UPI's Capital Comment for Oct. 24, 2002

By United Press International   |   Oct. 24, 2002 at 3:53 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Red flag rising -- Political shifts in South America are creating a potential problem for the United States. The leftist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is openly consorting with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and it seems likely that the governments of Brazil and Ecuador may also head leftward under new presidents being chosen this year. If this happens, it would leave Colombia, the gateway to Central and North America, surrounded on three sides by countries with leftist, populist governments.

At the same time, the Pentagon says it is "reviewing" its role in the war on drugs in Columbia, according to the L.A. Times, which also reports that, before becoming defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld described military efforts to stop drugs as "nonsense."

All of which makes the selection of the new U.S. ambassador in Bogota particularly sensitive. So the news that the State Department's William Wood, a career Foreign Service officer who is currently with the Bureau of International Organizations, has the inside track for the job is being greeted with alarm by some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Republican U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Jeff Session of Alabama sent a letter to the White House last week, urging the president "to nominate an individual with deep experience in the region who has led an overseas mission and has a proven track record operating in a demanding and conflicted political environment and who is fluent in Spanish." Wood, according to one Republican staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meets none of those criteria.

If Wood is eventually chosen for the post by the White House, it will be seen by the president's partisan allies on Capitol Hill as another victory for the career Foreign Service types who increasingly control personnel matters in Colin Powell's State Department -- "to the detriment of President Bush's foreign policy agenda," one prominent conservative said.


Changing faces -- The White House is publicly standing behind Harvey Pitt, whom the president named to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. After a difficult confirmation period, Pitt was approved by the Senate but has been unable to escape controversy. Democrats on Capitol Hill tried to make Pitt the public face of the Enron scandal and have repeatedly called for his resignation, as has Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.

Nevertheless, the idea that Pitt is damaged goods who can no longer be effective in his position refuses to go away. Rumors have surfaced that the White House is looking for a new SEC chief and may been settling in on retired U.S. Federal Judge William Webster -- to whom two previous presidents have turned to bail out federal agencies with image problems. President Jimmy Carter named him to be FBI Director and President Ronald Reagan chose him to follow Bill Casey at the CIA after his initial nominee, Robert Gates, was unable to be confirmed in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair.


Poetry in pro-motion -- The White House has announced that Dana Gioia, a poet, critic and former business executive, will be nominated by the president to be new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The author of several books and a recipient of an American Book Award, the Harvard educated Gioia's essay "Can Poetry Matter?" was published by the Atlantic Monthly and, according to the magazine, received more responses from readers than any other piece in the magazine's history while igniting an international debate on the role of poetry in contemporary culture. His book "Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture" was a 1992 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was praised by many critics including The New Criterion's Hilton Kramer, who said, "No one, I think, has written with greater clarity or greater poignancy -- or with a greater sense of urgency."


Testing the water -- U.S. Rep. Doug Ose, a moderate Republican from the Sacramento, Calif., area, is reportedly testing the waters for the U.S. Senate in 2004. According to reports from inside California, Ose paid a Los Angeles-based polling firm to conduct a statewide survey, though Ose insiders say it has nothing to do with a possible run against Barbara Boxer -- who is considered the politically weaker of the state's two female Democrat senators.


Gerlach has fewer friends in Pennsylvania then he had -- GOP congressional candidate Jim Gerlach was stung by the news that two Republican local elected officials, Downingtown Borough Councilwoman Brenda Brinton and Wallace Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Lou Schneider endorsed Democrat Dan Wofford's bid for Congress against him.

The two Republicans made the endorsement at a news conference at Penn State organized by a grassroots coalition called Republicans for Wofford, where a letter of endorsement from 29 other Republican voters was also released.


Bundle of joy, bundle of cash -- The Planned Parenthood Action Fund announced Wednesday a $2 million program to educate voters in key Senate races and to help elect abortion rights candidates through direct political action committee contributions. State and local affiliates will be working in 35 states and hope to reach more than a million voters through door-to-door canvassing, mail and phone campaigns. "'It's the Senate, Stupid.' That's our mantra for the 2002 election," Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Gloria Feldt said. "The U.S. Senate is our last defense against the Bush administration's anti-choice agenda. We are fighting hard to keep pro-choice senators in control." The fund plans on spending the bulk of the money on Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire and Texas.


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