Teacher arrested for tying up students

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A Los Angeles elementary school teacher has been arrested and charged with lewd acts on 23 children whom he allegedly tied up and photographed, police said.

Mark Berndt, 61, was being held Tuesday in lieu of $2.3 million bail for the alleged incidents, which included placing giant Madagascar cockroaches on boys’ and girls’ faces and possibly feeding them his semen from a blue spoon, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Berndt had been fired from his job at Miramonte Elementary School in March after a photo processor turned over photographs of some of the acts to authorities. The LA County sheriff’s special victims unit has been investigating since then, interviewing more than 80 students and staff at the school.

“Early in the investigation, special victims bureau detectives recovered a blue plastic spoon and an empty container from the trash within the suspect’s classroom,” Capt. Mike Parker of the LA County Sheriff’s Department said. “The recovered items tested positive for semen.” Tests showed the semen matched Berndt’s DNA, the newspaper reported.

Parker said police so far have identified 23 victims ages 7 to 10 years old when they had contact with Berndt from 2008 to 2010. Ten children in the photos have not been identified.

Toddler twins die in Canada house fire

MACKENZIE, British Columbia, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A house fire in Mackenzie, British Columbia, Tuesday claimed the lives of 18-month-old twins, police said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the boy and girl were among five family members in the home when the fire broke out before 7:30 a.m., the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The house was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, the CBC said.

The RCMP said the children’s parents and another person tried to reach the twins, who were in a second-floor bedroom, but were driven back by the flames.

“This is a tragic loss not only for the family but also the entire community,” RCMP Sgt. Syd Lecky said in a statement.

The cause of the blaze had not been determined and the victims’ names had not been released.

Carbon monoxide kills man in W.Va. hotel

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va., Jan. 31 (UPI) — A Holiday Inn Express in South Charleston, W.Va., was evacuated Tuesday after a man died of carbon monoxide poisoning, fire officials said.

At least three other guests were hospitalized, one in critical condition, the Charleston Daily Mail reported.

Two construction workers staying in the same room on the fifth floor of the hotel were overcome by carbon monoxide overnight, fire officials said. One man was found dead and the other was unconscious when co-workers went to find them about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The unconscious man was in very critical condition at Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Hospital, officials said.

High levels of carbon monoxide, as much as 500 to 600 parts per million, were detected on the hotel’s third, fourth and fifth floors. Anything over 35 parts per million is too high, fire officials told The Charleston Gazette.

South Charleston Fire Chief Greg Petry said the hotel would remain closed until the cause of the carbon monoxide was determined.

Obama: ‘U.S. auto industry is back’

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — President Barack Obama told executives, engineers and designers at the Washington Auto Show Tuesday, “The U.S. auto industry is back.”

Obama inspected about 15 new electric and hybrid models from Ford, Dodge, and General Motors. The president walked down the line of cars as each company representative explained fuel efficiency, manufacturing and design.

Obama actually got inside many of the cars, sitting behind the wheel as he looked at interiors.

“Let me just say, when you look at all these cars, it is testimony to the outstanding work that’s been done by workers — American workers, American designers,” Obama said. “The U.S. auto industry is back. The fact that GM is back, No. 1, I think shows the kind of turnaround that’s possible when it comes to American manufacturing.”

The president’s remarks were punctuated by chants of “Obama, Obama, Obama” from the crowd.

“And it’s good to remember that the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die, because of folks coming together, we are now back in a place where we can compete with any car company in the world,” Obama said. “And these are not only selling here in the United States, they also serve as a platform for us to sell product all around the world.”

The U.S. auto industry was toppling in 2008 and 2009 until a government bailout helped GM and Chrysler. Ford did not apply for government loans.

One car appeared to catch the president’s eye Tuesday. “I’m just very proud of what we’re seeing here. That Camaro with the American Eagle and the American flag — that helps tell the story,” he said.

New Kennedy tapes donated to archives

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Audiotapes of conversations on Air Force One after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy have been donated to the National Archives.

The Raab Collection, which deals in historical autographs, has donated an original audiotape recording described as “Radio Traffic involving AF-1 in flight from Dallas, Texas, to Andrews AFB on Nov. 22, 1963,” the National Archives said Tuesday

The Raab Collection said two 1/4-inch open-reel audiotapes containing identical excerpts from the flight were recently discovered among the papers and other memorabilia of Army Gen. Chester “Ted” Clifton Jr., who served as senior military aide to President Kennedy.

The recording includes taped conversations between pilots and individuals on Air Force One and various individuals in Washington during the return flight following Kennedy’s Nov. 22, 1963, assassination in Dallas. The conversations were captured by the White House Communication Agency, which routed all phone calls and radio traffic. The tape also includes communication between the WHCA and a second aircraft of the president’s fleet that was en route to Tokyo at the time of the assassination with members of Kennedy’s cabinet.

The recording includes references to new code names and incidents, including a private conversation between Jerry Behn, the head of the Secret Service, and an unidentified individual about the disposition of the president’s body.

A digitized version of the 2-hour, 22-minute recording is available on the National Archives Web site and reference copies of the recordings are available for on-site researchers at the National Archives facility in College Park, Md., and the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. A shorter version of the tape is also available at the the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.

PayPal Founders Throw Money To Paul Campaign

Co-founders of the online payment company PayPal, which is currently owned by eBay Inc. have reportedly donated funding to Endorse Liberty, a Super PAC supporting Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul.

According to Reuters, the PAC announced on Tuesday that PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Luke Nosek and Scott Banister threw in money alongside Internet advertising veteran Stephen Oskoui and entrepreneur Jeffrey Harmon, who founded Endorse Liberty in November.

“Too often in this country we learn things the hard way … With its unsustainable deficits, government spending is heading down the same path. Men and women who want freedom and growth should take action. A good place to start is voting for Ron Paul,” Thiel said in a statement.

Endorse Liberty has reported spending about $3.3 million promoting Paul by setting up YouTube channels, buying ads from Google and Facebook and StumbleUpon and building a Web presence.


Group Plans Protests Ahead Of China Visit

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A coalition of U.S. labor unions, Democratic politicians and trade advocacy groups is planning a trade protest ahead the Chinese vice president’s U.S. visit.

The coalition said it plans to announce Tuesday the final states of its campaign in Washington, The New York Times reported. The group said it will lobby the Obama administration to file trade cases against China in the auto industry, accusing China of unfairly subsidizing its auto parts makers and illegally restricting export of raw materials foreign parts makers need to stay competitive.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, expected to succeed President Hu Jintao as China’s leader, is scheduled to visit the White House on Feb.14.

The coalition said a 900-percent increase in auto parts imports from China during the last 10 years is at the root of job losses in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Times said.

“The Chinese have cheated,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a congressional leader of the trade effort along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Chinese officials have denied violating international trade agreements.

However, Brown said lawmakers are moving toward a more aggressive trade policy with China after China last month slapped tariffs on $4.9 billion-a-year in imports of U.S. sport utility vehicles and large cars.

Coalition leaders said they were preparing legal papers that argue the Obama administration should file trade cases with the Commerce Department and the World Trade Organization, challenging reported Chinese subsidies for auto parts exporters, as well as challenging China’s export restrictions on rare earth metals needed for many auto parts.

The briefs also call on the WTO to challenge Chinese decisions demanding U.S. automakers transfer their latest electric car technology to China if they want the cars to qualify for green energy subsidies when sold in China.

European Job Data Shows Lack Of Recovery

BRUSSELS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The unemployment rate in the eurozone was unchanged in December compared to November, holding at 10.4 percent, the European Union’s data office said Tuesday.

The rate is a modest tick higher than the 10 percent rate of December 2010 but shows a clear lack of an economic recovery. The gross domestic product in Europe has trended lower. In Britain and Germany in the fourth quarter, the GDP contracted about 0.2 percent.

In the 17-member region that shares the euro as currency, 16.4 million members of the workforce were unemployed in December, Eurostat said. By contrast, in August 2011, 15.7 million were listed as unemployed.

In the 27-member European Union, the unemployment rate was also unchanged from November to December, holding at 9.9 percent, with 23.8 million members of the workforce out of work.

In the European Union, unemployment stood at 9.5 percent 12 months prior.

The countries with the lowest unemployment rates in the region are Austria at 4.1 percent, the Netherlands at 4.9 percent and Luxembourg at 5.2 percent.

Spain, at 22.9 percent, had the highest unemployment rate. In Greece, the rate stands at 19.2 percent. In Lithuania, the rate is reportedly 15.3 percent, although the most current data comes from the third quarter of 2011.

Judge: BP must indemnify Halliburton

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A federal judge in New Orleans ruled Tuesday BP must cover some damage claims against Halliburton in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said, “BP is required to indemnify Halliburton for third-party compensatory claims that arise from pollution or contamination that did not originate from the property or equipment of Halliburton located above the surface of the land or water, even if Halliburton’s gross negligence caused the pollution.”

An estimated $40 billion in pollution cleanup and business losses are at stake. Barbier cited elements of the BP-Halliburton contract in his order.

Barbier said his order “does not express an opinion as to whether Halliburton’s conduct amounted to gross negligence or otherwise,” but BP does not owe Halliburton indemnity if Halliburton is held liable for punitive, as opposed to compensatory, damages.

Moreover, “BP does not owe Halliburton indemnity to the extent Halliburton is held liable for civil penalties under … the Clean Water Act.”

BP alleged Halliburton made fraudulent “statements and fraudulently concealed material information concerning the cement tests it conducted [at the wellhead] … and that BP, relying on these statements, allowed Halliburton to pour the unstable cement slurry that led to the uncontrollable well and blowout,” Barbier said. “BP asserts that the language of the indemnity does not extend to fraud.”

The judge said he “agrees that fraud could void an indemnity clause on public policy grounds, given that it necessarily includes intentional wrongdoing. … [But] there are material issues of fact that preclude summary judgment on this issue. The court defers ruling on this issue.”

Home Prices Continue To Fall

NEW YORK, Jan. 31 (UPI) — U.S. home prices declined in both 10-city and 20-city composite indexes in November, the closely watched S&P/Case-Shiller home index report said.

Considered a base line economic indicator showing consumers are confident enough to invest in a home, prices are will well off the April 2006 peak, the report shows.

In November, the 10-city index dropped from 151.98 in October to 150.89, a low unseen since July 2003. The 20-city index dropped from 138.49 to 137.52, a low unseen since March 2003, the report said.

In contrast, the 10-city index stood at 226.91 in April 2006. The 20-city index in that month was at 206.65.

For November, the price index was up slightly in Minneapolis, Denver and Phoenix. It was down in Los Angeles; San Diego; San Fransisco; Washington; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Atlanta; Chicago; Boston; Detroit; Charlotte, N.C.; Las Vegas; New York; Cleveland; Portland, Ore.; Dallas and Seattle.

Retail Sales Up A Touch

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — U.S. sales receipts at chain stores rose slightly in the week ending Saturday, the International Council of Shopping Centers said Tuesday.

Sales rose 0.1 percent in the week, but came in 3.9 percent higher than the same week of 2011, the trade group said.

Consumer trends shifted “towards staples and value goods” in the week as the price of gasoline cut deeper into discretionary spending by rising 5 cents in the week.

The Energy Information Agency said gasoline reached $3.439 per gallon on Jan. 30, a 10.9 percent jump over the same week a year earlier.

The average price of gasoline is at the highest level since the last week of October 2010.

“Consumers continue to face higher fuel expenses, which continue to pinch their discretionary purchasing power,” the ICSC said.

Consumer Confidence Slides

NEW YORK, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Consumer confidence in the United States retreated in January after two months of gains, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

The index hit a two-year low in August, then posted gains in September, November and December, sliding a touch in October.

In January, the index dropped from 64.8 to 61.1, the Conference Board said.

The index uses 1985 as a base year, assigning it a value of 100.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Index is based on a survey of 5,000 households.

“Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions turned more downbeat and is back to November 2011 levels,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, in a statement.

“Regarding the short-term outlook, consumers are more upbeat about employment, but less optimistic about business conditions and their income prospects,” Franco said.

Franco said rising gasoline prices “may have consumers feeling a little less confident this month.”

The average price of unleaded gasoline has jumped from $3.378 a month ago to $3.433 Tuesday morning, AAA said.

In January, the number of respondents to the survey indicating economic conditions were “good” fell from 16.3 percent to 13.3 percent. The percentage of respondents indicating conditions were “bad” rose from 33.5 percent to 38.7 percent.

Consumers were also less confident about jobs. The percentage of respondents indicating jobs were “plentiful” fell from 6.6 percent to 6.1 percent while the number indicating jobs were “hard to get” rose from 41.6 percent to 43.5 percent.

Doctor questions Hinckley’s relationships

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A psychiatrist says John Hinckley, the man who shot U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981, has poor judgement in the relationships he develops with women.

Dr. Robert Phillips, testifying at a hearing to determine if Hinckley should be allowed more time away from St. Elizabeths, the Washington D.C. mental hospital where Hinckley has been treated for three decades, said the way the hospital developed the proposal to allow Hinckley to spend more time with his mother in Williamsburg, Va., was a “slip-shot process,” The (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press reported Tuesday.

Phillips said Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shootings of Reagan, press secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty, has shown poor judgement in developing attachments to women with their own mental problems.

Hinckley, 56, also tried to develop a relationship with a married woman who works at Eastern State Hospital, a mental facility where Hinckley works a few hours a week when he’s staying with his mother in Virginia, CNN reported.

Hinckley’s efforts to develop a relationship with the woman was “either fantasy or abject narcissism,” Phillips testified on Monday. Hinckley has said he tried to kill Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster.

The psychiatrist said Hinckley hasn’t made any friends with men or women in Williamsburg and said Hinckley could become increasingly isolated if he spends more time there.

Federal prosecutors are opposed to the hospital’s proposal that Hinckley be allowed two 17-day releases to visit his elderly mother, followed by six 24-day visits. He currently is allowed one 10-day visit each month.

Nurturing Moms = More Adaptive Children

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 30 (UPI) — The part of the brain that is key to learning and memory is larger among children whose mothers who spend a lot of time nurturing them, U.S. researchers said.

Dr. Joan L. Luby, professor of child psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues said the brain-imaging study involved children ages 7-10 who had participated in an earlier study of preschool depression that Luby began about 10 years ago.

The earlier study involved children ages 3-6 who had symptoms of psychiatric disorders including depression, or were mentally healthy with no known psychiatric problems.

In the initial study, the children were closely observed and videotaped interacting with a parent, almost always a mother, as the parent was completing a required task, and as the child was asked to wait to open an attractive gift. How much or how little the parent was able to support and nurture the child in this stressful circumstance — designed to approximate the stresses of daily parenting — was evaluated by raters who knew nothing about the child’s health or the parent’s temperament.

“It’s very objective,” Luby said in a statement. “Whether a parent was considered a nurturer was not based on that parent’s own self-assessment.”

For the current study, the researchers conducted brain scans on 92 of the children who had had symptoms of depression or were mentally healthy when they were studied as preschoolers.

The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, found imaging revealed children without depression who had been nurtured had a hippocampus almost 10 percent larger than children whose mothers were not as nurturing.

A larger hippocampus is a key structure of the brain important to learning, memory and response to stress, Luby said.



Black Tea May Help Lower Blood Pressure

PERTH, Australia, Jan. 30 (UPI) — Three cups of black tea a day might help reduce blood pressure, researchers in Australia suggest.

Lead author Professor Jonathan Hodgson of The University of Western Australia School of Medicine and Pharmacology said reducing high blood pressure could in turn reduce people’s risk of heart disease.

“There is already mounting evidence that tea is good for your heart health, but this is an important discovery because it demonstrates a link between tea and a major risk factor for heart disease,” Hodgson said in a statement.

The study involved 95 Australian participants ages 35-75 who were recruited to drink either three cups of black tea or a placebo with the same flavor and caffeine content, but not derived from tea.

After six months, systolic and diastolic blood pressure was about 10 percent lower among participants who drank black tea, compared with that of the placebo group, researchers said.

The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Doctor: Don’t Forget Coat In Winter

DALLAS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — An emergency room physician in Dallas warns people never to leave the house in winter without proper clothing even if spending only a few minutes outdoors.

Dr. Paul Pepe, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said those going from the garage at home and traveling by car to the parking garage at work — so they never really have to go outdoors — may think it’s unnecessary to bring a coat. But Pepe says it’s “not a good idea” to go without.

“You should always be prepared to spend an hour in the cold whenever you leave the house,” Pepe said in a statement. “What would you do if you had car trouble or got into an accident? Being unprepared for the cold could leave you at risk for hypothermia, which can be deadly.”

It’s a good idea to keep some blankets, a flashlight, boots, gloves, a scarf and some water in your car so you’ll be prepared for cold-weather emergencies, he said.


Music Training May Help Deter Hearing Loss

EVANSTON, Ill., Jan. 31 (UPI) — The brain can be trained to overcome, in part, some age-related hearing loss in those with musical training, U.S. researchers suggest.

Neuroscientist Nina Kraus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said age-related delays in neural timing are not inevitable and can be avoided or offset with musical training.

Researchers measured the automatic neural responses of 87 normal-hearing, native English-speaking adults to speech sounds delivered to them as they watched a captioned video.

Musician participants began musical training before age 9 and engaged consistently in musical activities through their lives, while non-musicians had three years or less of musical training, Kraus said.

Measuring the automatic brain responses of younger and older musicians and non-musicians to speech sounds, researchers in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory discovered older musicians had a distinct neural timing advantage, Kraus said.

However, Kraus warned, the study’s findings were not pervasive and do not demonstrate that musicians have a neural timing advantage in every neural response to sound.

“Instead, this study showed that musical experience selectively affected the timing of sound elements that are important in distinguishing one consonant from another,” Kraus said in a statement.

The findings were published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Exercise Fights Chronic Disease Sadness

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Feelings of sadness that often accompany chronic illness can improve after exercise, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said.

Lead author Matthew Herring, a research associate in the UAB’s School of Public Health’s department of epidemiology, said it is known that exercise can decrease depressive symptoms.

Herring and colleagues reviewed 90 previous studies of more than 10,500 sedentary patients with a chronic illness who were randomly assigned to exercise training or a non-exercise comparison. Trials had to measure depression before and after exercise training, Herring said.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found among patients with a chronic illness, exercise training — including aerobic exercise like jogging, cycling and resistance exercise — reduced depressive symptoms by 22 percent overall. More improvement was seen in participants who met physical activity recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, the study said.

“This suggests that it is plausible that exercise-induced depressive symptom reductions are explained in part by improvements in function among patients,” Herring said in a statement.

Single-Shot Laundry Detergent Re-Surfaces

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — People who recall an experiment in laundry detergents decades ago — individually packaged single-shot doses — may experience deja vu, industry analysts say.

Previous attempts in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to encapsulate a pre-measured amount of detergent in a film that would dissolve in the wash had problems, with films interacting poorly with the detergent and causing short shelf-life.

Another attempt to achieve the same results — essentially a giant tablet of compressed laundry powders — often did not fully dissolve, leaving clumps of detergent clinging to clothes.

But technology behind films used to package the single doses has come a long way, says Michael McCoy with Chemical & Engineering News, the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.

Single-dose liquids packaged in polyvinyl alcohol film have caught on in Britain and France, and Procter & Gamble is reportedly ready to launch “Tide Pods” in the United Sates within a month, the magazine said.

However, since the same dose is provided regardless of the size of the wash load, experts say the jury is still out on whether consumers are ready for such products.

Study: Mammals Vanishing As Burmese Python Spreads

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Mammals like raccoons, opossums, rabbits and deer are vanishing from the Florida Everglades as Burmese pythons multiply, researchers said Monday.

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group said nocturnal road surveys along the main road in Everglades National Park show steep declines in the number of animals spotted. In surveys between 2003 and 2011, no rabbits were observed and the number of raccoon sightings was down 99.3 percent while the number of opossums fell 98.9 percent.

While there could be other reasons, the authors said pythons, constrictive snakes that can grow to be 20 feet or more in length, are the main suspects. The decline in mammal populations coincides with the spread of the snakes and is most severe in the southern Everglades, where they first became established.

Water levels have changed during the years involved, but the area has otherwise been stable during the time.

The snakes are known to eat those particular mammals.

“There aren’t many native mammals that pythons can’t choke down,” Robert N. Reed, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fort Collins Science Center and one of the authors of the study, told The Washington Post.

South America Drought Hits Corn Yields

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Drought in Central and South America is affecting corn yields, a boon for U.S. corn exporters but a cause of major worries for agriculture traders in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Mexico.

Dry conditions blamed on La Nina weather phenomenon caused political wrangles in Argentina, led to a state of emergency in parts of Paraguay and relief measures in other countries.

Argentina is the world’s second largest corn exporter after the United States.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is facing farmer unrest over allegations her government’s relief program is too little too late for many communities affected by drought.

Argentine agriculturalists said La Nina could diminish corn yields in the country by 2 million tons.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization economist Liliana Balbi said current projections reduced estimates for Argentine corn yields from 23 million tons last year to 21.4 million tons this year.

Corn yields in southern Brazil are down about 1.5 million tons. South Brazil accounts for more than 60 percent of summer corn exported by the country, the world’s third largest exporter.

The drought has caused political disruptions, more so in Argentina than in other Latin American countries. Relations between Argentina’s government and importers soured after Fernandez slapped new taxes on traders and refused to budge in the face of furious demands for change.

Fernandez also upset farmers’ groups after ignoring demands for more emergency aid to drought-stricken areas of the country.

The latest potential political flash point was caused when the government refused to defer new legislation that importers denounced as punitive, restrictive and wrapped in red tape.

Further complications arose after trade partner Brazil, increasingly under pressure over drought damage to its own crops, objected to new Argentine rules coming into place. Argentina and Brazil have $30 billion-a-year trade.

Critics say the new rules, going into effect next month, will introduce more bureaucratic delays. Manufacturers said the rules would inhibit industrial production and growth as they would likely impede the flow of components, raw materials and other industrial inputs.

Brazilian Foreign Trade and Industry Minister Fernando Pimentel declared that in contrast to amicable political ties the “trade relations with Argentina are a permanent problem.” Brazilian media criticism of Argentine trade policies has gained momentum amid calls for retaliatory steps.

The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has said it wants to wait and observe till March before taking countermeasures against Buenos Aires.

The influential Sao Paulo Federation of Industries in Brazil said the new Argentine import rules could affect 80 percent of Brazilian exports to the country.

U.S. Minerals Sector Recovering

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — With the U.S. economy slowly emerging from an economic recession, the USGS estimated the value of U.S. mineral production increased 12 percent last year.

Major world economies were hammered by an economic recession that began December 2007. More than four years on, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, in its monthly report for January, warned trouble in the European economic could drag on global markets.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Geological Survey said the value of U.S. mineral production increased 12 percent in 2011 compared with 2010 levels. The agency said metals accounted for much of the increase. The non-metallic mineral sector increased 3 percent, the first increase since 2007, the USGS said.

Non-fuel minerals mined in the United States were valued at $74 billion in 2011. USGS Director Marcia McNutt said domestically recycled metallic and mineral materials contributed $32 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011.

The agency said, however, that the U.S. economy depends on foreign sources to meet most of its domestic mineral demand. Domestic raw materials and recycled materials were used last year to produce mineral materials worth $633 billion, the USGS said.

Cuba Can’t Be Trusted With Oil, Florida Says

MIAMI, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Cuban government can’t be trusted to oversee the safety of oil drilling activity planned 90 miles from the Florida coast, a state official said.

U.S. Coast Guard officials, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Florida lawmakers met to discuss plans for oil exploration in Cuban waters. Spanish energy company Repsol is working with its partners to start drilling for oil off the Cuban coast.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. William Baumgartner, in written testimony, said the United States and Caribbean nations, including Cuba, are party to international conventions on oil spills.

“If a spill occurs within Cuban waters that threatens to impact U.S. waters, shorelines or natural resources, the Coast Guard would mount an immediate response, in partnership with other federal, state and local agencies,” he said.

U.S. authorities examined safety systems, the blowout preventer and other equipment on the Scarabeo 9 drilling unit off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago that Repsol plans to use in Cuban waters this year.

U.S. inspectors found the drilling unit was in compliance with international and U.S. standards for work in the offshore environment.

Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, however, said that with a reputation for having a lack of transparency, the Cuban government shouldn’t be trusted with offshore oil work.

“Cuba cannot be trusted to provide even the bare essentials to its own citizens and it certainly can’t be trusted to oversee safe and environmentally sound oil drilling only 90 miles off of our pristine Florida coast,” she said in her prepared remarks.