Since the 2000 presidential election, interest groups have plastered the airwaves with tens of millions of dollars in new political ads. And it's not the environment, taxes or campaign finance dominating those television messages. It's abortion.
Of the nearly $28 million spent on political issue advertising in television's top 100 media markets in the first four months of this year, the debate over abortion accounted for nearly one-third.
The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) spent $7.5 million dollars, with Planned Parenthood adding another half-million. Anti-abortion forces spent less than $20,000 during the same period, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison study.
There's a far more personal reason why Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) borrowed from the book title of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, who penned "The Conscience of a Conservative."
Wellstone's new book, to be published by Random House on May 22, is titled "The Conscience of a Liberal."
"The people I admire most are those who have the courage of their convictions," explains Wellstone. "When I attended Barry Goldwater's funeral service, I think many Republicans were surprised. Only a few Democrats went. They enjoyed giving me a rough time -- they even gave me Goldwater' 'The Conscience of a Conservative' to read on the plane.
"'Paul,' they said, 'read this -- we read this book at young ages, and it set us on the right path. We still have some hope for you.' I explained that I had read the book at a young age - that's why I'm a liberal."
Taking advantage of renewed interest in "Star Wars," the space-based missile-defense shield supported by President Bush, more than 20 military, government and scientific witnesses will come forward at the National Press Club Wednesday (May 9) to establish the reality of UFOs and the presence of extraterrestrial life.
"The weight of this firsthand testimony, along with supporting government documentation and other evidence, will establish without a doubt the reality of these phenomena," says Steven M. Greer, director of the host Disclosure Project.
The nonprofit research organization is calling for open congressional hearings on UFOs, last held in 1968 by the House Science and Astronautics Committee -- titled a "Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects."
Apart from witness testimony, which includes retired officials from most branches of the military and the Federal Aviation Administration, former astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Gordon Cooper will appear via video, both claiming to have firsthand knowledge of UFOs.
Mitchell flew on Apollo 14 and was the sixth man to walk on the moon. In his testimony, he'll claim extraterrestrial beings have not only landed on Earth, but the United States has recovered crashed alien craft and bodies.
So they've been here among us?
"Yes," says the former astronaut, "there have been E.T. visitations."
THOU SHALT PROJECT
Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," told the 2,400-strong graduating class of Old Dominion University -- this columnist's alma mater -- that he thought of lecturing about controversial TV coverage of the recent presidential election, but thought better of it.
"Television news has a very hard time with complex issues," Russert said in his commencement address to the audience of 15,000 in Norfolk, Va. "We sometimes oversimplify things and make incorrect projections."
The Sunday news-show host recalled former TV news broadcaster David Brinkley observing that "if Moses came down from the mountaintop in 2001, television news would report it the following way: 'Moses came down from the mountaintop today with the Ten Commandments -- here's Sam Donaldson with the three most important.'"
NO LITTLE TOE
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and former secretary of the Navy, says it's "out of a sense of duty" that he's coming to the defense of former Sen. Bob Kerrey, the Nebraska Democrat whose combat duty as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam was recently called into question.
Warner, who served in the Pentagon during some of the most "intense" months of the Vietnam War, often visiting the war zones, describes a "camaraderie" that runs deep between combat veterans now serving as U.S. senators, and says he often finds himself listening to their stories "of that incredible period of American history."
In fact, says Warner, there is one moment "I shall never forget in my career as a senator."
Just prior to becoming commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, he says, now-retired Gen. Charles Krulak was summoned to the Senate to review various procedural matters with regard to his confirmation.
"General Krulak got up to leave," says Warner. "He said: 'Senator Warner, this is not the first time we met.' I was a little taken aback . . .
"He said, 'I was wounded in Vietnam and was in the process of being evacuated. I was on a stretcher with another man who had just been wounded, and the helicopter was coming in to take us out. Someone came up and grabbed me by the big toe and shook that toe. He said to me: 'Captain, you are going to be all right; you are going to make it.' I am here today to say I made it, and you were that gentleman, as secretary of the Navy, who grabbed me by the toe.'"
For a nation in which "everything we have in our life" depends on it, "it is amazing to me how negative people have turned the word 'oil,' as if it is some evil empire out there," says Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.)
Why the negativism?
"They think of the J.R. Ewing of 'Dallas' days and oil," says the congressman.
Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.) rose on the floor of the House of Representatives to honor the distinguished career of . . . Tom Sawyer?
As in Merced County Sheriff-Coroner Tom Sawyer, who is retiring after 34 years as a peace officer, including several years with the California Highway Patrol.
Sawyer, we should point out, is no relation to Rep. Tom Sawyer, the Ohio Democrat and former mayor of Akron now serving his eighth term on Capitol Hill.