Early Briefing: Should Md. Allow Wine Deliveries?

Here's some of the local business stories in today's paper:

*Maryland lawmakers are considering whether to lift a ban on wine shipments in the state and allow people to buy their bottles online or over the phone. The bill was introduced by two Montgomery legislators who had been flooded with complaints from constituents.

The liquor lobby opposes the measure, saying it could increase minors' access to alcohol because it is difficult to verify the ages of Internet customers. Further, opponents said it could cut into revenue for local distributors and retailers.

Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), one of the bill's sponsors, said wine lovers "all want a free market in wine, and we can give it to them."

"This law dates back to the repeal of Prohibition, and it's obsolete today," Raskin said. "We have an opportunity to strike a blow for market freedom and the civilized pleasure of wine drinking."

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), the other sponsor, said the ban is "very hard to explain to my constituents." He said that allowing shipments of wine will increase choices for Maryland consumers.

See the rest of the story here.

Lockheed already has an order to supply F-16 fighters to Pakistan. (By B. K. Bangash -- Associated Press)

*Lockheed Martin is one of the chief beneficiaries of the thawing relations between the U.S. and India. According to this Bloomberg report, when India went shopping for military transport planes and helicopters last month, the South Asian nation, which once bought most of its arms from Russia, placed the order with Lockheed Martin instead.

The $2 billion deal with Bethesda-based Lockheed is the latest product of an Indian-U.S. relationship that moved from chilly co-existence to the closest rapport since India achieved independence in 1947.

Annual trade has tripled since 2000, to more than $41 billion last year. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to visit New Delhi next week, Lockheed or Boeing may add to that trade as they compete for a $10 billion contract to sell 126 fighter jets. The two nations are working to counter terrorism and limit nuclear proliferation, and the United States has become the destination of choice for Indians studying abroad.

* Steve Barr says in his Federal Diary column that the government has been picking up speed in processing security clearances.

In a report sent to Congress last week, the Bush administration said most security clearances for federal employees and contractors were completed in an average of 118 days.

That turnaround time beats the 130-day goal set by Congress in the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act. Before the law was passed, it took more than a year on average to conduct an investigation for a top-secret clearance, and investigations for secret and confidential clearances averaged five to six months, according to the report.

The law requires the administration to move even faster on security clearances by the end of 2009.

To achieve the 2009 goal, the government will have to complete security clearances in 74 days, or 44 days faster than it did in the first quarter of fiscal 2008.

By Dan Beyers  |  February 19, 2008; 7:35 AM ET
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