Bush hears plan for Iraq troop cuts
The Defense Department gave President Bush its views this week on the pace and size of future U.S. troop cuts in Iraq after a substantial drop in violence there, officials said Thursday.
Officials declined to detail the recommendations, which come after a 45-day assessment conducted by U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
“The president is now considering his options, and I would expect that as he works through that, as soon as he’s finished with it, we’ll be able to provide you more information,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed Mr. Bush on the recommendations in a videoconference Wednesday afternoon, according to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
He said Mr. Gates, Adm. Mullen, Gen. Petraeus and Army Lt. Gen Martin Dempsey, the acting head of the U.S. military headquarters for operations in the Middle East, were all “fundamentally in agreement” on how to proceed in Iraq.
Spy agencies brief Obama
ORLANDO, Fla. | Sen. Barack Obama got his first intelligence briefing as the Democratic presidential nominee this week and spy agencies are ready to do the same for Republican rival Sen. John McCain, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.
Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, said U.S. spy agencies had also begun reanalyzing and updating reports from around the world in preparation for the next president, who will take office in January.
“We’ve begun to engage with the campaigns,” Mr. Fingar told an intelligence conference in Florida. “Sen. Obama received a briefing on Tuesday.” Intelligence officials would not discuss what topics were covered in Mr. Obama’s briefing.
The briefing was given in Chicago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell - who normally briefs President Bush six days a week - and other senior officials, an official familiar with the process said.
Red Cross borrows to pay for Gustav
The American Red Cross is borrowing money to cover its costs from Hurricane Gustav and will probably go deeper into debt as it prepares for three additional storms threatening the United States.
Red Cross Vice President Joseph Becker said the agency could spend more than $70 million feeding and sheltering victims of Gustav. It has raised only $5 million so far, and donations are trickling in slowly as the public seems to think there wasn’t much damage, Mr. Becker said at a press conference Thursday on storm preparations.
Mr. Becker pleaded for donations, saying Gustav wasn’t as big as it could have been but still inflicted major damage along the Gulf Coast.
The agency also borrowed money earlier this year as it spent some $30 million responding to the massive floods in the Midwest.
Soldier suicides could set a record
Soldier suicides this year could surpass the record rate of last year, Army officials said Thursday, urging military leaders at all levels to redouble prevention efforts for a force strained by two wars.
So far this year, there are 62 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty, officials said. Another 31 deaths appear to be suicides but are still being investigated.
If all are confirmed, that means that the number for 2008 could eclipse the 115 of last year - and the rate per 100,000 could surpass that of the civilian population, Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director of human resources policy, said at a Pentagon press conference.
“Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families,” Army Secretary Pete Geren said.
Four arthritis drugs get fungus warning
The Food and Drug Administration ordered stronger warnings Thursday on four medications widely used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other serious illnesses, saying they can raise the risk of possibly fatal fungal infections.
The drugs - Enbrel, Remicade, Humira and Cimzia - work by suppressing the immune system to keep it from attacking the body. For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the treatment provides relief from swollen and painful joints, but it’s “a double-edged sword,” said the FDA’s Dr. Jeffrey Siegel. That’s because the drugs also lower the body’s defenses to various kinds of infections.
Dr. Siegel, who heads the office that oversees arthritis drugs, said the FDA became concerned after discovering that doctors seemed to be overlooking a particular kind of fungal infection called histoplasmosis. Of 240 cases reported to the FDA in which patients taking one of the four drugs developed this infection, a total of 45 died - about 20 percent.
Lawnmower emissions targeted
Gasoline-powered lawnmowers that are a big cause of summertime air pollution will have to be dramatically cleaner under rules issued Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The long-awaited regulation requires a 35 percent reduction in emissions from new lawn and garden equipment beginning in 2011. Big emission reductions are also required for speedboats and other recreational watercraft, beginning in 2010.
The reductions will be the equivalent of removing one out of every five cars and trucks on the road, according to Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
EPA said approximately 190 million gallons of gasoline will be saved each year when the rules take effect, and more than 300 premature deaths prevented annually.
Trade chief to prod Congress
The Bush administration still believes it can overcome significant opposition in Congress and win approval of trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea before the end of the year, U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said Thursday.
“We are, needless to say, in a sprint to the finish. Congress will return next week and when it comes to international trade, they have a lot left to finish before they go home for the year,” the trade representative said in a speech on business opportunities for minority-owned business in global trade.
Business groups plan a rally next week to push for approval of all three agreements in the short time left on this year’s legislative calendar.
Congressional leaders have said they plan to be in session for just a few weeks once lawmakers return from a longer-than-usual August recess because of the Republican and Democratic party presidential nominating conventions.
Agency tallies tobacco cancer toll
Tobacco use caused 2.4 million cases of cancer in the United States from 1999 to 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.
As might be expected, lung and bronchial cancer accounted for nearly half the cases but cancers of the larynx, mouth and pharynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix, as well as acute myelogenous leukemia are also caused by tobacco, the CDC found.
“The data in this report provides additional, strong evidence of the serious harm related to tobacco,” said Sherri Stewart of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, who led the study.
From wire dispatches and staff reports