Don’t ask, don’t tell may be on way out

That faint crumbling sound coming from the Pentagon appears to be heralding the beginning of the end of the controversial "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military. Or at least the end of its diligent enforcement.

It’s been more than a year since Army Sgt. Darren Manzella told his superiors that he was gay, and nearly two months since he told his story on "60 Minutes." So far, the medic — who spent a year in Iraq — continues to serve without penalty.

About 500 other openly gay troops are also serving without much notice. Advocacy groups for gays in uniform say the armed services are essentially shrugging because these troops are valued for their skills and because all hands are needed by a military overstretched by the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts.

If Democrats grab the White House, and hold on to Congress, look for a continued loosening of the policy, if not its outright abandonment, in the next few years. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain, a former Navy aviator, says the policy should stay.

While the nation’s mortgage companies may be reeling from the sub-prime mess they created, the industry has managed to find enough cash to dole out to influence lawmakers and the political parties. Last year, mortgage lenders spent $32 million on Washington lobbying.

While in previous years Republicans were the favored beneficiaries, that changed once Democrats took control on Capitol Hill last year. From January to June, Democrats took in $1.23 million to the GOP’s $1.21

Patting themselves on the back for being good environmental and fiscal stewards, federal agencies are now allowed to erase data from magnetic tapes and offer the supposedly sanitized tapes for sale to the general public. Before
the feds signed off on the idea, the U.S. Government Accountability Office had analysts test to see if erased data — which could include Social Security numbers, bank account information and tax details — could be detected and concluded it could not.

But a Minnesota company, using a standard personal computer and basic forensic techniques, was able to retrieve a trove of sensitive data, according to Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. She is calling for a new investigation.

Outta the way, Imelda Marcos. U.S. customs and border-protection agents last year seized 10,000 pairs of counterfeit shoes that smugglers tried to slip into the country. Rather than destroying the footwear, the feds got the manufacturer that holds the legitimate trademark for the shoes to agree to allow them to be donated to charity. Samaritan’s Feet, a Charlotte, N.C., humanitarian group, will apply the shoes toward its goal of covering the feet of 10 million of the world’s poor in 10 years.

Customs says footwear was the top commodity seized last year, with a domestic value of more than $77 million.

Despite all the carping about the government, we apparently have warm and fuzzy feelings for some of the 22 best-known agencies that touch our lives. The U.S. Postal Service ranks the highest, with 83 percent of Americans surveyed saying they viewed it favorably. The recent survey by market-research firm GfK Roper Consulting listed others in the top five as: National Park Service (79 percent favorable), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (72 percent), FBI (65 percent) and NASA (65 percent).

Bringing up the rear is, of course, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which scored just a 42 percent favorable rating. Happily for the much-derided outfit, that was up from its 38 percent score in 2006.


(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)