- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

PENTAGON

Decision coming on Afghanistan units

Top Pentagon leaders are expected soon to recommend to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates which additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan over the next month or so, according to a senior military official.

The units are likely to be small and could include engineers, ordnance disposal troops and other support forces needed to shore up fighting needs and the training of Afghan forces. Officials have not ruled out identifying a larger, brigade-sized unit before the end of the year that could either be shifted to Afghanistan from a planned deployment to Iraq or moved from some other location.

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have been asking for three combat brigades, or roughly 10,000 more troops, to help quash rising violence there.

The senior official, who requested anonymity because the proposals are not public, said the recommendations have not yet been approved.

HOMELAND SECURITY

43 cities face cut in anti-terror funds

Dozens of cities will receive less federal money this year than last for anti-terror programs, the Associated Press has learned.

The grant list to be released Friday by the Homeland Security Department shows that 43 cities are in line for fewer dollars in the current budget year than they got a year earlier.

According to an early copy of the list obtained Wednesday by the AP, more money is heading to three large cities - Houston, New York and San Francisco - from the $782 million in the Urban Area Security Initiative to help pay for equipment and training. Houston is set to receive $37.5 million, a 50 percent increase from 2007. Also, 14 cities that were not on the list last year have been added.

Homeland Security officials have said legislation passed by Congress required them to add those cities; lawmakers contend the law only required them to consider a longer list.

After the department’s review of grant applications, the news is not as good for more than three dozen cities. In many cases, cities will lose several hundred thousand dollars from grants in the millions. Baltimore, for example, will get $11.5 million, $350,000 less than in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, 2007.

POLITICS

McCain praises Bush on oil prices

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. | Republican Sen. John McCain on Wednesday credited the recent $10-a-barrel drop in the price of oil to President Bush’s lifting of a presidential ban on offshore drilling, an action he has been advocating in his presidential campaign.

The cost of oil and gasoline is “on everybody’s mind in this room,” Mr. McCain told a town-hall meeting during which he criticized Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama for opposing drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Mr. Bush recently lifted the executive order banning offshore drilling that his father put in place in 1990. He also asked Congress to lift its own moratorium on oil exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf which includes coastal waters as close as three miles from shore.

“The price of oil dropped $10 a barrel,” said Mr. McCain, who argued that the psychology of lifting the ban has affected world markets.

The White House didn’t go that far. Presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said the price drop also could reflect diminished demand.

POLITICS

Republicans to air ad in three Berlins

Sen. John McCain can be a Berliner, too.

The Republican National Committee decided to have a little fun with Sen. Barack Obama’s widely anticipated speech Thursday at Berlin’s Victory Column. It is airing anti-Obama ads in the German capital’s namesake towns in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

Not a lot of audience reach in these tiny radio markets, but certainly a poke in the ribs to Mr. Obama.

The 60-second ad accuses Mr. Obama of voting against allocating money for military troops.

The reference is to Mr. Obama’s vote on May 24, 2007, against a $120 billion appropriation, most of it for troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama had voted for a similar bill weeks earlier that required the administration to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1, 2007. That bill passed, but President Bush vetoed it. The legislation that replaced it contained no withdrawal language and it passed with Mr. Obama among the dissenters.

HOUSE

Mukasey declines special Arar probe

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Wednesday he had rejected a request that an outside special counsel investigate the case of a Canadian taken off a plane in New York and sent to Syria, where he says he was tortured.

Mr. Mukasey said under questioning at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that he did not believe that a special counsel was warranted.

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born software engineer, was taken into custody by U.S. officials during a 2002 stopover in New York while on his way home to Canada and then deported to Syria because of suspected links to al Qaeda.

Mr. Arar says he was imprisoned in Syria for a year and tortured. His case has become a sore spot in U.S.-Canada relations.

CONGRESS

Democrats decry workplace ‘rule’

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday accused the Bush administration of acting in secret to make it harder to limit worker exposure to carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals in the workplace.

The Labor Department is trying “to slip through a rule that may have a profound negative impact on the health and safety of American workers,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California, chairmen of their chamber’s labor committees, wrote in a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Labor Department officials disputed the accusation, but declined to disclose details of the proposed rule on workplace risk exposure now being reviewed by the White House Budget Office.

Among other changes, according to a House Education and Labor Committee aide, the proposed rule would create additional public notice and review by Labor Department political appointees before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does the risk assessments that lead to limits on exposure to chemicals or toxins in the workplace.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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