Fed expected to make 11th rate cut

WASHINGTON

The Federal Reserve, faced with an economy now officially suffering through a recession and shedding jobs at the fastest pace in two decades, is widely expected to cut interest rates today for the 11th time this year.

But many economists believe the central bank will also signal that its aggressive credit lowering is drawing to a close by making a quarter-point reduction instead of the bigger half-point moves it has favored for most of this year.

Some analysts had thought that the central bank might decide to leave rates unchanged at its final meeting of the year given some tentative positive signs, such as stronger-than-expected auto sales in October and November and a big jump in factory orders. Those views changed on Friday when the government reported that the unemployment rate shot up to 5.7 percent in November as another 331,000 Americans lost their jobs, bringing total job losses over the past two months to 800,000, the largest total in 21 years.

The central bank launched the current easing campaign with a surprise half-point cut on Jan. 3, in between its regular meetings. In the 10 rate cuts so far this year, seven came at regularly scheduled meetings and three occurred between meetings, including one on Sept. 17, the day Wall Street reopened following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bus company busted for smuggling migrants

WASHINGTON

Federal law enforcement officials have broken up a large illegal immigrant smuggling ring that used a Los Angeles-based bus company to transport immigrants from U.S. cities near the Mexican border to locations around the Western part of the country, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced yesterday.

Thirty-two people were indicted in “Operation Great Basin,” including the president and other corporate officers of Golden State Transportation, a regional bus company, and six alleged smugglers, Ashcroft said. They were charged with “transporting and harboring illegal aliens for profit,” he said.

The indictments allege that Golden State officials conspired with smugglers to transport between 50 and 300 migrants a day from the southwest border to such cities as Los Angeles, Albuquerque and Las Vegas. The alleged scheme involved immigrants already in the United States who had been taken to private homes to await transportation to other cities. Bus company officials allegedly allowed smugglers to buy large blocks of tickets in advance and schedule arrivals and departures at night to avoid police detection, according to the indictment. They also allegedly altered their routes to circumvent border patrol checkpoints.

Armey might step down at end of term

WASHINGTON

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, second-ranking leader among Republicans and an advocate for tax cuts and smaller government, has told associates he may retire at the end of his term, sources close to the Texas lawmaker said last night.

A decision to step down could open up a lively race among fellow Republicans eager to claim his powerful post.

One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Armey had notified House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republicans that he may not seek re-election to a 10th term in 2002.

Armey, 61, faces a filing deadline of Jan. 2 in Texas, but he could announce his plans sooner, possibly within days.

One source familiar with Armey”s thinking said the Texan was not considering retirement for reasons of health or political necessity, but simply decided the time might be right for a change.

Annan accepts Nobel Peace Prize for U.N.

OSLO, Norway

Saying the world “entered the third millennium through a gate of fire” ignited on Sept. 11, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan accepted the centennial Nobel Peace Prize yesterday with a call for humanity to fight poverty, ignorance and disease.

Annan said the terrorist attacks in the United States showed that “new threats make no distinction between races, nations or regions.” The world now has “a deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all in pain and in prosperity,” he said.

“Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another,” he said. “What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.” Annan shared the prize with the United Nations as a whole.

Study links Gehrig”s disease, Gulf service

WASHINGTON

Americans who served in the Gulf War were nearly twice as likely to develop Lou Gehrig”s disease as other military personnel, the government reported yesterday. It was the first time officials acknowledged a scientific link between service in the Gulf and a specific disease.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said it would immediately offer disability and survivor benefits to veterans with the disease who served in the Persian Gulf during the conflict a decade ago.

“The hazards of the modern day battlefield are more than bullet wounds and saber cuts,” said Anthony Principi, secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The research, which included nearly 2.5 million military personnel, is one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted and offers the most conclusive evidence to date linking Gulf War veterans to any disease.

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