McCaslin's Beltway Beat: Butterfly exhibit

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jan 30, 2002 12:00 AM
Our favorite acquisition of late by the Smithsonian Institution here in Washington: "Votomatic voting machine (complete with chads) and official butterfly ballot from Palm Beach County, Florida." The machine, chads and infamous butterfly ballot - designed by Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a registered Democrat during the 2000 presidential election - are now on display beneath the roof of the National Museum of American History's Behring Center. Democrats, readers will recall, partly blamed LePore's "confusing" ballot for Al Gore's ultimate loss to George W. Bush. Angry at how she was being treated by members of her own party, LePore has since changed her voter registration from Democrat to independent. ORDINARY JOE Although NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw enjoyed extraordinary White House access while taping his recent special, "Inside the Real West Wing," he had a bit of difficulty getting past a Secret Service guard posted at the West Gate. Since Sept. 11, the White House has required an escort for all visitors - recognizable VIPs and leading members of the media included - who don't boast a coveted White House "hard pass," which allows speedy access at the gate. Brokaw does not cover the White House on a regular basis and thus had to explain his mission to the West Gate guard. Asked to identify his "contact point," the NBC anchor stammered: "I don't know, somebody in (White House Press Secretary) Ari Fleischer's office," according to our source, who witnessed the scene. A few minutes later, a Bush press aide ambled up to the gate to escort the anchorman into the West Wing, and later into the normally "private quarters" of the White House, where he interviewed President and Mrs. Bush. SUSCEPTIBLE CLAN One of the more intriguing peeks "Inside the Real West Wing" showed President Bush practically bench-pressing his own weight in the White House gym. That's intriguing because here we find a president who seriously injured himself chewing a pretzel not having the highly recommended "spotter" close by should - God forbid - he accidentally drop the weight bar on his head, neck or chest (this columnist, in the blink of an eye, witnessed a high school classmate become toothless in such a mishap). TOUGH TASKMASTER Former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, who toiled under George Bush the father, gives the new administration high marks for its handling of the terrorist crisis and its ability to remain focused on the domestic agenda. Asked by Washington Times congressional correspondent Audrey Hudson to grade top members of the administration, the former New Hampshire governor gave President Bush an A-plus, although he was a little tougher when grading White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. "I'll give Andy an A," Sununu said with a grin. White House historians will recall that Card served as Sununu's assistant in the prior Bush administration. "You do what you can and then you step aside and let the next generation handle it," says Sununu. "I'm happy to leave it to the new and improved versions." CUBA LINKS In the midst of President Bush's war on terrorism, observes an alarmed Republican congressional official, Bush's own administration has made an exception for two Cuban "hawksbill sea turtle specialists" to be extended rare visas to attend a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seminar on April Fool's Day in Miami. "Smells like more Clinton-style people-to-people exchange," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I couldn't care less about sea turtles," said the official. "But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Sept. 21 arrest of (alleged Cuban spy) Ana (Belen) Montes, the senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, President Bush announced he would not allow Cuban government officials to travel to the United States, except for business in New York or Washington." A mole of Fidel Castro deeply entrenched in the U.S. defense establishment, Montes was arrested by the FBI after she sent repeated signals to her Cuban handlers in the days immediately after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Now, the official wonders, who in the U.S. government will be charged with monitoring the movement of the two Cuban "turtle experts" when they roam around Florida? "Who else will the Cubans meet with in Miami?" says the official. "And whether they will attack the([U.S. trade) embargo remains to be seen." The embargo remains in place, two reasons being that Cuba has been on the U.S. terrorist list for 17 years and harbors at least 77 fugitives wanted by the FBI. PLAYBOY SCOOP Much response was generated from our item last week on bias in the news business, particularly surrounding the accusations of liberal bias leveled against CBS anchor Dan Rather by 28-year CBS News veteran Bernard Goldberg in his current best-seller, "Bias." Ernest W. Lefever, founding president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, reacts: "The current debate on liberal bias in the media should have been settled almost 30 years ago, when the dean of broadcast journalists, Walter Cronkite, said in Playboy (June 1973): 'Most newsmen tend to be 'liberal, and possibly left of center as well. ... They come to feel little allegiance to the established order. I think they're inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority.'" 'AHEAD OF RADICALS' We're proud to count former President George Bush among our growing number of Beltway Beat readers, with the nation's 41st president weighing in on a return of the ROTC to Yale. Bush had read our recent item, "Yale's Turn." The segment dealt with Yale's Class of 1937 issuing a call for the ROTC - banned at Yale since the Vietnam War - to be restored to the campus (Mr. Bush graduated Yale in 1948; his son, George W., was in the Class of '68). Albert Bildner, a former Navy ROTC member in the Class of '37, had pointed out that today's world and its inhabitants, "including the Yale faculty and students, are notably different in spirit and temperament than those of the late 1960s, when Yale banned the ROTC program in the throes of the Vietnam War." Bush says he couldn't agree more. "I just want you to know that I totally agree with the idea that it is time for Yale to restore ROTC to the campus," the former president writes. "It is my strongly held view that ROTC should not have been kicked off the campus in the first place. "I love Yale," Bush continues, "but they sometimes, especially back in the '60s, seemed to try to jump out ahead of the radicals, totally turning off a lot of loyal alumni like me in the process. I honestly believe things are very different there now." Former President Bush served as a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II, said to be the youngest of all Navy pilots in the war theater. He flew 58 missions off carriers in the Pacific and was rescued at sea twice, dodging Japanese capture within minutes. He was decorated for valor.