- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

Early warning

Does the average citizen spend his or her time writing letters to the president of the United States?

Inside the Beltway obtained a letter addressed to President Bush on Jan. 27, 2005, written by District resident Jesse H. Merrell, who wanted to alert him to the deplorable operations at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“Naturally, I never received any kind of reply,” Mr. Merrell tells Inside the Beltway of his letter, which began: “Dear Mr. President: Something is rotten at Walter Reed Hospital.”

The citizen wrote that he had visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed the previous day, as he had three weeks earlier, to distribute nearly $1,000 worth of telephone calling cards.

“Unfortunately, unlike before, I was obstructed at every point — except the gate guards, who applauded my efforts,” he wrote. “I was told I would have to have an escort, which I agreed to, but none was provided …

“At one desk, while I was being refused, a soldier in a wheelchair rolled up, fuming with anger that he had been sent downstairs for some tests — and kept waiting for two hours, and no one coming.

“ ’I felt like crawling up here on this,’ he said, grabbing his right leg, amputated halfway below the knee, angrily red and swollen on the end nearly as big as a soccer ball. At the risk of being arrested or ejected, I handed the maimed man four hours’ worth of cards.”

Rather than thanking Mr. Merrell, hospital staff “standing around, twiddling their thumbs, but helping make excuses of why I could not console the hurt and disfigured soldiers with calling cards, and offer them my gratitude for their tremendous sacrifices … told me they had all the calling cards they needed, adding, ‘We’ve got more cards than there are phones in the United States.’

“That was news to one soldier, from your home state of Texas, who gladly accepted two cards on my last visit, saying: ‘These will be great for calling the family in Texas,’ so weak he could barely raise himself up in bed to thank me …

“It simply would not do to try and help these brave boys who have given so much — life, limbs, eyes and ears — while these idlers could keep sitting on their bureaucratic backsides, dreaming up new ways to frustrate and barricade comfort for these heroes of the freedom you preach so insistently.

“If [Franklin D.] Roosevelt had fought World War II that way, we would have never won.”

Osama’s impact

Will more jets fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which limits the number of takeoffs or landings to 48 commercial slots per hour?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report to Congress that the centrally located airport along the Potomac River “can accommodate some additional” traffic, “but airport infrastructure constrains how much can be added.”

Surprisingly enough, the GAO analysis finds “78 existing slots [one takeoff or landing] remain unused — mostly during the early-morning and late-evening hours — and airlines have not applied to use these slots.”

Meanwhile, the terrorist attacks of September 11 continue to greatly impact general aviation at the airport, practically a stone’s throw from the Pentagon. Prior to the attacks, there were “over 40,000 annual general aviation and unscheduled flights to and from Reagan National, but since then the Department of Homeland Security restrictions on general aviation flights … have drastically curtailed the use of these slots to about 200 over the past year,” says the GAO.

Newt nod

Care to hear former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s personal opinions on the 2008 presidential race?

We’ve seen a sneak preview of C-SPAN’s “Book TV,” which airs tomorrow and Sunday, and heard Mr. DeLay label former House Speaker Newt Gingrich “brilliant,” while another fellow Republican eyeing the White House, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, as well as Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, don’t have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of winning the White House.

As for former New York Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani: “[A]n incredible leader,” Mr. DeLay opines, but he comes up short in the “social policies” category.

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

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