UPI's Capital Comment for May 15, 2003

May 15, 2003 at 4:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 15 (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.

Nuclear site fallout...

Bechtel, the international construction giant serving as the U.S. government's chief contractor on the Yucca Mountain project, has awarded a $30 million contract to a Maryland firm that is a subsidiary of the French-owned AVERA Group. The first contract to be awarded for the nuclear waste disposal facility, Cogema will receive $29.7 million to design robots that will be used in the waste handling process.

The news that this award has been made to a French firm is raising some hackles on Capitol Hill, especially among those who did not want the Yucca Mountain project to move ahead in the first place.

A spokesman for Nevada Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons said the congressman has repeatedly expressed concerns about giving contracts with sensitive national security implications to foreign-owned firms. Giving a contract to a French company "when that government has not shown itself to be an ally of the United States on matters of national security during the past year" is especially troubling, the spokesman said.

Cogema reportedly beat out two other companies that Bechtel did not identify but are thought to be an Anglo-U.S. firm and a joint U.S.-Japanese venture that a source on Capitol Hill said "could have provided similar services at similar cost."

While the process of designing the facility moves ahead, some, like Gibbons, believe the project may "never become a reality." According to his spokesman, "The fight over Yucca Mountain never ended. There are a lot of serious matters at stake and the awarding of this contract to a French-owned firm does not help matters."

It must be jelly....

Which member of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the Middle East, is hoping the photos of him receiving belly dancing lessons in the wee small hours got lost on the return trip? He's said not to be looking forward from the grilling he might get from the folks back home if the pictures become public.

Paying a visit...

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands is scheduled to hold a field hearing May 21 on a bipartisan bill authorizing construction of a visitors' center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. What makes this particular hearing somewhat unusual is that it will be held just 200 yards east of the memorial, which is located on the National Mall.

The new center would, among other functions, serve as a central collection point for the many items left at the wall, more than 65,000 since it officially opened, as well as other remembrances of the people whose names appear -- creating a unique historical record for future generations. Under the legislation, which was authored by U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Resources Committee, the cost of the center would not be borne by the American taxpayer. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1980 to build the Memorial, would provide the funds for the center.

"Currently, over half of the visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were born after the Vietnam War ended," Pombo said. "It is important we provide educational resources so that those born after the war know about the courage shown by our Vietnam Veterans - because of their honor and duty, we owe them a debt we can never fully repay." Witnesses at the hearing whose appearance is confirmed include actor Robert Duvall, journalist Stanley Karnow, AOL Founding Chairman James Kimsey and Jan Scruggs, the founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Lights, camera....

The Objectivist Center, a think tank devoted to the study of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, announces that her legendary novel "Atlas Shrugged" is headed to the silver screen. A Beverly Hills production company, Crusader Entertainment LLL, has acquired the film rights to the book which at least one recent survey said was, next to The Bible, the most influential in history. James V. Hart, author of the screenplays for "Contact," "Tuck Everlasting" and "Muppet Treasure Island" among other films, has been retained to write the screenplay.

Meet me under the clock in the lobby...

More than 1,000 activists and leaders from self-described progressive groups are due to hit Washington in early June for what is being billed as a major conference on how the left can "Take Back America." The forum, which will be held June 4-6 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, will, organizers say, "showcase the diversity, unified agenda and political muscle of the progressive movement."

Topics under discussion include the need for a new "Apollo Project" for energy independence while tactical workshops dealing with "Labor's New 2004 Mobilization Plans" and other issues will be offered.

Confirmed speakers at the conference of progressives include Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Ralph Neas, head of the ultraliberal People for the American Way.

(Got an item for Capital Comment? E-mail it to CapComm@UPI.com.)

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