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While Obama Deliberates,
Military Brass Grow Restive

After nearly a month of deliberations by President Barack Obama over whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, frustrations and anxiety are on the rise within the military.

A number of active duty and retired senior officers say there is concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room.

Obama’s civilian advisers on national security say the president is appropriately reviewing his policy options from all sides. They said it would be reckless to rush a decision on whether to send as many as 40,000 more Americans to war, particularly when the unresolved Afghan election had left the United States without a clear partner in Kabul.

Although the tensions do not break entirely on classic civilian-military lines — some senior military officers have doubts about sending more troops to Afghanistan and some of Obama’s top civilian advisers do not — the strains reflect the military’s awareness that life has changed under the new White House.

After years of rising military budgets under the Bush administration, the new administration has tried to rein in Pentagon spending, and has signaled other changes as well, including reopening debate on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing military service by gay men and lesbians.

Where Land Slides, Scientists Try To Discern Why

Dennis Staley and Jason Kean, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, were in Mission Canyon just above Santa Barbara, setting up a remote monitoring station to study how and when the runoff from coming rains might pick up soil and rock and become a destructive torrent of mud.

The two scientists were hauling gauges and sensors, solar-powered communications equipment, a surveying device with a tripod, and assorted mounting poles, clamps, cables, drills and batteries, as well as cement and other supplies.

Among the instruments Kean and Staley set up at the site was a simple rain gauge. “Rainfall is the key parameter for all this, so we’re always measuring rain,” he said. They also installed a device to measure the moisture content of the soil — the more saturated, the more runoff there will be.

The main piece of equipment, installed on a boom over a channel at the base of the canyon, is an acoustic sensor to gauge the runoff during a rainstorm. It measures the height of the flow, and when the data is coupled with measurements of the channel profile made using the surveying equipment, a rough volume can be calculated. Pressure data, from a transducer installed in a groove cut into the base of the channel, can determine whether the runoff is only water — not necessarily a good thing, since flash floods can be destructive, too — or whether the conditions were such that soil and rock became mixed in.

Controversy Builds in Texas Over An Execution

Questions about whether Gov. Rick Perry allowed the execution of a man some arson experts say may have been innocent, and then hindered an investigation into the evidence, continue to reverberate across Texas, where capital punishment has rarely stirred controversy.

Former Gov. Mark White, who while in office was a strong supporter of the death penalty, said Sunday that he believed that the state should reconsider capital punishment because there was too great a risk of executing innocent people.

“There is a very strong case to be made for a review of our death penalty statutes and even look at the possibility of having life without parole so we don’t look up one day and determine that we as the state of Texas have executed someone who is in fact innocent,” White, a Democrat who was governor from 1983 to 1987, told two Texas newspapers.

White’s remarks came with Perry, a Republican and staunch backer of the death penalty, under criticism for not granting a reprieve to Cameron T. Willingham in 2004, when an arson expert working with Willingham’s defense concluded that the evidence that had put him on death row was flawed.

Before Arms Pact Expires, U.S. Seeks to Keep Eyes on Russia

With a key arms control treaty set to expire soon, the Obama administration is searching for ways to keep inspectors in Russia or else it risks losing American eyes on the world’s second most formidable nuclear weapons arsenal for the first time in decades.

The administration has been negotiating a replacement for the pact, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which goes out of force on Dec. 5. But even if the talks produce a new agreement by then, the Senate and the Russian Parliament will not have time to ratify it before the old one expires — and some Republicans on Capitol Hill are warning that approval is far from certain.

In the absence of a treaty or an ad hoc but legally binding “bridge” authority, American inspectors would be forced to leave Russia when the treaty expired, and Russian inspectors would have to leave the United States. State Department lawyers are examining several options in hopes of preserving the ability to monitor and collect information about Russia’s nuclear weapons, administration officials confirm.

Under START, the United States is allowed a maximum of 30 inspectors in Russia to monitor compliance with the treaty. Russia likewise has interests in finding a bridge mechanism to continue its similar rights to inspections in the United States.