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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Recession draining surplus from Social Security fund

WASHINGTON – The U.S. recession is wreaking havoc on yet another front: the Social Security trust fund. With unemployment rising, the payroll tax revenue that finances Social Security benefits for nearly 51 million retirees and other recipients is falling, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. As a result, the trust fund’s annual surplus is forecast to all but vanish next year – nearly a decade ahead of schedule – and deprive the government of billions of dollars it had been counting on to help balance the nation’s books.

Stimulus to finance ‘virtual fence’

WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Department is accelerating plans to build a costly and long-troubled “virtual fence” of sensors and cameras along the U.S.-Mexican border, aided by $100 million from the economic stimulus package. The government already has spent $600 million and built a failed prototype of the high-tech network that would be used by border agents to try to catch illegal immigrants and drug runners.

Former security chief drops appeal of firing

The region’s fired Homeland Security coordinator, who was scheduled to fight his termination Monday before the Spokane County Civil Service Commission, has withdrawn that appeal, officials say, finalizing his termination. David L. Byrnes notified Nancy Paladino, chief examiner for the commission, and various other county officials of his decision Sunday.

Homeland Security official withdraws appeal

The region’s fired Homeland Security coordinator, who was scheduled to fight his termination today before the Spokane County Civil Service Commission, has withdrawn that appeal, officials say. By withdrawing the appeal, his termination has now been finalized.

N. Korea to launch satellite

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said today it is preparing to shoot a satellite into orbit, its clearest reference yet to an impending launch that neighbors and the U.S. suspect will be a provocative test of a long-range missile. The statement from the North’s space technology agency comes amid growing international concern that the communist nation is gearing up to fire a version of its most advanced missile – one capable of reaching the U.S. – within a week, in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Conference to teach home security, Internet safety

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office will offer its annual Neighborhood Watch Crime Prevention Conference March 10 for people who want to learn ways to keep themselves and their neighborhoods safe. Registration for the day-long event costs $15 and includes a continental breakfast, lunch and conference materials.

Froma Harrop: Social Security requires no fixing

“Round up everybody that can ride a horse or pull a trigger,” John Wayne says in “Chisum.” “Let’s break out some Winchesters.” That’s how I feel every time someone calls for “saving” Social Security. Conservatives have been likening it to the Bernie Madoff scandal. Some call it a Ponzi scheme, as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough did recently. And even Democrats talk of fixing the program.

Washington state boosts help for jobless

The Washington Employment Security Department will take calls from newly unemployed workers Saturdays in an effort to keep up with surging benefit claims, Commissioner Karen Lee said Monday. The department will take calls from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Its weekday hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Applicants can use automated features of the telephone system after hours Monday through Thursday.

Credit card breach offers lesson

Consumers getting notices from banks or credit unions about possible fraud on their credit cards should take an active, daily role in monitoring their accounts, area bank officials say. First reported on Jan. 19, East Coast credit card company Heartland Payment Systems said a vast number of U.S. credit cards may have been compromised during a security breach in 2008.

Unemployment hits 7.1 percent in state

Job losses in Washington accelerated in December, bringing 2008 to a close with unemployment at 7.1 percent, the highest rate in more than five years. Information from the Employment Security Department shows unemployment in Spokane County rose to 7.6 percent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points over November and 2.5 percentage points over December 2007.

Court OKs surveillance on foreign calls, mail

WASHINGTON – The government does not need a search warrant when it taps the phones or checks the e-mails of suspected terrorists who are outside the United States, even if Americans might be overheard on these calls, a special intelligence court ruled in an opinion released Thursday. The decision confirms what the Bush administration officials and some legal experts have long said. While the Constitution protects the privacy rights of Americans against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” this principle does not bar U.S. spy agencies from conducting surveillance aimed at foreign targets abroad.

Obama promises reform of entitlement programs

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama pledged Thursday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare “bargain” with the American people, saying that the nation’s long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs. That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a “fiscal responsibility summit” before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market.

New federal security rules irk business

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security will collect millions of new electronic records about private planes, imported cargo, foreign visitors and federal contractors as part of an array of controversial last-minute security policies imposed by the Bush administration. Businesses say the policies are costly and worry that sensitive information could be released if a database is lost or stolen. Some charge the Homeland Security Department with rushing to impose policies and ignoring business concerns.

New rule could hurt cherry exports

WENATCHEE – Washington tree fruit companies are anxiously awaiting a new Homeland Security rule that they say could disrupt about $60 million worth of cherry exports next season. The new rule from the Transportation Security Administration will detail how boxes of cherries must be screened for security threats.