Ohio’s Austria to retire, cites remapping

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, R-Ohio, announced Friday he is retiring, saying he is angry new district lines would have him facing another Republican member.

The second-term congressional member was set to face Republican Rep. Michael Turner in the redrawn 10th Congressional District in southwestern Ohio, Roll Call reported.

Ohio lost a seat in redistricting for the 2012 elections.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working on behalf of every one of my communities, both large and small, and regret that I will not be able to continue the work I have been truly committed to, due to the redrawing of the maps,” Austria said.

Austria took a shot at his own party, describing Ohio redistricting as an exercise “done in secrecy and with closed-door deals.”

State Republicans controlled the process.

U.S. Eyes Talks With Taliban In 2012

The President Barack Obama Administration is hoping to restore momentum in 2012 to U.S. talks with the Taliban insurgency that had reached a critical point before falling apart in December, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the talks began to falter after Afghan President Hamid Karzai objected to the correspondence, U.S. and Afghan officials said. One goal of the renewed communication would be to identify cease-fire zones that may be used as a steppingstone towards a full peace agreement.

The AP reported that officials from the State Department and White House plan to continue a series of secret meetings with representatives of the Taliban in Europe and the Persian Gulf next year. This is reliant on the assumption that a small group of emissaries from the group would remain willing to do so.

The Taliban is about to open its first official office, according to Afghan and Western officials, as the group is expected to began operating a site in Qatar within the next several months, ABC News reported.

Chimps Warn When Others Don’t See Danger

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, Dec. 29 (UPI) — Chimpanzees can sense when others in a group are unaware of a present danger and can issue warnings, European researchers say.

The findings suggest chimpanzees are aware of the information available to other chimpanzees and make decisions about the messages they choose to convey based on that understanding, the researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

“Chimpanzees really seem to take another’s knowledge state into account,” Catherine Crockford of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland said. “They voluntarily produce a warning call to inform audience members of a danger that they do not know about. They are less likely to inform those who already know about the danger.”

The study challenges the notion that only humans recognize ignorance in others and take steps to inform them, the researchers say.

The findings may shed light on the evolution of language, they say.

“Some have argued that a crucial stage in this evolution occurred when individuals began producing vocalizations with the goal of informing and thereby reducing ignorance in others,” Crockford said.

The findings show “more of the ‘essential ingredients’ needed to kick-start complex communication are evident in chimpanzees than we thought,” she said.

Vatican Says Turin Shroud Proved Genuine

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 29 (UPI) — The official newspaper of the Vatican says science cannot explain the Turin shroud and has endorsed recent suggestions of its authenticity.

The newspaper cited research by Italian scientists it says suggests the shroud — which many believe bears an imprint of the body of Jesus — cannot be a medieval fake and may be the authentic burial cloth of Christ.

Kept in the Turin Cathedral, the shroud is imprinted with the figure of a crucified man with wounds to his hands and feet.

A team of experts from Enea, Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies and Energy, conducted five years of experiments on the shroud using lasers, and concluded the imprint of a bearded man’s face and crucified body could not have been reproduced by modern scientific techniques, Britain Daily Telegraph reported.

The results obtained by the Italian scientific team were credible, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported.

“Revelations about the shroud easily assume a sensational tone, but in this case the measured way the scientists speak of their research is to be appreciated,” Monsignor Giuseppe Ghiberti, the president of the Turin commission responsible for the relic, told the newspaper. “It’s a rare thing that gives the news added seriousness.”

Marine Bacteria Glow To Attract Attention

EILAT, Israel, Dec. 29 (UPI) — Bioluminescent bacteria glow in the ocean as a form of “advertising” meant to attract hungry diners, Israeli and German researchers say.

The scientists, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, report laboratory experiments strengthen a long-held theory that marine bacteria light up to obtain a free ride to other areas of the ocean in the digestive tracts of larger creatures, ScienceNews.org reported Tuesday.

Numbers of deep-sea species, from bacteria to fish to squid, are bioluminescent, generating light inside their bodies through chemical reactions.

Margarita Zarubin, at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel, put luminescent bacteria in a tank and watched as smaller animals were attracted to them as a food source, ignoring other bacteria genetically modified to be unable to glow.

When shrimp that were beginning to glow from ingesting the bacteria were presented to predator cardinal fish along with shrimp that were not glowing, the cardinal fish ate only the glowing fish.

When the researchers tested the fish feces they found the bioluminescent bacteria had passed unscathed through the fish guts and come out intact.

The whole process spreads the bacteria through the water faster than they could move on their own, Zarubin said.

Cement Group Pays $1.7 Million For Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A cement company agreed to pay millions of dollars to resolve allegations it violated the Clean Air Act at U.S. manufacturing plants, the EPA said.

Essroc Cement Co. agreed to pay $1.7 million in fines and invest more than $30 million in pollution control technology to resolve alleged violations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for operations at six of its cement manufacturing plants in the United States.

“EPA is committed to cutting illegal air pollution from the largest sources of emissions,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s office of enforcement and compliance assurance, said in a statement. “The pollution controls required by today’s settlement will reduce harmful air pollutants, protecting communities across the nation.”

The EPA claims the settlement could reduce the level of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide from the air by 7,000 tons per year. Those pollutants are linked to acid rain, smog and asthma in children.

Essroc, under the terms of the settlement, will deploy a so-called selective catalytic reduction system at kilns at an Indiana plant. A plant in Pennsylvania, currently out of operation, will be retired under the EPA deal.

There were no public comments available from Essroc.

More Green Programs Planned For U.S. Grid

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — The U.S. government said it approved of a solar plant in California and a wind farm in Oregon that could provide enough energy for 112,500 homes.

U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced approval of two renewable energy projects, which would collectively generate about 379 megawatts of power.

“Today’s projects are the 26th and 27th renewable energy projects that Interior has advanced in just the last two years,” Salazar said in a statement. “As we continue to move thoughtfully and quickly toward a clean energy future, these projects are strengthening local economies by generating good jobs and reliable power.”

The solar project, which will be on about 2,000 acres near El Centro, could generate as much as $30 million in tax revenue for California. A wind project proposed for Oregon could generate as much as $4.5 million in local tax revenue.

The Interior Department said that once those projects are running, there would be about 6,600 MW of green energy on the U.S. grid, enough to power 2.3 million homes.

U.S. President Barack Obama set a goal of having 80 percent of the nation’s energy needs met by clean energy sources by 2035.

Survey: Americans Want To Live To Be 90

OMAHA, Dec. 29 (UPI) — Each generation appears to disagree on what exactly “old” is, but all want to live until age 90, a U.S. survey indicates.

The survey by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted for Home Instead Senior Care asked: “At what age do you consider someone to be old?”

— Millennials, the youngest group, said age 62.

— Gen Xers, born in the latter part of the 1960s and 70s, said 71.

— Baby Boomers, born from 1946 up to 1964, said 77.

— Greatest Generation, born 1901 to 1924, said 81.

The study, “Generation to Generation: Gauging the Golden Years,” polled 1,235 Americans about their views on aging and found that overall men consider someone to be old at age 70 years, while women say it’s 76.

Being “old” doesn’t dampen the desire for a long life. Survey respondents from every generation would all like to live a long life — to age 90 — but most expect only to reach age 83.

That may be a tad optimistic because average life expectancy in the United States is age 78.4, the report said.

“There’s no doubt that we’re living in an aging world,” Roger Baumgart, chief executive officer of Home Instead Senior Care, said in a statement.

The survey of 1,235 U.S. adults, conducted Sept. 26-Sept. 29, has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

 

U.S. Excess Deaths Linked To Fukushima

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) — An estimated 14,000 excess U.S. deaths may be linked to the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, two researchers say.

Study authors epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and Dr. Janette Sherman, an adjunct professor at Western Michigan University, said six days after the nuclear reactor meltdowns struck four reactors at Fukushima March 11, scientists detected the plume of toxic fallout had arrived over American shores.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found levels of radiation in air, water and milk hundreds of times above normal across the United States, the researchers said.

Mangano said the normal level of Iodine-131 in U.S. precipitation was about 2 picocuries Iodine-131 per liter of water, but the highest detected levels of Iodine-131 in precipitation were: Boise, Idaho, 390; Kansas City, 200; Salt Lake City, 190; Jacksonville, Fla., 150; Olympia, Wash., 125; and Boston, 92.

“This study of Fukushima health hazards is the first to be published in a scientific journal. It raises concerns, and strongly suggests that health studies continue, to understand the true impact of Fukushima in Japan and around the world,” Mangano said in a statement. “Findings are important to the current debate of whether to build new reactors, and how long to keep aging ones in operation.”

The findings are published in the International Journal of Health Services.

Ways To Help Prevent Winter Falls

MELROSE PARK, Ill., Dec. 29 (UPI) — About 1 million fall-related U.S. injuries are reported each year but an exercise physiologist says there are ways to help prevent falls.

Mike Ross, author of “The Balance Manual” and exercise physiologist at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of Loyola University Health System near Chicago, said some bodily changes due to age are unavoidable and may affect personal safety.

“Balance deteriorates as we get older due to the weakening of muscles and change in sensory perception, especially in the ear structure. Equilibrium, or balance, is largely determined by the inner ear and the brain,” Ross said in a statement.

He said many falls can be avoided, or the impact minimized, by applying a few basic strategies.

— Examine your shoes and boots. Better traction can help keep you more stable on icy surfaces.

— Keep a shovel and salt in your house.

— Check the railings and determine whether they are sturdy enough to support you if you slipped.

— If you fall, it can be hard to get up so carry a cell phone whenever you go outside.

— Slow down. If you hurry that you end up pushing the limits of your sense of balance.

— Ask for help. If you have to walk across an icy sidewalk or parking lot, try to find a steady arm to lean on.

— Strong leg muscles can help you steady yourself if you slip. And if you do fall, they make it a lot easier to get back up. Do a set of 10 squats out of a chair a couple of times per week.

NYC: One Cigarette Is One Too Many

NEW YORK, Dec. 29 (UPI) — A New York City TV campaign on the health consequences of “light” smoking — 10 or fewer cigarettes per day — is scheduled to begin next week, officials say.

Officials at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it was the department’s first effort to target light smokers with information on the dangerous health effects of even light or casual smoking.

“One Cigarette Is One Too Many,” contrasts people defending their light smoking with the well-documented health effects from light smoking.

“Even if you don’t think of yourself as a smoker, when you smoke even one cigarette a day, you are putting yourself at risk for many serious and potentially fatal health problems,” Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of health, said in a statement. “Quitting smoking for good can decrease your risk for heart disease and cancer and give you the best shot at living a long, healthy life. Help is available. Call 311 or go on-line to get free gum or patches today.”

To coincide with the campaign, the health department will offer nicotine gum until Jan. 15, 2012, to eligible smokers who smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes per day, to help them quit through 311 and online via nycquits at nyc.gov.

Light smokers make up 34 percent of all New York City’s daily smokers. Heavier smokers who are interested in nicotine replacement therapy can call 311 or 1-866-NYQUITS year round for help with quitting.

Reduce Cancer Risk By Taking A Walk

BOSTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Cancer experts at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston suggest ringing in the New Year by adopting a new health habit — the easiest of which is walking.

Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, a Dana-Farber gastrointestinal cancer specialist, says staying fit and healthy can be as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and going for a walk. Several studies show moderate to intensive aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of recurrence of several cancers, including colon and breast.

“You don’t have to be a marathon runner, but the more you exercise, typically the greater the beneficial effect,” Meyerhardt says in a statement.

Meyerhardt suggests there are several inexpensive ways to workout, such as taking an exercise break or quick walk at work and using a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV, but consult a doctor first.

Stephanie Meyers, a nutritionist at Dana-Farber, suggests walking past the cookie section of the grocery store and proceeding to the produce section.

“Taking that little detour can provide many health benefits. A diet low in processed sugars, red meat and calories, but high in fruits and vegetables and loaded with antioxidants is one of the simplest ways to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of certain cancer,” Meyers says.

The overall key is to look for colorful produce like pomegranates, tomatoes, eggplant, grapes, cherries and turnips, because the brighter and richer the pigment, the higher the level of nutrients, Meyers said.

Wendy’s In Tokyo Launches $16.50 Burger

TOKYO, Dec. 29 (UPI) — Wendy’s officials said it plans to expand the restaurant overseas, but the $16.50 top shelf burger on sale at a Wendy’s in Japan was none of its doing.

Officials at company headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, said they “really don’t have anything to do with it,” referring to a burger sold with goose liver pate and truffles at a Wendy’s in a posh section of Tokyo.

The gourmet burger is part of Wendy’s return to Japan, a market it had abandoned two years ago, the newspaper said.

The return is part of Wendy’s expansion plans that have a goal of tripling the firm’s overseas restaurants, Chief Executive Officer Emil Brolick said.

Wendy’s is shooting for 1,000 foreign outlets that could open the door for more creative menus.

Outside the United States, fast-food restaurants are not always part of a fast-paced car culture, said Nick Setyan, a restaurant industry analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc.

“Get-in, get-out,” is the norm in the United States, but abroad fast food outlets are often viewed as a place for a sit-down meal, he said.

Sears Lists 79 Stores It Will Close

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill., Dec. 29 (UPI) — Sears Holdings Corp. released a partial list of U.S. stores it plans to close, revealing 79 doomed locations out of up to 120 it plans to ax.

Sears said it would not hazard a guess on the number of associates who would be displaced as the number “varies from store to store.” There were between 40 and 80 employees at each location, the firm said.

The list is available at http://searsmedia.com/tools/122711_close.pdf.

In a statement released Tuesday, Sears said, “While our past practice has been to keep marginally performing stores open while we worked to improve their performance, we no longer believe that to be the appropriate action in this environment.”

Brazil Growing With Small Middle Class

BRASILIA, Brazil, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Brazil may have passed Britain to claim the No. 6 spot in the world’s largest economies, but incomes per capita still lag far behind, data shows.

In Britain, the per capita income is about $34,600, while in Brazil it is about $10,100, Forbes magazine reported Friday.

Although income per capita has jumped from 2006, when it was $5,793, the country is still many years away from developing a strong middle class, Forbes said.

The image of the average Brazilian shopping in a modern mall and resting at home in front of a wide-screen TV is still generations away, the U.N. Conference on Trade & Development predicts.

By 2050, Brazil is likely to break into the Top 5 by the size of its economy. But the per capita income in Brazil in 2050 will still be less than half that of the United States, UNCTAD said.

Obama delays seeking debt-ceiling increase

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — The Obama administration delayed asking Congress to raise the U.S. debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion after congressional leaders objected to the time frame.

The White House said the delay won’t affect the nation’s creditworthiness, The Washington Post reported.

Under the request the administration originally planned to submit Friday, Congress would have had 15 days to disapprove the request or else the debt ceiling automatically would have been raised from $15.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion.

Congressional leaders, however, objected to the timeline, saying it would have been difficult for lawmakers to vote on the measure. The House doesn’t return until Jan. 17 and the Senate is gone until Jan. 23.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will delay his request by a few days.

The Treasury Department said Friday it expects the United States to come within $100 billion of its debt limit; however, an administration official said accounting measures would keep the nation solvent until the debt limit is increased.

Companies Turn To Quirky Perks For Workers

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Some U.S. employers are turning to quirky perks to appease workers frustrated by pay cuts, heavy workloads and high health insurance costs, company heads say.

“Companies are trying to have it feel like it’s not one big take-away,” says John Bremen, a managing director at employer consultancy Towers Watson. “They are trying to find ways to appeal to the workforce.”

New perks for employees are coming in the form of pet insurance, at-your-desk meditation services, jewelry discounts and funeral planning, USA Today reported Thursday.

Many voluntary benefits, such as pet insurance and reduced-price computers, won’t burden a corporate budget.

“On the employer side, there’s a recognition that they can’t always add to the benefits program in a way they have in the past,” says Ronald Leopold, national medical director at MetLife. “But they want to offer employees different things and a broader set of [choices].”

S.C. Johnson, TD Bank and Travelocity all provide health coverage for their employees’ pets through Petplan Pet Insurance, said USA Today.

Petplan “has seen tremendous growth in this area of voluntary benefits,” said co-CEO Chris Ashton. “In this struggling economy, employers are increasingly looking for low-cost options to keep their employees happy.”

GE: U.S. Labor Market Is Competitive

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Dec. 30 (UPI) — A high-ranking executive at General Electric said the U.S. labor market is now priced right for U.S. manufacturers to consider expansion without outsourcing.

“We have gotten to a point where making things in America is as viable as making things any place in the world,” said James  Campbell, president and chief executive of GE’s appliances and lighting division, The New York Times reported Friday.

Campbell highlighted lower wages as the principal reason the U.S. economy is fertile ground for corporations.

Hurdles, he said, “are significantly less with the competitive wage and that is a big help.”

In what would have provoked protests or perhaps strikes not many years ago, unions are now accepting split wages among their workers with new hires being paid up to $15 per hour less than established workers.

Unions have accepted what could be termed the inevitable. A job at a lower-than-optimal wage is better than no job at all, many say.

“You don’t want to rock the boat. You take a chance on losing everything you have if you do,” said Linda Thomas, 37, who works alongside co-workers doing similar work for about twice her hourly wage at GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky.

For many, the gains unions have made pushing the manufacturing sector into the middle class look to be eroding.

“My hope is that we will rebuild wages to their old levels over time as the economy strengthens and the demand for workers rises,” said Thomas Kochan, a management expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“But that is by no means a certainty,” he said.

Calif. firm pleads guilty to bid rigging

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A California firm and its owner pleaded guilty Friday in New York to bid rigging and fraud related to municipal bond investments, the Justice Department said.

David Rubin, founder and owner of Rubin/Chambers, Dunhill Insurance Services, a company also known as CDR Financial Products, and the company pleaded guilty for their participation in bid-rigging and fraud conspiracies related to contracts for investing bond proceeds and other municipal finance contracts, the department said in a release.

Rubin and CDR pleaded guilty to participating in separate bid-rigging and fraud conspiracies with several financial institutions and insurance companies that provided an investment agreement to state, county and local governments and agencies across the United States.

The public entities wanted to invest money from the proceeds of municipal bonds issued to raise fund for public projects, among other things.

Rubin and CDR also pleaded guilty to wire fraud in with those schemes, the Justice Department said.

“Mr. Rubin and his company engaged in fraudulent and anti-competitive conduct that harmed municipalities and other public entities,” said Sharis A. Pozen, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s Antitrust Division. “Today’s guilty pleas are an important development in our continued efforts to hold accountable those who violate the antitrust laws and subvert the competitive process in our financial markets.”

Rubin and CDR, along with Zevi Wolmark, CDR’s former chief financial officer and managing director; and Evan Andrew Zarefsky, a CDR vice president, were indicted in October 2009.

Wolmark and Zarefsky go to trial Tuesday in the Southern District of New York.

Rubin is to be sentenced April 27.

Russian patriarch: Listen to protesters

MOSCOW, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Patriarch Kirill I, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has backed the right to protest and urged the government to listen to the protesters.

The patriarch’s statements in sermons earlier this month are surprising, given the close ties between the Russian state and the church, The New York Times reported.

At a diocesan assembly on Friday, Kirill also urged churches to take advantage of modern communications by having a presence on the Internet, the Times said. While he warned priests, monks and nuns to avoid “careless and sometimes intentionally provocative statements,” he did not criticize them for using the Internet and Facebook to discuss politics and call for reform.

Andrei Zubov, a historian, said the church is building itself as an authoritarian institution much like the government under former President Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister. But he said the church is granted more legitimacy by Russian dissenters, which allows Kirill to attempt to bridge the gap between the opposition and the government.

“His declarations are taking on more and more the tonality of a high moderator, who can, he thinks, still calm down the situation, which is headed otherwise to a complete split of society from the regime, and, correspondingly, towards profound political crisis,” Zubov told the Times.

Firecracker injuries high in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Almost 200 people have already been injured in the Philippines during holiday celebrations, most of them by firecrackers, health officials report.

Dr. Eric Tayag, a spokesman for the health department, said 187 people have been hurt by exploding firecrackers, two by eating firecrackers and eight from being hit by stray bullets, abs-cbnNews.com reported. That is a total of 197 injuries between Dec. 21 and Dec. 29, with New Year’s Eve celebrations still to come.

Tayag urged families with young children to stop using firecrackers. He said avoiding large firecrackers is not a solution since most injuries are caused by the small ones known as piccolos.

Israeli chaplain: Women in military equals

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Discrimination of women in the Israeli military by ultra-Orthodox religious groups must not be tolerated, the chief military chaplain said.

Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, the military’s highest ranking rabbi, said recent extremist religious assaults and verbal attacks against women in Beit Shemesh go against Jewish law, Army Radio reported

“The spirit of Jewish law does not allow discrimination or violation of women in any circumstance and on any grounds,” Peretz said in a letter to the military. “I cannot stand idly by in the face of such serious affronts.”

A member of the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Jewish community in Jerusalem was indicted Thursday for sexual harassment after allegedly shouting a sexual slur at a female soldier who refused to move to the back of a bus, the Jerusalem Post said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking Thursday at a graduation ceremony for the Israel Air Force pilot’s course, said, “in the State of Israel, in which women sit in the cockpit, women can sit in any place.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who also addressed the graduates, made a point of mentioning that five of the new pilots are women, the newspaper said. “Women are part of our society, more than half of it, and all of us, religious and secular alike, must not only treat them with respect, but also must understand that equality is a natural-born right,” Barak said.