- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

ARMY

Soldier suicides rise alarmingly

Suicides among U.S. soldiers rose last year to the highest level in decades, the Army announced Thursday.

At least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008. But the final count is likely to be considerably higher because 15 more suspicious deaths are being investigated and could also turn out to be self-inflicted, the Army said.

A new training and prevention effort will start next week, and Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general, made a plea for more U.S. mental-health professionals to sign on to work for the military.

“We are hiring and we need your help,” she said.

The new suicide figure compares with 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 and is the highest since record-keeping began in 1980. Officials calculate the deaths at a rate of about 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers - which is higher than the adjusted civilian rate for the first time since the Vietnam War, officials told a Pentagon news conference.

CURRENCY

Lawmaker: Obama to reassure China

President Obama is expected to contact his Chinese counterpart soon and assure Beijing that Washington is not seeking a “currency war” a lawmaker closely involved in U.S.-China issues said Thursday.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican and co-chairman of the U.S.-China Working Group, said he and others in the bipartisan congressional organization were told by administration officials that “the president will undercut the anti-currency message pretty directly.”

WHITE HOUSE

Presidential orders to benefit unions

President Obama intends to overturn four Bush-era executive orders that unions opposed, officials said Thursday.

Mr. Obama planned to reverse one order Friday that allowed unionized companies to post signs informing workers that they were allowed to decertify their union, an order some claim is unfair because nonunion businesses are not required to post signs letting workers know they were legally allowed to vote for a union.

Two Democratic sources also told the Associated Press that Mr. Obama would prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses that were intended to influence workers’ decisions to form unions or engage in collective bargaining. A third order would require federal vendors with more than $100,000 in contracts to post workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

The final order would require service contractors at federal buildings to offer jobs to qualified current employees when contracts changed. For instance, rank-and-file workers could continue working on the same federal project even if the administrative contract expired.

The officials disclosed the plans on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt the White House’s plans.

STIMULUS

Education secretary defends cash boost

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the economy won’t improve without the billions of dollars for schools in President Obama’s recovery plan.

“If we want to stimulate the economy, we need a better-educated work force,” Mr. Duncan said Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press.

“That’s the only way, long-term, we’re going to get out of this economic crisis,” he said.

The stimulus plan is picking up criticism as it moves through Congress. Republicans complain that not all the money will create jobs immediately. Democrats admit it’s true, but they say the economy needs long-term help, too.

JOBS

‘Monster’ comment proves no hindrance

Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor who earned notoriety for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a “monster” while working to elect Barack Obama president, will take a senior foreign policy job at the White House, the Associated Press has learned.

Officials familiar with the decision say Mr. Obama has tapped Ms. Power to be senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, a job that will require close contact and potential travel with Mrs. Clinton, who is secretary of state. NSC staffers often accompany the secretary of state on foreign trips.

RECALL

Army pulls peanut products

The Army said Thursday that it’s removing some peanut butter items from warehouses in Europe, the latest in an ever-growing list of recalled peanut products linked to a national salmonella outbreak.

Already more than 430 kinds of cakes, cookies and other goods in the civilian world have been pulled off store shelves in what the Food and Drug Administration is calling one of the largest product recalls in memory.

The Army’s recall does not affect Meals-Ready-to-Eat, but another kind of military grub called Unitized Group Rations-A, which provide a complete 50-person meal.

More than 500 people have gotten sick in the U.S. outbreak, and at least eight may have died as a result of salmonella infection.

At the center of the investigation is a Georgia peanut processing plant.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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