UPI's Capital Comment for October 15, 2001

By United Press International  |  Oct. 15, 2001 at 4:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- News notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Strange bedfellows? -- Writing in the week of Oct. 4 issue of the Boston Phoenix, Seth Gitell asserts that influential conservative Washington activist Grover G. Norquist has an "alliance" with Abdurahman Alamoudi, identified as the founder and former executive director of the American Muslim Council. This is, in the post-Sept. 11 political atmosphere, a serious allegation. Norquist has, of late, been very active in efforts to bring Muslims into the Republican voter bloc. Alamoudi has, as Gitell and others say, made inflammatory statements supportive of terror groups in the past. In his piece, Gitell argues that an alliance now exists between the two men of a shadowy and suspicious kind.

Gitell's only reported evidence for this charge is that a lobby firm with which Norquist is associated -- but not Norquist himself -- did work for Alamoudi, trying to bring international attention and medical treatment to a Malaysian political figure -- former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. A source close to Norquist confirms this. But there is less to this than meets the eye. Amnesty International recognizes Anwar Ibrahim as a "prisoner of conscience"; his trial was internationally regarded as a legal travesty; and Ibrahim was beaten while in police custody. The lobbying company was helping not a terrorist but a victim.

What adds spice to the story is that Gitell and Norquist have tangled before. Norquist, who accuses the writer of "making things up" on a prior occasion, would not return calls made by Gitell regarding the most recent Phoenix piece. And Gitell had been telling people for some time that he was working on an expose of Norquist's Muslim connections, possibly for a Washington news-opinion magazine that one source says rejected it.

A friend defends Norquist on the grounds that his political outreach project to bring Muslims into conservative political circles -- which began well before Sept. 11 -- has been singled out "without any mention of the work Grover has done to bring blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, eastern Europeans and Orthodox Jews to the same table where he is trying to help the Muslims win a seat." In politics, as in humor, however, timing is all.

One order of heritage coming up -- On Friday, President Bush signed an executive order creating a commission on educational excellence for Hispanic- Americans. In a mixture of Spanish and English, the president welcomed guests to the White House's East room -- telling them to laughter and applause "Mi casa blanca es su casa blanca" ("My White House is your White House"). The president used the occasion to point out a number of Hispanic-Americans inside his administration including White House Counsel Al Gonzales, OAS Ambassador Roger Noriega, SBA Director Hector Barreto, and Leslie Sanchez, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence that the group had been assembled to recognize.

Pledging 52 million -- During the Hispanic heritage event, the president and his guests joined with 52 million other children across America at 2 p.m. in a recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance. This may be the largest organized recitation of the Pledge in recent memory if not in all of American history.

Fight! Fight! -- With all the passion and intensity one might expect from a schoolyard brawl, the Rocklin, Calif., Unified School District and the ACLU are fighting over a decision by the district to stand by a "God Bless America" sign posted outside Breen Elementary after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. In an Oct. 3 letter, the ACLU says the posting of the phrase on a school building marquee is unconstitutional and that the words send a "hurtful, divisive message."

In! -- After months of playing the Hamlet of Manchester, Rep. John Sununu, R-N.H., has announced he will be a candidate against incumbent GOP. Sen. Bob Smith in the Republican primary next year.

Onward and upward -- Rep. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is vice-chairman of the party's House caucus, has decided against a bid for majority leader in the next Congress in favor of a bid to replace current caucus chairman Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who must leave the post because of term limits. Currently Menendez, who is from a district that remains safe for him after reapportionment, will be facing off against Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., wife of pollster Stan Greenberg. DeLauro's seat should also be unaffected by redistricting.

Hello Kabul, over -- Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., has introduced legislation authorizing the creation of a Radio Free Afghanistan to broadcast information into the beleaguered former mountain kingdom. Royce says the Afghan people "deserve to hear the truth about what is happening in the region and with their ruling Taliban government." The proposal asks for $8 million in Fiscal Year 2002 for the effort, to be conducted under the auspices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It would broadcast for 12 hours per day -- six in the Pashto language and six in Dari.

Personnel note -- Jim Jennings, a public relations executive with Hill & Knowlton, has joined America's Promise -- a group that counts Secretary of State Colin Powell as founding chairman -- as executive vice president for marketing, communications, and development ... Jody Thomas, national political and finance director for Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., has joined Smith Fairfield Inc. as senior vice president ... Financial Services Roundtable President Steve Bartlett, a former member of the U.S. House and former mayor of Dallas, has been named a member of the Presidential Commission on Excellence in Special Education ... Elise Adde becomes the new associate publisher of The New Republic magazine.

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