WASHINGTON
General says Baghdad could be secured with fewer than 21,500 troops

The top U.S. commander in Iraq told a Senate panel yesterday that improving security in Baghdad would take fewer than half as many extra troops as President Bush has chosen to commit.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey said he had asked for two additional Army brigades, based on recommendations of his subordinate commanders. Bush announced Jan. 10 that he would send five extra brigades as part of a buildup that would total 21,500 soldiers and Marines.

Asked by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) why he had not requested the full five extra brigades that Bush is sending, Casey said, “I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq than was necessary to accomplish the mission.”

With many in Congress opposing or skeptical of Bush’s troop buildup, Casey did not say he opposed the president’s decision. He said the full complement of five brigades would give U.S. commanders in Iraq additional, useful flexibility.

WASHINGTON
Senate passes bill to hike minimum wage by $2.10

The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to boost the federal minimum wage by $2.10 to $7.25 an hour over two years, but packaged the increase with small business tax cuts and limits on corporate pay that could complicate its path to become law.

The increase in the minimum wage, the first in a decade, was approved 94-3, capping a nine-day debate over how to balance the wage hike with the needs of businesses that employ low-wage workers.

A top priority of Democrats, the wage hike has both real and symbolic consequences. It would be one of the first major legislative successes of the new Democratic-controlled Congress.

“Passing this wage hike represents a small but necessary step to help lift America’s working poor out of the ditches of poverty and onto the road toward economic prosperity,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)

Republicans stressed the importance of the bill’s business tax breaks, though it was a significantly smaller tax package than Republicans had sought during previous attempts to raise the minimum wage.

BOSTON
Two men let go in ploy that sparked terrorism fears

Two men who authorities say placed electronic advertising devices around the city were released from jail yesterday, apparently amused with the publicity stunt that stirred fears of terrorism and shut down parts of the city.

Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, were released on $2,500 cash bond after each pleaded not guilty to placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct for a device found Wednesday at a subway station. They waved and smiled as they greeted people in court.

Outside, they met reporters and television cameras and launched into a nonsensical discussion of hair styles of the 1970s. “What we really want to talk about today – it’s kind of important to some people – it’s haircuts of the 1970s,” Berdovsky said.

Officials found 38 blinking electronic signs promoting the Cartoon Network TV show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” on bridges and other high-profile spots across the city Wednesday, prompting the closing of a highway and the deployment of bomb squads. The surreal series is about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball. The network is a division of Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports

Caracas, Venezuela

Chavez gets power of presidential decree

President Hugo Chavez was granted free rein yesterday to accelerate changes in broad areas of society by presidential decree – a move critics said propels Venezuela toward dictatorship.

Convening in a downtown plaza in a session that resembled a political rally, lawmakers unanimously gave Chavez sweeping powers to legislate by decree and impose his radical vision of a more egalitarian socialist state.

Washington

Iraq Study Group members say police training botched

Training the police is as important to stabilizing Iraq as building an effective army there, but the United States has botched the job by assigning the wrong agencies to the task, two members of the Iraq Study Group said yesterday.

“The police training system has not gone well,” said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan commission.

For a second day, a key Republican directly challenged President Bush to do more than pay “lip service” to this and other recommendations on how to resolve the troubled conflict in Iraq.

“I’d think the executive branch would be well advised to do more than have a meeting and a news conference to give in-depth consideration to what is being proposed here,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

– Compiled from

Daily wire reports

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