Tens of thousands of Washingtonians were on hand Saturday for the 80th anniversary of the world famous Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race at Great Meadow in The Plains.
Among them, Fox News Channel's Washington managing editor and anchor Brit Hume - albeit, as in past years, the popular newscaster wasn't mixing with the well-dressed crowd manning the fences.
Instead, Hume was high atop the race course, serving as a placing judge. (In other words, it is up to him to determine which horse crosses the finish line first.)
"I am one of three placing judges, and we all stand in the judge's stand at a position above the finish line - one guy stands in the front, one guy stands behind him, and the third behind him - and we all peer out over the finish line.
"And what we see goes," assures Mr. Hume.
If it happens to be an extremely close race (several races are run at each Gold Cup), the placing judges can always resort to a state-of-the-art digital camera that shoots an amazing 2,000 frames per second.
"So we can't go wrong. There's no danger," says Hume, sounding somewhat relieved.
After all, he reveals to this column, "a couple of years ago there was one particular race that we did not think was close enough to look at."
"We knew the owner, who was well-liked, and with people gathered all around him, he was about to receive the prize. Suddenly, this guy above us (manning the camera) got our attention, saying 'You guys had better come up here.'"
Hume and his fellow judges couldn't believe their eyes. The horse they all agreed was the first to cross the finish line, he says, actually finished second "by a fraction of a nose."
"It was one of those nose-up, nose-down deals," Hume explains. "We were all just stunned. And we were wrong. So, ever since then, we are perfectly willing to check."
According to race chairman Arthur W. Arundel and his son, John Arundel, "attendees often do a double-take when they see Hume standing on the steward's stand with his . . . half-rim glasses, taking his job very, very seriously."
Hume spends weekends at his farm in - we're not making this up - Hume, Va., where his brother is the postmaster.
FRIENDS OF THE COURTS
Trouble seems to follow the Clintons wherever they go.
Now it's Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2000 campaign-finance director, David Rosen, who stands accused of filing false statements surrounding a celebrity-studded Hollywood gala four years ago attended by the likes of Cher, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
The FBI charges that Rosen underreported the actual costs of the event so that Mrs. Clinton could spend more campaign money elsewhere. Rosen faces 15 years in jail and a quarter-million-dollar fine if convicted on three counts.
However, the event's co-organizer, Aaron Tonken, says Rosen shouldn't go to prison.
"David, I don't think, deserves to go to jail," Tonken told the Associated Press from his own prison cell, wouldn't you know. Tonken was sentenced to 63 months on unrelated charges of defrauding charities of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Instead, Tonken - who was in charge of corralling celebrities for the fundraiser - says Mrs. Clinton's campaign should be fined. Stay tuned.
ONLY IN AMERICA
"There's nothing like getting jumped by a bunch of illegal aliens to get your blood flowing and your sinuses cleared."
Or so Washington radio personality Michael Graham tells The Beltway Beat, saying he was more than manhandled - by aliens and police officers alike - at a most unusual rally Saturday in a Maryland suburb of the nation's capital.
Maryland happens to be one of the few states left that does not require applicants for driver's licenses to prove they are residing in this country legally. Aliens, understandably, want it kept that way, thus the reason behind their rally.
Enter Graham, wearing a black T-shirt with three yellow letters: INS.
The aliens weren't amused. In fact, those posted at the rally's entrance gate forbid Graham access on the grounds - you won't believe this - because he did not have a proper ID.
"That's right, the one guy possessing a valid ID got turned away by those here illegally without ID," says Graham, who is heard weekday mornings on WMAL-AM (630).
NOW'S YOUR CHANCE
"As the sun set on the guest house, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged to take a spin in the white Volga. (Mr. Bush) looked taken aback when Mr. Putin indicated that he should drive. The car was pointed at the press."
- Official White House pool report of President Bush's spin in Russian President Putin's prized 1956 Volga sedan
"You're convinced by the president?"
- Jan Peter Balkenende, prime minister of the Netherlands, addressing a reporter who had just asked visiting President Bush whether he planned to relax strict Patriot Act laws that went into effect after the Sept. 11 attacks. (Bush had replied that his administration is "constantly re-evaluating law," however his most important duty as president "is to protect the American people" from terrorism.)
In promoting democracy in her travels around the world, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice doesn't hesitate to share her personal roots with audiences.
Most recently, the Community of Democracies held its third meeting of foreign ministers in Santiago, Chile, discussing how democratic nations can better promote democracy around the globe.
"Democratization," Rice told the foreign ministers, is "not an event, it is a process. It takes many years, even decades to realize the full promise of democratic reform.
"For nearly a century after the founding of the United States, millions of black Americans like me were still condemned to the status below that of full citizenship," the secretary said. "When the Founding Fathers of America said 'We the People,' they did not mean me; many of my ancestors were thought to be only three-fifths of a man."
Said Rice: "It is only within my lifetime that the United States has begun to guarantee the right to vote for all of our citizens."
DROWNING IN RED
Forget about all of the mind-numbing "national debt" figures we constantly hear about - said to be approaching $8 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury.
The actual math, or so one fiscal expert says, is far worse.
The Bureau of the Public Debt (yes, there is such a federal agency) says outstanding public debt as of press time yesterday stood at precisely $7,753,671,705,649.72.
Given the estimated population of the United States is 296,051,717 (not counting several million illegal aliens enjoying life here), each of us would have to contribute $26,188.26 to Uncle Sam to repay the national debt, which grows by an estimated $1.7 billion per day.
OR IS IT MORE?
Sid Taylor, research associate for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and professed "systemist" - meaning that he writes and lectures on the need for system simplification in many of the billion-dollar federal programs - tells that because of "flawed or outdated federal government accounting systems, plus the recent upsurge in war costs," the taxpayers' liability index (TLI) actually stands at an all-time record high of $20 trillion.
That's right, $20 trillion worth of "red ink," Taylor says.
The TLI totals include the national debt, plus fiscal obligations, financial commitments and unfunded liabilities (actuarial and contingent) of the U.S. government.
OK, preschoolers, climb out of your cribs and into your Nikes. (We recommend Velcro for those who haven't learned to tie their shoelaces.)
The Congressional Fitness Caucus, led by Reps. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican, and Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, has joined with Nike and the National Head Start Association for a first-of-its-kind program "to get preschoolers more physically active."
"As childhood obesity continues to rise, we need to take every opportunity to teach and reinforce exercise and nutrition to our nation's children," says Udall, even if it means getting preschoolers onto the exercise mat.
"Educating our children at an early age about responsible nutrition and exercise habits will help put them on a lifetime journey of good health and wellness," he says.
PROGRAM THAT WORKS
One of the most highly visited sites on the Internet today is the Federal Trade Commission's "Do Not Call Registry" (www.donotcall.gov), which opened in June 2003.
The number of enrollees today stands at an amazing 60 million Americans, with 78 percent reporting that they are receiving "far fewer calls" or none at all since they registered for free via the Internet or toll-free number.
The registry, developed by a trade commission team led by Eileen Harrington, blocks phone calls from telemarketers.
JON STEWART STILL SAFE
Out for a quiet lunch this week, communications lawyers Bob Thompson and Arthur Belendiuk of Smithwick & Belendiuk in Washington were surprised to see first lady Laura Bush and her party of five seated a few tables away at Black Salt on MacArthur Boulevard.
The legal pair were even more delighted when Bush paused to chat on her way out of the popular restaurant, both congratulating her for stealing the show at the recent White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
"That was some performance on Saturday night," Thompson noted. "Has Comedy Central offered you a show yet?"
With a broad smile, Mrs. Bush replied: "Oh, they can do much better than me."
The massive U.N. oil-for-food scandal is proving a magnet for veterans of the legal team that helped Bill Clinton beat the rap when he was impeached over the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998.
That was Washington superlawyer Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's attorney, furiously passing notes up to the witness table at a House committee hearing on the scandal last week.
Bennett's client, French bank BNP Paribas, held the accounts for the U.N. program and has had to fend off charges it aided and abetted Saddam Hussein's scheme to steal oil-for-food funds to bribe his way out of international sanctions.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, accused of mismanaging the program and failing to take seriously charges that his son was scamming the world body, is getting pro bono legal wisdom from Gregory B. Craig, White House legal counsel during the Clinton impeachment fight.
Craig, who says he is helping out Annan as an old friend, has mounted an aggressive campaign on the secretary-general's behalf in the face of congressional Republicans demanding that Annan step down. (Sound familiar?)
Bennett and Craig may soon be crossing swords with another impeachment alumnus.
Lanny Davis, who stoutly defended Clinton on every talk show that would book him, is representing another oil-for-food figure, Robert Parton. Mr. Parton, whom congressional investigators are keen to interview, recently quit the U.N.-appointed investigation of the oil-for-food fiasco, reportedly because the panel had gone too easy on Mr. Annan.
Monday, Dec. 16, 1799, only appeared to be a slow news day for the Alexandria Times & Advertiser. The front page of the Colonial daily offered a $5 reward for the finder of a stray coach horse.
Then there was published notice from the newspaper itself to one of its own readers to appear at the Alexandria Courthouse - the same one that two weeks ago tried terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui - because he had fallen two months behind on his $6-per-year subscription.
There was urgent correspondence from the U.S. Senate to President John Adams about citizen rebellions in Pennsylvania, with a response from Adams on the need to call in the militia.
Finally, on Page 3, buried beside the rules and regulations of the Alexandria Coffee House (Starbucks today), there was sad word that George Washington had passed away Saturday evening at nearby Mount Vernon. Obviously, the rest of the pages had gone to press, given Washington, apart from being the father of the country, was both a subscriber and advertiser of the Alexandria newspaper.
Now, a group of local businessmen is resurrecting the Alexandria Times, published from 1797 to 1802 as the Alexandria Times & Advertiser. "Until last week, we had no earthly idea the newspaper even existed," says editor and publisher John Arundel. "But in its day, it was one of the most important papers in America."
The new weekly plans to drop the name "Advertiser" from its flag because "we won't be featuring ads on the front page ... for lost coach horses," says Mr. Arundel, who follows a long tradition of publishers in his family.
His father, Arthur W. Arundel, pioneered the first all-news radio station in the United States, WAVA, in 1961, and his brother Peter Arundel is publisher of Times Community Newspapers in Northern Virginia, which includes the McLean Times, the Fairfax Times and the Loudoun Times-Mirror, which Arundel gleefully points out was started in 1798. "Although this paper took a 200-year nap, we're a year older than my family's oldest paper," he says.
Arundel started his first neighborhood newspaper, John's Times, in McLean at age 9, which he delivered monthly to, among others, Sens. Lawton Chiles and Fred Harris, along with fresh eggs from his family's chicken house. By age 13, he was writing for his family's weeklies, and after college wrote for the Miami Herald, the New York Times and The Washington Post.
The local paper will have a free circulation of 25,000.