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News in Brief: US Troops in Afghanistan Feeling Five-Year High in Stress, and More …

US Troops in Afghanistan Feeling Five-Year High in Stress

US Troops in Afghanistan Feeling Five-Year High in Stress

A military study found that US troops fighting in Afghanistan are experiencing higher stress and lower morale than they have in the past five years on the ground, USA Today reports. A third of veterans with three or more deployments reported feeling psychological problems such as stress, depression or anxiety. The research also found that medium to very high individual morale decreased from 65.7 percent to 46.5 percent since 2005. “We're an army that's in uncharted territory here,” said Army vice chief of staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli. “We have never fought for this long with an all-volunteer force that's one percent of the population.” The report also found that while mental health staffing has doubled in Afghanistan since 2009, many troops are fighting too far from the facilities to seek help.

Democrats to Introduce Plan to End Tax Breaks for Big Oil

Senate Democrats say they will introduce a plan this week that would cut tax breaks for big oil companies while using the savings to balance the deficit, according to The New York Times. “Big oil certainly doesn't need the collective money of taxpayers in this country,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), one of the plan's co-authors. “This is as good a time as any in terms of pain at the pump and in revenues needed for deficit reduction.” Democrats hope that channeling an estimated $21 billion in savings into deficit reduction plans, rather than clean energy projects, will attract the support of Republicans in Congress. The tax break cuts would only apply to the five largest and most profitable oil companies: BP, Exxon Mobile, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips. But many GOP leaders have already criticized the proposal, calling it an effort to increase backdoor taxes that will lead to higher gas prices. “Instead of returning again and again to tax hikes that increase consumers' costs, the administration and its Democrat allies in Congress should open their eyes to the vast energy resources we have right here at home,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

Baby Deaths and Birth Defects Call Attention to Toxic Exposure in Central California City

Residents in Kettleman City, California, have seen a sudden onset of severe infant health problems over the past two years and ten months, with at least 11 babies in that time period being born with serious defects and several dying shortly thereafter, Mother Jones reports. A possible cause is that the remote, poverty-stricken town is exposed to an array of toxic chemicals, as residents can smell the chemicals used in the farms that border Kettleman City on three sides. The two town wells naturally produce arsenic and benzene. But worst of all, the residents say, is Waste Management Inc., the country's largest waste-disposal company, which uses the Kettleman Hills landfill for a majority of its discards – 356,000 tons last year – making it the biggest toxic dump site west of Alabama. Kettleman City is undergoing a state-run epidemiological investigation on the cause of the birth defects – but any result that's less than 100 percent conclusive could help Waste Management's contention that the waste site is not causing any harm.

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