- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Paranoid reporting

“The raucous crowd of New Yorkers, most wearing dark suits, responded to Bush with calls of ‘We love you, Mr. President’ and ‘Four more years.’ Their cell phones rang sporadically throughout Bush’s speech.”

— Associated Press, Monday, June 23, 2003.

Ahoy, Osama — cont.

“Osama bin Laden isn’t going to check in after coming ashore” — or so was the argument of a Florida congressman who wants the Department of Homeland Security to rewrite restrictions for recreational boaters who, upon returning from a foreign port, can clear customs by dialing a hot-line number.

Now, Inside the Beltway reader M. Burke writes to say that she and her husband returned from Mexico aboard their sailboat and “due to engine troubles and lack of wind for sailing we drifted northward into the Gulf of Mexico for days before winding up in Fort Myers, Florida, late at night.”

“After anchoring, we rowed our dinghy ashore and walked several miles to the nearest pay phone to check in with the nearest Customs office as required by law. No one answered the phone. The next morning we repeated the trek to the pay phone and eventually managed to get through to a Customs official.

“After telling him that our previous stop had been Cozumel, Mexico, he asked two questions: ‘Are you both American citizens?’ and ‘Do you have any avocados on board?’ Avocados? If Osama (or anyone else) wanting to enter the country illegally sailed a nice-looking pleasure boat flying the American flag … I doubt he’d have difficulty entering the United States.

“Terrifying, isn’t it?”

Beer bias

The chairman of the congressional Homeland Security Committee, when not worrying about Osama bin Laden, is trying to end a “luxury” tax on beer.

In a letter to colleagues, Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, writes that Uncle Sam has classified beer a luxury item and thus imposed a “crushing” tax on consumers and brewers alike. And the cheaper the beer the higher the tax rate.

Which means, according to a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, that households earning less than $10,000 spend nine times more proportionally on beer taxes than households earning more than $70,000.

The congressman, who’s tried for 10 years to repeal the tax, says that ending it would strengthen the economy and create jobs (an estimated 26,634 per year), partly through increased consumer spending.

An estimated 90 million Americans regularly buy beer.

Proud brother

Any world traveler could write a book about taxi drivers. Most cabbies, in fact, are the welcoming hosts of their communities. Similarly, upon arriving at unfamiliar destinations, it’s the taxi driver that a traveler trusts for guidance and information.

George McLemore drives a taxi in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where on the same day last week President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and several Democratic presidential hopefuls descended for separate events.

Mr. McLemore is proud of St. Paul, “one of the cleanest cities in the United States,” he says en route to the airport. “Look around, you won’t see any trash. And the people are nice to you here.”

The 52-year-old driver points out all the city’s landmarks, going into detail about the various styles of architecture. He speaks fondly of his 100-plus-year-old house on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

“When the wind is just right, you can smell the river,” he says. “I love the smell of the Mississippi. I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else.”

He was born in Beaufort, S.C., second-oldest son of a master sergeant at Parris Island Marine Base. He is one of 17 children, 11 girls and 6 boys.

“We picked cotton as kids,” he says. “You would carry it to a scale where this little guy would weigh it. I used to get 27 cents a pound.”

He speaks proudly of his siblings.

“You might have heard of my brother, Mark McLemore?” he asks. “He plays third base and shortstop for the Seattle Mariners. He used to play for the Rangers and Orioles.”

He smiles when I reply that I used to watch his brother play baseball in Baltimore.

“And my other brother is Dana McLemore,” he continues. “He played football with the San Francisco 49ers when Joe Montana was quarterback.” (I forget how many Super Bowl rings he said his brother won, but there were several).

“Then there’s my oldest brother, Lamont McLemore. He sings with the Fifth Dimension. In fact, the band is still touring,” he says. “They had a bunch of hits: ‘Up, Up and Away,’ ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ ‘Age of Aquarius.’ …

“And McCoy McLemore, he’s my cousin. He’s played basketball for the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.”

He shakes his head and says his family has been blessed.

We pull up to the airport; I thank him for the enlightening ride; and as I walk toward the terminal, he pops his head out of his cab and yells, “By the way, every single boy in my family has a mustache.”

• John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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