Flu: Boo!

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

P resident Bush , having weathered a rough patch last week -- news that a total of 2,000 U.S. troops had died in the Iraq war, yanking Supreme Court nominee what's-her-name, top aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby 's indictment -- has adroitly moved on the offensive.

He quickly appeased conservatives Monday by tapping Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to replace that other nominee.

And yesterday he finally tried to focus the country on more important matters, giving a major speech at the National Institutes of Health on the threat of an avian flu pandemic.

Pandemics past have wiped out tens of millions, Bush said. And this flu is capable of "killing the young and the healthy as well as" the old and ill. Whoa! Sounds like pretty much everyone. It's got a "50 percent fatality rate," it "could strike at any time."

Remember that SARS problem a few years ago? That was bad, Bush said, but this "could be far worse." Like a forest fire left to "smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that spreads quickly beyond our ability to control it."

Bush cautioned against immediate panic. "At this point we do not have evidence that a pandemic is imminent," he said. But no scientist or doctor can say "when the next pandemic will strike or how severe it'll be."

In his 3,550-word speech, Bush said "pandemic" 71 times. Now that's something important to think about.

And there are so many other things more important than some silly indictment. We should not forget about the threat of a terrorist act -- although issuing an elevated threat warning now would be, well, too first term.

Bombing Syria, on the other hand . . .

Working the Numbers

Senate Budget Committee chairman and recent Powerball winner Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) wants to tack a windfall profits tax on oil companies to provide additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the Senate budget reconciliation debate.

Gregg says that it's "infuriating" that energy companies are "reporting record-breaking profits," some of them up to $10 billion in one quarter, because of high gasoline and heating oil prices and it's time to reimpose the tax.

Unclear whether his $853,000 Powerball winnings, obviously something of a windfall, would be subject to this tax.

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