Friday June 14, 2013

Grocers: potato group illegally boosted spud prices, spied on farmers to enforce limits

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A U.S. wholesale grocer says America’s potato farmers have run an illegal price-fixing cartel for a decade, driving up spud prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow.

Kansas-based Associated Wholesale Grocers’ lawsuit against United Potato Growers of America and two dozen other defendants was shifted this week to U.S. District Court in Idaho, America’s top potato-producing state at 30 percent of the nation’s supply.

The grocery group, a cooperative which supplies more than 2,000 stores including IGA, Thriftway and Price Chopper in 24 states, contends that the potato growers banded together in 2004 to illegally inflate prices in a scheme akin to the petroleum-producing OPEC cartel, reducing planting acreages and destroying potatoes, all to restrict what was available for sale.

"UPGA utilized predatory conduct and coercive conduct in ensuring compliance with the price-fixing scheme," according to the lawsuit, which charges tactics including use of "satellite imagery, fly-overs, GPS systems, and other methods to enforce its agreement to reduce potato supply.


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The grocers are asking for triple damages, likely in the millions, and are focusing on growers of fresh potato varieties found in big bags in supermarket produce aisles, as well as potatoes that are processed into golden fries, tater-tots and other products and sold in freezer sections of the group’s stores.

Supreme Court says isolated human genes cannot be patented

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously threw out attempts to patent human genes, siding with advocates who say the multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry should not have exclusive control over genetic information found inside the human body.

But the high court also approved for the first time the patenting of synthetic DNA, handing a victory to researchers and companies looking to come up with ways to fight -- and profit -- from medical breakthroughs that could reverse life-threatening diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer.

The decision "sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information," said Dr. Robert B. Darnell, president and scientific director of the New York Genome Center. "At the same time, it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation in the genetic world, and should be seen as an important clarifying moment for research and the healthcare industry."

The high court’s judgment, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, reverses three decades of patent awards by government officials and throws out patents held by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics Inc. involving a breast cancer test brought into the public eye recently by actress Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she had a double mastectomy.

Jolie said she carries a defective BRCA1 gene that puts her at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, and her doctor said the test that turned up the faulty gene link led Jolie to have both of her healthy breasts removed. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer and her maternal grandmother also had the disease.

Turkish PM issues ultimatum to protesters, then says he will meet them

ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turkey’s prime minister issued a "final warning" to protesters on Thursday, demanding they end their occupation of a park next to Istanbul’s Taksim Square that has ignited the largest political crisis of his 10-year rule.

Despite the ultimatum by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, thousands of activists camping out in Gezi Park dug in for a potential culmination of their two-week standoff with authorities.

Thousands of protesters also converged on Taksim Square, where the atmosphere was festive. A musician played on a grand piano set up in the center of the square as protesters danced, while a heavy police presence stood by.

In a sign that efforts were being made to resolve the situation through negotiations rather than a police raid, Erdogan was meeting late Thursday with some representatives of the protesters occupying the park.

Eight artists and two members of Taksim Solidarity, a group that has coordinating much of the Gezi sit-in, were involved in the meeting in Ankara, the state-run Anadolu agency said. It was the first time Erdogan has met directly with representatives of the protesters.

Her eye on issues that could resonate in 2016, Hillary Clinton turns toward non-profit world

CHICAGO (AP) -- As she considers another White House bid, Hillary Rodham Clinton intends to work in the nonprofit world on issues like improving early childhood education, promoting the rights of women and girls, and finding ways to improve the economy -- a set of priorities that could inform a 2016 presidential campaign.

The former secretary of state offered her most extensive description of her post-Obama administration agenda on Thursday since leaving her role as the nation’s top diplomat, basking in loud applause from admirers at a Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Chicago. The former first lady, a longtime advocate for women and children, said the foundation would serve as "my home" on a set of public policy initiatives close to her heart.

"What I think we have to be about is working together, overcoming the lines that divide us, this partisan, cultural, geographic (divide). Building on what we know works, we can take on any challenge we confront," Clinton said. Reflecting the entire family’s involvement, the foundation has been renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Clinton’s speech at the start of a two-day annual conference touched on themes that could be part of a future Democratic presidential campaign, with the former New York senator stressing the need for private and public partnerships to tackle issues like economic and educational inequality. She said climate change, "financial contagion" and nuclear proliferation were "too complex and cross-cutting" for any one government to solve alone.

"This can’t just be a conversation about Washington. We all need to do our part," she said.

4 years after clashes, Iran opposition weighs quiet protest of election boycott

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- In the end, Iran’s presidential election may be defined by who doesn’t vote.

Arguments over whether to boycott Friday’s ballot still boiled over at coffee shops, kitchen tables and on social media among many liberal-leaning Iranians on the eve of the voting. The choice -- once easy for many who turned their back in anger after years of crackdowns -- has been suddenly complicated by an unexpected chance to perhaps wage a bit of payback against Iran’s rulers.

The rising fortunes of the lone relative moderate left in the race, former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, has brought something of a zig-or-zag dilemma for many Iranians who faced down security forces four years ago: Stay away from the polls in a silent protest or jump back into the mix in a system they claim has been disgraced by vote rigging.

Which way the scales tip could set the direction of the election and the fate for Rowhani, a cleric who is many degrees of mildness removed from being an opposition leader. But he is still the only fallback option for moderates in an election that once seemed preordained for a pro-establishment loyalist.

"There is a lot of interesting psychology going on. What is right? Which way to go?" said Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "This is what it means to be a reformist in Iran these days."

Police: Argument escalates as man shoots 3 before killing self at St. Louis business building

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- An argument inside a St. Louis home health care business escalated into gun violence Thursday when a man shot three other people before turning the gun on himself, police said.

The shooting occurred at AK Home Health Care LLC, one several businesses inside the Cherokee Place Business Incubator south of downtown St. Louis. The shooter gunned down another man and two women before turning his semi-automatic handgun on himself, Police Capt. Michael Sack said.

Authorities said the shooter either owned or was a co-owner of the business and his three victims were employees. The victims’ names have not been released. Sack said they appeared to be in their early-40s to mid-50s in age. Other details were not available.

"We don’t know if this was a thing that carried over into today or was initiated today," Sack said.

An employee of another business in the building heard gunshots and called police.

Hamas-ruled Gaza suffers drop in aid from Iran, foreign charities because of Syrian civil war

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- A refugee from Syria recently opened a bakery here, drawing long lines of customers eager to taste meat and cheese pastries with the special flavors of Damascus -- a rare bright spot in the long shadow that the Syrian civil war is casting over the Gaza Strip.

The conflict in Syria, some 300 kilometers (190 miles) away, is increasingly hurting Hamas-ruled Gaza financially, according to several officials in the Islamic militant group and in Islamic charities.

They say Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and a former major financial backer of Hamas, has reduced monthly cash transfers because Hamas refuses to side with the Syrian regime.

Islamic charities abroad that used to donate heavily to Gaza have been redirecting some of their aid to Syria, forcing local charities to scale back programs, aid officials said.

"All of Gaza is suffering from this," said Noha Zaki of Gaza City’s Amal orphanage, home to 100 children. Zaki said donations to her charity are down by 50 percent.

Fla. judge: Jurors in Zimmerman murder trial to be sequestered; trial to last 2 to 4 weeks

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- The six jurors and four alternates eventually picked to hear the second-degree murder case of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman will be sequestered for the two to four weeks the trial will last, the judge presiding over the case said for the first time Thursday.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson told a potential juror on the fourth day of selection that all panelists will be kept isolated

During the first four days of jury selection, attorneys have asked potential jurors about the hardships they would face if they were kept away from their families during the trial. Defense attorney Don West explained to one candidate that if picked she would have limited contact with her family, would be monitored by court security outside the courtroom and would have to live in a hotel for the duration.

"You would not be able to participate in day-to-day routine activities," West said. "You will be limited in contact with the outside world."

Zimmerman, a 29-year-old former neighborhood watch volunteer, is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year in self-defense. A 44-day delay in Zimmerman’s arrest led to protests around the nation. They questioned whether the Sanford Police Department was investigating the case seriously since Martin was a black teen from the Miami area. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.