Image is everything

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 03, 2005 12:00 AM

Average amount the Bush administration has spent per year on contracts with public-relations firms: $62.5 million

Average amount spent during the entire second term of the Clinton administration: $32 million

- Harper's Index, May 2005

WISHING FOR ERROR

"The following quotation was attributed to you in a recent report," Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, writes in a most unusual letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivered in recent days to the Russian Embassy in Washington.

The quote attributed to Putin: "First and foremost, it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

"As much as we treasure our free press in the United States," Cox reminds the Russian president, "we understand that reporters, just like the rest of us, sometimes make mistakes. It is my fervent hope that you have been misquoted."

The congressman instead suggested to Putin that the greatest catastrophe of the last century in Russia "was the Soviet Union itself."

"Looking back on the suffering endured by the Russian people at the hands of the Soviet regime, it is hard for me to believe that something significant has not been lost in translation."

MAYORAL PAD?

Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams has revealed which building he thinks would make a "wonderful" mayoral residence: the historic, yet run-down Old Naval Hospital, which stands within sight of the U.S. Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast.

This interesting nugget comes to us via the current issue of the Hill Rag, the lively monthly newsmagazine that circulates on Capitol Hill. The Rag examined the recent controversy surrounding Mr. Williams' decision not to make a decision about how to save the once-handsome Civil War-era edifice.

"Turning the old hospital into a mayoral mansion is a wonderful idea - but right now the mayor is hoping to find a use that has a broad appeal to the community," the mayor's office told the Rag.

Williams recently rejected two sets of plans by groups that wanted to spend their own money to restore the building. One project, submitted by the Old Naval Hospital Foundation, would have turned the building into a Capitol Hill Center, housing a new library and other community facilities.

The other bid was from the Art of Living Foundation, the international "wellness" group headed by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It wanted to conduct spiritual classes in the building.

Greg Richey, leader of the Friends of the Old Naval Hospital, a grass-roots group that has worked for six years to get the city to save the once-magnificent structure, says the mayor's decision "smacks of cronyism to the Hill's old guard and prejudice towards outsiders."

WOODY'S RETURN

It wasn't Uncle Sam's endangered species legislation, but private and public landowners who played a significant role in last week's rediscovery in Arkansas of the supposedly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.

So says the Land Rights Network (LRN), a division of the American Land Rights Association.

The spotting of the rare bird, not seen for six decades, "is a celebration of what can occur when good scientific research is combined with the cooperative efforts of public and private landowners," says James L. Cummins, executive director of the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Much of the forested wetlands in the South were logged excessively in the early 1900s, significantly decreasing acreage of habitat for the woodpecker and other wildlife. Through the efforts of private landowners, the LRN says, more than a half-million acres of bottomland hardwoods and wetlands were restored in the Lower Mississippi River Valley.

ELDERS' PRESCRIPTION

Nobody better than former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders to headline the Marijuana Policy Project's 10th anniversary fundraising gala on Capitol Hill this week.

Others speaking out in support of medicinal-marijuana patients are 2004 presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, and fellow Democratic Reps. Linda T. Sanchez of California and Sam Farr of California. (The latter is to receive a legislative leadership award).

Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, is expected to begin a drive this week to prevent federal government "attacks" on medicinal-marijuana patients.

DC 0635

If he hasn't already, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is about to receive an affidavit and supporting evidence from Terry T. Campo of the Washington law firm Farrell and Campo, who late last week witnessed a D.C. Parking Authority officer park his government car in front of a fire hydrant, then apparently proceed to take his girlfriend to lunch in Georgetown.

"Re: District of Columbia Parking Enforcement

"(1) Endangering the Public Safety by Parking In Front of Fire Hydrant;

"(2) Violation of Local Ordinance(s) by Authorities Charged with Their Enforcement by Parking in a No-Parking Zone;

"(3) Misuse of Government Vehicles by Government Employees."

So begins the affidavit by Campo, who on Thursday at approximately 11:25 a.m., "personally witnessed an automobile purporting by its signage to be assigned to the District of Columbia parking authority, and bearing the official government license plate (small letters, 'dc') and the number of 0635, parked directly in front of the fire-hydrant located on the south-east side of Thomas Jefferson Street NW, and M Street NW, in the section of Washington, D.C., commonly known as 'Georgetown.' "

Campo proceeded to take pictures of the car with his digital camera, copies of which he sent to this column. Then, while jotting down additional evidence, who should appear but the uniformed D.C. officer - "approximately 35 years of age" - who gave the lawyer "what I would describe as a 'dirty look' or one of nonverbal hostility."

The ticket writer then unlocked the passenger-side door for a woman - "approximately 30 years of age," and further described by the lawyer as "large" - and while driving off, flashed Mr. Campo another "dirty look."

The lawyer's affidavit concluded that, as a member of the D.C. Bar, "I have often witnessed incompetence by local government employees and the corruption of selective enforcement of the laws. This especially seems the case of the parking authority employees."

He cited numerous examples, with dates and times - too many to list here.

HANGING A SHINGLE

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, along with David Ayres, his longtime chief of staff from the Department of Justice and in the Senate, is forming a Washington business venture, to be named the Ashcroft Group LLC.

In addition, The Beltway Beat is told, Juleanna Glover Weiss, a lobbyist with Clark and Weinstock and formerly a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, will join the team. She also worked for Ashcroft on Capitol Hill.

Clients can call on the Ashcroft Group for strategic consulting and security services, particularly on domestic and international issues in homeland security and law enforcement, as well as antitrust and intellectual-property protection.

HE'S BACK

Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams isn't the most popular guy in Washington since it was revealed that the Education Department paid him $241,000 in return for on-air promotion of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law.

But they like him in the Big Apple.

New York radio station WWRL says the hottest new show in the city is "Drivetime Dialogue with Sam Greenfield and Armstrong Williams," with the latest Arbitron ratings showing that the time slot has doubled its audience since Williams joined the station as co-host in March.

ROCKETMAN

Pete Conrad was the third man to walk on the moon, but the first man to dance on the lunar surface, as he was always quick to point out.

Now his widow, Nancy Conrad, is in Washington to launch her new book, "Rocketman: Astronaut Pete Conrad's Incredible Ride to the Moon and Beyond," beginning with a book party at Teatro Goldoni on Wednesday night. Numerous VIPs are on the guest list.

On Thursday, the widow will meet former Sen. John Glenn, Ohio Democrat and another former astronaut, for Space Day at the National Air and Space Museum's new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, the companion facility to the museum on the National Mall. (The two sites together showcase the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world.)

"For Pete Conrad, it was all about the ride," says Mrs. Conrad, whose husband died as a result of a motorcycle accident.

As the book points out, Conrad was never the "squeaky clean NASA poster boy," but he was known by fellow astronauts as the "comeback kid," bouncing as he did out of the Mercury Program, yet roaring back to fly two Gemini missions, walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 12, and command the first Skylab.

SELECTIVE SIESTA

A Washington lawyer logging myriad miles in his work with policy allies across the pond tells this column of having opened a few eyes at a recent dinner in Madrid with "an all-star cast of Spain's government-in-waiting, Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party."

Conversation skidded to a halt, he says, at his passing reference - widely reported in the U.S. press, but apparently because of its nature failing to draw attention from the Spanish press - to the curious inability of Spain's Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, to get someone on the telephone line at the White House.

"They were stunned," the D.C. lawyer says.

Beginning in November, or so American press reports have it, Zapatero has dialed in to the White House regularly. This is ostensibly to congratulate a re-elected president whom Zapatero otherwise rails against throughout Europe for an "illegal war" in Iraq.

President Bush, who happens to understand Espanol and maybe has caught an earful of Zapatero's musings, has been otherwise occupied when the phone rings.

Zapatero, of course, is most famous with the White House for abruptly withdrawing Spain's troops from the Iraq coalition upon his surprise March 2004 victory, attributed by most to a terrorist attack in Madrid days before the election.

He has since pressured the European Union to be kind to Fidel Castro, and sold arms to the Cuban leader's Marxist protege who is exporting trouble in our Southern back yard, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Notwithstanding such peccadilloes, Zapatero persists "presumably to mask how badly he has damaged what was an historically strong relationship" fostered by his predecessor, Aznar, the lawyer says.

Although of no avail and nothing the White House likes to discuss, this has led to much derision in Los Estados Unidos.

Yet, "this only came up due to a full-court PR press that very week by Zapatero's team that all was muy bueno with Washington and hinting at a meeting with Bush in the near future. Que ridiculoso," says our lawyer, who prefers to keep his name and face out of our column.

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS

An Arizona Republican is pulling no punches with President Bush and Uncle Sam when analyzing the deployment of Minutemen along his state's border with Mexico.

"What the Minutemen proved to the American people was this: The federal government can do something about illegal immigration other than to raise a white flag and surrender to the invasion on our southern border," says Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a member of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.

The congressman says he recently visited with Minuteman Project volunteers posted at strategic locations along the border, there to help federal authorities spot illegal border crossings, "and I was amazed by their discipline, their resolve and the results they achieved."

"These are extraordinary Americans from all walks of life who followed their constitutional right to petition their government for redress of a grievance, in this case the abject failure of the federal government to secure our borders," Hayworth says.

Illegal immigrants, he adds, weren't the Minutemen's biggest headache.

"(T)hey were maligned far and wide by hysterical editorial writers," says the congressman, "and the presidents of the United States and Mexico."

REFORMING REFORM

So much for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 - or so says one top Republican congressman who finds it "rampant with regulations and penalties that hinder free speech."

House Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana says his proposed 527 Fairness Act would bring more freedom and fairness to the campaign process, while leveling the playing field and restoring political parties, federal campaigns, candidates and citizens groups to their "rightful place" in the political system.

He noted in recent testimony on Capitol Hill that the competing groups Swiftboat Veterans for Truth and MoveOn.org dominated the 2004 presidential campaign airwaves, "leaving political parties, political action committees and the personal campaigns of George Bush and John Kerry with very little control over their philosophical messages."

So, he proposes removing and repealing many of the regulations of the 2002 act that stifle political parties, so that they "can return to their rightful place in the political process."

"And while this liberty may be a bit more chaotic and inconvenient for some in the political class, as Thomas Jefferson said, 'I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.' "