Beltway banditry

Posted: Nov 20, 2002 12:00 AM
BELTWAY BANDITRY "The Department of Health and Human Services announced it will provide up to $250,000 to the state of Maryland to provide mental health services for those traumatized by the Beltway Sniper." -- HHS press release, which later became the lead item in the bimonthly compendium from Citizens Against Government Waste of the costly, wasteful ways in which Uncle Sam spends public money. SPECTACULAR MURDERS Speaking of being traumatized, who in the FBI translated the most recent terrorist communique by warning of "spectacular" attacks on the people of the United States? In the future, rather than defiling one of the English language's most "spectacular" adjectives, let's call these lethal attacks against humanity what they really are: unconscionable, heinous, murderous acts. A JET-SIZED LOOPHOLE A former Navy fighter-jet pilot who now flies FedEx planes tells this column that security surrounding the thousands of cargo aircraft that crisscross this nation is "a joke." "Security is virtually nonexistent," says the pilot, who asks not to be identified. "I'd say no more than 15 percent of the packages put on our airplanes are inspected (for explosives), and access to our planes is a piece of cake." As for arming cargo pilots to prevent potential terrorist hijackings, both the head of the nation's largest pilots union and the chairman of the union's pilot group at FedEx is blasting last week's last-minute lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to exempt cargo airlines from the federal mandate in the Homeland Security bill to arm airline pilots. "(I)n an act that defies logic and creates a serious threat to public safety, the air cargo industry managed a backroom deal to get the word 'passenger' inserted in the House bill's version for arming pilots," says Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. "The effect of this single word change is that it exempts all cargo carriers from the federal mandate to arm pilots in a bill that was intended to enhance the pilot's ability to protect the airplane." Even more blunt is Capt. David Webb, chairman of ALPA's FedEx unit, who warns that a hijacked cargo airliner "makes just as deadly a guided missile as one full of passengers." FEMALE LEADERS No woman has won the presidency - or vice presidency, for that matter - but the election of California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic Party's House leader is being cheered as an "about time." Susan Medalie, executive director of the Women's Campaign Fund, says Pelosi's election as Democratic minority leader, replacing Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, is excellent news for the women of this country and for citizens nationwide (earlier this fall, Pelosi was honored with WCF's Woman of the Year Award). After this month's midterm election, women will now make up 13 percent of the Senate and 13 percent of the House. There also will be six women governors for the first time. SPRING CHICKENS The midterm election proved you're never too old to run for Congress. The average age of newly elected congressmen is 47 -- the oldest member-elect being 63-year-old William J. Janklow (R-S.D). On the Senate side, the average age of newcomers is 54. No doubt 78-year-old Sen.-elect Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) helped skew the median upward. Still, members of the entire "Class of 2002" are mere babies considering the unprecedented staying power of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who can hardly wait to celebrate his 100th birthday on Dec. 5. After that, Thurmond has decided to retire, his last official day on Capitol Hill arriving on Jan. 2. Former Sen. Quentin N. Burdick (D-N.D.) wasn't as fortunate to serve as long as Thurmond. On running for the Senate at age 80, Burdick said: "If they can beat me, fine. But I'm not leaving until they beat me." PRESIDENT BURNS He's barely been tapped by his Georgia constituents to come to Washington and already Republican Rep.-elect Max Burns has been elected president. Freshman class president, that is. Burns, just elected by his novice peers, sought the seat with a pledge to be an effective voice for the freshman class. And already he's sounding like a real president. "I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats alike to promote a positive vision for America's future," he says, "fixing Social Security and Medicare (and) improving education." Burns is the inaugural congressman from Georgia's new 12th Congressional District, which reaches from Athens to Augusta to Savannah. 'NATIONAL DISGRACE' Don't look now, but new census data reveal there are more than 21 million people now living in the United States who speak English "less than very well." That doesn't count the immigrants who did not or could not answer the census forms. "These startling statistics are a national disgrace and should more than alarm our government officials and motivate them to action," says Mauro E. Mujica, chairman and CEO of U.S. English, which for its unifying role wants English made the official language of the United States. Rather, complains the immigrant from Chile, the federal government "is turning itself inside out to accommodate immigrants who can't speak our common language." From his office overlooking the White House, he cites these glimpses of such federal initiatives: -- Bilingual ballots available for "citizens" who don't understand English (even though the Immigration and Naturalization Service requires that an individual read, write and speak English in order to become an American). -- The Social Security Administration recently won an award for providing services in up to 15 languages. -- The Justice Department is mandating banks install "talking" ATMs in languages other than English. Once was the time, notes Mujica, that integration into the American culture was "first and foremost" for immigrants to quickly blend into America's melting pot. Now, he says, "without a good command of English, immigrants are consigned to a linguistic ghetto of low-paying, menial jobs." As for impact on the entire country, Mujica says "from culture to politics, the way we function as a society is under stress. The massive influx of immigrants to our country who are limited in English has made us re-evaluate everything we do - from teaching our kids at school to testing one's driving ability to providing medical care to conducting political campaigns." CASE CLOSED? In light of the recent serial sniper shootings in and around Washington - and elsewhere, we've since learned - a congressional "Quick Poll" conducted through Monday asked whether Congress should establish stricter gun-control laws. Of 11,132 respondents, a little more than 12 percent answered "yes" - all guns should be registered, gun ownership should be limited, and gun owners and manufacturers should be held responsible for crimes committed by their guns. On the other hand, nearly 88 percent replied "no" - the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, and responsible firearm ownership actually deters more crime. CLINTON HE AIN'T One thing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hasn't caused President Bush to do is lose his unique sense of humor. During a recent high-level Cabinet meeting on Iraq and other pressing issues of concern to the country, the White House briefly opened the Cabinet Room door for reporters to ask some questions of the president. Among them was David Gregory of NBC News. "Gregory?" said Bush, calling on the boyish-looking NBC White House correspondent. "Sir, good morning," replied Gregory, who if not as conservative as Bush is equally courteous. "Yes, sir. Good to see you," Bush said. "Alan Greenspan -" Gregory began his question, or at last tried to, only to be abruptly cut off by the president. "You're looking beautiful today, by the way," Bush said. "Well, thank you, sir," replied a somewhat befuddled Gregory (what else does a man say when the president of the United States pays him such a compliment?). Gregory, is there something between you and the president the nation should know about? "The first time it happened was in Poland," the White House correspondent tells this column. "The president told me I was looking 'amazingly sharp,' and he even turned to the Polish president and said, 'Don't you think?' "He always ribs me a little bit," says Gregory. "It's the normal banter."