Soldiers pay bag fee on travel to war

American Airlines is charging troops for their extra baggage, a practice that forces soldiers heading for a war zone in Iraq to try to get reimbursement from the military. One of the country’s largest veterans groups is asking the aviation industry to drop the practice immediately.

American, which recently charged two soldiers from Texas $100 and $300 for their extra duffel bags, said it gives the military a break on the cost for excess luggage and that the soldiers who incur the fees are reimbursed.

“Because the soldiers don’t pay a dime, our waiver of the fees amounts to a discount to the military, not a discount to soldiers,” said Tim Wagner, spokesman for American Airlines. “Soldiers should not have to pay a penny of it.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) spokesman Joseph Davis said service members destined for Iraq should not have to spend the money out of pocket and should not have to worry about filing expense forms in a war zone.

“That’s a lot to ask when the service member has much more important things on their minds, such as staying alive and keeping those around them alive,” he said.

The VFW is asking the Air Transport Association (ATA) to urge member airlines to exempt military personnel traveling on official orders from all excess-baggage fees. “This should not be a very difficult decision to make,” Mr. Davis said.

Several airlines have instituted cost-cutting measures and have eliminated or are charging for amenities including meals, beverages and additional luggage.

In a letter to the ATA on Friday, VFW President George J. Lisicki said troops understand the financial constraints the airline industry faces but that the military traveler represents a minute fraction of the total passengers carried every year.

An ATA spokesman said the association will respond directly to the veterans association.

In a written statement to The Washington Times, James C. May, president and chief executive officer of the ATA, said it is individual airlines that must determine fare rates.

“While ATA cannot by law even suggest uniform pricing policies to our members, we will bring this matter to their attention for their independent consideration,” Mr. May said.

“Air Transport Association member airlines have always been committed to supporting our nation’s military,” he said.

“Airlines routinely offer special fares for military personnel and families, attempt when possible to accommodate unplanned schedule changes and generally seek to do what they can to show their appreciation,” Mr. May said.

Most major U.S. carriers waive baggage fees for up to two bags for military members traveling under orders, Mr. Lisicki said. However, a $100 fee for checking a third bag appears to be the industry norm, except for first-class passengers or elite frequent fliers.

US Airways allows military personnel with identification free luggage up to 100 pounds, and Delta allows two bags up to 70 pounds in the cargo hold, as does Northwest.

When soldiers receive their travel orders, they should make sure that excess baggage is authorized and that soldiers can be reimbursed for additional fees that airlines impose, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

“We can help them with additional expenses for travel, but soldiers have to submit a receipt and it has to be looked at by our finance people,” Mr. Boyce said.

“We appreciate the VFW’s help in assisting soldiers. It would certainly make it easier for soldiers, but there are other ways to help them recoup their money for Army travel,” Mr. Boyce said.


Judicial Watch Uncovers New FDA Records Detailing Ten New Deaths & 140 “Serious” Adverse Events Related to Gardasil

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today released a report based on new documents obtained from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, detailing reports of adverse reactions to the vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV), Gardasil. The adverse reactions include 10 deaths since September, 2007. (The total number of death reports is at least 18 and as many as 20.) The FDA also produced 140 “serious” reports (27 of which were categorized as “life threatening”), 10 spontaneous abortions and six cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome – all since January 2008. Adverse reports excerpts include:

  • Information has been received…concerning a 20 year old female with no medical history reported, who on 01-APR-2008 was vaccinated with a dose of Gardasil….The patient died four days after…patient sought unspecified medical attention. An autopsy was performed which ruled out suicide and anything suspicious. The cause of death is currently unknown. VAERS ID: 310262-1 (D)
  • Information has been received…concerning a 23-year-old female…who on 31-JAN-2008 was vaccinated with her 1st dose of Gardasil…the patient experienced anaphylactic shock 2 minutes after vaccination characterized by a brief loss of consciousness…respiratory arrest, eyes rolled upwards, blurred vision and greyish skin tone…Anaphylactic shock was considered to be immediately life-threatening. VAERS ID: 304739-1 (S)
  • Cold sweat, Fall, Foaming at mouth, Grand mal convulsion, Immediate post-injection reaction….Pt [patient, 14-year-old female] received vaccine, took 6 steps, fell to the ground unconscious and had a 60 sec grand mal seizure then regained consciousness. [Blood pressure] after seizure 60/40 pale clammy skin. [Patient] had bit her tongue and had foam around her mouth. VAERS ID: 305259-1 (S)
  • Information has been received from a physician concerning a female patient who on an unknown date was vaccinated with a dose of Gardasil. Subsequently, the patient experienced a coma and is now paralyzed. At the time of this report, the patient’s outcome was unknown. VAERS ID: 303188-1

“Given all the questions about Gardasil, the best public health policy would be to reevaluate its safety and to prohibit its distribution to minors. In the least, governments should rethink any efforts to mandate or promote this vaccine for children,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Judicial Watch had previously obtained 3,461 reports relating to Gardasil. On June 10, 2008, Judicial Watch received a compact disk from the FDA with a new total of 8,864 Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) records. These documents and the new Judicial Watch report, entitled “Examining the FDA’s HPV Vaccine Records: Detailing the Approval Process, Side-Effects, Safety Concerns & Marketing Practices of a Large Scale Health Experiment,” are available at

Students learn hard lesson in school budgets

Around Valentine’s Day, parents in Cheatham County, Tenn., near Nashville, could face a problem: how to get their children to school.

There’s enough money in the 2008-09 school budget to pay for bus fuel only until February. The Cheatham County Board of Education doesn’t know what it will do after that.

“In the area where we live, those children are 12 miles from school,” said Kim Lane of Ashland City, the mother of a high school-age son. “That’s a long walk. What are they going to do?”

Lane could be asking the same question about school districts across the country. As 56 million children return to public schools in the coming days and weeks, they are getting a real-world lesson in economics.

In a survey of 546 local superintendents late last month by the American Association of School Administrators, 99 percent said rising costs and shrinking budgets were hurting their school systems.

Three in 10 superintendents said they were laying off or reassigning teachers to
save money; even more, 33 percent, said they were eliminating or reassigning support staff, such as janitors and maintenance workers.

Nearly half — 44 percent — said their districts were cutting back on field trips, while 37 percent said they were cutting back on heating and air conditioning and 31 percent said they were buying fewer supplies.

“While school systems are working hard to limit programming cuts, the sharp increase in costs will have a negative impact on children, especially disadvantaged children, unless the states and federal government act quickly to provide relief,” said Randall Collins, the association’s president.

Jobless teachers, crumbling schools
Late last month, the Miami-Dade County school board tentatively approved budget cuts of $700 million for the new school year. More than 1,500 teachers will lose their jobs, and none of the rest will get raises.

In the rural Maccray school district in southwestern Minnesota, students will stay home on Mondays. The district is moving to a four-day week to save $85,000 in costs for buses, heating bills, substitute teachers and student lunches. Districts in at least 11 other states are doing the same.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, students at Floro Torrence School 83 will put up for at least another year with a crumbling entryway, an antiquated fire alarm system and restrooms that aren’t accessible for the handicapped. Edgar H. Evans Magnet School 11 won’t replace tiled floors or the concrete crumbling beneath them. Pieces of brick will keep falling from Stuart Hall at Tech High School.

That’s because the Indianapolis Public Schools system has a to-do list that’s about $10 million long, but it has only about $3 million for maintenance and repairs.

Gorbachev slams US’s ‘serious blunder’

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, commenting on the Russia-Georgia conflict, has accused the United States of making a “serious blunder” in pursuing its interest in the Caucasus region.

He also said the US charge that Russia was committing aggression in Georgia was “not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity”.

“By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its ‘national interest,’ the United States made a serious blunder,” Gorbachev said in an opinion piece to be published in the Washington Post on Tuesday.

Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, said Russia was not seeking territorial expansion, but it has “legitimate interests” in this region.

Russia sent its tanks and troops to pro-Moscow South Ossetia on Friday in response to pro-Western Georgia’s military offensive to take back the province, which broke away in the early 1990s after a separatist war.

US President George W Bush warned Russia not to overthrow Georgia’s government, saying Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour wounded its world standing and endangered ties with the West.

Bush said he was deeply concerned by reports that Russian troops have moved beyond the zone of conflict, attacked the Georgian town of Gori and are threatening Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi.

Gorbachev said “it was still possible to find a political solution” to the conflict.

“Hostilities must cease as soon as possible, and urgent steps must be taken to help the victims – the humanitarian catastrophe, regretfully, received very little coverage in Western media this weekend – and to rebuild the devastated towns and villages,” he said.

Meanwhile, a handful of Australians in Georgia have been offered a lift out of the country by the US government, the Department of Foreign Affairs says.

Eight Australians were registered as being in Georgia, and DFAT believes a further two unregistered Australians were also in the country.

“We are not aware of any Australians harmed by the heightened conflict,” a DFAT spokesman said.

Five Australians in Georgia have been contacted and offered consular assistance, he said.

The US Embassy was planning to arrange a bus convoy from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to Yerevan, Armenia, and had agreed to take any Australians who wanted to leave, the spokesman said.

Bush could weaken Endangered Species Act

*No respect for humans or animals, eh?*

WASHINGTON (AP) — Parts of the Endangered Species Act may soon be extinct.

The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants.

New regulations, which don’t require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft first obtained by The Associated Press.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a “back door” to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.

The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.

“We need to focus our efforts where they will do the most good,” Kempthorne said in a news conference organized quickly after AP reported details of the proposal. “It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species. It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species.”

If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of the Endangered Species Act since 1986. They would accomplish through regulations what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress: ending some environmental reviews that developers and other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects.

The changes would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that might harm endangered wildlife and their habitat. Government wildlife experts currently perform tens of thousands of such reviews each year. See how the Endangered Species Act works today »

“If adopted, these changes would seriously weaken the safety net of habitat protections that we have relied upon to protect and recover endangered fish, wildlife and plants for the past 35 years,” said John Kostyack, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming initiative. See photos of endangered animals »

Under current law, federal agencies must consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to jeopardize any endangered species or to damage habitat, even if no harm seems likely. This initial review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants in the United States listed as threatened or endangered and determines whether a more formal analysis is warranted.

The Interior Department said such consultations are no longer necessary because federal agencies have developed expertise to review their own construction and development projects, according to the 30-page draft obtained by the AP.

“We believe federal action agencies will err on the side of caution in making these determinations,” the proposal said.

The director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, H. Dale Hall, said the changes would help focus expertise on “where we know we don’t have a negative effect on the species but where the agency is vulnerable if we don’t complete a consultation.”

Responding to questions about the process, Hall said, “We will not do anything that leaves the public out of this process.”

The new rules were expected to be formally proposed immediately, officials said. They would be subject to a 60-day public comment period before being finalized by the Interior Department, giving the administration enough time to impose them before November’s presidential election. A new administration could freeze any pending regulations or reverse them, a process that could take months. Congress could also overturn the rules through legislation, but that could take even longer.

The proposal was drafted largely by attorneys in the general counsel’s offices of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Interior Department, according to an official with the National Marine Fisheries Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan hadn’t yet been circulated publicly. The two agencies’ experts were not consulted until last week, the official said.

Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews each year.

The reviews have helped safeguard protected species such as bald eagles, Florida panthers and whooping cranes. A federal government handbook from 1998 described the consultations as “some of the most valuable and powerful tools to conserve listed species.”

In recent years, however, some federal agencies and private developers have complained that the process results in delays and increased construction costs.

“We have always had concerns with respect to the need for streamlining and making it a more efficient process,” said Joe Nelson, a lawyer for the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition, a trade group for home builders and the paper and farming industry.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called the proposed changes illegal.

“This proposed regulation is another in a continuing stream of proposals to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door,” she said. “If this proposed regulation had been in place, it would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the gray whale.”

The Bush administration and Congress have attempted with mixed success to change the law.

In 2003, the administration imposed similar rules that would have allowed agencies to approve new pesticides and projects to reduce wildfire risks without asking the opinion of government scientists about whether threatened or endangered species and habitats might be affected. The pesticide rule was later overturned in court. The Interior Department, along with the Forest Service, is currently being sued over the rule governing wildfire prevention.

In 2005, the House passed a bill that would have made similar changes to the Endangered Species Act, but the bill died in the Senate.

The sponsor of that bill, then-House Resources chairman Richard Pombo, R-California, told the AP Monday that allowing agencies to judge for themselves the effects of a project will not harm species or habitat.

“There is no way they can rubber stamp everything because they will end up in court for every decision,” he said.

But internal reviews by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that about half the unilateral evaluations by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that determined wildfire prevention projects were unlikely to harm protected species were not legally or scientifically valid.

Those had been permitted under the 2003 rule changes.
“This is the fox guarding the hen house. The interests of agencies will outweigh species protection interests,” said Eric Glitzenstein, the attorney representing environmental groups in the lawsuit over the wildfire prevention regulations. “What they are talking about doing is eviscerating the Endangered Species Act.”

Russian forces on Turkish border???

Incoming report from journalist contact inside Georgia reports that Russian troops are in Sarpi on the Black Sea coast. This is the border crossing into Turkey just south of Batumi and is quite far from Senaki or Poti where Russian troops were last reported. There seems to be cessation of military activities forthcoming on the side of the Russian military. Perhaps President Bush has good intelligence that further attacks are forthcoming when he issued his statement, which seemed like a warning to Russia not to attempt to overthrow President Saakashvili’s regime.

He also reports that a Georgian missile boat has been sunk by Russian naval forces.
“1:30am local time. Russian troops in Sarpi, on the Black Sea port. Russian warships sunk Georgian missile boat”