McCaslin's Beltway Beat: Going Underground

Posted: Feb 22, 2002 12:00 AM
Don't look now, but Washington is going underground. First, the U.S. Capitol unveiled plans for an elaborate underground visitors center. Then the White House proposed a sweeping new underground complex, including a new recreation room for the first family, modern briefing room for the press, and two parking garages, one beneath the National Mall. Now, this column has learned, the National Park Service is throwing its support behind the construction of an underground educational facility at the popular Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "We look forward to working with you on an appropriately sized and sited underground facility, one that is acceptable visually and has a minimum of distracting qualities to the visitor experience," Park Service Director Fran P. Mainella writes in a letter to Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Mainella says such an underground facility, displaying historical photographs and other records of the controversial conflict, would increase an "awareness and understanding" of Vietnam for the memorial's 4.4 million annual visitors, especially the youth. Also in favor of an underground facility are two former presidents, George H.W. Bush and Gerald R. Ford, as well as Vietnam combat veteran Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Max Cleland of Georgia, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and John McCain of Arizona. The memorial, which many know simply as "the Wall," celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The most-visited memorial in town, its black granite panels are inscribed with the names of 58,226 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. MAJORING IN FITZWATER Who isn't showing up to dedicate the new state-of-the-art Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at New Hampshire's Franklin Pierce College? Former President George Bush will headline the May 23 dedication and tribute to Fitzwater, his jovial, cigar-smoking press secretary. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will also attend. Even Bill Clinton's former press secretary, Mike McCurry, is making the journey to New Hampshire to tour the 12,000-square-foot mass communications facility. And ABC newsman Sam Donaldson says he'll broadcast his radio show live from the Fitzwater dedication. "It's been a wonderful experience for me," Fitzwater told us. "I got involved with Franklin Pierce College about five years ago. Communications is their largest major, and they said they'd like to build a new communications facility, and would I be willing to lend my name to it? I said yes, and have spent the last three years raising money, getting involved with the students, lecturing, mentoring ... and now that the building is ready to be dedicated, we can start working on the curriculum." NOT ENOUGH HOMEWORK We see that a freshman congresswoman will introduce legislation to suspend federal funds to local school districts that provide "morning-after pills" to teen-age students. "Currently, 180 schools are providing the morning-after pill to their students through school-based health clinics," reveals Rep. Melissa A. Hart, R-Penn., "Compounding the problem is the fact that a number of courts have ruled that parental notification is disallowed when these schools provide this drug." Hart says schools should not be in the business of providing medication to students without parental consent. Worse yet, she points out, "most schools will not even supply a student with aspirin without parental consent, but they will distribute the morning-after pill." WIDE OPEN Several Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors have told ProjectUSA, a nonprofit advocacy group that examines immigration issues, that little has changed along America's borders since Sept. 11. The INS agents, none of whom are identified by ProjectUSA "for fear or reprisals," echoed a similar warning: "The border remains essentially open to any and all - including terrorists - who want to enter the United States." (ProjectUSA admits to being in favor of reducing immigration to sustainable levels, but stresses it is not anti-immigrant. "Just like an advocate of family planning is not anti-child," the group says). "These front-line agents," the group says, "routinely cite fraud as a primary culprit in an immigration situation that a General Accounting Office report, prepared for Congress and released this week, calls 'out of control.' With unusual bluntness, the usually mild-mannered GAO stated in its report that the INS is 'fragmented and unfocused' about enforcement." In one analysis, the GAO found a 90 percent rate of fraud in 5,000 petitions for asylum. A follow-up check of 1,500 of those petitions could locate only one that was genuine. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., who ordered the GAO report, remarked: "I'm not confident that the INS isn't giving green cards to al Qaeda operatives." DEMOCRATIC GOLD The Democrats get the gold for deception and hypocrisy. "If hypocrisy and deception were Olympic sports, Rep. Bob Menendez and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would be gold-medal winners - even with a French judge," Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., says of the New Jersey Democrat and his DCCC. In an impassioned speech during debate on campaign-finance reform, Hayworth late last week recounted several instances of communist Chinese trying to influence the outcome of the 1996 presidential campaign. The Republican lawmaker urged colleagues not to allow such "enemies of this state" to perpetrate similar abuses in the future, by banning non-U.S. citizens from making contributions to political parties. Perhaps in an attempt to score points with minority voters, the DCCC instead issued a press release accusing Hayworth of saying that "Hispanics are enemies of the state." Outraged by the assertion, Hayworth is now distributing a transcript of his remarks, where clearly the word Hispanic doesn't appear (the communist Chinese are mentioned at least five times). The DCCC didn't stop there, sticking an audio track of Hayworth's speech on its Web site, "only it has been doctored," Hayworth has discovered. In fact, all of the Republican's references to Chinese efforts on behalf of the Clinton-Gore campaign were edited out. If that's not enough, Menendez is quoted in a DCCC release as saying that Hayworth attacked Hispanics, and rips Republicans for offering an underlying amendment prohibiting foreigners from making contributions to political campaigns, calling it an "attempt to silence voices and exclude ethnic groups." Wouldn't you know, on March 30, 1998, Menendez voted "aye" on the Illegal Foreign Contributions Act of 1998 - seeking to bar noncitizens from making campaign contributions or expenditures.