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Schlock & Stocks

Singing in the rain? Not the Pentagon

By Bob Harris

I GREW UP in Ohio. It rains a lot. It snows. It sleets and hails. There are tornadoes. We get stuff some folks in California wouldn't even know the words for, like "virga" and "lake effect" and "black ice" and "whiteout." And you know what? Ain't no big thing. You wear a coat. You press on and make do. You drive slow, but even a Yugo can almost always get you across town.

In the real world, a cold wind and a little water in the sky are part of life pretty much everywhere human beings live on the entire planet.

The real world, of course, is a completely alien place to the Pentagon.

Y'know those B-2 Stealth Bomber planes you and I have been paying for all these years, the ones that cost a few billion bucks a pop before dealer prep and destination charges and the AM/FM cassette and all that? Turns out they're even a more ridiculous rip-off than we thought. In fact, the General Accounting Office reports that to keep the stealth coating in place, the B-2, quote, "must be sheltered or exposed only to the most benign environments--low humidity, no precipitation, moderate temperatures."

Funny, I have a diabetic uncle in Reno who needs the exact same conditions.

Let's get this straight: Water--like the kind that falls from the sky everywhere in the world--makes the B-2 lose its magic vestments and fall down and go boom. Two H's and an O. That's not exactly a countermeasure we can embargo.

The GAO also says the Air Force now believes that it's unlikely the problem, quote, "will ever be fully resolved." I was thinking a can of ScotchGard and maybe a dab of Rain-X on the windshield, but apparently not. So the Air Force no longer plans to station any bombers overseas. Instead, they say the B-2 can still perform its mission by flying anywhere from their climate-controlled base in Missouri.

Unless, of course, they have to fly over Ohio. Or anywhere else human beings live. So where is the outrage? This is a multibillion-dollar scandal--literally tens of thousands of times larger than any coffee deal in the White House.

Memo to the Pentagon: Next time we have a war, make sure it's nice out.

IF YOU HAVEN'T HAD ENOUGH scandals today, here's another one.

There's new evidence that the wife of a prominent national leader has used her position to profit from some highly suspicious securities trading. Besides Hillary.

The September issue of Money magazine reports that Marianne Gingrich recently made three quick trades on extremely obscure stocks, all of which were underwritten by a generous contributor to Newt's campaigns. Her total score was maybe $10,000 or so. At the time, the contributor was lobbying Congress for a big tax loophole that would benefit his company.

The brokerage Mrs. Gingrich dealt with is itself a pretty fishy place for the wife of a Speaker to be hanging around. It was just fined a quarter million by the New York Stock Exchange for widespread misconduct and is still under investigation by the National Association of Securities Dealers.

Why didn't she just go down and open an account at Schwab or Fidelity? Turns out the brokerage is owned largely by the family of the same guy who underwrote the stocks she traded. Aha.

Maybe there's an innocent explanation. And you'd think Sen. Fred Thompson would show some interest. And maybe Rupert Murdoch is good for baseball, the Macintosh will make a stunning comeback, and Keenan Ivory Wayans' new show is all the reason you need to stay up past your bedtime.

Newt and the Mrs. might have an excuse if Marianne was an active stock trader; then the three trades might not seem extraordinary. But, strikingly, she's hardly an investor at all. In fact, her financial disclosure forms show zero capital gains from 1992 through 1995. And then three quick trades in a row dealing with three stocks and a brokerage with a major contributor's fingerprints all over them.

As Money points out, when Gingrich got the merest whiff of Speaker Tom Foley's possible financial chicanery, he shouted to the heavens for a full and complete explanation. Now, the Speaker and his wife have refused to comment.

Then again, why should they? We all know the folks at Money are just a bunch of crazed socialists trying to destroy the Republic.

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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