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Insurance pitches result in discipline

Eleven Army officers at Fort Benning, Ga., have been disciplined for allowing life insurance agents to give improper classroom sales pitches to hundreds of trainees at the base last spring in violation of military rules, according to the base legal office.

The base commander, Brig. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, also ordered training "to make sure that each soldier is personally aware of the obligation to prevent and report unauthorized solicitation" by vendors on base, said Lt. Col. Ralph Tremaglio, the base's deputy staff judge advocate.

Although it violates Pentagon rules to market insurance to service members in mandatory classroom sessions, military records and legal experts agree that such improper briefings have been a fixture of military life for decades. But disciplinary action against the officers who allowed them to occur has been rare; more typically, the offending agents and the companies they represent are barred from the base for a period of time.

Under military privacy rules, neither the names of the officers cited in the Fort Benning investigation nor the exact nature of the administrative actions against them can be disclosed. The sanctions, which were imposed last fall, were not confirmed publicly until last week, after a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times.

People briefed on the investigation said the officers all received letters of reprimand, which one senior retired Army officer called potentially "career-ending," since it made future promotion unlikely and officers who are not promoted tend to leave the service.

The investigation also resulted in three insurance companies being temporarily barred from Fort Benning, pending hearings at which they can challenge the complaints against them, Tremaglio said.

The three companies are Madison National Life Insurance of Madison, Wis.; American Fidelity Life Insurance of Pensacola; and American Amicable Life Insurance of Waco, Texas.

Bush details plan to improve high schools

FALLS CHURCH, Va. _ President Bush began a second-term drive Wednesday that he said would improve the American high school, urging the same testing and consequences he used to shake up earlier grades.

In his first major education speech since winning re-election, Bush touted his plan to demand state reading and math tests in grades three through 11. That would broaden his No Child Left Behind law, which requires one year of state testing during grades 10 to 12.

"Testing in high schools will make sure that our children are employable for the jobs of the 21st century," Bush said. "Testing will make sure that the diploma is not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed."

Improving high schools has suddenly become a talked-about topic, with calls of alarm from the president, the nation's governors, employers and college professors. The reason: Many high school students aren't ready for college or work after they graduate, if they get that far.

Demonstrators get spot at inauguration parade

WASHINGTON _ The National Park Service will give thousands of antiwar demonstrators a prime spot along President Bush's inaugural parade route Thursday that will allow them to protest during the procession.

The antiwar group A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition is planning to erect its own bleachers in an open plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the Capitol building, said Brian Becker, national coordinator for the group.

The presidential motorcade carrying Bush will pass directly in front of the protesters' bleachers.

Three die in pileups in Michigan, Indiana

ALAIEDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. _ At least two people died and 25 others were injured when about 100 vehicles crashed Wednesday in thick fog on a Michigan highway, police said.

One person also was killed in Indiana when 20 vehicles piled up amid heavy fog on a highway east of South Bend. Numerous others were injured.

The National Weather Service had issued a dense fog advisory for the area, saying visibility could be less than a quarter of a mile.

In Michigan, about 50 vehicles wrecked in one pileup on Interstate 96 outside Lansing on Wednesday afternoon, killing one person, police said. Another person was killed when five vehicles crashed into each other 30 minutes later several miles to the east.

The chain-reaction collision in Indiana on Wednesday morning left wrecked vehicles scattered in both eastbound and westbound lanes over a three-mile stretch of the road, state police Sgt. Rodger Popplewell said. Police closed a 43-mile stretch of the highway in both directions for several hours.

The pileup involved several semi-trailer trucks, some of which had their engines torn off, Popplewell said. Two ambulances were struck by semitrailers as paramedics treated injured drivers, Popplewell said. No emergency workers were hurt.

Ridge recommends more fingerprinting of citizens

WASHINGTON _ The United States should put the fingerprints of its citizens on passports to enhance global security, outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Wednesday.

Ridge said passports could ideally include biometric finger scans _ for all 10 fingers _ to help customs officials quickly and accurately identify U.S. travelers. He offered no details on how the plan might deal with privacy concerns or guard against international identity theft.

The department has no immediate proposal to add fingerprints to U.S. passports, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

Death penalty possible

for Kansas woman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ A federal grand jury issued an indictment Wednesday that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a Kansas woman accused of killing an expectant mother and stealing her unborn child.

Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death sentence for Lisa Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kan., who was indicted on a single count of kidnapping resulting in death.

Montgomery is charged with strangling eight-months-pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, in her Skidmore, Mo., home Dec. 16 and cutting the baby from her womb.

LAUGHING, BARELY: Democrat Christine Gregoire, winner of one of the closest governor's races in U.S. history, celebrates with her husband, Mike, during her inauguration Wednesday in Olympia, Wash. Republicans in the House Chamber did not join in the applause at her swearing-in. Backers of her GOP rival, Dino Rossi, continue to push for a new election, saying widespread irregularities tainted the 129-vote victory.

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