- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Gate crashers to take the Fifth

The White House gate crashers plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to testify if they are subpoenaed to appear on Capitol Hill about the security breach.

Reality TV hopefuls Michaele and Tareq Salahi said through their lawyer on Tuesday that the House Homeland Security Committee has drawn premature conclusions about the Nov. 24 incident, when they were able to get into the state dinner without being on an approved guest list.

The committee plans to vote Wednesday to subpoena the couple to testify.

The Secret Service is conducting a criminal investigation into the security breach, but charges have yet to be referred for prosecution.


Settlement gives Indians $3 billion

The Obama administration says it will spend more than $3 billion to settle a long-running lawsuit over royalties owed to American Indians.

President Obama hailed the settlement of the case, Cobell v. Salazar, as an important step to reconcile Indian tribes and the federal government.

“As a candidate, I heard from many in Indian Country that the Cobell suit remained a stain on the nation-to-nation relationship I value so much,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “I pledged my commitment to resolving this issue, and I am proud that my administration has taken this step today.”

Under the agreement announced Tuesday, the Interior Department will distribute $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 tribe members to compensate them for historical accounting claims and to resolve future claims. The department also will spend $2 billion to buy back and consolidate tribal land lost by previous generations.


U.S. seeks takeover of subway safety

The Obama administration asked Congress Tuesday to give the federal government power to oversee the safety of subways, light rail and other urban train systems.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in testimony before a House panel, outlined a plan to give the Federal Transit Administration authority to set standards for and inspect the nation’s 50 local rail transit systems in 27 states.

Currently, there are no nationwide minimum standards for rail transit safety, only voluntary standards produced by industry groups. The administration sent a legislative proposal to House and Senate leaders that would effectively eliminate a legal prohibition in place since 1965 that prevents the federal government from imposing broad transit safety standards.


Banking panel sets vote on Bernanke

A key Senate panel will vote next week on Ben S. Bernanke’s nomination for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Dec. 17 will vote on Mr. Bernanke’s nomination to run the nation’s central bank for another four years, the panel’s chairman announced Tuesday.

Although it appears that Mr. Bernanke has enough support to stay at the helm of the Fed, his handling of the worst financial and economic crises since the Great Depression has generated some controversy.


Hubble zeroes in on oldest galaxies

The refurbished Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the oldest galaxies yet, scientists reported Tuesday.

A newly installed wide-field camera on Hubble this past summer captured the never-before-seen galaxies, which were formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. Scientists think the massive explosion led to the creation of the universe.

The image was taken in a region of space that Hubble scanned in 2004. Since the new camera has a near-infrared channel, it allows the orbiting telescope to peer deeper into the universe and spot distant galaxies.


Congress looks at minitrade deal

U.S. lawmakers are discussing a one-year extension of expiring trade benefits for more than 130 developing countries to allow time for a comprehensive review next year, congressional aides said Tuesday.

“We’re working on getting agreement from everybody to do a year,” a Democratic congressional aide told Reuters news agency.

Both the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences and a separate program for three countries in the Andean region - Peru, Colombia and Ecuador - expire Dec. 31.


Panel to probe air traffic glitch

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that it is forming a panel to examine the reliability of a telecommunications network that broke down last month, snarling air traffic across the country.

The Nov. 19 episode - which resulted in delays of 819 flights and forced air traffic controllers to manually enter flight information into computers - was unacceptable, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.

He said the agency needs to understand what happened so that it can prevent further incidents.

“This panel is going to take a hard look at every part of the [telecommunications] operation,” Mr. Babbitt said. “We have an extremely reliable system, but we need to have the confidence that problems can be solved quickly and efficiently so our air traffic controllers and aircraft operators have the tools they need and travelers aren’t inconvenienced.”

FAA said at the time that the incident began with the failure of a single circuit board in a router. A backup circuit board also failed. As a result, misinformation was sent to FAA computer centers near Atlanta and Salt Lake City. It was four hours before the glitch was fixed.


Agency urges bus crackdown

Federal safety officials say passenger buses that don’t meet U.S. safety standards should be found and taken out of operation.

The recommendation is part of a list of proposals that the National Transportation Safety Board issued Tuesday to crack down on motorcoaches and other passenger buses that are not built to U.S. safety standards.

The board also proposed a crackdown on lease agreements between bus operators that allow some with poor safety records to evade inspection.

The proposals stem from the NTSB investigation of a January 2008 motorcoach crash in Texas that killed one person. Investigators say that the driver fell asleep and that the bus itself was not a factor in the crash. But they uncovered gaps in federal enforcement of safety laws.

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