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News Briefs, part 1

House Republicans Soften Defense Measure

The Washington Post

Congressional Republicans, yielding to pressure to reduce the budget deficit, Tuesday backed away from key promises in the House GOP's "Contract With America" and agreed to a revised defense bill that watered down its pledge to reverse the decline in defense spending.

National defense was not the only contract issue to run into obstacles Tuesday as Republicans press to meet their hundred-day deadline to complete action on their 10-point agenda:

- A dispute between two Republican senators slowed action in the Senate on line-item veto legislation to give the president expanded powers to cut spending.

- The balanced-budget amendment drew strong resistance in the Senate from Democrats who insist the measure be altered to protect Social Security.

But the House neared passage on legislation to relieve states of the costs of regulations imposed on them by the federal government and a House committee continued to rewrite the $30 billion anti-crime law enacted last year.

The only major amendment Democrats were able to put through eliminated a 1999 deadline for offering membership in NATO to Poland and some other eastern European nations.

American Eagle Pilots Gave No Hint of Trouble, Transcript Shows

The Washington Post

The pilots of American Eagle Flight 4184 gave no indication of trouble before their plane crashed into an Indiana field Oct. 31, but other aircraft in the area reported icing conditions, according to a transcript of radio communications released Monday.

The crash of the twin-turboprop ATR-72, which killed 68 people, touched off investigations into whether the French-Italian commuter aircraft was susceptible to a buildup of ice on wings and control surfaces. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily banned use of the plane or its smaller sister, the ATR-42, in known or forecast icing conditions.

One result was massive scheduling problems for airlines using the planes and delays and reroutings for their passengers. The ban has since been lifted, but pilots are required to follow certain precautions and the manufacturer is installing updated de-icing systems.

The transcript of radio communications between the pilots and FAA air traffic controllers shows that, with weather closing in at Chicago O'Hare, Flight 4184's destination, the pilots were placed in a holding pattern about 4:24 p.m. Flight 4184 was first told to expect release from the holding pattern about 4:45 p.m., but that estimate was extended several times.

New Family of Drugs May Slow Progression of AIDS

Los Angeles Times

In the first good news to come out of the battle against AIDS in this decade, researchers reported Tuesday that a new family of drugs called protease inhibitors can sharply reduce replication of the AIDS virus and restore immune system functioning in patients in the early stages of the disease.

Results from preliminary clinical trials of two of the drugs indicate that they are 10 to 20 times as powerful as AZT in clearing the virus from patients' bodies and that immune system regeneration can persist for at least six months.

At least seven protease inhibitors - which attack an enzyme unique to HIV - are now in trials in humans, with several more expected to begin soon. Although no single one of them appears to be a "magic bullet," many researchers now believe that a "drug cocktail" of protease inhibitors and antiviral drugs could provide a "potent antiviral punch" against HIV, Dr. Martin Markowitz of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center told the Second National Conference (on) Human Retroviruses and Related Infections.

Researchers cautioned, however, that this is not a cure but rather a way to slow the progression of the disease. Moreover, they said that highly successful preliminary results of antiviral activity often prove ephemeral as the AIDS virus finds new ways to subvert efforts to control it. In all the trials, the new drugs began to lose some effectiveness after several weeks or months, but researchers said they thought they could overcome that problem with the cocktail approach.