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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.

High-Priced Confetti

The Department of Homeland Security doubtless has a lot of secret stuff. Some is useful, some maybe not so much. The less-useful or outdated stuff can pile up unless you have a High Security Paper Disintegrator. DHS last month issued a purchase order for one.

The little beauty must be able to rip up a "minimum of 1,400 lbs. per hour" with a "perforation screen size" of one-eighth of an inch "for both paper and CD/DVD Destruction." The department is willing to pay up to $87,000, but that includes all installation costs of the "new destructor unit" with the required ductwork and air filtration systems.

Also, you have to "integrate the new destructor system into the dumpster" and make it "turn-key for operation in extreme weather." And the unit "must meet the performance requirement of the standard NSA/CSS Specification 02-02 for High Security Disintegrators."

Operators are standing by . . .

Leaving One Flock for Another

Recent appointments . . . Paul J. Bonicelli , a former House International Relations Committee aide and more recently dean of academic affairs and professor of government at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., is now at the Agency for International Development as deputy assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance.

Patrick Henry was founded in 2000 with the goal of helping Christian students, many home-schooled, reach positions of influence in society, particularly through government service.

Its Web site says the school wants "to prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding."

Ever-Present Bubba

Conservatives apparently were upset yesterday by a wire service photo that newspapers, including this one, used of Supreme Court nominee Alito's family. They seemed to fault the media for intentionally posing a conservative family in front of a portrait of a certain former president named Bill Clinton .

But we note that the White House Web site also has a photo of the Alito family posed in front of the Clinton portrait, which hangs in the main hall near the East Room.

And in the White House Web site photo, Clinton almost seems to be standing right behind the family, getting downright chummy, with his right hand on daughter Laura Alito 's shoulder.

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