Senate votes to threaten China over currency issue

The Senate voted Tuesday to threaten China with higher tariffs on Chinese products made cheap through an artificially undervalued currency, which lawmakers blame for destroying American jobs.

The 63-35 vote showed a broad consensus that it is time to end diplomatic niceties and confront China over its aggressive trade policies.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine both voted for the bill. Snowe is a co-author, with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, of a key part of the bill, requiring the Commerce Department to treat currency undervaluation as a “prohibited export subsidy,” which would allow the government to impose tariffs on subsidized exports from countries that violate the rules.

“This is the first time this body has passed comprehensive legislation to shed light on allegations of currency manipulation and empower our government with the tools necessary to take action on behalf of American workers,” Snowe said.

Brown said that “there are always people who don’t want to stand up to China. I think they are … undercutting our ability to stop the hemorrhaging in our manufacturing jobs.”

The bill could still die in the House, where a companion measure has the sponsorship of more than half the members but lacks the support of GOP leadership.

Decline in tuberculosis cases reverses a two-decade trend

The number of new cases of tuberculosis in the world each year is falling for the first time in at least two decades, marking a long-sought turning point for the globe’s second-biggest infectious killer.

A lung infection that can spread to virtually any organ, TB has afflicted people for at least 15,000 years. Last year it killed 1.4 million people. Among infectious diseases, only AIDS took a larger toll.

The downturn in new cases, announced Tuesday in Washington by World Health Organization epidemiologists, began in 2006 but wasn’t detected until this year when new data from China, India and 17 African countries became available. That allowed the revision of global case estimates and ultimately of the disease’s entire trend.

In all, there were 8.8 million new cases of tuberculosis in 2010. About 59 percent were in Asia and 26 percent in Africa. Only 3 percent occurred in the Americas: Latin America has seen major reductions in recent years.


Study: Big vitamin E doses raise risk of prostate cancer

A daily megadose of vitamin E — once touted as an inexpensive way to prevent prostate cancer — actually increases risk of developing the disease, researchers have found.

The study appears in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. In a massive clinical trial of more than 35,000 healthy, middle-aged men, those who took a daily 400-milligram capsule of vitamin E had a 17 percent increased risk of developing prostate tumors compared with those given placebos.

“The most important thing now is for men not to take vitamin E with the hope of preventing prostate cancer,” said Dr. Iris Granek, who led an arm of the research at Stony Brook University Medical Center and chairs the center’s department of preventive medicine.

The research was based on the premise that vitamin E might reduce the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 25 percent.

KIEV, Ukraine

Conviction of former leader viewed as political strategy

Former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday on charges of abuse of office in signing a gas deal with Russia, a verdict the European Union and the United States both condemned as politically motivated.

Tymoshenko, the driving force of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and now the nation’s top opposition leader, denounced the trial as rigged by President Viktor Yanukovych to get rid of a political opponent.

The case has galvanized the opposition. A crowd of several dozen angry Tymoshenko supporters clashed after the verdict with helmeted riot policed who flooded the city center, but they were quickly pushed away and it was unclear if the protests would last.

Judge Rodion Kireyev declared Tymoshenko, 50, guilty of exceeding her authority as premier when she signed a natural gas imports contract with Russia in 2009. He also banned her from occupying government posts for three years after the completion of her prison term and fined her $190 million for the damages her actions cost the state.

Tymoshenko appeared unfazed by the verdict and began addressing reporters in the courtroom without waiting for Kireyev to finish reading the lengthy ruling.

TAURANGA, New Zealand

Ship stuck on reef drops 70 containers into ocean

The condition of a stricken cargo ship stuck on a reef and leaking oil off the coast of New Zealand worsened today, with about 70 containers falling overboard and the vessel moving onto a steeper lean.

Meanwhile, the captain of the Liberian-flagged Rena was arrested and charged under New Zealand’s Maritime Act. He could face a year in prison if convicted.

The ship has been foundering since it ran aground Oct. 5 on the Astrolabe Reef, about 14 miles from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand’s North Island. The government has demanded to know why the ship crashed into the well-charted reef in calm weather, but the ship’s owner has given no explanation.

Hundreds of tons of heavy fuel oil have spilled from the hull, leading New Zealand’s environment minister to call it the country’s biggest maritime environmental disaster.

Clumps of the oil have washed up on pristine beaches near Tauranga. Environmental officials said 53 birds were found dead and 17 were getting emergency treatment to remove oil from their feathers.