News In Brief

The Bush administration said it would step up diplomacy in the Middle East and has assigned the CIA to facilitate security talks between Israelis and Palestinians to try to end regional violence. Criticized by Arab leaders for appearing to sit on the sidelines, the administration acknowledged it now is looking for a way to revive peace negotiations.

President Bush said he is willing to split the difference with Congress on his tax-cut plan. He acknowledged that the Senate would be unwilling to support his $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax reduction. It has instead endorsed a $1.2 trillion cut, while the House approved Bush's entire tax proposal. One key Republican said the White House now is seeking a $1.34 trillion cut.

New-home sales set a record last month, while sales of previously occupied homes hit their second-highest level to date, the Commerce Department reported. New-home sales shot up 4.2 percent to an annualized rate of 1.02 million, surpassing the previous monthly high of 1 million set in December. Sales of existing homes increased by 4.8 percent in March to an annual rate of 5.44 million.

Federal agents arrested 33 alleged members of the Genovese family - the most powerful in organized crime in New York - and 12 others on charges of fraud, murder, extortion, gambling, and drug-dealing. The arrests in New York, Florida, and Nevada followed a three-year undercover investigation of the Genoveses. Among those in custody were two retired police officers.

Responding to growing political pressure, federal regulators ordered limited price caps during California electricity emergencies in an attempt to head off severe price spikes this summer, when the state is expected to face critical power shortages. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to regulate prices when California electricity reserves fall below 7 percent, triggering a Stage 1 power alert.

The federal government would assist in cleaning up more than 500,000 "brownfields," abandoned industrial sites, under a bill passed 99 to 0 by the Senate. The legislation provides $200 million a year for the cleanups and encourages developers to build on the sites by insulating them from future Superfund lawsuits if additional toxic wastes are found. The bill would allow intervention only when contaminants pose imminent, substantial danger.

The Florida House voted overwhelmingly to eliminate the state's punch-card ballots and move to an electronic ballot system. The cards were at the center of Florida's disputed presidential election recount last November and December. The House bill would provide low-interest loans to the counties not already using the new system to make the upgrades. The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill. Above, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris testifies before Congress in Washington on voting reforms.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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