McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Oct 26, 2001 12:00 AM
The mother of United Airlines Capt. Jason M. Dahl, whose heroism aboard Flight 93 on the morning of Sept. 11 saved the lives of countless Americans in Washington, and quite possibly many members of Congress who work in the Capitol, says she accepted her son's tremendous love of flying, but could never quell her concern for his safety. "Jason's mother recently told me that Jason would reassure her by saying if he were ever to experience an airborne disaster, he would be sure to go down over trees or an open field, and not a populated area," reveals Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.. "Over the woods of western Pennsylvania on the morning of September 11, Capt. Jason M. Dahl kept his word." FIREMEN HEROES Across the Potomac River from Washington, along the cobblestone streets of historic Alexandria, one finds the Friendship Firehouse Company, one of the nation's first volunteer fire-fighting organizations, established in 1774. It's said that George Washington, who kept a townhouse in Alexandria, once came upon Friendship firemen struggling with buckets of water and stepped down from his horse to help douse the flames. Soon thereafter, Washington became an honorary member of the company. The 18th century firemen and their horse-drawn pumpers are distant memories but their firehouse is filled with exhibitions, artifacts and historic equipment that tell the story of this nation's early firemen. Today, the young children visiting the firehouse aren't so interested in the wooden buckets and shiny pumpers of days gone by. Instead, says tour guide Nancye (cq) Postman, the children without fail look around for the Friendship firemen, asking if they've gone to the Pentagon or to New York to help with recovery efforts. "It's amazing to me how these kids have all processed this (terrorist) event," Postman tells us. ONE TOUGH MONTH Almost every day on Capitol Hill, by unanimous consent, leave of absence is granted to one or more congressmen who, for whatever reason, feel they must be excused from conducting the business of the nation. Some lawmakers have appointments to keep; others, speeches to give; some catch the flu, while many experience airline flight delays. But the most legitimate excuse for a sudden leave of absence thus far this congressional session has to go to Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who - as was announced on the House floor - high-tailed it out of Washington "on account of his house catching on fire." "Everything is fine," a spokesman for Aderholt told us Tuesday. "There was some structural damage, but luckily the congressman and his family were not home at the time, and nobody was injured." NEEDLES IN A HAYSTACK Virtually unnoticed in recent days are U.S. Census Bureau statistical adjustments to the 2000 census that estimate 8 million illegal aliens are living in the United States. Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, tells us the updated number of illegals - larger than might have been expected from earlier Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates - is especially troubling, given failures that immigration control played in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And perhaps even more troubling, in 1990 the INS put the U.S. illegal-alien population at 3.5 million. In other words, during the 1990s, the population of illegal aliens grew by roughly half a million a year. But don't blame the INS. Instead, the CIS contends, the problem lies with Congress and previous administrations, Democratic and Republican, for failing to provide money and political support it says the INS needs to enforce the ban on hiring illegals, to track down those who overstay their visas - as was the case with several of the Sept. 11 terrorists - and to adequately guard all of the nation's borders. "These new estimates have enormous implications for the security of our nation," says Camarota. "If a Mexican day laborer can sneak across the border, so can an al-Qaida terrorist." WREST CONTROL More and more Americans are calling for immigration reform and border-control legislation, similar to that proposed by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wants to enact a six-month moratorium on foreign student visas. "Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the number of visitors to our organization's Web site has tripled," Scott Lauf, executive director of, tells this column. "And we have received tens of thousands of signed petitions and letters, and this activity is exclusively due to American citizens' concerns over border security and lax immigration controls." GRAPEVINE TO OSAMA U.S. intelligence is apparently having a difficult time pinpointing exactly what cave Osama bin Laden is cowering in. Chip Vara, a senior business analyst in Jacksonville, Fla., thinks he has discovered the solution, as he writes in this letter of the week: "For some unknown reason, the United States government has not unleashed its most potent weapon in trying to find Osama bin Laden," says Vara. "Let me share with you how I stumbled onto this oversight. "This past weekend, my family watched Troy State University (of Alabama) play the University of California at Northridge. I have a son who is a graduate assistant to the TSU athletic director and we had free tickets. Accompanying my wife and myself were my mother-in-law and my wife's brother's family. "While watching the game with my brother-in-law, I noticed an elderly lady, dressed to the nines in TSU colors, walking to and fro along the fence line separating the grandstand from the field. She kept this vigil up most of the day, which caused me to wonder who she might be. The game ends, the family goes out to eat, my brother-in-law returns to Florida, leaving my wife, son and mother-in-law to spend the night in Troy. "On Sunday morning, we worship at the First Baptist Church and whom should I see but my mystery lady from the ballgame. I point her out to my wife and she begins to tell me the lady's entire life history. I ask her how she knew this and she simply said, 'Mother told me.' "Realizing my mother-in-law had been in Troy, Ala., for less than 24 hours and had uncovered all this information about this mystery lady, it dawned on me how the U.S. government could find Mr. bin Laden," Vara continues. "My mother-in-law is but one of thousands of genteel Southern women who live in small rural towns. These women man the grapevine that keeps their communities informed about who's visiting whom, who's in the hospital this week, you know what I mean. They simply know how to find information. "All we need to do is air-drop in a couple of dozen of my mothers-in-law into Afghanistan and I guarantee they will find Osama's location in no time. Of course, they will also find out his favorite color, food, and other unnecessary information. But they will find him."