News In Brief

Lawyers for Al Gore and George W. Bush offered arguments before the Florida Supreme Court in a case likely to be one of the last factors in settling the state's disputed presidential vote. The Gore side sought to persuade the justices to clear the way for hand-counting of ballots in selected counties. The Bush camp argued that a lower court ruling, which declined to order another recount, should stand. GOP leaders of the Florida Legislature, meanwhile, were to convene a special session today to appoint delegates to the Electoral College.

President Clinton was to announce steps to deal with mushrooming airline traffic and delays by issuing an executive order to create a special new government agency, the White House said. The Air Traffic Organization, which will be part of the Federal Aviation Administration, has been conceived as running like a private business led by a chief operating officer. Clinton also was expected to propose eliminating an excise tax paid by airline passengers that funds air-traffic control operations. It would be replaced with a system of user fees to be paid directly by commercial airlines, administration officials said.

A scathing new Pentagon report confirmed that three top officials with the Army Corps of Engineers went to unauthorized lengths in making a case for spending $1 billion to expand locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Although the probe found no criminal violations by the officials, they faced the possibility of internal discipline. The report also found that the corps, which has a $4 billion budget for flood control and river navigation construction, had a bias in favor of giving projects a green light.

The Texas state environmental agency approved an aggressive clean-air plan for metropolitan Houston, currently the US's smoggiest city. The undertaking includes a 55 m.p.h. speed limit and steep reductions in emissions from industrial plants. Without such a plan, the state would risk the loss of federal highway money. But a coalition of 120 companies already has argued that the cuts in industrial emissions are not technically or economically feasible.

The Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington was expected to rule imminently on the possible release of a Palestinian jailed in Florida for three years without charge. Moves to free Mazen al-Najjar, who federal attorneys claim is a security threat, gained momentum last summer when a federal judge ruled his civil rights had been violated because he was unable to respond to secret evidence against him. Wednesday, a Florida immigration judge ordered Najjar's release on bond, but the case moved to the Washington board.

After an 18-hour journey from China by plane and truck, a pair of giant pandas arrived at their new home at Washington's National Zoo. Mei Xiang and Tian-Tian, on loan for at least 10 years, are scheduled to go on display in January.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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