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House Approves Bill for SEC Fee Reduction


Employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission moved a step closer Thursday to achieving “pay parity” with workers at other federal financial regulatory agencies.

The House voted 404-22 to approve a bill that would reduce SEC fees on the securities industry and institutional investors by $14 billion over 10 years and free the SEC from civil service pay rules. The Senate passed a similar bill in March, and supporters hope to reconcile any differences quickly and speed legislation to the White House.

The bills would give the SEC the authority to pay salaries comparable to what employees receive at such agencies as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. According to House supporters, salaries at the SEC lag behind those at the banking agencies.

The SEC “faces a staffing crisis,” Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, a sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Thursday.

“In the past three years, over one-third of the SEC staff has left the agency,” Oxley said. “In the increasingly consolidated financial services industry, SEC staff performed the same functions, and worked side-by-side with their counterparts at the federal banking agencies, yet inexplicably earned anywhere from 25 to 40 percent less. In an environment where investors and the markets need effective regulation more than ever, it is important to address the morale problem and its effects on retention of SEC staff.”

Heart Attack Patients Aided By Angioplasty Drug


A drug that greatly helps patients undergoing angioplasty and other heart procedures has a smaller benefit in people in the throes of a heart attack, according to new research.

The medication, called a glycoprotein IIb/IIa inhibitor, is a member of a new generation of drugs that cardiologists hope will increase the survival of heart attack patients. It inhibits an early stage of blood-clotting, and functions somewhat like aspirin.

In a study involving more than 16,000 people in 20 countries, the drug reduced the short-term complications of heart attacks, including second heart attacks, life-threatening rhythm disturbances, and the need for immediate angioplasty. However, it didn’t improve survival in the 30 days immediately after a heart attack, which is the period when a patient is at greatest risk of dying.

Eric Topol, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who headed the study, predicted the lower complication rate in those who got the drug will lead to an improvement in their survival. The mortality of the entire group of patients will next be examined after a year has passed since their treatment.

“This is actually a significant advance for heart attack patients, although at first blush you would say it didn’t make much difference,” he said.

Awarding German Builder WWII Monument Contract Angers Vets


WASHINGTON -- They were enemies during World War II: the American soldiers struggling to defeat a fierce German military and Germany’s Philipp Holzmann construction company, which was racing to complete a Nazi aircraft factory with the aid of slave labor.

Now, in the latest flap over a World War II monument planned for the National Mall, U.S. officials have awarded a construction contract to Holzmann’s American subsidiary.

“When I found out about it, I said, ‘This is the United States. This is impossible,’ ” recalled Jack Brauns, 76, a retired physician who lives in Covina, Calif., and who was among the forced laborers at Holzmann. “Is this the company to put up a memorial to honor war veterans? It’s immoral.”

The new dust-up is the latest in a series of controversies surrounding the memorial, which is planned for the open vista between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Critics have long derided the location and the design, which some view as reminiscent of Nazi architecture.

But those disputes seemed to be fading in the wake of a recent court decision that went against the critics and Congress’ passage of legislation that could lead to the monument’s construction starting in July.

Upgraded MP3 Technology Released on Web


The first major upgrade to the MP3 music format in a decade was made available for free Thursday on the Internet, a move proponents hope will give the system an edge over increased competition in the market for digital audio technologies.

MP3Pro, its developers say, will allow music lovers to store near-CD quality audio files in only about half the storage space required for the previous version. The system comes to market as the major record labels are planning to release an enormous amount of music for “legal” online distribution.

MP3Pro also faces off against several other new digital formats that are propagating on the Web, including Microsoft’s Windows Media and recording formulas such as RealNetworks, Ogg Vorbis and Sony’s ATRAC3. Microsoft recently formed MSN Music, a service the company expects will further enhance the appeal of its Media player.

The new MP3Pro compression system, or “codec,” in technospeak, is compatible with existing hardware devices that decode MP3 files, according to Henri Linde of Thomson Multimedia, which co-invented MP3. He said that about 12 million portable players have been sold, and the MP3 software exists in 250 million personal computers, “and practically every song in the world has been encoded as an MP3 file.”