News In Brief
Flush with cash from a booming economy, the Treasury said it expects to reduce the $5.7 trillion national debt by a record $216 billion this year. Some $185 billion of that is to be posted in the second quarter, which is traditionally a period of big government debt payoffs because tax remittances flood federal coffers. The government can pay off debt by buying back older, high-yielding securities before they mature and scaling back the amount newly issued.
New-home sales increased 4.5 percent in March, surprising analysts who thought higher mortgage rates would depress purchases. The seasonally adjusted 966,000 single-family homes bought in March represent the highest level since November 1998, and the biggest increase since October 1999. Although housing construction fell by 11.2 percent during the same period, the index of leading indicators - an important gauge of economic activity - rose 0.1 percent in March, suggesting a continued strong economy this year.
In the first major Hollywood walkout in 12 years, unionized actors for television commercials held strike rallies in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which together represent about 135,000 actors, are demanding a bigger cut from the cable market. Currently, the performers receive a flat fee when one of their commercials has a 13-week, unlimited run on cable. Instead, they want a pay arrangement - like the one already in place for networks - that awards residuals each time a spot airs. Two-thirds of all TV ads are made for cable.
South Carolina became the last state in the nation to recognize fully the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. But the measure, signed into law by Gov. Jim Hodges (D), was opposed by the NAACP because it also created a Confederate Memorial Day on May 10. As early as next week, the state's House of Representatives could begin debate on legislation that would remove the Confederate flag from atop the capitol dome and fly a similar banner elsewhere on State House grounds. The bill, which the NAACP also opposes, already has passed the Senate.
Under an order from President Clinton, global positioning devices used to navigate vehicles and locate missing hikers will feature a level of accuracy previously reserved for the US military. A descrambled signal from the US-built satellite network, known as GPS, could make navigation equipment that civilians currently own 10 times more accurate. The market for GPS users is expected to double in the next three years, to more than $16 billion, the White House said.
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