- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NEW YORK

Homes searched in terrorism probe

FBI agents and police raided three apartments in New York City before dawn Monday during an investigation of a man suspected of being an al Qaeda associate.

The searches came after the man, who was under surveillance for possible links to the terrorism network, visited New York City over the weekend and left the area, Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said after receiving a briefing on the operation from federal law enforcement officials Monday.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who also was briefed Monday, said a terrorist attack was not thought to be imminent. He added that the law enforcement action was unrelated to President Obama’s visit to the city Monday.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne confirmed that searches were conducted in the borough of Queens by agents of a joint terrorism task force.

Residents on Monday described officers armed with search warrants swarming their immigrant neighborhood at about 2:30 a.m. One, Afghanistan native Akbari Amanullah, said when he arrived home from work afterward, he was told that one of his roommates had been hauled away.

No arrests were announced.

A White House spokesman said Mr. Obama, who spoke on Wall Street on Monday, was briefed on the investigation.

HOMELAND SECURITY

Small businesses get flu warning

Federal officials said Monday that small-business owners should be prepared to operate with fewer employees this fall as swine flu spreads.

The Department of Homeland Security is issuing guidelines on combating swine flu to small businesses, which employ about half the workers in the private sector.

“They play a key role in protecting the health and safety of the country but also their own employees and also helping us limit impact of an H1N1 pandemic on our economy and our country,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

A guidebook released by the Department of Homeland Security recommends small businesses identify their essential operations and have plans for operating with reduced staffing. The government also says businesses should consider letting employees work from home if they get sick.

Ms. Napolitano said small businesses could be particularly vulnerable to a pandemic because they often “have fewer resources, they work with leaner staffs, and absenteeism can be a particular issue.”

WHITE HOUSE

Obama renews embargo on Cuba

President Obama has extended the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba for one year, the White House said Monday.

The extension was expected and has been the practice of all presidents dating to the 1970s under a section of the so-called Trading With the Enemy Act.

Mr. Obama extended the embargo even though he has made reaching out to old U.S. foes a key plank in his foreign policy.

There have been signs of a possible thaw in U.S.-Cuba ties since Raul Castro early last year took over as president from his ailing brother Fidel.

Mr. Obama has sought to reach out to Cuba by easing travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family in Cuba. The two countries have said they will hold talks on resuming direct mail links. But Mr. Obama has also said he will not lift the embargo until Cuba undertakes democratic and economic reforms.

HEALTH

Harkin: Probe phone-cancer link

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, newly empowered to investigate health matters as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, promised Monday to probe deeply into any potential links between cell phone use and cancer.

Mr. Harkin, who took over the committee earlier this month after the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said he was concerned no one has been able to prove cell phones do not cause cancer.

Cell phones, used by an estimated 275 million people in the U.S. and 4 billion worldwide, use radio waves. Years of research have failed to establish any clear link between their use and several kinds of cancer, including brain tumors.

Recent worries have been raised by the Environmental Working Group, an activist group, and epidemiologist Devra Lee Davis of the University of Pittsburgh, who has written a book saying the government has overlooked many potential sources of cancer.

TRANSPORTATION

Air controllers to use satellites

Air traffic controllers will begin using satellite technology in December to track aircraft flying over the Gulf of Mexico, a significant milestone in the government’s program to replace the nation’s radar-based air traffic system, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday.

The most immediate beneficiaries will be airliners flying from the southern United States to South America, which will be able to take off more frequently and fly closer together, and helicopters servicing about 9,000 oil rigs in the Gulf, which should be able to fly more direct routes and be less limited by poor weather.

The new technology will be used in a 240,000-square-mile area of the Gulf.

STATISTICS

Killings drop nearly 4 percent, FBI finds

Murder and manslaughter dropped almost 4 percent last year, as reported crime overall fell around the country, according to new data released Monday by the FBI.

The 3.9 percent decline in killings reported to police was part of a nationwide drop in violent crime of 1.9 percent from 2007 to 2008. Rapes declined 1.6 percent, to the lowest national number in 20 years - about 89,000.

The statistics are based on crimes reported to police, who then forward the information to the FBI. There were 14,180 murder victims in the United States last year.

“What has been impressive has been how flat all the violent crime rates have been since 2000. To a large degree that’s still the case, but the striking change this year has been murder,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor of criminal justice at Carnegie Mellon University.

The figures show that crime has come way down since its peak in the early 1990s.

“These are rates we haven’t seen since the 1960s, even though the change from year to year has been rather small,” Mr. Blumstein said.

NEW YORK

President lunches with Bill Clinton

NEW YORK | President Obama had lunch with former President Bill Clinton after Mr. Obama’s speech to the financial industry.

The two men spent more than 90 minutes Monday inside Il Mulino, an Italian restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. They emerged from the restaurant chatting with each other, though reporters couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Mr. Obama flew to New York for a speech warning Wall Street against returning to the kind of practices that threatened the nation with a second Great Depression.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton last saw each other last week in New York. Both spoke at a memorial service for the late CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT

Salazar issues climate order

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar moved Monday to prepare the nation’s parks, refuges and endangered species for possible perils from climate change.

Mr. Salazar signed an order setting up a Climate Change Response Council and eight regional response centers to study and respond to such issues as rising sea levels threatening to swamp historic structures and warmer temperatures shifting where wildlife live.

The order also commits the Interior Department to develop a plan to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, including setting a firm target.

“The realities of climate change require us to change how we manage … the resources we oversee,” it reads.

GAO

U.S. risks losses on gas royalties

The federal government risks losing millions of dollars in royalties from natural gas production because it does not promptly determine and collect when it gets shortchanged, according to congressional auditors.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which manages oil and gas production on public lands, does not have the tools or staff necessary to check that companies are paying the government what it is owed in royalties.

The report specifically looks at the so-called royalty-in-kind system. Under this program, companies producing gas on federal lands and offshore pay the government with gas rather than cash. The government then sells the gas.

The agency estimates that it is owed $21 million, but the figure could be larger. That’s because the government is not verifying how much gas companies produce and it does not include interest, because MMS has not determined when interest should accrue on unpaid royalties.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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