Gift for North Pole: Say it with sewers

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Christmas in July for Santa? Tucked away in the fiscal 2011 appropriations bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency is a $1 million earmark, inserted by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), to be given to the "City of North Pole for industrial force sewer main."

The sewers-for-Santa earmark apparently comes after years of complaints about plumbing problems by Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the Elves' Union Local 63 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Actually, as it turns out, North Pole, Alaska, is a town (population 2,200) about 1,700 miles south of the real North Pole. Some developers, hoping to induce toy manufacturers to come in, gave the town its name. The toymakers never showed up, but if the hot weather and power outages have you thinking about getting out of Washington, you should know that the Fairbanks suburb boasts the famous Santa Claus gift shop and -- drum roll -- the world's largest fiberglass statue of Santa.

Even though no toy factories ever got there (most having ended up in China and other countries), the town was still in need of improvements to the sewer system. Earlier this year the residents got nearly $3 million in stimulus funds -- including $300,000 for a truck to clean out the sewage pipes and something called a "sewer lift station," which lifts the pipes at certain points to enhance flow so things don't get backed up.

That money was part of the $40 million in federal aid that Alaska got for water and wastewater projects. Sixteen other Alaska towns got money for water and sewer projects, including now-famous Wasilla, home of former governor Sarah Palin, which got $1.2 million for a sewer-cleaning truck, reservoir insulation and other improvements.

Well, waste not, want not. Certainly more useful than the Bridge to Nowhere.

Tales from the C-list

Britain's panel investigating that country's role in the Iraq war is looking to wrap up its work maybe at the end of this year or, more likely, in January.

The panel has discovered some interesting nuggets that made news over there, such as one from former Iraq viceroy and now landscape artist L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer about how the Brits were totally on board with the controversial dismantling, or "de-Baathification," of the Iraqi army after the 2003 invasion. None of the top British officials involved "expressed the view" that the former Iraqi army should be reconstituted, Bremer told the panel.

Last week, the former head of MI5 (the British equivalent of the FBI), Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, made some news with her testimony that "there was no credible intelligence to suggest [a] connection" between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, "and that was the judgment, I might say, of the CIA."

Problem is, former CIA director George Tenet, who was probably on the invite list to appear before the panel when it came to Washington in May, did not talk to the commission, so there will be no response from him.

The British are not saying who declined to chat, but it's pretty easy to figure it would be the usual suspects. They didn't talk with any of the senior-most pre-invasion planners, such as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen Hadley, Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, David Addington or Douglas Feith.

Those folks, and others likely to have been invited, declined, as we reported in March, because they felt it would be time-consuming and because of the precedent that would be set of being questioned by a foreign investigative body. As a result, the report may not, at least from the American perspective, provide as full and accurate a picture as the panel might have wanted.

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