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News Briefs

Spaniards Begin Finger-Pointing Over Oil Tanker Spill


As the breakup of the oil tanker Prestige turned into a slow-motion disaster, Spaniards’ early focus on cleaning up the mess gave way Thursday to second-guesses and recriminations.

The first of many pointed questions from residents of the Galician coast was why a rickety, 26-year-old, single-hulled ship was sailing so close to shore. Under international treaties, they pointed out, oil shippers have until 2015 to junk single-hulled vessels and exclusively use double-hulled ships that offer an extra measure of safety by having external and internal shells. And European Union rules already say tankers must stay 21 miles off shore -- all the more urgent along this storm-prone area shore called the Coast of Death.

Spanish Defense Minister Federico Trillo revealed that officials earlier in the crisis considered bombing the Prestige to try to incinerate the fuel. But Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s government rejected the proposal as too risky.

The decision to tow the vessel south and out to sea after it got into trouble Nov. 13 also aroused criticism. If the Prestige had been towed into harbor, the damage would have been heavy, but localized, residents of the region complained. Instead, pollution from the 20 million gallons of fuel oil carried by the ship might spread hundreds of miles.

Reform Groups Claim Parties Acting to Evade ‘Soft Money’ Ban


Four campaign finance advocacy groups filed a formal complaint Thursday with the Federal Election Commission accusing officials of both parties and two prominent Republican lobbyists of conspiring to evade the new ban on party-raised “soft money.”

The complaint appears likely to become a test of the enforcement of the McCain-Feingold law that went into effect Nov. 6. The political parties and a number of political operatives are openly, and in some cases secretly, forming groups to get around the law and continue the flow of large contributions known as soft money from corporations, unions and the wealthy into federal campaigns.

The complaint filed by Democracy 21, Common Cause, the Campaign and Media Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics names the Democratic and Republican Congressional Committees; the Democratic National Committee and its chair, Terence McAuliffe; Joseph Carmichael, chairman of the Democratic State Parties Organization (DSPO); the Leadership Forum and two Republican lobbyists, Bill Paxon and Susan Hirshmann, who are forum officers.

Department of Defense Allows Northrop-TRW Merger


The Pentagon has approved Northrop Grumman Corp.’s proposed purchase of TRW Inc. and passed the matter on to the Justice Department for final action, sources familiar with the situation said Thursday.

The $7.8 billion deal, which would create a defense, aerospace and information technology powerhouse big enough to rival industry leader Lockheed Martin Corp., has been hung up at the Defense Department for weeks, reportedly because top Pentagon officials were focusing on the possible war with Iraq.

Getting a green light from the Defense Department, the companies’ primary customer, usually ensures that a defense industry merger will be approved by antitrust regulators at Justice.

But sources said Thursday that the approval hinges on obtaining a consent decree from Northrop Grumman to protect competition in the satellite industry. Without that, a source said, Defense will oppose the merger.