During the Vietnam War, presidents and the Pentagon defended the draft, while the peace movement assailed it. As America edges toward a possible new war, roles have reversed.

Backed by other opponents of a war with Iraq, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) has proposed that the draft – shelved since 1973 – be reinstated in the name of “shared sacrifice.”

The Pentagon disagrees, insisting that today’s all-volunteer forces are more efficient and professional than conscripts.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has gone further, asserting at a news conference that draftees added “no value, no advantage” to the military because they served for such brief periods. After members of Congress and veterans groups protested, Rumsfeld apologized, but made clear he opposes a return to conscription.

Still, Rangel’s proposal – though unlikely to win passage – has revived a dormant national debate about the concept of mandatory national service. It is a discussion that creates unusual allies and goes to the heart of American citizenship.

While the Pentagon and the Bush administration support an all-volunteer military, a broad constituency favors some type of universal national service, either military duty or a civilian alternative.

Bush announces budget, proposes tax cuts


President Bush will send Congress a $2.23 trillion spending plan today featuring new tax cuts to boost the economy, a conservative tilt to major social programs and record deficits for the next two years – shortfalls that Democrats blame on Bush’s tax cuts.

White House budget officials said yesterday the president’s tax and spending blueprint, complete with dozens of agency briefings, will roll out as scheduled despite Saturday’s space shuttle disaster.

Bush’s budget outline for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is required by law to be sent to Congress the first Monday in February. The numbers and spending priorities undoubtedly will change somewhat over the next several months as Congress acts on his request.

The Columbia tragedy certainly will prompt added scrutiny to the president’s spending proposal for NASA, which has come under heavy criticism from Congress in recent years because of cost overruns for the orbiting space station and other programs.

Bush’s budget also will seek to overhaul some of the government’s biggest social programs, like Medicare.

Dozens dead, 32 hurt in bank explosion

LAGOS, Nigeria

A powerful explosion tore apart a bank and dozens of apartments above it yesterday in Nigeria’s crowded commercial capital, killing at least 40 people and trapping many others, relief workers said.

Police were investigating a range of motives – including that the blast was part of a bank robbery plot. Looting and bloody fights broke out as hundreds of young men grabbed fistfuls of cash from the leveled bank and battled over them.

In the chaos, trapped victims cried for rescue and onlookers wailed as rescuers retrieved bloody, broken bodies.

The Red Cross said searchers had recovered more than 30 dead and 32 injured. Ten of the wounded died later at Lagos General Hospital, hospital workers said.

Many more victims were believed caught in the rubble, and the death toll could rise, said Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigeria Red Cross.

Israeli army levels Palestinian homes

HEBRON, West Bank

The Israeli army, citing a lack of building permits, demolished nine houses belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron yesterday, leaving dozens homeless.

In another development, dozens of Palestinian inmates rioted at an Israel army prison in the southern desert, and soldiers used tear gas and stun grenades to subdue them, the army said. There was no immediate word on casualties.

In Hebron, Palestinian families hurriedly dragged refrigerators and sofas out of the houses before Israeli bulldozers, guarded by soldiers, began knocking down the walls. The families said they had received notices months ago that the houses would be demolished, but had not known when the work would begin.

A total of 22 homes were to be destroyed yesterday, all because they allegedly were built without permits, said Talia Somech, a spokeswoman for the army’s Civil Administration.

Russia launches ship in wake of NASA crash


Russia launched an unmanned cargo ship to the international space station yesterday, a day after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia threw into doubt future missions to the orbiting complex.

The Progress M-47 lifted off atop a Soyuz-U rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:59 p.m. and entered orbit a few minutes later, said Nikolai Kryuchkov, a spokesman at Russia’s mission control center outside Moscow.

The craft is scheduled to dock with the station tomorrow, delivering fuel, equipment, food and mail for the three-astronaut crew – a Russian commander and two Americans.

The long-planned launch came as stunned Russian space officials offered condolences for the astronauts – six Americans and one Israeli – killed when the Columbia disintegrated shortly before it was to have landed Saturday morning.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports.

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