Iraq conflict depleting National Guard

WASHINGTON

The buildup for possible war with Iraq has drained National Guard and reserve troops unevenly across the country, with states like North Dakota, Nevada and Connecticut being hit much harder than Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii, an Associated Press analysis shows.

The Persian Gulf mobilizations, coupled with the demands of the war on terrorism, have left communities with fewer prison guards, firefighters and police.

“Everybody’s affected,” said Bruce, Miss., Mayor Jesse Quillen, whose town of 2,097 had 75 men and women called up last month. “Employers lose workers, children lose a dad or a mom for the length of the deployment and the impact of it is felt from one end of Calhoun County to the other.” Pentagon officials say the call-ups are based mostly on the needs of commanders in the field, and on the training, specialties, and readiness of guard and reserve units back home. Impact on communities is considered but isn’t a primary concern.

“We don’t measure contributions by numbers alone,” said Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Pentagon spokesman. “All 54 states and territories are supporting the war on terrorism. … Each of those contributions is equally critical and equally appreciated.”


Fed may cut rates to jump-start ailing economy

WASHINGTON

The Federal Reserve may soon be forced to cut interest rates again, driving them to the lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was president, amid fears that the shaky economy is about to fall back into recession.

Concerns about the anemic recovery from the 2001 downturn were heightened with last week’s report that unemployment had risen to 5.8 percent in February, with a big loss of 308,000 jobs.

“Prior to the unemployment report, we thought the Fed would stay on hold for some months to come and the next move would be a rate hike, not a rate cut,” Louis Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, a market research firm, said yesterday. Now, Crandall said, he is forecasting a quarter-point rate cut at the March 18 Fed meeting.

Worries about an Iraq war continued to batter Wall Street yesterday with the Dow Jones industrial falling by 171.85 points to close at 7,568.18.

The Fed last cut interest rates on Nov. 6, when it slashed its target for the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other on overnight loans, to 1.25 percent, the lowest average since 1.17 percent in July 1961.


Conference addresses threat of “dirty bombs”

VIENNA, Austria

Scientists, police commanders and government officials from more than 100 countries are converging on Vienna for the world’s first “dirty bomb” conference, searching for ways to head off the threat of simple weapons that spread radiation and chaos.

Governments are concerned. A recent U.S. experts’ report concludes that tens of thousands of the most dangerous radiation sources worldwide may be insufficiently protected.

A so-called dirty bomb has yet to be detonated anywhere. The al-Qaida network is reported to have been interested in trying such a terror weapon.

Deputies acknowledge the dirty-bomb threat was rarely even thought of before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The worry is not of mass immediate deaths, as in the 2001 attacks, but of the spread of radiation that might make cities uninhabitable for years.


Court reviews stance on Miranda rights

WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court is revisiting its landmark 1966 ruling that led to the familiar refrain, “You have the right to remain silent.” Justices said yesterday they would consider an appeal by a man who claims he was duped into talking to officers.

The case of John Fellers – who was indicted on drug charges – gives the high court a chance to clarify when officers must recite “Miranda rights” to suspects they’ve come to arrest.

Univeristy of Texas law prof. Susan Klein said if Fellers wins, “police officers can no longer intentionally circumvent miranda by questioning first, getting a statement, then saying ‘Oh by the way, now that you’ve spilled the beans, here’s your rights.'” The Bush administration had urged justices to reject the case.

Fellers was barefoot and sipping a mug of what appeared to be tea when he sat on his couch talking to officers who came to his door in Lincoln, Neb.


West Nile expected to reflux this summer

WASHINGTON

West Nile virus may well complete its coast-to-coast spread this summer, infecting large numbers.

During last year’s record-setting epidemic – more than 4,000 people became ill and 274 died – only a handful of states escaped human illness. Even some of those harbored infected mosquitoes and birds.

Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said another large epidemic “would not be surprising,” with West Nile hitting each of the 48 contiguous states. Not counting Alaska and Hawaii, only nine states have escaped human illness so far.

Although there is no treatment for West Nile, Pankey said wearing mosquito repellent, keeping window screens in good repair and wearing long sleeves at night are effective defenses against mosquito bites.

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