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News Briefs

Green Party Forms Majority On Town Council


The Green Party has majority control of a government agency for the first time in New York state following the election Tuesday of Jason West as mayor of this Hudson Valley village.

“Things would come up like the police wanting to put up surveillance cameras, and we would oppose it,” said West, 26, a graduate of the State University College at New Paltz who is a house painter and puppeteer. “At some point we realized we were just opposing things instead of figuring out how to fix them.”

An environmental activist since high school, West’s platform encouraged using alternative energy sources and increasing internship opportunities in local government.

West ran on the Innovation Party ticket with victorious village trustee candidates and fellow Greens Julia Walsh, a 23-year-old New Paltz college student, and Rebecca Rotzler. West ousted Mayor Thomas Nyquist, who headed the five-member Village Board for 16 years.

China Releases 400 College Students from SARS Quarantine


With the giddy joy of a graduation party, some 400 students, teachers and workers emerged from two weeks’ quarantine at a university in central Beijing on Thursday, providing some of the first cheerful television images from the SARS epidemic.

But on this day, too, 94 more residents of this frightened capital were told by doctors that they have the contagious respiratory disease, and a Communist Party leader said that more than 120 officials around the country had been fired or disciplined for a “lack of vigor” in containing the dangerous virus or for concealing local cases.

The happiness of students released from isolation on Thursday at Northern Jiaotong University was genuine. Many whooped and threw bouquets into the air, though others seemed more weary and left their compound with bags of dirty laundry.

The city government did its best to turn the moment into a public morale booster. A lineup of national and local officials gave short talks and then tried to lead the crowd in a patriotic song, “Sing to the Motherland.” Students were given Chinese flags to wave, and young Communist Party members and aspirants from the campus handed out bouquets.

FTC Looking at Microsoft Flaw


Microsoft Corp. Thursday said a flaw in its Passport identify-confirmation service, exposed late Wednesday and repaired by Thursday morning, affected only “a tiny fraction” of the service’s 200 million accounts, but the Federal Trade Commission said the hole might still result in a huge fine for the company.

The vulnerability was found by a Pakistani named Muhammad Faisal Rauf Danka, who e-mailed Microsoft Wednesday night, describing it as a “very serious and stupid vulnerability, so simple that it is funny.”

He said he had tried to report it several times by e-mail to Passport and Hotmail, Microsoft’s free e-mail service, but couldn’t get through to a human.

The flaw may have allowed some people who exploited it to spend money belonging to legitimate users of one Passport service called Wallet, though no users had reported such thefts Thursday, said Passport product manager Adam Sohn.

It definitely allowed some outsiders to assume the identify of some legitimate Passport users, he said, declining to provide numbers.

Assuming another’s identify could have allowed the outsiders to send e-mails using the victim’s e-mail address, and to log on to 300 Passport-enabled Web sites masquerading as the victim. There, hijackers could have seen any personalized information stored about the victim.

The flaw could also have revealed any personal information that Passport account-holders told Microsoft about themselves, including their city, state, ZIP code, date of birth and occupation.

To determine whether their online identifies were stolen, Passport users can try logging onto their accounts. If they can, their accounts weren’t compromised, Sohn said.

Congress Critcizes NASA on Shuttle Safety


Several members of Congress criticized NASA on Thursday for its inability to produce a safer replacement for the space shuttle after years of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on several alternatives.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who serves on the House Science Committee and is a longtime supporter of the space program, said he was so concerned about the safety of the shuttle that he would not support any effort to have it fly again. Money for human spaceflight should go into building a new type of spacecraft instead, he said.

“I am not going to vote for any funding for the existing orbiter to go back into space,” Barton said at a hearing of the panel’s space subcommittee. “I think we ought to scrap the program.”

It is too early to say whether such congressional opposition could endanger the shuttle program as a whole. The independent commission investigating the loss of the Columbia is expected to make recommendations this summer on changes needed before the remaining three shuttles can fly again. Congressional leaders have pledged support for additional money for recommended safety improvements.

But Barton said the loss of the Columbia on Feb. 1 and the Challenger in 1986 made for an unacceptable rate of fatal accidents -- one in every 62 missions.