North Korea Dismisses

U.S. Overtures in Nuclear Crisis

North Korea dismissed the Bush administration's offer to resume aid if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons programs, calling the overtures "nothing but a deceptive drama to mislead the world public opinion."

North Korea's rejection of the Bush offer left the administration with few policy options while facing the likely prospect that the reclusive Communist country will resume its recent course of confrontation. On Tuesday, North Korea issued a veiled and vague threat that it would soon employ "options."

Though North Korea continues to work to reactivate a reactor capable of producing nuclear material that could be used in weapons, the Bush administration has set aside military force as a potential response. The White House has also put aside talk of economic sanctions, recognizing that China -- North Korea's largest outside source of food and fuel -- opposes that course, rendering it ineffective. The administration has instead pursued a third tack: inducements and diplomatic persuasion.

After initially opposing any concessions, the administration shifted considerably in recent days, signaling that if North Korea reverses course, the things it wants most -- food, fuel and potential security assurances -- could all be in store. But North Korea asserted that the United States was effectively demanding a surrender before engaging in substantive negotiations.

-- Peter S. Goodman

Supreme Court Upholds

Copyright Extension Law

The Supreme Court upheld a 1998 federal law that extended the life of most copyrights by 20 years, deciding a landmark copyright case in favor of artists, writers and the entertainment industry.

A loose coalition of independent scholars, publishers and Internet archivists had argued that, by lengthening existing copyrights, the law, known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in honor of the late singer and House member, effectively made those copyrights perpetual -- violating the constitutional provision that says Congress may spur intellectual productivity by granting copyrights for "limited times."

But by a vote of 7 to 2, the court deferred to Congress, saying that it enjoys essentially unfettered power to determine the length of copyrights, as long as it specifies a period.

Congress had several reasons to pass the Bono Act, including increasing economic incentives for creative activity, encouraging owners of old movies to restore and distribute them and harmonizing U.S. and European intellectual property law, the court said -- and it is not up to the judiciary to second-guess such policy judgments.

-- Charles Lane

More Children Are Being

Treated With Psychiatric Drugs

The number of American children being treated with psychiatric drugs has grown sharply in the past 15 years, tripling from 1987 to 1996 and showing no sign of slowing, researchers said.

A newly published study, the most comprehensive report on the subject to date, found that by 1996, more than 6 percent of children were taking drugs such as Prozac, Ritalin and Risperdal, and the researchers said the trajectory continued to rise through the year 2000.

While the increase may partly reflect better diagnosis of mental illness in children, the authors said they fear that cost-saving techniques by insurance companies, marketing by the pharmaceutical industry and increased demands on parents and doctors may be driving the steep rise.

The insurance industry disputes the cost-savings theory, suggesting instead that more children are getting drugs because more effective medicines have been developed. Most psychiatrists say a combination of psychotherapy and medication often provides the best treatment.

-- Shankar Vedantam

U.S. Plans Annual Assessment

Of Kids in Head Start Program

The Bush administration announced that it will soon implement an unprecedented annual assessment of the 908,000 4-year-olds in Head Start programs nationwide, an effort that officials said will determine how much the children are learning in the government-funded preschool program for the poor.

Government officials said the system would for the first time provide standardized data that would allow them to evaluate local Head Start programs. The results of the assessments -- scheduled to be administered for the first time this fall -- would help determine where to target resources, they said.

Head Start provides an array of social and educational services to low-income preschoolers and their families.

Some experts and leaders of local Head Start programs criticized the government's National Reporting on Child Outcomes plan, saying it amounts to a high-stakes test for preschoolers that will yield little useful information because the children are too young to be evaluated with a standardized exam.

The National Reporting system is the latest effort in a major early-childhood initiative announced last spring by President Bush, who wants to shift Head Start's focus from nurturing children's social and emotional development to emphasizing early literacy.

-- Valerie Strauss

Outgoing Governor Commutes

All Death Sentences in Illinois

With two day's left in his term, Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) commuted the death sentences of 167 people to life in prison after concluding that the capital punishment system was "haunted by the demon of error."

Friends and foes of the death penalty said the step, which empties death row of 156 inmates and 11 others who had been sentenced but were awaiting hearings, was unprecedented. The action will have ramifications for the intensifying national debate on the issue and came a day after Ryan pardoned four death row inmates who he said had been tortured into false murder confessions. Three were released immediately and are already home with their families.

The action was the culmination of an exhaustive review of Illinois death row cases that began three years ago when Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions after disclosures that 13 death row inmates had been wrongly convicted. The result was a complete change of heart for Ryan, who became convinced the system was too error prone.

The decision resulted in a bitter reaction from death penalty advocates and victims' rights groups, who noted that those whose sentences were commuted on Jan. 11 had been convicted of more than 200 murders, many committed under vicious circumstances.

-- Robert E. Pierre and Kari Lydersen

Pentagon to Seek Relief

From Environmental Rules

The Pentagon plans to ask Congress next month for relief from environmental regulations that protect endangered species and critical habitats on millions of acres of military training ranges across the country, saying those controls impede crucial exercises and combat readiness.

Defense officials said in interviews that their plan is designed to strike a "common sense" balance between environmental stewardship and wartime readiness. For example, environmental regulations prohibit military maneuvers on some ranges during certain mating seasons and dictate which California beaches the Marines can storm in practice, they said.

But what Pentagon officials consider "common sense" solutions strike environmental groups as an assault on major environmental laws.

"The essence of what they're saying is, national defense requires destroying what it is they're trying to defend," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

-- Vernon Loeb