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News Briefs

‘Tens of Thousands’ Probably Infected by West Nile Virus in ’02

LOS ANGELES TIMES

“Tens of thousands” of Americans have probably been infected by the West Nile virus this year, and the number will continue to grow through the end of September, government officials said Thursday.

Historically, the last week of August and the first week of September represent the peak period of transmission, said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But he cautioned that the vast majority of those infected have not suffered any significant symptoms other than a mild flu-like illness. There have been 854 confirmed cases of severe illness -- meningitis or encephalitis -- caused by the virus in 28 states, and 48 deaths.

Florida officials said Thursday that the suspected West Nile infection of a 71-year-old female transplant recipient had been confirmed. That means all four people who received organs from a Georgia accident victim have now been confirmed to be infected.

The fact that all four recipients contracted the virus “would implicate the receipt of organs as potentially the mode of transmission,” Petersen said.

Senate Democrats Reject Bush’s Choice for Appeals Court

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Senate Democrats rejected President Bush’s choice of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen for a U.S. appeals court Thursday, calling her a conservative “judicial activist” who had regularly sided with big business and insurance companies over injured workers and consumers.

However, 79 of Bush’s judicial picks have won the panel’s approval. They include New York Judge Reena Raggi, who was put on the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987. Bush selected her for the U.S. court of appeals in New York, and she won a quick, unanimous approval on Thursday.

With Thursday’s vote, Democrats -- who hold the slimmest of majorities on the committee -- said they were sending a message to the White House that conservative “activists” and “ideologues” would face trouble.

Administration Hopes to Speed Up Forest-Thinning Projects

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Bush administration on Thursday asked Congress to exempt as many as 10 million acres of federal forest land from environmental reviews and citizen appeals in order to speed up logging and thinning projects aimed at reducing forest fires.

“The Healthy Forests Initiative will reduce catastrophic wildfire threats to communities and the environment,” Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said in a letter to Congress.

Environmentalists hotly criticized the plan, saying it would force the public out of decisions on the future of forests.

“The president made an attempt to sugarcoat the proposal, but this is anything but balanced,” said Jay Watson, California representative of the Wilderness Society, a national environmental organization. “It’s truly dangerous. It effectively removes the public from having any kind of say on how the forests are managed.”

But Mark E. Rey, the undersecretary of agriculture with jurisdiction over forest policy, asked that the critics stop “howling” and participate in the administration’s effort to find a new way to thwart fires in just 5 percent of the 190 million acres of federal forests that face a high risk of burning.