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News Briefs, part 2

Postmaster Reaffirms 6-Day Mail

The Washington Post

Washington

Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon moved Thursday to curb speculation that he might seek a cut in residential mail service, declaring he "remains committed to six-day delivery."

Runyon had raised the possibility of reducing residential deliveries to four days a week during a meeting Wednesday with Washington Post reporters and editors. Although he gave no indication that he was about to seek such a reduction, Runyon's comments brought a flood of questions to Postal Service headquarters.

In a press release Thursday, Runyon explained that his comments "were designed to show that he is asking postal management to explore every program or process in terms of customer improvement and cost savings."

The Postal Service, which is in the midst of a Runyon-ordered reorganization, said his request for a study of the possibility of eliminating residential deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays was not a request for "a formal cost study, nor did he place any urgency on the request."

In an appearance before an advisory committee composed of mailers, Runyon declared he was committed to improving "every level of service -- from the availability of residential collection boxes to increased service for small-and medium-sized business."

Infectious Diseases Pose Serious U.S. Threat, Panel Warns

Los Angeles Times

Washington

The emergence of new infectious diseases and the reappearance of old scourges such as tuberculosis and malaria pose a serious public health threat that the United States is ill-prepared to address, an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine warned Thursday.

"This much is certain: We have to come to terms with the fact that the microbial world is in competition with us," said Joshua Lederberg, professor at Rockefeller University, who served as co-chairman of the panel. "... It is rapidly evolving at our expense, and ... we haven't applied the knowledge we have to the extent we should to give us the level of security we deserve."

The group attributed the problem to an era of complacency dating back to the late 1950s, when many public health officials began to believe that the war on infectious diseases had been won, and shifted their attention to more chronic, degenerative diseases.

But in fact, "infectious microbes have been around all along" and will continue to create public health crises, the panel said in its report.

"We can also be confident that new diseases will emerge, although it is impossible to predict their individual emergence in time and place," the report said.

The institute is part of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, a congressionally chartered, private organization which advises the federal government on matters of science and technology. It typically wields considerable influence with policy-makers.

The panel cited numerous prominent examples, including the current AIDS epidemic that is raging "virtually everywhere," multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which has broken out in frightening proportions in several U.S. cities, Lyme disease, which is transmitted through the bite of a tick and is afflicting "more and more people every year," a recent cholera epidemic in Peru that is moving northward, and malaria in Africa, Asia and South America.

Democrats Seek Investigation in Iraqi Loan Scandal

Los Angeles Times

Washington

Responding to new evidence in a sensitive Iraqi loan scandal, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee Thursday formally sought an independent counsel to investigate whether Bush administration officials broke the law in trying to conceal prewar relations with Baghdad.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., said he expected Democrats on his panel to vote for a similar request by Monday. The twin demands sharply expand the controversy over the administration's secret ties to Iraq which began emerging months ago.

Attorney General William P. Barr responded to a similar congressional request in August with a resounding and detailed rejection. But, confronted by new questions about the roles of the Department of Justice and the CIA in withholding intelligence files from a federal judge, Barr said Thursday that he had not ruled out any options.

"Obviously, the independent counsel statute is something we will consider to make sure this is actively investigated," Barr said in an interview. "My interest is to clear the air. The department has nothing to hide. If there is any wrongdoing by anyone, we want to get to the bottom of it."

Biden told reporters after talking to Barr that he thought it possible the attorney general would change his mind and seek an independent counsel. Republicans, however, were skeptical of the renewed request, which came less than three weeks before the presidential election.

The House request, signed by 18 of the 21 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, added to the pressure on the Department of Justice, which was accused earlier this week of trying to stifle an FBI inquiry into its role in the Iraqi loan case by leaking word that FBI Director William S. Sessions was the subject of ethics and criminal investigations.

On Thursday, Sessions refused to undergo questioning by Department of Justice attorneys investigating whether he abused government telephones and provided conflicting accounts about his tax status. His lawyer demanded the postponement because of news leaks and because he said that the department has not provided Sessions specifics about the actions under investigation.

However, a Department of Justice source claimed that Sessions was being treated more favorably than "any other FBI employee" by being provided with copies of two letters containing the allegations.