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News Briefs II

Boutros-Ghali Warns of Debt Crisis

Los Angeles Times

Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned Wednesday that the United Nations' financial crisis, contrary to what doubters think, is so real and dangerous that he may have to start closing the organization next summer if the United States and others refuse to pay what they owe.

The American failure to pay has induced many other countries to hold back, the secretary-general told reporters and editors in the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau.

As a result, Boutros-Ghali said, the United Nations is now owed $3.2 billion by its members, half of it by the United States.

The secretary-general, a former professor and one-time acting foreign minister of Egypt, derided the idea advanced by optimists that somehow something will turn up soon to save the United Nations. He said he wants "to show to the American people the gravity of the situation."

He said he would be forced to start closing down programs next June, July or August and that he anticipates controversy in the United Nations about the programs selected for the first cuts, because countries have different favorites.

The Washington "apparatchiks," he said, using the Russian word for bureaucrats, keep promising that the United States will soon do something to pay its debt, but nothing is ever done.

Texas Governor Seeks Disaster Aid

Los Angeles Times

Fueled by a late-winter heat wave and fanned by bone-dry winds, dozens of wildfires continued their blistering march across the Texas grasslands Thursday, leading Gov. George W. Bush to request that the entire state be declared a federal disaster area.

Since the beginning of the year, Texas has been erupting like a giant tinderbox, with state emergency officials reporting more than 2,900 blazes - nearly double the number in all of 1995. So far, more than 78,000 acres have been charred, mostly in rural counties, from the parched prairies of West Texas to the dense forests of the east.

The latest hot spot is Poolville, a small community about 35 miles northwest of Fort Worth, where flames have charred more than 16,000 acres, damaged 90 structures and injured at least 49 people, most of them firefighters. Before flying over the burn zone on Thursday, Bush called on Texas National Guard troops and U.S. Forest Service air tankers to help battle the blaze, which was 70 percent controlled by the evening.

"We are in an extremely dangerous situation," said Bush, adding that the state has been spending about $350,000 a day to fight the flames. "We're pouring manpower and equipment as best as we possibly can."

But no single fire has remained in the forefront for long. Emergency officials say it is the sheer quantity, not the intensity, of the blazes that has stretched resources so thin.

New Type of Stellar Object Found

Los Angeles Times

Astronomers have discovered a strange sputtering and pulsing object in the center of the Milky Way galaxy that appears to be a completely new species of stellar object.

"This repeated bursting behavior is unlike anything we've ever seen before," said Don Lamb, a University of Chicago astronomer.

Since its X-ray signal was first picked up by Chryssa Kouveliotou of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in December, scientists all over the world have been trying to make the first visual sighting of the object, said MIT Professor of Physics Walter H. G. Lewin.

The object of excitement appears to a strange hybrid of several types of previously detected - but little understood - exotic stars. Adding to the mystery is that the rhythm of the object's signals have changed substantially since December.

When NASA's orbiting Compton Gamma Ray Observatory detected the object's signal, it was spitting out erratic streams of high energy X-rays every few minutes; but two days later, the bursts had settled down to one per hour. At the same time, the object was pulsing with the steady beat of rapidly spinning stellar core - a rhythm steadier than even atomic clocks, said Cominski.

Greenspan Re-Nominated to Fed

Los Angeles Times

Voting for continuity in monetary policy, President Clinton on Thursday nominated Alan Greenspan to a third term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and chose to fill two other central bank vacancies with a moderate White House budget official and a centrist economic consultant.

The nominations signaled White House acceptance of an eight-year Greenspan stewardship of the Fed that has emphasized price stability over economic growth. Greenspan "has inspired confidence, and for good reason," Clinton said in an Oval Office announcement.

In addition to Greenspan, Clinton nominated Alice M. Rivlin, the White House budget director, who is more conservative on fiscal policy than some of her administration colleagues, to serve as vice chairman. He named Laurence H. Meyer, a economic forecaster from St. Louis, to fill the board's other vacancy.

Senate confirmation of Greenspan, 69, appeared certain, and approval of the other two seemed highly likely. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said he "sees no impediments" to quick confirmation of the three.

Clinton aides said soundings they have taken on Rivlin and Meyer also suggested they would be confirmed.

The seven-member Federal Reserve Board sets the nation's monetary policy, influencing the level of interest rates and availability of money through purchases and sales of bonds. Under Greenspan's tenure, it has held a strengthening grip on inflation, much to the satisfaction of Wall Street.

Rivlin and Meyer may broaden the perspective of the Fed with new views, some fellow economists said. White House officials asserted that both are independent-minded practitioners who may invigorate the debate on economic prescriptions.