National malls

John McCaslin
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Posted: Dec 09, 2004 12:00 AM

Earlier this week, we drew your attention to a newspaper ad placed in The New York Times - showing the Statue of Liberty, with the tag line, "Very Inspiring. Now, where's the mall?" - urging consumers to visit one of 13 shopping malls in metropolitan New York.

It was one of a series of ads placed by Simon Property Group Inc. that used familiar landmarks, not just in New York, but also in Boston, Philadelphia and here in Washington. As we reported, an apologetic Simon group since dropped the ad campaign, saying it "meant no disrespect to this national icon of freedom."

Still, Simon might not have been too far off base, as Beltway Beat reader Joseph Conway writes to inform us.

"The Simon Properties ad about the Statue of Liberty reminded me of a time I was standing on the edge of Independence Mall in Philadelphia," Conway says. "A woman walked up to me and said she was looking for Independence Mall. I said this was it.

"She looked around and said, 'Where are the stores?'"

STILL COUNTING

One question repeatedly asked around Washington: Where has Terry McAuliffe been hiding?

Of late, the embattled chairman of the Democratic National Committee has been focusing his attention on two states - Washington, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire's plea for a costly recount has been answered by party headquarters (42 votes separate her and her Republican opponent), and Ohio.

"We will make sure that every vote in Ohio is counted," McAuliffe insisted yesterday. "But we aren't stopping there."

The chairman, in a missive to this column, says his Washington headquarters also will conduct a thorough investigation into the "conduct" of those running the 2004 general election in Ohio. Among questions he wants answered:

- Why did so many people have to wait in line in certain Ohio precincts and not others? (Actually, what state or locale doesn't experience long lines at some precincts and virtually none in others?)

- Why weren't there enough voting machines in some counties?

- Why were so many Ohioans forced to cast provisional ballots?

While he's holding on to a glimmer of hope in Washington state, McAuliffe concedes: "We do not expect either the recount in Ohio or our investigation to overturn the results of this election."

BORKED IN EUROPE

It has been one tough month for Italian Minister for European Affairs Rocco Buttiglione, whose nomination to the European Commission was rejected by the European Union because of his views on marriage and sexuality - what has been compared to the American equivalent of a politically correct "Borking."

"As European Catholics, we disagree with Rocco Buttiglione's positions on the family, on homosexuals, on women, as well as on his promotion of camps for asylum seekers at the borders of the EU," said one letter of protest from 140 prominent European Catholic leaders.

Despite being labeled an intolerant zealot, sexist and "homophobe," Buttiglione arrived in Washington this week to receive the Faith and Freedom Award, presented by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

LEARNING SPANISH

Given the verbal communication problems increasingly experienced in this melting pot of ours, one has to question whether recent immigrants who have poured into the United States - especially from south of the border - are living up to the civic ideal of acquiring English proficiency.

Now, a new study by the Washington-based U.S. English Foundation on the acquisition of English as a primary language confirms a wide learning gap between Hispanic immigrants and immigrants of other ancestries.

"In checkout lines, service stations and grocery stores across the nation, one no longer need live in New York or Los Angeles to encounter a near-daily language barrier. The foreign language we are most likely to encounter is Spanish," the study states.

Recent arrivals from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe are significantly more likely to learn English, with sub-Saharan Africans and Russians speaking English at well above the 71 percent national average.

"Mexicans and Guatemalans speak English at the lowest levels of proficiency," the study says.

BABBLING NATIONS

We're told the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, has been traversing Capitol Hill this week discussing with congressional members and staff not only the shenanigans he witnessed while posted at the organization, but also what he personally uncovered while researching his book, perhaps appropriately titled "Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos."

EXCLUSIVE SOIREE

Legendary spy master and senior KGB officer Victor Cherkashin, who handled two of America's most dangerous traitors - the CIA's Aldrich Ames and FBI's Robert Hanssen - is flying from Moscow to Washington for a most intriguing dinner date.

The International Spy Museum is organizing the unusual January encounter, at which 20 guests will pay $160 each to dine and dish - and raise wine glasses to toast the end of the Cold War - with Cherkashin.

My, how times have changed. Cherkashin's KGB career spanned 38 years, from Josef Stalin's death in 1953 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was Cherkashin who tracked the legendary Oleg Penkovsky while spying for the United States, although Cherkashin will not reveal many secrets about KGB undercover operatives and operations.

GORED AGAIN

National Anxiety Center founder Alan Caruba has issued his 14th annual "Most Dubious News Stories of the Year," and once again groups and individuals claiming to be protecting humans, animals or the entire Earth "managed to make complete fools of themselves in 2004."

A clearinghouse for information on scare campaigns, Caruba's anxiety center adds that the news media were "pleased to report the end of the world despite evidence that the 4.5 billion-year-old planet was behaving the same as always, as is the case of the human race."

Among our favorites is this August eye-opener from Reuters news agency: "The bad news is that tens of millions of people along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and Canada may drown if the slow slippage of a volcano off north Africa becomes a cataclysmic collapse. But the good news is that the world is not likely to be destroyed by an asteroid any time soon."

Because we are a political column, how about January, when former Vice President Al Gore selected the coldest day in a half-century of New England weather records to declare that global warming was the result of "(President) Bush policies (that) are leading to weather extremes."

Not to be outdone, an October Florida billboard campaign by Scientists and Engineers for Change and Environment 2004 said the hurricanes the state experienced were Bush's fault. They were joined by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's National Voter Fund warning that "minorities (are) more heavily impacted by environmental threats."

HORSING AROUND

Trent Loos, a sixth-generation farmer, radio host and founder of Faces of Agriculture, attended the Nevada Cattlemen's Convention and met Dave Mathis, a retired college professor who was on the original committee in 1971 tasked to deal with the excess of horses that had accumulated in the West.

"Every single day you can find a major newspaper in this country writing a story about the romantic notion of wild horses in the West," Loos writes after the convention. "Animal-rights zealots seem to have a haven for fund-raising by mentioning the sentimental value of a wild horse."

From Mathis' committee came the adopt-a-horse (or burro, if you prefer one) act. Ironically, Loos says, "The original intent was to find the most cost-effective manner to remove these animals from the United States government feed bill. The result is possibly the most costly method that could have been created."

The Interior Department has earmarked $30 million to deal with wild horses and burros, 38,000 of which still roam federal lands today. Nevada, where Loos owns 15 horses, happens to be home to more than half, yet "receives only about 15 percent of the budget to provide for the critters," he continues.

So where does the money go?

Last year, $11.6 million was spent on the adopt-a-horse program, and 6,165 horses were adopted. The average person paid $185 to adopt an equine.

"Now let's do some quick cowboy arithmetic," Loos says. "Over one third of the total wild horse budget was spent adopting 6,165 horses, which means (Interior's) Bureau of Land Management spent nearly $2,000 per horse to find it a new owner."