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Cunningham's Hard Cell

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Back on Jan. 24, 1995, days after Republicans reclaimed control of the House after 40 years, one of the first bills introduced was H.R.663: "To amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to prevent luxurious conditions in prisons."

And the next day, longtime Loop Favorite and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) jumped on board as an early co-sponsor.

The bill, called the "No Frills Prison Act," would ensure that federal money would go only to state correctional systems that didn't coddle criminals by giving them "luxurious" digs, or let them work less than 40 hours week.

Also, prisoners would not be allowed "unmonitored phone calls . . . in-cell television viewing, possession of pornographic materials, instruction or training equipment for any martial art or bodybuilding or weightlifting equipment or dress or hygiene other than as is uniform or standard in the prison. . . ."

While the measure applied mostly to state prisons, it also "directs the Attorney General to establish conditions in the Federal prison system that are, as nearly as possible," like those in the state slammers.

Fortunately for Cunningham, who copped a plea Monday to tax evasion and conspiring to pocket $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and other co-conspirators, the bill appears not to have gone anywhere.

So if Cunningham, who's looking at as much as 10 years in prison, ends up doing time, he should at least have some phone and television privileges -- though maybe not "in-cell." It's doubtful he'll be allowed to play with his gifts -- the two Laser Shot shooting simulators, valued at more than $9,000. And then there's that Louis Philippe period commode (a chest of drawers, not a chamber pot).

May prove a bit too big even in the finest prison accommodations.

The Void in Government Ethics

Speaking of ethical matters, President Bush earlier this month ordered refresher lectures on general ethics rules, including those governing the protection -- and leaking -- of classified information. Not that there was any problem, but it's always good to keep up on these things.

As for the rest of the executive branch, we thought we'd check in with the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, the person who "provides overall direction to the executive branch ethics program and is responsible for ensuring that OGE fulfills" its obligations.

We checked the Web site:

"Vacant, Director." "Vacant, Special Assistant to the Director."

In fact, the job of director has been vacant since December 2003.

Turkey and Staples

Eat too much over Thanksgiving? Concerned about even more serious waistline damage from next month's holiday parties and then a New Year's Eve feast?

Not to worry -- help is on the way. The folks at Medicare are proposing to cover bariatric surgery (stomach stapling and such) for Medicare beneficiaries younger than 65.

The proposal was unveiled last week -- on Thanksgiving eve, no less -- by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"More than 60 percent of the population is . . . overweight or obese," an announcement noted, with an increased risk of all manner of diseases. Because recent studies show these surgeries are quite risky, coverage will not be available for those older than 65.

The Looking-Glass War

In an interview with The Washington Post in January, Bush, asked why Osama bin Laden had not been caught, said, "because he's hiding."

In March, Bush told reporters: "And we -- we -- we are -- spend every day gathering information to locate Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri , obviously people such as Abu Musab Zarqawi ."

In June, CIA chief Porter J. Goss said he had an "excellent idea" where bin Laden was but diplomatic concerns made apprehension difficult.

Yesterday, Goss, interviewed on ABC's "Good Morning America," explained further why the topmost terrorists are still at large. Bin Laden and Zarqawi haven't been found, he said, "primarily because they don't want us to find them and they're going to great lengths to make sure we don't find them."

Oh.

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