Coming home

John McCaslin
|
Posted: Aug 03, 2004 12:00 AM

Last November, The Beltway Beat called attention to the remains of up to five U.S. Navy airmen still sitting above ground in Greenland, where they perished in 1962 while hunting for Russian submarines.

"They are not under ice, but visible every summer when the snow melts," said retired naval officer George G. Fabik of Allentown, Pa. "They were last seen in 2001. This has to be considered a national disgrace. They did die in the service of their country."

Now, 42 years later, a military and civilian team of 16 men departed Norfolk on Monday in hopes of recovering the remains.

Bob Pettway, a former Navy radio operator and retired Secret Service agent, explained to this column that a dozen naval crewmen in all vanished on Jan. 12, 1962. In August 1966, four British geologists were traversing the Kronborg Glacier on Greenland's east coast and happened upon the crash site - the plane's fuselage still intact. They took identification from several of the bodies and promptly reported the crash site to U.S. officials.

A Navy recovery team arrived at the site in September after a heavy snowfall. They spent 24 hours digging through the deep snow to recover what remains they could, then detonated explosives to destroy the aircraft and any classified materials.

All told, the team recovered seven identifiable bodies and partial remains of possibly three more crewmen, which could not be identified. The seven were buried either at Arlington National Cemetery or in family plots, while a separate Arlington ceremony was held in 1966 for the unidentified remains - buried in a common grave bearing the names of the remaining five.

In August 1995, exploring geologists again came upon the crash site, where they photographed the remains of at least two crewmen. But the Navy took the position that because the plane crashed during peacetime, it did not fall within the scope of "full recovery" rules approved by Congress during wartime.

That position has now changed. Mike Maus, with the Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, in Norfolk, tells this column that the recovery of the bodies is as important for the Navy as it is for the families.

"We're all enthused and excited to be able to go in and do this and help the families more than anything else, to help bring closure to the whole issue," he says. "We in the Navy feel very strongly about not leaving anybody behind - ever. We always want to bring our people home."

KOFI TAX?

The potential for the rift between the United States and the United Nations to grow wider is definitely on the agenda as the world body prepares to consider "global taxes" to fund development.

"The proposals to be considered include a carbon tax on fuel use, a tax on currency transactions, an arms-sales tax, a global lottery and a tax on international airline travel," reveals IISD Linkages, a resource for environmental and development policy-makers.

The issue of global taxation, says the report, is heavily opposed by powerful nations such as the United States and Japan, but other key countries embrace the idea.

"France and Germany, backed by Chile and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, signed a declaration in January re-launching the concept of taxing arms sales and financial transactions to boost funding for global development efforts in combating poverty and hunger," says IISD.

LAW OF THE LAND

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged the San Antonio Express-News and Hearst Communications Inc., its parent company, with violating the Fair Housing Act.

The newspaper accepted and published 42 ads for rental housing that excluded potential renters because of their race, religion, sex, national origin or familial status.

"Some newspapers still do not understand their obligations even though the Fair Housing Act has been the law of the land for more than three decades," says HUD Assistant Secretary Carolyn Peoples.

The newspaper has been under investigation since late 2000, although this specific charge stems from a 2002 complaint filed by the Fair Housing Council. Typical of the "illegal" ads, which ran between 2000 and 2002:

"Hispanic or White male pref., to share home."

"Beautiful historic house ... No pets/children."

A hearing is set for Oct. 5 before a U.S. administrative law judge, although attorneys representing HUD and the newspaper could request the case be decided by a federal judge in U.S. District Court.

REPORTING FOR DUTY

What with all the campaign rhetoric of late about who did and did not serve in Vietnam, one of Capitol Hill's most outspoken Democrats, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, says it's high time this country holds the Vietnamese government accountable for its continued human rights abuses.

Legislation now before Congress, which Jackson-Lee supports, would prohibit non-humanitarian assistance to the communist country until its regime allows freedom of political, religious, social and cultural expression.

"Right now, Vietnamese citizens are living under a repressive regime," says the congresswoman. "They are not afforded the basic human rights to worship however they choose, speak whatever they feel, write whatever they desire and associate with whomever they wish. Many are being unfairly arrested and tried, and are being forced to serve lengthy prison sentences.

"There is evidence of underage youths serving in the armed forces," she continues. "There is also evidence that there is widespread torture, excommunication and murder of those who choose to worship in non-state-approved religious organizations. Opposing political views also merit the same consequences."

During an East Room ceremony at the White House in 1995, President Clinton announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam, standing together with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

But the senators, Vietnam veterans both, have been criticized since for not reacting swiftly to cases of arrests, torture and murder. An Easter 2004 crackdown, according to International Christian Concern, left more than 280 Montagnard Christians in the country dead.

GOOD GUYS WIN

It's about time that a federal law enforcement agency is publicly honored for preventing a domestic terrorist attack.

Realizing that Americans hear little of counterterrorism success in this country, partly for intelligence reasons, Congress is recognizing a group of "local heroes" - FBI agents from Buffalo, N.Y. - for their work in investigating and bringing to successful prosecution a U.S.-based terrorist cell known as the Lackawanna Six.

In the spring of 2001, agents learned, the six men from Lackawanna, N.Y., were recruited to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

"The camp was directed by al-Qaida and included speeches given personally by Osama bin Laden," recalls Rep. Jack Quinn, New York Republican. "The six admitted to attending the al-Qaida training camp to learn terrorists' tactics."

As the congressman points out, the United States might never know what harm the Lackawanna Six intended to cause Americans, but considering the most recent terrorist attacks in Bali, Indonesia, and in Madrid, "We all feel safer knowing that they are behind bars."

START YOUR TRACTORS

Washington, D.C., is famous for its bountiful green parks. Perhaps one day it will be known for its bumper crops.

A new study, reports NASA headquarters in Washington, finds that warmer temperatures in "concrete jungles" like the nation's capital cause plants to stay greener longer into the year when compared with the surrounding countryside.

As the space agency explains it, urban areas with high concentrations of buildings, roads and automobiles retain heat, creating urban heat islands. These "city climates" influence growing seasons up to six miles outside a metropolis.

The study reveals that growing seasons in 70 cities in the eastern United States were about 15 days longer than in rural areas.

"If you live in a rural area and drive regularly into the city, and if you pay attention to vegetation, you will see a difference in the growing seasons in early spring and late autumn," said Xiaoyang Zhang, the NASA-funded study's lead author.

Zhang finds that for every 1.8 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, vegetation blooms three days earlier. Thus, the higher temperatures in cities cause plants to green-up on average seven days earlier in the spring.

Similarly, the growing season in cities lasts eight days longer in the fall than the rural areas. Straw hat, anyone?

WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE

Laura Ingraham has cause to celebrate.

In 10 short months, the conservative author and outspoken pundit has become the most successful woman in political talk radio.

Ingraham's morning talk show, syndicated by the Talk Radio Network, recently hit the 250-station mark (actually 257 stations, but who's counting?). She is heard in 22 of the country's top 25 markets, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston and New York (which helps explain why liberal activist and author Al Franken is having a difficult time signing up radio stations to air his new show).

"We are very psyched," Ingraham tells The Beltway Beat.

NASA SEE-SAW

The photos of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in a baby-blue "bunny suit" at the Kennedy Space Center are causing a furor at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The apolitical space agency was caught between pundits and comics making fun of the Massachusetts senator and Democratic campaign officials accusing NASA of leaking the photos.

So on Monday, according to the Web site SpaceRef.com, NASA's general counsel ordered the photos removed immediately from all NASA Web sites, citing the Hatch Act, which restricts the political activity of executive branch employees.

But later yesterday afternoon, the agency reversed itself.

All the photos of Kerry in the Orbiter Processing Facility - the ones that have drawn the comparisons to Michael Dukakis in a tank and Woody Allen in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" - are back on the NASA site, although some photos of a political rally at the Space Center remained offline yesterday.

BIG APPLE

With the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston now history, attention turns to preparations for the 2004 Republican National Convention, to be held late next month at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"New program speakers have been announced, including seven members of Congress, a lieutenant governor and Miss America 2003, and each will attest to the president's character from a unique perspective," says convention CEO Bill Harris, who's gearing up for 50,000 delegates, alternates, party officials and members of the press.

The latest line-up of speakers includes Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee (he's chairman of the 2004 Republican platform), Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and 22-year-old Miss America Erika Harold.

They join speakers who include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and, last but not least, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The convention runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.