Beltway Beat: Attacking liberty

Posted: Mar 08, 2002 12:00 AM
As far as Donald Thorson is concerned, it took 31 years and Sept. 11 for Uncle Sam to begin safeguarding the Liberty Bell, which was struck on July 8, 1776, to announce the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Our story begins in 1971, when Thorson, then assistant to the governor of Illinois, visited Philadelphia "and was appalled at the lack of decent protection for the Liberty Bell." So he wrote to President Nixon, if only "to do what little I could to help ensure that the bell would never be hurt or destroyed." Nixon wrote back to Thorson on March 29, 1971, saying that contrary to widespread belief, the Liberty Bell "is not the property of the federal government," but rather belonged to the city of Philadelphia (the Colonial province of Pennsylvania paid $300 for the British-cast bell in 1752). Nevertheless, Nixon concurred, protecting the bell was the responsibility of the federal government and the National Park Service, and he assured Thorson that "the guard you saw near the bell is a Park Service Ranger especially trained in controlling crowds." How times have changed. In recent days, federal authorities began keeping close tabs on the 2,080-pound bell, having received a "nonspecific" threat that it soon would come under attack. "It seems that for me, after a 30-year wait for genuine security ... in the end it has taken terrorists, rather than a law-abiding U.S. citizen, to get our government to take notice that one of our great national symbols was highly vulnerable to attack," says Thorson, who adds that he is glad he is "a patient man." HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD Hollywood since Sept. 11 has made a concerted effort to produce movies with patriotic, wholesome and uplifting themes. The question is, are we watching a real change of heart or just a marketing ploy? "No one can say for sure just yet, and may not be able to for years. But there are reasons for optimism," writes Focus on the Family's Gary Schneeberger, in the group's publication, Citizen. He observes that in the months following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Hollywood studios not only delayed or scrapped films with violent content, but movie executives actually sat around conference tables with White House aides in hopes of boosting the nation's morale. "(E)ven liberal stars the likes of George Clooney and Rosie O'Donnell have had nice things to say about President Bush and the leadership he's shown in taking on Osama bin Laden and others of his ilk," notes Schneeberger. Violent action films in various stages of production that had their plugs pulled include "Deadline," an airline-hijacking thriller from "Titanic" Oscar-winner James Cameron; "," which called for a Boeing 767 to crash into New York City; and Jackie Chan's "Nosebleed," which surrounded a plot to blow up the now-blown-up World Trade Center. REAL HEROES Monday marks the six-month anniversary of Sept. 11, and what better day to focus on the country's future. Tomorrow's American scientists will be gathering in Washington, D.C. Monday - 40 finalists of this year's Intel Science Talent Search, one of whom will be awarded a $100,000 scholarship in an annual competition that has established itself as the Junior Nobel Prize. "Past winners have become Nobel laureates," boasts Intel's Sue Richard. "We believe it is extremely important to reward achievement in science. But equally important, we must call attention to these kids and honor them as heroes." "They are as deserving of that distinction as any gold medalist or football star," she says. "They are important role models for their peers." Two of the science finalists this year happen to be from Stuyvesant High School, just a few blocks from New York's ground zero. The school's students watched in horror as the second hijacked airliner hit the nearby World Trade Center tower, and when the building collapsed a short time later, the school shook and its lights went out - remaining out for a month. It's also worth noting that the school with the most finalists this year is Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., just outside Washington. ZOE'S BACK Hiring illegal aliens might have kept Clinton attorney general nominee Zoe Baird from that post, but they're not stopping her from co-chairing a new independent task force to advise the U.S. government on how the effective handling of information and technology in times of national crisis can enhance national security and still protect civil liberties. The Task Force on National Security in the Information Age has been formed in alliance with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution, both based in Washington. D.C. Task force participants will include a host of industry and government leaders, among them Utah Republican Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and former National Security Agency Deputy Director Bill Crowell. "Information is the key to a more secure society," says Baird, president since 1997 of the charitable Markle Foundation. "As we expand the role of information collection and sharing, let's be sure we also protect the democratic freedoms that make our society worth securing." JOURNALISM PRIZE "Please allow me to present you ... with a coveted National Press Club mug, which will look very good alongside your display of your Nobel Prize Medal." -- National Press Club President John Aubuchon presenting a newsman's most prized possession Tuesday to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who thanked him by saying he will always remember reporters with affection, tinged with exasperation. CROCODILE TEARS Officials in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's new and improved home county of Westchester, N.Y., are being castigated for their vigorous public "whining" over President Bush's proposed changes to the Community Services Block Grant Program, overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his White House budget for fiscal 2003, the president, repeatedly attacked by Democrats for sucking up to the rich, calls for reforming the block-grant program - his desire to redirect funds from wealthy counties like Westchester to poorer counties in genuine need of basic infrastructure and development. "The nation is at war, the economy is in recession, and one of the nation's wealthiest counties is crying that it might lose some federal funds this year. Westchester has a per-capita income rate more than twice the national average," observes Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz. "They are getting money they don't need." Under Bush's proposed formula, Westchester in 2003 would receive about $3.5 million in federal community grants, compared with the $7 million it siphoned from the HUD program in 2002. Over the two previous years, the wealthy suburban county used $25,000 of HUD development money for the Music Conservatory of Westchester, and a whopping $1.4 million for village streetscapes and water/wastewater improvements. "In times like these, a little belt-tightening is the least we should expect," says Schatz, who heads the nation's largest government-waste watchdog group. "Don't cry for me, Westchester County." BY ALL MEANS, PROFILE The anonymous author of an eye-opening terrorism "quiz" making the rounds might be interested to learn that his five simple questions have crossed the desks of some of the nation's highest officials. The quiz's introduction states: Intent on not offending anyone, airport screeners will not be allowed to profile people. Rather, they will continue random searches of elderly women, children, airline pilots, Secret Service agents, and 85-year old congressmen with metal hips. With that in mind, answer these five multiple-choice questions: "1. In 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Iran was taken over by? "2. In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by? "3. In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by? "4. In 1998, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by? "5. On Sept. 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked and destroyed by?" Each question has four possible answers, ranging from the Swedish bikini team to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But the correct answer to each question is (d): "Muslim male extremists, mostly between the ages of 17 and 40."