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News Briefs

Aneurysm Scans Urged for Older Men Who Smoked

In a sharp change from current policy, an influential medical advisory group is recommending that all men aged 65 to 75 who have ever smoked have an ultrasound screening test to see if they are developing a condition that could kill them in minutes by bursting a major artery in the abdomen.

The group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, is an independent panel of medical experts that advises the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Its recommendations help set government policy and are generally followed by primary care doctors.

The task force last looked at the condition, abdominal aortic aneurysms, in 1996 and concluded that there was insufficient evidence that a screening test would save lives. But now, it said, four large clinical trials have provided the evidence it needs, at least for those most at risk.

Finding aneurysms early, with a scan that can cost $350 to $400, and repairing them with an operation that can cost $15,000 to $20,000 if there are no complications, can cut the death rate by a third. Although the surgery can itself cause death, the risk that a large aneurysm will suddenly rupture and kill the patient is greater, the group said.

The condition kills at least 9,000 people a year in the United States. With screening, “the science comes down to saying this is worth doing,” said Dr. Ned Calonge, chairman of the task force and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Special Forces Allowed to Pay Informants and Recruit Soldiers

Congress has given the Pentagon important new authority to fight terrorism by authorizing Special Operations forces for the first time to spend money to pay informants and recruit foreign paramilitary soldiers.

The new authority, which would also let Special Operations forces purchase equipment or other items from the foreigners, is spelled out in a single paragraph of an 800-page defense authorization bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in October. It was requested by the Pentagon and the commander of Special Operations forces as part of a broader effort to make the military less reliant on the Central Intelligence Agency, according to congressional and Defense Department officials.

A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said the new authority was necessary to avoid a repetition of problems encountered in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. During that conflict, Special Operations troops had to wait for the CIA to pay informants and could not always count on timely support, the Pentagon concluded.

Russian Inflation Magnifies Sting of Welfare Changes

More than ever, painful changes in Russia’s economy are hurting citizens on government assistance, and the effect is being magnified by inflation.Russia missed its 10 percent inflation target for 2004, ending up with 11.7 percent. That has cast doubt on the feasibility of this year’s 8.5 percent target.

“I believe that it is possible to achieve the 8.5 percent target,” Russia’s economic development and trade minister, German Gref, told the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, in remarks carried by news agencies on Friday. He admitted in the same speech, however, that inflation in January would exceed 2 percent.

The higher inflation comes as President Vladimir V. Putin is embarking on some of the most difficult economic changes since the fall of the Soviet Union. Benefits for pensioners, veterans and disabled people, including free transportation, telephone calls, housing and medicine, were replaced at the beginning of this year with monthly cash payments. Those payments, to be paid to 32 million people, start at $7.

Economists are already skeptical of the government’s war on inflation, saying prices will rise 11 percent to 15 percent in 2005.

“There’s a substantial potential for inflation this year, and the target of 8.5 percent is wishful thinking,” said Peter Westin, economist at Aton Capital, a brokerage firm and investment bank. “Inflation is unfortunate, but it’s also a necessary consequence of adjusting prices and wages.

Pulitizer to Be Acquired By Lee Enterprises

Pulitzer Inc., the publisher of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Arizona Daily Star and 12 other daily newspapers in the Midwest and West, has agreed to be acquired by Lee Enterprises, a newspaper chain based in Davenport, Iowa, for nearly $1.5 billion.

The deal brings together two like-minded companies. Lee’s 44 daily newspapers stretch from Glens Falls, N.Y., (where it publishes The Post-Star) to Oceanside, Calif., (The North Country Times), but are largely clustered in the Midwest. The company publishes The Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., and The Sioux City Journal in Sioux City, Iowa. The two companies announced the deal late Sunday night, in an unannounced e-mail statement sent to reporters who cover the industry, as well as in articles that appeared Monday in their own publications.

By Lee’s tally, the 58 daily newspapers owned by the combined company, which would be known as Lee, would make it the fourth largest in the country, behind Gannett, Community Newspaper Holdings and Liberty Group Publishing. As measured by its combined weekday circulation, the company would rank seventh, Lee said.