Sunday, August 27, 2006

Political news of the week take 21

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Mutiny as passengers refuse to fly until Asians are removed (Aug. 20):
British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.


Websites used by pilots and cabin crew were yesterday reporting further incidents. In one, two British women with young children on another flight from Spain complained about flying with a bearded Muslim even though he had been security-checked twice before boarding.

The trouble in Malaga flared last Wednesday as two British citizens in their 20s waited in the departure lounge to board the pre-dawn flight and were heard talking what passengers took to be Arabic. Worries spread after a female passenger said she had heard something that alarmed her.

Passengers noticed that, despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.

Initially, six passengers refused to board the flight. On board the aircraft, word reached one family. To the astonishment of cabin crew, they stood up and walked off, followed quickly by others.

The Monarch pilot - a highly experienced captain - accompanied by armed Civil Guard police and airport security staff, approached the two men and took their passports.

Half an hour later, police returned and escorted the two Asian passengers off the jet.


Soon afterwards, the aircraft was cleared while police did a thorough security sweep. Nothing was found and the plane took off - three hours late and without the two men on board.

Monarch arranged for them to spend the rest of the night in an airport hotel and flew them back to Manchester later on Wednesday.


A spokesman for the Civil Guard in Malaga said: "These men had aroused suspicion because of their appearance and the fact that they were speaking in a foreign language thought to be an Arabic language, and the pilot was refusing to take off until they were escorted off the plane."

Thousands of Marines face involuntary recalls:
The U.S. Marine Corps said Tuesday it has been authorized to recall thousands of Marines to active duty, primarily because of a shortage of volunteers for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Up to 2,500 Marines will be brought back at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number of Marines who may be forced back into service in the coming years. The call-ups will begin in the next several months.

This is the first time the Marines have had to use the involuntary recall since the early days of the Iraq combat. The Army has ordered back about 14,000 soldiers since the start of the war.

Marine Col. Guy A. Stratton, head of the manpower mobilization section, estimated that there is a shortfall of about 1,200 Marines needed to fill positions in upcoming unit deployments.

Poll: Opposition to Iraq war at all-time high
Opposition among Americans to the war in Iraq has reached a new high, with only about a third of respondents saying they favor it, according to a poll released Monday.

Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it -- the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago.

Despite the rising opposition to the war, President Bush said the U.S. will not withdraw from Iraq while he is president.

"In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales," the president said. "Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster," he said.

A bare majority (51 percent) say they see Bush as a strong leader, but on most other attributes he gets negative marks.

Most Americans (54 percent) don't consider him honest, most (54 percent) don't think he shares their values and most (58 percent) say he does not inspire confidence.

The White Elephant Fleet:
The Air Force would like to retire 1,033 of its 6,100 aircraft in the next five years. But more than a third of those it wants to lose must remain in service because of the protections. An additional 492 aircraft the Air Force is considering retiring in the near future are cloaked in similar protections, further limiting options.


Of the aircraft it is seeking to retire, the venerable B-52 is among the most expensive to maintain. Designed in the 1950s as the cornerstone of the Strategic Air Command, the "Stratofortress" was the heavy bomber designated during the Cold War to be at the ready to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, it found a second life delivering smaller and precision-guided bombs, including during the 2003 Iraq invasion.

But in 1995, the Air Force determined it no longer needed all 94 of its B-52s to complete this more limited mission. It wants to retire 38 of them by 2011, 18 of which would be mothballed this year


The Air Force estimates that maintaining the unwanted B-52s costs $53.7 million each year. That doesn't include occasional upgrades to communications equipment and safety features.

"You've got to ask yourself: Why are you upgrading airplanes that you have no intention of using [in the future]?" Wynne said.

The Air Force has faced a similar problem with its F-117s, the stealth fighter once so secret that its very existence was classified. Its stealth capabilities, developed in the 1970s, have aged — one F-117 was famously shot down by Serbian air defenses in 1999 — and it will soon be replaced by the F-22.

Despite that, for the last two years the Senate has inserted measures into annual defense bills preventing the Air Force from getting rid of any F-117s, due largely to efforts of New Mexico's senators, Republican Pete V. Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman. All 52 of the F-117s are based at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M.

Matt Letourneau, a spokesman for Domenici, said the senators were concerned that a gap between the retirement of the F-117s and the ramp-up of the F-22 would leave the Air Force without a radar-evading fighter. But he also acknowledged that the base's future was just as important a motivation for the anti-mothballing move.

Report: Overhaul system or New Orleans will suffer again:
The catastrophe caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans could happen again unless the city's hurricane protection system is massively overhauled, an engineering panel said Friday.

"We must place the protection of public safety, health and welfare at the forefront of our nation's priorities. To do anything less could lead to a far greater tragedy than the one we have witnessed in New Orleans," a report issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers External Review Panel said.

More than 150 engineers and scientists contributed to the panel's report analyzing what happened in New Orleans.


Among the findings:

The city's system of levees and floodwalls, "failed catastrophically at over 50 different locations."

Pump stations "were not designed to function in a major hurricane or mitigate flooding if the levees were overtopped or breached."

Politicians and the designers and operators of New Orleans' hurricane protection system did a poor job, "evidenced by the fact that the system took decades to build and remains incomplete yet today."

Katrina Aid Far From Flowing
From the ghostly streets of New Orleans' abandoned neighborhoods to Mississippi's downtrodden coastline, the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's onslaught is arriving with emerging signs of federal money at work — rented trailers parked in the driveways of flood-ravaged homesteads, teams of Army engineers overseeing levee repairs, beaches swept clean of debris.

But the federal government has spent less than half the rebuilding funds that it amassed for Katrina recovery, which has raised sharp questions about the Bush administration's stewardship of the Gulf Coast's reconstruction and has provoked a chorus of complaints about excessive delays and government sluggishness.

Despite four emergency spending bills approved by Congress to provide more than $110 billion in aid, federal agencies have spent only $44 billion. Even as President Bush insisted last week and in his radio address Saturday that $110 billion was a strong commitment, he conceded that the recovery effort was plagued with bureaucratic hurdles.


In July, Congress' nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported that disbursement of Small Business Administration recovery loans was marred by "significant delays." A report last week from Democrats on the House Small Business Committee said that of $10 billion approved for such loans, just 20% had reached recipients. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the administration's top recovery authority, already attacked for its response to the storm, has again taken heat.

Until last week, when the White House Office of Management and Budget released an agencywide breakdown of recovery spending, the administration had not provided a clear overview of how the money was being doled out. For much of the year, elected officials, government auditors and outside experts had to rely on fragmentary indicators of the pace of recovery spending, which handicapped efforts to monitor the process.

Feinstein unveils Dem plan to cut greenhouse gas:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered a new Democratic outline Thursday night of a plan to attack global warming in the next session of Congress -- and put political opponents on the defensive headed into the fall campaign season.


Parts of her speech touched on legislation already introduced, such as a requirement that cars, sport utility vehicles and light trucks get another 10 miles per gallon within 10 years.

But Feinstein also called for new provisions, in particular a proposal to bring agriculture and forest managers into a market system for greenhouse gas emissions known as "cap and trade." This would allow farmers and landowners who plant trees or convert crops into bio-fuels to earn emission credits that could be sold to companies that exceed emission limits.

Deal to Raise [California's Minimum] Wage to $8:
More than 1 million Californians who earn the minimum wage will get a nearly 20% pay increase over the next year and a half, thanks to an agreement announced Monday between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders in the Legislature.

The hike, the first since early 2004, will lift the state minimum wage to $8 an hour from $6.75. Workers will get a 75-cent increase Jan. 1 and an additional 50 cents on Jan. 1, 2008.

Schwarzenegger praised the agreement as a boost for low-wage workers and the business climate. "I have always said that when the economy was ready, we should reward the efforts of California's hardworking families by raising our minimum wage," he said. "This is another sign California is coming back stronger than ever."

The jump to $7.50 on New Year's Day will make California's minimum wage the nation's fourth-highest, trailing those of Washington, Oregon and Connecticut, according to the California Federation of Labor. The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.

Black students ordered to give up seats to whites
Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children.


After Richmond and Williams filed complaints with the School Board, Transportation Supervisor Jerry Carlisle asked Davis to make seat assignments for her passengers, Sessoms said.

"But she still assigned the black children to the back of the bus," she added.

And the nine children had to share only two seats, meaning the older children had to hold the younger ones in their laps.

A new solution reached Monday by School Board officials has a black bus driver driving across town to pick up the nine black children.

F.D.A. Approves Broader Access to Next-Day Pill
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved over-the-counter sales of the morning-after contraceptive pill to women 18 and older, resolving one of the most contentious issues in the agency’s 100-year history.

Nationwide over-the-counter sales of the drug, Plan B, are expected to start by the end of the year. It will be sold in pharmacies and health clinics only, and buyers must show proof of age. Anyone under age 18 will still need a prescription. Men may also buy Plan B for a partner.

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