Q: When is an ambassadorship to the Bahamas or Estonia not just an exotic golden parachute for some semi-retired career diplomat?
A: When it's a thank-you card.
Recently, quiet as a mouse, President Bush appointed major fundraisers as ambassadors to the Bahamas and Estonia, and named two others to the board of the Inter-American Foundation, which funds nongovernmental and community-based development programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. By making the appointments when Congress is not in session, the president bypassed the scrutiny such appointments would have generated in the bitterly partisan Senate. The appointees may serve until the end of 2005.
Bush appointed four "Rangers" and "Pioneers" -- honorary titles given to those who have raised at least $200,000 and $100,000, respectively -- among the 20 recess appointments he announced July 30. Public Citizen, the government watchdog group, has been tracking Bush appointments and found that nearly one of every five of Bush's elite fundraisers in the 2004 or 2000 elections has received a presidential appointment. The tally includes four Cabinet secretaries and 29 ambassadors.
The four Rangers and Pioneers newly appointed by Bush are:
* John Rood, as ambassador to the Bahamas. Rood is a major fundraiser for the Florida Republican Party. Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, previously appointed Rood to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, where he was criticized for not protecting endangered species such as the Florida panther and the manatee.
* Aldona Wos, as ambassador to Estonia. Wos, a retired physician born in Poland, is a Ranger and was co-chairman of Bush's fundraising efforts in North Carolina. Bush previously appointed Wos, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
* Roger W. Wallace, as chairman of the board for the Inter-American Foundation. Wallace, a Ranger and 2000 Pioneer from Texas, headed the International Trade Administration as a deputy undersecretary in the Commerce Department under President George H.W. Bush. Since then, he has been a lobbyist and consultant specializing in Latin American trade issues.
* Jack Vaughn, as a member of the IAF board of directors. Vaughn is vice president of a Texas company that develops oil fields and, as a 2000 Pioneer, was previously appointed by Bush to serve on the Energy Department transition team.
Mining the Lode
No one can say the Bush administration doesn't inspire people. For creative types, the president is a muse for the ages.
First came the Bush books (multiplying so fast they'll need their own section at the bookstore). Then, the documentaries. Now, in what could start another trend, comes the Bush parody feature film.
John Sayles, a director with a penchant for sociopolitical themes ("Sunshine State," "Lone Star," "City of Hope") is pre-previewing "Silver City," a scathing parody of the Bush family. The setting is the "new West" and Colorado, where Dicky Pilager (get it?), played by Chris Cooper, is the language-slaying candidate for governor. He is surrounded by Chuck Raven, played by Richard Dreyfuss, a ferocious Karl Rove-ish campaign strategist; a corporate tycoon, played by Kris Kristofferson, who rules the Pilager family as only a filthy-rich donor can; and the venerable family patriarch, Senator Jud Pilager (Michael Murphy). Daryl Hannah plays Dicky Pilager's crazed sister.
As the plot goes, Pilager reels in a corpse during the taping of an environmental political ad, and his campaign seizes the opportunity to investigate links between the corpse and the Pilagers' enemies. Danny O'Brien (played by Danny Huston), a rumpled private detective hired by the Pilagers, digs up a ton of skeletons involving lobbyists, media conglomerates, environmental polluters, even undocumented migrant workers.
The film was shot in six weeks, for $5 million.
At a screening at the E Street Cinema in Washington the other night, Sayles said he wrote the film because a bunch of actors and other Hollywood movie people felt an urgency to "do something" about the state of the country under the current administration. The film will receive a limited release in September, showing primarily in swing states.
. . . At Any Speed
President Bush flies Air Force One during his campaign swings. Sen. John F. Kerry's choice of aircraft is a leased Boeing 757. But Ralph Nader, ever the populist, has declared homely Southwest Airlines the unofficial airline of his campaign.
Southwest Airlines, the Greyhound bus of the air, is known for its first-come, first-served seating policy. Or, as the Nader campaign, put it, "all passengers fly coach on Southwest, as befits a presidential campaign for the people." The consumer advocate also praised Southwest's founder, Herb Kelleher, for demonstrating that the "the lowest-paid chief executive, now chairman of the board, of any major domestic airline, has produced better service, lower fares and more profits, in dollars, than the top largest three airlines combined over the past three years."
In return for its endorsement, the Nader campaign, which did not notify Southwest of its announcement, asked only two things of the airline. First, it wants "the ear of management for any signs of airline deterioration that should be reversed." Second, in a sign that the campaign needs a reality check, it wants what so many of us frequent fliers long for these days: peanuts. "Pretzels," Nader said, "just don't do it."