No McDonald's -- yet

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 09, 2003 12:00 AM

Anybody game for a romantic, candlelit dinner beneath a canopy of palm trees lining the Tigris Rriver - skewers of grilled kebabs, kubba (minced meat with nuts, raisins and spices), masgouf (a special dish made from fish living in the Tigris), amber rice, and flat rounds of bread known as samoons served by waiters in traditional Iraqi clothing?

The State Department isn't recommending Americans flock to Iraq anytime soon, but if all goes well along the democratic path to Baghdad, it might not be too many years from now that tourism in the embattled nation begins to flourish.

In fact, we're learned that the U.S. Agency for International Development has just granted a $2.5 million initial award to the U.S. firm SkyLink Air and Logistic Support Inc. to provide technical expertise to manage three commercial airports in Iraq.

At this stage, the award will help facilitate humanitarian operations and restore normal transportation services to Iraq. The reopening and effective management of the airports is considered a critical link in the U.S. government's humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to the Iraqi people.

Three international airports - Baghdad, Basra and Mosul - are covered under the terms of the contract. SkyLink says it will provide international staff to operate the airports, vehicles and equipment, and make sure the airports operate in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards.

For our handful of readers who remain concerned about an American occupation of Iraq, the U.S. Agency for International Development says SkyLink will be working with Iraqi staff in preparation for turning over management of the airports.

SHOWMANSHIP

It's not as splashy as landing atop an aircraft carrier, but Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman will fly in his mother, Marcia Lieberman, to be with him in Des Moines, Iowa, for Mother's Day (Sunday, May 11).

"The senator wanted to spend Mother's Day with her, so she's flying in that day," a Lieberman spokeswoman tells us.

The Connecticut lawmaker will campaign in Iowa all day Sunday, visiting Des Moines and Ames, but will take time out to share a Mother's Day lunch with Mrs. Lieberman, who lives in Connecticut.

BUSH VS. GENERIC

Sen. Joe Lieberman might also want to fly his mother to New Hampshire, where he's running far behind Sen. John Kerry and former Gov. Howard Dean in the latest Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication poll on the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary.

The Franklin Pierce College survey of 600 likely voters finds Kerry and Dean locked in a dead heat with 23 percent each, followed by Lieberman's 9 percent and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt's 8 percent. All other candidates scored 2 percent or below - except for Al Sharpton, who gets a goose egg.

Interestingly enough, in a hypothetical, head-to-head November 2004 general election matchup, President Bush ends up "tied" with an unnamed, or so-called "generic" Democratic nominee. Is this good or bad for Bush?

"Generic party nominees provide the hardest test of an incumbent's support," says Fitzwater Center director Rich Killion, "for it provides voters with their own option of defining the positive and negative characteristics of an unnamed nominee.

"Normally, voters do so without affixing any negative characteristics to their generic candidate," he points out. "Under these terms, the president's numbers are somewhat impressive."

MUSH FROM ALASKA

What a difference a week makes.

Last week, Education Secretary Rod Paige was a guest of The Washington Times at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. This week, he's embarked on a snow-sled trek across the Alaskan tundra to reach a one-room schoolhouse in the tiny village of Savoonga.

"May seems to be 'action-hero month' in the Bush administration, after the president's historic aircraft-carrier landing last week," notes Dallas B. Lawrence, spokesman for Paige, who is on a four-day journey to Alaska to see firsthand the unique education needs of rural America.

Lawrence tells this column that upon landing in below-freezing temperatures in Bethel, Alaska, Paige traveled by Black Hawk helicopter to tour a native Alaskan village and schoolhouse in Tuntutuliak.

After the chopper flight, Paige flew to the remote Alaskan island of St. Lawrence, situated in the Bering Straits just 38 miles off the coast of Russia. Once on the island, Paige and Alaska Gov. Frank H. Murkowski climbed aboard snow sleds and mushed their way to the tiny schoolhouse.

"One wonders what's next - Don Evans sky diving?" quips Lawrence, referring to the commerce secretary who, as far as we know, is happy behind his desk in Washington this week.

ULTRA AND EXTREME

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is behind a new campaign to stop President Bush from stacking the nation's highest court with "extremist right-wing" judges.

"Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor have told friends they would like to step down this year," McAuliffe warns party faithful. "If that happens, Bush will fill two out of the nine slots on the Supreme Court - enough to shape the court in the image he wants for decades. Supreme Court justices, like federal justices, are confirmed for life."

McAuliffe, handpicked by former President Clinton and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to lead the DNC, says Bush has already proven what kinds of justices he would nominate to the nation's highest court, citing "ultraconservative, right-wing nominees like Priscilla Owen, Charles Pickering and Miguel Estrada."

NOTHING'S FOREVER

Once upon a time, Democrats controlled the Senate. Then, Republicans became the kings of the Hill - that is, until Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont suddenly abandoned his party, virtually in seconds handing control of the Senate back to gleeful Democrats.

Now Republicans are sitting again in the majority, the current makeup: 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and one independent (Jeffords). Of course, these numbers are subject to change, sometimes without warning.

When Democrats ruled the Hill, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland was chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. With Republicans back in control, he's again the ranking member.

Still, Sarbanes is optimistic that he'll become chairman again. Or so we gather from the old committee letterhead, still being distributed by Sarbanes' office and listing the Democrat, in large letters, as the committee's chairman.

For the record, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) is chairman of the committee. For now.

OINK, OINK

We've heard of children playing post office, but this is ridiculous.

"Every year since her hiring date in 1997, (Postal Service Inspector General Karla Corcoran) has convened an annual weeklong meeting that requires all 750 (Inspector General) employees to fly to Washington, D.C. where they sing songs, play games, build sand castles, dress in costumes, and mimic animals," reveals the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.

The group is calling on the Postal Service's board of governors to remove the inspector general (IG), citing rampant waste and cronyism, not to mention questionable management and personnel practices.

The President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, the IG community's self-policing body, is said to be conducting an investigation of Corcoran, while Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is reported to be trying to identify the favorite songs of the postal people and what animals they are mimicking. No immediate sounds, er, response from the IG's office.