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News Briefs

Bush Presses Lawmakers To Resolve Disputes Over Medicare


President Bush intervened Thursday in talks on a Medicare drug bill, trying to galvanize negotiations that have been slowed by deep disagreements between Republicans from the House and the Senate.

After a meeting with lawmakers, Bush said, “The sentiment was optimistic.” He said he believed that they could agree on a comprehensive Medicare bill before Congress adjourned this year.

House and Senate negotiators have set an ambitious schedule, calling for them to complete work on the bill by Oct. 17. But some lawmakers say the goal is unrealistic, since the conferees have scarcely begun to tackle the hardest issues.

Lawmakers knew that Republicans and Democrats had profound ideological disagreements over the role of government and private health plans in Medicare. But they said they had been surprised to see the stark differences among Republican members of the conference committee trying to reconcile bills passed by the House and Senate.

“There’s an interesting chasm between House conservatives and Senate conservatives,” said a Republican involved in the negotiations.

Music Industry in Europe and Asia Also Battles File Sharing


Hang around any schoolyard in Germany or college campus in Indonesia and it becomes clear that the recording industry’s problems with the illegal online distribution of music in the United States pale beside the rampant piracy that goes on overseas.

From factories in Taiwan and Eastern Europe that churn out counterfeit CDs to teenagers in Scandinavia and Singapore who download songs from the Internet and “burn” them on to blank discs, the line between legitimate and pirated music has all but vanished in many countries.

Music executives abroad are scrutinizing the American industry’s legal campaign against people who share files on the Internet. But many doubt such tactics would work in their countries, given the relative weakness of laws protecting copyrights and the near-ubiquity of the activity.

“People in their 60s are burning CDs at home,” said Gerd Gebhardt, the chairman of the German Phonographic Industry Association. “Housewives, who should be cooking, are burning. It’s not like we can go after 80-year-old men or 12-year-old kids. We have to find the right approach.”

Gebhardt hopes the German music industry will bring its first lawsuit against a file sharer in a few months. In the meantime, it is trying to win back the public through sympathy rather than subpoenas.

Peace Agreement Reached In Sudan


One of Africa’s longest-running and deadliest wars took a major turn toward peace on Thursday as the government of Sudan agreed to withdraw most of its troops from the rebel-held south of the country and begin integrating its soldiers with those of the rebels in a unified army.

The accord between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army will take years to come to fruition, even without setbacks. Still, the security agreement signed on Thursday at this Kenyan resort was heralded as the most significant step toward peace since fighting broke out in 1983.

On a continent torn by nasty conflicts, the war in Sudan has long stood out as particularly vicious.

Two million people, mostly civilians, have died from bullets and bombs as well as war-induced disease and famine. Those who have survived have faced untold suffering in a country that is rich in oil resources but nevertheless as poor as any on the continent.

The religious dimension of the conflict -- the north is Islamic and most of the southern rebels belong to the Christian and animist minorities -- has turned the war into a pet cause of many religious conservatives in the United States. African-Americans have focused their outrage on the practice by government-backed militias of taking southerners into forced servitude.

Energy Bill Likely to Have Protection on Gasoline Additives


Lawmakers and industry lobbyists said on Thursday that they expect the emerging energy measure to provide liability protection for producers of a gasoline additive blamed for groundwater contamination as the chief negotiators said they would like to conclude the energy talks by next week.

Though Republicans writing the bill were differing over details of how to safeguard manufacturers of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, from lawsuits, those close to the negotiations said the final proposal would likely grant the protection sought by key House Republicans with refineries in their districts.

A memo circulated on Thursday by the Oxygenated Fuels Association, which represents MTBE producers, said it was “clear” that the liability provisions sought by the House would be included, though it was less certain whether the bill would establish a timetable for an outright ban on the chemical as sought by the Senate. House members argue that the question of a ban should be left to the states.

Granting the MTBE producers protection from suits over costs associated with cleanup of the chemical would provide critics of the measure with another focal point since some members of Congress and conservation groups consider the liability protection an unwarranted benefit to companies that should bear responsibility for their product.