- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — Capital Comment — Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

The first bite of the Big Apple…

A new Zogby poll finds Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to be the first choice of New York state Democrats for their 2004 presidential nomination. Lieberman, who made history as the first Jewish nominee to be part of a national ticket, tops the list at 14 percent among the 345 Democratic "likely voters" who participated in the survey and indicated a preference.

Coming in second statewide is former U.S. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who was the preferred choice of 12 percent of the participants.

The breakdown of the vote in New York City is, perhaps, of particular interest to party solons. Al Sharpton finished third overall statewide. But in the city he demonstrated a strong following, finishing in first place with the support of 13 percent. Lieberman finished second at 12 percent with Gephardt in third place at 11 percent. The survey was conducted Feb. 22-23, before Florida Sen. Bob Graham officially entered the race, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.4 percent.

Your secret isn't safe with us…

That political types and powerbrokers frequently gather for breakfast or lunch or over coffee to discuss the state of affairs is not much of a secret inside or outside the Beltway. But what is said at those meetings usually is. Most or all of them are held on an "off-the-record basis" — meaning people are not supposed to repeat what is said — giving them the appearance of exclusivity that lends considerable cachet — and sparks envy among some who cannot, for one reason or another, attend.

Sometimes something happens that sets tongues wagging and causes participants to race to the nearest phone despite the rules of secrecy. Such was the case last week after a luncheon at which a pundit concerned about matters military confronted a member of the White House staff in one such semi-public setting.

What several sources called "a one-sided exchange" occurred over whether Arab and Muslim-Americans would continue to be admitted to the executive complex. This follows the recent arrest of a Florida man alleged to have terrorist ties and who is also believed to have attended, along with at least 100 other Muslim and Arab-American leaders and activists, a briefing by the White House.

Several sources said the discussion was calm and orderly. Others described the pundit's remarks as "a tirade" that continued with increasing intensity and to the discomfort of many in the room until the chairman's gavel sounded, bringing it to a halt. The White House staffer in question, according to those offering an opinion, conducted himself with grace and good humor, something others said was lacking on the pundit's part. You have not heard the last of this one.

Got a problem? Don't call a lawyer…

The American Tort Reform Association, a group that advocates reform of the civil justice system, says that a new survey conducted on its behalf finds 83 percent of Americans think there are too many lawsuits, and, according to the survey, they blame "greedy personal injury lawyers" for the problem.

"This poll confirms that Americans are sick and tired of the 'strike it rich' mentality fostered by an out of control civil justice system," ATRA President Sherman Joyce said. "There is clearly broad support for tort reform as a means to rein in greedy personal injury lawyers that are manipulating our legal system for personal financial gain at the expense of the average consumer."

ATRA notes that 45 percent of the respondents participating in the survey said they supported tort reform as a means to curb frivolous lawsuits, while only 6 percent opposed it. Mercury Public Affairs questioned 800 likely voters nationwide in the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.

After Iraq, Lebanon…

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute, a centrist think tank with offices in Washington, is co-sponsoring a discussion of the future of the democratic system in Lebanon. The forum — After Iraq: Can Lebanese Democracy Be Revived? — will cover issues including whether Baathist Syria is inherently inimical to the United States and its values and whether there is a real chance for Lebanese democracy to once again take root in a post-Saddam Middle East.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick will be on hand for introductory remarks. Other participants include Walid Phares, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Ziad K. Abdelnour of the U.S. Committee for Free Lebanon and Jean Aziz, the director of the Freedom and Human Rights Foundation in Beirut.

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