- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Little R.N. Jeffords

A year later and the Democrats are still a-dither over Sen. James M. Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican party and become "independent." His departure last May 24 wrested control of the Senate from the GOP and turned the formerly publicity-shy Vermont lawmaker into a celebrated man of principles.

The anniversary has been heralded with daily press events, earnest speechifying, photo-ops and hearty hand clasps. "He was willing to risk his career, friendships and relationships in an act of great courage," Sen. Robert G. Torricelli proclaimed this week.

Mr. Jeffords has been lauded in Newsweek and Rolling Stone, landed a two-book deal from Simon & Schuster and had a beer named after him. He sleeps better these days, secure that his defection helped stall President Bush's causes in the Democrat-dominated Senate.

"Women have called to say, 'Thank you,'" Mr. Jeffords said recently.

Not everyone was pleased with his decision, however.

"It's hard keeping everybody happy," the senator acknowledged to the Hill newspaper this week.

Indeed. Mr. Jeffords' conservative son, Leonard, was "so incensed" over his father's decision to leave the GOP that he threatened to name his firstborn son "Reagan Nixon Jeffords."

So far, no birth announcements from the younger Mr. Jeffords. But one never knows.

Of cows and cause

It took only a few hours of irate calls to turn the State Department around. Yesterday, Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley drew attention to the doltish behavior of an Africa-based American diplomat who bungled his mission.

When a remote Masai village recently learned of the September 11 attacks, tribesmen decided to send 14 of their finest sacred cows to the United States as a token of their sympathy. Overlooking the generosity and decorum of the gesture, the diplomat took the cows but told the Masai they would be sold, according to a New York Times account.

It was just too "difficult" to transport them, he said.

An incensed Mr. Blankley suggested readers call the State Department and protest this ham-handed treatment, even offering the phone number. So readers called. And they called. And they called.

With remarkable haste, the State Department reversed course.

"The cows will not be sold," said a spokeswoman yesterday. "The Masai will keep and care for them. Instead, the tribe's women will send their beautiful beadwork to show their concern, and it will be displayed here. We acknowledge that our initial response was disrespectful."

Mr. Blankley is pleased at the outcome, but wonders why we just can't bring the cows stateside.

"Race horses are flown around the world. I know of a giraffe transported on a 747," he said yesterday. "So why not the cows? The continuing value of these to strengthen and hearten our souls would be huge. Still, this has been a wonderful and humane pause in our troubled times."

Janet Reno's party

Martin Sheen isn't the only celebrity that Janet Reno has enlisted in her bid for Florida governor.

Guitar legend Bo Diddley will be on hand tomorrow night to welcome Miss Reno and Mr. Sheen as they step out at the swank Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables to meet, greet and perhaps boogie.

Admission is a cool $250 per person. But wait. Make that $500 and the ticket holder gets a photo taken with the fake president and the former attorney general, according to a public invitation issued this week.

And what should we make of this alliance between Mr. Sheen who plays President Josiah Bartlet on "The West Wing," NBC's interpretation of the presidency each Wednesday night and Miss Reno?

"This is what you have to do when you can't get a real president for your campaign," says Todd Harris, spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida's executive officer and of course, the real president's brother.

"The fact that Janet Reno is being supported by the Hollywood liberal elite should not come as a surprise to anyone who has studied her record," Mr. Harris said.

Buddy, we hardly knew ye

Ever the deft man of the people, former President Bill Clinton announced the name of his new chocolate Labrador retriever puppy before an audience in Northern Ireland yesterday.

Pierre? Moshe? Ralph?

Of course not. Remember, this was Northern Ireland.

It's Seamus, according to dog-watching "sources" at ABC News. Mr. Clinton was there to dedicate the William J. Clinton International Peace Center in Enniskillen.

The ears have it

During his Tuesday visit to the National Security Agency, President Bush was asked by a reporter if events such as the escalation of violence between India and Pakistan, the congressional hearings and the never-ending Middle East dilemma had delayed plans to deal with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who is funding terrorist groups.

"I think you need to read my speech that I gave at West Point," Mr. Bush said, referring to his commencement address that reiterated the threat from countries who hate freedom and despise democracy.

"I was there, sir," the reporter replied.

The president chuckled, then offered a little select emphasis.

"Oh," Mr. Bush said. "Then I think you need to have listened to my speech I gave at West Point."

Off their hinges

Things are not so sunny in the Sunshine State of Florida.

It seems Orlando City Council member Patty Sheehan, who is a lesbian, spotted a personal note left at the office fax machine by fellow member Vicki Vargo. The note contained sensitive material that the resourceful Ms. Sheehan felt could aid in her fight to get a homosexual-rights ordinance passed.

Based on the information, Ms. Sheehan called members of a local homosexual interest group and suggested they file a Freedom of Information request for Ms. Vargo's e-mail records. They did. The records ultimately proved Ms. Vargo had worked behind the scenes to defeat the ordinance.

Ms. Vargo struck back, accusing Ms. Sheehan of breaking into her office and stealing papers. She then changed the locks on her door. An indignant Ms. Sheehan then ordered the door to her own office removed entirely.

Ms. Vargo in turn requested that miniblinds be hung between their aides' desks. Fellow city employees have compared it all to the Berlin Wall, Watergate and the relations between India and Pakistan.

"Vicki thinks I broke into her office and went through her documents, and that's how I knew what records to ask for," Ms. Sheehan told the Orlando Sentinel. "The level of paranoia and insanity up and down these halls is amazing."

"I think Commissioner Sheehan is overreacting by removing her door," said Ms. Vargo. "She may like to let it all hang out, but I am more discreet."

Screen gem

MSNBC's political kingpin Chris Matthews has signed a seven-year contract with the network as anchor of "Hardball" and for all prime-time coverage of the 2002, 2004 and subsequent elections. Mr. Matthews will also front a new weekly news show on NBC, he announced yesterday.

He epitomizes the "fiercely independent" identity that the newly star-spangled MSNBC has crafted for itself, according to network President Erik Sorenson.

But is this a pivotal moment for Mr. Matthews, who once served on the staffs of Democratic Sens. Frank Moss of Utah and Edmund S. Muskie of Maine and House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Massachusetts Democrat, and was a speechwriter for President Carter?


"My mission is what it's always been:to stop the abuse of power, and to be suspicious of power," Mr. Matthews said yesterday.

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