The new security measures taken by the U.S. Capitol Police appear to be sparking some grumbling from folks on Capitol Hill.
There is "no specific threat directed at the Capitol," the police announcement said, but "it is prudent to take certain measures to enhance security throughout the complex. These enhancements will include screening checkpoints for vehicles traversing the Capitol grounds."
"Please be advised, that there may be significant backups and delays, even on streets that are not closed." But all is not necessarily lost. "We encourage anyone traveling near these areas to utilize alternate routes."
One House aide notes that "essentially the Capitol Police are suggesting we use alternate routes around the entire Capitol complex, which is a tad hard for all of us who live or work on Capitol Hill. Perhaps they forgot that this is an office complex, neighborhood and tourist destination."
Well, pal, better get used to it. Given that the measures are based on "recent events," most all of them three to four years old, there is very little likelihood the administration can soon, if ever, back down from a state of "high alert." (Imagine how a "never mind," issued anytime before the election, would play.)
A year from now, the specific site information will be four to five years old, but why would that make it any less reliable? Maybe if a more recent al Qaeda CD showed up with a top operative declaring earlier plans have been revised or abandoned -- Newark, of all places, as a top target? -- things might change.
But maybe the alert level will lower after the election. But why would that matter? The targets were not drawn up with any election specifics in mind. Given the criteria used to generate the latest "be very afraid -- go about your business" alert, it seems "orange alert" is going to be in place for a very long time.
So if you're bothered by the gridlock around the Capitol, best find a job somewhere off the Hill.
Take a Swim in the Motor Pool
As everyone knows, it's vitally important to create jobs in Iraq tout de suite, as some might say, given its unemployment rate is about 50 percent.
And no one is more aware of this than the U.S. Agency for International Development. So USAID is committed to putting Iraqis to work quickly. On its Web site, it says it is "dedicated to assisting the Iraqi people in rebuilding and developing the new, modern Iraq."
The agency says it's "looking for bright and motivated Iraqis to join our team. If you are looking for an opportunity to use your skills in a learning environment that promotes free thinking, presents challenges, and makes a real impact -- USAID is the place for you.
"This Web page will help you to discover possibilities for employment with USAID in Baghdad, and throughout the country. . . ."
So what jobs are available? Pretty good ones, it seems. There's a photo on the page of Iraqi civil engineers with hard hats surveying site preparation for a water-treatment plant. Looks like good jobs at good wages.
So what's actually posted on the site? There's only one type listed under "Vacancies." That would be: "Chauffeur," or, as some might say, driver.
Yes, you can be one of "five qualified individuals" working in the "USAID Motor Pool Baghdad." The job is to drive agency vehicles and "deliver passengers and materials" as well as "documents and invitations." (Invitations?) Also you have to wash the car and maintain daily logs.
Three years' experience required, preferably including one "with the U.S. government," so former CPA drivers get a leg up. Ability to turn on a dime and perform evasive maneuvers is essential. Hurry. Deadline to apply is Aug. 12.
What was that old Beatles song? "Baby, you can drive my car."
The Silence of the Lamb
Imagine what documentary filmmaker Michael Moore could have done with this: Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, last year gave President Bush, his family and top aides $128,000 worth of fine jewelry, according to the State Department's annual list of foreign leaders' gifts to top U.S. officials. Unclear if that helped take the edge off that bit of friction over allegations by some that the Saudis aren't pulling their weight in the war on terrorism.
But an analysis by the wire service Agence France-Presse reveals the Saudi gifts, while very fine, were not the weightiest offering given the Bushes last year. That prize goes to Argentine President Nestor Kirchner's 300 pounds of raw meat -- lamb to be specific. May not have been as fancy as the Saudis, and only worth $1,500, but it wins the prize for unusual token of esteem.
Kirchner forked over the meat on an official visit to Washington in July 2003, during which he picked up support for a new international loan program, AFP reported.
The lamb was transferred to the General Services Administration, presumably for distribution to government cafeterias or charity, according to the State Department.
"Unfortunately," AFP noted, "there is no record of . . . whether there was any connection between [the meat] and the sheep responsible for a $214 grey wool poncho that Kirchner and his wife also gave to the Bushes during the visit."
You know, maybe just as well.