Congress reaches deal on aid package

Congressional negotiators agreed yesterday on an $87.5 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan that meets a White House demand that none of the money be provided as loans.

Despite rising criticism in Congress over the handling of the war, the package worked out by House-Senate negotiators largely resembles the proposal submitted by President Bush. The House and Senate are expected to act quickly to give the bill final approval before it goes to Bush for his signature.

But both Republicans and Democrats expressed frustration over what they described as the White House’s disdainful treatment of Congress on Iraq.

“You bump up to a degree of arrogance over and over,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said “it is an act of considerable statesmanship for a lot of people in this place to continue to support what the president is trying to do in Iraq given the smidgen of information we’re getting in return.”

But Republicans, including Wolf, rejected a Democratic proposal that would have required Senate confirmation for Bush’s civilian administrator in Iraq, the position held by L. Paul Bremer. Sen. Pete Domenici ( R-N.M.) rejected Democratic claims that this would make the administration more accountable.


Solar storm nears earth, disrupts airlines

The most powerful geomagnetic storm possible walloped the Earth early yesterday, knocking out some airline communications but apparently causing no large power outages or other major problems.

The storm, the most disruptive to hit Earth since 1989, was unleashed by the fourth-most powerful solar flare ever seen, NASA said.

The gigantic cloud of highly charged particles hurled from the sun posed a threat to electric utilities, high frequency radio communications, satellite navigation systems and television broadcasts. Continued turbulence on the sun remains a concern for the next week, space forecasters say.

The biggest immediate effect was the blackout of high-frequency voice-radio communications for planes flying far northern routes.

But airliners in an emergency could still communicate through VHF contact with another aircraft or military monitoring station, said Louis Garneau, a spokesman for the company that handles Canada’s civil aviation navigation service.

British controllers were keeping trans-Atlantic jets on more southerly routes than usual to avoid the problem.


Bush renews push for faith-based initatives

In a speech replete with references to “miracles” and a “higher power bigger than people’s problems,” President Bush yesterday renewed his push to let religious groups compete for government money. “The best way to help the addict … is to change their heart,” Bush said in a reference to how he stopped drinking at age 40. “See, if you change their heart, then they change their behavior.

“I know!” Bush said, thrusting a finger into the air. Bush spoke to a packed auditorium at the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship here where several hundred, mostly black, parishioners sang and swayed to gospel music and chanted “U.S.A. U.S.A.” when the president walked in.

There to dedicate a new youth education center for Operation Turnaround, a job, literacy and social services program, Bush called for legislation that would give religious groups access to federal funds as long as their services are available to anyone.


Gov.-elect readies for energy deregulation

No stranger to sequels, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes to sell California on the virtues of electricity deregulation again, despite the fiasco the first time around.

The action hero’s energy advisers say they will bring a fresh approach to deregulation this time, avoiding the mistakes that led to rolling blackouts, insolvent utilities, market manipulation and a $20 billion debt that customers will spend the next decade repaying.

“We have a system that is broken, with pieces laying on the ground that need to be picked up and put back together again,” said James Sweeney, a Stanford University professor.


Casino could tarnish L.L. Bean’s image

Maine voters will decide next week whether to allow two Indian tribes to build the state’s first casino, a colossal $650 million project that opponents say will spoil Maine’s L.L. Bean image of spruce woods, lobster shacks and lighthouses.

The clash has casino backers and opponents spending a record amount for any ballot measure in Maine history: $6.8 million as of the end of September, and perhaps as much as $10 million by the time Election Day arrives Tuesday.

If voters approve, the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes will develop the casino in southern Maine.

— Compiled from Daily wire reports.
























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