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Here are some resolutions for the United States in the new year

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By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 6, 2002


This is my first column in 2002. I will not make any personal New Year's resolutions; I rarely keep them. I do, however, want the nation to make a few resolutions.

A few days before Christmas while on vacation, I read an Associated Press article announcing that the United States had permitted the first commercial food shipments to Cuba since 1963. Two freighters, one carrying 26,400 tons of American corn, the other carrying 500 tons of frozen chicken parts valued at $300,000, arrived in Havana on Dec. 16.

Smart representatives of American agribusiness and clear-thinking U.S. officials hope the shipments signal the creation of new markets for exports. Before the United States imposed a trade embargo against Fidel Castro's regime nearly 40 years ago, Cuba was a major trading partner.

Larry Cunningham, senior vice president of corporate communications for Archer Daniels Midland, told the AP of the Cuban shipments: "We are heartened and cautiously optimistic. This proves that it makes logical sense for Cuba and the United States to trade with one another. We think that the best way to improve relations with countries is for them to become trading partners."

The United States should resolve that 2002 will be the year when we finally tell the anti-Castro forces -- who have led the successful trade sanctions against Cuba -- to take a slow boat to an asylum. Not trading with Cuba is lunacy. More shipments of rice, wheat, soy and other grains, valued at $14-million, should be on Cuban soil by the end of February.

I want 2002 to become the year when the United States makes a real push to end the death penalty. If a report released last month is a guide, I am hopeful we are easing out of being what Pope John Paul calls a "culture of death."

According to a recent Justice Department study, we executed fewer people in 2000 than in any years since 1980. Experts argue that Americans' love for capital punishment is fading. The study says 25 states killed 214 convicts in 2000, a drop of 29 percent in death sentences since 1998.

Justice officials say if this pattern holds, the number of people executed this year should drop by 32 percent compared with 1999. Why the change? One main reason is that DNA testing is casting doubt on many convictions. Another is that Americans are acknowledging that minorities are far more likely than whites to receive death sentences.

Again, my hope is that 2002 marks the beginning of our coming to terms with the barbaric practice of executing fellow humans.

Another death-related issue we should resolve to fix is the easy availability of guns to criminals and juveniles. Several states, along with certain cities, are trying to confront the problem.

A recent ruling in Illinois renews my hope that 2002 may be the year when we come to our senses about guns. The New York Times reports that an Illinois appellate court ruled that gun manufacturers and sellers can be sued for distributing in a manner that lets criminals and juveniles obtain firearms easily. The court said the practice could amount to a public nuisance.

Let us resolve the time has come for the gun industry to take responsibility for knowingly creating a public nuisance and a dangerous environment.

As a black man, I would like to see 2002 become the year when our nation acknowledges the enduring scourge of racism. We should resolve to finally come out of denial, when we refuse to accept ill-treatment of our fellow citizens because of the color of their skin.

This resolution is not just for white people. Just as important, it is for the likes of Clarence Thomas (the most-qualified person in the land to replace Thurgood Marshall) and other black hypocrites who pretend that they made their way on merit alone and that their positions are no great matter.

Here, I am reminded of Tyrone Willingham, the first black to be hired as Notre Dame's football coach. When a reporter asked Willingham if his hiring was significant, he answered candidly: "Yes, I say it is significant." Willingham has always been critical of Division I-A football and the National Football League for their dearth of black head coaches.

Let us resolve to deal with race and race-related matters honestly.

And now, the most controversial of the resolutions I want the United States to commit itself to: We should resolve to reconsider foreign aid to the state of Israel. The American people gain nothing -- in fact, we lose -- by propping up a nation that uses our tax dollars to subjugate one more Palestinian.

Finally, I want the wine drinkers among us to imbibe more red wine. The stuff is good for you. Ask your doctor -- if she or he is not a committed prude. If you want expert advice from the person on the street, go to France and talk to the red wine drinkers there.

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