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Post Politics Hour
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Dana Milbank
Washington Post National Political Reporter/Washington Sketch Columnist
Friday, June 2, 2006 11:00 AM

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Washington Post national political reporter/Washington Sketch columnist Dana Milbank was online Friday, June 2, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

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The transcript follows.

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Dana Milbank:

Good morning, ladies, gentlemen and Michael Chertoff.

As you are all no doubt now aware, this was the week in which the Department of Homeland Security decided to counterterrorism funding for New York City and the National Capital area, concluding that DC is a "low-risk" city and that there's no need for special protection for the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. The money is instead going to Omaha, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, and five cities in Florida.

To those of you from the heartland, please write in and tell me what you intend to do with your windfall -- more than $100 million taken away from DC and NY. And for those of you who live here or in New York, please tell me what you think places like Omaha and Wyoming should do with our homeland security money.

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washingtonpost.com: Flash: DHS Disputes Al-Qaeda's 5-Star Rating of Two U.S. Cities , ( Post, June 2,2006 )

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Washington, D.C.: I enjoyed your column this morning, although I'm feeling a certain sense of weltschmerz about living in a "low-risk city."

Can you tell me how many points a jurisdiction got for voting for President Bush in the DHS assessment of terror targets?

Seriously, what are the differences in the factors used by the Rand Corporation and those used by DHS in assessing the risk to various jurisdictions?

Dana Milbank:

I recognize "weltschmerz" as a word from the national spelling bee yesterday. In this usage I believe the proper definition is "idiotic bureaucracy."

I did a little analysis of the "political risk" involved in assigning the grant money. Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) got some nice help in KC and St. Louis, while Jeb Bush got quite a bonanza in Florida. But the administration cut loose Sens. Rick Satorum (R-Pa.) with big cuts in Pittsburgh and Philly, and Mike DeWine (R), whose Ohio took a beating.

The truth is the "risk" component -- supposedly 2/3 of the criteria -- was obviously swamped by the other 1/3, in which the administration decides which proposals tickle its fancy.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd suggest that Omaha spend that money building something worth protecting - and then protect it.

Dana Milbank: That's a thought.

In fairness, Omaha has an excellent stockyard. I understand they plan to build a moat around it like they did to protect the Washington Monument from truck bombs. The question now is how all the cattle are going to get past the moat so they can be auctioned.

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Dallas, Tex.: Morning, Dana! Can we talk a little Texas politics for just a bit? Now that we have Alito, predict the decision due in June on the Texas gerrymandering/redistricting case, please. Also, have you heard of Kinky Freedman? Don't you think he'd just be the crown jewel of Texas politicians?

Dana Milbank:

I attended the oral argument for that one, and the justices (not just Alito) seemed mighty skeptical of the case challenging the DeLay-led redistricting, so I'd be surprised if they knock it down.

Have I HEARD of Kinky Friedman? I worship him. Any guy who forms a country band called Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys deserves to be governor of Texas. And any Texas gubernatorial candidate running on the slogan "How Hard Can It Be?" deserves to follow his predecessor to the White House.

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Windfall: All I know is I'm moving to D.C. where it's safe!

Dana Milbank: We welcome all you hicks from the sticks, as the New York Post puts it. I expect they'll take down the barriers on Pennsylvania Ave outside the White House and get rid of the roadblocks near the Capitol now, seeing as it's so safe here. They're also likely to conclude that it's now safe to eat on the Metro.

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New York, N.Y.: I think Louisville and Kansas City should erect a statue to Tracy Henke. I personally will donate 5,000 pigeons to those places.

Dana Milbank: This is an excellent suggestion. Henke, for those who do not know, is the DHS official who oversaw the grantmaking arrangement. Turns out KC and St. Louis, both in her native Missouri, are big winners in the terrorism sweepstakes. Who wudda thunk it? The cities can use the counterterrorism funds to screen all the pigeons for bird flu.

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New York, N.Y.: Found this list of what DHS might be wanting to protect (from DailyKos):

Alexandria, Indiana: The World's Largest Ball of Paint ($12 million)

Niland, California: Salvation Mountain ($16 million)

Alamo Heights, Texas: Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum ($10 million)

Dedham, Massachusetts: The Museum of Bad Art ($31 million)

Key West, Florida: The Chicken Store ($7.5 million)

Alliance, Nebraska: Carhenge ($25 million)

And Soap Lake, Washington: The Giant Lava Lamp ($143 million)

Dana Milbank: That's classified! How did you get it?

I'm calling General Hayden. Or actually, could the NSC folks who are monitoring this chat just send him the transcript? Thanks.

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Henke and numbers: Tracy Henke has been criticized in the past for playing "funny buggers" (as the Aussies say) with statistics and forcing career bureaucrats who don't want to push her spin into early retirement. Do we need another Katrina-esque disaster to prove that good spin does not equal good governance?

Dana Milbank:

I don't know how you got "funny buggers" through the Post's obscenity filter. Well done.

As for the extremely fair Ms. Henke, I have no wish to embarrass her further. But here's what my colleague Al Kamen wrote a couple of months ago:

President Bush's recess appointment in January of Tracy A. Henke to be assistant secretary of the Office of Grants and Training (G&T) at the Department of Homeland Security irked Senate Democrats.

Henke had caused a ruckus last year when she demanded that a Justice Department report on racial disparities in police treatment of blacks in traffic cases be taken out of a news release. A respected career employee was demoted after protesting the move.

But indications are that Henke's working hard and handling her new post -- an important job to make sure scarce anti-terrorism money is spent effectively across the country -- with appropriate priorities.

Take this e-mail she sent to staff members last week:

"Another item I mentioned during the All-Hands meeting was the need to seek suggestions on how we can neatly encapsulate what we do at G&T to help others understand (inside and out of the department)," Henke wrote. She went on to say that when she was at the Justice Department her job included handing out money, being a contact beacon for states and local communities and helping victims of crime. "I used the 'Santa Claus, Batman and Mother Teresa' analogy" to sum up the functions.

But here's the problem. "Mother Teresa won't work for G&T," she wrote. "I requested that you think about and submit suggestions for another analogy to fill in the blank 'Santa Claus, Batman and ______.' This analogy is not for publication, but to be used in conversation to assist individuals in understanding the great work, activities and possibilities of G&T. Several of you have sent suggestions. Thank you for your interest and great ideas.

"To make certain that everyone has the opportunity to participate and to be involved," she wrote, "I have asked Anne Voigt [an aide] to chair a short-term committee to work on this for me. If you could please e-mail your suggestions to Anne . . . she will assemble the options. I ask that if you are interested in helping her, please e-mail her your name by COB on Tuesday, March 7. She will put the names in a hat (bowl or anything else we can find) and we will pick the other individuals to serve on the short-term committee with her.

"This committee will narrow the options down to no more than three and we will then have an all-hands vote to select the 'Santa Claus, Batman and ?' The individual whose suggestion is selected will be invited to lunch with me," she wrote, "my treat."

Feel safer already, don't you?

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Arlington, Va.: Now that DHS has declared DC safe, would it be possible for the White House reopen the road south of the White House that was supposedly closed for security reasons but is used for extensive staff parking? The dirty secret in Washington is security closures equal additional staff parking.

Dana Milbank: Good idea. In fact, they should tear down that iron fence at the White House and let us all picnic there, as we did back in the 19th century. Also, because it is so safe, we should encourage the vice president to reduce traffic congestion by taking the bus up Mass Ave to his home at the Naval Observatory, unless he wants to borrow one of the president's bicycles.

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Cincinnati: A better question to ask those in the "sticks", which is worth protecting: DC where no one can get it right, nor shows any inclination to try to get it right, be they politician or MSM member; or Omaha and its great steaks. You would probably not like the answers.

Dana Milbank: Ooooh, that hurts.

Cincinnati lost $1.2 million, or 21% of its counterterrorism money under the new DHS plan, and based on your attitude I would support that cut. Apparently the money was being used to protect Procter & Gamble's Kibbles 'n Bits factory.

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Louisville, Ky.: I'll have you know that we are prime targets for terrorism here because not only do we have Churchill Downs, but we also have...

Nope, that's it. Sorry.

Dana Milbank: Well, there is the Louisville Slugger facility. But y'all could just hit the terrorists with baseball bats, couldn't you?

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Rockville, Maryland: "I worship him."

I could vote for him. But I don't want to go back to Texas to do it.

Dana Milbank: You're not kidding. Dallas took a 43% hit under the new DHS arrangement, while Houston lost 10% and San Antonio 25%.

If only Kinky were running for mayor of Charlotte (up 64%).

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Madison, Wis.: Since we're a Blue State, we don't expect to get much money. But, if we got some, we'd put a giant dome over Milwaukee. Then we could have Summerfest in January, if we wanted. Plus, protect ourselves from stuff falling out of the sky.

Dana Milbank: I was wondering why Milwaukee got 35% for next year, or $2.2 million. This explains it. But the state has to be to heat the dome; the feds only supply the dome itself.

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Washington, D.C.: Froomkin cites you and your editors as unable to attach the word 'LIE' to George W. Bush in his column yesterday.

Is it true that you wrote the word but your editor switched it the synonym, mendacity, less than truthful or the everlasting beauty that is 'unartful'?

Dana Milbank: Here's what Dan wrote yesterday:

"How hard is it for reporters to call what Bush says a lie? Consider Dana Milbank 's near-legendary front-page Washington Post story from October 2002, headlined: "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable."

Milbank wrote that some of Bush's statements "were dubious, if not wrong"; that Bush's "rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy"; that he was guilty of "distortions and exaggerations"; that he had "taken some liberties," "omitted qualifiers," and made assertions that "simply outpace the facts."

But you won't find the word lie in there anywhere. It just won't get by the editors."

I think that's unfair to the Post's editors. The fact is the word "lie" implies that you know what's in somebody's mind. For example, if what Patrick Fitzgerald has told us is true, Scooter Libby "lied" to the grand jury, because he had to have known what he was saying was false. The president four years ago may well have known what he was saying was false, but that's not provable. I try to stick to what's demonstrably true, and leave the rest to the bloggers.

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Greenville, S.C.: What did a hick state like mine end up with? I ask - since we're sitting on everyone's nuclear waste.

Dana Milbank: Oh, dear. I'm sorry to say South Carolina didn't even make the list! You aren't urban enough. But, as thanks for watching our nuclear waste, you get a total of $14.7 million in overall counterterrorism funds, which amounts to $3.45 per person (Virginia, at the bottom, gets $2.23).

And thank you for all you do with our spent uranium.

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The Heartla, ND: I hear the DHS is looking into building a moat around the Grand Canyon.

Dana Milbank:

But the part about them setting up whitewater rafting tours is an out-and-out lie.

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Washington, DC: Reply to Cincinnati:

And, who, may I ask, sends all these people you find worthless to Washington? Not those of us who live here and don't have voting representation in Congress.

I second the idea of making the VP take the bus. It would clear up some of the traffic congestion in the neighborhood. Maybe just close up the bunker to save money.

Dana Milbank: Couldn't say it any better.

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Tulsa, Okla.: 168 people died in the Oklahoma City bombing 11 years ago. Were they less worthy of protection from terror than New Yorkers?

Dana Milbank: Oklahoma City is taking a 26% cut under the new DHS plan. And, let me see, Tulsa, Tulsa, Tulsa. Nope, didn't make the list.

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Richmond, Va.: Dana,

Is there any possibility the president will intervene and reallocate the homeland security money? The priorities are so disgraceful that it would be genuinely funny were not the stakes so serious. Are there really people at DHS who can defend these grants with a straight face?

Dana Milbank: Well, Tom Davis of Northern Virginia, who chairs the House Government Reform committee, has announced he's having a hearing. And Peter King of New York, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, is mad as a hornet. So there's hope.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: What kind of staffer is Henke? Is she a political appointee? Or a person who actually has real life experience in the job she is doing?

Dana Milbank: She has had extensive real-life experience working for John Ashcroft.

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Washington, D.C.: I, for one, am sleeping better, just knowing that the Wal-mart in Missouri will be safe and protected.

If only the terrorists knew that they could have struck a crippling symbolic blow so powerful it would have caused the US to surrender, renounce Britney Spears' music, and join the mighty caliphate, all by blowing up one rural Wal-mart...

It's just too terrible to contemplate. Thank you, DHS, for ensuring this day will never come.

Dana Milbank:

Sorry for being Lou Dobbesian in my obsession with the DHS story today, but even in a city accustomed to daily outrages, this one is really special.

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Interested citizen: Are you going to take any real questions today?

Dana Milbank: I'm afraid not. Have a nice weekend, and luxuriate in your newfound sense of safety-- except for those of you in Omaha, who should put duct tape on your windows.

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