News In Brief
After concluding his three-day visit to Washington, George W. Bush announced a slew of Cabinet appointments, including Paul O'Neill (left), chairman of aluminum giant Alcoa Inc., as Treasury secretary. Before joining the Pittsburgh-based company in 1987, O'Neill served as deputy budget director under President Ford. The president-elect also was set to name his campaign chairman, Donald Evans, as Commerce secretary and Mel Martinez, chairman of Orange County, Fla., as Housing secretary. The ex-chief of California's agriculture department, Ann Veneman, reportedly is Bush's choice to be head the same agency at the federal level.
Privacy advocates claimed a major victory as President Clinton introduced sweeping protections limiting doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies from sharing their patients' confidential medical records. Under the new regulations, patients will have to give explicit consent for any use of their records other than for routine billing and treatment, and employers are barred from viewing workers' medical information unless for insurance purposes. Patients previously could only rely on state privacy restrictions, which often were weak.
A measure proposing sweeping changes in the nation's bankruptcy law fell to a presidential veto, as Clinton argued it would have given a loophole for the wealthy while imposing rigid payment plans on those with moderate incomes. Supporters, including credit-card companies, cited the record rise of bankruptcy filings in the 1990s as evidence that debtors are abusing the current system. The bill would have established a mathematical formula to determine whether those claiming bankruptcy could pay part of their debts.
Bolling Air Force Base outside Washington was completely sealed off from the news media and public as Clinton joined Israeli and Palestinian delegates in their second day of peace discussions. Senior negotiators for both sides were not optimistic about making progress at the meeting while violence continues in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Clinton is said to be determined to make a last push for peace before leaving office Jan. 20. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also was expected to join the talks.
Low mortgage rates across the nation bolstered the rate of construction of new homes this month, the Commerce Department reported, despite a cooling of the economy overall. Housing starts jumped 2.2 percent last month after a 0.6 drop in October. A 28 percent surge in building in the West fueled the overall growth, analysts said. But the market for new homes will likely slow in the future, they maintained, because of a nationwide decline in consumer confidence.
A 51 percent increase in air- traffic control errors over the past five years brought calls for quick reforms in a report by the Transportation Department's chief inspector. The government study criticized Federal Aviation Administration officials for not reducing errors - most often involving aircraft in midair. Union officials representing air traffic controllers said the report neglected to mention such contributing factors as worker fatigue and low staffing levels to help explain the errors.
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