Washington week

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 1:33 a.m.

WASHINGTON - Have you about had it with having to remove your shoes just to get on a plane? Fed up with standing in line after line?

Take heart. The airline industry is pushing hard for a ''trusted traveler'' card that would exempt a prospective passenger from at least some of the intrusive security checks making air travel less than fun.

The industry wants a pilot program involving 6,000 passengers and airline employees to see how well such a card might work. Early suggestions would let trusted travelers skip shoe removal and avoid random screening at the gate and elsewhere. Feds are still working out how to keep cards away from terrorists.

  • Things are looking so bleak for the states that some are looking to slot machines to ease their money woes. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for instance, is abandoning his earlier adamant opposition to expanding gambling in the Sunshine State. He is considering introducing slots and video poker at racetracks. Lawmakers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland are pushing the same.

  • Meanwhile, GOP governors are howling that the White House and Congress are making things worse by not funneling enough money to the states to pay for homeland security upgrades to communications, public health, utilities, and police and fire operations.

  • States that bank on raising cigarette taxes to tamp out their budget woes may face trouble down the road, a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says. Though such tax boosts are a popular way to cough up additional revenue - 20 states have raised them this year - the new revenue is just a short-term fix because much of it will go up in smoke as a the number of smokers dwindles.

  • Will the Supreme Court revisit two hot-button issues, or leave college affirmative action and gay rights for another day? As early as next week, the justices could decide whether to take up a challenge to the University of Michigan's admissions system to clarify if racial considerations can continue to be a factor. Also on tap is the question of whether Texas law criminalizing ''deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex'' is constitutional.

  • More than 400 journalists have signed up to spend a week at the Pentagon's new ''media boot camp,'' a concentrated course in how to avoid getting in the way of, or becoming casualties in, future combat operations. The Pentagon has even opened the training to foreign journalists, and one from the Middle East's Al Jazeera TV network - Osama bin Laden's favorite conduit for public messages - is slated to attend the Dec. 16-20 session at Fort Benning, Ga.

  • Employees stealing company data is the No. 1 cause of identity fraud, according to credit bureau TransUnion. That's what allegedly led to charges last week against a help-desk worker at a credit software company who is suspected of selling Social Security, bank account and credit information on 30,000 people coast to coast. Look for a crackdown to curb such inside jobs, which can force careless companies to shell out big bucks to victims.

  • The race for Colorado's 7th Congressional District seat remains so much in limbo that the two contestants - Democrat Mike Feeley and Republican Bob Beauprez - both came to Washington for freshman congressional orientation. The score stands at Beauprez ahead by 122 votes, as a recount continues.

  • Visitors to U.S. forestlands will be feeling the effects of this year's devastating fires for years to come. Not only did the fires destroy record numbers of acres in Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon, but many Western forests had to close during a popular tourist time. That dramatically reduced the U.S. Forest Service's recreation fee proceeds, meaning the agency's multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog will only get bigger.

  • Workers overwhelmingly favor having the holiday office party at lunch, then getting the afternoon off, instead of dragging the family downtown for cocktails after work, according to a poll by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

  • If you're making out your Christmas list for the little ones, you might want to scan the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's list of dangerous toys. The site - www.toysafety.net - cautions that Clifford the Big Red Dog wind-up toy and the Hello Kitty five-piece stamp could choke small children. Then there's the ''One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish'' book, which is made of PVC plastic containing toxins that can cause eye and skin irritation, the group says.

  • The American Red Cross reminds us all to stress safety this holiday season, particularly when it comes to fire risks: Avoid burning candles during parties and check ashtrays, upholstery and trash cans afterward for smoldering cigarette butts. Burn only wood - no paper in fireplaces, and never light a fire in a fireplace over which you hang stockings. If you prefer artificial trees, choose a fire-retardant one.

  • The debt counseling company Myvesta serves up another caution - noting that credit card debt is up 35 percent over the same time last year - and could get worse if the average shopper makes good on plans to spend $700-plus during the holiday gift season. By the way, men are far worse than women when it comes to credit card debt - averaging $3,900 compared to $2,600 for women.

  • Stung by criticism in the media and scientific world that it was wasting its money and breath, NASA has quietly shelved plans for a scientific monologue to, once and for all, rebut claims by various conspiracy theorists that astronauts never really walked on the moon. The thinking is, NASA's evidence has never held much sway with conspiracists, and putting it all out again isn't likely to change that.

    P.S. Dec. 11 marks the 30th anniversary of the last human to set foot on the moon. The first did so in July 1969.

  • NASA's trove of moon rocks is forming the basis of a new research effort hunting for early life forms on Earth. Astrobiologists suspect a few of the rocks may actually be extraordinarily ancient chunks of Earth that were blasted into space by meteor strikes billions of years ago. The hope is that the moon rocks either would contain traces of early life forms, or at least provide evidence of conditions on the planet near the beginning.

  • When Congress returns in January, lawmakers will have heaps of leftovers spilling off their plates. The new House and Senate members will have to pick up where their predecessors left off - rewriting and passing the 11 unresolved spending bills that died when the 107th Congress ended in November. This means that, if the legislators don't pass those 11 bills by the end of January, they'll be holding hearings on the president's 2004 budget at the same time they are dealing with spending for 2003.

  • Retailers worried about a lackluster holiday shopping season might want to think ''Feliz Navidad,'' says the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. While U.S. Hispanics are a burgeoning consumer sector - expected to spend more than $580 billion this year - most businesses are dedicating only about 3 percent of their advertising budgets to capture that robust market, the association says..

  • A presidential push has begun for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the Senate's most liberal members. Some supporters have begun an online draft for the 63-year-old legislator to vie to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2004. Harkin ran once before for the nomination, losing big to Bill Clinton. But Harkin scored surprisingly well in the Nov. 5 election, trouncing conservative GOP Rep. Greg Ganske so heartily that Harkin's partisans think he could do the same nationwide.

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