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News Briefs 2

Federal Workers Face Reduced Pay

The Washington Post

Changes the president has proposed in measuring inflation would mean slightly smaller cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) in federal and military pay and Social Security retirement benefits. But the budget plan would save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Currently, government retirees get annual COLAs to help protect them from inflation, which typically doubles every decade. Partial, occasional COLAs are rare in private pension plans. Full, annual COLAs are unknown.

Social Security COLAs are paid each January. That would not change. But under the president's budget, a "temporary" delay in federal-military retiree COLAs (from January until April of each year) would continue for another seven years.

The Clinton plan has been endorsed by congressional Republicans and many economists. It would lead to a .3 percent drop in the annual rate of growth of the Consumer Price Index. In effect, the Bureau of Labor Statistics would use new "estimation procedures" to measure changes in the cost of living.

Many economists feel the current CPI overstates inflation because it measures big-ticket items that people don't buy every year and may purchase only once or twice in a lifetime. Eliminating or discounting some of those items from the CPI measurement would almost certainly reduce annual COLAs.

Guatemalan President Delivers Cease-Fire Order to Troops

Los Angeles

Sealing a two-way cease-fire, the most significant advance yet toward peace in Central America's last remaining civil war, President Alvaro Arzu on Thursday personally told soldiers in strife-torn Quiche province to stop anti-guerrilla operations.

Arzu had ordered a halt to counterinsurgency operations late Wednesday, hours after guerrilla commanders declared a cease-fire from their Mexico City office.

"I think it's the end of the conflict," said Frank La Rue, a political analyst at the Washington-based Legal Action Center for Human Rights.

The ending of hostilities is a major breakthrough in the five years of peace talks to halt three decades of civil war and appears to vindicate Arzu's decision to name a government negotiator who many military supporters grumbled was too sympathetic to the guerrillas.

The cease-fire also lends credibility to Arzu's promise that within seven months of his January inauguration he would end the fighting that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, produced 45,000 refugees and left 40,000 people missing. Most of the victims have been Indian peasants, and the heaviest casualties were in Quiche, 100 miles north of Guatemala City, where Arzu spoke Thursday.

Clinton Authorizes Spending For Additional B-2 Bombers

The Washington Post

Lifting its cap on the B-2 bomber program by one more plane, the Clinton administration announced Thursday it would seek to increase the number of stealth aircraft from 20 to 21, using the extra money Congress appropriated for the program last year.

The surprise move was derided by some Republicans as an election-year maneuver, but was applauded by B-2 proponents in Congress. The plane's supporters had all but given up hope of securing more of the controversial aircraft after President Clinton reaffirmed the 20-bomber limit as recently as last month and announced that the congressional add-on would be applied to upgrades of the current fleet.

Explaining the switch, Pentagon officials said they had discovered that the extra $493 million appropriated by Congress could just about cover the cost of refurbishing an early B-2 test model now in storage at Northrop-Grumman Corp.'s assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif., and previously destined for a museum. Earlier cost estimates for transforming the test plane into a fully operational bomber had run around $700 million, the officials said.

The Pentagon has long opposed buying more of the bat-winged B-2s, saying there are less costly ways of meeting potential threats than expanding the bomber fleet. But with several thousand subcontractors spread around the country standing to benefit from additional sales, political pressure to order more bombers has come from congressional Republicans and Democrats alike.

Public Reacts to British Beef Scare

Los Angeles Times

Consumers at home and abroad revolted against British beef Thursday after the British government conceded that there may be a link between what is known as "mad-cow disease" and the deaths of 10 people from an incurable brain disorder.

The government denied there is any cause for alarm, but said the entire national herd of 11 million cows could be slaughtered if scientists advise it.

In a move Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg called "unreasonable, unnecessary and probably illegal," France, Belgium and five German states banned imports of British beef. In Brussels, Belgium, British scientists conferred with worried European Union officials.

Across Britain, school boards announced they would scrap beef from lunch menus, joining an estimated one-third of British schools that were already beefless. It was burgers as usual at fast food restaurants in downtown London Thursday night, but cattle prices slumped 15 percent, food-processing companies lost ground on the stock market, and crisis gripped the $6 billion a year cattle industry. Nearly half of all British farmers have some cattle.

Mad-cow alarm has been a regular visitor to Britain for a decade: Cattle began dying of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, in 1985. The disease in cattle has been traced to infected sheep offal in cattle feed. The sale of offal, including spinal cords and brains, was banned in 1989.