News In Brief

The FBI has found no evidence of espionage or indications that missing computer disks containing nuclear secrets ever left the Los Alamos laboratory, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told a Senate hearing. He also said a grand jury has been convened to consider the case, in which two hard drives were realized to be missing May 7 and then mysteriously reappeared June 16. Richardson said "the working theory" is that the two drives disappeared "at the tail end of March" of the this year but that the time has yet to be pinpointed. He further noted that investigators have lifted fingerprints from wrappings of the hard drives.

The Federal Trade Commission opened a formal investigation into the considerably higher gasoline rates that drivers are paying in the Midwest. The price spikes, FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky said, are "sufficiently questionable" and could indicate possible price gouging and collusion. As part of the investigation, the FTC will begin issuing subpoenas to oil companies by the end of the week, congressional sources said. Meanwhile, Indiana's Frank O'Bannon suspended the state sales tax on gasoline for 60 days. The Democratic governor, who's in the midst of a reelection campaign, said the reduction is expected to cut gas prices by about a dime.

In a surprise reversal, the House backed off its measure that would have reduced funding for the Justice Department's lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The lawmakers agreed, by a voice vote, to let the Department of Veterans Affairs contribute $4 million toward litigation costs. The reversal came after the measure was worded more explicitly to stipulate the funds would come out of the VA's administrative and legal budget, not its medical-care account.

The Senate voted 57 to 42 to strengthen federal protection against hate crimes by lowering some of the thresholds needed to prove cases. The measure also would expand the scope of protections to include offenses motivated by sexual orientation, gender, or disability. But the defense bill, to which the legislation was attached, was set aside afterward, with no timetable announced for resuming its consideration. And support for the measure is not seen as strong in the House.

In a widely expected action, the federal judge who ordered Microsoft be split in two bypassed a federal appellate court and sent the case directly to the Supreme Court. Thomas Penfield Jackson also suspended stringent business regulations - such as Microsoft providing outside developers with technical information about its Windows operating system - that he had ordered to take effect in September. The Supreme Court, which is in the last two weeks of its current term, can either accept the case or send it to the appellate court for review.

The first indictments - against five men for sexual abuse and rioting - were issued in connection with attacks in New York's Central Park June 11. Fifty-three women have reported assaults by roaming gangs of men after the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Prosecutors indicated they expect to seek indictments this week on 20 others who were arrested, and police have distributed photographs of 22 more suspects identified from amateur videotape.

The cause of a subway derailment Tuesday was being investigated, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said. About 90 people were injured in the accident, three seriously. The problem, which threw the first three cars of a train off the tracks, occurred as it pulled away from a Brooklyn station.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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