The ‘Ground Zero Cafe’ bites the dust


It’s curtains for an unassuming building in the middle of the Pentagon’s central courtyard that stars in an amusing, if apocryphal, bit of Cold War lore.

The plain structure has served over the years as a lunch spot, where workers grabbed a hot dog or ice-cream cone and relaxed amid the manicured landscaping of the parklike expanse.

The story goes that the Soviets, monitoring satellite images of the Pentagon, noticed that military officers would head to the building every workday at about the same time.

The Kremlin figured this building, cocooned as it was at the center of the Pentagon, must be where top U.S. commanders met to plot and scheme. Little did they know the officers were only there to get lunch.

The story goes _ although Moscow has never substantiated the claim _ that the Soviets had no less than two missiles trained at all times on the carryout. Pentagon wags dubbed it the "Ground Zero Cafe."

Now, work has begun to tear the building down. In its spot will rise a $1.2 million eatery with seating for 50 and a catering service for office gatherings.

Willie Nelson is anything but alone: New FBI statistics show that police arrested a record 786,545 people for marijuana violations last year _ the most ever reported. About 88 percent of them were charged only with pot possession. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws notes that the number of marijuana arrests exceeds the total of U.S. collars for all violent crimes combined _ including murder, rape and robbery.

The latest volley in the "Who You Calling a Fascist?" insult-fest was lobbed at President Bush, who drew criticism a few weeks back when he referred to al Qaeda and its ilk as "Islamic fascists." A symbolic retort greeted Bush this week as he left a New York City meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. As Bush’s motorcade passed, three young men served up a fascist salute, in the straight-armed, "Heil Hitler" style, according to a report by the White House press pool.

Speaking of salutes, the Air Force this week uncorked its latest TV and online advertising campaign, which carries the slogan "Do Something Amazing." Instead of the slick and scripted production of earlier ad efforts, this time the service gave airmen handheld cameras and let them film while they called in bombing strikes, parachuted 10,000 feet with elite commandos and defused explosives. The ads, which are a recruiting tactic, debuted during Fox Network’s "Prison Break" prime-time show.

A grand coalition of wetlands experts and engineers is worried that a new study out this week may muddy the campaign to change the course of the Mississippi River. At issue are plans to build a new system of barriers and levees aimed at shoring up wetlands that would defend the Louisiana coast from hurricanes. But scientists at Louisiana State University report that, based on the amount of sediment and organic debris dumped by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita across the delta last year, such storms might be a much bigger contributor to sediment than the river. Critics say the research oversimplifies how wetlands are built and nourished.

Forget oil; check out the high price of air: A federal Health and Human Services Department inspector general’s report out this week illustrates how Medicare can contribute to waste and how easily medical suppliers can manipulate the system. It found that renting an oxygen concentrator for the maximum amount of time allowed by Medicare _ 36 months _ costs $7,215. The purchase price for the same equipment when it is brand-new is just $587, on average. A beneficiary renting the equipment for the full three years would have to pay $1,443 in coinsurance, more than twice the price of a new unit.

The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are on their way to Cuba, where they’ll entertain U.S. troops at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. No word if the Washington Redskins Hogettes will deploy to Gitmo.

Ever wonder how much money congressional staffers make? Now, anyone with Web access can find out, thanks to, a nonpartisan outfit that provides data about Congress. This salary info has always been public, but until now it took an in-person trip to the House and Senate document rooms on Capitol Hill to get it. So many people logged on to the site when it went online Sept. 18 that the group’s servers almost collapsed.


"When I came here 32 years ago, I wanted to change the world. Now I just want to leave with dignity." _ Retiring Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who will leave Congress at the end of this term.

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanL(at)