Court allows wiretaps to track terrorists


The Justice Department moved swiftly yesterday to take advantage of a court ruling broadening its ability to track suspected terrorists and spies using wiretaps and other surveillance techniques.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the ruling by a specially appointed three-judge review panel will give the Justice Department expanded surveillance powers under the USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

It was the first time the appeals panel had overturned a ruling by the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which had sought to impose restrictions on how and when surveillance authority could be used to track foreign agents.

A key part of the ruling removes legal barriers between FBI and Justice Department intelligence investigators and prosecutors and law enforcement personnel.

The ruling, Ashcroft told reporters, “revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union and several other groups contend the ruling will harm free speech and due process protections by giving the government far greater ability to listen to telephone conversations, read e-mail and search private property.

Businesses with bad credit receive loans


Despite warnings that it is risking millions in bad debts, the Small Business Administration has approved dozens of loan guarantees annually for borrowers who should have been disqualified because they previously defaulted.

The agency designed to help America’s small businesses rejected a recommendation last May from its inspector general to implement a system of intensive checks to screen applicants. SBA officials say they consider the failure to identify prior loan defaulters a minor problem.

“This is more the tip of an ice cube rather than the tip of an iceberg,” said Jim Hammersley, director of the office of loan programs for the SBA.

The amount of bad loans the SBA has been forced to cover has almost doubled – from $516 million in 1995 to more than $1 billion in fiscal 2002, which ended Sept. 30. Agency spokesman Mike Stamler said the increase reflects expansion of the overall lending program from $3 billion in 1990 to $12 billion last year.

Under agency rules, borrowers with prior defaults in any federal lending program should be ineligible for SBA-backed loans, unless an exception is granted.

Researchers produce insulin in mouse cells


In a possible step toward a new treatment for diabetics, embryonic stem cells were used to produce insulin and keep diabetic mice alive.

Researchers cautioned that the technique was not yet ready for testing in humans.

The researchers at Stanford University nurtured mouse embryonic stem cells until they developed into a tissue that made insulin. Then they put the tissue into diabetic mice and showed that the animals were sustained with the insulin produced by the tissue graft.

Ingrid C. Rulifson, a first author of the study appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the research did not grow fully mature, insulin-producing pancreatic islets, which are called beta cells.

“We’ve made something that shares several important properties with the beta cells, but we have not made beta cells,” said Rulifson.

Quality of death row lawyers considered


The Supreme Court opened a fresh inquiry yesterday into bad lawyering and the death penalty, accepting a case that could give justices a chance to spell out when inmates can claim that poor representation led to conviction.

The court already sided with prosecutors twice this year in ineffective-counsel cases. The latest appeal is less procedural and gives the justices a better opportunity to deal with the legal rights of people who face execution.

Defendants in capital cases often cannot afford to hire lawyers, so government-paid attorneys are appointed for them. The quality of those lawyers has troubled some Supreme Court members in recent years, and two justices have publicly criticized the quality of death penalty attorneys.

Gov. may be next act for Schwarzenegger


He has been a genetically engineered twin and a pregnant man, a barbarian and a spy, a kindergarten cop and a killer. Now some Republicans are casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as the next governor of California.

Fresh from the Election Day success of a $550 million education measure that he sponsored, the actor has become perhaps California’s most promising GOP candidate – even though he is not yet running for anything.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger would do a tremendous amount to reinvigorate the party itself and the image of the party to most Californians,” said Brian Todd of Bakersfield, a delegate to state party conventions.

The body-builder-turned-action-hero deflects questions about his political ambitions.

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