Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2002/ 2 Adar 5762


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O'Neill decks Byrd -- TREASURY SECRETARY Paul O'Neill is hardly a star in George W. Bush's Cabinet --- although Christie Whitman is worse -- and I've argued for six months that he should be replaced by someone who can navigate the politics of Washington. Steve Forbes would be an excellent choice, although he'd probably better serve the country if he ran against Robert Torricelli in this year's New Jersey Senate race. But after O'Neill's defiant rebuke of Sen. Robert Byrd at last Thursday's budget committee hearing, maybe it would be useful if he stuck around.

Byrd, absurdly dubbed the "dean" of the U.S. Senate by the media and pols alike, is a doddering old fool who has no business making long-winded, sanctimonious speeches that most often are a run-on of nonsequiturs. The 84-year-old pork-hungry Democrat, who's represented the United State of West Virginia for 50 years (three terms in the House; the rest as a senator), is, with the obvious exception of Strom Thurmond, the most senile member of Congress and a blight on an already tattered institution.

After Byrd insulted O'Neill by berating the former Alcoa chairman as a Beltway newcomer (as if that's bad), saying, "You are no Alexander Hamilton," the two mixed it up over their impoverished roots. (News flash: Byrd is no Henry Clay, John Calhoun or Daniel Webster.)

O'Neill replied, astounding those in attendance, "Senator, I started my life in a house without water or electricity, so I don't cede to you the high moral ground of not knowing what life is like in a ditch." He even threw in a dig at Byrd's affiliation with the KKK as a youth.

Byrd shot back: "I started out in life without any rungs in the bottom ladder. I can stand toe to toe with you. I haven't walked in any corporate boardrooms. I haven't had to turn any millions of dollars into trust accounts. I wish I had those millions of dollars."


What nonsense. Here's Byrd, chastising O'Neill for making money, as opposed to dedicated elected officials who don't "[walk] in corporate boardrooms," and then ruing the fact that he doesn't have "millions of dollars." I imagine Byrd, while not as rich as fellow Democrats John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Herb Kohl, Ted Kennedy and Jon Corzine, has staked out a very comfortable living for his family.

O'Neill's crummy at schmoozing, which is a prerequisite for his job, but at least he's got the guts to pierce the phony "courtesy" that's supposed to wash over the U.S. Senate. That's a rare quality in DC and ups my estimation of the Treasury Secretary. And shame on all the Permanent Government tv pundits, conservatives and liberals alike, who made light of this rare outburst.

Meanwhile, Bush's most popular Cabinet official, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was brilliant last Friday in lashing out at human rights scolds, the International Committee of the Red Cross and most of Europe's timid (and often anti-Semitic) diplomats and heads of state at a press conference defending Bush's denial of prisoner-of-war status to the Guantanamo Bay detainees. At a Pentagon press conference, Rumsfeld said: "Notwithstanding the isolated pockets of international hyperventilation, we do not treat the detainees in any manner other than a manner that is humane... The newspaper headlines that yelled, 'Torture! What's next? Electrodes?' and all of this rubbish was so inexcusable that it does make one wonder why we put out any photographs, if that's the way they're going to be treated, so irresponsibly."

The only foreign luminary who's had the fortitude to fully support the Bush Doctrine is, not surprisingly, Margaret Thatcher. In a Feb. 11 New York Times op-ed article she wrote: "How and when, not whether, to remove [Saddam Hussein] are the only important questions. Again, solving the problem will demand the best available intelligence. It will require, as in Afghanistan, the mobilization of internal resistance. It will probably also involve a massive use of force. America's allies, above all Britain, should extend strong support to President Bush in the decisions he makes on Iraq... The West as a whole needs to strengthen its resolve against rogue regimes and upgrade its defenses. The good news is that America has a president who can offer the leadership necessary to do so."

It makes you wonder if the Amnesty International ostriches are as reality-impaired as Sen. Byrd. I suppose they believe that the Al Qaeda jailbirds, who've been up-front about their desire to kill any Americans they can, should be put up in an Allenwood-like facility where they'd have access to computers, cellphones and tennis courts, plus the timely delivery of Arabic newspapers each morning.


No onešs accused Esquire of possessing a scintilla of taste for at least a generation, but a short item in its March issue headlined "The Forgotten Victims of 9/11" was remarkable for its frivolity. Included in the dashed-off (although given the leisurely pace of monthlies, the compendium was probably debated over three or four happy hours) list were Chandra Levy, sobriety, Tiger Woods, stem cells, Bill Clinton and-of course-the Bill of Rights.

Topping the "victims" was Tucker Carlson, the Crossfire cohost and occasional New York columnist. In fact, after a bumpy year that included a stint at Talk and on the disastrous CNN show Spin Room, Carlson has toned down his party-guy shtick and emerged as one of the more vital tv commentators.

His Feb. 6 Crossfire debate with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), for example, proved that when Carlson's fired up, there's no better inquisitor of hypocritical politicians.

The following exchange is refreshing, as Carlson demolishes Waxman's Enron witch hunt.

Waxman: "I haven't made any accusation against President Bush or Vice President Cheney or anyone else, but I think we ought to know who went before [Cheney's energy] committee. Now we do know certain facts. We know that Ken Lay, who is the head of Enron, the CEO from Enron, had a lot of access to the Vice President, to this energy task force, to this administration. He interviewed people to be appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He had pretty much the say over their choices." Carlson: "We know that? I don't think we know that at all."

Waxman: "We do know that."

Friend of JWR,
Tucker Carlson

Carlson: "Well, I don't believe that's true. And I don't know why you're saying that."

Waxman: "I do believe it's true. And we also know that he went before the Vice President on a number of occasions and urged certain policies for the energy task force to suggest. And when we evaluated what they proposed, there were 17 items that the administration proposed."

Carlson: "Well, this is an accusation right here. I don't know why you're saying you're not making accusations. You just made three of them...

"Now Mr. Waxman, I had another question for you, but I just want to back up here. You made a very serious, I think, newsworthy charge. And I want you to substantiate it. If I understood you correctly, you said you had evidence that Ken Lay had veto power over federal hiring in some way. What evidence do you have that that's true."

Waxman: "Well, it's been reported in the press that Ken Lay had an enormous amount of say over who was going to be on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission."

Carlson: "You said he had veto power. You said he could have a person hired or fired."

Waxman: "Well, I wouldn't doubt it. I wouldn't doubt it."

Carlson: "But you don't know it."

Waxman: "Well, I think that the person who was selected to be chairman was his choice."

Carlson: "So you're just throwing the charge out there without any evidence of it. Because it's a serious charge that he's picking federal employees. I mean, come on."

Waxman: "Oh, you doubt it? Do you know how many people came out of Enron that worked in this administration?"

Carlson: "Well, hold on. But you were just giving this speech about how we need evidence. We're not going to throw out charges. And you threw out a charge. And you've got no evidence to substantiate it."

Waxman: "Well, I read it in the press. And no one has refuted it."

Carlson: "Are you a lawyer? I mean, is that how things work? No one refutes it, so it must be true?"

Waxman: "Are you a judge?"

Carlson: "I'm not, but I'm not the one giving a speech about evidence. You are."

There's little doubt that some Enron and Arthur Andersen executives will face criminal charges. But the grandstanding of congressmen like Waxman, Billy Tauzin, James Greenwood and Gary Ackerman, who not only preen before the tv cameras during their investigations, but make the round of Sunday talk shows, is bound to complicate the prosecution of corporate swindlers. It's no wonder Kenneth Lay will take the Fifth this week: after his protege Jeffrey Skilling testified last week, admittedly providing little information, Tauzin suggested on Face the Nation that he could face perjury counts.

Typically, in trolling for votes, these lawmakers are simply making matters worse.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith