McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Sep 19, 2001 12:00 AM
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS With airports shut down around Washington and elsewhere in the nation for much of last week, area hotels welcomed few new guests, yet continued providing shelter to those stranded here in the nation's capital. In a few instances, reveals Tricia Messerschmitt, director of public relations for the Four Seasons Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, guests who were fortunate enough to secure rental cars offered rides to complete strangers also trying desperately to get home. "More than 25 guests, most strangers to one another, car-pooled together to New York," she says. "Some even left their luggage behind so that there would be room enough in the car for one more passenger." Even more inspiring, she says, Four Seasons staff "made countless round trips to local hospitals delivering our guests who wanted to donate blood. A doctor who was staying here wanted to offer medical assistance at the Pentagon; he was unable to get there by car, so he rented a bicycle to be where he could be most useful." EMOTIONAL TIMES For a view from the nation's heartland, we asked Carrie Winter, a retired teacher and mother of three young children living in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., to describe her emotions in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks on the United States. She agreed, and over the course of several days sent to us these, among other thoughts: -- "As a mom, I have been near tears, or in tears at the horror, the magnitude, the vulnerability, and the family impact that, whomever is at fault, this caused. In times of crisis, America shines brighter than ever. Freedom does come with a price tag. This tragedy has created an appearance of unity in defending her people." -- "The ability to see big pictures is a gift and curse at the same time. I fight the urge to flee, get into survival mode, and create a bubble around my children. But then I would be giving in to the terrorists. The real change has been in my soul, my eyes, and the outlook for our children and our children's children." -- "My friends and I don't sleep very well anymore. Eating is a big chore -- if we can stomach it. I would probably not be cooking at all if I didn't have small children. The heaviness in my eyes and heart just plain ache. How do we protect our babies?" -- "God Bless America, her freedom, the president." A DECADE LATER Virginia Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III is wearing more hats than most Americans ever realized. The question everybody is asking now is: Should somebody have been wearing one of the hats sooner? While tending to his gubernatorial duties in Richmond and throughout the rest of Virginia, Gilmore has served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and in these ideological times that is no small task. But yet another, until now overlooked post Gilmore has held, has suddenly thrust the Virginia governor further into the national spotlight in the wake of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington: chairman of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction. The panel is a congressionally authorized group studying the threat of terrorism in the United States. It so happens that in May, Vice President Cheney asked for an opportunity to meet with Gilmore's panel, whose membership consists of current and former federal officials, terrorism specialists, intelligence authorities, the military, law enforcement, emergency management, fire services, the medical community and public health specialists. (One member of the commission, Ray Downey, chief of special operations for the New York City Fire Department, is listed as missing after the World Trade Center collapse.) Cheney, assigned by President Bush the task of developing a national anti-terrorist policy, met with Gilmore, who told the vice president that it wasn't a question of "if" a terrorist act would occur on U.S. soil, but rather "when." BUY SAFETY The letter to its clients was unlike any Scott & Stringfellow Inc., a Virginia-based personal investment service, had prepared since its founding in 1893. "We are sad. We are shocked. We are sickened. We are very, very angry. We pray for lives lost, families torn apart, and for wisdom to look beyond the tragedy. Today, we get back to work and ponder our changed world." That means the arduous task of guiding clients through a challenging and uncertain outlook. "It could be a heck of a lot worse," William A. Moncure Jr., Scott & Stringfellow vice president, told this column as he watched the U.S. stock market drop in value Monday. "The Feds are doing all the right things (with Monday's half-point interest rate cut), and we, of course, expected this plunge. But it will bottom, and then it will boom, and it will come straight back up." Albeit with exceptions. "The airline industry has changed forever," Moncure said, and property-insurance stocks will take at least a temporary hit because of losses in last week's attacks. Defense stocks, on the other hand (with the apparent exception of Boeing, the dominant commercial-aircraft supplier), are potential beneficiaries, not only of short-term "sector rotation," but of the fundamental need for security. "Safety," the firm says, "seems to be the huge theme going forward." ROOT OF TERRORISM In light of Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Barr's bill to lift the ban on U.S.-sponsored assassinations, and thus eliminate the threat of terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, we thought it a good time to remember the meaning -- and ironic origin -- of "assassin," as defined in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: "Assassin: 1) one of a secret order of Muslims that at the time of the Crusades terrorized Christians and other enemies by secret murder,"