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News Briefs II

Americans' Incomes Grew Faster Than Inflation Last Year

The Washington Post

Americans' average incomes grew 2.6 percent faster than inflation last year, the biggest rise in nearly a decade, but the gains varied widely in different parts of the country, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Disposable income per person - roughly what's left after paying taxes - rose by 2.4 percent, almost double the increase in 1994. Many economists regard changes in this broad inflation-adjusted number as the best single indicator of gains in the nation's standard of living.

However, these national averages mask large differences in incomes among individuals, families and regions of the country. For instance, part of last year's income gains were due to large increases in corporate dividend payments, personal interest receipts, rental income and government benefit programs. Wages and employer benefits grew less rapidly than those sources, but wages did grow last year, the department said.

Although these numbers are evidence that Americans' incomes are increasing at a healthy pace, the wide variations in gains among workers in different industries and different states could make it hard for President Clinton and other politicians running in this fall's election to paint a rosy picture of the economy.

Nationally, income per person - total personal income divided by the population - rose 5 percent to $22,788 from $21,699 in 1994. In terms of purchasing power, that gain was partially offset by a 2.4 percent increase in Commerce's price index for personal consumption spending.

Three Firms Convicted of Felony Charges in Puerto Rican Oil Spill

The Washington Post

Three corporations and a manager in one of the companies were convicted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday of felony charges stemming from a January 1994 oil spill that fouled one of Puerto Rico's most popular tourist beaches.

The three firms, Bunker Group Puerto Rico, Bunker Group Inc. and New England Marine Services - part of a New York corporate family with a long history of environmental violations - face potential fines of more than $100 million when sentencing occurs in August. A jury convicted the companies, and Bunker Group Puerto Rico general manager Pedro Rivera, after a seven-day trial.

The spill occurred on Jan. 7, 1994, when the oil barge Morris J. Berman ran aground after the tow cable attaching it to a tugboat snapped. The spill fouled Escambron Beach and offshore waters with 750,000 gallons of oil.

According to trial testimony, the tow cable had snapped earlier the same evening and had been inadequately repaired by crew members, who failed to notify the Coast Guard as required.

Two crew members, Capt. Roy A. McMichael Jr. and first mate Victor Martinez, earlier pleaded guilty to violating of the Clean Water Act.

Rivera was convicted of failing to notify the Coast Guard of the cable break, and the three corporations were convicted of violating the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 and of sending an unseaworthy vessel to sea.

Latest Poll Favors Clinton Over Dole on Trust Issues

The Washington Post

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., says the fall election "boils down to who do you trust." Dole might start by not trusting the next focus group somebody tells him about.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania last week, Dole tried to play the character card. "If something happened along the route and you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you'd probably leave your children with Bob Dole," the Republican candidate said.

The Washington Post posed the choice in a survey of 1,011 adults and found just the opposite: 52 percent said they preferred Clinton, 27 percent said Dole. The rest either said neither or they didn't know. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Women were even more emphatic: 56 percent said Clinton while just 20 percent said Dole. Respondents were not categorized by family composition.

All of which raises the question of why Dole brought up the subject in the first place. Dole said Sunday a focus group made him do it.

Cerebellum Has Sensory Functions, Researchers Report

Los Angeles Times

A middle-aged man who has his head in a magnetic brain scanner while a researcher rubs the man's fingers with sandpaper might not look like the makings of a minor revolution. But that experiment has led scientists from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Texas to a new understanding of the function of the cerebellum, the wrinkled, lime-sized cluster of gray and white matter nestled beneath the cortex.

In a study published Friday in the journal Science, the researchers strongly suggest that the cerebellum is not just involved in guiding bodily movements, as scientists have believed for a century and generations of grade-school biology students have been taught. Instead, say the researchers, the cerebellum, long regarded as something of a neurological drone, actually has a much higher security clearance, being directly involved in processing a variety of sensory information, like the feel of things.

According to this revisionist theory, the cerebellum does not merely help you reach for your car keys (the classic understanding of its function), it also helps you tell the difference between your car key and your house key with your eyes closed.