News In Brief

NASA is set to send yet another probe to Mars today to scour its surface for evidence of water. The 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter is the first to be launched since NASA was staggered by 1999's back-to-back failures of missions to the planet. The space agency has since drastically revamped its Mars program. The 1,600-pound orbiter is equipped to look for evidence of near-the-surface water and map mineral deposits from past water sources. (Story, page 1)

New claims for unemployment insurance to the states jumped last week to their highest level since July 1998. The Labor Department put the number at a seasonally adjusted 383,000 - bigger than economists generally had expected. Analysts believe that the unemployment rate for March, expected to be released today, will tick up from 4.2 percent to 4.3 percent, reflecting weaker demand for workers.

Meanwhile, stock prices shot higher in early trading after Dell Computer and Alcoa gave Wall Street its first really good earnings news in months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged more than 300 points, while the Nasdaq was up 95.08 to 1,733.88.

Almost 13,000 teachers in Hawaii went on strike over pay raises, shutting down the nation's only statewide public-school system. At the same time, 3,100 University of Hawaii faculty members also prepared to go on strike after reaching an impasse on a new contract. The walkouts affect 182,328 public-school students and 41,933 university students. The teachers union rejected a 14 percent pay raise offered by the state over two years and held to its demand for a 22 percent increase over four years.

President Bush's proposed 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut suffered setbacks Wednesday as the Senate voted 53 to 47 to siphon $450 billion from it for education spending and debt reduction. In addition, Republican moderate James Jeffords of Vermont threatened to oppose the cut as too costly. Jeffords later indicated an agreement was in the works with Republicans in which education spending would be increased for the mentally and physically disabled. The House approved the GOP budget last week.

The Bush administration said it will continue to require that purchases of beef for federal school-lunch programs be tested for salmonella bacteria - despite earlier reports to the contrary by The New York Times and The Washington Post. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the reports were based on information from a lower-level official.

The search has been suspended for 14 crew members lost in the Bering Sea after a fishing vessel sank southwest of Alaska, the Coast Guard said. Only one crewman's remains were recovered in one of the worst commercial-fishing disasters in Alaska in 20 years. The Coast Guard is trying to determine why the Arctic Rose sank so fast that the crew had no time to radio for help.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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