Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2000

Nation Briefs

August 31, 2000

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WASHINGTON, D.C.

Temp workers allowed to organize

Many of the nation's 35 million temporary workers will be able to join company unions, putting them in a position to bargain for medical benefits and other compensations, as a result of a ruling Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board.

The decision by the labor board, an independent federal organization, will primarily affect those workers on longer-term assignments, rather than temporary workers in short-term jobs. Only temporary workers who are supervised by company employees are eligible, and the worker would be allowed to bargain with both the temp agency and their assignment company.

Virginia

Plane crashes into campus building

A small plane crashed in front of a fraternity at Washington and Lee University on Wednesday, killing both passengers, one of whom either fell from the plane or tried to jump, police said.

"The fact that it only damaged a sidewalk and maybe a brick wall is remarkable," said Lt. Steve Crowder of the Lexington Police Department. Few students were on campus since most fall classes won't begin for another week.

Witnesses told police they heard a noise like an explosion and saw someone hanging onto the side of the two-seat plane as it spiraled toward the ground about 5:30 p.m.

Trooper Mike Hamilton said one of the victims either jumped or fell out and one body was found outside the wreckage. Neither victim's identity was immediately released.

NEW YORK CITY

Philip Morris wants say in U.N. policy

Philip Morris, the world's biggest tobacco company, is telling the World Health Organization that it could support sensible global regulations on smoking and would like to have a broader role developing them.

The company, which makes Marlboro and other cigarette brands, told the U.N. health agency that while it supports measures to keep youngsters from smoking, the regulations should preserve the right of adults to smoke and treat tobacco companies equally.

The company said it intended to appear at the public hearings, but said it would like to be allowed more involvement than the prescribed five-minute presentation and the five-page written statement. It said it would like to invited to the working sessions and be consulted regarding the treaty.

WHO hopes its member governments can negotiate a global treaty on tobacco control by May 2003.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Diana's beau's father seeks CIA documents

The father of Dodi Fayed said Wednesday that he will file suit in federal court to gain access to U.S. intelligence information about the deaths of Princess Diana and his son in a Paris automobile accident.

"Since that tragic day three years ago, I have not rested in my search for the truth," Mohamed Al Fayed said in a written statement read at a news conference.

Al Fayed, who owns Harrods department store in London, repeated his claim that the Aug. 31, 1997, deaths were a murder conspiracy plotted by people who disapproved of Diana's relationship with his son.

He said he was seeking documents from the CIA, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency, which he said monitored Diana's telephone conversations.

"I believe they are withholding some of the documents at the request of the British secret services," Al Fayed said.

New Mexico

Laser defense weapon shoots down missiles

An experimental laser that someday may protect Israel's northern border blew up two rockets in simultaneous flight during a test in the New Mexico desert, the U.S. Army said.

The Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL, blew up a single artillery rocket in June. Monday's test was closer to conditions the THEL could face on the battlefield: multiple rockets coming from different directions.

"It's certainly a milestone for the program," said Gerda Sherrill, a spokeswoman at the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command at Huntsville, Ala. The command oversees the $200 million program being developed jointly by Israel and the United States.

The laser beam, which has a range of a few miles, heats the rockets until they explode. The biggest technical challenge for THEL lies in tracking the incoming rockets.

THEL's targets are Katyushas, Russian-made short-range artillery rockets. Hezbollah guerrillas launch volleys of the 10-foot rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.

Florida

Minority enrollment at colleges increases

When Gov. Jeb Bush banned consideration of race in state university admissions last year, he said it would increase minority enrollment.

On Tuesday, he proclaimed he was right. He released numbers showing enrollment of minorities in the first freshman class since affirmative action was ended rose 12 percent.

"We have the most diverse freshman class in the history of Florida," Bush said at a news conference. "This will allow young people who have historically been left behind a chance to get a $50,000-a-year job out of school."

Bush's so-called "Talented 20" plan guarantees state university admission to the top 20 percent of each of Florida's graduating public high school classes, as long as the applicants take two years of foreign language and a minimum number of academic courses. It is being challenged in the courts by the NAACP.

Under affirmative action, special consideration was given to minorities.

PHILADELPHIA

Medicare fraud costs hospitals $12 million

The University of Pennsylvania Health System on Wednesday agreed to pay $12 million to settle a civil lawsuit in which Philadelphia nursing home patients allegedly watched television and attended birthday parties instead of receiving psychiatric treatment under a Medicare-reimbursed program.

The Medicare-funded program was operated by the Presbyterian Medical Center, which was acquired by the Penn health system in 1995. It was designed to provide psychological counseling to patients in 10 Philadelphia nursing homes who were at risk of being moved to psychiatric hospitals. The U.S. Attorney's office, however, alleges the patients enrolled in the program did not meet that criteria.

The Penn health system already has repaid $3 million.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Postal Service expects to lose money this year

After five years in the black, the Postal Service may be facing a loss in the fiscal year that ends next month.

"I'm not optimistic. Right now, our cash flow is down," Postmaster General William Henderson said Tuesday. Henderson said the agency could be in the red as much as $300 million when the books are tallied at the end of September.

Henderson said the agency has faced a series of unexpected costs. At the same time, there has been a decline in the volume of first-class mail.

The post office expects revenue of about $65 billion for the fiscal year.

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