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Base desires ... Fewer fatal work-site injuries ... Chili alert!
Scripps Howard News Service


August 15, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The need to save money has always been the main justification used by the Pentagon to sell Congress on the politically unpopular task of closing military bases no longer needed by the military.

But the latest round of closings is doing anything but cutting costs. The estimate for the price tag for closing or realigning more than 200 bases and installations was pegged at $21 billion when Congress approved the plan in 2005.

Now, that projected cost has ballooned to more than $30 billion, with increases blamed on better estimates of how much it will take to relocate and refit personnel and equipment, clean up often-polluted land and help communities cope with the loss -- or gain -- of a facility.

New Jersey Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, who are battling fiercely to scuttle the state's impending loss of Fort Monmouth, want Congress to have the power to reconsider closing a base if the cost is substantially higher than originally thought.

If such a bill passes -- and it could command legions of support from other lawmakers slated to lose bases -- it would mark the first time Congress has intervened after the process has begun.


Fewer American workers overall died of injuries on the job last year, but that was not the case with women or Latinos, or those who toil in the mining industry, according to the just-unveiled Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2006 census of occupational industries.

In all, 5,703 workers died last year compared with the 5,734 death toll for 2005. The overall 2006 fatality rate was the lowest since the Department of Labor began conducting the census in 1992.

But fatal injuries to female employees increased 5 percent last year. For Hispanics, the 937 deaths -- up from 923 in 2005 -- represented the largest annual total since 1992, and could partially be explained by the growth in Latinos in the work force.

For miners, 2006 was particularly deadly, registering 19 percent more deaths from the previous year. Those included the victims of the Sago, W.Va., mine disaster and four deadly accidents at other mines.

The deaths Friday of three Indiana workers in an air-shaft accident at a southern Indiana coal mine, and the possible deaths of six miners trapped in Utah, could keep that sad trend going this year.


As if bombs and bullets weren't enough to worry about, U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been put on alert to be wary of care packages packed with potentially contaminated cans of chili.

The culprits are not insurgents but a well-meaning group of Los Angeles mothers who recently shipped more than 100 boxes of treats to the troops, which, unfortunately, included cans of Cattle Drive chili that are now subject to a recall by the manufacturer. The recipients are being told to trash the chili immediately because it could contain the deadly botulism toxin.


At a time when Democrats and Republicans on the Hill are so bitterly polarized, it is not surprising that they are on opposite sides of the Barry Bonds controversy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, sang the praises of the San Francisco Giants slugger, who broke Hank Aaron's home-run record Tuesday night.

"Barry Bonds etched his name into baseball's history books and took his rightful place among the sport's immortals," Pelosi said.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio took particular issue with the "rightful" adjective, siding with those who say Bonds' feat is tainted by allegations he used steroids. "I'm a big Hank Aaron fan. He did it the right way. He earned it."


The Senate couldn't find time before it adjourned for its summer break to complete work on the farm bill, Pentagon spending or the confirmation of the next director of the key Office of Management and Budget. But it did manage to bridge the partisan divide and unanimously declare September to be "National Bourbon Heritage Month."

"Whiskey has played an important role in the cultural heritage" of America, resolution sponsor Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said.


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Ketchikan, Alaska