Thursday, March 11, 2010

McClatchy Washington Report 3/11

  • California led all states in employment growth with 32,000 net new jobs. Illinois and New York state followed with respective net gains of 26,000 and 25,500, and the state of Washington followed with 18,900. Eighteen states saw employment decrease, and one state saw no change. The news was darker on state unemployment rates. Thirty states reported an uptick in their jobless rates.
  • Macie Jo Wheelis, 91, has had a colorful life. A pioneering female aviator, she was one of the 1,102 Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II. She was an avid golfer who played with the legendary Byron Nelson, a Dallas bowling champion and, for years, a West Texas racehorse breeder and owner.
  • President Barack Obama faces what may be the biggest test to date of his credibility in the Middle East after Israel greeted Vice President Joe Biden with an announcement that it will construct 1,600 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem. But Israeli commentators predicted he'd do little, and the White House appeared eager to move on.
  • Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has become the face of an all-out assault on the Environmental Protection Agency, but she won't be joined in that fight by her Democratic counterpart from Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich. Begich and six other Democrats last month signed on to a letter authored by Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia asking the EPA to elaborate on how the agency planned to move forward with regulating greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the earth.
  • With loggerhead nestings on Atlantic beaches continuing to trend down, federal scientists have proposed the sea turtles' designation be changed from "threatened" to the more critical "endangered." Since estimating the number of loggerhead turtles in vast oceans is impossible, the best way to gauge population health is to count the number of nests. The number of nests has dropped 1.9 percent per year in South Carolina over the past 30 years, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The decrease has been similar in Georgia and North Carolina, and higher in Florida.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's term ends Thursday, almost two weeks after leading response to a powerful earthquake. Bachelet had planned to spend the past two weeks doing a victory lap around Chile as she wound down her four-year term. Instead, the Feb. 27 earthquake and tsunamis forced Bachelet into emergency mode. She has spent her final days as president as Comforter in Chief, a role that comes naturally to a pediatrician credited with healing scars left from Chile's 17-year military dictatorship, first as defense minister and then as president.
  • A bill to ban the sale and trade of invasive reptiles like the Burmese python is gaining ground in the Florida Legislature, hisses aside. The week before, when the bill was presented to a different House committee, members noted their approval with a tongue-in-cheek "Yessss."
  • A bill that would criminalize race-based abortions in Georgia grew out of an anti-abortion group's ongoing campaign to widen its reach in the black community. The group has placed billboards around Atlanta that say "Black children are an endangered species" and accuses abortion rights advocates of eugenics.
  • Bank of America is dropping one of the banking industry's most-criticized fees. No longer will customers be charged an overdraft fee when they use their debit card and don't have enough money in their accounts. Instead, the transaction will be denied, unless the customer has signed up for an overdraft protection service that links their card to a savings account or credit card.
  • An Italian man who allegedly served in a key supporting role for the Sicilian mafia's criminal expansion into the United States was arrested at his Miami Beach home Wednesday morning on federal money laundering and other charges. The FBI's arrest of Roberto Settineri capped a three-year international investigation into his alleged unlawful enterprises with the Cosa Nostra in Italy, the Gambino crime family in New York and three other suspects in South Florida, federal authorities said.
  • On March 5 in Washington, D.C., first lady Michelle Obama participated in a soccer clinic to publicize her "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity. I wanted to point that out because about the same time that same day, people in Nashville were hearing about an e-mail message sent by Walt Baker, the chief executive of the Tennessee Hospitality Association. On March 4, Baker forwarded an e-mail in which Michelle Obama is compared with Tarzan's little simian friend, Cheeta.
  • Watching how the drug cartels are penetrating the highest levels of some Central American governments, I can't help wondering whether the nearly 40-year-old U.S. war on drugs has only helped push the drug barons from Colombia to Mexico and now from Mexico to Central America.
    Are Washington's drug interdiction programs really helping reduce the supply of drugs? Or are they just chasing the drug lords out of one country only to see them reemerge in another?

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