- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2010

PENNSYLVANIA

Hagel breaks ranks to endorse Democrat

HARRISBURG, Pa. | Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who has broken ranks in the past with his party, gave Democrat Joe Sestak his second major endorsement from moderates in a week in his bid for a fiercely contested Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Hagel said Monday that Mr. Sestak has demonstrated during his two terms in Congress a willingness to put the interests of the nation and his constituents ahead of his party.

“I think he’s exactly what our country needs more of. I think he’s what the Senate needs more of - courageous, independent thinking,” Mr. Hagel said.

Mr. Hagel, like Mr. Sestak a military veteran, refused to comment on the candidacy of Mr. Sestak’s opponent, Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey. Mr. Toomey has a small lead in the race for the seat long held by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat whom Mr. Sestak beat in the primary.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, also has endorsed Mr. Sestak.

IRAQ

Biden presses for Baghdad deal

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Monday he is pressing Iraq’s leaders to settle their differences and form a government almost six months after the country’s election and a week before the scheduled end of the U.S. combat mission.

The Pentagon plans to cut troop numbers in Iraq to 50,000 by Sept. 1 - from 176,000 at the peak of the deployment after the 2003 invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein - and end its official combat mission there.

“More than 140,000 troops were in Iraq on Inauguration Day,” Mr. Biden said in a speech to U.S. military veterans in Indiana. “By the end of August, 50,000 will remain.”

Iraqi insurgents have been seeking to exploit a political vacuum created by the failure of the country’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions to agree on a coalition government almost after an inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election seen as a crucial test for Iraq’s young democracy.

SECURITY

Blackwater successor agrees to export fines

The State Department said Monday that the private security contractor previously known as Blackwater Worldwide had agreed to a $42 million penalty to settle charges it violated hundreds of U.S. export rules between 2003 and 2009.

The company, which has protected U.S. officials in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now known as Xe Services, had been accused of unauthorized weapons exports and “defense services” deals for customers in a number of countries.

The State Department said that with the deal, first reported by the New York Times, the company will no longer be deemed ineligible for future contracts with the U.S. government.

“The department is satisfied that the company has taken the necessary steps to address the causes” of its export-control violations, the State Department said in a statement, adding that $12 million of the penalty would be suspended to help make up for some of the company’s compliance measures.

The privately held company, based in North Carolina, is up for sale.

NEW YORK

Schumer rivals agree to debate

ALBANY, N.Y. | New York Republicans vying to take on Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer were set to face off in a televised debate Monday night.

Gary Berntsen, a former CIA officer, will take on communications consultant Jay Townsend in the debate, being broadcast on YNN television stations across New York state. The debate is being held at Union College in Schenectady.

Last month, a Siena College poll showed Mr. Schumer, the two-term incumbent, with big leads over both of his would-be GOP challengers.

But Mr. Townsend and Mr. Berntsen showed enough support among Republican leaders in the state GOP convention in June to force the primary.

In July, Mr. Schumer reported $23.8 million in campaign cash, far more than the two Republican candidates combined.

FINANCE

Short-term rates stay at low levels

Interest rates on short-term Treasury bills held steady in Monday’s auction, with rates on three-month bills remaining at the highest level since early July and six-month bills continuing at the lowest level since mid-June.

The Treasury Department auctioned $30 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 0.155 percent, unchanged from last week. Another $30 billion was auctioned in six-month bills at a discount rate of 0.185 percent, also unchanged.

The three-month rate was the highest since three-month bills averaged 0.165 percent on July 6. The six-month rate was the lowest since those bills averaged 0.170 percent on June 21.

The discount rates reflect that the bills sell for less than face value. For a $10,000 bill, the three-month price was $9,996.04 while a six-month bill sold for $9,990.65. That would equal an annualized rate of 0.157 percent for the three-month bills and 0.188 percent for the six-month bills.

DIPLOMACY

Carter to try to free N. Korea prisoner

Former President Jimmy Carter plans to visit North Korea “within days” on a mission to secure the release of an American man serving eight years of hard labor there, Foreign Policy magazine said Monday.

“Jimmy Carter is set to travel to North Korea very soon, according to two sources familiar with the former president’s plans, in what they characterized as a private mission to free a US citizen imprisoned there,” the magazine said.

The United States has repeatedly voiced concern about the health of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was jailed for illegally crossing the country’s border with China. North Korea state media said in July that Mr. Gomes tried to commit suicide and was being treated in a hospital.

From wire dispatches and staff reports