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News Briefs I

Judge Rules Internet Child Pornography Law Unconstitutional.

Los Angeles Times

Government effort to protect children for pornography on the Internet suffered a significant setback Monday when a federal judge prevented the government from enforcing the Child Online Protection Act, which requires commercial Web sites to ensure children do not come into contact with any material deemed "harmful to minors."

Civil liberties groups hailed the decision as a signal that they are likely to prevail in their ongoing court battle to get the law overturned as an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.

But the ruling was disappointing to the law's proponents, who have now been rebuffed twice in two years in their efforts to restrict Web access to pornography. Even Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. expressed misgivings, his written statemet included: "Despite the court's personal regret that this preliminary injunction will delay once again the careful protection of our children."

He also said "we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection."

Defense Spending Funds Big Weapons Programs

Los Angeles Times

This year's defense spending surge, coming after 14 years of decline, was driven by mounting concerns over the readiness of troops, and the military's increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining personnel in some highly sought-after specialties.

Formally unveiled on Monday, the $261-billion fiscal 2000 defense budget will spread around money for three new high-priced fighter planes, attack submarines, and a heavy artillery system for the Army, among other projects.

Although it did not give military organizations all of what they wanted, the budget proposal generally satisfied the services' needs, and kept some controversial programs alive to fight another day.

AIDS Virus Came From Chimps

The Washington Post

A team of scientists believes it has traced the origin of the AIDS virus to a subspecies of chimpanzees in equatorial West Africa that has been harboring an ancestral version of the microbe for several hundred thousand years.

The research sheds no light on the mystery of when or how the virus leaped the "species barrier," although genetic analysis suggests such an event occurred at least three times. It may, however, shed light on more practical and clinically relevant questions.

"We want to focus on the naturally infected animals and study them side-by-side with humans looking at a number of immunological parameters," said Beatrice H. Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "That might give us a clue as to why we get sick."

In tracing the origin of the AIDS virus, Hahn's team compared the genetic sequence of human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), which causes AIDS in humans, and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which often but not always causes a similar disease in primates.

Scientists determined that the three animals with the closely related viruses were also closely related to each other. Hahn and her colleagues concluded that all human AIDS viruses must have come from that subspecies of chimpanzee, and the transmission must have occurred at least three times, once each for each of three chimp genes, denoted M, O, and N.