Start Date for War with Iraq, Pombo Rises, Neanderthals Slouch. (the Insider)

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Insiders say they are looking forward to hearing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) question the president's choice for assistant secretary for homeland defense at the Pentagon when his nomination comes before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, who was the first Democratic congressman to call for Bill Clinton to resign.

* Wingers are as high as a spotted owl that one of their own, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), a rancher and the longtime leader of the property-rights caucus, is the new chairman of the House Resources Committee. Radical environmentalists are not pleased.

* When will the war in Iraq begin? Insiders say to expect the strike during the dark of the moon following Jan. 27, when the U.N. weapons inspectors are scheduled to make an interim report. At the earliest that means on or about Feb. 1, but more likely the first of March.

* What does it mean that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, George W. Bush's chief foreign political ally, is scheduled to be with the president at Camp David on Jan. 31? Or that civilian U.S. personnel and dependents already are being pulled out of volatile capitals in the Middle East?

* After a hot run, Mark Skousen has been asked to leave as head of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) at Irvington on Hudson, N.Y., and has done so with grace. He was a little too committed to outreach for old-guard FEEmers, actually inviting Rudy Giuliani to address a gathering of libertarians.

* Apparently the more umbratile libertarians are suspicious of Rudy. The new edition of the Guinness Book of World Records contains 1,600 new marks, including largest drop in crime. That one went to Giuliani, who as mayor of New York City managed a 66 percent drop in the murder rate between 1993 and 2001. Must be a fascist.

* Does the Bush proposal to abolish the double tax on dividends make political sense? Postelection polling shows 75 percent of those who voted in last year's general elections own stocks, with most stockholders who go to the polls voting Republican.

* Graduate students at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent resumes with equal qualifications in response to help-wanted ads in the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe to test prejudice against people with supposedly "black-sounding" first names, including Tamika, Aisha, Rasheed, Kareem and Tyrone. …