Saturday February 23, 2013

Justice Dept. joins suit alleging Armstrong doping violated postal service agreements

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department joined a lawsuit Friday against disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong that alleges the former seven-time Tour de France champion concealed his use of performance-enhancing drugs and defrauded his longtime sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service.

The lawsuit alleges that riders on the postal service-sponsored team, including Armstrong, knowingly violated their postal service agreements by regularly employing banned substances and methods to enhance their performance.

"Lance Armstrong and his cycling team took more than $30 million from the U.S. Postal Service based on their contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules -- including the rules against doping," said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, whose office is handling the case. "The Postal Service has now seen its sponsorship unfairly associated with what has been described as ‘the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."’

In recent weeks, settlement discussions had been under way between the Justice Department and Armstrong’s lawyers. A person familiar with the negotiations said Friday the two sides are tens of millions of dollars apart on how much Armstrong should pay to settle the case.


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The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak on the record about the private talks.

From 1996 through 2004, the postal service sponsored a professional cycling team run by Tailwind Sports Corp., and Armstrong was the lead rider. From 1999 to 2004, he won six consecutive Tour de France titles. The suit also said Johan Bruyneel, the team’s manager, knew that team members were using performance-enhancing substances and facilitated the practice.

Pistorius free on bail ahead of murder trial; questions in girlfriend’s death still linger

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Oscar Pistorius walked out of a South African court Friday a free man -- for now -- after a magistrate agreed to release him on bail ahead of his premeditated murder trial over the shooting death of his girlfriend.

But even as he was driven away from court and chased by videographers and photographers, questions continued to hound the Paralympian about what actually happened when he opened fire on Valentine’s Day inside his home and killed Reeva Steenkamp.

Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair, who agreed to bail with harsh restrictions for the athlete, expressed his own doubts about Pistorius’ story. Those questions, highlighted at a four-day bail hearing that at times foreshadowed his coming trial, come from Pistorius’ account that he felt threatened and mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he fired the four shots at her in his bathroom.

"Why would (Pistorius) venture further into danger?" Nair asked.

Pistorius’ supporters shouted "Yes!" when Nair made his decision after a nearly two hour explanation of his ruling to a packed courtroom in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. Yet when prosecutors and the defense said they agreed to bail terms, Nair more than doubled those conditions for the 26-year-old runner to be free ahead of trial.

Gov’t payrolls, nonbenefit programs shrinking amid GOP calls for more cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans and other fiscal conservatives keep insisting on more federal austerity and a smaller government. Without much fanfare or acknowledgement, they’ve already gotten much of both.

Spending by federal, state and local governments on payrolls, equipment, buildings, teachers, emergency workers, defense programs and other core governmental functions has been shrinking steadily since the deep 2007-2009 recession and as the anemic recovery continues.

This recent shrinkage has largely been obscured by an increase in spending on benefit payments to individuals under "entitlement" programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans benefits. Retiring baby boomers are driving much of this increase.

Another round of huge cuts -- known in Washington parlance as the "sequester" -- will hit beginning March 1, potentially meaning layoffs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers unless Congress and President Barack Obama can strike a deficit-reduction deal to avert them.

With the deadline only a week off, Obama and Republicans who control the House are far apart over how to resolve the deadlock. While last-minute budget deals are frequent in Washington, neither side is optimistic of reaching one this time.

FDA approves Roche drug that targets breast cancer tumors, spares healthy tissue

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration has approved a first-of-a-kind breast cancer medication that targets tumor cells while sparing healthy ones.

The drug Kadcyla from Roche combines the established drug Herceptin with a powerful chemotherapy drug and a third chemical linking the medicines together. The chemical keeps the cocktail intact until it binds to a cancer cell, delivering a potent dose of anti-tumor poison.

Cancer researchers say the drug is an important step forward because it delivers more medication while reducing the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy.

"This antibody goes seeking out the tumor cells, gets internalized and then explodes them from within. So it’s very kind and gentle on the patients -- there’s no hair loss, no nausea, no vomiting," said Dr. Melody Cobleigh of Rush University Medical Center. "It’s a revolutionary way of treating cancer."

Cobleigh helped conduct the key studies of the drug at the Chicago facility.

Opposition denounces Egypt president’s timing of parliament election as ‘recipe for disaster’

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s president set parliamentary elections to begin in April -- a decision that an opposition leader denounced Friday as "a recipe for disaster" because of the ongoing political turmoil in the country.

About 15,000 people took to the streets in the Suez Canal city of Port Said to demonstrate against President Mohammed Morsi, hanging effigies of him in the main square. Residents have been on a general strike for six days, demanding punishment for what they considered a heavy-handed police crackdown during unrest in the city.

Morsi scheduled the staggered, four-stage voting process to begin April 27 and end in June. The newly elected parliament would convene on July 6, according to a decree issued late Thursday night.

He hopes the election will end the political turmoil that has beset Egypt for the past two years, since the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. The upheaval has scared away foreign investors and dried up tourism, both crucial foreign currency earners that helped the government pay for subsidized goods needed by the poor for survival.

But Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads one of the main opposition groups, the National Salvation Front, wrote on his Twitter account Friday that Morsi’s "decision to go for parliamentary elections amidst severe societal polarization and eroding state authority is a recipe for disaster."

Little international aid reaches those displaced by civil war who stay inside Syria

ATMEH CAMP, Syria (AP) -- Turki Abdel Qadir, a burly villager from the northern countryside, fled to this muddy camp amid olive groves three months ago after his 13-year-old daughter Haifa was wounded in the civil war.

Just yards from Syria’s border with Turkey, the family lives in one of the camp’s typical tents. Eleven people sleep on pads on the floor, surrounding a wood-burning stove with a makeshift chimney. Other tents, no bigger than a small bedroom, hold 30.

Their diet is largely bread, supplemented by vegetables bought with the salary Abdel Qadir earns as a rebel fighter.

"It’s a little bit better than death," he said of their living conditions.

The rebel-controlled Atmeh camp houses 16,000 people displaced by the civil war.

Peterson enters prison for murder sentence

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) -- Less than 24 hours after screaming out his innocence in court, Drew Peterson has been transferred to an Illinois prison to begin serving a 38-year sentence for murder.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office confirms the former suburban Chicago police officer was handed over Friday for transfer to the Stateville prison outside Joliet.

A judge sentenced him Thursday for the 2004 drowning death of his fourth wife, Kathleen Savio. He’s a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson.

While addressing the judge before learning his sentence, Peterson exploded in anger. He looked at Savio’s family and shouted, "I did not kill Kathleen!"

Corrections officials say Peterson could be moved to another prison after an evaluation period. He’ll get four years credit for time already served in jail.

Lawsuits show challenge of patients who refuse to see doctors or nurses of different race

DETROIT (AP) -- It’s been called one of medicine’s "open secrets" -- allowing patients to refuse treatment by a doctor or nurse of another race.

In the latest example, a white man with a swastika tattoo insisted that black nurses not be allowed to touch his newborn. Now two black nurses are suing the hospital, claiming it bowed to his illegal demands.

The Michigan cases are among several lawsuits filed in recent years that highlight this seldom-discussed issue, which quietly persists almost 60 years after the start of the civil rights movement.

The American Medical Association’s ethics code bars doctors from refusing to treat people based on race, gender and other criteria, but there are no specific policies for handling race-based requests from patients.

"In general, I don’t think honoring prejudicial preferences ... is morally justifiable" for a health care organization, said Dr. Susan Goold, a University of Michigan professor of internal medicine and public health. "That said, you can’t cure bigotry ... There may be times when grudgingly acceding to a patient’s strongly held preferences is morally OK."