- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Erasing Reno

Inside the Beltway spent this past weekend in Palm Beach County, Fla., where in a mock election Saturday, voters got to try out the nifty new $15 million computerized touch-screen voting machines a vast improvement over the "butterfly ballots" of the 2000 presidential election.

Still, Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, isn't satisfied. He complains that county election officials installed the computer voting machines in supermarkets rather than the usual polling places like schools and civic halls, thereby preventing a representative sample of voters from showing up.

Another Democrat, state Rep. Irv Slosberg, went so far as to say that grocery-based polling stations probably drew only youths who wanted to play "computer games."

However, I watched dozens of county residents, young and old alike, test their skills on the touch screens. Rather than choosing candidates, voters were asked to pick their favorite patriotic song and decide whether the words "under God" should be deleted from the Pledge of Allegiance.

After making their selections as will be the case in actual future elections voters were allowed to recheck their ballots. If an error is discovered for instance, a vote for "Janet Reno" instead of "Jeb Bush" they can simply erase their ballots and start all over again.

Last laugh

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has "reprimanded" a pair of State Department employees who, as this column revealed last week, viciously berated 79-year-old veteran Republican Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, dean of the New York delegation, as he prepared to announce his retirement.

"I am outraged at the deplorable statements," Mr. Powell wrote in a letter addressed to dozens of congressmen, Republicans and Democrats. Mr. Powell said staffers John H. Bargeron and James A. Puleo "crossed the line" by suggesting that Mr. Gilman would announce that he "died back in 1992, but that no one noticed until now," or else that he had "had no brain, like the Scarecrow."

"I condemn these comments and have expressed my anger at them to the State Department's leadership. I will not tolerate such behavior in this department. The deputy secretary has reprimanded the two individuals in question," Mr. Powell said, and he spoke to Mr. Gilman "to express my regret."

"Assistant Secretary Rand Beers has done the same," Mr. Powell added of the "unacceptable behavior" within Mr. Beers' Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Mr. Powell was so "furious," one State Department insider revealed, that he immediately summoned Mr. Beers back to Washington from France, where he'd been conducting official business.

In a related development, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday said that during a high-level meeting last week, Mr. Powell distributed copies of the Inside the Beltway column to "use as a learning tool."

Meanwhile, we've obtained a letter sent to Mr. Powell dated Feb. 7, 2001, from Mr. Gilman, chairman-emeritus of the International Relations Committee, and Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the Government Reform Committee. In their letter, the two congressional leaders called for the removal of Mr. Beers owing to what they say is a lack of "competence" to lead the fight against illicit narcotics "flooding" the United States.

I, Joe, take Jim?

How does one gauge whether the Federal Marriage Amendment is gaining momentum in Congress?

The ACLU has just mounted yet another attack on the amendment, that's how.

"As usual, the ACLU deserves a creative writing award for their inflammatory rhetoric and distorted description of the legal impact of the Federal Marriage Amendment," notes Matt Daniels, executive director of the Alliance for Marriage. "Bear in mind that the amendment would only do two things: one, define marriage in the U.S. as the union of male and female; and two, protect the existing authority of the state legislatures to decide all issues of marital benefits.

"Of course, both goals are so reasonable that the ACLU is forced to make straw-man arguments that the amendment will allegedly 'wipe out every single law protecting non-traditional families,' and so on."

Angela Colaiuta, national field organizer for the ACLU Action Network, just issued a memo to union worker bees to "oppose intolerance" of the Federal Marriage Amendment intolerance that knows no political boundaries.

"Representative Ronnie Shows, Mississippi Democrat, has introduced a constitutional amendment that would attack the basic rights of millions of Americans," she points out. "The Federal Marriage Amendment would not only define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, but it would also invalidate all legal protections for unmarried couples gay or straight."

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