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The justice department filed a lawsuit against major tobacco companies to recover some $25 billion a year the government says it spends on smoking-related health care for Medicare and veterans programs. The government brought the suit under a civil-racketeering statute that allows triple damages.

On average, TV and movie viewers see an act of serious violence once every four minutes, a new survey of the media's 1998-1999 season found. The year-long study was conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington.

Lap and shoulder belts provide no benefit for children on school buses and can even cause harm in some crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded after an 18-month study. The report said computer studies of recent truck-bus collisions found that school-bus seats are too flat and slippery for seat belts to be effective. The board called for a new design for the seats.

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Some lawmakers were talking about linking modest GOP tax breaks to a bill that would phase in over two years an increase in the minimum-wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour. Speculation about such a deal came after Senate Republicans blocked a bid by Democrats to bring their minimum-wage proposal to a vote.

President Clinton sent Congress a request to more than triple the US commitment to debt relief for poor countries in the next fiscal year. The administration estimated that if wealthy creditor nations and multi-national development banks follow through on relief obligations, the poorest nations' $127 billion debt could be cut to $37 billion.

Republicans laid out an $8.15 billion plan to aid farmers hurt by low prices, droughts, and floods. The proposal would add $500 million for weather-related losses to a $7.4 billion package the Senate attached last month to a funding bill for agriculture. Democrats were expected to push for more disaster aid, but some conceded that $8 billion is about all a House-Senate conference committee is likely to approve.

Year 2000 computer problems will bring some inconveniences but no major disasters, a special Senate panel studying the issue predicted. The bipartisan committee said there were "no data to suggest that the US will experience nationwide social or economic collapse," but "severe long- and short-term disruptions to supply chains are likely to occur." It also voiced concern about possible "trap doors" that could have been crafted secretly into US computer codes overhauled overseas, potentially allowing adversaries to secretly gain access to US computers.

The number of US workers calling in sick because of stress has tripled in the last four years, a new survey found. The report from Commerce Clearing House, a human-resources research group, said absenteeism had fallen 7 percent since a similar study last year, but stress accounted for 19 percent of the 1999 total - a 316 percent jump since 1995.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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