When in Washington

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 16, 2005 12:00 AM

What on earth were Christie Hefner, chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and Democratic Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois and Ellen O. Tauscher of California, brainstorming about Wednesday over breakfast at La Colline?

Hefner, accompanied by her husband, former Illinois state Sen. Billy Marovitz, joked that she came to Capitol Hill in search of Playboy's next celebrity guest photographer, an assignment happily filled most recently by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman.

In truth, it was just a friendly get-together of old friends, Hefner tells The Beltway Beat, and the conversation soon turned to what everybody else talks about when in Washington - who will run for president in the next election and, more importantly, can they win?

The consensus: Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's bid for the White House continues in earnest; Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's biggest obstacle to bunking again in the White House is the man who took her there in the first place, husband and former President Bill Clinton; Arizona Sen. John McCain has every intention of winning the 2008 Republican nomination; Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is youthful enough that he would be in a better position to run for president in 2012; and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not "political" enough to campaign for the nation's highest office. (However, look for her to vie for a California Senate seat, predicts Tauscher.)

Just as the give-and-take was getting intriguing, Ros-Lehtinen excused herself from the table, explaining to amused Democrats that she had to keep a previously scheduled appointment with fellow "members of the white, Christian party."

BIGGER QUESTION

President Bush traveled this week to Pennsylvania to speak at Penn State about Social Security reform. And there to greet him at the university's airport it turns out, was Penn State's legendary football coach, Joe Paterno.

"And so I said, 'Why don't you ride over to the college campus with me here, the university campus. I need a briefing on what's going on,'" Mr. Bush recalled. "And Joe Paterno kindly agreed to travel with me.

"I said, 'Let's talk football.' He said, 'Why don't you tell me what's going on in Washington?'"

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

A notice posted at the State Department draws attention to eight national minority organizations that are holding 2005 annual conferences and training programs that bureaucrats might want to attend on the taxpayers' dime.

One department official tells this column that the department will likely pay "thousands of dollars for conference fees, airfares, hotels and meals. The funding is provided by different bureaus at the State Department."

The 2005 conferences and host cities include: Federal Asian Pacific American Council, Arlington; League of United Latin American Citizens, Little Rock, Ark.; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Milwaukee; National Council of La Raza, Philadelphia; Federally Employed Women Inc., Reno, Nev.; Blacks-in-Government, Orlando, Fla.; National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives, San Antonio, Texas; and the National Congress of American Indians in Tulsa, Okla.

TO THE SOURCE

PBS has taken Jeff Tunks, renowned chef of DC Coast, TenPenh and Ceiba restaurants in Washington, all the way to Iceland in search of wild lamb.

"(W)e take the nation's very best chefs out to the source of their ingredients to find out where their food comes from," explains creator-producer Heidi Hanson of Chefs A' Field, which begins its second season on PBS this summer. "On the series, we meet the farmers and fishermen and get to the roots of our food sources."

Helgi Agustsson, Iceland's ambassador to the United States, recently hosted a sneak preview of the PBS episode featuring Tunks at his residence on Kalorama Road Northwest, serving guests traditional Icelandic treats.

THEN . . .

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman presented an intriguing history of the transfer of power in this country, starting with the earliest days of the republic when the federal government "was a massive spoils system," in his speech to the career Senior Executives Association.

"To the victor of the presidential election went the spoils," Mr. Bodman noted. "Federal employment was a jobs program for the winning side - jobs that weren't intended to serve the American people, but to pay off friends and supporters.

"That made elections very tumultuous affairs, indeed," he said. "Losing the White House often would result in nearly every person on the federal payroll being tossed out on the street."

The secretary quoted Henry Clay, the great senator from Kentucky, as saying that government officials after an election were "like the inhabitants of Cairo when the plague breaks out. No one knows who is next to encounter the stroke of death."

... AND NOW

These days it's almost impossible to be fired from the federal payroll.

Take a follow-up press release issued in recent days by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), plastered with a frightening mug shot of heavy-metal architect Ozzy Osbourne.

The appearance of the Prince of Darkness in this congressional report pertains to extensive internal credit card abuse at the Agriculture Department, where a previous investigation by the inspector general had determined that certain bureaucrats were using government-issued credit cards for personal purchases - $7.7 million over the course of six months, all paid with taxpayer dollars.

Among the items purchased: Ozzy Osbourne concert tickets, tattoos, exotic attire, enrollment in bartending college, an automobile, cosmetics and cigarettes.

One person made 147 car payments totaling $11,444, another withdrew $17,000 from ATM machines, while a dozen persons spent $196,000 among them.

The USDA, reports the RSC, has since taken several measures to address the abuse, not the least being the deactivation of more than 10,000 credit cards, while instituting a "zero tolerance" policy for credit card misuse.

Which is a good thing, considering the person who pulled the 17-grand from the ATMs landed only a 30-day government suspension, reveals the RSC.

As for the Ozzy Osbourne fan, might we suggest the USDA force the employee to sit through an entire Celine Dion concert, singing along to "My Heart Will Go On."

EXTREME LEADERS?

America's college students are increasingly turned off by "partisan bickering" among the country's political leadership, or so says a poll for the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, headed by Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

As a result, important issues are "not being dealt with," say a majority of students polled.

"Today's students are reflecting the growing anxiety of the nation over the future," says Panetta, adding that students also expressed concern about leaders' moral and ethical standards.

One verbatim response from one of the 806 student interviews: "People in politics are either extreme or they don't care; there is no middle ground."

OF MEAT AND MEN

"You are in good company," we'd quoted Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as writing in a letter this week to former President Bill Clinton, who is "struggling" to become a full-fledged vegetarian.

"From Mahatma Gandhi to Albert Einstein, some of the world's greatest historical figures and thinkers have chosen meat-free diets," she said in her pep talk to the former president.

To which Beltway Beat readers like Michael Logan, a company vice president in Princeton, N.J., and Eric Jamborsky respond: "It is interesting (Miss Newkirk) never mentions two of the most famous vegetarians of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler."

Yes, certain accounts have suggested Hitler and his sidekick Himmler (the latter a former poultry farmer before crowning Hitler the Messiah), were both biocentric vegetarians.

Not so, says VIVA, or Vegetarians International Voice for Animals. Hitler, says the group, enjoyed his bratwurst. And he was in good company.

"He ate meat - just like Himmler, Hermann Goering, Adolf Eichmann, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Attila the Hun, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Harold Shipman, Timothy McVeigh, Myra Hindley and almost every other killer in history," the group states.

"So even if he had been vegetarian, it would prove nothing. But he wasn't."