A Loop Fan sent us one of those little foam-filled, stress-relieving squeeze things the other day. It was most patriotic, a star-shaped item in a flag motif, all red, white and blue. Quite nice.

Better yet, it came from the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. ODEP "awards competitive grants and contracts to further its mission to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities," according to its Web site. "To date, ODEP has awarded more than $61 million in grants and contracts."

Fine idea. ODEP spent about $2,000 to buy about 1,500 of these little stars, the department estimates, as promotional items. And so they contracted with a sheltered workshop, preferably in Ohio, to make them?

Not exactly. They're imported -- from China, of course.

"We bought them from an American company in . . . New York," Labor Department spokesman Michael Volpe said. "Where they make them, that's free enterprise."

Well, maybe there was a sheltered workshop in Fujian? Or a re-education camp? Prison labor? A child labor sweatshop?

Your tax dollars at work.

Moving On at OPM?

Office of Personnel Management chief Kay Coles James sold her home in Arlington last month, sparking rumors that she was moving back to Richmond and running for statewide office. Republicans on the Hill had been hearing she was going to work for state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore's gubernatorial campaign next year.

These were reinforced by other rumors that she was telecommuting a lot of late and chatting up conservative and religious groups across the state, presumably in preparation for a run.

Well, only one element is true, at least so far.

James sold her home on Aug. 17 for $697,000. This was a house she bought in June 2001 for $450,000. Almost $250,000 in three years? Not bad.

But word at OPM is she sold because the kids are gone, she just hated that old kitchen and she's renting a high-rise in Pentagon City for now and looking over her housing options.

There have been recurrent rumors about her running for office for years, and she's got ties statewide -- Richmond, Roanoke, Northern Virginia and Chesapeake -- so she's "perfectly positioned" for a run, we're told.

On the other hand, OPM folks say she's actually been doing substantially less speaking to groups in recent months than she usually does. In addition, it's said she's happy where she is and, if President Bush wins and wants, she might stick around.

Maybe, but . . .

From Five Minutes to Eternity

Most everyone knows how senators can filibuster bills to death on the Senate floor. But less common is the committee filibuster.

That's what some Senate Judiciary Committee members seemed to be doing Tuesday in an effort to block passage of a bill that would help states improve use of DNA evidence so the guilty go to jail and the innocent who have languished decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit can be released.

The bill overwhelmingly passed the House 357 to 67 last year, with support from the likes of Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and independent socialist Rep. Bernard Sanders (Vt.). Even so, the Justice Department and Senate Republicans demanded and got changes. But the bill still seemed stuck, and the Senate is leaving town soon.

At a committee vote Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who sponsored the bill with ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), interrupted opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

"Senator," Hatch said, "if I could interrupt one more time. . . . The senator could give illustrations all day long. . . . I think the senator has made his case. But I think it is time to vote. . . . I am going to have to cut off debate here."

"Mr. Chairman, how long have I spoken?" Sessions asked.

"It seems to me about half an hour, maybe a little bit more," Hatch said.

"Only seems like five minutes to me," Sessions cracked.

"I know it seems like five minutes to you," Hatch said. "It seems like an eternity to me is all I can say." The room broke up.

For Nader, Standing Room Only

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is taking his election run very seriously, perhaps too seriously. On Thursday, Nader was on a jammed shuttle bus at Dulles, heading out to the midfield terminal to catch a US Airways flight to Louisville.

He sat straddling two seats on the bus as it filled up. He kept his head down, perhaps focusing on the speech he was to give at the University of Kentucky that day. Or perhaps he was totally engrossed in studying for his debate prep for next week should he get an invite? Taking one of his power naps?

Two women well on the far side of 60 couldn't find seats and were standing. Ditto an elderly gentleman. Another passenger standing next to Nader says he nudged him and asked: "Do you think it's necessary to take up two seats?" No response from Nader.

Well, the kids liked the speech.