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News Briefs I

China Rejects U.S. Invitation to Join Missile Control Group

Los Angeles Times

China recently rebuffed an American arms-control proposal that it should join the main international organization for limiting the spread of missile technology when President Clinton visits Beijing this summer, senior Clinton administration officials say.

By not becoming a member of the 29-nation group, known as the Missile Technology Control Regime, China retains the ability to sell some components or technology for ballistic missiles to countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

Administration officials had hoped an agreement bringing China into the group could be the centerpiece of Clinton's trip in late June. A separate accord on nuclear cooperation was the focal point of Clinton's summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Washington last October.

But now that the idea has fallen through, administration officials are exploring other themes and lesser deals that might be highlighted when Clinton goes to China. One point administration officials say they will stress, for example, is that Clinton's trip will be the first chance for a top-level meeting with China's dynamic new Premier Zhu Rongji.

U.S. to Change the Way It Measures Inflation

The Washington Post

The government's main inflation gauge will be changed to account for the fact that consumers respond to the rising prices of many items by shifting to lower-cost substitutes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Thursday.

The announcement marked the end of a series of changes in the consumer price index that were begun in 1995 to correct for the CPI's tendency to overstate the actual rise in the cost of living. The changes affect the vast majority of Americans and the budgets of governments at all levels because the CPI is used to determine cost-of-living adjustments in benefits such as Social Security, and for adjusting features of the income tax such as standard deductions and tax brackets.

When the change announced yesterday is incorporated into the CPI next January, the cumulative effect of all the revisions will be to trim the annual increase in the index by roughly eight-tenths of a percentage point.

The latest change, which will shave about two-tenths of a percentage point from the reported inflation rate, is designed to reflect shoppers' natural tendency to alter their purchasing patterns when the price of an item rises faster than an available substitute.

Starr Declines Pepperdine Job

The Washington Post

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr said Thursday that with "the end not yet in sight" for his investigation, he has scrubbed his plans of eventually taking a post at Pepperdine University.

Facing reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse, Starr also fired a shot back at the Justice Department and asserted that his office could more credibly investigate an Arkansas woman's claims that Whitewater witness David Hale received money from conservatives trying to discredit President Clinton.

In a letter Thursday to Attorney General Janet Reno every bit as pointed as the one he received last week from Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Starr wrote that while his office has "at most the appearance of a conflict of interest" in investigating the Hale claims, the Justice Department "may have not only an appearance problem but multiple actual conflicts of interest."

Starr's unusual news conference was the first of what he and his new public information counselor, Charles Bakaly, said will be more regular sessions with reporters. Starr said he increasingly saw the need to respond to what he called "misinformation" about the independent counsel's office, even as he tried to conduct the investigation in secret.