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POLITICS

Inside Washington

Chef Alphonso’s Lasting Legacy

Embattled and outgoing Housing and Urban Development chief Alphonso Jackson is leaving taxpayers with a memento they’ll never be able to use—a $99,988 renovation of the secretary’s 10th Floor executive kitchen. That comes to $415 a square foot and includes $65,979 for cabinets; $10,988 for granite counters; $6,472 for lighting; $8,900 for two commercial-grade refrigerators; $2,000 for a dishwasher; and $4,350 for a tile floor.

Despite some aides’ misgivings, Jackson went ahead with the renovation 16 months ago. HUD insiders say that a chef, assigned to the secretary’s office before Jackson became the Housing boss, often cooked meals for Jackson and his guests.

 

HUD spokesman Jerry Brown explained that the old, 10-by-23-foot kitchen was in “disrepair” and that the new one shouldn’t need an update for another 40 years.

But, a HUD insider says: “I thought it was a bit extreme.” Adds another: “Jackson really liked his perks, and this was just another one of them.” Jackson’s last day was Friday.—Edward T. Pound

Murmurs

Psst! A veteran Republican strategist noted that if Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., opts out of the public financing system, his decision could reshape Republican Sen. John McCain’s thoughts about a running mate. The Arizonan had little love for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney when the two were battling head-to-head for the GOP prez nod. But apparently the hatchet has been buried and the deep-pocketed Romney, a whiz at raising campaign loot, may be just the tonic to help McCain take on Obama, who has set fundraising records. That’s probably why it’s no coincidence that Romney has been out on the trail for McCain … South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford recently helped his alma mater, Furman University, score a high-profile commencement speaker: President Bush. At the same time that the prospect has excited (and incited) students and faculty, some are saying that Sanford’s motives could be twofold. He is rumored to have lost favor with McCain by not endorsing him before the state’s primary, which reportedly knocked him off the senator’s VP list … The White House planned to announce a replacement Friday for HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. Little birds tell us that Bush has passed over some highly publicized candidates, including Roy Bernardi, the deputy secretary, and Brian Montgomery, the FHA commissioner …

 

Vital Statistics

$16.1 billion

Collective earnings of the top 10 U.S. hedge-fund managers in 2007

—Alpha magazine

$250 billion

 

U.S. earnings lost to intellectual property theft annually

—U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Kidneys R Us

Iran may be a terrorist-funding, America-hating nest of nuclear wannabes, but it has an enviable kidney-vending program. Yup, Iranians needing the organ can buy one on the open market from a live seller for about $6,000, according to transplant nephrologist Benjamin Hippen. In a paper for the Cato Institute, Hippen extols the benefits of regulated kidney purchases (selling human organs is strictly forbidden in the U.S.). “In Iran, the waiting list for kidneys was eliminated in 1999,” Hippen writes. “By contrast, since 1999 more than 30,000 U.S. patients with kidney failure have died waiting for an organ that never arrived.” But there are problems with Iran’s sell-your-innards policy. Kidney vendors tend to be poorer and sicker, and their organs don’t fare as well in transplants as those from healthier donors. —Randy Barrett

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Back in Town

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” is a quote associated with Helen Keller and a favorite of Jackie Speier’s, who has returned to Washington after winning the seat of the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., in a special election earlier this month. Thirty years ago, staffer Speier accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., to investigate a bizarre cult in Guyana. After visiting the compound, the entourage was ambushed: Ryan and four others were killed; Speier was shot five times and left for dead. Cult leader Jim Jones then ordered more than 900 of his followers to drink cyanide-laced juice in a mass suicide. Speier miraculously survived the ordeal but was reluctant to return to Washington. Still, the trauma “made me fearless,” Speier said. “Once you look death in the eye, you are not afraid.” She decided that “Congress was the place I could come to continue to create change and have an impact on public policy.” —Winter Casey

Curves Ahead

Striking blondes have a way of getting attention in D.C. That’s a sure bet for adult-film starlet Stormy Daniels, who will represent the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection at the National Press Club on May 29. The Los Angeles-based group of porn producers wants to keep adult Internet content away from kids. Online child safety has been a key issue for the Justice Department and has prompted hearings, legislation, and self-regulatory actions by industry, such as ASACP’s own online warning-label program. ASACP, whose inside-the-Beltway exposure has been scarce, has hired the Raben Group to raise its image in the public policy realm. —Andrew Noyes

Just One Question

How much does the Internal Revenue Service spend to collect our taxes?

After refunds, the IRS in fiscal 2007 collected about $2.4 trillion in taxes and processed more than 235 million returns. During that time, the agency estimates it spent about $10.8 billion (or 40 cents per $100) to bring in those dollars. Of that total, $2.2 billion went to taxpayer information and assistance; $4.7 billion paid for enforcement; and $3.6 billion was spent on infrastructure and IT services. The IRS estimates that tax scofflaws cost the government about $345 billion a year.

—Internal Revenue Service

Other Lives

Your Table Is Waiting

Washington lobbyists’ passion for rich foods and top cuts of meat is legendary. Nobody knows that better than Bill Miller, who has teamed up with an old friend to offer something different—an eco-friendly seafood restaurant in Georgetown called Hook.. Last April, veteran restaurateur Jonathan Umbel asked for Miller’s help in raising hundreds of thousands of bucks for the venture. They soon opened the doors of what Miller describes as an “upscale, chic restaurant [based on] the concept of not overfishing the oceans.”

Miller, whose day job is national political director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, raised the start-up money from a few lobbyists and others. He boasts that the fish that Hook serves aren’t caught using the long lines associated with overfishing. Prepared under the watchful eye of well-known chef Barton Seaver, Hook’s specialties include barracuda with balsamic-glazed parsnips and sablefish with lentils. To date, Hook has drawn a diverse crowd of politicos, including Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and longtime chamber President Tom Donohue, a visit that Miller admits made him a little nervous but that ultimately went well. Next week, the Hook team plans to open the Tackle Box in an adjacent location to cater to a busy lunch crowd. Hook has won kudos from Bon Appétit magazine, which ranked it among the “hot 10” eating places for eco-friendly seafood. “I couldn’t be more pleased” with the results, Miller says. —Peter H. Stone

This article appears in the April 19, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.

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