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9 teenagers are charged after suicide of classmate

It is not clear what some students at South Hadley High School expected to achieve by subjecting a freshman to the relentless taunting described by a prosecutor and classmates.

Certainly not her suicide. And certainly not the multiple felony indictments against several students at the Massachusetts school.

The prosecutor brought charges Monday against nine teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.

The charges were an unusually sharp legal response to the problem of adolescent bullying, which is increasingly conducted in cyberspace as well as in the schoolyard and has drawn growing concern from parents, educators and lawmakers.

In the uproar around the suicides of Prince, 15, and an 11-year-old boy subjected to harassment in nearby Springfield last year, the Massachusetts Legislature stepped up work on an anti-bullying law that is now near passage. The law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents, and principals to investigate them. It would also demand that schools teach about the dangers of bullying. Forty-one other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength.

In the settlement, the district said it would increase staff training to prevent harassment, pay $50,000 to the boy’s family and reimburse the family for counseling, The Associated Press reported. The boy has moved to a different district.

A crime-plagued college that’s impossible to get into

This is the week when millions of college applicants will find out whether they got into their first-choice schools, were put on the waiting list or were rejected. Anyone whose heart is set on Hudson University will be disappointed.

Hudson University exists only on television — mainly on the long-running “Law & Order” shows on NBC, and also briefly on “Castle,” an ABC series about a New York police detective and a best-selling author who shadows her.

“Law & Order” and its spinoffs — “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” — have long wandered onto the Hudson campus when they needed to question college students.

“We had to create a university that did not exist,” explained Rene Balcer, a longtime producer and writer for the “Law & Order” shows, “and it’s really hard coming up with a name for a university that doesn’t exist somewhere in the country.”

A spokesman for ABC did not answer questions about whether its Hudson University was anything like the one on “Law & Order.” But Balcer had definite ideas about Hudson’s place in the academic world.

“It is the one place you never want to go to school or teach at,” he said. “Very high crime rate.”

FDA panel will examine the lure of cool menthol cigarettes

For the cigarette industry, the menthol debate is about to flare up again.

The new federal advisory board for tobacco regulation plans to meet for the first time Tuesday in Washington. Topping the agenda is one of the most contentious, and racially charged, health issues that Congress deferred last year when it empowered the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco for the first time.

The question: what to do about menthol flavorings in cigarettes, which account for almost a third of the nation’s $70 billion cigarette market?

Opponents of smoking, seven former secretaries of health and many members of Congress argued for an outright ban of menthol in the tobacco law last year. They said that the flavoring, which cools and masks the harsh taste of cigarettes, was used as a lure for young smokers while also being marketed to black smokers, who have the highest rates of smoking-related disease.

But when the issue threatened to fracture the legislation’s coalition of supporters — including the industry giant Altria, which owns Philip Morris — Congress passed the issue on to the FDA and gave it a two-year deadline to propose new regulations.

Critics also say menthol levels have been manipulated to attract underage first-time smokers.

The report said the government could also set higher prices for menthol cigarettes.

Wall Street starts to recover, as oil prices jump nearly 3 percent

A brighter outlook for the American consumer and signs that foreign debt troubles were easing helped propel Wall Street higher on Monday.

Adding to the momentum, shares of energy companies rose after the price of oil surged nearly 3 percent. Two attacks on the subway system in Russia, a major oil producer, raised concerns about supplies.

But much of the focus on Monday was on the health of the economic recovery, as investors recalibrated their portfolios ahead of a data-heavy week. The Commerce Department said that consumer spending rose 0.3 percent in February, even though household income remained flat.

“Spending has been growing even when employment has been weak,” said Thomas J. Lee, chief United States equity strategist at JPMorgan Chase. “And it’s not like people are borrowing to spend — they are getting their finances in order and then spending.”