- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

CONGRESS

Group wants probe of racial extremism

One of the country’s main monitors of hate groups asked Congress on Friday to investigate possible racial extremism in the military after finding U.S. service members participating on a social networking site advertised as being for white people only.

Researchers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., identified about 40 personal profiles of people who list the military as their occupation on the Web site New Saxon, according to the group’s founder, Morris Dees.

The site, run by the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, describes itself as an “online community for whites by whites.” Mr. Dees said some of the participants are wearing military uniforms in profile photos, although it was not possible to verify whether any of them are actually serving in the armed forces.

“We urge your committees to investigate the threat posed by racial extremists who may be serving in the military to ensure that our armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists,” Mr. Dees wrote in a letter addressed to four congressional committee chairmen.

Mr. Dees said existing Pentagon regulations that prohibit active participation in extremists groups should be strengthened further.

Jeff Schoep, commander of the National Socialist Movement, said there are members of the military who participate on the site, but that not all are members of his organization. He could not say how many there are.

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

MEDICINE

Dole undergoes surgery on leg

Former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole is recovering from leg surgery performed after he sought medical treatment for heart problems.

The 85-year-old Mr. Dole has been hospitalized in Washington since last week, when he experienced an elevated heart rate in the middle of the night.

His law firm, Alston & Bird LLP, said Mr. Dole’s heart is fine, but that Walter Reed Army Medical Center surgeons operated on his left leg, which had open sores. A skin graft is planned for Monday.

Mr. Dole says he hopes to leave the hospital in time for his birthday on July 22.

Mr. Dole has served as Senate majority leader, a vice presidential candidate in 1976, presidential candidate in 1988, and the GOP presidential nominee in 1996.

HOUSE

Funding boosted for vet programs

Veterans’ health care programs would receive another big boost under a $132.4 billion measure passed by the House on Friday.

The 12 percent increase for the veterans’ medical services account is the latest in a recent string of increases. Funding for veterans has long had strong bipartisan support.

The bill passed by a 415-3 vote, making it the most bipartisan of the seven appropriations bills passed so far. The 12 annual spending bills will total $1.2 trillion for agency operating budgets passed each year by Congress - known in Capitol Hill argot as the “discretionary” portion of the $3.6 trillion federal budget.

The funding measure contains sweeping increases for most of the programs it covers. It would pay to hire about 1,200 additional claims processors to relieve backlogs, provide money to cover more veterans whose health problems are not related to their service, and raise the reimbursement rate that veterans get for drives to receive care to 41.5 cents per mile.

“This is an unprecedented increase in Congress’ commitment to veterans,” said Rep. Chet Edwards, Texas Democrat, the measure’s lead author.

The measure also boosts funding for military construction projects like barracks upgrades, firing ranges and new chapels, day care centers and fitness facilities. It continues funding the 2005 round of base closures, providing money for improving conditions at bases slated for troop increases and assisting states and localities in preparing closed bases for economic development projects and other uses.

NTSB

Plane emergency had disaster potential

Skillful piloting may have prevented a disaster for Barack Obama and his campaign last summer, a former federal safety official said Friday.

A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates an inflated slide may have pressed against critical control cables, forcing the emergency landing of Mr. Obama’s campaign plane on July 7, 2008.

The slide inflated inside the tail cone of the campaign’s McDonnell Douglas MD-81 shortly after takeoff from Chicago’s Midway International Airport, the report said.

Investigators found evidence that the slide and a broken walkway railing inside the tail cone may have pressed against elevator cables that run the length of the plane. The cables are used to control whether the plane points up or down.

The plane’s flight crew struggled to level the aircraft’s nose, which continued to point upward after takeoff, and regained control by manipulating the control column and adjusting the trim on the plane’s tail, the report said. However, the flight crew noted the pitch control pressure required to level the airplane was higher than normal, the report said.

Former NTSB member John Goglia said the problem, had it continued, had the potential to cause a stall “at a critical point in flight.”

VANDALISM

Obama artist pleads in vandalism case

BOSTON | The artist who created the “Hope” poster of President Obama was sentenced to probation on Friday after pleading guilty to three vandalism charges in Boston. Prosecutors dropped 11 other charges.

Shepard Fairey was sentenced in Boston Municipal Court to two years probation. He pleaded guilty to one charge of defacing property and two charges of wanton destruction of property under $250.

The 39-year-old Los Angeles artist also must pay $2,000 to a graffiti removal organization and cannot possess tagging materials except for legal art installations.

“I believe in the importance of making art accessible through many avenues, and I will continue to advocate the use of legal public spaces for meaningful artistic expression and communication,” Fairey said. “Freedom of expression is the bedrock of our democracy. However, I also believe it is important that people respect private property and do not use it without the authorization of the owner.”

Fairey was arrested in February when he was in Boston for an event kicking off a solo exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The arrest came three days after he failed to appear in court on a charge of placing a poster on a Boston electrical box in September 2000.

STATE DEPARTMENT

4th pleads guilty in passport case

The investigation into who snooped into the confidential passport files of famous Americans has resulted in a fourth criminal conviction.

William Celey, 27, of Washington, pleaded guilty Friday to unauthorized computer access. He admitted he looked at the passport applications of more than 75 celebrities, politicians and family members out of curiosity while working as a State Department contractor in 2004.

The applications contain a photograph and personal information and are protected under federal privacy laws.

Three former State Department workers have been sentenced to probation in the case. An investigation began in March 2008 after officials discovered unauthorized access of the files for then-presidential candidates Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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