Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Are you a traveler frustrated by the stepped-up security procedures now associated with international travel? Help is on the way! Two congressmen are working on streamlined procedures which will greatly ease the burden for, well, some of you:

With pleasure boaters returning from the Bahamas frustrated by having to spend hours clearing U.S. Customs in person, two South Florida lawmakers are seeking to make the process simpler.

Christopher Paulitz, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, said Friday that his office and that of U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, are working on a plan that may result in substituting a telephone call for the time-consuming check-ins.

Can't imagine a boat used for smuggling? Can't imagine a well-to-do pleasure boater sympathetic to anti-abortion bombers, or, well, other terrorists? Hey, neither can I.

But now we're living in Dubya's America, where taxes aren't the only thing that are just for little people. In further evidence of which, I offer this:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an antismoking zealot, has jacked up cigarette taxes so high that a pack can now cost $7 or more. And he has pushed through a law that bans smoking in nearly all the city's bars and restaurants.

It is now common to see nicotine-addicted men and women gathered on the sidewalk outside their favorite bar, puffing away. "We're constantly getting noise complaints for having people standing outside smoking at 2 in the morning," said Jim O'Brien, the bartender at the Roxy Bar in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. ...

It's a little different at the Oak Bar, which draws a well-heeled crowd that emits a joyful din in an atmosphere so clouded with cigar and cigarette smoke it can be difficult to see from one side of the room to the other. When you sit down at the bar, a small glass ashtray is placed in front of you immediately.

You see, the Oak Bar, long a meeting spot for power brokers, has an exemption. Or actually, they think they may have an exemption. Or actually, they're considering the manner in which they might try to formulate a request to receive an exemption. Or something like that:

Mr. Schweikert said the Oak Bar may qualify for an exemption based on its physical layout.

I said, "Can you explain what it is about the layout that makes it okay to smoke there?"

"Well, no," he said. "I can't, really."

I asked if a request for an exemption had been filed.

"No," he said. "Nothing formal has been filed."

Then how, I wanted to know, can the Oak Bar customers continue to smoke when patrons at other bars across the city cannot?

Mr. Schweikert tried to explain. He said bar owners, if they believe "in good faith" that they qualify for an exemption, can ignore the ban during the first six months, which he described as a grace period. "The grace period is a self-effectuating exemption," he said.

Leaving aside Mr. Schweikert's generous notion of what constitutes "good faith", the bar has now been placed on notice that there are, in fact, no "self-effectuating exemptions" in the law -- despite which, as Bob Herbert was writing his column, the barkeeps were still happy to let you smoke. After all, it's the Oak Bar, not some cheap neighborhood joint with mismatched chairs like the Roxy, which is required to obey the law.

Getting back to boaters from Bermuda, that constituent service is being rendered by Mark Foley, a remarkable Congressman -- remarkable for, among other things, introducing his gay partner of nineteen years at parties, and then spewing outraged indignation when asked about his sexual orientation by reporters. If Clinton had tried that, the heads of the Republican leadership in the House would have exploded. Which, come to think of it, would have improved the tone in Washington considerably. Why, oh why, was only attracted to female interns? That comes via Atrios; the boating story itself is from Sisyphus shrugged.


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