- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

AFGHANISTAN

Democrats warn against troop increase

Key Senate Democrats signaled Friday that any push by President Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan is likely to hit resistance on Capitol Hill, deepening a growing political divide on the war even within his own party.

Speaking just days after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested a willingness to consider increasing troops in Afghanistan, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday that the U.S. must focus more on building up Afghan security forces. His cautionary stance was echoed by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who is also on the committee and spent two days in Afghanistan this week with Mr. Levin.

The senators will return to Washington next week, just as Mr. Obama receives a new military review of Afghanistan strategy that officials expect will be followed up by a request for at least a modest increase in U.S. troops battling insurgents in the eight-year-old war.

Mr. Obama came into office pledging to shift U.S. focus from the war in Iraq to the Afghan fight, which had long been a secondary priority. But as war-weary Americans have watched another 21,000 troops go to Afghanistan, and U.S. casualties rise, support for the war has waned.

SUPREME COURT

Same-day audio for Clinton movie case

The Supreme Court will release audio tapes soon after Wednesday’s argument in a case about limits on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions.

The court said on Friday it has agreed to a request by the C-SPAN cable network for the quick release of audio in the case that involves a movie, made by a conservative group, that was harshly critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential ambitions. The court most recently made same-day audio available after arguments over a key provision of the federal Voting Rights Act in April.

C-SPAN said it expects to air the audio recording soon after the argument concludes, probably around 11:30 a.m.

The immediate, same-day release of audio tapes following arguments in major cases started in the 2000 presidential election, when the justices decided appeals of the Florida recount controversy in favor of George W. Bush.

The court records arguments and ordinarily releases them at the end of each term. With television cameras barred from the court and reporters prohibited from using tape recorders in the courtroom, the availability of audio provides the public a chance to hear the justices at work.

FDA

Cancer vaccine inches toward approval

Federal regulators said Friday that a GlaxoSmithKline vaccine prevents the leading cause of cervical cancer in women, bringing the company one step closer to competing with Merck’s blockbuster Gardasil, which has dominated the U.S. market for three years.

In documents posted online, the Food and Drug Administration said Cervarix - Glaxo’s vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV - successfully blocked the two leading strains of the virus nearly 93 percent of the time.

But even as the British drugmaker moves closer to competing in the U.S., Merck is poised to begin marketing Gardasil to boys and men. In a separate review, the FDA said that vaccine prevented genital warts in males 90 percent of the time.

The agency will ask a panel of vaccine experts next week to weigh in on both vaccines.

ALASKA

Palin resignation cost at least $40,000

Early estimates put the cost of Sarah Palin’s midterm resignation as Alaska governor at a minimum of $40,000, not including a special legislative session partly linked to her departure.

The preliminary figures obtained by the Associated Press through a public records request show it cost the state almost $14,100 for the July 26 swearing-in ceremony of new Gov. Sean Parnell.

The price tag for moving Mrs. Palin - the former Republican vice presidential candidate - and her family from the governor’s mansion in Juneau amounted to more than $3,328.

Not included in the tally is the estimated cost of more than $100,000 for a one-day special session held last month, during which state lawmakers approved Mrs. Palin’s surprise pick, Craig Campbell, to replace Mr. Parnell as lieutenant governor.

IMMIGRATION

Ex-agent accused of smuggling drugs

Authorities say a former high-ranking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was stationed in Mexico before retiring in 2007 has been arrested on suspicion of cocaine smuggling.

Richard Padilla Cramer was arrested Friday at his home in Green Valley, Ariz., 25 miles south of Tucson. He later appeared before a federal judge, who denied bail.

The charges stem from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigation dating back to 2006.

In a criminal complaint made public Friday, authorities say Mr. Cramer helped a large-scale drug trafficking organization move cocaine into the United States.

The complaint says that Mr. Cramer provided members of a drug trafficking organization with information from confidential law enforcement databases and invested $400,000 in a 300-pound shipment of cocaine that was seized in June 2007.

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, where federal prosecutors say the majority of the acts occurred. Authorities say Mr. Cramer will be extradited to Florida.

NUCLEAR WASTE

Utah in talks for nuke waste deal

SALT LAKE CITY | EnergySolutions Inc. said Friday it is engaged in settlement talks with Utah aimed at getting the state to drop its objections to importing foreign nuclear waste for disposal in the state.

The company wants to import as much as 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy through the ports of Charleston, S.C., or New Orleans. After processing in Tennessee, about 1,600 tons would be disposed of in the desert about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.

If approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it would be the largest amount of radioactive waste ever imported into the country.

“We believe that it is in the best interest of the state, the citizens of Utah and EnergySolutions to settle this matter and we hope the state considers this proposal,” EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.

“Since this issue is still before the court and in settlement discussions it would be inappropriate to comment further,” he wrote.

The talks began after a federal judge ruled against an effort by western states to block the import of the nuclear waste. Utah is facing a $700 million budget shortfall and newly installed Gov. Gary Herbert is trying not to raise any taxes.

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