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The Labor Department's producer Price Index began the year by jumping 0.5 percent in January - the most since October 1996 - after declining 0.1 percent for all of 1998. However, much of the rise in prices for finished goods was concentrated in gasoline, pork, and citrus. Excluding volatile food and energy items, prices fell for the first time in seven months, declining 0.1 percent. As a result, analysts said inflation in prices paid by consumers is likely to remain muted this year.

Organized labor leaders agreed to pour more than $40 million into the 2000 elections. A measure approved by AFL-CIO executives at a meeting in Miami asks each affiliate union to donate $1 per member - about $13.5 million a year for two years - to mobilize union voters. Coupled with political money in regular budgets, the federation's spending for 2000 campaigns could reach $46 million, union officials said.

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A controversial murder case from the 1960s ended with prosecutors saying they would not retry a Black Panther leader who spent 27 years behind bars for a crime he swore he didn't commit. Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he'd drop charges against Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt because "it would be virtually impossible to retry the case." His move came a day after a state appeals court said a lower court acted correctly in ordering Pratt released on bail in 1997 because he hadn't received a fair trial.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose tough new standards for cleaner cars and gasoline - including a dramatic reduction in pollution from sport-utility vehicles, government sources said. Speaking anonymously, they said draft regulations that would take effect in 2004 could be sent to the White House for review as early as today. The proposals would require sport-utility vehicles to be as pollution-free as passenger cars and force a dramatic reduction in the sulfur content of gasoline.

The Democratic National Committee said it was intensifying discussions with Los Angeles about serving as host of the party's presidential nominating convention in 2000. The panel has been negotiating with three cities: Los Angeles, Boston, and Denver. Announcement of a final decision is expected early next month.

For the second time in a week, the US took steps to increase its emergency oil reserves. The Energy Department said it will allow companies to store as much as 70 million barrels of oil in an underground reserve on the Texas-Louisiana coast for a year or more in return for some of the oil as a storage fee. With prices depressed, the option may appeal to some oil firms, industry analysts said. Last week, the department said it planned to add 28 million barrels of oil to the reserve.

Responding to a 17-year-old's desire to refuse a blood transfusion based on her religious faith, the Massachusetts Appeals Court set new ground rules for future cases involving minors. Judges should consider children's preferences and their religious convictions - and hear directly from minors - when deciding whether they are mature enough to make an informed choice, the court said.

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