Monday January 21, 2013

Bad flu season fuels debate over paid sick time laws, with eyes on NYC proposal

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sniffling, groggy and afraid she had caught the flu, Diana Zavala dragged herself in to work anyway for a day she felt she couldn’t afford to miss.

A school speech therapist who works as an independent contractor, she doesn’t have paid sick days. So the mother of two reported to work and hoped for the best -- and was aching, shivering and coughing by the end of the day. She stayed home the next day, then loaded up on medicine and returned to work.

"It’s a balancing act" between physical health and financial well-being, she said.

An unusually early and vigorous flu season is drawing attention to a cause that has scored victories but also hit roadblocks in recent years: mandatory paid sick leave for a third of civilian workers -- more than 40 million people -- who don’t have it.

Supporters and opponents are particularly watching New York City, where lawmakers are weighing a sick leave proposal amid a competitive mayoral race.

Sexual offenses, indiscretions are leading causes for firings of U.S. military commanders

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, fired from his command in Afghanistan last May and now facing a court-martial on charges of sodomy, adultery and pornography and more, is just one in a long line of commanders whose careers were ended because of possible sexual misconduct.

Sex has proved to be the downfall of presidents, members of Congress and other notables. It’s also among the chief reasons that senior military officers are fired.

At least 30 percent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.

The figures bear out growing concerns by Defense Department and military leaders over declining ethical values among U.S. forces, and they highlight the pervasiveness of a problem that came into sharp relief because of the resignation of one of the Army’s most esteemed generals, David Petraeus, and the investigation of a second general, John Allen, the top U.S.commander in Afghanistan.

The statistics from all four military services show that adulterous affairs are more than a four-star foible. From sexual assault and harassment to pornography, drugs and drinking, ethical lapses are an escalating problem for the military’s leaders.

N.M. officials: 15-year-old boy fatally shoots 5 people at Albuquerque home

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A 15-year-old boy fatally shot two adults and three children at a home near Albuquerque, authorities said Sunday.

The teenager was arrested on murder and other charges in connection with the shootings Saturday night at the home in a rural area 10 miles southwest of downtown Albuquerque, Bernalillo County sheriff’s spokesman Aaron Williamson said.

The victims’ identities haven’t been released, and the boy’s motive and connection to the five victims weren’t immediately known. Williamson said investigators were trying to determine if the victims were related.

"We are trying to identify the victims," Williamson said.

Each victim suffered more than one gunshot wound, he said.

Small experiments testing if pacemaker-like brain implants might slow Alzheimer’s

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It has the makings of a science fiction movie: Zap someone’s brain with mild jolts of electricity to try to stave off the creeping memory loss of Alzheimer’s disease.

And it’s not easy. Holes are drilled into the patient’s skull so tiny wires can be implanted into just the right spot.

A dramatic shift is beginning in the disappointing struggle to find something to slow the damage of this epidemic: The first U.S. experiments with "brain pacemakers" for Alzheimer’s are getting under way. Scientists are looking beyond drugs to implants in the hunt for much-needed new treatments.

The research is in its infancy. Only a few dozen people with early-stage Alzheimer’s will be implanted in a handful of hospitals. No one knows if it might work, and if it does, how long the effects might last.

Death toll past 80 at Saharan refinery; Algeria says militants were going to blow it up

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- The death toll from the terrorist siege at a natural gas plant in the Sahara climbed to at least 81 on Sunday as Algerian forces searching the refinery for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured it was unclear whether they were hostages or militants, a security official said.

Algerian special forces stormed the plant on Saturday to end the four-day siege, moving in to thwart what government officials said was a plot by the Islamist militants to blow up the complex and kill all their hostages with mines sown throughout the site.

The government said after the assault that at least 32 extremists and 23 hostages were killed. Then, on Sunday, Algerian bomb squads sent in to blow up or defuse the explosives found 25 bodies, said the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"These bodies are difficult to identify. They could be the bodies of foreign hostages or Algerians or terrorists," the official said.

In addition, a wounded Romanian who had been evacuated died, raising the overall death toll to at least 81.