By Alan W. Dowd

Never Forget
The USS New York, forged with 7.5 tons of steel from the WorldTradeCenter’s ruins, has been christened in Avondale, Louisiana. Emblazoned with the words “Never Forget,” the amphibious assault ship will be capable of delivering 700 Marines, along with landing craft and helicopters, onto the shores of America’s enemies. In addition, it will carry a crew of 360 sailors.

Hitching a Ride
If something doesn’t change—and fast—the US is just two years from having no way to deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station. That’s due to the scheduled retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, which NASA is grounding in 2010 due to age and safety concerns, as The Washington Post reports.

As a consequence, the US will have to rely on Russia or Europe to carry Americans into space from 2010 to 2015, when a Shuttle replacement should be ready. For most of that period, as NASA administrator Michael Griffin told the Post, “We will be largely dependent on the Russians, and that is a terrible place for the United States.”

Current plans call for NASA to purchase seats and space on Russian rockets for American astronauts and equipment. Griffin called it “unseemly for the United States—the world’s leading power and leading space power—to be reduced to purchasing services like this.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) added that “this will the first time since Sputnik” that America will not have “significant space superiority.”

Alternatives include using European Union rockets or private US-based firms like SpaceX, which claims it can deploy a manned spacecraft by 2011—but only if it receives additional support from NASA.

Griffin told the Post that NASA could have its Space Shuttle replacement—the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (or CEV)—ready by 2013 if the agency received an extra $2 billion to speed up the project.

Farewells for Fidel
President George W. Bush                     “I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of democratic transition…And eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections—and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy.”

Sen. Hillary Clinton                                “The new leadership in Cuba will face a stark choice—continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth, or take a historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations.”

Sen. John McCain                                 “Freedom for the Cuban people is not yet at hand, and the Castro brothers clearly intend to maintain their grip on power. That is why we must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections.”

Sen. Barack Obama                              “Fidel Castro's stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba. Cuba's future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime. The prompt release of all prisoners of conscience wrongly jailed for standing up for the basic freedoms too long denied to the Cuban people would mark an important break with the past.”

Cuban dissident Jose Gabriel Ramon       “What has happened in Cuba is a change of power in name only. Castro still holds real power.”

Former Polish president Lech Walesa     “It's too much to call this a step, it's only thinking about taking a step…At this rate he's only going to really step down in 200 years.”

Pentagon Eyes 2009 Budget
DoD is requesting $515.4 billion for the coming year, a 7.5 percent increase over 2008. Among the highlights:

  • $20.5 billion to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, including new resources to recruit, train and equip 65,000 additional active duty soldiers and 27,000 additional Marines over five years;
  • 3.4 percent pay increase for military members
  • $389 million for the new Africa Command
  • $11.8 billion for equipment maintenance and to increase repair and refurbishment of equipment
  • $183.8 billion for modernization, including $16.9 billion for the CVN-21 Carrier, a next-generation surface combatant ship, two littoral combat ships, two joint high speed vessels, two auxiliary cargo ships, and one Virginia Class submarine; $45.6 billion for new F/A-18 Hornet fighters, E/A-18G Growler fighters, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, V-22 vertical lift aircraft, additional unmanned aerial vehicles, and the recapitalization of missiles and other weapons; and $10.7 billion to strengthen space-based capabilities
  • $10.5 billion for missile defense
  • $3.2 billion for housing

In addition to the $514.4 billion budget request, the Pentagon is asking for a $70-billion “emergency allowance for the Global War on Terror.”

Source: Department of Defense

File under H for Hypocrisy
A UN summit on the environment and climate change in Bali, Indonesia, generated the equivalent of what 20,000 automobiles produce in a year, according to a Bloomberg News report.

Each summit delegate accounted for an average of about four metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the compound blamed by many for causing global warming. Ironically, the summit’s main goal was to set a new deadline for limiting global CO2 emissions.

To offset the release of so much atmospheric poison, Indonesia promises to plant 79 million trees.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion Magazine, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.