Thursday, January 31, 2008

Soldier Suicides at Record Level

A record number of soldiers have attempted suicide in the past year. And there appears to be a link between the climbing rate and long lasting wars.

The Army began keeping suicide records in 1980. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives. That's 20% more than 2006.

Attempted suicides -- or cases of soldiers injuring themselves -- shot up from just 350 cases in 2002 to around 2,100 last year. From the Washington Post:
The Army was unprepared for the high number of suicides and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among its troops, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued far longer than anticipated. Many Army posts still do not offer enough individual counseling and some soldiers suffering psychological problems complain that they are stigmatized by commanders. Over the past year, four high-level commissions have recommended reforms and Congress has given the military hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its mental health care, but critics charge that significant progress has not been made.

The U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan contains the numbers. The Post got a copy of the plan before it was set for release. (WaPo)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rudy Quits

Rudy Guiliani is calling it quits. The former New York City Mayor dropped his bid for the GOP Presidential nomination today after finishing a distant third in the Florida Primary -- the only primary and caucus he actively campaigned in.

He will endorse Sen John McCain (R-AZ). (AP)

Edwards Drops Out

Former Senator John Edwards is announcing he will drop out of the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. The announcement is expected today in New Orleans where Mr Edwards announced his candidacy a year ago. (MSNBC)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union: No Big Deal

President Bush was all "small ball" at the State of the Union speech.

"Small ball" was the term he used in his first SOTUS back in 2001 -- and he promised never to play it and to present only big ideas and grand plans back then.

Iraq, the housing market, looming recession, health care inflation, stagnant wages, and gas prices have pretty much knocked him out of the running for "big ball." The SOTUS was a collection of last minute, moderate goals. Here's some tomp analysis of Mr. Bush's final State of the Union Speech:

Washington Post: Final Year's Realities Push Big Ideas Into Background

USA Today: Bush tries to show that he's still on the job

NPR: Fact-Checking the State of the Union

Monday, January 28, 2008

And After All That Time at the Vineyard!

Sen Teddy Kennedy (D-MA) has endorsed Sen Barak Obama (D-IL) for the Democratic Presidential nomination. And JFK's daughter Caroline -- the only survivor of that First Family -- endorsed Sen Obama over the weekend. (Reuters)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What will Bill Gates do with HIS $300 Rebate?

In another case of life imitating Futurama, Congress has agreed to an economic stimulus package that'll hand kick back at least 300 bucks to each taxpayer.

From the Washington Post:

Under the deal, nearly everyone earning a paycheck would receive at least $300 from the Internal Revenue Service. Most workers would receive rebates of $600 each, or $1,200 per couple. Families with children would receive an additional payment of $300 per child. Workers who earned at least $3,000 last year -- but not enough to pay income taxes -- would be eligible for $300.
Better than that, from Futurama (Three Hundred Big Boys):

Richard Nixon's Head: I've sent you each 300 buckeroos. In the form of a tricky Dick fun bill. Knock yourselves out!
Amy Wong: I'm slightly richer!
Bender: What to do, what to do. One 300 dollar hookerbot or 300 one dollar hookerbots?

Total cost of the real package -- $145 billion. That'd buy a lot of hookerbots of either persuasion! (WaPo)

Sangria Ban Debate

That August body known as the Virginia General Assembly is debating the heady issue of legalizing ... Sangria.

The Commonwealth which Lacks Common Sense (see the abusive driving civil fines) outlawed the mixing of beer or wine with spirits years ago. It has fined restaurants for serving the concoction of wine, brandy, and triple-sec.

It's unclear if you can drop your own shot into a beer, but Purdue alumni should be worried.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Colbert Framed

Comedian Stephen Colbert has gotten the National Portrait Gallery to take one of his gags seriously.

He's been trying for a week -- on his show -- to get the Smithsonian to take delivery of his "portrait." He's carried the thing into museums all around the National Mall trying to get one of them to take it and hang it up.

The National Portrait Gallery finally bit. Museum honchos agreed to a six week display -- right next to an exhibit called "America's President's." (FOX5)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Candidates' Tone Deafness

Do candidates actually listen to their campaign songs? That's the question Paul Farhi raises in a Washington Post article. He points out that Hillary Clinton fires up audiences with Tom Petty's "American Girl" and Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business."

Mr Farhi points out that the first song is about shattering romantic dreams and the second about slacking off in a rock band instead of actually working.

Gotta remind you of how Ronald Reagan wanted Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as a campaign song -- while the Boss pointed out it was a protest of post-Vietnam America.

Can a staffer please print out the lyrics? (WaPo)

Abortions Down 25%

The abortion rate in America has dropped 25% from its peak. But a study by the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based nonprofit that focuses on reproductive issues found that women are choosing medication rather than surgical clinics to terminate pregnancy.

The study does not attribute the decline to any specific reason. It was released just days before the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. (LAT)

Hill Force One

Sen Hillary Clinton (D-NY) played flight attendant as media types joined her on her campaign plane (dubbed Hill Force One)for a flight from Las Vegas to Reno. From CNN:

"Clinton warned the press not to use electronic devices that could 'transmit a negative story.'

And she urged the press to keep seat belts fastened because, 'I have learned lately that things can get awfully bumpy.'

Clinton, seeming to read off a provided script, added, 'that in the event of an unexpected drop in the poll numbers' the plane would be diverted to
New Hampshire."

Prior to the flight Wednesday, the candidate and press took separate planes. No word on whether she served complimentary cocktails as part of the new campaign of cozying up to the media. (CNN)

Deadlock Danger

The lack of a clear front runner for the Republican Presidential nomination has party leaders worried about the first contested GOP convention in 60 years. And that could give a huge advantage to the Democrats. From the Associated Press:
Even if Republicans choose a nominee before they convene in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1, there's a good possibility he will emerge weeks or even months after the Democratic nominee is chosen, giving Democrats an advantage in fundraising, organizing and campaigning. Congressional Republicans particularly wanted an early nominee to draw voters' attention from President Bush, whose low approval ratings could hurt the entire party in the fall.
Democrats aren't out of the woods. Democratic leaders are bracing for a long, drawn out battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama for their nomination. (AP)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Heating Up the Sidewalks

Wisconsin is on the verge of keeping folks' feet warm. From USA Today:
"After the second snowiest December on record in the state capital — and with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Tuesday — the Legislature abolished a statewide ban on heated sidewalks, stairs, entrances and pedestrian walkways."
Seemed like a good idea back in the 70s -- to save energy. Only took the bureaucrats and politicians 30 years to do the math and realize how much energy was involved in shoveling snow and laying down salt. (USAToday).

Democrats Tap Sebelius

Democrats have tapped Kansas Gov Kathleen Sebelius to deliver their response to the President's State of the Union Speech next week. With "change" being the battle cry of just about every candidate wanting to deliver next year's State of the Union, Democrats opted for someone outside the beltway.

Gov Sebelius released a statement saying:

"The American people expect their leaders to resolve their differences and put partisanship on the back burner. They demand leadership focused squarely on solving our problems, making the most of our opportunities, and moving America forward."
One of the things going in the Kansas governor's favor for the job -- she has not endorsed any candidate for President. Neutral among Dems. (Wichita Eagle)

Dewey Defeats Truman!

Mitt Romney won last night's Michigan Primary.

But, just minutes after the election was called, the Michigan GOP fired off a press release congratulating Sen John McCain (R-AZ) for his win.

They had releases for both already prepared. A honcho says they just pushed the "wrong button." (CNN)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Salty Sea Tale of Tax Stickers

Delaware requires all fishermen to slap a sticker on the sides of their boats to show they've paid taxes -- before setting out on the ocean or bay.

Just one hitch.

The stickers are made out of a material that dissolves in saltwater.

The bureaucrats would have caught that -- but they were busy doing rocket science or brain surgery at the time. (FOX5)

Ain't that a Kick in the Head

A new Colorado state legislator is well on his way to making friends and influencing people after being sworn in this week.

State Rep Douglas Bruce (left) started off by kicking a news photographer for taking his picture during swearing in ceremonies. From CBS4 in Denver:

"When Rocky Mountain News photographer Javier Manzano took his photo during the traditional morning prayer, Bruce, who was standing, brought the sole of his shoe down hard on the photographer's bent knee. A CBS4 News videographer saw Bruce make a kicking motion, but didn't see the actual contact."

On top of that, Rep Bruce made a fuss that the whole legislature should convene to watch him be sworn in. He's a mid-term replacement -- and they don't get that kind of respect. In the end, he was sworn in with no other lawmakers willing to show.

He's going to love the senority system. (CBS4)

Bundle of Trouble

A Center for Investigative Reporting investigation for Politico found candidates -- in their rush to raise money -- have been relying on fundraisers with shady histories.

From Politico:

A fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was recently suspended from practicing law. A backer of Democrat Barack Obama defaulted on loans. And a bundler for Republican Rudy Giuliani was once accused of sexual harassment.

Not long ago, the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) was giving away money and promising tougher vetting standards after one of its top fundraisers, Norman Hsu, turned out to be on the lam on a grand theft rap.
The system we have now was largely shaped by President Bush's 2000 campaign. His bundlers would deliver lump sums of $100,000 or $200,000 from donors -- with the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" understanding of influence after the election. (Politico, HT: IRE)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Unpaid Bills Shut Down Wiretaps

Seems you don't have to worry so much about Uncle Sam listening in on your pizza orders after all. Turns out tons of federal wire taps were cut -- because Uncle Sam didn't pay his phone bills.

The Washington Post reports phone companies held up the information when the Justice Department failed to pay half of one-thousand bills -- including one for $66,000.

The FBI says they didn't lose any information. They got it when they paid their bills -- and late fees.

In a "post-9/11 world," let's hope Washington doesn't get a bill due on 9/12. (WaPo)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

DOJ Launches Criminal Probe of CIA

The Justice Department has opened a criminal probe into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes. Career prosecutor John Durham will head up the investigation. From the Washington Post:

The decision opens the door to fresh scrutiny of the CIA's activities by the FBI, which clashed repeatedly with CIA field officers over the use of the harsh interrogation techniques and ultimately withdrew its own agents from interrogations to avoid entanglement in activities that senior FBI officials considered improper.
The CIA has said the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of interrogators. CIA officials have since said the action was taken to destroy evidence that could be used in criminal prosecutions. (WaPo)

Social Tsunami Warning

Get ready for a 78 million person wave swamping Social Security. Baby boomers start retiring this year. The biggest population wave in American history is about to start straining the system.

Not necessarily a bad thing. Take this quote from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"The beauty of Social Security to me is that all the money (that goes to retirees) goes right back into the economy," says Stephanie Sue Stein, director of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging. "It's money that is being spent, which is why we're never going to have another Depression."

Social Security covers 50 million people today. By 2030, it could be 84 million. (Journal Sentinel)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Your Social Security Number May Not be too Secure

While the government is telling us to protect ourselves against identity theft -- government agencies continue to post our Social Security numbers online, or leave them exposed in public files anyone can browse at the county courthouse.

The Washington Post was able to find Colin Powell's and Troy Aikman's Social Security numbers online.

The numbers pop up in land records, civil and criminal court records -- even old copies of the Congressional Record. Stuff you can find at a courthouse or library.

Federal courts have banned the use of the numbers in public documents since 2001 -- but there are millions of paper records out there that still put your number out there. And a lot of jurisdictions have posted those paper records online. (WaPo)