News In Brief

The Senate approved, 59 to 41, a landmark campaign-finance bill that would reduce the influence of big money in elections by banning loosely regulated "soft money" donations by corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals to the political parties. The measure heads to the House next, where a tough fight is expected. Democrats, including House minority leader Dick Gephardt, have expressed concern about a provision to double the direct "hard money" contributions an individual may make to candidates and parties to $2,000 per election. Even if President Bush signs the measure, it likely will be challenged in court by opponents who argue part of the bill violates First Amendment free-speech rights. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin sponsored the bill.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly opened a criminal investigation to determine whether federal and state officials have been covering up massive cost overruns on Boston's $14 billion "Big Dig" - the most expensive highway project in history. No one has been targeted specifically, but documents on the project's financial history were subpoenaed from 12 agencies and officials, Reilly said. The original price tag: $2.6 billion.

A former officer central to the police-corruption scandal in Los Angeles pleaded guilty to federal charges, including obstruction of justice, perjury, and grand theft, in a deal that requires him to cooperate with prosecutors. Among other crimes, Nino Durden, formerly assigned to the department's Rampart division, admitted to shooting an unarmed gang member, then helping plant a gun on him and lying in court to convict him. Ex-officer Rafael Perez has also admitted to those crimes.

Providence, R.I., Mayor Vincent Cianci (R) and four colleagues were indicted on federal charges of racketeering, alleging they solicited bribes - disguised as campaign contributions - in exchange for city contracts, leases, and government promotions, the US attorney for the state said. According to the 30-count indictment, criminal activity, including extortion, "permeated city government." Prosecutors seek forfeiture of assets, including the mayor's campaign fund. Cianci, the city's longest-serving mayor, says he is innocent.

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the most distant exploding star yet observed. The supernova occurred 10 billion years ago when the universe was young, but its light just recently reached Earth. Researchers say the discovery bolsters a controversial theory that mysterious "dark energy" is accelerating the expansion of the cosmos. Dark energy might account for as much as two-thirds of space and may counteract forces such as gravity because it controls the density of nature, scientists said. The dying star moved differently than it would if the universe had expanded steadily.

The top-ranked Duke University Blue Devils won their third NCAA men's basketball championship with an 82-to-72 victory over the University of Arizona Wildcats Monday night in Minneapolis. After the game, an estimated 2,000 Arizona fans poured onto the streets of Tucson, setting overturned cars on fire, tearing down street signs, and looting stores. Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas to quell the crowds and arrested 17 people.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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