- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Lean, clean and ready

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has shed considerable weight (31 pounds, he tells us, as of yesterday's weigh-in), showcasing a leaner and cleaner image (the beard is also history, and he's gotten a haircut). Some Capitol Hill heavies speculate this could be an indication of vice presidential ambitions.

What is surprising, if not intriguing, is how the appearance of Mr. Richardson, 52, has been transformed. Take the heat of last summer, when he suddenly quit shaving.

"My beard has two reasons: a midlife crisis no, I'm kidding and the second one is, I kind of felt I needed new luck in light of my recent problems," he told one interviewer, the latter remark in reference to the Chinese spy scandal.

Speaking of which, Vice President Al Gore, we're told, has waited to see what impact Mr. Richardson's none-too-rapid response to the China scandal might have on any decision to choose the energy czar as his running mate. Apparently none.

Schmoke and fire

Finally, a genuine debate except former drug czar William J. Bennett and ex-Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke aren't running for anything.

Instead, the two outspoken former public officials will go head to head at an unprecedented conference examining the future of American drug policy, assessing all substance abuse in all sectors of society.

The four-day conference, which will begin Feb. 29 at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., will feature medical, education, social policy, and legal experts. It's being sponsored by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

We're told the current White House drug czar, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, will also be on hand, and from the tobacco and alcohol side, Steven Parrish, senior vice president of Philip Morris Inc., and Peter Coors, CEO of Coors Brewing Co.

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Schmoke have been at odds on drug policy at least since 1989, when U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, a lifelong Republican, became the first federal judge to publicly advocate drug legalization (he suggested marijuana and heroin be taxed and sold like alcohol and cigarettes).

Mr. Bennett condemned Judge Sweet's remarks as "stupid" and "morally atrocious," while Mr. Schmoke, a longtime advocate of decriminalizing drugs, called the judge "a courageous man."

Don't stop now

When the rollover to the year 2000 dawned as peacefully as new years past, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt told reporters to go home and get some sleep.

"I'm pleased to report what you already know, that we don't have anything to report," he said.

In fact, the year-2000 transition was so successful that Mr. Witt's new endeavor is to make entire communities "disaster resistant."

The FEMA chief explains it wasn't for lack of preparation that "planes flew, ATMs worked, power flowed [and] telephones rang" when 2000 ushered itself in, saying a disaster was prevented that was "every bit as real as an earthquake, tornado or hurricane."

That makes him think other disasters can be "largely preventable."

"Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all came together to make each community in the world disaster-resistant protected from events that occur with greater regularity than once every 1,000 years," he says.

He's introduced a new FEMA project, "Building Disaster Resistant Communities," to "stamp out natural disasters as triumphantly as we entered the new millennium."

It won't be easy.

In 1999 alone, President Clinton issued major "disaster declarations" in 37 states, at a cost to FEMA of more than $1.1 billion.

Here to Venus

John Paul Paine was in Washington yesterday on the sad occasion of the passing of Her Royal Highness Maria del Mercedes de Borbon y Orleans, countess of Barcelona and mother of King Juan Carlos of Spain.

The founder and president of the National Committee for Queen Isabella Day was invited by Spanish Ambassador Antonio de Oyarzabal to a private Mass, held last evening at St. Matthew's Cathedral, in honor of the king's mother.

Before that, a private luncheon was held in downtown Washington's Taberna del Alabardero, a restaurant under the same ownership as Taberna del Alabardero at No. 6 Calle de Felipe V, one block from the royal palace in Madrid.

It's worth noting that the last time we wrote about the Spanish ambassador and Mr. Paine, the two were paying tribute to the statue of Queen Isabella in Washington, insisting she's the woman who actually discovered America.

In his efforts to get Queen Isabella Day on the U.S. calendar, Mr. Paine, of Philadelphia, convinced the Magellan project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which mapped 90 percent of Venus' surface, to name one of the largest craters on the planet "Isabella."

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