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Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2001 / 6 Teves, 5762

Robert L. Haught

Robert L. Haught
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Consumer Reports

Gifts for many public officials came a bit early this year -- WASHINGTON -- Christmas shopping was a little easier this year for our public officials -- and we do need to remember them in this season of giving, right? They eased the burden for us because so many of them had already been amply rewarded.

To begin with, we could mark off the list all 535 members of Congress. They gave themselves a big gift in the form of a $4,900 pay raise. Lawmakers used a midnight vote to open the door for the 3.4 percent raise to take effect in January. (A 65-33 procedural vote in the Senate defeated an attempt by Sen. Russell "The Grinch" Feingold, D-Wis., to block the pay hike.) It's the third increase in four years and will raise the salary of members of the House and Senate to $150,000 a year. That ought to help stimulate the economy.

Also making out well are White House biggies Karl Rove, Lawrence Lindsey and Lewis "Scooter" Libby. They owned hundreds of thousands of shares of stock in Enron, which they were forced to sell upon joining the Bush administration because of conflict-of-interest laws. They might have grumbled a bit because the stock was going for around $50 a share at that time. But if they had held onto it, after Enron's fall it would have been worth only pennies.

Former Vice President Al Gore got his present about a month early -- or 11 months late, depending on how you look at it. Gore landed a job at last, signing on with Metropolitan West Financial, a Los Angeles-based financial services firm. He'll be vice chairman. The job wasn't the one he was looking for, reports the New York Post.

The newspaper said Gore had spent the better part of a year trying to find a Wall Street firm that would pay him a base salary of $2 million to $3 million a year. Gore has been in government most of his working life and one big problem he faced, says the Post, was that he "is a novice in the business world and could hardly be expected to bring in any business." He could always bleach his beard white and moonlight as Santa Claus to bring in some extra bucks.

Another refugee from a past Democratic administration, Jimmy Carter, told about a most welcome gift in his latest book, Christmas in Plains. The former president recalled that during his search for a Middle East peace agreement, he was in agony from hemorrhoids. When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat learned of Carter's discomfort, he asked for prayers from his own people to relieve the suffering of his fellow peace negotiator.

Miraculously, Carter wrote, "the day after Christmas, for the first time in weeks, all the pain and discomfort went away. I've never received a better Christmas gift."

Many American taxpayers tend to think of the Internal Revenue Service in the same terms as hemorrhoids, but that's all right. A new report ought to brighten the holiday spirits for everyone at the government agency we love to hate. The American Customer Satisfaction Index shows an improvement of 11 percentage points from last year for the IRS. The customer satisfaction rating is up 22 points from 1999.

Even so, the IRS score of 62 out of a possible 100 is relatively low. But it still ranks higher with the public than commercial airlines, which were rated at 61.

As if being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize weren't enough of a present, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan also got a new car. It's an armored black BMW 750iL, which was provided to replace a bullet-proof Volvo that he has used for transportation for several years.

The only Christmas gift he might have liked better would be peace on earth, good will to men and women everywhere.

JWR contributor Robert L. Haught is a columnist for The Oklohoman. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Robert L. Haught