HORIZONS by Ken Booth

September 23, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — ycazso @ 5:47 pm

The sudden death of Jody Powell last week certainly brought home to me a sense of my own vulnerability.  I suspect anyone who experiences the death of a friend, loved one, or someone around whom they had worked wrestles with the same thoughts at a time like this.  I didn’t know Joseph Lester Powell, Jr. well but I did work around him during his years as press secretary to President Carter and we traveled to many overseas destinations together during Carter’s presidential trips.

   He would have been 66 on September 30th,  just three months after I reached that milestone myself. So, it surely brought into even sharper focus my own mortality just knowing the fellow who seemed so young when we were cavorting around Europe, the middle East and Asia not so many years ago was suddenly gone. We were a couple of thirty-something year olds who, it seemed, were all over the place, he as a wunderkind of the Carter administration and I as a White House correspondent.

    It was a heady experience for us all, flying all over the world with the Leader of the free part of it with plenty of those moments of high drama but with short bursts of levity interspersed.

White House photo   White House photo

Jody, described as the “wit and soul” of the Carter administration, had a bad habit of not wearing his lapel pin designating him as a member of the senior White House staff.  In Warsaw, he had to be rescued from the clutches of the Polish equivalent of the Secret Service who were arresting him as he tried to enter a building for a meeting between President and First Secretary Gierek. As for the drama part, who can forget the night President George H.W. Bush threw up and slumped over at that state dinner in Tokyo, an event which threw a major scare into us all. Or the fire bomb-throwing protestors who menaced us while President Reagan placed a wreath at the tomb of Simon Bolivar in the heart of Bogota, Columbia.  In 19 years of White House overseas missions that was the only time I witnessed our Secret Service detail display their Uzi-class automatic weapons.

    Despite the machismo Reagan demonstrated in his dealings with the likes of Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping’s “new China,”  watching him stand there at a Beijing welcoming ceremony with a bitterly cold stiff wind blowing through his hair as he reviewed a goose-stepping Chinese military honor guard emphasized dramatically how much that nation’s policies had changed post Mao and how much one man’s –Reagan’s- ideas can change in just a few years with him smiling and shaking hands with his Communist hosts.

    When it came to reporters the man could give as well as he could take. When asked by ABC’s Sam Donaldson during an impromptu Q&A atop the Great Wall how Reagan felt about Chinese censors taking out portions of one of his speeches broadcast across the country Reagan skipped not a beat, “No big deal. You folks do it to me at home all the time.”

   Despite critics among the press corps assigned to the Reagan White House, in the eight years I covered his overseas travels, I never knew him not to be outwardly congenial to any reporter.

   It was a characteristic often observed in his press secretary, Larry Speakes.  Asked in Beijing what the president thought about the endless line of giant pictures of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Engles which festooned light poles along his motorcade routes in Beijing, Speakes said, “he thought they were the Smith brothers (of cough drop fame).” Reagan felt he had to be Reagan.

   None of my overseas travels with Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and the first George Bush were without minor foul-ups but even with them, the American principals, their aides, and even their spouses kept their senses of humor about them. Oh, there was that cat-spat clash Nancy Reagan had with Raisa Gorbachev in the middle of the Moscow Summit. There they were together to look over some religious icons in an old Kremlin church. The one looking like an illustration in a fashion magazine and the other like a housewife, the kind of person for whom fashion magazines are illustrated in the first place.

    One can only imagine how it must have been at the close of the day, when the two most powerful men on the planet went home at night and asked, “how did your day go, Dear?”

   Screw-ups on these carefully-orchestrated trips were equal-opportunity snafus, however. The White House press corps often had its own peculiarly embarrassments as well and usually as a measure of its own actions although not always.

   At literally the last moment before visa cancellations prior to departure from Poland I was informed by White House staff that the Polish government had somehow misplaced my passport but to “play it cool and we should be able to get you out.” Indeed, I climbed aboard the White House Pan Am charter with a hand-stamped Polish Airlines boarding pass. Fortunately, my errant passport was eventually found and ferried to me in Tehran. Please don’t ask how I got into Iran minus that single most essential travel document.

    Network anchors, each trying to out position themselves for on-site coverage of these summits and state visits, appeared prone to shoot themselves in the foot in pursuit of advantage. Dan Rather was once stranded in the former Yugoslavia when we took off with his passport.

   Ralph Harris of Reuters News Agency flagged down a passing ambulance to catch up to the presidential party after being left behind at one of the stops in Mexico City.

   And then there were the language problems. Bob Scheiffer of CBS had to sign for 200 duck dinners because of a mis-translation when ordering from room service.

   But in fairness, anyone could slip up when engaged in a string of 16 to 18 hour work days, flights lasting up to 13 hours or more, currency conversion charts, and filing schedules dictated by time zone changes which could take you into tomorrow or back into yesterday. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia dateline filings, for example, provided their own bizarre clock-watching experience since in Arabic time, daily, all watches are set to midnight precisely at sundown.

   Don’t misunderstand. Traveling with the President of the United States into a foreign country is not without its perks such as a front and center seat at the Bolshoi or a champagne reception at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris. However, all taken together, those years afforded a world class education in a long series of events that would surely leave an indelible mark on a country boy from Rayville, Louisiana.

   No more so, I figured, than did Jody Powell from little Cordele, Georgia (but who grew up in nearby Vienna (pronounced Vy-anna) whom I choose to remember as the blue jean, T-shirt clad Georgia Jaycee political wiz with a deep Southern drawl also thrust upon a world stage and who, like I’m sure did I, often appeared in way over his head.

   When news came about his heart attack, I pulled out some letters Jody had sent to me regarding various of White House trip arrangements during the Carter term and re-read them. They were written more than 30 years ago. It’s hard to believe.




September 8, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — ycazso @ 10:26 pm

With a taxpayer-financed health care public option proposal all but on life support in the Congress, opponents are now focusing on other no less unpopular aspects of the pending legislation such as coverage available for millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. Adding to the angst, the Labor Day holiday weekend saw heightened alien traffic across the Southwest in general and in Arizona in particular. You would have thought somebody had yelled, “Amnesty!”

   Agents assigned to the Yuma Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 19 illegal aliens and seized seven vehicles along western stretches of Interstate 40 in the Kingman area.

   Highways like I-40 are direct connections between Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, all transportation hubs to the interior of the United States and are well known destinations for illegal immigration and narcotics traffickers. This year alone, the same agents have arrested 1,574 illegals and seized more than 200 cars, trucks, and vans.

   A weekend sweep of a swap meet in Phoenix by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department netted 63 arrests, including 24 suspects shown to be in the country illegally. Many of the vendors, themselves, were also charged with being here unlawfully. Deputies were acting on a tip that hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit DVD movies and CD’s were being sold at the meet, set up a short distance down the road from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s famed desert tent city jail.

   In the meantime, another sixteen suspected illegal aliens were arrested by Department of Public Safety troopers after a 100-mph pursuit of a van along Interstate 10 just southeast of Phoenix.  Officers said during the chase, the vehicle’s occupants began throwing articles of clothing from the van before the driver attempted to ram a patrol car and instead crashed into a building. He is charged with human smuggling.

78 illegal aliens intercepted by agents in AZ desert

78 illegal aliens intercepted by agents in AZ desert

   As thousands of people continue to stream over the southern border it is understandable then that many Americans are expressing outrage that a proposed congressional overhaul of U.S. health care would extend coverage rights to those who have no lawful presence here in the first place.  And as if to punish further, Obamacare (as it is being called) there are provisions pending in this legislation right now that would take away untold hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal Medicare program into which older workers paid a big part of their wages while employed and fines up to $3800 for families who fail to obtain medical insurance after any reworked health care package goes into effect.

   The President has been on television seemingly every day lashing out at “pure misinformation” that ObamaCare will be used to cover illegal immigrants but curiously in no way refutes the claim.  He does cling to the declaration that the legislation does not specifically offer such coverage directly. However, facts are a rather stubborn commodity.

   In HR 3200, Section 246 (page 143) there is no specific requirement that any person prove his citizenship in order to obtain affordability credits meaning that illegal aliens could obtain coverage. Furthermore, Section 152 (pages 50-51, 143) clearly provides the potential for inclusion of illegals because it would be subject to interpretation of “personal characteristics” which would include legal status when such “personal characteristics” and other issues “extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services” cannot be used for denial.

   If that’s not enough to rub critics the wrong way consider that HR 3200 requires that if one family member is covered, all members of that family will be covered (page 133), another loophole to give taxpayer-subsidized health care to illegal aliens. If a child of illegal aliens is born in the United States, then the entire family becomes eligible for coverage.

   So, now as the President relaunches his health care reform initiative with polls showing a majority of Americans skeptical of the details, look for refocused attention on provisions which would embrace coverage for illegal aliens and their families. Surely, somebody is going to wonder out loud why Democrats voted down Representative Nathan Deal’s (R-GA) amendment that would have specifically prohibited Obamacare from covering illegals. If all this is “pure misinformation” would there have been any reason to reject Deal’s amendment outright?

   Of course, to the President and members of Congress the uproar over proposed Health Care Reform is of little consequence since theirs is a policy of self-exemption.

   Contrast that for a moment with the selfless effort by a local motorcycle club whose members spent their Labor Day weekend trying to raise money to help out the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas. The 30 year old Rosas was shot eight times July 23rd while responding to  suspicious activity in a remote area of the U.S. Mexico border known for human and drug smuggling. His killer fled back into Mexico and remains at large.


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