The B-52's New Mission
The venerable, ageless B-52 Stratofortress has another mission to add to its long resume: homeland security. National Defense magazine reports that B-52s are being deployed off America’s coasts to locate and photograph suspicious ships approaching U.S. waters. Find out more at http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/ .

Friend or Foe?
Taliban forces are avoiding some attacks by the U.S.-led NATO coalition thanks to special infrared patches obtained during raids on NATO supply trucks and even through online purchases, The Washington Times reports. The patches are intended to help U.S. forces discern friendly forces from hostile.

Source of Our Freedom
In what Marine Corps News calls “the largest naturalization ceremony held by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to date in Iraq,” 239 troops from 59 countries took the oath of citizenship in July. Vice President Joseph Biden, on hand for the ceremony, called the new citizen-soldiers “the source of our freedom.”

Since a new naturalization process for immigrant service-members was put in place by President George W. Bush in 2001, some 50,000 troops have been naturalized.

Shifting Fronts
                        Number of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq
June 2007         207
June 2008         25
June 2009         0

                        IED attacks in Iraq
June 2007         2,588
June 2008         602
June 2009         260

                        IED attacks in Afghanistan
June 2007         234
June 2008         308
June 2009         736

                        Number of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan
2007                 1,090
2008                 1,170
2009                 566 (through June)

—Sources: Wired Magazine/U.S. Air Force

By the Numbers
89         percent of Americans who say they are “very proud” or “moderately proud” of the United States
82         percent of Americans who say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the U.S military
26         percent of Americans who say the United Nations is doing a good job

Find out more at http://www.american.com/.

World Travelers
According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, spending by Congress on taxpayer-funded overseas travel “is up almost tenfold since 1995.” The top ten destinations for congressional delegations are:

  1. Kuwait
  2. Germany
  3. Austria
  4. France
  5. Poland
  6. Britain
  7. People’s Republic of China
  8. Israel
  9. Switzerland
  10. Russia

To Wait or Not To Wait
The New York Times offers some helpful advice to those wondering when to claim their Social Security retirement benefits.

Although full retirement begins at age 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954 (and rises incrementally for those born later than 1954), a beneficiary can take early retirement benefits at 62. However, “the longer you wait, the larger your monthly check. And many people come out ahead if they wait at least until their full retirement age.”

For example, if a person were set to receive $1,000 per month at full retirement, he or she would receive only $750 per month if the retiree opted for the early-retirement age of 62.

Even so, waiting until 66 or later is not advisable for every retiree. Factors such as accumulated savings, health status, work status, marital status, and spouse’s income can have a significant bearing on when to claim retirement benefits, according to the paper’s analysis.

To help Americans make the best decision, the Social Security Administration has created a special website dedicated to estimating retirement benefits. To find out more, visit http://ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm .

A “Miner” Problem
Only two states—Wyoming and Nevada—are in the top 10 in the Fraser Institute’s survey of mining companies, which ranks 71 jurisdictions worldwide according their attractiveness to mining-related investment. The top-ranked jurisdiction is the Canadian province of Quebec:

1. Quebec (Canada)
2. Wyoming (US)
3. Nevada (US)
4. Alberta (Canada) 
5. Newfoundland & Labrador (Canada)
6. New Brunswick (Canada)
7. Manitoba (Canada)
8. Chile
9. Saskatchewan (Canada)
10. Ontario (Canada)

Joining Wyoming and Nevada in the top 20 are Utah (ranked 11th) and Alaska (ranked 17th). However, the report concludes that “the overall trend is down for most U.S. jurisdictions.” Only four states improved from the previous survey, one remained unchanged and nine fell on the survey. “Among U.S. states the most dramatic fall was New Mexico’s, a state ranked 26th on last year’s survey but 58th on this year’s.”

Overall, the survey reveals that the mining sector is bracing for decreased investment, curtailed exploration and an increase in firm failures during the recession. That could mean trouble for the global economy because it depends on the metals and materials extracted by the global mining industry.

“The negative impact from the lack of exploration on commodity supplies will begin to hit as the recovery matures,” the report warns. “These problems could weaken the recovery and spark inflation fears.”

Find out more at http://www.fraseramerica.org/.

Still Chuggin' Along
Although America faces very real economic challenges, they are not insurmountable—and they do not alter a range of factors that make America’s economy the engine of globalization and innovation.

For instance, a recent RAND study authored by Titus Galama and James Hosek concludes that “Despite perceptions that the nation is losing its competitive edge, the United States remains the dominant leader in science and technology worldwide.”

Galama and Hosek report that 75 percent of the world’s top 40 universities are in the U.S., the U.S. accounts for 40 percent of global spending on scientific research and development, and the U.S. employs 70 percent of Nobel Prize winners.

To read the full study, visit http://www.rand.org/.

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.