Palestinians optimistic about elections

RAMALLAH, West Bank- The Palestinian foreign minister said
yesterday an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza could clear the way for
long-delayed elections that would include militant groups — a
sign that power-sharing talks could give Islamic groups an official
role, despite U.S. and Israeli misgivings. Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon has proposed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and a
smaller pullback in the West Bank in the absence of peace moves.
Though the Gaza pullout is not expected for up to a year, the
prospect has led to a flurry of meetings among Palestinian factions
and speculation about how strong the Islamic militant groups’
influence would be afterward. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil
Shaath said Palestinians are “enthusiastic” about new
elections after the Israelis leave.

“We hope this (withdrawal) will pave the road for a
Palestinian general election with participation with Hamas,”
he told The Associated Press. Hamas leaders were not available for
comment. Palestinians have had only one general election since the
Palestinian Authority was set up in 1994. Hamas boycotted the 1996
voting, refusing to recognize the Palestinian Authority, set up in
an interim peace accord with Israel. Hamas does not accept a Jewish
state in the Middle East.

Princeton seeks to fight inflation of grades

BOSTON- College grades have been creeping steadily upward for 30
years, but Princeton University may try to break the trend by
rationing the number of A’s that can be awarded. The proposal
has academics wondering already about the possible impact at other
schools.

In what would be the strongest measure to combat grade inflation
by an elite university, Princeton faculty will vote later this
month on a plan that would require each academic department to
award an A-plus, A or A-minus for no more than 35 percent of its
grades. A’s have been awarded 46 percent of the time in
recent years at Princeton, up from 31 percent in the mid-1970s.
Since 1998, the New Jersey school has been encouraging its faculty
to crack down, but marks have kept rising. Finally, Princeton
administrators decided that the only solution would be to ration
top grades.

“I think it’s tremendously significant that
Princeton is doing this, and I do think it will have a ripple
effect,” said Bradford Wilson, executive director of the
National Association of Scholars, a group that has spoken out
against grade inflation, and also a part-time teacher at
Princeton.

President ready to sign new pension bill

WASHINGTON- The Senate sent to the president yesterday
legislation that could save employer sponsors of pension plans $80
billion over the next two years.

This money could provide a substantial boost to business
investment and hiring around the country.

The 78-19 vote on the pension relief bill came just a week
before many contributors to single employer plans have to make
quarterly payments, and means that millions of dollars that would
have had to go into pension funds can be diverted to more
immediately productive activities.

The White House called the Senate vote “a victory for
millions of Americans who count on pensions for their
retirement,” saying it will “help protect the
integrity” of workers’ pensions.

Gas prices will rise in next few months

WASHINGTON- Gasoline prices will rise another nickel a gallon
nationwide before the end of June but return to current levels
before fall, the government said yesterday, warning of possible
price spikes especially in the Northeast and West Coast
markets.

The Energy Department estimated that the average price at the
pump — $1.78 a gallon in the latest survey this week —
would continue to rise in the coming months, averaging about $1.81
a gallon for the three months ending in June.

Prices over the April to September period were expected to
average $1.76 a gallon nationwide, a record high for the summer
driving season and 20 cents a gallon more than last year, according
to the Energy Information Administration summer fuels report
released yesterday.

Businessman hopes to offset job losses

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio- The Bush administration yesterday tapped a
California businessman as manufacturing czar, making the
announcement at a factory in a state hit hard by job losses. The
announcement came about a month after the first pick for the job
was criticized for cutting U.S. jobs and shifting work to
China.

Commerce Secretary Don Evans said the administration would
nominate Al Frink, co-founder of a rug and carpet company, as
assistant commerce secretary of manufacturing and services. Frink
is subject to Senate confirmation.

Evans made the announcement at Ariel Corp., which employs 460
people at its natural gas compressor plant in Ohio.

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