Monday, March 1, 2010

McClatchy Washington Report 3/1

  • Less than a year after Daniel Wimmer, five days short of his 34th birthday, drove his white Ford F-150 truck to nearby Fort Benning, a sprawling military installation near Columbus, Ga., and hanged himself from a tree across from a practice range, his family is still caught in the dark currents that took his life — a life they're only just beginning to understand.
  • Analyzing, judging and — especially — mocking campaign posters has become a national pastime as Iraqis prepare to vote on March 7. Not only a way to needle the political elite, it's much safer for ordinary Iraqis to make fun of the 6,000 or so candidates than it is for them to voice their opinions on the issues: securing the nation, religious vs. nationalist agendas, rampant corruption, the lack of basic services and a dismal economy.
  • Congress will pass legislation aimed at keeping certain jobless benefits, highway and transit money and other government programs funded, Sen. Jon Kyl, the Senate's number 2 Republican, said Sunday. But several programs still expired at midnight and action to reinstate them won't come before Tuesday.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials have made it clear in recent weeks that they are unhappy about the F-35 joint strike fighter program. Monthly reports prepared by the Defense Contract Management Agency show that as recently as mid-November, development of the F-35 was in serious disarray.
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened last week to veto a bill that would reduce a corporate tax break, calling it a tax increase. He says requiring to collect tax dollars already owed is a new tax burden. But he believes a new surcharge on property insurance is a "fee" that Californians ought to pay. The Republican governor has pledged not to raise taxes in his final year in office, but whether that holds true depends on what your definition of a tax is.
  • President Michelle Bachelet on Sunday announced a plan to distribute what was left of supermarket merchandise for free as looting broke out after Saturday's 8.8-magnitude earthquake. With the death toll now at 711, many parts of Chile remained without communications -- or much help from the government in Santiago. How many people were swept away by quake-generated tsunamis in the town of Constitucion is unknown.
  • From the Beatles and Marvin Gaye to Fergie and U2, a who's who of popular music stars are providing the soundtrack to online campaign commercials for Texas candidates. But while Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and others would normally incur high fees to use these songs in television ads, they aren't paying a dime to use them in videos posted on YouTube. Most Texas campaigns are not getting explicit permission from musicians or copyright holders to use the songs in these Web videos. Occasionally, that's caused some headaches.
  • It was perfect. No one wanted the Warmest Games to end. Warmest weather. Warmest hosts. So it was only fitting that Canada's 2010 Winter Olympics reached a crescendo with the hockey showdown between neighbors and rivals, between inventor of the game and emulator, between Canada and the U.S. It was only fitting that Canada won, 3-2, at home, in the finale, on a shot by its favorite son, causing coast-to-coast mayhem.
  • The prolonged jailing of U.S. contractor Alan Gross also is preventing both the United States and Spain from pressing forward with efforts to better relations with Cuba. Hopes that the government of Raul Castro would be easier to deal with have been disappointed, say U.S. and European officials.
  • The president underwent a physical on Sunday at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was reported in good health, with slightly elevated cholesterol. He's still fighting a smoking habit.
  • Twenty-one Alaska lawmakers, including half the state Senate, are heading to Washington, D.C., this week for an energy conference that some go to year after year. Nearly all are traveling at state expense.
  • Retailers spend a lot of time and money to prevent shoplifting, but a bigger threat to the bottom line is the person behind the counter. No one knows exactly how much employees steal each year, but one national survey late last year showed that companies lost $18.7 billion in the 12 months ending in June because of worker theft — the largest single cause of retail "shrinkage."

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