McCaslin's Beltway Beat: Lawmakers at work

Posted: Feb 27, 2002 12:00 AM
It has been so stressful in the U.S. Senate of late - what with fear of campaign-finance reform drying up the almighty dollar - that the Senate Office of Education and Training has been holding seminars on "what you can do at your desk during the day to ease tension in your back and neck." OFFICIAL ACTIVISTS Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, is a private, nonprofit organization that pledges "to protect government employees who protect the environment." Currently, for instance, PEER is blasting everyone from President Bush ("The election of George W. Bush heralds the advent of a new environmental dark age," says PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch) to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton (the Bush Cabinet member attempted "to mislead Congress by altering Fish and Wildlife Service data regarding the effects of oil drilling on caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge"). "Rather than work on environmental issues from the outside," PEER explains in its mission statement, "PEER works with and on behalf of these resource professionals to effect fundamental change in the way their agencies conduct the public's business." They're not kidding. Bureaucrats toiling at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington this week did double-takes when copies of the publication PEEReview landed on their desks with stickers adhering to the cover bearing EPA's official logo. Below the EPA logo it read: "Special Message for EPA Employees Inside." Reacted one EPA official: "I always thought the use of an official government logo for non-government business was illegal." So did we. SAD REPORT Newspapermen and women don't normally display emotion. But the National Press Foundation's 19th Annual Awards Dinner in Washington Feb. 21 was anything but normal. When horrific news was confirmed to the crowd of journalists that Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl had been murdered by his Pakistani abductors, Pearl's former colleagues in the Washington bureau, who filled a table in the center front of the ballroom, burst into tears, some burying their heads in fellow reporters' arms. Pearl worked in Washington prior to moving to Europe and ultimately Bombay two years ago to cover South Asia. Besides having a knack for writing, Pearl is remembered by his fellow scribes for his sense of humor. ZAHN TAPS BENNETT CNN continues its move toward the center, landing William Bennett, the Republican Party's leading social conservative, as a network contributor. Starting March 4 from CNN's Washington bureau, Bennett, education secretary under President Reagan and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under the first President Bush, will offer commentary on social and cultural issues, mainly on "American Morning with Paula Zahn." Bennett says he's excited about his new television gig, adding that CNN is the first network the world turns to for breaking news. The world, perhaps, but in the United States the network's viewership has fallen dramatically in recent years. ENEMY WITHIN A fire this past week of unknown origin consumed nearly the entire contents of a makeshift memorial at the Pentagon to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The blaze even scorched the trunk of a 12-foot sapling on a knoll overlooking the damaged side of the Pentagon that serves as the focal point of tributes left by grieving Americans. According to a member of the vigil group Free Republic, most tributes to the Pentagon's victims were destroyed, including several American flags, a 3-foot-long Uncle Sam straw doll, a kangaroo doll left by Australians and sympathetic notes. A-TEAM What does a black-and-white picture of President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and CIA Director George J. Tenet - appearing on the current Vanity Fair cover and snapped by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz - fetch these days? The high bidder at the Landon School's annual fund-raising auction in Bethesda, Md. Saturday night (Feb. 23) forked over $30,000 for the historic print. Leibovitz has a nephew who attends the school. BANANA, ANYONE? Call them, if you will, "Kings of the Hill." And wait until you read why they're still hanging around Washington. -- Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alas., was first elected to his Capitol Hill throne in 1970, during Richard Nixon's first term as president. -- Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., has been catching the Capitol Limited to Washington since 1972, the year President Nixon was re-elected by a landslide and the full-scale bombing of North Vietnam resumed. (Sens. Pete V. Domenici. R-N.M., and Jesse Helms, R-N.C., joined him that same year on Capitol Hill.) -- Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii were both elected in 1962, when astronaut John Glenn became the first American in orbit and the Soviet missile buildup in Cuba was revealed. -- Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., officially arrived on Capitol Hill in 1954, the same year five members of Congress were wounded by four Puerto Rican independence supporters firing at random from the spectators' gallery. (Thurmond's South Carolina colleague, Democratic Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, would be elected a dozen years later, in 1966, the year Medicare was introduced.) -- Last, but not least, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was first elected in 1958, the year this columnist celebrated his first birthday and the first domestic jet airline passenger service began in the United States - a National Airlines flight between New York and Miami. One would have thought, given the impressive span of American history witnessed by these distinguished lawmakers (and a dozen or so similarly seasoned lawmakers in the House, but unfortunately we don't have the space to identify them), they would have had their fill of Washington politics by now. But, for whatever reasons, personal or professional, that's not the case. Perhaps they remain "Kings of the Hill" because they are simply men. Or perhaps it's because politicians, we now learn, are no different an animal than monkeys and apes. "The reason men seek to rule and cling to power as long as they can is because they are biologically programmed to do so," psychiatrist Arnold M. Ludwig reveals in his forthcoming page-turner, "King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership" (University Press of Kentucky, $32). "Just like their monkey, chimpanzee and gorilla kin, they are disposed to compete among themselves to become the reigning members of their society," the good doctor says. "And, once they realize their rank, to beat back all challengers who threaten to displace them."