- - Monday, February 28, 2011

WASHINGTON

First lady’s initiative to assist U.S. troops

Michelle Obama says a new campaign she’s launching on behalf of U.S. troops and their families will encourage the public to step up to help make military families’ lives a little easier.

She says it is America’s obligation to look out for the 1 percent of the population serving in the military.

Mrs. Obama’s effort will center on employment, education, wellness and public awareness. An example of the outcomes she would like to see is better career opportunities for veterans and their spouses. She and Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, will formally unveil the campaign next month.

The first lady previewed the campaign Monday for the nation’s governors, who were at the White House to meet with President Obama.

IDAHO

Former U.S. senator James McClure dies

BOISE, Idaho | Former U.S. Sen. James McClure, who spent six years as chairman of the Energy Committee and fought to keep Idaho’s wilderness areas controlled by the state, has died. He was 86.

The McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho says the Republican died Saturday. His family says he died of complications from a series of strokes.

Mr. McClure earned a reputation as a nuts-and-bolts legislative craftsman during his 24 years in Congress, and was genial but reserved among most colleagues.

He began his political career in the Idaho Senate in 1961, and was elected to the U.S. House in 1966, staying there until his election to the Senate in 1972. Mr. McClure retired from Congress in 1991 at the age of 72, becoming a lobbyist and mining consultant.

ELECTIONS

Gov. Branstad: Iowa caucuses come first

DES MOINES, Iowa | Iowa officials pledged Monday to move up the state’s 2012 presidential caucuses as early as needed to ensure the event remains the nation’s first contest of White House hopefuls if Florida stands by plans for an early primary date.

National leaders have pledged to avoid a repeat of the 2008 competition that prompted Iowa to hold caucuses Jan. 3 amid drawn-out disputes with Florida and Michigan. But a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, and others said Iowa will move up its Feb. 6 caucuses if Florida sticks with a Jan. 31 primary.

“If Florida continues to stay where they are, we’ll move up just as we have in the past,” said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht.

Iowa traditionally holds the first caucuses, followed days later by the New Hampshire primaries. Politicians elsewhere have argued for years that it is not fair for two states with relatively small populations and few minorities to go first.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties punished Florida in 2008 for moving to an earlier date.

WASHINGTON

House moves to stop laser targeting of planes

People who knowingly aim laser pointers at an aircraft would be committing a federal crime subject to up to five years in prison under legislation passed by the House.

The House bill responds to growing incidents of pilots being distracted or even temporarily blinded and forced to give up control of aircraft because of laser beams.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the number of cases of people pointing lasers at planes and helicopters nearly doubled last year to more than 2,800 as handheld lasers become more affordable and more powerful.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican, says there are also reports of airborne police units aborting crime-scene responses due to laser interference.

WASHINGTON

Critics: Science cuts could hurt economy

Proposed budget cuts to U.S. scientific research institutions would put the United States at an economic disadvantage with China and India, a former George W. Bush administration official says.

Scientific and environmental communities are raising alarm over proposed reductions of funding for their programs in a bill passed in the House that would cut overall spending through September by about $61.5 billion from current levels.

Former Energy Department science chief Raymond Orbach said the bill’s cuts in funding for research “would effectively end America’s legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community, putting the United States at a distinct disadvantage with other nations in the global marketplace.”

“Other countries, such as China and India, are increasing their funding of scientific research because they understand its critical role in spurring technological advances and other innovations,” Mr. Orbach wrote in an editorial in the journal Science.

Mr. Orbach, now director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said the bill would “all but eliminate” funding for biological research centers that aim to develop transportation fuels from plant sugars.

Other cuts would affect programs to develop solar power and other alternative, renewable energy sources.

WASHINGTON

Suicide rates higher among American Indians

Young American Indians commit suicide at a rate more than three times the national average. Now a private program has been created to focus on improving the lives of young Indians.

The Washington-based Center for Native American Youth is a new initiative of the Aspen Institute, a think-tank based in Washington and Colorado.

The center is underwritten by a $1 million donation from former Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, who retired in January after three decades in Congress. Mr. Dorgan, a Democrat, was chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and led efforts to increase funds for programs to benefit American Indians.

Mr. Dorgan, now a policy adviser at a Washington law firm, said money for the institute was transferred from excess campaign donations.

From wire dispatches and staff reports