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News Briefs, part 1

Beijing Communist Chief Quits Amid Corruption Scandal

Los Angeles Times

The powerful Communist Party chief of Beijing quit Thursday amid a growing scandal and was replaced by the party's top anti-corruption official, according to a reliable government source.

The resignation of Chen Xitong, a Politburo member and former Beijing mayor infamous for declaring martial law during the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, was the most dramatic development yet in the battle to replace Deng Xiaoping, China's ailing senior leader.

Chen was replaced by Wei Jianxing, 64, secretary of the Central Discipline Inspection Commission, which is responsible for investigating corruption in the Communist Party.

Thursday's power shuffle was so notable because of the political strength and ties of Chen and Wei.

Chen is linked to Deng but was believed to be at odds with a front-runner to replace the paramount leader. Wei was not only a protege of Hu Yaobang, the late party reformer whose death sparked the 1989 protests, but also is an ally of yet another possible Deng successor.

Justice Dept. Sues to Block Microsoft Acquisition of Intuit

Los Angeles Times

Microsoft Corp., whose relentless drive for dominance in the personal computer software industry has overwhelmed both competitors and government regulators for more than a decade, suffered a major setback Thursday when the Justice Department sued to block the software giant's $2 billion acquisition of personal finance software vendor Intuit Inc.

In a 14-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the Justice Department said a Microsoft takeover of Intuit - whose Quicken program controls more than 70 percent of the market for personal finance software - "would likely lead to higher prices and lessened innovation" and would thus violate antitrust laws.

"Allowing Microsoft to buy a dominant position in this highly concentrated market would likely result in higher prices for consumers who want to buy personal finance software and would cause those buyers to miss out on the huge benefits from innovation," said Anne K. Bingaman, who heads the department's antitrust division.

Microsoft, which has been dogged by a separate government antitrust probe for more than four years, vowed to fight Justice Department action, asserting that the Intuit deal is "very clearly in the interest of consumers." But few now expect the deal to be completed: Intuit's stock plunged 10 points to 72 on Nasdaq before trading was halted Thursday, and Microsoft's shares - which have been climbing sharply for weeks - fell 1 to close at 78.

Bell Curve' Author Murray Addresses Welfare

The Washington Post

Welfare reform calls for a "necessarily brutal calculation" - an estimate of which reform plan will result in the "least net suffering," conservative economist Charles Murray told the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.

Murray told senators the real problem they must address in overhauling the welfare system is not too much welfare, but too much illegitimacy. Putting welfare mothers to work is "peripheral" because it does nothing to reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. Only radical change will work, and only the states are equipped to attempt it, he said.

Children already are suffering, despite a labyrinth of protective laws and programs, and "every meaningful reform will cause some children to suffer." Murray, who is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the controversial book "The Bell Curve," said Congress must make the brutal calculation of which will cause less suffering - continuing the current system, or attempting radical change.

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., objected that the Congress had an "obligation to do no harm." She questioned the effect of a "brutal calculation" on the 9 million children totally dependent upon the government. "Do we just have Calcutta, have kids begging on the corner?"