Polarized place

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 06, 2004 12:00 AM

Can't we all just get along?

Not these days. Not if you're a Republican facing a Democrat in the Senate, where one lawmaker says the people's business isn't getting done because "gotcha" politics "has poisoned the atmosphere."

In fact, should the trend continue, "the Constitution is not going to work as it was intended to work," warns Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

"The sharpness of this poisoned atmosphere of excessive partisanship and excessive ideological rigidity has made it very difficult for this government to function," he says.

Under the Constitution, the separation of powers is a check and a balance against each other, but that's beginning to erode, he says, unlike when Senate leaders "even within our lifetime - Everett Dirksen, Lyndon Johnson, Mike Mansfield and Bob Dole" - had roost of the place."

THE OTHER VICTIMS

As President Bush was giving interviews to two Arab TV networks about the apparently small number of U.S. military personnel that humiliated Iraqi prisoners, the National Center for Public Policy Research posted a letter from Army Spc. Joe Roche, whose 1st Armored Division is part of a quick-deployment task force that handles sudden eruptions by enemy forces within Iraq.

The letter reads: "I went to breakfast and dinner at the dining hall here. It is huge, hundreds of soldiers gathered to eat. Around us are large-screen TVs, and yes, the news was mostly about the prison abuse. Everyone is so angry. I mean, angry! It is as if those soldiers hurt us more than the enemies here in Iraq have. ..."

"As you know, we have done raids and captured some of the top terrorists in Baghdad over the past months. In all of those, we handled the enemy with respect. Our big bosses always pressed us on the Geneva Convention rules before raids, and we have taken many classes on ROEs (rules of engagement) and on the proper treatment of prisoners. ... My battalion has caught car bombers, weapons' smugglers, and those laying (land mines) to kill us. We've even captured in raids those who fired mortars at our base on Baghdad Island. And every time we treated them with respect and took care to give them full medical treatment, food and clothing."

The Army specialist ended by recalling when two of his fellow soldiers were hit by a land mine while riding in a military convoy. One was rescued, the other pinned inside.

"They don't know if he was alive as he burned, but (U.S. troops) had to watch," he wrote. "When the (vehicle) blew, across the street were (Iraqi) neighborhood people cheering. They cheered as our fellow American burned and the other one was dragged out. The soldiers, all of them seeing the tragedy of the attack, and seeing the sick group cheering across the street, they all held their composure. No one fired a shot; no one did anything inappropriate. They did exactly as they were trained."

REACHING PEOPLE

Actress Drew Barrymore is filming a documentary aimed at persuading young people to vote. She recently happened upon members of the D.C. chapter of FreeRepublic.com, the conservative grass-roots network, as they conducted a Washington protest.

"Can I ask you guys a question?" Barrymore said. "You come out and you protest. Do you feel that it makes a difference? Do you feel that you reach people?"

Group leader Kristinn Taylor answered: "We used to do this down at the White House every Saturday for a couple years when Bill Clinton was there. It goes like this" - and here Taylor turned to his (cq) fellow Freepers, to have them join in the chant. "You guys ready? One, two, three: 'Bill Clinton, we have you surrounded! Drop the cigar, step away from the intern, and come out with your pants up.' "

"Wow," said the actress.

"The first time we did that," Taylor said, "the Secret Service officer who was working the gate started laughing so hard he doubled over and walked behind the guard shack to compose himself."

DR. SUSAN COLLINS

Not long ago, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked the General Accounting Office to investigate how easy it is to purchase a bogus college degree from a so-called "diploma mill."

Not a problem.

In no time, the GAO purchased not one, but two phony degrees in Collins' name - a bachelor of science degree in biology and a master of science degree in medical technology.

The concerned chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee next week will hold two days of hearings to examine whether senior bureaucrats, many here in Washington, not only purchased bogus degrees, but used taxpayer dollars to do so.

The committee also will explore whether "high-level" government officials have listed diploma mill degrees on security clearance forms.

Among those called to testify will be a convicted diploma mill operator, a former mill employee, and the man who developed the most widely used list of fake diplomas.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee's ranking Democrat, said diploma mills masquerade as legitimate academic institutions - except these degrees are "awarded for a fee."

BIDDING ON HISTORY

Given his impressive public career spanning 50 years, imagine all the political memorabilia Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) collected in his lifetime.

Now, coinciding with a retrospective of Moynihan's life on display at the City of New York Museum, much of his collection goes on the auction block May 16.

Kim Stypeck of Second Story Books in Rockville tells this column that the memorabilia will be auctioned in a live gallery-simulcast EBay auction by Hantman's Auctioneers in conjunction with Second Story Books.

Bidders, she says, will find 162 lots of autographed letters to Moynihan from U.S. presidents, members of Congress, heads of state, celebrities, writers, artists and journalists, as well as presidential signing pens, appointment certificates, signed and inscribed photographs, posters and books.

On May 15, Hantman's will auction world-renowned John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln collector Robert L. White's political and historical memorabilia, including a purported bloodstained fragment from the towel used by the first attending physician after Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

SINGING POETS

As Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee tells it, Italy has its art, California has fine wine, Hollywood has movies and Nashville has songwriters. Or are they poets?

Songs that come out of Nashville, the Republican insists, are poems, especially John Michael Montgomery's latest hit, "Letters from Home."

"It is a poem that touches the heart of Americans at this time," he notes, "with the men and women of our military in Afghanistan and Iraq ... fighting for freedom."

"The last stanza goes like this:

I hold it up and show my buddies
Like we ain't scared an' our boots ain't muddy
But no one laughs 'cause there
Ain't nothin' funny when a
Soldier cries.
So I just wipe my eyes
Fold it up and put it in my shirt
Pick up my gun and get back to work
And it keeps drivin' on, waitin' on letters from home."