The war in the Persian Gulf may be everyone's top priority, but as some Utah residents proved at a town meeting Friday, it's not their only concern.
The meeting at the Salt Lake City-County Building was sponsored by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, to address concerns and questions Utahns have concerning the war, but it was also open to other issues.Other topics addressed by Owens ranged from the rights of the press to the resurrection of an energy policy.
"We enter the second week of war with a different mood than we had a week ago," said Owens. He said polls indicate the country supported the war, the president, and the Persian Gulf policy. He feels that support is based on the assumption that the war will be short and casualties will be few.
Owens said he is concerned about what may happen in the Persian Gulf region when the war is over, about the damage being done to the environment and the censorship of the press coverage of the war.
"I believe that we're entitled to know what's going on," said Owens. His support for an unfettered press was challenged by several members of the audience. One man said the press doesn't have ethical standards nor do reporters use discretion in what they choose to report. Another man said he feels it is detrimental to the war effort to give live accounts of missile attacks.
Owens disagreed with both men, saying that a free press is absolutely essential to our government.
"I don't always like what they say, but I believe it is an absolutely essential component (of our government)," he said.
Owens said that Tuesday he, Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, and Rep. Don Edwards of California, are holding an open meeting in which they will discuss the issue of censorship of war news. The purpose, says Owens, is to raise issues, awareness, and try to get some answers.
Owens voted against the congressional resolution allowing the president to use force before the war began, but voted in favor of a similar resolution after the war started. He said that since the decision had been made to go to war, he felt it was important to support the president and the troops.
One person asked Owens to reconsider his support of the president, but Owens said he was going to give the president a chance to "do his thing."
Most of the approximately 34 people in attendance were against the war in the gulf and were concerned with what they might be able to do now that war has begun. A few requested a "pause for peace," during which pamphlets could be dropped over Iraq and Kuwait emphasizing the gravity of the situation.
Owens said he favors the exploration of other solutions, but said those who support other options probably won't be successful in persuading the president to alter his present course of action.
Owens also said, "Conservation (of energy resources) is essential." "It's a very serious obligation to try to develop something to make us independent." He said that when oil became cheap and plentiful after the shortages in the early '70s, the U.S. government forgot about developing an energy policy.
The budget was a hot topic, especially as it relates to war and its costs. The congressman said he would support a war tax but emphasized he was not going to sponsor a bill initiating a war tax.
"I don't think you'll see much different in the way of taxes," he added.
When questioned about anti-war demonstrators and whether or not they would be monitored by the FBI or silenced, Owens said,"I strongly support the ability of demonstrators to say what they please, as long as it's not infringing on anyone else."
Dave Brown, who said he lives in the 1st Congressional District, thanked Owens for being responsive to his needs and problems. "I've been maneuvered and ignored," said Brown. "Jim Hansen had proved to me that this is no longer a government for the governed."
However, Conrad Lloyd told Owens he lives in the 2nd Congressional District and has not received any response from Owens or his people about his concerns with child-custody laws.
Owens said he hopes to visit Jordan during the 10-day recess of the Congress. He said his plans were still indefinite.