A Grocery Shopper's Beef With Bremer

By Richard Leiby
Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Former Iraq pooh-bah L. Paul Bremer is used to dangerous situations, but how threatening can it be to shop in Bethesda? Consider Washington journalist Lisa Newman's encounter with Bremer's Secret Service detail last week in the parking lot outside Whole Foods on River Road. Newman tells us that agents berated her after she loaded groceries and her 2-year-old daughter into her car, which was parked next to Bremer's two-SUV motorcade.

"I was just trying to get into my car," Newman says, fuming. But a female agent, guarding one of the black Suburbans, warned her to wait. "I told her my child was in there alone," Newman recounts. "She puts her hand up as if to block me. I don't really know what's going on, and then I see a man rush over and realize it's Paul Bremer. He ducks into the vehicle and smiles at me."

It turns out that Bremer, former head of the American occupation in Iraq, had stopped at the plaza Friday afternoon on the very urgent business of buying a birthday card.

Finally in her Honda Accord, Newman backed out and briefly blocked the motorcade. That's when another agent got worked up as well, she says: "He's screaming at me, 'Move it! You better move it!' I was amazed and furious at the same time. . . . I thought, 'If this is how they treat people in Baghdad, no wonder they hate Americans!' "

Bremer's former spokesman, Dan Senor (who's still his close associate), told us: " Bin Laden has a bounty on Ambassador Bremer's head. That's partly why he has Secret Service protection. Like all Secret Service agents, they have a difficult job, and as for how they carry out the responsibilities, we would defer to them."

Tom Mazur, the Secret Service's spokesman, said yesterday, "Unfortunately sometimes inconveniences take place, but I would hope our agents acted in a professional manner."

A Joint Task Force That Gets Into Jams

• "This is my band," yelled guitar-slinging frontman Andras Simonyi, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States. "Do all the naughty things you don't do during the week."

Ambassadors of groove: Andras Simonyi (Hungarian ambassador to the United States) leads CJTF, with Sandy Vershbow (U.S. ambassador to Russia) on drums. Tina Fineberg - AP With that, a crowd of Washington diplomatic and national security wonks at New York's Knitting Factory took the cue to get groovy Saturday night at a rare performance of the classic-rock cover band CJTF -- which, as any NATO policy expert will tell you, stands for Combined Joint Task Force. The group features Lincoln "Linc" Bloomfield, an assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, on bass; Alexander "Sandy" Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, on drums; axman and Pentagon consultant Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, former guitarist for Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers; and Dan Poneman, harmonica and guitar player and North Korea expert from the Scowcroft Group.

Fifty-somethings and their kids swayed to renditions of hits by Cream, the Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix (as well as "Revolution" by the Beatles). Among the band's fans: Tommy Ramone, ex-drummer for the influential punk group the Ramones. "It's a cultural upheaval," Ramone told The Post's Michelle Garcia. "It's a meeting of two different worlds."

The invitation-only gig, organized by the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, raised money for tsunami victims. Just before the show, Bloomfield was dealing with an urgent message about getting C-130 parts to the devastated region.

Simonyi started jamming with Vershbow about a dozen years ago in Brussels, and other members signed on over the years. Now CJTF is considering touring and developing original material with its Beltway fans in mind. Said Skunk Baxter, "Wouldn't it be fun to have inside stuff the government folks and diplomats can relate to?" Right on, man!


• Bill and Hillary Clinton got a standing ovation on Broadway simply for attending the hit play "Democracy" on Saturday night. Whispers coursed through the sold-out theater when the duo was spotted. The play is about Willy Brandt, the scandal-plagued former West German chancellor whose indiscretions included womanizing. The Clintons went backstage, met with the cast and left with baseball hats.

• Radio and TV personalities helped raise more than $22,000 toward medical expenses incurred by the family of Walt Starling, the airborne traffic reporter who died of colon cancer last week. Anchor Katie Couric offered a behind-the-scenes tour of the "Today" show along with her promise to leave her voice on an outgoing message on a lucky bidder's phone. At a tribute Saturday night, that fetched $2,200 from Starling's brother-in-law, Keith Sullivan. Contributions are still being accepted at friendsofwaltstarling.com.

Annals of Puffery

An occasional verbatim press release

• "As we welcome 2005, what better time to take stock of the importance of family, friends and home life. Thoughtful consideration of our living space is certainly one way to welcome and renew relationships. 'Adding appropriate colors or hues can provide the perfect backdrop on which to build areas that warm the home's soul,' Debbie Zimmer, decorative painting consultant for the Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute, said."

With Anne Schroeder

© 2005 The Washington Post Company