Fed. deficit reaches record $374.3B

WASHINGTON – The federal deficit soared to $374.2 billion in
2003, the White House said yesterday, a record total that more than
doubled last year’s red ink and looked like a prelude to even
gloomier numbers.

Because the shortfall marked an improvement from a $455 billion
projection the White House made in July, Bush administration
officials cited it as evidence that their attempts to fortify the
weak economy were working.

“Today’s budget numbers reinforce the indications we have seen
for some months now: that the economy is well on the path to
recovery,” Treasury Secretary John Snow said.

White House budget director Joshua Bolten said much the same but
also conceded that worse fiscal numbers were on the horizon,
estimating the gap for the new year “will likely exceed $500
billion even with the strengthening economy.” Bolten said spending
restraint and policies aimed at bolstering the economy can wrench
the budget onto a course to halve deficits by 2009.

Even so, next year’s figure could become a political concern for
President Bush and Republicans in Congress. With federal budget
years running through Sept. 30, next year’s figure will be ready
less than a month before elections that will see the GOP fighting
to retain control of the White House and Capitol Hill.

Bin Laden is alive, U.S. officials say after tape

WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden, by referring to recent events in
his latest taped message, showed he was alive in the
not-too-distant past, U.S. officials said yesterday. It was the
strongest evidence in months that bin Laden retains command of the
al-Qaida network.

Officials with the Central Intelligence Agency said they
believed the audio recording of bin Laden, aired Saturday on Arabic
al-Jazeera television, was probably authentic.

They reached the conclusion after technical analysis in which
experts compared the voice to known recordings of the terrorist

Bin Laden made several references in the message that suggested
it was recorded in the past several months. For example, he spoke
of the government of former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud
Abbas, who served from April until Sept. 6. Bin Laden called Abbas’
government “a traitor and collaborator government” with the United

Although the language suggested the message was recorded before
Abbas’ resignation, CIA officials said they couldn’t be certain of

Sniper suspect to represent himself

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad won the
right to serve as his own lawyer yesterday in a surprise,
last-minute request at his murder trial. He broke a year of stony
silence by proclaiming his innocence in a rambling opening
statement and asking a witness: “Have you ever seen me shoot

It was not clear why Muhammad decided to fire his lawyers, who
will serve as standby counsel in the first trial to come out of
last year’s sniper spree. Just last week, Muhammad told the judge
that he was satisfied with his attorneys.

Muhammad’s decision to represent himself in the death penalty
case means he could end up cross-examining his accusers, perhaps
survivors of the shootings.

In his 20-minute opening statement, Muhammad said nothing about
the shootings except to deny involvement.

N. Korea dominates 21-nation Asia forum

BANGKOK, THAILAND – President Bush pushed North Korea’s nuclear
threat to the forefront of a 21-nation summit yesterday and the
communist country shoved back with an attention-grabbing missile
test. Some leaders complained that security issues were dominating
the meeting’s stated economic agenda. Gathered behind the freshly
painted walls of a government compound, the leaders took up a major
economic dispute and agreed to revive global trade liberalization
talks that collapsed recently in Mexico. They did not offer a
formula to break the impasse but directed negotiators go back to
work on the text they had left behind, the White House said.

Airline passenger charged, released

BALTIMORE – A college student who said he hid box cutters and
other banned items on two airliners in an act of “civil
disobedience” to expose weaknesses in U.S. security was charged
with a federal crime yesterday, and a prosecutor said he committed
a “very serious and foolish action.”

Nathaniel Heatwole, 20, was charged with taking a dangerous
weapon aboard an aircraft.

He was released without bail for a preliminary hearing Nov.

According to authorities, he told federal agents he went through
normal security procedures at airports in Baltimore and
Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports.











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