Pesos for Parks
Did you read the story last week about the Seattle man who was shopping for a hacksaw and crowbar at the Home Depot, only to become frustrated when the self-service checkout machine started speaking to him in Spanish?
Long story short, the highly agitated customer let loose with his new crowbar, shattering the checkout computer to smithereens.
Now we laugh at Andy Parks, co-host (with former actor and congressman Fred Grandy) of "The Grandy and Andy Morning Show" on 630-AM WMAL, who told listeners yesterday that his bank's automated teller machine (ATM) similarly shouted instructions to him in Spanish.
Fortunately, Mr. Parks said he knew the correct ATM buttons to push, and he was able to withdraw the "416 pesos."
Al finally wins
Al Gore (No. 1) tops President Bush (No. 2) — at least in the second annual "Harvard 100" ranking, recognizing the university's most influential living alumni from disparate fields of endeavor.
Finishing No. 3 is Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. All told, 48 Harvard heavyweights who made their debut on the 2006 "Harvard 100" ranking return this year, including 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. Interestingly enough, newly resigned Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales finished last on the list at No. 100.
Harvard's 02138 magazine explains that Mr. Gore was ranked above Mr. Bush because "there is no more important public conversation than that about global warming" — an arena in which the former vice president has made a name for himself.
Exactly 18 months ago, this columnist pulled up a chair at the Connecticut Avenue offices of Dezenhall Resources, one of the country's leading crisis management firms, and heard former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warn that Americans "are cheerfully drifting our way through" the potential for major catastrophe at the hands of terrorists.
"The whole process is broken," said Mr. Gingrich, who pointed to the various foreign and internal forces that threaten our nation, from terrorism supported by rogue governments to a loss of patriotism among Americans.
Worse yet, the former Republican leader said that the U.S. government is incapable of an adequate response to worst-case terrorist scenarios, whether it be an outbreak of bird flu or Washington being obliterated by a weapon of mass destruction. Should such a catastrophe unfold, Mr. Gingrich guessed Americans "won't have a clear idea of what the next week will bring."
"I think the challenges we face are very big," he said, adding that fixing them calls for "very deep and very dramatic change."
So, have we seen change?
Retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen is the director of the Institute for Homeland Security; co-host of public radio's "Homeland Security: Inside and Out"; and the author of "Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America."
"Unfortunately, the ugly fact about the nuclear threat is that we only spend about $1 billion a year to locate, lock down and eliminate nuclear materials that terrorists could use to build a Hiroshima-style bomb," Col. Larsen writes for the Ripon Society. "By contrast, we are spending roughly that same amount every four days in Iraq."
And like Mr. Gingrich, he doesn't see improvement any time soon.
"Unfortunately, a severely weakened [Bush] administration, a Congress hopelessly adrift in partisan squabbling and positioning for the 2008 election, and the budgetary demands of the war in Iraq portend little or no improvement for the next 18 months."
So how do America's top experts on the war on terror and U.S. national security really feel about progress being made against terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his growing ilk?
Eighty-four percent say that the country is not winning the war on terror; more than 80 percent predict a September 11-scale terrorist attack on the United States within the next 10 years; more than half think the recent surge in Iraq has had a negative impact on U.S. national security; and nearly all say that the world is becoming more dangerous for Americans.
So we learn from the third edition of the Terrorism Index, just released by the Center for American Progress. For 90 minutes starting at 9 this morning, the center will host a panel discussion on the index at its H Street NW headquarters, featuring among others former CIA Director R. James Woolsey.