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Washington Calling

Guard pulls back from border ... A new light ... Spy planes
Scripps Howard News Service


August 04, 2007

WASHINGTON -- It's occurring largely under the nation's radar screen, but the National Guard is well on the way to pulling thousands of its troops back from the border with Mexico, even though there are not enough civilian officers to replace them.

At its height, Operation Jump Start -- as the effort was named when it began in June 2006 -- deployed about 6,000 citizen-soldiers from around the country to New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California to bolster the border against illegal immigrants and drug smugglers attempting to enter.

By Sept. 1, 3,000 of the 6,000 guards will be gone. The rest will leave the border next July. The guard deployment was intended to fill in the gap while the U.S. Border Patrol hired and trained 6,000 new officers. So far, only about 2,000 are ready for duty.

Guard leaders say the assignment has been a success, with its troops aiding in the apprehension of 85,000 aliens, the seizure of 201,000 pounds of marijuana and the repair of 428 miles of roads. On the down side, three guardsmen in Texas have been charged with conspiring to smuggle more than 100 illegal immigrants across the border they were supposed to be monitoring.


The super-secret National Security Agency usually doesn't even acknowledge its personnel are deployed in Iraq, but officials made an exception recently to honor a Navy code expert "on a cryptologic mission" who died when a roadside bomb in Baghdad blew up near his Humvee in early July. The name of Petty Officer Steven Daugherty was added to the NSA's Cryptologic Memorial Wall at Fort Meade, Md., joining the 157 other military and civilian cryptologists who have perished while "serving in silence" since World War II.


A new light may soon shine in every U.S. government office in Washington and around the nation. A measure to mandate the exclusive use of "energy star" qualified light bulbs in federal buildings was enthusiastically embraced as an amendment to a House spending bill. If the amendment survives the rest of the legislative process, the bulbs -- which use about 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs -- will be required beginning October 1.


What's in their wallets? Determined to find out, the Politico newspaper and Web site looked at Capitol Hill lawmakers' financial disclosure reports and discovered that 48 representatives and three senators were each carrying more than $10,000 in family credit-card debt at some point last year.

Some of the biggest balances:

-- Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., reported a total balance of at least $55,000, which he said he used to pay college costs of his three kids and to remodel three family homes.

-- Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., was in the red for between $50,000 and $100,000, which his office said went for the costs of raising four kids, including one heading to college.

-- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a GOP presidential candidate, carried between $90,000 and $215,000 in debt from cards used by his wife and child. His office declined to comment.

-- Rep. John Kuhl, R-N.Y., had a balance of as much as $60,000, which he also said came from college tuition bills for his three kids. He bragged to Politico that he managed to get cards with interest rates of only 3.9 percent and 4.9 percent.


It's been a tough 12 months for the Pentagon's Predator spy plane, with more than five of the $3 million drones crashing during that span. Two went down in just two days this past week in the vicinity of the Balad Air Base in Iraq. Neither of those is believed to have been victims of attack.

In an Aug. 3, 2006, mishap, one of the remote-controlled aircrafts bit the dust at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada when the "pilot" on the ground meant to push the button that lowers the plane's landing gear but instead mistakenly pushed the one to shut down the engine.

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