Say it ain't so

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 31, 2005 12:00 AM

After years of good-tempered competition between Congressional Quarterly Publisher and President Robert Merry and National Journal Publisher and President John Fox Sullivan, the pair is calling a truce.

"There is no feud," says Merry, who points out that the two Capitol Hill news publications are longtime market competitors - and competition, somebody once said, is a good thing.

Still, he adds, "John and I never pass up an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in what is a very brutal market, to outmaneuver the other at every turn."

Merry says he and Sullivan were friends before they became competitors and that they resolved long ago that they would not let those competitive juices harm their personal relationship.

Smart decision. Merry's just-published book, "Sands of Empire," will be officially debuted - and toasted - at Sullivan's home this week.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Hats - beach hats, tennis visors, golf caps, sombreros - off to Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, who has pushed through an amendment limiting the number of federal employees who can attend international conferences.

"While it may be important to send scientists, 'experts' and essential staff overseas to attend conferences, I believe 50 people attending a single conference is more than sufficient," says the congressman.

In the past, he observes, such conferences attracted "hundreds" of federal bureaucrats, who jet off overseas at "an excessive amount of tax dollars."

The amendment, just approved by the House, says no more than 50 federal employees will be permitted to attend international conferences.

BEWARE THE BELTWAY

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley, of all budget-conscious lawmakers, has been named Porker of the Month by Citizens Against Government Waste for "raiding" the federal cookie jar of $11 million.

Among "many projects" the Iowa Republican has effectively funded for his state is a feasibility study for a "beltway" around Polk County (we hereby warn readers in the Hawkeye State that constructing such a dangerous loop of asphalt leads to "The Beltway Beat" symptoms suffered by many in the nation's capital. These maladies often lead to scandals, and bigger scandals to "gates," like the granddaddy of them all, Watergate.)

ENDLESS MOWING

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest landowner of them all?

You are, Uncle Sam.

The federal government owns 29 percent of all the land in America, according to the latest survey by the General Services Administration. Farmers, perhaps, will be interested to know that amounts to 653,299,090.2 acres.

Nevada has the largest percentage of federal landownership, nearly 85 percent; followed by Alaska with 69 percent, Utah with almost 58 percent, Oregon with 53 percent and Idaho with 50 percent.

By comparison, the Republican Study Committee points out, the District, established by the Constitution as the federal city (city leaders are demanding more local control, but Republicans won't budge), has 25 percent of its total land owned by the federal government.

Slightly more than 2 percent of federal land in the United States is used for military purposes, while more than 5 million acres owned by Uncle Sam are classified as "vacant," with no definable purpose.

GUNS AND ROSES

Men, have you grown bored on the treadmill? Ladies, are you tired of sweating at the spa?

Then grab a shotgun or fishing pole, because it's a great way to shed extra pounds.

"I think the kind of gradual, sustained exercise a day of hunting offers is far more beneficial than a half-hour in the gym," said Dr. Don Thomas of Montana, a medical doctor who is an avid bowhunter.

The Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation quotes health specialists as saying that traditional outdoor sports - shooting and fishing in particular - just may be what the doctor ordered for millions of overweight Americans.

"For example, did you know that you can burn 408 calories per hour during a typical pheasant hunt? That's over 100 calories more per hour than in golf or dancing," the foundation states.

And guys, don't be afraid to invite ladies on your next round of blasting sporting clays. Surveys show that up to 48 million Americans - many of them women - would happily accept an invitation to go target shooting or fishing, if only they were asked.

NOT AGAIN

That was New Republic Senior Editor Andrew Sullivan ruining an otherwise delightful Sunday by warning us yesterday to prepare for "Abu Ghraib II."

"The ACLU just won a suit to get the photographs we have not yet seen. June 30th, they get released - horrifying beyond belief," he informed viewers of "The Chris Matthews Show."

"More dog collars, more piling up?" Matthews pressed.

"No. Rapes," Sullivan said.

"On camera?" asked the host.

"On camera," the editor said.

WORTH PONDERING

"Too often in America we have attempted to do justice without regard for righteousness, or we have regarded righteousness as an end in itself, without enough regard for those who suffer injustice as a result."

Such was the commencement counsel of Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, earlier this month, explaining to graduates of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., that "those on the receiving end of injustice often become deeply cynical, wounded and . . . eventually lash out in anger at a system they have come to regard as cruelly set against them."

"Their despair and alienation from society, and the social unrest that results, is our punishment."

'NINCOMPOOPS'

We'd written last week that six congressmen - five Democrats and one independent - have organized the Future of American Media Caucus.

Rep. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and a co-chairman of the group, complains that Americans have "fewer programming choices and a rapidly dwindling supply of independent news and information sources," and the caucus "is an important step in the fight to maintain local perspectives and diversity of opinion in the media."

Among the dozens of Beltway Beat readers to react to this latest congressional caucus is Dennis Campbell.

"I literally gasped," he writes. "Do these people have anything actually working inside their heads? We have more choices and news sources now than in any time in history.

"I guess the fact that conservatives now have a way to get their message out is just too much for these nincompoops to bear."

WHERE'S MY WHITES?

"Setting what has to be some kind of endurance record, the president spent two hours standing beneath a full sun in a black suit, shaking hands with more than 900 Naval Academy graduates as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas."

- Official White House pool report of this past weekend. (The Annapolis graduation ceremony, which President Bush headlined, wrapped up nearly 3-1/2 hours after it began with the traditional "Hip, hip hooray!" and ceremonial hat toss.

ROCK COLLECTOR

Hundreds of Washingtonians and tourists alike lined up for hours to shake hands with famed astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and renowned illustrator Wendell Minor as they signed copies of their new children's book, "Reaching for the Moon," at the National Air and Space Museum over the weekend.

The colorful book chronicles Aldrin's childhood, from the time when he was an avid rock collector, through his historic Apollo 11 flight, when he became the second person - literally on the heels of Neil Armstrong - to set foot on the moon, where he got busy again, you guessed it, collecting rocks.

"Life's experiences begin early, and you really never know where your career will take you," Aldrin tells this column. "For a fortunate few of us, the journey never ends. I hope this book and the beautiful art will inspire many to reach for whatever their moon will be."

NONPARTISAN PATH

Four Washington political veterans - Tucker Eskew, Matthew Dowd, Blaine Bull and James S. Taylor - have put aside past differences to form a global government and corporate consulting firm, ViaNovo.

"Our name comes from the Latin root for new way, or new path," says Dowd, chief campaign strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004 (after the surprising election finish, he rightly won "political strategist of the year" honors from the American Association of Political Consultants).

Eskew, who PR Week observed played a key role "in some of the U.S.'s fiercest political tempests," was similarly a spokesman and strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004, previously promoting U.S. foreign policy, here and abroad, as deputy assistant to President Bush.

Joining the pair of Republicans are Bull, former legislative director to then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Texas Democrat, who directed his successful 1988 senatorial re-election campaign, and Taylor, a former special assistant to Mr. Bentsen.

ROCKING THE NATION

He might not be the most popular Republican among conservatives, but Sen. John McCain of Arizona is a favorite among young Americans.

One day after McCain went on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" to say regarding the filibuster struggle that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee "couldn't quite carry it off" (McCain said the far right and far left were interested only in "a battle to win supremacy," not the fight over judges), we learned that he's been chosen to receive Rock the Vote's 2005 "Rock the Nation" award.

Other honorees at the June 8 awards gala will be former President Bill Clinton, who will receive the group's lifetime achievement award, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and the band Black Eyed Peas.

Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote's mission is to build "political power" for young Americans. Last year, 4.5 million more 18- to 29-year-olds voted than in 2000.

HELP ME, RHONDA

President Bush this week named Rhonda Keenum as White House director of public liaison - on top of everything else.

"She is living the life of a four-armed circus act," says one acquaintance, observing that in the past year Keenum and her husband, Mark Keenum, chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, became the proud parents of triplets - Katie, Rett and Mary Phillips.

How do they do it?

"We just do it, we don't ask questions," Mark Keenum says of the couple's hat trick, born on Sept. 17, 2004. "We have good help, but it takes the two of us when we are both there."

Most recently, Rhonda Keenum served as assistant secretary for trade promotion and director general of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, where she managed operations assisting U.S. companies in exporting and succeeding in global markets. Prior to joining the Bush administration, she was senior vice president of Edelman Public Relations.

PIPES AND PIANO

That was White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and other Washington dignitaries filing past four spirited bagpipers - flown in hours earlier from Jordan - and into the Great Hall of the Library of Congress for the 59th Independence Day celebration of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In a conversation with this columnist, Card was high on praise for Jordan's King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania, for their ongoing efforts to secure peace in the Middle East. Jordan has remained predominantly peaceful throughout its history, despite the country being sandwiched between conflict (it borders Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories).

Invited guests Wednesday evening were treated to a standing-ovation piano recital by 24-year-old Jordanian composer and pianist Zade (Dirani). Zade was appointed by the government of Jordan as one of six achievers leading the country into a new era. (In his introduction of the pianist, Jordanian Ambassador Karim Kawar called him his country's leading "cultural ambassador.")

Dedicating his music to building bridges of peace and tolerance, Zade, who has performed before Queen Elizabeth II and former South African President Nelson Mandela, recalled that he was scheduled to perform in rural Maine on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, when life for him and millions of other Middle Easterners changed overnight.

Within days of the terrorist attacks, he started a house concert tour across America, performing an average of 200 nights per year in living rooms, churches, temples, schools and hospitals - "a very humble grass-roots effort to create a better understanding" in the West of his Middle Eastern culture, Zade said.

His second album, "Roads to You," was released last June and climbed to near the top of the Billboard charts.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Someday you will appreciate the grammar and verbal skills you learned here. And if any of you wonder how far a mastery of the English language can take you, just look what it did for me."

- President Bush's commencement address of this past week at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.