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Illinois Sheriff faces sexual harassment charge

Wednesday, 27 November 2013 08:20 Published in Local News

 EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) - A former secretary for a southwestern Illinois sheriff is suing the law enforcer, accusing him of violating her civil rights by sexually harassing her.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports that the lawsuit filed on Jaimie Linton's behalf in federal court in East St. Louis seeks $4 million in damages. It names Madison County Sheriff Robert Hertz and the county.

Hertz says he's not surprised by the lawsuit and says court is where Linton's claims will be vetted.

Linton alleges Hertz engaged in a pattern of abusive and inappropriate workplace behavior. Linton filed a complaint earlier this year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming Hertz followed her during her lunch hour, threatened her job and questioned her morals and character.

 

MARATHON IRAN NUKE TALKS, ASTERISK AND 'DANNY BOY'

Tuesday, 26 November 2013 11:39 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Way past midnight at an upscale Swiss hotel, negotiations hit the nitty-gritty on a breakthrough deal about Iran's nuclear program. There was a flurry of calls with the White House, pizza and talk about a tiny, but critical, asterisk in what became the final agreement.

Throughout it all, a band was crooning Irish folk tunes that seemed to grow louder as the tedious negotiations continued into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

On one side of the hotel's first floor, negotiators talked about centrifuges and uranium, hoping to ink the first step of a comprehensive agreement that could affect the world balance of nuclear weapons technology. Security was tight and an armored personnel carrier was parked outside.

On the other side of the floor, men in tuxedos and women in strapless gowns were partying at a noisy charity event that could be watched from the lobby below.

The final marathon day of negotiations began around 9 a.m. Saturday. Diplomats from Iran, the U.S., Britain, Russia, France, China and Germany as well as the European Union filed into the lobby, their security teams in tow. Their first challenge: negotiating a phalanx of reporters and photographers camped out.

After the arrivals, hours passed with no hint of what was happening behind closed doors.

About 10 hours into the negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry secretly slipped out of the hotel for about 30 minutes to buy truffles at Auer Chocolatier, a five-generation family business not far from Lake Geneva. The sweets were for his wife and family for Thanksgiving dinner.

The negotiations also paused for dinner. The U.S. delegation dined on different kinds of pasta ordered into Kerry's suite.

Throughout the day, Kerry felt that there was a chance for an agreement, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling on his plane Monday as it returned from Europe. But there was a point when he became dubious because Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif "looked anxious and appeared to be under pressure from Tehran," according to the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to discuss the talks by name.

The U.S. delegation was in touch with the White House throughout the day. Kerry called President Barack Obama mid-afternoon local time to update him on the discussions and once again before midnight. After that call, the U.S. team ordered pizza and Kerry broke out some of his chocolates to share with the group.

Kerry was not completely convinced that a deal was going to be reached until well after midnight. At their final three-way meeting, Kerry, Zarif and the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, managed to work through some — though not all — of the remaining issues, the official said.

"The last meeting ... was pretty much make or break," the official said. The agreement, however, was not actually struck at that meeting, according to the official, who declined to provide details on exactly when the deal was sealed.

An official with the group of the six world powers said that toward the end, Russia and China were willing to sign an agreement that had less stringent language. The official, who was not authorized to publicly disclose by name details about the negotiations, said that left the U.S. pressing past midnight — and sometimes alone — for tougher restrictions on uranium enrichment and a heavy water reactor that Iran is building in Arak, southwest of Tehran.

Heavy water reactors produce plutonium, which also can be used to make nuclear weapons — something Iran has long said it has no plans to do.

The negotiations were so detailed that there was even discussion about an asterisk, found on the fourth and final page of the document's preamble. It states that going forward, the principle of "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" applies. It means that in the future, as Iran's nuclear work continues, everything must be agreed upon by all parties.

As Saturday became Sunday, the lobby bar closed, but the band played on. The musicians were belting out the Irish ballad "Danny Boy," and partiers were doing their best to line-dance in their finest.

The scene below was starkly different. Those waiting for the talks to end were dozing on couches, making the lobby of the swank hotel look more like a bus depot. Phone and laptop chargers were piggy-backed into every available electrical outlet, making sure they were juiced-up and ready to relay news of a deal to the world.

Shortly before 2 a.m., there was a flurry of activity on one side of the lobby. The Iranian news agency ISNA had just reported that the negotiators had resolved their differences. There was a mad dash to find anyone who spoke Farsi. Other Iranian news agencies sent out similar reports. Depending on the translator, a deal had been reached, or a deal was close at hand.

The U.S. delegation played down the reports, saying foreign ministers still had to meet, and advised reporters to stay tuned and drink coffee to stay awake.

It would be another hour — the 18th and last hour of negotiations — before it was official. Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ashton, the EU's top negotiator, tweeted around 3 a.m. that the parties had "reached agreement."

FDA TELLS 23ANDME TO HALT SALES OF GENETIC TEST

Tuesday, 26 November 2013 11:36 Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration has ordered Google-backed genetic test maker 23andMe to halt sales of its personalized DNA test kits, saying the company has failed to show that the technology is supported by science.

In a warning letter posted online Monday, FDA regulators say that the Silicon Valley company has not shown that its tests are safe or effective despite "more than 14 face-to-face and teleconference meetings" and "hundreds of email exchanges." The agency orders 23andMe to stop marketing its test immediately, warning that erroneous results could cause customers to seek unnecessary or ineffective medical care.

23andMe's saliva-based test kit, launched more than 5 years ago, claims to tell customers if they are at risk for more than 250 diseases and health conditions. The FDA says only medical tests that have been cleared by the government are permitted to make such claims.

The letter follows years of back-and-forth between the government and 23andMe, the most visible company among a new field of startups selling personal genetic information. The spread of consumer-marketed DNA tests has troubled doctors and health officials who worry that the products are built on flimsy science.

For years, 23andMe resisted government regulation, arguing that it simply provides consumers with information, not a medical service. But last year the company changed course, submitting several of the disease-specific tests included in its test kit.

A spokeswoman for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said 23andMe recognizes it has been late responding to FDA questions about the application.

"Our relationship with the FDA is extremely important to us and we are committed to fully engaging with them to address their concerns," said Kendra Cassillo in a statement.

The FDA letter suggests that regulators have gone to great lengths to try and work with the company, citing months of meetings and dozens of letters between the two parties.

"However, even after these many interactions with 23andMe, we still do not have any assurance that the firm has analytically or clinically validated" its technology, states the letter.

The FDA warning, dated Nov. 22, takes issue with a number of claims the company makes for its test kit, particularly calling it a "first step in prevention" against diseases like diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer. Regulators worry that false results from the test could cause patients to receive inadequate or inappropriate medical care. For instance, 23andMe says its test can identify women who carry the BRCA gene mutation that significantly increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. But a false result could lead women to undergo unnecessary screening, chemotherapy and surgery.

The FDA gives the company 15 days to respond in writing to the letter's concerns. Warning letters are not legally binding, but the government can take companies to court if they are ignored.

23andMe was co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, who recently separated from her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Both Google and Brin have invested millions in the privately held company over the years.

Company executives previously said that they first contacted the FDA in 2007, before launching their product. The agency did not take an interest in the technology until 2010, when it issued letters to several testing companies, warning that their products must be approved as safe and effective.

The FDA already regulates a variety of genetic tests administered by health care providers. The FDA's concern with 23andMe appears to center on its marketing approach, which sidesteps doctors and health professionals.

Consumers order the company's $99 product online. Once the kit arrives by mail they are instructed to spit into a small tube, providing a saliva sample which is sent back to the company for analysis. 23andMe says the customer's DNA is analyzed to determine their likelihood of developing various diseases and responding to various drugs. The test also claims to provide information about ancestral background, though this information is not regulated by the FDA.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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