- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Glass houses

In the wake of last week’s devastating tsunami and the United States’ initial response to the disaster, a common buzzword in European circles centered on America’s “stinginess.”

Since then, of course, Americans have responded the way we always do — delivering more relief supplies to tsunami survivors than any other country.

“The United States has made a significant financial contribution, but we have done much more than that,” reporters were reminded yesterday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, citing everything from the U.S. military response to deliver food, water and medicine, to former President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton spearheading an unprecedented private fund-raising drive.

In the midst of this massive U.S. outpouring, we read that the mother ship of the European Union, Belgium — which lists 629 of its countrymen as missing in the Indian Ocean tsunami — has responded to the crisis by organizing a relief team called B-FAST (Belgian First Aid and Support Team). Or, maybe, not-so-FAST.

Our Belgian source, reading from the front page of the newspaper Metro, relays that an assisting Belgian doctor, Luc Beaucourt, is complaining about the commitment of Belgium’s civil servants toward efforts to find missing Belgians and assist thousands of others in peril.

The doctor says the team is dragging its feet, if not responding at all, and calls on the Belgian prime minister’s office to take the reins. (Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut denies the charges, answering that the team has done some work.)

According to the article, among the main reasons that B-FAST is not working so well is the result of weak leadership and bureaucratic administrative procedures. Plus, the past few days were a “bank holiday.”

Man of prayer

Here, word for word, is what President Bush wrote above his signature in the condolence books of four foreign embassies — those of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand — the countries most affected by last week’s deadly tsunami.

Indonesia: “May God bless all who suffer.”

India: “We pray for the victims of this terrible disaster and we stand firmly with the people of India as she recovers.”

Sri Lanka: “We pray for victims and families of this epic disaster, and the American government and American people are dedicated to helping you recover.”

Thailand: “We pray for the victims and families of this epic disaster. The American people and government stand with you as you recover and rebuild.”

House rules

The 109th Congress convened yesterday, and as is customary, with the start of every new congressional body comes the adoption of new rules in the House.

Among major provisions is the repeal of a corrections calendar created in 1995 to expedite the consideration of bills to repeal or correct laws or regulations that are “obsolete, ludicrous, duplicative, burdensome or costly.”

It comes as no surprise that the calendar has not been used very often, although, as the Republican Study Committee points out, the “suspension calendar” is still available.

Other provisions:

• Allow “relatives” to accompany congressmen on privately funded, officially connected travel. The current rule provides for a spouse or child to travel on such trips.

• Allow congressmen to use their campaign funds to pay for certain official expenses, such as cell phones and other hand-held communication devices.

• Restrict the use of the frank for mass mailings before an election by expanding the window before a primary or general election from 60 days to 90 days, during which a mailing cannot be franked.

Letter of the week

“I am the founder and editor of the Lynchburg [Va.] Current and I appreciate your mention of our travails with Lynchburg College in your column a few weeks ago. When I read about it at the Collegiate Network conference it was a pleasant surprise,” writes Rich Danker to Inside the Beltway.

“Last April, in the first issue of the paper, I put an item about the car of an international relations professor having a bumper sticker that said ‘Anybody but Bush.’ This professor attempted to get me kicked out of school for ‘endangerment’ and the administration decided to discipline me with a ‘Human Rights Violation,’ because I had ‘caused harm physically or mentally to a member of the college community.’

“It was quite ludicrous and another example of a [college] administration off its rocker.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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