Boy, 10, stranded by dispute over payment

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (UPI) — A 10-year-old Maryland boy stranded in a psychiatric facility in Washington can get out if responsible parties agree on how to pay for his care, a judge ruled.

The boy is trapped by a three-cornered dispute over how to pay for his care, and his mother says he is not ready to return home, The Washington Post reported.

At a hearing Monday, lawyers for Prince George’s County, Md., and Children’s Hospital in Washington disputed which government would be responsible for paying if he is transferred to a residential facility in Philadelphia.

Superior Court Judge Eugene Hamilton said most of the boy’s care in Philadelphia will be covered by Medicaid so at most the county or the District of Columbia would be responsible for a 10 percent or 20 percent co-payment. But he said the Philadelphia facility will not admit him until it knows who is paying.

“D.C. and Maryland are hem-hawing about responsibility of this case when, at the end of the day, it’s not their money,” Hamilton said.

While the boy’s mother, who has custody, and his father, were both in court, Hamilton said the boy, whose name was not released, is considered legally to have been abandoned in Washington. He was hospitalized after being suspended from school Aug. 31, attacking a relative and making a suicide attempt.

Kandahar blast death toll rises

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Nov. 1 (UPI) — A suicide bomb attack outside the U.N. refugee agency in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Monday killed six people, officials said.

Four attackers died in an ensuing gun battle with Afghan security forces, CNN reported. Earlier reports said an explosives-laden truck blew up outside the U.S. International Relief and Development instead of the nearby U.N. refugee agency.

Those killed in the attack included three employees of the U.N. agency, two Afghan civilians and one Afghan police officer, CNN reported, quoting the provincial government. The attack also injured five people.

The explosion was followed by a long gun battle with police, who stopped the attackers from breaching the compound, the report said.

The U.N. agency said it was seeking more information on the incident but noted “the fact remains that people working for us have been wounded and killed and the functioning of our Kandahar office seriously disrupted.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, “It also underscores the great risks for humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.”

Afghan National Army commander Gen. Hamid Wardag said the attack was the work of the Taliban.

Violence by the insurgents has increased sharply in the region as Afghan security forces begin to take control of their country’s security responsibility from NATO and U.S. forces.

Three U.S. troops died in an explosion set off by an improvised explosive device Oct. 22.

A suicide car bomber rammed the vehicle into a NATO armored bus in Kabul Saturday, killing 17 people, including 13 foreigners, most of them Americans, and four Afghans.

U.S. study urges sentencing reform

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Mandatory minimum sentences are “excessively severe and are applied inconsistently,” the U.S. Sentencing Commission has concluded.

The commission, which studied the issue at the direction of Congress, released a 645-page report Monday. In a statement, Commission Chair Judge Patti B. Saris said the commission “continues to believe that a strong and effective guideline system best serves the purposes of sentencing established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984,” and recommends reform of mandatory sentencing.

“While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country,” the statement said.

The commission report recommends Congress revisit “certain statutory recidivist provisions” in drug sentencing law and consider reform that would allow for flexibility in sentencing “low-level, non-violent offenders convicted of other offenses carrying mandatory minimum penalties.”

The commission also recommended that Congress reconsider so-called stacking of mandatory minimum penalties for some federal firearms crimes, “as the penalties that may result can be excessively severe and unjust, particularly in circumstances where there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm.”

Saris said mandatory minimum sentencing has contributed to federal prison overcrowding, with the federal Bureau of Prisons over its capacity by 37 percent.

“The number of federal prisoners has tripled in the last 20 years,” Saris said. “Although the Commission recognizes that mandatory minimum penalties are only one of the factors that have contributed to the increased capacity and cost of inmates in federal custody (an increase in immigration cases is another), the Commission recommends that Congress request prison impact analyses from the Commission as early as possible in the legislative process when Congress considers enacting or amending federal criminal penalties.”

The report is posted online at www.ussc.gov.

Two earthquakes reported in China

BEIJING, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Two separate earthquake of moderate intensity jolted the western and the northwest parts of China early Tuesday, but there were no reports of casualties.

The first quake, with a 5.5-magnitude, struck at 5:58 a.m. along the border of Sichuan and Gansu Provinces in western China, about 800 miles southwest of Beijing, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported the epicenter, at a depth of about 12.5 miles, was in city of Guangyuan in Sichuan.

“People ran out of their houses when the quake struck, but there have been no housing collapses in (the region),” a local official was quoted as saying.

The second quake, with a 5.4-magnitude at a depth of 17.3 miles, was reported at 8:21 a.m. in China’s Xinjiang-Uighur region, 1,762 miles west-northwest of Beijing, USGS said.

Mekong joint security agreement reached

BEIJING, Oct. 31 (UPI) — China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos agreed to joint security operation on the Mekong River following the recent deaths of 13 Chinese sailors, China Daily said.

Officials from all four countries, who met in Beijing, agreed to enhance law enforcement on the river, where drug and weapons smuggling has increased, the report said.

The illegal activities have resulted in frequent armed robberies, endangering shipping, the Chinese Public Security Ministry said.

“It’s necessary for law enforcement agencies to strengthen cooperation and take effective measures,” the ministry said.

The report said 13 Chinese sailors on two cargo vessels were shot with their hands tied behind their back on the Mekong River in the Oct. 5 incident. Nine alleged suspects have surrendered to authorities in Thailand, the report said.

The joint agreement called for establishing a security mechanism for the river that will include sharing of intelligence and joint patrols.

The 3,032-mile long Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, and is an important shipping route for countries in the region.

NTSB: Operator error in monorail crash

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Oct. 31 (UPI) — The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report Monday saying operator error is to blame for a fatal monorail crash in 2009 at Walt Disney World.

The crash occurred July 5, 2009, when a pink monorail backed through an improperly aligned switch-beam and crashed into purple monorail on the same line at the Florida theme park, the investigation concluded.

The driver of the purple monorail was fatally injured and the six passengers on board were uninjured. The driver of the pink monorail was the only person on board the pink monorail and received non-life threatening injuries.

The NTSB determined the collision occurred when a shop panel operator failed to position the switch-beam properly and the central coordinator failed to verify its position before allowing the pink monorail to move in reverse.

The reported said officials at Walt Disney World have taken steps to resolve problems the NTSB found.

“These actions have included revising operating procedures for monorail drivers and guidelines for monorail central coordinators; providing additional training for monorail employees; updating monitoring system software; installing additional direct-feed video cameras; and planned reconfiguring of the monorail braking system,” the report said.

U.S. releases Russian spy bust documents

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The FBI Monday released videos, documents and photographs detailing the actions of a Russian spy ring broken up more than a year ago in New York.

The FBI said the documents provide a “rare glimpse” into the one of the biggest spy scandals since the Cold War, The Washington Post reported.

In June 2010, the FBI arrested 10 Russian agents who had been living in the United States for years, probably acting as “spotters” recruiting people to work for Moscow’s Foreign Intelligence Agency. The agents were swapped with Russia for four Americans the country held.

The documents released by the FBI are heavily censored, with entire pages of material missing and no audio accompanying the videos. The trove was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by news outlets.

The videos include clips of the Russians meeting with undercover FBI agents and picking up a package from a so-called dead drop, in which messages are exchanged through a clandestine drop-off spot. One video shows a Russian agent giving a “brush pass,” secretly passing a message to a Moscow official.

The FBI dubbed the case “Operation Ghost Stories,” because six of the agents assumed the identities of dead people.

Newborn dolphin dies at Chicago zoo

CHICAGO, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A newborn bottlenose dolphin at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo died just after birth, zoo officials said.

The male dolphin, born Sunday weighing 40 pounds after a full-term pregnancy, showed little movement and seemed weak, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday. The calf’s mother, Tapeko, had progressed normally throughout the pregnancy and had been in labor for 3 hours.

“Normally a newborn calf would need very little assistance from its mother to swim to the surface to take its first breath,” said Mike Adkesson, associate veterinarian for the zoo. “However, Tapeko had to push her calf to the surface and he was unsuccessful in taking a breath.”

The veterinary staff at the zoo attempted to revive the calf, but he showed no signs of life. A necropsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death.

Dolphin viewing was closed to the public Sunday.

“Our experienced marine mammal staff is just devastated as they share a close bond with the animals in their care. Our primary concern now is the well-being of Tapeko, who is being closely monitored,” said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal collection and care for the Chicago Zoological Society.

Ariz. ‘baseline’ serial killer convicted

PHOENIX, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A jury in Phoenix Monday convicted the so-called Baseline Killer, Mark Goudeau, on nine counts of first-degree murder.

Goudeau was found guilty on 67 counts following seven days of deliberation after his five-month trial. He was acquitted on three counts of armed robbery or attempted robbery and one count of kidnapping, while the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on one sexual assault count, The Arizona Republic reported.

Goudeau is due in court Wednesday morning, when the jury will be informed of any aggravating factors that would quality the 47-year-old former construction worker for the death penalty. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty in the case.

Authorities said Goudeau carried out a series of attacks from August 2005 to June 2006. The attacker was dubbed the Baseline Killer because the assaults began along Baseline Road in Phoenix.

Goudeau was arrested in September in an attack on two sisters. He was convicted on 19 counts in 2007 and sentenced to 438 years in prison in that case.

The cases for which he was convicted Monday involved 33 victims, including eight women and one man who died. All but two of the victims were female, most were Hispanic and four were children.

TV falls, kills 6-year-old Illinois boy

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., Oct. 31 (UPI) — A 6-year-old boy died after a 36-inch television set fell on him in the basement of his Illinois home, relatives said.

Karl Clermont, of Arlington Heights, went to the basement to watch television by himself Sunday evening, his live-in aunt said. She said she heard a crash and found the boy underneath the television set, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

The aunt ran outside screaming for help and asked a neighbor to lift the television off Clermont, police said.

Police say they don’t know what caused the television to fall, but noted the 36-inch set was on an 18-inch stand. They do not suspect foul play.

Clermont was pronounced dead at Northwest Community Hospital. His mother was at work at the time, police said.

Tijuana running out of cemetery space

TIJUANA, Mexico, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Officials in Tijuana, Mexico, say the city is fast running out of cemetery space as population and violence increase.

Yamil Lopez de Anda, the city’s chief of landscaping and cemeteries, said 2.5 acres will be added to a cemetery in the city’s east side, but that will only last two more years, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday. He said the city wants to buy land to create a new cemetery but that plan is not solid.

The government of Baja California says the leading causes of death for the state are heart disease, diabetes and malignant tumors, but for those ages 15 to 29 it is violence, suicides and vehicle accidents. That age group represents the largest proportion of the state’s more than 3 million residents.

“In addition to the population growth, we have many violent deaths during the year,” said Lopez de Anda.

City figures show an average of six people a day are buried in municipal cemeteries, and between 2008 and 2010 there were 2,327 killings recorded. This year, 405 killings have been reported in Tijuana through Oct. 19.

Former prosecutor files suit over firing

DETROIT, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A former Michigan assistant attorney general has filed a lawsuit in connection with his firing and is seeking $75,000 in damages.

Former assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell alleges Detroit attorney Deborah Gordon used information she collected in previous cases to defame him, leading to him losing his job, the Detroit Free Press reported Monday.

“As my complaint makes clear, I have uncovered a significant amount of information during the past year that shows that Deborah Gordon has deliberately set out to destroy me by any means necessary,” Shirvell said in a news release.

The suit comes after litigation between Shirvell and Chris Armstrong, the former University of Michigan student body president who filed for a protection order in November 2010, alleging Shirvell was harassing him and stalking him. Shirvell — who was placed on paid sick leave during an investigation into his online campaign calling Armstrong a “radical homosexual activist”– told CNN at the time he had shot video outside Armstrong’s home and tracked his social networking activities, but maintained he did it on his own time and not in his capacity as a prosecutor.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said Shirvell was fired for actions he took on company time and for lying to investigators, not for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Armstrong and Gordon have asked the state bar to strip Shirvell’s law license.

“Shirvell has a history of trying desperately to smear people, so this is no surprise,” Gordon said. “His complaint is absurd and without any factual or legal basis.”

Imam released from Saudi custody

EDMONTON, Alberta, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A Canadian imam taken into custody after being attacked while on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia was freed, the Islamic Human Rights Commission said Monday.

Usama al-Atar, a 33-year-old Canadian citizen and University of Alberta post-doctoral fellow, allegedly was choked by a group of men affiliated with religious police Sunday and then arrested by police, the Edmonton Sun reported.

Witnesses say al-Atar, an Islamic leader from Edmonton, was taking part in a hajj pilgrimage with an international group of worshipers when he was confronted by a group of 10 to 15 men in Medina. The men chased and choked al-Atar in front of more than 200 people before he was arrested with no explanation.

“He virtually choked, we could see him go black and blue,” said witness Mohamed Hayward. “We’re absolutely still in shock.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission said the imam was charged with assault.

Al-Atar is a well-known cleric who has several publications in the field of diabetes and caner research.

Cancer patient denied disability payment

OTTAWA, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A Canadian woman struggling with breast cancer says she was denied long-term disability payments, despite having disability insurance through her employer.

“I didn’t think I was going to have to fight cancer — and then fight with this insurance company,” Katie Evans said.

Evens, an administrator for several Shoppers Drug Mart stores in Ottawa, was diagnosed with breast cancer three months after her long-term disability policy through Blue Cross Medavie became effective in December, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Monday.

“I didn’t have to answer a [health] questionnaire,” Evans said. “I filled in the form to confirm that I was covered for LTD and I signed it. Done.”

However, in September she asked her doctor about a lump in her breast.

“She said the words ‘you do not have cancer,'” said Evans.

Her employer’s insurance company said that because of the consultation, the lump was a “pre-existing condition” and said the woman did not qualify for long-term disability coverage.

“I was in disbelief. Like, what do you mean?” said Evans. “I am 26 and I just found out I have cancer and it’s a pre-existing condition? Nobody diagnosed me with cancer prior to March.

A Vancouver lawyer who works on cases against insurance companies told the CBC many employees pay into disability insurance plans and don’t realize how limited the coverage it.

“There are a lot of really nasty exclusions in these policies,” Scott Stanley said.

“People really need to be aware of what they are getting from their group plan. If they are not happy with it, they need to raise a stink, and talk to their administrators and their employers about it.”

Shoppers Drug Mart has decided to donate money to Evans.

“Our intention is to ensure that employees get the health coverage and support they need,” spokeswoman Tammy Smitham said.

Ships to carry armed guards off Somalia

LONDON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — To protect against pirate attacks, British merchant ships sailing near Somalia’s coast will be allowed to carry armed guards, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

“The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system, I think, is a complete insult, and so the rest of the world needs to come together with much more vigor,” Cameron said on a BBC program.

The British broadcaster said 49 of the world’s 53 hijackings last year occurred off the coast of Somalia.

As many as 200 vessels under the British merchant navy flag regularly sail close to Somalia.

The Home Office said it hoped to begin accepting shipping company licensing requests within a month, Financial Times reported.

The Times said companies with British-registered ships have had to deal with complicated legal and financial implications of carrying armed guards and firing on suspected attackers.

Cameron called the hijacking and ransoming of ships around the Horn of Africa a “complete stain on our world.”

Officials stressed firearms should be used only in “exceptional circumstances” and those licensed to carry armed guards would face “stringent checks” to make sure weapons were being used properly.

Doctor gives Obama a clean bill of health

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — President Obama is in excellent health and current on all his age-appropriate screening tests, his physician said Monday.

The president is “fit for duty” and is “staying healthy at 50+,” Dr. Jeffrey C. Kuhlman said.

For the record, Obama, at 50 years and 2 months, is tobacco-free, is physically active, eats a healthy diet, maintains a healthy weight and occasionally drinks alcohol in moderation, the physician’s report released by the White House said. The former cigarette smoker is 6-foot-1 and weighs 181 pounds.

Kuhlman said the purpose of the exam was to provide the public “with a candid medical assessment of the president’s ability to carry out the duties of his office now and for the duration of his tenure” and to give Obama “every opportunity to enjoy the benefits of good health now and for decades to come.”

The examination was performed last week, the White House said. Kuhlman recommended the president’s next physical take place in December 2012.

Hackers hit firms with ‘Poison Ivy’

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Oct. 31 (UPI) — Unknown hackers, scoping out corporate secrets, used the malware “Poison Ivy” to reach into about 48 companies’ computers, experts said Monday.

Symantec researchers told Computerworld the hacking efforts, which they dubbed “Nitro,” targeted many chemical and defense firms between July and mid-September.

Poison Ivy was developed by a Chinese hacker and is easily obtained on the Internet.

“Nitro wasn’t at the level of sophistication of a Stuxnet,” senior Symantec researcher Jeff Wilhelm said. “But there are similarities with other advanced threats.”

The computer security software company said Poison Ivy was inserted on the computers of people who opened infected e-mails, some of which appeared to be meeting requests from known business partners and others announcing updates to anti-virus software or for Adobe Flash Player.

Opening the messages installed Poison Ivy on their machines.

The hackers then searched the compromised computers for confidential information and downloaded it elsewhere.

Twenty-nine of the firms whose computers were breached were in the chemical and advanced materials trade, Computerworld said. The remainder were in the defense and other industries.

A dozen of the companies are based in the United States, five in the United Kingdom and others were in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan, the magazine said.

Symantec said it contacted an individual who owned one of the command-and-control servers who went by the name “Covert Grove.” Symantec said the server was located in China’s Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing.

“We were able to trace this back to this individual, which is unusual,” said Wilhelm. “But we just don’t know whether he is the sole hacker.

“It could have been corporate espionage, or it could be anything.”

El-Keib elected Libyan PM

TRIPOLI, Libya, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Abdurrahim el-Keib Monday won 26 votes to become the new prime minister for Libya’s transitional government, the National Transitional Council said.

El-Keib, who lived in the United States for more than 30 years, secured a bare majority of the 51 NTC votes, defeating a field that initially included 10 rivals.

El-Keib, who had been a member of the opposition under the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, lived in the United States beginning in 1975 and earned a doctorate degree from North Carolina State University in 1984, CNN reported.

CNN said it was unclear when he returned to Libya.

He will remain in office while a new constitution is written and until elections are held.

U.S. to maintain Persian Gulf presence

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The United States will maintain a presence in the Persian Gulf region, the Pentagon said Monday.

The number of troops deployed to the region and where they will be based remains to be decided, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations.

“We’re still working through the decision process,” Kirby said. “There’s been no final decision made on any additional force presence anywhere.”

Obama this month announced all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq at the end of the year. Some in diplomatic and military circles have expressed concern the withdrawal could leave the region more unstable.

Press Secretary George Little said formal plans have not been submitted to President Obama or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Pentagon said in a release.

“Whatever decisions are made about force posture moving forward will be based upon our security commitments we have made and will continue to honor in that region,” Kirby said.

The United States has had troops in that part of the world since World War II, he said.

“Our goal is to promote stability and we expect to continue to have strong military-to-military relations with countries in the region including Iraq, to include Kuwait, to include others,” Little said.

Serbia asks for heritage site protection

PARIS, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Addressing UNESCO Monday, the Serbian foreign minister said Serbian Orthodox Church sites cannot belong to the Republic of Kosovo.

“In this organization, we are supposed to protect and nurture cultural identities, not be complicit in politicized attempts to carve up new ones,” said Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization general conference in Paris.

Jeremic said as a member of UNESCO, Serbia will increase its efforts to protect at-risk cultural sites worldwide, Tanjug reported.

“Everyone knows that Serbs and [ethnic] Albanians disagree about Kosovo’s final status. But I want to be very clear: UNESCO is not the forum for airing political disagreements, directly or through proxies,” Jeremic said.

Serbia is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger, which Serbia is responsible for safeguarding, Jeremic said.

AFL-CIO says Dems’ debt plan hurts jobs

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A proposal by Democratic members of the bipartisan, bicameral supercommittee could undercut President Obama’s jobs drive, the AFL-CIO chief said Monday.

Richard Trumka said a proposal to reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years from the majority of Democrats on the panel tasked with reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion in the next decade hurts Obama’s jobs message, The Hill reported.

The Democratic plan would raise revenues by $1.3 trillion, cut entitlement programs by about $500 billion over the next 10 years and would contain Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill in its entirety.

“This can do nothing but to confuse and derail the progress that has been made,” Trumka said during a conference call with reporters.

He said he has talked to members of the committee and told them it was the wrong direction.

“So the question was, was I surprised?” Trumka said. “Yes, I was surprised to see some of the suggestions coming out of the Democratic side.”