Happenings: ANWR, the Army Corps, the Mother of All Identity Thefts, Etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Jun 23, 2006 12:01 AM

In an hour of seemingly all Iraq all the time, some comments on other happenings of greater or lesser note:

The Army Corps of Engineers has taken the rap for the August inundation of New Orleans as a consequence of Hurricane Katrina. A $20-million, 6,000-page study concluded the Corps used dated data to build levees. There’s this too, said the report: The Corps is dysfunctional. Oh — and separately, geologic faults underlie New Orleans, causing things like buildings, bridges, and levees to sink.

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The human anguish and property loss in New Orleans are beyond calculation and comprehension. What to do? Here’s an idea: Conclude that it makes no sense to build in coastal areas at or below sea level. Indeed, localities and lenders should not authorize construction in flood zones without certificates of insurance, and the federal government emphatically should not be in the insurance business. If private insurers will not insure, then no construction. Regarding New Orleans, e.g., that would mean rebuilding the city elsewhere — on higher, unleveed, insurable ground.

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Dan Rather, who at 74 continues to insist, “My best work is still ahead of me,” evidently will not have his CBS contract renewed when it expires in November. And CBS is not giving him many gigs in his final venue, “60 Minutes.” It’s a fitting sundown for Rather, who still has not publicly apologized to President Bush for impugning him and his National Guard service during his 2004 re-election campaign.

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A recent poll for the Council for Excellence in Government finds that the military, by far, is the most trusted component of the federal government. A stunning 71 percent said they had “a great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in the military. The next closest component: the Supreme Court (43 percent), civil servants or government workers (31 percent), the President and Cabinet officials (25 percent), and Congress (16 percent). Among all federal entities, the 600 survey respondents said the military works best and gets the job done.

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That respect may be in for a quick change on the part of the military toward a key military agency. Seems a career data analyst for the Veterans Administration (VA), without authorization, took home a laptop with the personal data (names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, health data, etc.) of nearly 30 million veterans and active-duty personnel. The analyst’s home was burglarized and the laptop with the data stolen.

There have been departures and there will be suits. But this mother of all identity thefts could make life hugely more complicated and difficult for those in the most respected federal enterprise. And please keep in mind this is not what they signed up for — particularly from their own.

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For the tenth time, the House has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to petroleum drilling. But don’t hold your breath until the ever-uncooperative Senate goes along. Senate swells insist the 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil would be but a drop in the bucket, and so would not contribute to energy independence while unnecessarily threatening caribou and a fragile environment.

A mere drop in the bucket? On the contrary, 10.4 billion barrels would supply all the oil needs of — let’s see: Florida for 29 years, New Hampshire for 315 years, New York for 34 years, Massachusetts for 75 years, California for 16 years, and D.C. for 1,710 years. Drill on.

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The Senate — oh-so-enlightened and so dedicated to energy independence — resists off-shore drilling, as well. What’s more: (1) a recent Senate vote to end the estate tax fell three votes short, (2) a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment stipulating marriage shall consist of a man and a woman fell 18 votes short, and (3) a forthcoming vote (again) on a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the American flag is (again) too close to call. Maybe the distinguished Senators need to change their prescriptions.

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Finally, what is it with the media? (a) A three-year investigation into the disclosure of a woman as an employee of the CIA has led to the non-indictment of the dreaded Karl Rove, and immediately the cry went up for civil litigation against Rove and/or his firing by President Bush.

This is the same mainline media, mind you, that (b) early this month joined the federal government in a $1.6 million settlement to Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee so as not to disclose the names of sources for stories about him. “Exceptionally” unusual and likely unprecedented, this twist on the concept of hush money could be the beginning of a new racket whereby the press pays to remain silent about its sources. Needed: a federal shield law for reporters.