USA

The number of laid-off workers drawing unemployment benefits rose to 3.18 million - the highest since September 1992, when the US struggled to emerge from the last recession. The Labor Department reported the overall unemployment rate remained at 4.5 percent in July, its highest level since the US entered a slowdown last summer. Many economists predict a rebound by the year's end that would reflect seven interest-rate cuts by the Fed and almost $40 billion in tax-rebate checks.

President Bush planned to nominate Air Force Gen. Richard Myers (l.) as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers was to fly to Bush's Texas ranch today to accept. He's currently vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and former commander of the US Space Command. If confirmed, he would reflect Bush's aim to focus on new military technologies, the importance of space and computers in warfare, and emerging global threats. The current chairman, Army Gen. Henry Shelton, steps down Sept. 30.

Elizabeth Dole reportedly will "seriously consider" running for the seat to be vacated by five-term Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina in 2003. Dole also switched her voter registration from Kansas to North Carolina, according to news reports. A former labor secretary and Red Cross head, she was raised in North Carolina but hasn't lived there in decades. Other Republicans considering a bid include Rep. Richard Burr, ex-Sen. Lauch Faircloth, and ex-Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot. The only Democrat to enter so far is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. (Story, page2.)

A new study of California's "three-strikes" law reports that while it has succeeded in putting more criminals behind bars - and for longer sentences - it has had little effect on thwarting crime. Researchers studied 50,000 prisoners convicted under the 1994 law and compared California's crime rate to states where crime has fallen markedly without such a law. Politicians challenged the study, noting that California's 41 percent drop in crime is twice the national average. The three-strikes law doubles sentences for a second felony conviction and imposes 25 years to life for a third conviction.

The White House commission on Social Security reform said cuts in benefits may be needed to shore up the system even if private investment accounts are set up. The warning came as the commission struggled to build support for such accounts, touted by Bush as the best way to save Social Security from bankruptcy while protecting benefits. The plan would allow people to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in stocks or bonds.

A wildfire that forced some 400 residents to be evacuated from their homes near Yosemite National Park was 60 percent contained. It's one of 32 major blazes burning hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the West. Four homes and at least 11,500 acres have been charred in the Yosemite fire so far. Meanwhile, rain helped crews battling flames in Oregon and Washington. (Editorial, page 10.)

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