Wheelchair Derby

John McCaslin
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Posted: Aug 10, 2004 12:00 AM

"It was - thank goodness - an uneventful motorcade to the airport."

So writes Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times in the official White House pool report of President Bush's motorcade Sunday afternoon from the Bush retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, to a local airport for the flight to Washington.

"'Thank goodness' because, at various points along the way, the presidential motorcade traveled at speeds that exceeded 75 mph, according to the speedometer," Chen notes. "And this was mostly on a narrow, curving, and sometimes hilly two-lane road - sans sidewalk. More than once, we could hear tires squealing."

Certainly there weren't adoring fans lining these narrow, twisting roads?

"Adding to the thrill of the chase were the occasional clusters of people - including children - obviously out to catch a fleeting glimpse of (Mr. Bush)," the scribe says. "Among them, at one point, were more than a dozen seniors in wheelchairs."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked later about what equates to "reckless driving," said there was no special reason for such high speeds, surmising that the rush had been intended to minimize the motorcade's inconvenience to the local residents.

"For the record," Chen writes, "passengers in (the press vehicle) clocked the van's speed variously at 50 mph (in a 25 mph zone), 60 mph (in a 35 mph zone) and above 75 mph (in a 45 mph zone.) The white-knuckles ride lasted about 25 minutes."

KING OF TERROR

Despite the ensuing uproar, Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, stands by his insistence that 85 percent of the mosques in the United States have "extremist leadership."

And King says that although most in the Islamic community are "loyal Americans," their leadership is reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement when they hear anti-American rhetoric or plots.

Ghazi Khankan, director of the Westbury-based Islamic Center in New York (which King has visited several times), labels the congressman "out of touch with the Muslim community."

But King says he bases his belief on extensive conversations with law-enforcement officials in Washington and New York. (He acknowledges that he used this same information on Muslim leaders for a plot line in his new terrorist-related novel, "Vale of Tears.")

"Most of the Muslim community is cooperating with police and local authorities," he says. "But 85 percent of the mosques have extremist leadership in this country."

COSTLY RERUN

Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman is drawing fire for sponsoring legislation that sets up a $90 million program to research what countless other studies have already done - the effects of television viewing on children.

To justify such an expense, the Connecticut senator asserts "no one is looking out, in a systematic way, for what our children are looking at."

Not so, says Citizens Against Government Waste, citing myriad "clean television" advocacy groups scrutinizing every hour of television and video games - going so far as to boycott advertisers and write newspaper editorials.

Among several groups: Children NOW, the Children's Digital Media Center and Common Sense Media. Lara Mahaney of the Parents Television Council says "to spend $90 million on something we already know is just a waste of money."

For beach reading during the August recess, Lieberman might pick up the 2003 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of the effect of television on infants, toddlers and preschoolers. That study's finding: Thirty-six percent of children under age 6 have a TV set in their bedroom.

Or the American Academy of Pediatrics study of the effect of television on children under 2. Its recommendation: Do not watch TV at all.

ANOTHER CHENEY?

Republicans, for once, are elated about their prospects in one notorious Democratic bastion of Northern Virginia, where unlike the 2004 presidential contest this congressional campaign is still about "undecided" voters.

Yes, seven-term incumbent Rep. James P. Moran, a former mayor of Alexandria plagued by controversy, leads Republican challenger Lisa Marie Cheney, a military defense expert, by a 44 percent to 29 percent margin, says a new Tel Opinion Research poll.

In any other district, Republican election observers would look at these numbers and patiently await the next election.

Except that this same poll finds that more than one in four voters - 27 percent - in the 8th Congressional District that borders Washington remain "undecided."

"Clearly, these poll numbers show that the constituents of the 8th District of Virginia believe that the character issue is important," Cheney, who is not related to Vice President Dick Cheney, tells this column. "The voters expect elected officials to behave in accordance with the law, not behave as if they are above it. They are tired of the embarrassing, insensitive antics of Jim Moran and are looking for change."

LIFE OF THE PARTY

Democrats are calling Louisiana Rep. Rodney Alexander a "coward" for abandoning the party Friday in favor of the Republicans.

But it was an election-year switch that should not have surprised Democrats, since Alexander was more in step with the Republican Party than his 2002 Republican opponent.

In a Dec. 7, 2002, run-off election pitting Alexander against Republican Lee Fletcher, the pro-life movement for once supported the Democrat.

Yes, both candidates opposed abortion. But Fletcher would allow abortions in the case of rape or incest - a position that not only turned pro-life activists against the Republican candidate, but led former Republican Rep. Clyde Holloway, a staunch pro-lifer himself, to refuse to endorse his party's candidate.

All of which breathed unexpected life into the campaign of Alexander, who won by 974 votes.

BUSH ON THE BALL

The Bush family's golf game was a surprise subject of Sunday's sermon at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Seated in pews adjacent to President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were his parents, former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush; the president's sister, Dorothy; and his three brothers Neil, Marvin and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Behind the first family were an estimated 350 parishioners, many of whom stood to hear the sermon delivered by the Rev. M.L. Agnew Jr., visiting pastor from St. Mark's Cathedral in Shreveport, La.

At one point, says the White House pool report, Agnew reached out and tapped Bush on his left shoulder, saying "Fear not . . . for I am with you."

Then the pastor picked up a golf club (an iron) and told an amusing tale of the senior Bush missing a golf ball on repeated swings. Having driven long to the right, Agnew said, Bush made a "mighty swing" at the ball, now resting atop an anthill, and missed, killing "about 346 ants."

He swung again and missed, the minister said. This swing killed "641 ants."

Then, he swung repeatedly and wildly, Agnew said. "And finally one little ant said to another little ant, 'If we're going to live, we better get on the ball.'"

The moral of the sermon?

"What God is reminding us to do is to get on the ball," said the pastor.

SIT AND REFLECT

Rounds of golf - not rounds of fire - are being organized by the joint military chiefs for the Pentagon Memorial Fund charity golf tournament Sept. 3 at Andrews Air Force Base.

The first-of-its-kind tournament will benefit a memorial park for those killed at the Pentagon and aboard American Airlines Flight 77 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Catalyst for the outing is Petty Officer First Class Thomas Hicks, a devoted golfer.

"We felt compelled to do something to help the fund, since we have worked in the Pentagon every day since the attack," he says. "I arrived shortly after the attack and the Pentagon was still recovering from the shock. As military members, we understand the pain associated with the loss of loved ones and we have lost some of our brothers and sisters in uniform."

The fund needs $27.5 million to build and maintain the memorial, consisting of 184 individual benches - each inscribed with a victim's name - rising above a lighted pool of water, with paper bark maple trees placed throughout the park.

To be erected on the Pentagon grounds near the point of Flight 77's impact, the benches will be arranged in a timeline of the victims' ages: 3-year-old Dana Falkenburg to 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky.

Members of the fund's executive committee include, among others, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry H. Shelton and American Airlines Chairman Edward Brennan.

GREEN BUSH

George W. Bush the "conservation" president?

That's what representatives from the nation's leading conservation groups say after Bush last week revealed plans for new initiatives developed to help protect wildlife, water and land resources.

"The Conservation Reserve Program has increased enrollment by 2.6 million acres since the president signed the 2002 Farm Bill," said Wisconsin resident Craig Johnson, treasurer of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, following last week's meeting among Bush, conservationists and farmers in Le Sueur, Minn.

A total of 34.8 million acres of "environmentally sensitive" lands have been protected since Bush signed the bill, he said.

The president last week also announced an additional 800,000 acres under federal protection and directed Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to offer early re-enrollment and contract extensions to secure land-conservation benefits.

OOPS

"I think Larry will make a superb governor - excuse me, congressman. And Mike Rounds, of course, is here as your governor."

- Vice President Dick Cheney at a Sioux Falls, S.D., reception this week for congressional (at least for now) candidate Larry Diedrich.

START YOUR ROACHES

It's almost time once again for the famed "Cockroach Derby," staged annually by the New Jersey Pest Management Association.

This year the derby pits two giant Madagascar "hissing" roaches - named Bush and Kerry - against each other in an effort to predict the outcome of the Nov. 2 presidential election.

The Aug. 19 derby is a highlight of the association's 57th annual trade show and clambake held on the Rutgers University Cook College campus.

"We have had an 80 percent accuracy rate in previous election-year races," says Leonard Douglen, the association's executive director. "In 2000, however, the race between the Gore roach and the Bush roach was so close it was run a second time with no conclusive decision which roach had won."

More than 600 of the state's pest management professionals are signed up for the series of educational seminars and other events that feature a full day of lectures by specialists from across the nation. More important, the official starter of the race will be Phil Cooper of Cooper Pest Control, who maintains the 6-foot-long, plastic-enclosed "racetrack" upon which the hissing roaches will vie for victory.

GONE BY MORNING

A most ear-opening interview this week with John Kerry's former commanding officer in Vietnam, who told the Kevin McCullough Show in New York that he had asked Kerry to leave his unit in Vietnam after the issuance of his third Purple Heart.

Former Navy Lt. Thomas Wright said he frequently was forced to confront Mr. Kerry over willful disobedience to orders while aboard Swift Boat patrols.

He told radio host Kevin McCullough that on frequent occasions Kerry would randomly fire at "things he thought were moving" along the shoreline. The lieutenant stated that protocol was to fire only when the unit was receiving hostile fire. He explained that part of the patrol's goal was to develop contacts with noncombatants living along the rivers.

He said when confronted about his defiance, Kerry would either claim he didn't hear the orders or insist that he thought "he saw something" moving.

The former commanding officer's boldest claim was that after Kerry received his third Purple Heart, he and two other ranking officers flat-out asked the now Democratic presidential candidate to leave his unit because his behavior put the group in greater vulnerability and danger.

Kerry, he said, replied that he would not leave, "but was out of there by morning."

WRITING RIGHT

Unfortunately for the two top-ranked liberals in the land - Democratic presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls John Kerry and John Edwards - college students won't be steering the country further left anytime soon.

An intriguing story in the current issue of Editor & Publisher finds that certain universities remain liberal bastions. Take Northwestern University, where assistant professor Michele Weldon estimates as many as 80 percent of the school's journalism students are politically liberal.

Bob Zelnick, who is chairman of the journalism department at Boston University, also weighs in that most of his students "lean more liberal than the general population."

But there are the exceptions, which help balance out the political landscape of young voters. At Central Michigan University, journalism department head Maria Marron reports that her students are "a fairly conservative bunch." Similar findings are also culled from St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., where journalism dean Lee Coppola says the majority of his budding reporters are "moderate to right."

And how many of these students are influenced by their teachers - statistically a liberal bunch?

David Rubin, dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, says he doesn't buy into the notion that professors indoctrinate their students on certain issues.

But Ken Chandler, the Boston Herald's editorial director (who must have attended a Massachusetts institute of higher education) disagrees: "A lot of people who teach are left-wing, and they fill their heads with a lot of crap."

POLITICS ASIDE

"In 'Four Trials,' John Edwards has written movingly of people who were terribly wronged and whom he helped seek some measure of justice with great skill, determination and genuine compassion."

- Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, in his glowing review appearing on the back cover of Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards' new paperback book, "Four Trials," in which the senator from North Carolina writes about his years as a lawyer.