News briefs from the Front Range

Colorado's senators split on troop pullout

Senate Republicans, including Wayne Allard of Colorado, succeeded Wednesday morning in killing a Democratic proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq after pulling an all-nighter.

The 52-47 vote fell short of forcing a second up-or-down vote on an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization.

The amendment, by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., called on President Bush to remove troops from Iraq by April 30, 2008. The amendment also sought to change the focus in Iraq from U.S. combat to U.S.-led training and regional diplomacy.

Allard in a teleconference with the press on Wednesday afternoon said Democratic politics were behind the amendment, which he refused to support because it required that troops begin leaving Iraq within 120 days.

I have never supported any deadlines for withdrawal out of Iraq, Allard said. It takes away discretion that I think they need. If they dont have that discretion, I think it puts American soldiers at risk.

Salazar, who voted for the amendment, disagreed in a press teleconference earlier in the day.

I have always felt that we need to work together to provide a united way forward on how we bring our troops home from Iraq and create whatever level of stability we possibly can in Iraq and in that region, Salazar said.

As members cast their votes, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with lawmakers to argue the Bush administration's case for staying the course in Iraq, according to The Associated Press.

The New York Times reported that the all-night session began with debate over what to eat for dinner. Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, wasnt a fan of pizza, Democrats ordered it anyway, the newspaper reported.

Republicans, according to the Times, ate chicken dinners. MdY

Obama questions military discharges

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., wants the military to stop discharging troops for a rare psychological condition known as personality disorder until safeguards are in place to ensure troops arent being misdiagnosed.

Since 2001, more than 22,500 troops have been discharged for the psychiatric condition, according to the Defense Department. But some troops with the condition were later found to have other problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

The difference for troops discharged with a personality disorder is that the military considers their condition to be pre-existing and may therefore deny them benefits.

Obama, who is also running for president, noted cases that include Fort Carson.

In the 2008 defense authorization, Obama seeks a moratorium on personality-disorder discharges for troops who served in combat zones. Supported by several senators, the moratorium would apply until the Defense Department reviews its policies and procedures for diagnosing the condition, and provides independent reviews for troops who question their diagnosis.

Last year, the Independent identified a three-fold increase in personality-disorder discharges at Fort Carson since the start of the conflict in Iraq in 2003. In recent months, several national media organizations have investigated the issue. MdY

Pueblo chamber rallies for Pion Canyon study

The Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce is pushing U.S. senators to fund a key study that could lead to the expansion of Fort Carson training grounds in southeast Colorado.

"Right now, the issue seems driven primarily by emotion," said chamber president Rod Slyhoff, adding that a study would answer myriad questions about how expansion would affect southeast Colorado's economy and environment.

The chamber's action is significant because several southeast Colorado businesses outright oppose the post's proposal to expand the 235,000-acre Pion Canyon Maneuver Site by some 418,000 acres into mainly private ranch land.

The Pueblo chamber joins the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce in supporting the study.

Many ranchers and their allies say the move is a threat to the state's agricultural industry and the environment. MdY

Fountain Creek study funded

ncluded in the U.S. House's recently passed 2007 Energy and Water Bill is $150,000 to fund completion of the Fountain Creek Watershed Study, supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers, analyzing the watershed to identify and address flood-control, environmental and erosion/sedimentation issues.

Also in the bill is $155,000 to finish the Arkansas River Fisheries Habitat Restoration effort. The project, a cooperative effort between the Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Pueblo, is already 90 percent completed. RR

Vets blast exiting VA chief

As Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson quietly announced this week he would retire by Oct. 1 to work in the private sector, the VA, in a press release, touted his leadership and accomplishments since his 2005 appointment.

And while supporters such as Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., lauded his work, two veterans groups cheered the retirement, labeling Nicholson incompetent. The groups compared the 69-year-old to fellow Coloradan Michael Brown, who left the Federal Emergency Management Agency after mishandling response to Hurricane Katrina.

"Tens of thousands of veterans currently are waiting for their first VA appointment, and the backlog of veterans' benefits claims has increased by more than 50 percent in three years, to more than 350,000," Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America claimed in a statement.

Votevets.org, a "nonpartisan" advocacy group, added, "The result of his tenure at the VA was a bungled budget that was billions short, budget cuts that hurt veterans, and personal data of thousands of veterans being stolen." MdY

'Tremendous investment opportunity'

Following a court hearing last week, Brian X. Scott of Colorado Springs is looking for an investor with millions of dollars to help him secure the U.S. military's largest Iraq security contract.

Well, at least part of the contract and that's not to say that Scott has it in hand. The small-business owner first must win a case in U.S. Court of Federal Claims asking a judge to conclude the $475 million contract illegally seeks private-security personnel. The personnel, Scott argues, amount to "mercenaries," thus preventing him from providing called-for services such as a communications center.

Before the court will consider that question one that has potential to dramatically shift the way the war is conducted Scott, who has no lawyer, must prove he is a valid contractor. He said in an interview this week that he hopes to find a financial partner.

"I have a tremendous investment opportunity," Scott said, almost self-mockingly, admitting his case appears doomed without an investor. MdY

Off the wagon

What's it take to get a drink in this town? Not much.

How 'bout a drink license? Try six months.

That's how long owner John Ra at Tomo Sushi (975 N. Academy Blvd.) has waited for his permit to serve alcohol. And now that his business has weathered the dry spell, he's throwing a "Sushi, Sake and ... SPAM" party from 2-4 p.m. on July 21 to celebrate.

Ra, who plans to serve unique sakes from Japan as part of his liquor menu, says regulars (military folks in particular) occasionally bring in cans of SPAM for him to cook with. He also grew up on Korean army rations SPAM among them and cites that as proof that he knows how to sling the ... stuff.

As for the arduous waiting period that would have closed the doors for many upstart restaurants, Ra believes new Homeland Security measures are to blame. Good thing they've kept us safe all this time from yet another dangerous watering hole. Call 597-2422 for more. MS

Merrifield honored for backing art in schools

State Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, has been honored by the Colorado Art Association for his support of art education in the states public schools.

Merrifield, a former longtime teacher and choir director at Coronado High School, was presented the associations 2007 Distinguished Service Outside the Profession Award. Among his legislative actions this year, even while being treated for cancer, was leading the opposition to bills that could have been detrimental to public-school music and the arts.

Although he temporarily stepped down as chair of the House Education Committee during the Legislatures session, Merrifield will reassume that role. RR

Compiled by Ralph Routon, Matthew Schniper and Michael de Yoanna.

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