Republicans criticize pick for labor secretary

Republicans slammed President Obama’s selection of Thomas E. Perez as the next labor secretary Monday, painting the assistant U.S. attorney general as a polarizing and radical figure and suggesting that they might hold up his nomination.

Perez, 51, who has overseen the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department since 2009, is expected to help Obama pursue an ambitious agenda that includes expanding voting rights, raising the minimum wage and overhauling immigration laws.

In announcing the selection in the East Room of the White House, Obama hailed Perez, whose parents were from the Dominican Republic, as a “consensus builder” whose story “reminds us of this country’s promise.”

But several GOP lawmakers seized on a recent inspector general’s report critical of the Justice Department’s voting rights section to denounce Perez’s management style.


Pope greets longtime adversary with a kiss

Pope Francis met Monday with a frequent adversary, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner – and gave her a kiss.

In the past, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires accused Fernandez’s populist government of demagoguery, while she called his positions against gay marriage, adoptions and free contraception reminiscent of the Middle Ages and the Inquisition, the church’s aggressive persecution of people it considered heretics.

But Monday, as they met and then had lunch at a Vatican hotel that is the pope’s temporary residence, all that friction seemed forgotten, at least temporarily.

“Never in my life has a pope kissed me,” Fernandez said afterward. She gave Francis a mate gourd and straw, to hold the traditional Argentine tea that the new pope loves.

Their meeting took place as Rome braced for up to 1 million people expected to his attend Francis’ inaugural Mass on Tuesday.

Heads of state, princes, diplomats and other leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden, descended on the city.

Pope Francis will be installed as the 266th leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church.


Ex-Guatemala dictator stands trial for genocide

There is no smoking gun in the case files, no direct order from Guatemala’s then-military dictator to carry out the slaughter of civilians during one of the bloodiest phases of the country’s long civil war.

In its absence, with trial set to start Tuesday, prosecutors hope to painstakingly prove through a detailed recreation of the military chain of command that Gen. Efrain Rios Montt must have had knowledge of the massacres of Mayan Indians and others in the Guatemalan highlands. Because he held absolute power over the U.S.-backed military government, his failure to stop the slaughter is proof of his guilt, prosecutors and lawyers for victims say.

Survivors and relatives of victims have sought for 30 years to bring punishment for Rios Montt, now 86, who is the first Latin American strongman to stand trial on genocide charges in his own country. For international observers and Guatemalans on both sides of the war, the trial could be a turning point in a nation still wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.


Seven civilians killed in blast targeting officials

An explosives-laden car that apparently was targeting a truck full of Somali government officials instead hit a civilian car and exploded, setting a nearby mini-bus on fire and killing at least seven people Monday, police and witnesses said.

The blast happened close to the Somali government’s headquarters.

Mohamed Abdi, a police officer who was injured in the blast, said it appeared that the target of the attack was a truck of Somali intelligence officials. Abdi Mohamud Aden, a Somali police captain, said at least seven people were killed and 10 wounded. He said that number could rise.


Company to release tests to help rule out Alzheimer’s

As baby boomers age, those everyday questions – Where are the car keys? What was her name again? – are increasingly followed by another: Can this be Alzheimer’s disease?

Quest Diagnostics, in the midst of a company reorganization that seeks to cut costs and boost revenue, planned to introduce a panel of tests Monday at the American Academy of Neurology meeting that combines five screens into one to pinpoint potentially treatable conditions.

The concept is that, by simplifying the process and making it more accessible, an increasing number of family doctors will use the test and, in some rare cases, ease the mind of patients by ruling out Alzheimer’s.


Politicians agree to deal creating media watchdog

British politicians struck a last-minute deal on press regulation Monday, unveiling new rules that aim to curb the worst abuses of the country’s scandal-ridden media.

The deal agreed upon by all three major parties came on the same day a lawyer announced in court that there could potentially be hundreds more hacking victims of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

After months of political wrangling, the new deal is a complicated compromise. Politicians touted it as a victory, but critics are skeptical – and many uncertainties still remain about whether Britain’s newspapers are willing to cooperate with it.

The regulator being proposed by politicians would be independent of the media and would have the power to force newspapers to print prominent apologies and pay fines of up to $1.5 million if they violated the body’s rules.

Submitting to the regulatory regime would be optional, but media groups staying outside the watchdog’s purview could risk being slapped with extra damages if their stories fall afoul of Britain’s courts.


Study: Food from tourists changing stingray behavior

Being fed by tourists has transformed the behavior of a group of Southern stingrays in the Caribbean over the past three decades, according to a study in the journal PLOS One.

Female rays fed packaged squid by vacationers at Grand Cayman Island’s Stingray City sandbar have switched from being nocturnal to being active during the day, and they now confine their activities to the feeding site.

One of the paper’s authors, Mahmood Shivji, who is director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach, Fla., said the rays’ radical shift in behavior “raises questions about how the long-term health of these animals is being affected – an issue that should be carefully considered before establishing new feeding operations elsewhere.”


Even one concussion can affect brain, study finds

Even a single concussion appears to cause changes in the structure of the brain that may raise the risk of cognitive problems and depression, a new study has found.

The study, which used magnetic resonance imaging to compare healthy subjects’ brains with those of patients a year after a mild traumatic brain injury, indicated that those with such injuries had shrinkage in brain regions that are key to memory, executive function and mood regulation.

The study, published online in the journal Radiology last week, is the first to show that even a single concussion can leave measurable scars.

That finding could help those who have enduring symptoms after a concussion understand that there are probably “biological underpinnings” that explain their problems, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Yvonne W. Lui, neuroradiology chief at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

– From news service reports