News In Brief

By , Judy Nichols, and Stephanie Cook

Wages and benefits for US workers climbed by 4.3 percent for the 12 months ending in March, the sharpest advance in at least eight years and an indicator that tight labor markets are beginning to trigger rising wage pressures, the Labor Department announced. Meanwhile, the US economy grew at a 5.4 percent annual rate during the first three months of 2000, the Commerce Department reported. The increase in first-quarter gross domestic product was led by an 8.3 percent rate increase in consumer spending, the largest gain since 1983.

Seven gunmakers and an industry group are suing the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 16 cities over a plan to give preference to Smith & Wesson when buying firearms for law-enforcement agencies. Smith & Wesson was the only gunmaker to sign an agreement to design safer weapons, and in return, was dropped from suits against gunmakers by the cities and federal agencies. The manufacturers' suit alleges a conspiracy in restraint of trade.

Unionized machinists at Lockheed Martin Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas, overwhelmingly approved a new contract, ending a 17-day strike. Under the terms, workers will get 3 percent raises this year and next and a 4 percent increase in 2002. Even though production was hampered by the strike, executives at the defense contractor said they'll deliver four F-16 fighter jets as scheduled this month and two more in May.

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For the third time this week, weather problems delayed the space shuttle Atlantis and its crew from flying to the international space station. The launch was called off because of bad weather at emergency landing sites until at least next week and possibly until mid-May. In an urgent mission, the crew was to boost the station to a higher orbit and replace bad batteries on board.

Former Black Panther leader Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt settled his lawsuits against the FBI and the city of Los Angeles for $4.5 million. Pratt spent 25 years in prison for the robbery and fatal shooting of a schoolteacher in Santa Monica, Calif. He denied guilt and claimed he was framed by Los Angeles police officers and the federal agents. Citing concealed evidence that could have led to an acquittal, a California judge overturned Pratt's conviction in 1997.

Air quality in the US improved in the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency reported. But it found that ozone levels rose significantly in seven of 24 national parks studied, perhaps because of pollution migrating from urban areas and power plants emitting impurities. The report recorded improvement in southern California, although the area is still the leader in air pollution, the EPA noted.

The first detailed images of the young universe suggest the cosmos will expand forever and not collapse someday, new research published in the journal Nature indicates. Observations from a balloon-borne telescope that circumnavigated Antarctica measured minute variations in certain radiation, which resulted in a faint glow that is believed to be the fading remnants of the so-called Big Bang. Scientists said the ripples match the scenario of a "flat" universe in which parallel lines never cross.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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