Texas challenges court’s redistricting map

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Texas’ top lawyer went to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to try to head off a court-ordered redistricting map that may help Democrats’ congressional fortunes.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott requested the court prevent the implementation of an interim redistricting plan that would make it easier for Democrats to win three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in next year’s elections, Roll Call reported. Texas picked up four House seats because of its population growth in the past decade.

State Republicans engineered their own plan this past summer only to have it contested in federal courts. After a trial in San Antonio at which plaintiffs argued the Republicans’ version did not adequately reflect minority voting power, the court last week approved an interim map. Another trial is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Abbot contends the federal court in San Antonio went too far in drawing its own map before the Washington trial wraps up.

“The court’s interim order should be immediately stayed, and the case should be remanded with instructions to withhold interim relief unless some likely violation of law is found and to defer to the legislatively enacted map as required by this Court’s precedents,” Texas officials said in asking the plan be halted.

Another Kennedy may run for Congress

BOSTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Joseph P. Kennedy III, a scion of the leading Massachusetts political dynasty, suggested he might run for Barney Frank’s seat in Congress.

“I just haven’t had the time to give it any thought, the type of careful consideration that it requires,” Kennedy told the Boston Herald Tuesday. “I’ve always thought politics is an honorable profession. It demands that you give it careful thought before you jump into it. When I get the time to do that, I’ll think about it, but we’re not there yet.”

Kennedy, now an assistant Middlesex County district attorney in Massachusetts, is the son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. That makes him the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and the great-nephew of Sen. Ted Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.

Frank announced two days ago he has decided to retire after his current term ends in January 2013. Redistricting after the 2010 Census changed the shape of his district considerably.

Kennedy, 31, recently moved to Cambridge, which is not in Frank’s district.

There’s more than one way Kennedy could wind up in a congressional race. Another scenario would have U.S. Rep. William Keating running for Frank’s open seat with Kennedy moving to Cape Cod to seek election to a newly created district there.

German intel agency destroyed Nazi files

BERLIN, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Germany’s foreign intelligence agency destroyed personnel files for former employees of the Secret Service and the Gestapo in 2007, historians said.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, destroyed the files in 2007, historians studying ties between the Third Reich and the foreign intelligence agency told Spiegel Online.

One week before BND head Ernst Uhrlau is to retire, an independent commission he appointed to research the agency’s Nazi roots uncovered the destruction of documents relating to 250 agency officials who were “in significant intelligence positions in the SS, the SD (the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party) or the Gestapo,” Spiegel reported Wednesday.

Some of those whose files were destroyed were investigated for possible war crimes in the aftermath of World War II.

Commission spokesman and historian Klaus-Dietmar Henke said he was “stunned” by the findings, and the commission has called for a full investigation of the document destruction.

Vienna tops quality of life list

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 (UPI) — European cities rank high in both quality of life and safety, the Mercer Consulting Group said Wednesday in its annual survey.

Vienna is the pleasantest place to live, the group said, while Luxembourg is the safest. Zurich, Switzerland, was second in quality of life and Auckland, New Zealand, third, while Bern, Switzerland, Helsinki, Finland, and Zurich are tied for second with Vienna fifth.

Mercer issues its annual Quality of Life Survey, which this year includes 221 cities, to help companies put together compensation packages for expatriate employees. This year, because of the turmoil around the world, the company decided to create a second ranking for safety.

Generally, cities that are high on one index are high on the other and vice versa. Baghdad is in the 221st spot on both.

“The top-ranking cities for personal safety and security are in politically stable countries with good international relations and relatively sustainable economic growth. Most of the low-scoring cities are in countries with, civil unrest, high crime levels and little law enforcement,” said Slagin Parakatil, a senior researcher.

Suit links suicide to school bullying

FISHERS, Ind., Nov. 30 (UPI) — The mother of a 14-year-old Indiana high school student who committed suicide has sued the school district, claiming it failed to prevent bullying.

The suit alleges repeated bullying and harassment led Jamarcus Bell, a freshman at Hamilton Southeastern High School in suburban Indianapolis, to hang himself Oct. 20, 2010, at his home in Fishers, Ind., The Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday.

The suit, which seeks unspecified punitive damages, also alleges Hamilton Southeastern Schools deprived Jamarcus of his rights under federal non-discrimination laws. The suit says he was singled out

because of “his race, perceived homosexuality and emotional disability.”

Jamarcus had been targeted for years, and students threw pieces of metal at him in welding class and uttered anti-gay slurs, the suit said.

Jason Delk, an attorney for Jamarcus’ mother, Natalie Moore, said the district should have done more to stop the bullying.

“Jamarcus was a child in need of educational services, certain protections,” Delk said. “They failed him in that regard. They continued to throw him amongst the wolves, the student population.”

The law, filed Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, says school officials knew or should have known what the boy endured but took no action.

He had attempted suicide before, in the seventh grade, when he was found hanging from a noose in a janitor’s closet, which should have been a clear sign he was having trouble, the suit said.

The Star said Hamilton Southeastern officials declined to comment on the suit, and spokeswoman Marianna Richards said the district would “present its position in court.”

Harkin threatens Congress holiday delay

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Wednesday he will try to hold Congress hostage for Christmas if jobless benefits are not extended for out-of-work Americans.

“Let me just put it this way: There will be no Christmas for Congress unless there is an extension of the unemployment insurance benefits,” Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said at a news conference attended by other House and Senate Democrats, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and numerous unemployed workers.

“Believe me, we have a number of us on the Senate side. We’re not going home. We’re not going to have Christmas for Congress until you get an extension of unemployment benefits.”

Roll Call reported Republican leaders have said they favor an extension as long as the cost is offset by cuts elsewhere. But there has been no bipartisan solution found to accomplish that, the Washington publication said.

“We Republicans do care about people that are out of work,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters Wednesday.

Harkin could keep the Democrat-controlled Senate in Washington by demanding a vote on adjournment. It would take a majority vote to get the senators out the Capitol doors and on their way to their holiday vacation.

Usually when Congress adjourns or goes into recess it is by unanimous consent without a vote.

Gingrich: Cain must decide what’s right

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says his presidential rival, Herman Cain, must decide how to deal with charges of sexual misconduct.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, on the other hand, said Cain has to address them.

Gingrich, speaking Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Greenville, S.C., said he has been in Cain’s situation, with a campaign apparently crumbling, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. He said he would not be ahead in the polls now if he had listened to those telling him to give up.

“First of all, as somebody that most of you said was dead in June, I am not in a position where I am going to say to any candidate that they don’t have the right to compete,” Gingrich, who has called Cain a good friend, told reporters. “Herman Cain has to do what he thinks is best and what he thinks is best for his family.”

Gingrich is the candidate currently vying with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the top spot in the polls, a position formerly held by Cain and before that by Perry. He would not speculate on whether Cain’s supporters might turn to him.

Perry took a harder line in an appearance Wednesday on Fox News.

“He needs to address the allegations and if they’re true he has to address that with the people of this country,” Perry said.

Four women have accused Cain of past sexual harassment and a Georgia woman says she and Cain had a 13-year sexual relationship.

Obama to Congress: ‘Don’t be a Grinch’

SCRANTON, Pa., Nov. 30 (UPI) — President Obama, speaking in Scranton, Pa., asked supporters to tell Congress to pass the American Jobs Act and “don’t be a Grinch.”

“Two months ago, I sent a particular piece of legislation to Congress called the American Jobs Act. This is a jobs bill that will put more Americans to work, put more money back in the pockets of working families,” Obama said at Scranton High School.

“When this jobs bill came to a vote, Republicans in the Senate got together and they blocked it. They refused to even debate it. Even though polls showed that two-thirds of Americans of all political stripes supported the ideas in this bill, not one single Republican stepped up to say, this is the right thing to do,” Obama said.

“But here’s the good news, Scranton. Just like you don’t quit, I don’t quit. I don’t quit. So I said, look, I’m going to do everything that I can do without Congress to get things done.”

Obama touted new policies reforming student loan programs and helping families refinance their mortgages, as well as helping returning veterans find jobs.

“There’s a lot more to do, though, if we’re going to get every American back to work who wants to work, and to rebuild an economy that works for every American, which is why we’re going to give Congress another chance to do the right thing with the American Job Act. We’re going to give them another chance to help working families like yours,” Obama said.

“Your taxes today — the average middle-class family, your taxes today are lower than when I took office, just remember that. We have cut taxes for small businesses not once, not twice, but 17 times. The average family’s tax burden is among the lowest it’s been in the last 60 years,” Obama said, adding if Republicans vote against the latest version of the jobs act, they will be voting to raise taxes on the middle class.

If, for example, Congress does not pass the payroll tax cut extension, it would be “a massive blow for the economy, because we’re not fully out of the recession yet. Don’t take my word for it; this is what every independent economist says. We can’t let this tax cut lapse right now,” he said.

“I hope that they [Congress] don’t want to just score political points. I hope that they want to help the economy.”

Obama said the richest Americans need to pay more in taxes to pay for middle-class tax cuts.

“Let’s ask the folks who’ve seen their incomes rise fastest, who’ve gotten bigger tax breaks under Bush, let’s ask them to help out a little bit, because they made it better through the recession than most of us. Let’s ask them to contribute a little bit more to get the economy going again. …

“To everybody who is here, everybody who is watching, send your Senate a message — send your senators a message. Tell them, ‘Don’t be a Grinch.’ Don’t vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”

Govs ask for marijuana reclassification

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — The governors of Rhode Island and Washington state asked the federal government Wednesday to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medical uses.

Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, and Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island, an independent who used to be a Republican, said the change is needed so states like theirs can regulate the safe distribution of the drug without risking federal prosecution, The New York Times reported.

Rhode Island and Washington are among the 16 states that allow medical marijuana.

Marijuana is classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance. Schedule I also includes heroin and LSD, and the U.S. government says they have a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” the Times said.

The governors said they want marijuana reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance. That would put it in the same category as cocaine, opium and morphine, which the government says have “some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.”

The Times said a change in classification would allow pharmacies to dispense marijuana, in addition to the marijuana dispensaries in many states.

NLRB Moves Forward With Union Election Rule Change

On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted to move forward with portions of a union election rule after the board’s only Republican member showed up to vote in opposition.

Democratic members of the labor board, Chairman Mark Pearce and Craig Becker, voted to advance the proposal, and Brian Hayes, a Republican, voted no. There was some speculation that Hayes would throw a wrench into the vote by simply refusing to participate, as he has threatened recently to resign over the union election rule.

Labor unions say the new rule will help reduce delays in union elections, but business groups argue it gives employers little time to talk to their employees about unionization before voting takes place, according to The Hill.

Hayes said that the Democratic members of the NLRB locked him out of the deliberations over the union rule in a bid to pass it by the end of the year.

The NLRB did not consider the full union election rule Wednesday, and voted only on portions that limit litigation surrounding union elections. The members of the NLRB must finish voting on other measures concerning the rule by the end of the year because Becker’s appointment expires at the end of the year. When Becker’s time is up or if Hayes resigns, it would leave the board with only two members, denying it the three-member quorum required for rules votes by a 2010 Supreme Court decision.

Billy Graham hospitalized in N.C.

ASHEVILLE, N.C., Nov. 30 (UPI) — Evangelist Billy Graham, 93, has been hospitalized in North Carolina with a possible case of pneumonia, his organization said.

A statement said Graham was admitted to Mission Hospital in Asheville for observation and treatment, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Pulmonologist Mark Hellreich was testing Graham for the condition Wednesday, the newspaper said. He was last treated for pneumonia in May.

The statement said Graham was alert, smiling and waving at hospital employees when admitted.

The Observer reported Graham’s longtime spokesman, Larry Gross, said Graham developed a cough, congestion and a slight fever, and doctors decided to keep him hospitalized overnight.

The statement said Graham is looking forward to spending Christmas with his family in his Montreat home.

Trump flirting with running as independent

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 (UPI) — TV personality and self-proclaimed brand Donald Trump now says he may run for U.S. president as an independent if he is not happy with the Republican candidate.

Trump told CBS News he will be able to make a decision in May.

“Come May, when the ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ is completed, my contract to NBC is completed. I’m a free agent, as the expression goes,” he said Tuesday. “I can make a decision. You know, obviously it would have to be as an independent.”

Trump, one of many seemingly long-shot candidates who have briefly topped the polls in the crowded Republican field, withdrew in May. He blamed laws that require networks to give equal time to all candidates.

He said he has “very good relationships” with all the Republican candidates but has not made up his mind about an endorsement. On Tuesday, he tweeted that he expects President Obama to start a war with Iran to boost his chances of re-election.

In a new book “Time To Get Tough,” Trump says his net worth is more than $7 billion, $3 billion of that “brand value.”

Gunman killed in Topkapi Palace

ISTANBUL, Turkey, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Turkish police shot and killed a gunman who wounded two people in Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace, officials said Wednesday.

Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said the gunman was a Libyan national, Today’s Zaman reported.

The newspaper said a witness described the gunman as an Arab. The man walked into Topkapi Palace and closed the doors after shooting a soldier in the leg and a private guard in the abdomen, the witness said.

The Ottoman-era palace is one of Istanbul’s major tourist attractions.

Witnesses said the gunman fought with police for more than an hour.

Today’s Zaman said witnesses reported the gunman shouted “God is great” in Arabic and said he was from Syria. The newspaper said that raised concerns the incident was linked to tensions between Turkey and Syria over that country’s crackdown on protesters.

However, Sahin said the gunman was a Libyan national born in 1975 and identified him as Samir Salem Ali Elmadhavri, who had entered Turkey during the weekend and arrived at the scene of the shooting in a car with Syrian plates.

Half of Russians not following elections

MOSCOW, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Less than half of Russian voters say they’re following campaigns ahead of the Sunday’s parliamentary elections, a poll indicates.

The poll, by Russian polling agency VTsIOM, found only about 48 percent of voters said they’re paying attention to the campaigns in the coming elections, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

Among young people, there’s even less interest: Nearly three of four said they have no interest in the elections, the poll found.

Voter interest was much higher among backers of the A Just Russia party, with 64 percent saying they’re interested, and other parties that do not usually win seats in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, with 66 percent saying they’re interested.

Widespread Internet use in Russia notwithstanding, 59 percent of those polled identified television as their main source of information about the election. Only 19 percent said they got their election information mainly from print media and 14 percent from radio.

RIA Novosti said a similar poll before the 2003 parliamentary elections found about 60 percent of Russians were following the election campaign.

The poll is based on a survey of 1,600 people in 46 regions Nov. 26 and Nov. 27. The margin of error is 3.4 percentage points.

Mom gets life for killing children in fire

DETROIT, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A Michigan woman was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday for starting a fire that killed her young son and daughter.

Sharon Hinojosa of Huron apologized to members of her family, telling them “I’m so sorry,” The Detroit News reported. She did not admit deliberately setting the fire.

“I’m hurting too,” she said during the hearing in Wayne County.

During her trial, Hinojosa said the fire in her boyfriend’s trailer that killed Anthony, 4, and Alyana, 3, in October 2009 began accidentally. Prosecutors said she started the fire because she was angry at her boyfriend.

“You leaving Anthony and Alyana in that trailer while leaving with your youngest child is a betrayal of what a mother is supposed to stand for,” Circuit Judge Daniel Hathaway said. “You will have the rest of your life in prison to consider that.”

Honey Bee Health Linked To Protein

BERGEN, Norway, Nov. 29 (UPI) — A protein called vitellogenin is vital to promoting the health of honey bees, a researcher in Norway said.

Heli Havukainen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences said research on honey bee health suggests vitellogenin guides bees to do different social tasks, such as caregiving or foraging, as well as supports the immune system.

The health of honey bees, which are major crop pollinators, has become a topic of considerable concern due to massive deaths of bee colonies in the United States and Europe.

Havukainen said vitellogenin can be described as a freight train consisting of a locomotive and a carriage. The protein carries fat as its cargo. The vitellogenin “train” travels in the bee’s blood and delivers the fat cargo at different local stops or stations, the university said Tuesday in a release.

Scientists had previously thought vitellogenin was one entity, like a cargo ship, unable to separate from its cargo, Havukainen said.

Havukainen said the findings are the first step in determining how vitellogenin affects social behavior, immunity and stress resistance.

Soft Robot Inspired By Starfish

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov. 29 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve created a soft robot inspired by animals without internal skeletons such as starfish, squid and worms.

The robot, described in a report published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is composed of elastomeric polymers and uses five actuators, along with a pneumatic valving system that operates at low pressures, to give it motion. PNAS said a combination of crawling and undulation gaits allow the robot to navigate over and under obstacles.

“Instead of basing this and other designs on highly evolved animals as models, we are using simpler organisms for inspiration,” a team led by Harvard University chemistry professor George M. Whitesides said in the journal article, which was quoted on Nature.com.

“These organisms, ones without internal skeletons, suggest designs that are simpler to make and are less expensive than conventional hard robots, and that may, in some respects, be more capable of complex motions and functions.”

Whooping Cranes Looking For Food In Texas

HOUSTON, Nov. 29 (UPI) — Whooping cranes are making a comeback along the Texas coast but the brackish marshes they need for food may be too salty this winter, environmentalists said,

The Aransas Project, an environmental coalition, claims state regulators aren’t allowing enough fresh water to flow into the marshes where the birds live, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday.

The group is asking a federal judge to order the state to develop a water use plan that leaves enough in the river basins to protect the cranes’ habitat. The case goes to trial Monday in Corpus Christi.

About 300 whooping cranes are expected to winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge,about 50 miles north of Corpus Christi.

The birds, protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, feed on blue crabs that live in the brackish marshes along the coast. The crabs, however, require some fresh water to live and drought conditions have made the the San Antonio Bay and estuary system too salty for them, the Aransas Project said.

State regulators say proving water for the birds could threaten the availability of water for existing users, the newspaper said.

“The future of the whooping crane hangs on the outcome of the trial,” Jim Blackburn, the Houston attorney for the Aransas Project, told the newspaper. “Federal intervention is the only chance for its long-term survival.”

Bacteria Adopt Just-In-Time Strategy

BLOOMINGTON, Ind., Nov. 29 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say some bacteria use the same strategy as companies who apply an on-demand, just-in-time strategy to conserve resources and reduce costs.

A study by Indiana University biologists and Brown University physicists found certain bacteria wait until the last minute to synthesize the glue that allows them to attach permanently to surfaces.

The research, published in the journal Molecular Microbiology, found single bacterial cells use their flagella and pili to facilitate the timely release of adhesive polysaccharides upon initial contact with other surfaces.

“For bacteria, surface attachment by single cells is the first step to important processes such as biofilm formation and host infection,” IU microbiologist Pamela Brown said Tuesday in a release. “What we found is that the interaction of bacterial cells with a surface using their flagellum and pili stimulates the on-the-spot production of polysaccharide adhesins, propelling the transition from transient to permanent attachment.”

Indiana University said the findings suggest pathogenic bacteria may carefully time adhesin release to protect themselves from premature exposure to a host’s immune system during infection.

Elevated Arsenic Levels In Apple Juice

YONKERS, N.Y., Nov. 30 (UPI) — A U.S. test of apple juice and grape juice found 10 percent had arsenic levels higher than federal drinking water standards, Consumer Reports said.

Ten percent of the 88 juice samples had arsenic levels exceeding the federal drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion, while 25 percent had arsenic levels higher than the 5 ppb permitted in bottled water by the Food and Drug Administration.

There are no defined limits for arsenic and lead in fruit juices sold in the United States, the non-profit research organization said Wednesday in a release. The FDA, however, recently told consumer advocacy groups it is seriously considering setting guidance for permissible levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said the federal government should establish a standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice.

The findings are featured in the January issue of Consumer Reports.

Urvashi Rangan, director of Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, said the organization is concerned about the potential risks of arsenic and lead, especially for children.

Consumer Reports said the samples came from ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes and cans of concentrate purchased from various locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Mid-Morning Snack May Sabotage Weight Loss

SEATTLE, Nov. 29 (UPI) — Women dieters who snack between breakfast and lunch do not lose more weight compared with those who abstain from a mid-morning snack, U.S. researchers say.

Study leader Dr. Anne McTiernan of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center said the study involved 123 overweight-to-obese postmenopausal Seattle-area women ages 50-75.

The women were randomly assigned to either a diet-alone intervention with a goal: 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day, depending on starting weight, and fewer than 30 percent of daily calories from fat, or diet plus exercise with the same calorie and fat restrictions plus 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per day, five days a week. The women, who received nutrition counseling, were not given any specific instructions or recommendations about snacking. For the purposes of the study, a snack was defined as any food or drink consumed between main meals.

The findings, scheduled to be published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found mid-morning snackers lost an average of 7 percent of their total body weight while those who ate a healthy breakfast but did not snack before lunch lost more than 11 percent of their body weight.

“We think this finding may not relate necessarily to the time of day one snacks, but rather to the short interval between breakfast and lunch. Mid-morning snacking therefore might be a reflection of recreational or mindless eating habits rather than eating to satisfy true hunger,” McTiernan said in a statement.