Wednesday, March 17, 2010

McClatchy Washington Report 3/17

  • As a historic vote on sweeping health care legislation nears, Democratic moderates in the House of Representatives face relentless pressure as they juggle personal pleas from President Barack Obama, a multi-million-dollar ad barrage and constituents who are fed up with the convoluted congressional process.
  • When it comes to dinner, Puget Sound's killer whales show no respect for international boundaries. It's long been known that their favorite meal is Chinook salmon. However, using new genetic tests on the orcas' feces, and fish tissue and scales taken from the waters near where the whales are feasting, scientists say that as much as 90 percent of the Chinook they eat are from Canada's Fraser River.
  • The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated a bid to freeze spending earmarks for a year. Lawmakers voted 68-29 against an amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to impose a one-year moratorium on earmarks. Twenty-four fellow Republicans voted for DeMint's measure, while 15 GOP senators voted against it.
  • One in four Californians, or 8.2 million people, now lack health insurance coverage, according to a report by UCLA researchers. The study, released Tuesday, quickly became a talking point in the national debate over health care legislation, which could culminate later this week in a dramatic up-or-down vote on Capitol Hill.
  • U.S. Marine Sgt. Brad Vandehei stood on the edge of the small opium poppy field that serves as a central helicopter landing zone for the new military compound that's rising nearby.
  • California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has built a massive edge over her GOP rival Steve Poizner while taking a narrow lead over likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown, according to results released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Field Poll. Her move is a major feat in a state where Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans.
  • The down economy is hurting yet another industry: tax preparers. A number of independent tax services and accountants, as well as national firms such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, report that business is flat or down from last year. The culprits? The growing popularity of tax software, fewer refund anticipation loans, an abundance of free help and high unemployment.
  • The earthquake in Haiti has split families who have sent their children to school in South Florida. It's hard to say how many families divided by the Jan. 12 earthquake are in South Florida. But as of Friday, 990 Haitian children have enrolled in Broward schools and 938 in Miami-Dade after the quake. Many of them have at least one parent in Haiti.
  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc., expanding its lucrative push into financial services, said Tuesday it plans to open 500 more MoneyCenters this year. The MoneyCenters are in-store centers that offer basic financial services such as check cashing, bill payment and money transfers. They're largely targeted at lower-income shoppers who might not have a traditional bank account but need to keep up with an increasingly cashless economy.
  • Eighteen months ago, the federal judge overseeing Everglades cleanup progress tentatively endorsed a Florida bid to buy sugar fields for restoration projects, calling the opportunity to "buy out the polluters" a logical solution to long-standing problems. Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno made it clear Tuesday that his patience was nearing an end — both with delays in the controversial land deal and the glacial pace of the cleanup.
  • A reader of my blog asked a fair question: "I am curious if you have similar leadership praise for [George W. Bush] for sticking with his vision for transforming the Middle East by liberating Iraq. He did so in the face of tremendous opposition from Democrats (and some Republicans). ... He proved the naysayers wrong and may have created a foothold for democracy in the Middle East." My answer: Yes, I supported the surge and didn't waver when most thought it a horrible idea. And I support Obama's push for comprehensive health care reform. A piecemeal approach is what got us into this mess.
  • It was inevitable that sooner or later someone would attack a fundamental underpinning of the American justice system because it might accord our worst enemies the same rights as the worst offenders in our criminal courts. So perhaps it's not surprising that a group calling itself Keep America Safe would be critical of defense lawyers who have represented detainees suspected of terrorism. The group has been pointed in its criticism because the Obama administration's Department of Justice hired some of those defense lawyers. A recent ad called it the "Department of Jihad" and questioned the attorneys' values.

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