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News Briefs II

Administration to Sell F-16 Fighters to Indonesia

Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration reaffirmed Thursday that it plans to go ahead with the sale of nine F-16 jet fighters to Indonesia, despite the country's human rights violations and recent allegations that wealthy Indonesians have sought to buy political influence with the White House.

Senior administration officials said the sale, the outlines of which were agreed to earlier this year, is likely to be completed early in 1997, after the new Congress convenes. The price was not disclosed.

The decision comes over the objections of human rights advocates who say the White House should cancel the sale to protest Indonesia's continued subjugation of East Timor, where Indonesian troops reportedly have committed massacres.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Thursday that the deal should be suspended pending an investigation of donations by members of a rich Indonesian banking family to Democratic campaign coffers. Gingrich said Congress would hold hearings on the contributions next spring.

Indonesia's human rights violations have been thrust into the spotlight again in recent days following the decision by the Nobel Prize Committee to award the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize to Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, East Timor's Catholic bishop, and a journalist there.

NIH to Review Questionable Study On Needle-Exchange Programs

The Washington Post

The National Institutes of Health Thursday said it will review a federally funded "needle-exchange" study that critics said would put half of the participants at unnecessary medical risk.

The study would divide 600 intravenous drug users in the Anchorage, Alaska, area into two groups - one that could exchange their used needles for free, sterile needles and another that could not. The study is supposed to determine the effectiveness of such needle-exchange programs in combating the spread if infectious diseases like hepatitis and AIDS.

Dennis Fisher of the University of Alaska, who is in charge of the study, said Thursday that the program is ethical and will offer answers to questions that could shape the nation's AIDS policy.

But two consumer health advocates charged that the effectiveness of the such needle-exchange programs already is well established. The study, they said, would therefore unnecessarily expose half the people enrolled in it to a high risk of contracting those diseases, and thus was "dangerous, unethical and exploitative."

The two advocates, both proponents of the controversial needle-exchange programs - University of California, San Francisco, researcher Peter Lurie and Sidney M. Wolfe, executive director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group - sent a letter to NIH Director Harold Varmus protesting the study.

Tests Suggest TWA Crash Resulted From Mechanical Malfunction

The Washington Post

Extensive metallurgical tests conducted so far on wreckage of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 suggest that the Boeing 747 crashed as a result of a mechanical malfunction and not because of an explosive device, according to senior air safety and law enforcement investigators in the case.

In the 13 weeks since the July 17 crash, detailed analysis of debris from the plane's center fuel tank, which blew up moments before the jet plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island, shows damage patterns that indicate a slower, less energetic explosion than that produced by a bomb or a missile, the officials said.

With more than 80 percent of the fuel tank and 90 percent of the total plane so far recovered, probers said the way in which much of the metal from the tank is bent, rather than shattered or pulverized, is consistent with "low order" explosion, or one that has less velocity and force than a bomb or missile detonation, known as a "high order" blast. Investigators also said the fractures in some of the debris are typical of a slower speed explosion.

Further, investigators said tests have shown that parts of the center fuel tank were blown in an outward direction, indicating the blast occurred somewhere inside it. At the same time, officials said they have found no signs of any metal being pushed in toward the tank - as would be the case if a bomb had been hidden nearby in the cabin.

Labor Leader Attacks Proposals To Privatize Social Security

The Washington Post

Proposals to privatize Social Security were attacked Thursday by a senior representative of organized labor who said the recommendations were little more than an attempt by Wall Street to profit at the public's expense.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka said at a news conference, "No to privatizing Social Security. No to Wall Street greed." He accused investment advisory firms and brokerages of pushing the privatization agenda as a way to extract more fees from Americans.

Trumka's verbal assault was directed at recent proposals that would partially or entirely replace Social Security's pay-as-you-go social insurance system with government-sponsored individual retirement accounts investing directly in the stock and bond markets.

Wall Street and other business interests have put their weight behind the movement in Washington to privatize Social Security as a way to head off the financial distress most experts say will hit by the year 2029.

Wall Street representatives argue that a private investing option could dramatically boost Social Security's investment returns and thereby raise additional funds to pay benefits to the baby-boom generation whose retirement threatens to deplete the system's reserves.