* WINNER: The economy. Despite blizzards, federal shutdowns, an auto strike and doubts among forecasters, the U.S. economy surged the first three months of 1996, growing at a 2.8 percent annual rate. The Commerce Department reported this week that the nation's output of goods and services grew at more than five times the rate of the last three months of 1995. Wages are growing at their fastest pace in four years. So is spending on new construction. These developments point to an economy gaining steam as the nation heads into the presidential campaign season.
LOSERS: Consumers. Despite the good news about the economy, consumer confidence sagged for the second straight week. That's the word from the latest ABC/Money Magazine poll. The survey's youngest respondents are the most pessimistic. Regionally, confidence slipped every-where except the West, where it edged up only one point. The moral: some people pay little attention to the facts and believe only what they want to believe.LOSERS: Asthma sufferers. This week the government reported that the rate of asthma deaths among young people more than doubled between 1980 and 1993. Blacks are being hit far harder than whites. One reason is that 25 percent of American children live in areas that exceed federal standards for ozone, which irritates the lungs. Improved diagnosis may also have resulted in more reported cases. But medical science has not entirely figured out why asthma deaths overall are on the rise. More research clearly is needed.
LOSER: Freedom of the press. Though more than half the people on Earth live in democratic societies, less than a fourth live in countries with a free press. Freedom House, a New York-based group that monitors political rights and civil liberties, lists the following nations as the worst on this score: Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Nigeria, Serbia-Montenegro, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Zaire. Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of any vibrant democracy. Without enough accurate information, it's needlessly hard for ci-ti-zens to cast intelligent votes.
- BAD NEWS: The asteroid 433 Eros, whose diameter is 14 miles, is on a collision course with the Earth. The impact is expected to cause more damage than the collision believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
- GOOD NEWS: Scientists don't expect the asteroid to hit the Earth for hundreds of millions of years.