Great Stink Bug Count survives the shutdown

Al Kamen
Columnist October 15, 2013

It looked as if one of the beneficiaries of the government shutdown was going to be the nation’s most wanted bug. We’re talking about a nasty insect here. Call it Notorious B.U.G.

Some folks had bemoaned the fate of the Agriculture Department’s “Great Stink Bug Count,” a citizen-led census of the pesky brown bugs that was thrown into question because of the shuttered government. The count, which began last month and ends Tuesday, is aimed at fighting the brown marmorated stink bug, which the USDA this year named its “top invasive insect of interest.”

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

That’s the entomological equivalent of the top of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Those dastardly little red-eyed scourges have gnawed through crops across the Mid-Atlantic region — and they have few natural predators.

The project called on participants to conduct a daily count of the pests they spotted on the exteriors of their homes and to submit the information online. “By the end of October, scientists expect to have the raw numbers they will need to start compiling data,” our colleague Darryl Fears reported last month. “They plan to analyze the colors of homes, their sizes, location, elevation and surrounding vegetation to see what attracts the bugs.”

But then came the shutdown. Web sites went down. Researchers were furloughed. The horror was that the bugs were going unchecked.

But never fear. We’re told that the participants in the project — more than 300 people, from middle-school students to music professors — were already keeping records before the shutdown, and that the USDA’s university partners have stepped in to collect them after the government had to go dark.

Eventually, there will be a pile of data for the government researchers.

The government took pains to keep national security functions going. But the war on stink bugs? Good thing we’re not losing our edge there, either.

Cruz control?

Not that we’re likening the folks on Capitol Hill to evil dictators — or even hungry sharks. But when we spotted former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s new book, “How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories From a Master Negotiator,” we couldn’t help think there might be some parallels to the current stalemate.

Richardson’s book offers lessons from the longtime political hand’s dealings with the likes of “Castro, Saddam, the Taliban, two generations of North Korean leadership, and many more of the world’s most infamous dictators,” according to the tome’s description.

So these relatively reasonable lawmakers in suits should be a piece of cake, right?

We asked Richardson for his advice to his former colleagues on methods to negotiate their way out of the current impasse. Richardson at first laughed off our request, saying he didn’t expect them to follow his counsel. But when we assured him these were truly desperate times (so much so that we even recently asked a marriage counselor for advice on resolving the dispute), he offered these four ideas, some of which he mentions in an Outlook piece last weekend:

●Bring in a mediator. “It’s gotten so personal” that a third party, maybe a former Treasury secretary, could prove useful in defusing some of the emotion, Richardson suggests.

●Get comfortable. Richardson recalls a particularly tough budget negotiation that prompted President George H.W. Bush to hold a summit at Andrews Air Force Base, essentially forcing folks to come to the table. In today’s debate, lawmakers shuttling back and forth between talks and caucus meetings have made things worse, he says. “They just get more and more wound up and inflexible.”

●Test the tea party’s spine. Richardson says House Speaker John Boehner could find out just how serious the tea party wing of his caucus is by taking a test vote on a “clean” continuing resolution. “They have a lot of bluster, but they’ve never been called on to vote,” he says.

●Pray. This one’s pretty simple. “I’ve just never seen anything like this,” he says.

As for any other secrets revealed in the book, Richardson discloses that it was the 2008 Super Bowl that ended his close friendship with Bill Clinton.

It wasn’t a fight over the game itself, or even a heated accusation of double-dipping the chips. Rather, it was the fact that the then-governor hosted the former president to watch the game with him in the governor’s mansion, where the news media snapped photos of the two casually dressed pols cheering the game and swigging Diet Cokes.

Which would have been fine — if Richardson hadn’t been planning all along to endorse Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. That ultimately made things downright chilly for the two, he admits in the book.

“It set up expectations,” he told the Loop.

And though he’s tried to mend the relationship, he says, it just hasn’t worked. The two now share cordial greetings, nothing more.

So what might happen if Hillary Clinton makes a presidential run? Let’s just say Richardson isn’t making any plans for a 2016 Super Bowl party with the Clintons (or anyone else). “I’m a private citizen, so I don’t anticipate playing any political role,” he said.

Meet a nice ghoul

Dancing and drinking with today’s lawmakers doesn’t sound like much fun.

But what about living it up with long-dead lawmakers? Capitol Hill’s Congressional Cemetery, where boldfacers of yore repose, is throwing a Halloween bash.

The fourth annual “Ghosts and Goblets Soiree” on Oct. 26 promises candlelight tours of the historic grounds, plus cocktails and snacks in the vault originally built to hold the bodies of deceased members of Congress. Which sounds far livelier than your typical congressional reception.

It’s a Loop-recommended event, as we can personally vouch for the bountiful hors d’oeuvres and generally spooky vibe.

With Emily Heil

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

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