USA

Consumer spending rose by just 0.1 percent in July, the smallest gain in nine months, the Commerce Department reported. Economists had predicted that job-security concerns would cause consumers, a key force in keeping the economy afloat, to spend cautiously in July. In contrast, Americans' incomes, bolstered by tax rebates, lower tax rates, and a one-time payment to correct a Social Security benefits error, rose by 0.5 percent in July, the largest increase since December.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped below the psychologically significant 10,000 mark for the first time in four months in early trading Thursday, following discouraging economic reports on consumer spending and gross domestic product growth and a gloomy forecast from computer maker Sun Microsystems. Analysts blamed the market's performance on growing investor doubts about when an economic recovery will occur.

As many as 40,000 federal tax returns and payment checks totaling more than $800 million were lost or destroyed at a processing center operated for the Internal Revenue Service by a Pittsburgh bank, reports said. The problem was disclosed earlier this year, but at the time only 1,800 returns were thought to be involved. Mellon Bank's contract has been canceled and some workers were fired, the Washington Post reported. Affected taxpayers will have penalties waived and replacement returns and checks credited as on time, the newspaper said.

While serving as acting deputy attorney general in May, new FBI director Robert Mueller signed off on a controversial subpoena for the personal phone records of an Associated Press reporter, as part of a leak probe triggered by the reporter's story, published reports said. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who voted for Mueller, criticized the subpoena, saying such action should be reserved for "an extreme case of national security."

The last new "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" program airs today on PBS, although affiliates may still broadcast back episodes of the legendary children's TV series. Host Fred Rogers has won four Emmy Awards and one for lifetime achievement during its 34-year run. (Editorial, page 10.)

Help should come for 29 vanishing plant and animal species for which the Interior Department agreed to speed up federal protections. As part of an agreement with conservation groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service will place three species on the endangered and threatened list immediately, make final decisions on whether to list 14 others, and issue findings soon for the rest. Among the targeted species are the mountain yellow-legged frog of southern California (above) and the pygmy rabbit of Washington state, whose population is believed to have dwindled to fewer than 50. (Editorial, page 10.)

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