Gift for North Pole: Say it with sewers

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; A13

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.

Still, the British group did meet with, in addition to Bremer, 15 mostly post-invasion U.S. officials, including retired Gen. David McKiernan, top Bremer adviser Walter Slocombe, former National Security Council senior director Frank Miller and former ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Those sessions, unlike the ones in Britain, were informal and private, so there is no public transcript of what was said.

Not the leakiest of leaks

The International Broadcasting Bureau apparently responded Monday to WikiLeaks' massive dump of classified documents with this e-mailed instruction to Voice of America employees.

"It has come to the attention of the IT Directorate and the IBB Office of Security, that some agency employees would like to download material related to the story that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post regarding leaked classified material about the US efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are a number of documents currently available on the Internet that are classified as secret or higher. While this material has been leaked, it has not been officially de-classified and, for our purposes, is still considered classified material. Our agency network, storage systems, and e-mail are not classified systems and cannot have classified material stored on them. Please do not download, browse, or email any of these files from agency computers."

So you can report on the reporting, but not use the actual material.

The Gaddafi files

Speaking of witnesses and panels, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had scheduled a hearing for Thursday afternoon titled "The Al-Megrahi Release: One Year Later."

This apparently was to look into reports that BP, now facing a serious economic hit for that massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, lobbied the British government to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence agent convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The company, so the story goes, was hoping to smooth its oil-exploration talks with the government of dictator and fashion trendsetter Moammar Gaddafi.

As of Tuesday afternoon, however, the only word on the lineup for the hearing was a note that said "witnesses to be announced." The problem may be that some of the people the committee most wanted to talk to -- folks from BP and the British government, for example -- were a bit reluctant to appear.

Maybe the Libyans would send someone? Apparently not; the hearing was canceled.

The final days

Hurry on down. Sorry for the late notice, but Wednesday is your last chance to go after Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag over the federal deficit, budget outrages and the like. Orszag, whose last day is Friday, is headed, at least temporarily, to the Council on Foreign Relations as he probably ponders a more lucrative post.

Orszag will be at the Brookings Institution at 10:30 a.m. "to discuss the economic and fiscal accomplishments of the Obama administration." Should be interesting. It's a press briefing, but he'll take questions from the audience, the announcement says. To paraphrase President Richard M. Nixon, after Friday you won't have Orszag to kick around anymore.

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