News In Brief

The White House and congressional Republicans narrowed their differences over Interior Department programs, but disputes over education, the UN, and other issues were left unresolved. A quick settlement was necessary if GOP leaders were to meet their goal of sending Congress home for the year by tomorrow.

The Supreme Court rejected a pair of death-row appeals arguing that capital punishment is "cruel and unusual" when people are executed decades after their convictions and sentences. The justices, on an 8-to-1 vote, turned away appeals aimed at sparing the lives of Carey Dean Moore in Nebraska and Askari Abdullah Muhammad in Florida, who have been on death row for 19 and 24 years, respectively.

The high court also took up a case concerning the use at colleges and universities of mandatory student fees to fund sometimes controversial groups engaged in political or social advocacy. And the justices agreed to consider limiting federal court access for state prisoners who say their trial lawyers gave them constitutionally inadequate help. Analysts said the case gives the court a chance to continue a trend of making it more difficult for criminal defendants convicted in state courts to go into federal courts and argue that their rights were violated.

The nation's No. 2 health insurer said it will give doctors - not administrators - final say on what treatments are medically necessary. UnitedHealth Group, which covers 14.5 million people across the country, has paid more money to scrutinize and deny questionable treatments than the practice has saved, said Dr. Archelle Georgiou, the Minneapolis-based company's chief medical officer. Some experts, calling the move historic, said other insurance firms would follow UnitedHealth's lead.

As families of victims of Egypt-Air Flight 990 began heading home, a second underwater robot was to begin searching for the plane's elusive "black box" recorders. The difficulty in reaching them is not yet a major concern because they're supposed to be able to continue making pinging sounds for 30 days. Safety officials are hoping the recorders will help explain the crash that killed 217 people more than a week ago.

The Pentagon considered hacking into Serbian computer networks to disrupt military operations and civilian services, but refrained from doing so during the recent conflict, The Washington Post reported. It said US forces did target - from electronic-jamming aircraft - computers controlling Serb air defenses, but didn't employ ground-based keyboards. Quoting senior defense officials, the Post also said a misuse of cyber attacks could have subjected US officials to war-crimes charges, had there been serious collateral damage to civilian services.

New York's Citibank was under Senate scrutiny for its handling of millions of dollars in alleged drug money for a brother of a former Mexican president. Citibank Co-Chairman John Reed was to testify before a Governmental Affairs subcommittee probing the finances of Raul Salinas, eldest brother of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico's president from 1988 to 1994.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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