Bush faces death row decision

It is growing increasingly likely that a decision not faced by any president in nearly 50 years will fall to the next occupant of the Oval Office.

Since 2006, President Bush has had on his desk a recommendation from the Army that two soldiers on the U.S. military’s death row be executed for the crimes they committed while in the service.

John F. Kennedy was the last president to face such a decision when he approved the 1961 hanging of Army Pvt. John Bennett, 28, who was convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl in Austria.

Two years ago, the Army said Spc. Ronald Gray and Pfc. Dwight Loving deserved to die for the multiple murders they were convicted of committing. Gray killed three women in Fayetteville, N.C. in 1986. Loving murdered two cab drivers in Killeen, Texas in 1988. Both men have been on death row at Fort Leavenworth for about 20 years. Four other condemned soldiers are held there, as well.

A Leavenworth spokesman said he was not aware of any pending orders in the two cases. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

A largely unremarked upshot of our cutting back on driving in the face of soaring gasoline prices, and exhortations to conserve resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions is the loss of what could be billions of dollars in the Highway Trust Fund. That’s the pool of money — fed by federal gasoline tax revenues siphoned from each gallon of gas sold — that states and cities depend on for funds to build new roads or fix old ones.

Given the drop in driving — federal stats show Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles in March 2008 than in March 2007 — that means a prime source of road maintenance and construction money has begun to dry up.

The Federal Highway Administration says March’s drop is the sharpest yearly decline for any month in the agency’s 115-year history. And it likely won’t be the last.

At least 20 Republican and 10 Democratic veterans of the Iraq war are running for Congress this year — more than double the number that ran in 2006, according to Iraq veterans groups.

In that election, almost all the candidates were Democrats and war critics. Only one — Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa. — won. Since then, the GOP has stepped up efforts to recruit contenders, most of whom describe themselves as “pro-victory” in Iraq. Murphy’s GOP opponent this year is Tom Manion, a former Marine whose son was killed while serving in Iraq.

Hear me roar: European Space Agency officials report the orbiting Mars Express command communication vehicle was actually able to “hear” the new NASA Phoenix spacecraft descend toward the Red Planet’s polar fringes this past weekend. Recordings of Phoenix radio signals show a clear Doppler effect as the probe passed the orbiter on the way to a parachute landing.

After seven years in cyber-limbo, the entire Interior Department now is back on the Internet. A federal judge this month lifted a ban another judge had slapped on the department in December 2001 as a result of a class-action suit that accused Interior of playing fast and loose with millions of dollars of American Indian trust funds.

Since then the 10,000 employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and four other offices in the department were forced to do their work the old fashioned way — with phone conversations, faxes and memos on paper to colleagues and clients across the country.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson concluded May 14 that the federal courts had no jurisdiction to keep the offices offline, and allowed the department to enter the 21st century.

As the housing market collapses across the country, President Bush Thursday designated June as National Homeownership Month, noting that for many of us, “owning a home represents freedom, independence and the American Dream.”

(Scripps Howard News Service correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column)