News In Brief

The highest level of consumer confidence in more than 30 years was reported by the Conference Board. Releasing its June report as Federal Reserve policymakers were opening two days of meetings in Washington, the board said the index of key economic indicators rose from 137.7 in May to 138.4 - the eighth consecutive monthly gain and the highest since the all-time record for the index of 142.3, in October 1968. Meanwhile, however, the Commerce Department said sales of new homes in May fell by 5.1 percent, double what analysts had expected. The Fed's Open Market Committee is expected to announce a quarter-point increase in federal interest rates - and to signal its inclination toward future hikes - today.

Older and disabled Americans would pay $24 a month beginning in 2002 if they want to take advantage of a proposed Medicare option covering prescription medicines. The feature is the centerpiece of President Clinton's long-awaited call for bolstering one of the nation's major social programs. He was to announce the plan at the White House. Under the plan, the government would cover 50 percent of the cost of prescription drugs up to $2,000 a year. By 2008, the monthly premium would rise to $44 and the cap to $5,000.

Violent summer weather, featuring hail the size of baseballs and torrential rains, swept an area from the central plains to the Gulf of Mexico. Flooding in Huntsville, Ala., was blamed for two deaths. In Scottsbluff, Neb., thousands of cars and hundreds of houses were damaged by the hail and high winds. Parts of Kansas were still being battered by high winds and flash flooding blocking roads and forcing the evacuation of residents. In New Hampshire, power consumption broke a 10-year-old record as temperatures remained in the 90s F. for the third straight day.

No breaches of security were found despite nine hours of electronic attacks against the Army's main Internet site, a spokesman said. The incident last weekend was the latest in a series by hackers against high-profile federal Web sites. It came after the Defense Department announced stepped-up procedures to protect against hackers. But experts said the interference was made possible by flawed software flaw that the producer, Allaire Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., had warned users as recently as May 19 to remove.

A move to block the illegal downloading of copyrighted music via the Internet was announced by a coalition of 140 electronics manufacturers and major-record labels. The Secure Digital Music Initiative said it would encrypt new releases so that only devices equipped to recognize the coding can play them. No date for the start of the project was announced. Increasingly available technology makes it possible to spread high-quality digital music files across the Internet, alarming the $40 billion-a-year industry.

Cost overruns on other space-agency projects will prevent an unmanned probe from landing on a comet for the first time, a NASA spokesman said. NASA announced it was canceling the $240 million mission, which has been under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It was expected to be launched in 2003 and would have landed two years later on the comet Tempel 1 to analyze its composition.

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