Monday, July 9, 2007

Sore subject

“Congratulations on speaking for the Republican National Committee.”

Or so an angry former President Bill Clinton spouted to a member of the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado over the weekend, after the person had merely questioned why the Clinton administration failed to stop Osama bin Laden before he reared his ugly head on September 11.

The Aspen Times newspaper, meanwhile, opined that the former president’s “snap of temper was reminiscent of the September interview when Clinton accused Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace of carrying out a ‘hit job’ when he criticized Clinton for his handling of al Qaeda.”

“Did I fail to get him? Yes,” Mr. Clinton told the Aspen audience. “Did I try? Yes.”

One option

“Went to an Indian powwow on the Flathead Indian Reservation on the Fourth of July,” writes Curt Shurgart of Kalispell, Mont., a former broadcasting colleague of this columnist.

“It was wonderful. Also surprisingly patriotic but not in your typical flag wavin’ way,” he says. “There was a very moving tribute to U.S. veterans. The vets in the stands were asked to join the Indian vets out on the dancing arena, where they all did a turn to the pounding drums. There must have been about 200 in total. They were all arranged by war — World War II first, then Korea, then Vietnam, Desert Storm, etc.

“With all the patriotic Fourth of July hoopla I had to stop and reflect on one Indian’s bumper sticker I saw. It read: “America … love it … or give it back!”

Alien phone home

Operating standards at nearly two dozen Department of Homeland Security alien detention facilities reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “did not show a pattern of noncompliance” except in one area: telephones.

“GAO’s observations at 23 alien detention facilities showed systematic telephone system problems at 16 of 17 facilities that use the pro bono telephone system,” states a GAO report, which cites significant problems for prisoners “in making connections to consulates, pro bono legal providers, or the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) complaint hotline.”

As the GAO points out, the “primary way for detainees to file complaints is to contact the OIG.”

Meanwhile, the report, which was obtained by Inside the Beltway over the weekend, reveals that the total number of aliens detained per year by Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement increased from about 95,000 in 2001 to 283,000 last year.

The GAO says while “care and treatment of these detained aliens is a significant challenge to ICE,” few other deficiencies exist, including in the areas of medical care, use of hold rooms, use of force, food service, recreational opportunities, access to legal materials, facility grievance procedures and overcrowding — besides telephone access.

Expanding gas

Everybody straight on why Congress wants temperature adjustment equipment installed on U.S. retail gasoline pumps?

The oil industry has known for 100 years that gasoline expands with temperature, explains Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate. As it warms, gasoline expands by volume but not by weight or energy content. Here in the U.S., unlike in Canada, gasoline retail sales are not temperature-adjusted.

Mr. Kucinich and 13 other congressmen and senators say that installing the technology would ensure that a gallon of gasoline pumped in the summer has the same energy content as a gallon pumped in the winter, which could save consumers an estimated $1.5 billion in “hot fuel” overcharges during a given summer.

The annual meeting of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, which runs through Thursday, is expected to at least partially address the issue.

“The [conference] should promote the most accurate measurement of gasoline, which takes the temperature of the gasoline into account,” says Mr. Kucinich, who as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform domestic policy subcommittee has held one hearing this past month on so-called “hot fuels,” with another hearing slated for later this month that promises to summon oil executives to Capitol Hill.

John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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