Men charged with smuggling weapons

WASHINGTON

Two Taiwanese businessmen have been charged with trying to smuggle U.S.-made weapons to Iran, the latest in a string of illegal arms sales foiled by law enforcement activities increased in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Federal authorities announced yesterday that a U.S. grand jury in Baltimore indicted En-Wei Eric Chang, a naturalized American living in Taiwan, and David Chu, a Taiwan resident, on charges they tried to buy early warning radar, Cobra attack helicopters and U.S. spy satellite photos for Iran in violation of U.S. embargoes against that country. Chu was arrested during a sting operation in Guam, but Chang remains a fugitive, authorities said.

“The object of the conspiracy was to enrich the defendants by shipping aircraft, helicopter, and weapons system parts to Iran through Taiwan and elsewhere,” the indictment said.

Officials said the indictment resulted from a yearlong arms-smuggling investigation that grew out of a new cooperative program created by U.S. officials after Sept. 11 that encourages American sellers of sensitive military equipment to report suspicious inquiries and sales.

White House: War on terror outlook positive

WASHINGTON

New terrorism indictments and a key al-Qaida capture show the United States making progress in the global war on terrorism, three top Bush administration officials told Congress yesterday.

Facing a Senate Judiciary Committee that includes several prominent administration critics, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller highlighted recent successes in the ongoing war on terrorism while also stressing the need for terrorism prevention efforts in the future.

Lawmakers applauded these victories – but many questioned whether the government’s tactics and the need to expand anti-terrorism laws were necessary.

Ashcroft said the weekend capture in Pakistan of al-Qaida operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was “a severe blow” that could “destabilize their terrorist network worldwide” by providing a trove of intelligence that will prevent new attacks, showing the success of the U.S.’s ongoing battle to overcome the problems of terrorism.

Gov. Bush asks voters to reconsider budget

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.

With Florida facing its tightest budget since he was first elected in 1998, Gov. Jeb Bush said yesterday he wants voters to reconsider expensive constitutional amendments they passed to cap class sizes and build a high-speed rail system.

In his annual State of the State address, the Republican governor said the amendments would require tax increases and hamper the state’s ability to strengthen the economy and protect its residents from terrorist threats.

“I believe we must go back to the voters and have them make a decision with all the information in hand, information about the new challenges our state faces, and information about the massive tax increases that will be necessary to pay for them,” said Bush, who has proposed a $54 billion budget.

Bush says Florida is better off than most other states.

Republicans oppose Bush’s health plans

WASHINGTON

Republican lawmakers showed the same disdain for President Bush’s latest Medicare prescription drug plan yesterday as they did his first one a month ago, promising that after two failed attempts by the White House they will write their own plan with bigger benefits for older Americans.

The administration spent the day explaining facets of the proposal, which offers a general outline but leaves specifics to congressional discretion.

At the center of the proposal is a plan to offer older people increased prescription drug coverage if they choose to participate with HMOs or other private health plans.

As Bush was outlining his proposal in a speech to the American Medical Association, senior Republicans in Congress responsible for putting legislation together were picking it apart.

Poor economy causes health insurance loss

WASHINGTON

The sluggish economy and rising health costs are combining to cost more people their health insurance, with 75 million uninsured at some point during 2001 or 2002, a study finds.

In tight times, businesses cut back coverage or charge their workers more for it. The result: the ranks of the uninsured now cut deeper into the middle class.

It’s a scenario that could spur Congress, stalled now on how to solve the problem, to approve some sort of assistance.

“I think that there’s more and more interest as the problem gets larger and larger,” said Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who is proposing a major overhaul of the health insurance system. Breaux wants everyone, including workers, the elderly, the poor and veterans, to get insurance from a central system.

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