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Guard, Reserve bases ... Stiff Castro ... Other items
Scripps Howard News Service


April 24, 2005

Washington - Expect prized National Guard and Reserve installations to be rolled into nearby military bases when the Pentagon unveils sweeping base-closing recommendations next month.

Lawmakers are already rehearsing their dying-swan acts, vowing to spend whatever political capital they have in Washington to save endangered units and the paychecks they bring to their home districts.

But don't take the act seriously. Congress itself directed the Pentagon to consider "all military installations inside the United States equally" when assembling the latest hit list of an estimated 25 percent of bases to be shuttered or realigned.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., now says that wasn't intended to include the 3,300 National Guard and Reserve units scattered around the country, and he dashed off a letter last month to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying that governors would have to give permission before any Guard or Reserve units are realigned.

The generals and admirals are sticking to the letter of the law on this one.

Is it just old-age stiffness, or is Fidel Castro ailing?

Steven Aftergood, an eagle-eyed analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, notes that recent reviews of Castro speeches released by the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service concluded the 78-year-old Cuban dictator has problems using his right hand.

The service, which follows Castro's activities very closely, first noted that the right-handed leader had shifted to using his left hand to gesture and shuffle cards in February, and in two speeches this month clearly had difficulty moving his right arm from the shoulder to the elbow.

Look for outside pressures on senators to resolve their upcoming blather-fest over confirming President Bush's court appointments to become acute very soon.

Senate leaders are withholding final action on a new $284 billion highway bill until the issue of judicial confirmations is resolved, and action also is pending on a new energy bill that promises remedies for high gasoline prices.

The six-year highway bill is crammed with local projects dear to the hearts of senators seeking re-election. Authorization for current projects expires May 31.

Highway lobbyists are deluging lawmakers with visits from local contractors who are detailing the dire consequences that will result if the Senate gridlocks vital highway projects aimed at resolving traffic.

The judge battle has already engaged Washington's lobbying titans. The National Association of Manufacturers, the largest of Washington's business lobbies, says the appointment of conservative judges is a crucial issue for business, while liberal groups like People for the American Way say the political independence of the judiciary is imperiled.

Safety advocates are lobbying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise its annual report on carnage on the highways and include "nontraffic, noncrash" events as well.

Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids And Cars, says the government currently doesn't count as traffic fatalities those children who die from hyperthermia when left in hot cars, or those who are killed when cars back over them in driveways or in parking lots. There were 165 such deaths of children last year, she said.

Consumers Union says many of those deaths could have been avoided if cars and trucks were equipped with devices warning drivers that objects are in the way when they back up.

Who knew those dry-as-dust history courses could become so controversial?

Within the last month, Chinese demonstrations have forced the Japanese government to apologize for Japanese school texts that omitted mention of the rape of Nanjing and the oppressive Japanese occupation of China during World War II.

Meantime, French intellectuals are protesting a new law directing French school-text writers to talk up "the positive role of the French overseas, particularly in North Africa," and gloss over the nasty bits about French colonial racism and involvement in the slave trade.



E-mail Lance Gay at GayL(at)

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