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News Briefs II

Consumer Spending, Incomes Rose in December

The Washington Post

Americans ended the year on a spending spree, spurred by strong gains in personal income and low interest rates, the government reported Monday.

Consumer purchases increased 0.8 percent, while personal income rose 0.5 percent in December, the Commerce Department said.

Because spending rose faster than incomes, the personal savings rate dropped to minus 0.1 percent in December, the second time the monthly figure dipped into negative territory last year. The personal savings rate is individual savings as a percentage of after-tax income.

Spending on construction was the strongest in six months, surging 1.7 percent from November.

For the year, spending rose 5.7 percent, while personal income grew 5 percent. The biggest growth in spending came in purchases of durable goods such as personal computers, furniture, appliances and autos.

The strong results, following Friday's announcement that the nation's total economic output, or the gross domestic product, rose 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter, shows the U.S. economy is thriving despite the effects of financial crises buffeting Asia and Latin America, experts said.

Police Arrest 10 Linked to Cartel

Los Angeles Times

Police have arrested 10 men who are believed to be the overlords of a Southern California narcotics trafficking ring associated with Mexico's feared Tijuana drug cartel, authorities said Monday.

The three-month investigation, which focused on drug trafficking in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties, also netted some 500 kilos of cocaine and four pounds of heroin that authorities said was worth $7 million on the street.

Capt. Randall Blair of the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program said the group was distributing large quantities of cocaine and heroin throughout Southern California.

"It was a very efficient trafficking cell that was dealing with good-sized amount of drugs and money," Blair said.

On Thursday, authorities arrested four of the primary suspects in La Puente, in eastern Los Angeles County, and seized 160 kilos of cocaine hidden in a secret compartment in a pickup truck, Blair said.

Blair identified the suspects as Hector Navarro Penilla, Hector Javier Jimenez Espinoza, Jesus Ayon and Carlos Ramirez. At the time of the arrests, Ayon already had a no-bail warrant for narcotics trafficking, Blair said.

Two days previously, authorities found 100 kilos of cocaine concealed in a vehicle parked in Orange County's Lake Forest and arrested Pedro de la Cruz at the same address, Blair said.

Authorities said the FBI was "instrumental in identifying the subjects in charge of the smuggling ring and connecting them with the Arellano Felix organization" Mexico's most violent drug cartel.