Star maker

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jan 25, 2005 12:00 AM

We suggested several years ago that Johnny Carson may have catapulted Bill Clinton into the Oval Office.

Who will ever forget the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, when Clinton droned on and on - for 32 minutes - amidst jeers from delegates more interested in hearing from their presidential nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.?

Carson, who followed politics more closely than most in Hollywood, was amused by Clinton's long-winded speech. So, when the host of "The Tonight Show" invited the relatively unknown Arkansas governor onto his show a short time later, he drew laughter by plopping down an egg timer. The rest is history - eight years' worth.

Meanwhile,CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday offered his own personal recollection of Carson, who might have boosted the news correspondent's popularity, as well.

"During the first Gulf War back in 1991, I was CNN's Pentagon correspondent," Blitzer recalled. "I was then relatively new to TV news, had a funny name - still do - and had a beard. Still have that, as well.

"As such, I quickly became good punch-line material for Johnny Carson's nightly monologue," he continued. "After the war, he invited me on the show, a night I will always remember."

EXPENSIVE BUCKS

Who would have thought that President Bush's home state of Texas would be in the forefront of endangering the fine tradition of hunting in the United States?

A bill has been introduced in the Texas House by Rep. Toby Goodman, a Republican from the urban setting of Arlington - about as far away from Crawford as you can get - that would amend the state's animal-cruelty code to make it a crime to "commit serious bodily injury to an animal" - any animal, wild or otherwise.

"The vague definition will have huge ramifications for sportsmen," says Tony Celebrezze, field director of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. "Any act of injury or death to an animal, even hunting ... will be construed as animal cruelty."

All of which would open up the potential of hunters fighting for their innocence in court, he says - to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Existing law, Celebrezze adds, "sufficiently" defines abuse and cruelty toward animals, while exempting hunting, fishing and trapping as common wildlife-management practices.

WORTH RECALLING

We see that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is equating one of our previous columns on questionable federal money transactions to the current flap over the Education Department paying big bucks to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to hype the No Child Left Behind Act.

"This contract was let according to all the General Service Administration rules, but no matter, the press has met it all with a collective gasp and a cry of 'off with their heads!'" NAM Senior Vice President Patrick Cleary writes in NAM's blog, www.blog.nam.org

He points out that "it was not very long ago when the Clinton administration's Labor Department - OSHA (the Occupational Safety Health Administration), to be precise - paid over 20 witnesses $10,000 each to come testify in favor of its flimsy ergonomics regulation.

"In contrast to what the Department of Education just did, this was not run through any GSA filter, the money was just doled out to allies . . . of the administration and the rule."

Cleary says while NAM "raised a stink at the time," only The Beltway Beat column saw fit to give the questionable payoffs any ink.

FEAR THE BATCH

The last thing Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, wants is for his Capitol Hill colleagues to intervene in Chicago's "corrupt and apparently often phony affirmative-action program," which he fears could affect affirmative-action policy nationwide.

But Jackson says if Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley "does not take the bull by the horns and clean up" the city's controversial program, that's just what will happen.

"That's all this current batch of right-wing, ideologically driven, anti-affirmative action, conservative Republicans need to undermine affirmative action is for the most well-known Democratic mayor in the nation to be exposed as someone who is abusing, misusing and manipulating affirmative action to meet some 'politically correct' affirmative-action goals," says Jackson.

Daley is under the gun for allegedly allowing friends and supporters to land affirmative-action contracts by portraying themselves as minority- and women-operated enterprises.

SLUR TOO FAR

A new book speculating that Abraham Lincoln was homosexual prompted cartoonist Robert Grossman to pen a cartoon depicting Lincoln as a buxom transvestite in the costume of a 19th-century dance hall girl, with this caption:

Babe Lincoln . . . Newly discovered daguerreotype lends support to the theory . . . that the 16th president was gay. Log Cabin Republicans take note.

The Grossman cartoon, published by the Nation in the left-wing weekly's Monday issue, proved too tasteless even for one of the most bitter opponents of the Republican Party.

At his anti-Bush blog (atrios.blogspot.com), Duncan Black was moved to ask: "What . . . was the Nation thinking running this cartoon?"

'DEATH SPIRAL'

What is a $60 billion annual industry that is supported by 9 million jobs and is in a "death spiral"?

If you guessed the U.S. Postal Service, you're right.

In an effort to modernize your local post office for the first time in 35 years, Rep. John M. McHugh, New York Republican, is putting postal-reform legislation back on the table in the newly convened 109th Congress.

McHugh - along with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and Government Reform Committee chairman; the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California; and Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat - has reintroduced the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act to ensure that the Postal Service "can adapt and survive in the competitive communications marketplace of the 21st century."

McHugh is no stranger to modernizing mail, having introduced legislation to reform the Postal Service in every Congress since the 104th, 10 years ago.

As for Davis, he describes the Postal Service's "uncertain" future: "First-class mail volume is declining while the number of addresses is increasing, and the Postal Service has but one mechanism - raising rates - to make up the difference between its falling revenues and rising costs.

"Observers have likened this to a 'death spiral,' where declining business leads to higher rates, which in turn leads to a further decline in business, and so on, and so on, and so on."

FRUIT AND FLAKE

Another eye-opening pork project, contained in the massive omnibus spending bill recently passed by Congress, has been uncovered by Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

"Just when you think Congress can't squeeze any more money out of taxpayers, they spent $347,000 for grapefruit-juice research," the congressman reveals.

Or, more precisely, $347,000 has been earmarked by Congress for grapefruit juice/drug interaction research in Florida.

SPYWARE DEMISE?

Computer users are familiar with the term "spyware" - or Internet-privacy invasion.

Now, Rep. Mary Bono, California Republican, has reintroduced legislation to protect computer users from spyware, but, this time, is giving the Senate ample time to make it law.

In one of the more frustrating realities of Congress, the congresswoman's Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY ACT) passed overwhelmingly in the House last October, but was not passed by the Senate in time to become law before the end of the 108th Congress.

As soon as the 109th Congress convened this month - in fact, on the first day that the House was in session - Bono reintroduced the bill.

Spyware software often is loaded onto a personal computer by a third party without the user's knowledge. Not only are the user's movements and keystrokes tracked, but the third party also can gather credit-card numbers, passwords and other personal information that can then be sold for illegal purposes.

GLAAD-HANDING

"Is it possible for a (homosexual) leader to be paid too much money?" maverick San Francisco AIDS activist Michael Petrelis asks, upon learning what the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has been paying its executive director, Joan Garry.

Relying on public forms filed by the nonprofit homosexual rights group, Petrelis provides a breakdown of Garry's total pay package for the past six years, calculating that her compensation more than doubled, from $108,302 in 1998 to $228,417 in 2003.

Increasing her salary by 111 percent during that span, Miss Garry's annual raise averaged more than 16 percent. Her largest yearly raise (from $122,657 in 1998 to $165,032 in 1999) was about 35 percent. Her smallest raise, in 2003, was about 9.5 percent.

By comparison, the average U.S. worker got a 2.4 percent raise in 2004, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Add up her salary over the years and the total comes to $1,016,253," says Petrelis. "Let's put GLAAD's budget and compensation for its leader in some perspective. In 2003, GLAAD's total revenue was $6,193,332 and Garry made $228,417."

WHO'S HIDING?

So where were all the Democrats hiding in the hours leading up to the presidential inaugural?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told The Beltway Beat that no less than 160 Democrats crowded into her Georgetown home for a celebratory dinner Jan. 19, toasting not only the new 109th Congress, but welcoming Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel as the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

And at similar pre-inaugural venues throughout the city, Democrats - excluding California Sen. Barbara Boxer - were partying right alongside the Republicans.

Among those chatting with this column at Cafe Milano in Georgetown were Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who said he is "proud of our accomplishments" in 2004, despite his party's disappointing finishes in the White House, Senate and House races.

McAuliffe was mum, meanwhile, on his personal favorite to succeed him in the DNC's top post - a seat former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has every intention of filling.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, another of the party's 2004 presidential candidates, said at the same gathering that he is "completely happy with my (post-election) role in the U.S. Senate, and look forward to helping set a course for this nation."

"I've come to the realization that this is where I am supposed to be at this time," is how the senator phrased it.

Vernon Jordan, close friend and adviser to Bill Clinton who was called upon to help steer the former president through the Monica Lewinsky affair, co-hosted a late-evening "supper" of crab cakes and asparagus at the new Mandarin-Oriental Hotel overlooking the Jefferson Memorial. He told us he's keeping more than busy as "a banker four days a week and a lawyer one day a week."

Jordan holds a management position with Lazard Freres & Co., a prestigious New York investment banking firm, and during the Clinton years was a senior law partner with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, & Feld here in Washington.

GRAVES LEAPS

Perhaps it's no surprise that Lisa Graves, chief judicial nominations counsel to Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is joining the ACLU.

In fact, the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union says she will help lead efforts to preserve civil liberties suddenly "threatened" by the Patriot Act, which was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans.

Graves, who will start work in the Washington office next month, comes to the "civil liberties struggle at a crucial moment, when sections of the Patriot Act are scheduled to expire by the end of the year if Congress does not vote to renew them," notes the ACLU.

During the Clinton administration, the 1994 law school graduate became one of the youngest people ever appointed to the position of deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department.

SLIPPERY SLOPE

Self-described "fiscally conservative" lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee tend to drift away from spending restraint, or so reveals a new study by the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union.

"It is clear that once a senator earns this plum committee assignment, his or her record on fiscal restraint can suffer significantly," says NTU policy associate Sam Batkins. "As members of both parties in Congress settle into their committee assignments for 2005, these findings are not encouraging for taxpayers seeking a change in Washington's tax-and-spend mentality."

It turns out that only one Republican committee member, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, improved from his initial NTU rank, while 10 Republicans "slid backward." The ranking for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, did not change.

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran's ranking slipped the most - from 21 to 44 - among Republicans, while Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine's ranking eroded the least at just two places.

Despite some initial slippage, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg is the only member of the committee to receive an A grade in a recent NTU rating, and has done so on more occasions than any other senator on the panel with a total of eight A's during his 11 years of service.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I've never forgotten where I came from. I've never forgotten the values of our great state of Texas. And after I've given it my all for four more years, I'm coming home!"

- President George W. Bush, addressing the Texas State Society prior to his inauguration yesterday.