Finally, the 2004 presidential debates are over. Now we can focus on the baseball playoffs without such distractions. Not that the debates weren't entertaining: They began with fierce salvos and ended in full-scale war.
President Bush said Wednesday night John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) had gotten only five bills passed in his 20 years in the Senate. Kerry said no, the correct total is 56. Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt fired back that that was "a complete and utter falsehood. Kerry passed five bills and four resolutions."
The Kerry campaign sent the list. Sure enough, 56 bills. But it might be a good idea not to read them too closely.
Of course, you'll find important matters such as a global AIDS initiative, a major crime bill, a number of bills to help out small businesses and so on. But there were also 10 bills in 1995 to allow people to use foreign-made boats for commercial purposes -- one bill each for the Shamrock V, Endeavour, Aura, Sunrise, Marantha, Quietly, Magic Carpet, Chrissy, Sarah-Christen and Triad.
Other legislation names a federal building in Pittsfield, Mass., for the late former House member Silvio O. Conte (R) and renames another building the "Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center." A Kerry resolution passed easily to honor Milton D. Stewart "for his years of service in the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration," and another "honoring Ted Williams and extending the condolences of the Senate on his death."
Then, just before midnight Wednesday, the Kerry campaign e-mailed us about "Dick Cheney's Legislative Accomplishments -- Both of Them." The campaign cites Rep. John C. Spratt (S.C.), the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, as saying that in Vice President Cheney's 11 years in the House, he passed two bills, one "to build a flood plain on the Colorado river and the other . . . to help a constituent."
Oh, Say Can You Sing? Yes, to the Tune of $75
The Transportation Security Administration, the people who forced airline travelers to make sure their socks had no holes, knows how to party hearty. So much so that the Department of Homeland Security inspector general slapped them for spending too much money -- about $461,745 -- to host "the first annual TSA Awards Program" at the Grand Hyatt here in November.
The TSA says the bill wasn't all that much for 1,100 award recipients and guests, but promises not to spend as much again. One of our favorite items, in addition to the $200,000 spent to bring employees and guests to Washington and put them up for a couple of nights, was a $75 charge for someone to sing the national anthem.
The IG objected to the high cost of munchies and drinks during coffee breaks. TSA paid "$64 for each gallon of coffee" -- that's about $3 a cup -- "and $3.75 for each soft drink."
Yikes! Where did they think they were? Camden Yards?
No Education Reporter Left Behind
Speaking of taxpayer dollars, top Senate Democrats yesterday asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the Department of Education broke any laws when it gave Ketchum Communications Inc. a $700,000 contract last year to, among other things, produce a "news" video narrated by a non-reporter (who closed by saying "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting") and to rate newspaper coverage of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The request by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) was sparked by an Associated Press article earlier this week. Citing documents obtained by the liberal organization People for the American Way, the article said Ketchum set up a 100-point system to rank stories and education reporters.
"Stories got five points each for positive messages," AP reported, such as saying the law holds schools accountable and five points if they sent "a message that 'The Bush Administration/the GOP is committed to education.' "
But a reporter lost five points for things such as saying the law is not adequately funded, for example.
Overall, Ketchum found that media coverage "is fairly balanced and neutral, with more positive coverage than negative," according to the documents. Among the "most prevalent reporters," pieces by Greg Toppo of USA Today averaged only two points, the lowest "average article score." Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Chris Kenning's coverage was seen as "quite positive," averaging 33 points an article.
The department says that, whatever the rankings, it treats all reporters fairly.
Ranking the Calls: Baker, Nature, Duty
Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, called Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to protest that U.S. Ambassador George L. Argyros Sr. was a no-show at the former coalition partner's big national day celebrations. Moratinos said Wednesday the snub "didn't meet the norms of diplomatic courtesy," Agence France-Presse reported.
Asked about this yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said he would leave it up to Argyros to explain. (Sounds like the old hang-him-out-to-dry response.) And where was the Bush mega-fundraiser and former Seattle Mariners owner? Apparently, he intended to attend but was off hunting somewhere in Spain with none other than former secretary of state James A. Baker III.
Is Baker after those highly endangered Argali sheep again? Have they been sighted in Spain?