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It's sweeps week for the Washington Scandal Soap Opera. After over two months of murmurings in little-read news columns (sounds familiar), the news that columnist Robert Novak identified a CIA operative by name in print is finally making the front pages. Novak attributed the leak to a Bush administration official, and Karl Rove and Cheney's chief of staff are just two names being bandied about. The Justice Department is investigating the source of the leak, which the Bush administration hopes didn't come from too high up on the food chain. Democrats are calling for Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself from the investigation, considering most people on Bush's staff are not so strange bedfellows to Ashcroft. (Karl Rove was a paid consultant for three Ashcroft campaigns in Missouri, and senior another Bush aide was once Ashcroft's chief of staff.) Plus, Ashcroft owes Bush big time. After Ashcroft lost a senate election to a dead man, Mel Carnahan, the president tapped Ashcroft to be AG. This whole thing stinks. And the Bush team, like the polite people they are, will ignore the stench that comes when someone takes a dump on the White House lawn. Let's hope the rest of America's nose knows.

Drink lots of fluids, America. The amount of Americans without health insurance jumped nearly 6 percent in 2001, to 43.6 million, the Census Bureau announced Monday. That's 15.2 percent of the population with no coverage. If 15.2 percent of people were, say, unemployed, The Black Table bets something would be done about it. Happily, states care a little more about kids than they do about adults; 88.4 percent of all children are covered. And here's a shocker, college-aged kids: You're less likely than any other age group to be insured. Too old for kids coverage and, in this economy, chronically unemployed or underemployed. And lest we forget the great state of Texas, where our president whet his executive appetite as governor - 24.1 percent of people there have no health coverage. The fact that the richest nation in the world cannot keep its own people healthy and cared for makes The Black Table ill. Lucky for us, we've got insurance.




Don't look for the white smoke just yet. The Vatican is trying to squelch speculation about the Pope John Paul II's frail health and pending death this week after a German magazine quoted a Cardinal saying the pope was "in a bad way." The pontiff, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, can no longer walk and often requires assistance to complete prayers or sermons. Last week, the pope named 30 new cardinals, who will eventually elect his successor upon the pope's death. The announcement was months ahead of the schedule assumed by Vatican watchers, encouraging the idea that John Paul II will die in a number of months. Also not helping the Vatican spin machine is Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who said Thursday the pope was "dying" and "approaching the last days and months of his life."




Can't the government release any good news this week? The rate of hiring is slower now than it was in the recession of the early 1990s (Remember what saved that? The Internet. Great.), the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday. In the fourth quarter of 2002, 7.8 million jobs were lost and only 7.7 million were created. In the late 1990s, people were unemployed an average of 13 weeks. Now, unemployed Americans spend, on average, 19 weeks looking for a new gig. All this, despite the fact that the recession ended in November 2001 (Really, it did. We're sure about that. You just can't really tell. Just like noticing growing grass.). Finally, companies tried to increase production without hiring more workers, and somehow managing to pull it off. So until the next Internet shows up, just sit tight, folks. This is going to take a while.




The people of California need more hot, groping action. After an embarrassing expose in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized for "behaving badly" toward women. The Times interviewed six women who said Schwarzenegger touched them in a sexual way without consent. Yawn. If the people of California get upset about this instead of being outraged the recall is happening at all, The Black Table has even less hope for the place.



Aileen Gallagher, author of three children's books, (and another one, about muckraking, on the way!) writes Weekly Rundown every Friday.