Who's on - or more importantly, who's fallen off - the 2003 Washington A List?
"There are some life sentences on the A List - but there's also the death penalty," Nancy Bagley, editor in chief of Washington Life, tells this column.
Every year, the magazine that celebrates Washington's social scene and power elite publishes an A List, compiled in secret committee. This year, 118 members of the Washington establishment make up the list.
"The usual suspects come off, people leave town," says Bagley. "The Gores are off; they've left town. But also surprising is (New York Times columnist) Maureen Dowd is off the list this year, as is (NPR's) Cokie Roberts. Jim and Kate Lehrer made the list, as did George Stephanopoulos and his wife, Alexandra Wentworth."
Leading the list, of course, are President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The list also includes Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr., and their wives.
And, as Bagley puts it, no party in Washington is complete without a Kennedy in the house. Thus the presence of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy and R. Sargent Shriver Jr. and his wife, the former Eunice Kennedy.
Basketball great Michael Jordan and his wife, Juanita, made this year's A team. And last, but never least, at any Washington social function: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton.
President Bush and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein certainly don't walk the same walk, but they wear the same Italian handmade shoes.
"It came as a bit of a surprise when I noticed the order forms from both Saddam and President Bush. We've been making shoes for important figures for years. But to have both Bush and Saddam in the present climate is a bit odd," Milan shoemaker Vito Artiolo told the Sun, a London newspaper.
Both leaders each own three pairs of identical black Vito Artioli shoes - plain leather, crocodile and brogue, though Bush wears size 10 and Saddam wears a 9-1/2.
"Now let us hope they learn to walk together in step," Artiolo says.
HEARTFELT VISIT TO HILL
Bomb-sniffing German shepherds guarding the entrance to the U.S. Capitol building Tuesday weren't sure what to make of blond-haired, blue-eyed Holly Heart.
"The dogs found her a bit surprising," admitted Miss Heart's companion, Ray Raymond, as the pair strolled through the hallowed halls of Congress, where the curvy, 5-foot-6-inch Miss Heart was turning heads.
"It was the same thing with Al Gore," observed Raymond, recalling the day Miss Heart was introduced to the former vice president. "He spent some time with her."
Raymond says "it's only a matter of time before (others identical to Miss Heart) take the country by storm, just like cell phones did. After all, they can cook, clean, dust, do the laundry. All for (a one-time charge of) $3,000."
If you haven't guessed, Holly Heart is a robot.
"I'm a liberal robot," she actually replies, if asked whether she's Democrat or Republican.
Holly Heart belongs to Irene Pollin, Washington psychotherapist (and wife of Washington Sports and Entertainment Chairman Abe Pollin) and founder of the Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation.
The robot, which speaks volumes, helps to increase awareness about heart disease as the No.1 killer of women. Free heart screenings were taking place Tuesday on Capitol Hill, which was the reason for her visit. Raymond is marketing director for Power Robotics Inc., Worldwide Robot Production.
WHIP'S BEST FRIEND
When Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland moved upstairs into the leadership suite of the U.S. Capitol as the new House Democratic whip, he found an office for his best friend - Charlotte.
We stumbled upon Charlotte Tuesday, lying on the floor, surrounded by dog toys - not the least bit concerned as top leaders of the land fretted over the Iraq situation.
"Charlotte's been coming in since 1997," Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen says of the 11-year-old English springer spaniel. "After his wife (the late Judith Pickett Hoyer) passed away, Mr. Hoyer went home one night and found the dog caught in a fence, her chest ripped open. She lost a lot of blood and had to have something like 20 stitches.
"So he brought her into the office to take care of her and it worked out so nicely that he now enjoys having her around. She's got free rein and is everybody's best friend - certainly Hoyer's best friend." Besides Charlotte, Hoyer has three daughters and five grandchildren.
HOLD THE PRESSES
The morning after President Bush's new budget was released, newspaper headlines around the country proclaimed "record deficits" - the highest in U.S. history.
But could these headlines be erroneous?
The Senate Budget Committee's Republican staff is asking the Washington press corps to take a short quiz: "How many times in the past 60 years has the deficit been larger than the level Mr. Bush is projecting for 2003 and 2004?"
The answer, they say, is nine times - 1943, 1944, 1945, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992 and 1993.
"If historical comparisons are to be made, one must consider changes in the value of the dollar, as well as changes in the size or our economy; otherwise, the use of the word 'record' is meaningless," say the staff.
"Consider the following example that anyone who's had a job can relate to: If a worker was earning $40,000 annually in 1992, and in 2003 is earning $42,000, no one would argue that person is earning a record-high salary. In reality, that worker had more buying power back in 1992 than he does today. In fact, that worker would have to be making at least $50,000 to have comparable buying power today."
Furthermore, the staff point out, in the early 1990s, mid-1980s and 1940s, deficits as a percentage of the overall economy were more than 4 percent, 6 percent and as much as 30 percent, respectively. But the budget deficit projected for 2003 is only 2.8 percent of the economy.
In other words, they conclude, the 2003 deficit is $267 billion, lower than in previous years when (in constant 1996 dollars) deficits were $318 billion in 1992, $311 billion in 1983, and $412 billion in 1945.
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, the first released prisoners of war (POWs) from Vietnam marked the 30th anniversary of "Operation Homecoming."
Mentioned in a House resolution that praised the bravery and valor of the POWs is the only one serving on the House side of the 108th Congress - Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who spent nearly seven years as a POW, more than half of it in solitary confinement.
"I think about Feb. 12 every day of my life and I probably always will," Johnson said yesterday. "I thank God, my country and my family for not giving up on me."
On Feb. 12, 1973, the longest-held POWs, as well as those needing urgent medical attention, were finally released to U.S. officials near Hanoi.
Johnson was shot down over North Vietnam during his 25th combat mission on April 16, 1966. He suffered a broken right arm, dislocated left shoulder and broken back. His captors used his injuries to torture him, but the efforts to glean information from the airman proved fruitless. They finally labeled Johnson a "die-hard" and sent him into solitary for 42 months.
SHARKS AND BASS
The United States' most notorious environmental scaremongers, celebrity busybodies, self-anointed public interest advocates, trial lawyers and others who say they know what's best for the rest of us are recipients of the 2002 Tarnished Halo awards presented annually by the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington.
All of the above are known to use misinformation, duplicity and even violence to further a political agenda or fatten their wallets.
"2002 was a banner year for misguided activists, and the field of nominees was unusually rich," says CCF, which announces:
-- The "Billions and Billions Sought" Award, presented to legal sharks Samuel Hirsch and John Banzhaf for suing fast-food chains on the basis that restaurants are responsible for customers' lack of discipline and common sense.
-- The "Most Callous Exploitation of a Tragedy" Award to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who declared U.S. pork farmers a "greater threat than Osama bin Laden" (Kennedy was addressing the Waterkeeper Alliance, which the CCF says has waged its own war against those who bring the United States' little piggies to market).
-- The "Better Dead Than Fed" Award to Greenpeace, for pressuring Zambian dictator Levy Mwanawasa to deny his 2.5 million starving people access to U.S.-provided food aid because it contains genetically enhanced corn - he called it poison - that Americans have been getting stuck in their teeth for years.
-- The "Excuse Me, But Your Agenda Is Showing" Award to Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saying PETA's "nonviolent tactics are not as effective" and for donating money last year to the North American Earth Liberation Front, which the FBI labels a "domestic terrorist group" responsible for a crime spree surpassing $40 million.
-- The "Don't Drink And Number Crunch" Award to former Cabinet secretary Joseph Califano and his National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse for a deeply flawed study overestimating underage drinking by 50 percent.
-- And finally, the "Fishing For the Truth" Award to the National Environmental Trust, for its high-profile campaign to convince the United States' elite chefs to stop serving "endangered" Chilean Sea Bass, which it's been discovered is not only not threatened, but it's not even a bass.