USA

Federal Reserve policymakers were expected to hold interest rates steady during their meeting Wednesday, while renewing inflation warnings and delivering an assessment of cooler economic growth. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke held the federal funds rate at 5.25 percent during the Aug. 8 meeting after a two-year string of 17 straight rate increases.

During the leak investigation that's forcing the chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard Co. to step aside, the company explored the feasibility of planting spies in the offices of two news organizations, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Senior HP management was briefed on the possibility that investigators could pose as clerical or custodial employees in the San Francisco offices of CNET Networks Inc. and The Wall Street Journal. It was unclear whether the plan was carried out.

The dimming outlook for significant US troop cuts in Iraq means the Pentagon may soon face a difficult and politically sensitive decision: either make more frequent call-ups of some National Guard and Reserve troops or further expand the size of the active-duty Army, defense officials say. Already, soldiers are not getting the desired minimum of two years at home between combat deployments.

Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both New Jersey Democrats, wrote to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday to ask for a public meeting on its plan to create the state's first radioactive waste dump. Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corp. wants to bury more than 50,000 tons of radioactive slag and dust before closing its Newfield, N.J., factory and moving to Brazil. The company says a full cleanup would cost about $58 million – where-as burying the slag, fencing it off, and monitoring for 1,000 years would cost about $5 million.

Shuttle astronauts spotted three pieces of debris floating in space outside Atlantis early Wednesday, a day after the discovery of two other mysterious objects forced a postponement of the landing. The crew has found no damage on the shuttle.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index soared to a five-year high Wednesday. The S&P rose to 1327.55, the index's highest level since 2001.

Boeing Co. is expected to win an $80 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday to provide new high-tech ways to catch illegal immigrants trying to enter the US along the Mexican border. Boeing's proposal focused on a network of 1,800 high-tech towers, equipped with cameras and motion detectors, that could feed live information to border patrol agents.

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