From planes to frames

Al Kamen
Columnist May 22, 2013

It’s hard sometimes to keep track of all your planes. The Army, it seems, “lost” one for a while.

Well, not actually lost, according to a May 9 Defense Department inspector general’s report, since it seems to have been used by Army brass (also known as “high priority passengers”) who needed a ride “to give speeches, or attend conferences, meetings” and such.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The Army transferred the seven-passenger, two-crew-member C-12 turboprop from the U.S. Special Operations Command to the Army Special Operations Command back in 2000, but it didn’t become “visible” in their inventory. (Sounds as though the plane, valued at $800,000, sorta disappeared.)

No one was sure who was responsible “for providing oversight and accountability,” the IG said, and this “confusion” made the plane “susceptible to misuse” by senior officials, citing three investigations in 2011 and 2012 of misuse of military aircraft by senior officials, including Gen. William Ward and Adm. James Stavridis, then NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, or “SACEUR,” based in Belgium.

Stavridis was dinged in a May 2012 IG report for a May 2010 flight down to Dijon, France, with his wife, his chief executive officer and a rear admiral “to attend a ceremony and event sponsored by the Confrerie des Chevaliers Du Tastevin, an international society of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.”


Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s official portrait was not unveiled until 2008, more than seven years after she left the job. (Lawrence Jackson/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Stavridis, for his part, argued that “he was not the first SACEUR to be invited and attend” that gathering, which he said was “as good a collection of leaders as one could find at an event in Europe.” Not to mention they’d be likely to be in a talkative mood.

Ward was cited in a June 2012 IG report for, among other things, flying with his wife on 15 military-aircraft flights that did not provide a “diplomatic or public relations benefit” to the United States. There was another flight where he improperly took unidentified “members of the media” on a trip, the report said.

The IG recommended that the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command take over “responsibility for oversight and accountability of the aircraft.” That commander has done so, the report noted.

“Burgundy wine enthusiasts”?

Watching paint dry

When it comes to the official portraits of Cabinet secretaries, it seems some folks get framed faster than others.

This spring has seen a mini-flurry of unveilings, including two Obama administration officials who were still in office when their paintings debuted — and one Bush official who’s been out of office for more than four years.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s portrait was unveiled last Thursday (he’s leaving, he says, when the Senate confirms his replacement), and former interior secretary Ken Salazar’s was unveiled in late March, a few weeks before he stepped down.

In a bit of a throwback at the Department of Health and Human Services, the portrait of former secretary Mike Leavitt also was feted this month. But if Leavitt had to cool his heels for a good four years before being immortalized on canvas, at least he didn’t have it as bad as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, whose likeness wasn’t unveiled at Foggy Bottom until more than seven years after she left the job. (Bush SecState Condoleezza Rice is still awaiting her oil-memorialization.)

Another observation: Even official portraits can be personal. Salazar’s, for example, is quite informal, with the bolo-tie fan depicted in a Western setting, wearing his signature neckwear. His denim-clad wife, daughters and granddaughter are behind him. LaHood harks back to his Illinois roots by being shown standing next to a bust of the Prairie State’s favorite son (sorry, Ray), Abraham Lincoln.

And the symbolism can be indelible: Who can forget that Mitt Romney’s official Massachusetts governor’s portrait shows him perched next to a copy of that health-care bill from which he distanced himself during his presidential bid?

Is it time to scrap the tradition of capturing our statesmen and women in oils and instead opt for photographs, something spending hawks have long argued.

Maybe we need a chart

Ridiculousness may be in the eye — or taste buds — of the beholder.

Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday held up the idea of making key lime pie the official pie of the United States as an example of a laughable idea (unlike his desire to exclude the debt limit from budget talks, which he argued was perfectly reasonable).

“This is not a trivial objection,” the Florida Republican said during a speech on the Senate floor arguing against debt-limit talks. “I’m not asking that the key lime pie be made the official pie of the United States. I’m not asking for some ridiculous thing.”

But wait: Would that really be such a crazy idea? Key lime is the official state pie of Florida — and the Sunshine State is populous and politically powerful. And surely he couldn’t have meant that the very idea of having a national pie (regardless of the flavor) was silly. We essentially have a national bird (the bald eagle was made the nation’s emblem in 1782), and Congress routinely names months and days after awareness of obscure diseases and scourges (a happy belated National Invasive Species Awareness Week, everyone!).

Besides, key lime pie happens to be delicious.

But maybe Rubio is as savvy as his boosters say — or perhaps he’s got a good mastery of polling. According to the American Pie Council, key lime isn’t even among the top five pies preferred by Americans. Apple is first, followed by pumpkin, pecan, banana cream and cherry.

Now, there’s a sweet debate worthy of the Senate.

First-world problems

Hey, these things happen: Penny Pritzker , President Obama’s nominee to lead the Commerce Department, understated her income by some $80 million and had to file a correction to her government-filed disclosures, Bloomberg News is reporting.

That might sound like a lot of money, but it’s all relative. Pritzker, whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain, is worth about $1.5 billion. So it’s easy to see how a few million — or 80 — could go missing.

Maybe she left it in the other purse?

A spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the $80 million was “a substantial amount” and that Pritzker’s advisers corrected the error as soon as they realized it.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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