available to help soften this blow.  
In addition to helping identify new employment opportunities, the Department of Labor has added tools available to assist our local and state leaders.  I have every reason to believe Secretary Herman will do all she can to help in this endeavor. 
They say politics makes strange bedfellows.  Many times it does.
The story, which was first reported in The New York Times, reveals a secret Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement allowing not only conventional weapons but nuclear technology to go to Iran. 
Boy, that news would have been received like a lead balloon up on Capitol Hill.
I, for one, am willing to give the vice president the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps he had a good reason to do what he did.
But I was neither impressed nor surprised by the reaction from the White House late last week.  Saying this was much ado about nothing (we've heard that before).  They simply thumbed their nose at Congress, and the American people, and said they had no intention of cooperating with any investigation.
Funny, last time I checked my copy of the Constitution, the three branches of government were considered equal.  Perhaps Mr. Gore simply didn't believe Congress needed to know that Russia was selling weapons to a known U.S. enemy. 
In less than two weeks, America will elect our first president of this new century. 
Some people say their vote doesn't count anymore.  Consider this if you've ever felt that way:
In 1800, one vote gave Thomas Jefferson the presidency over Aaron Burr. In 1868, one vote saved Andrew Johnson's presidency. In 1960, one vote per precinct gave JFK the presidency. And in 1993, one vote by the vice president broke the tie in the Senate and approved the largest tax increase in American history.
Don't ever be led to believe your one vote doesn't count.  One vote can make the difference.
Until next week, take care and God Bless.