News In Brief

Productivity, a key measure of rising living standards, fell at a 0.1 percent rate between January and March, the first decline in six years, the Labor Department reported. The drop in productivity - the amount of output per hour of work - surprised analysts, who were expecting a 1 percent increase. Productivity has been credited as a key part of the long-lasting US expansion. Meanwhile, unit labor costs, a key gauge of inflation pressures, rose to a 5.2 percent annual rate - the largest jump in three years.

Power-grid managers in California were forced to order rolling blackouts throughout the state, affecting 100,000 customers. The hour-long outages were the first since March, and the fifth this year. Grid operators also warned of more blackouts this summer. State law prohibits utilities from passing high wholesale power costs on to customers. Meanwhile, the California Assembly approved a plan to sell $13.4 million in bonds to help pay for electricity during the crisis, marking what could be the biggest such issue in US history.

A grand jury in Cincinnati returned two misdemeanor charges against the white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man, resulting in three nights of heavy riots last month. Stephen Roach was charged with negligent homicide and obstruction of official business exactly one month after he shot Timothy Thomas, who was fleeing down an alley. Roach said he thought Thomas was reaching for a gun. If convicted, Roach would face no more than nine months in jail and could receive probation. The charges drew sharp criticism on grounds of leniency, and 150 people protested at police headquarters.

Four months after the price of a first-class stamp increased by a penny, Postal Service governors announced higher rates will take effect July 1 for other mail categories. Officials, facing rising costs and shrinking income, boosted rates for priority mail, express mail, periodicals, and other items. Post-card stamps will increase one penny to 21 cents. The agency faces a potential $2 billion loss this year as mail volume slips while costs for fuel, transportation, and salaries go up. The price increases are expected to bring in $900 million more a year.

Three cigarettemakers who lost a record-setting $145 billion verdict to sick Florida smokers agreed to pay them $710 million, no matter how their appeals turn out, attorneys for both sides said. The guarantee represents the industry's first major financial commitment directly to smokers in almost four decades of litigation. Philip Morris, Lorillard, and Liggett chose the deal to keep smokers from challenging the constitutionality of a state law placing a $500 million cap on appeal bonds in the case. Without the law, the companies would have been required to buy bonds worth more than the $145 billion verdict to be able to obtain a review by a higher court.

By a 57-to-43 vote, the Senate confirmed John Bolton as the chief arms-control officer at the State Department. Several Democrats objected to his nomination, arguing that he had little experience in the field and had opposed past arms-control agreements, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Bolton, an attorney, held two assistant attorney general positions in the Justice Department under President Reagan.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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