ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — Jury selection is underway in the trial for three people charged in a deadly salmonella outbreak traced to a southwest Georgia peanut plant five years ago.
Jury selection began Monday in federal court in Albany in the trial of former Peanut Company of America owner Stewart Parnell; his brother and food broker, Michael Parnell; and the peanut plant's quality control manager, Mary Wilkerson.
The Parnell brothers and Wilkerson were indicted last year on 76 criminal counts that accused them of shipping tainted peanuts to industrial food customers and covering up lab tests that showed some batches of nuts tested positive for salmonella. Stewart Parnell and Wilkerson also were charged with obstruction of justice.
Georgia plant manager Samuel Lightsey also was charged and pleaded guilty in May to seven criminal counts.
WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than six weeks of sometimes testy talks, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a compromise plan to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.
The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon to unveil a plan expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care.
An agreement reached Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was a long time coming. The House and Senate approved bills on veterans health care in early June, and lawmakers from both parties said they expected a final bill by July 4.
Instead, negotiators met once in public, then disappeared or held private meetings that produced few results. Talks reached a low point last Thursday, as Sanders and Miller had a public spat that appeared to leave the two sides far apart, with only days remaining until Congress goes on a five-week recess.
Sanders, who chairs the Senate veterans panel, and Miller, chairman of the House panel, repeatedly lashed out at each other. Sanders accused Miller of acting in bad faith, while Miller said Sanders had "moved the goalposts" in talks to fix veterans' health care.
A partisan impasse loomed, even as both sides said they hoped to avoid what Miller called the "sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous."
Three days later, after talks by telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page.
Aides to the two men said Sunday they had reached a tentative agreement. The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.
Miller and Sanders said in a joint statement that they "made significant progress" over the weekend toward agreement on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, which has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in late May.
The plan set to be announced Monday is intended to "make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals," Miller and Sanders said.
Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, said the deal would provide crucial help to veterans who have been waiting months or even years for VA health care.
"There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That's what this is all about," Celli said Sunday.
Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the agreement was good news — although several months late.
"It's about time they're doing their jobs," he said of Sanders, Miller and other members of Congress. "You don't get a medal for doing your job."
Veterans waiting two months for medical appointments "don't care about all this back and forth" in Congress, Tarantino said. "That's what should be driving decisions."
An updated audit by the VA this month showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. About 46,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, the report said, and an additional 7,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson has said the VA is making improvements, but said veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care. The VA provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans.
The House and Senate are set to adjourn at the end of the week until early September, and lawmakers from both parties have said completing a bill on veterans' health care is a top priority.
The Senate is expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.
NEW YORK (AP) — When it comes to preventing the spread of germs, maybe the president is on to something with his fondness for fist bumps.
The familiar knocking of knuckles spreads only one-twentieth the amount of bacteria that a handshake does, researchers report. That's better than a high-five, which still passes along less than half the amount as a handshake.
So fist bumps — popularized by Barack Obama and others — seem to be the wisest greeting, especially during cold and flu season, said researcher David Whitworth of Aberystwyth University in Wales.
The importance of hand hygiene is nothing new in medicine. But the researchers realized that while a lot of research focused on hands getting germy from touching doorknobs and other surfaces, only a few studies had looked at handshakes.
"And there are alternatives to handshakes. You see them on telly all the time — the fist bump and high-five and all that," Whitworth said.
He and a student, Sara Mela, shook hands, fist-bumped and high-fived each other dozens of times for the research. One wore a glove covered in bacteria, while the other had a clean sterilized glove. After each greeting, they measured how much bacteria had been transferred.
Their results were published online Monday in the American Journal of Infection Control.
What makes the fist bump more sanitary? Mostly, it's the smaller amount of surface area in contact between the two hands, an analysis suggests. The researchers did practice runs with paint to measure how much surface area each form of greeting involved.
"It's a novel study," though the results are not surprising, said Mary Lou Manning, president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Her organization publishes the journal.
She said she hasn't seen much fist-bumping or high-fiving in hospitals. Handshakes are more common— but they must be followed by good hand-washing, she added.
Whitworth said he hopes the norm changes. "In a hospital, you really don't want people to shake hands. It's an unnecessary risk," he said.
BEIJING (AP) — Hundreds of police took down a church's cross Monday in a city known as "China's Jerusalem" for its many houses of worship amid a crackdown on church buildings in a coastal region where thousands of people are embracing Christianity.
Evangelist Qu Linuo said he and about 200 others had rushed to the Longgang Huai En Church in the eastern city of Wenzhou to protect the building but peacefully made way for the police, who used a crane to remove the 3-meter-tall (10-foot-tall) red cross from its steeple.
Authorities told the church the cross violated building height limits, and returned it to the parishioners, who wept and prayed around it, said Qu, who is a member of another church. A man at the county's public security office said he didn't know anything about the incident, and the Longgang township police didn't answer phone calls.
Across Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located, authorities have toppled or threatened to topple crosses at more than 130 Protestant churches. In a few cases, the government has even razed sanctuaries.
Officials say they're enforcing building codes, although often they won't specify which ones. They also deny they are specifically targeting churches, and point to the demolition of tens of thousands of other buildings, religious and non-religious, that have apparently broken regulations.
But experts and church leaders in this province south of Shanghai — the only one where the incidents are happening — say the government appears to be trying to suppress the fast-growing religion.
Official 2010 figures put the number of Christians in state-sanctioned churches at 23 million believers, but the country also has vast numbers of believers who meet in secret. The Pew Research Center estimated 58 million Protestants in the country practiced the religion in 2011, along with 9 million Catholics the year before. Some experts say the total could be more than 100 million.
The church's dramatic growth — and Christians' allegiance to God above all else — has alarmed authorities, said Yang Fenggang, a Purdue University sociologist and leading expert on religious matters in China. It was difficult to imagine what sort of building codes the crosses would violate.
"The only reason I can think of is that the Zhejiang authorities intend to humiliate Christians by taking down the symbol sacred to them," he said.
The province may have come under scrutiny because it is home to Wenzhou, where more than a tenth of residents are Protestant Christians, the highest proportion of any major Chinese city, according to Cao Nanlai, an anthropologist who has studied and written a book about Christianity in Wenzhou.
Half the province's 4,000 churches are located here, he said, partly a legacy of early missionary efforts here.
Known for its entrepreneurial vigor, Wenzhou has tens of thousands of small family-run workshops making shoes, toys and other products. Believers here appear to have applied that same eagerness to starting new churches, Cao said.
The cross removals and demolitions reflect the occasional flexing of political muscle by authorities to show who's in control, he said.
Last week, parishioners at another church in the city successfully protected their cross from hundreds of police, said Zheng Changye, a 36-year-old member of another church. He said three people suffered serious injuries in the clash with police, and photos posted online showed several people bleeding from head injuries.
On Monday, other photos posted on the China social media site Weibo showed parishioners at the Longgang Huai En Church praying on its steps and holding banners reading, "Anti-graft, anti-corruption, protect religion."
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Only final arguments and a ruling remain in the trial to determine whether Donald Sterling's estranged wife can sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
Lawyers for Sterling plan to argue Monday that Shelly Sterling had no right to make the deal with Ballmer, even though Donald Sterling had given her written authority to pursue a sale.
The attorneys also say she tricked Donald Sterling into taking mental exams that found he had signs of the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
That finding was sufficient for Sterling to be removed as a trustee of the Sterling Family Trust and to allow Shelly Sterling to move forward with the sale of the team.
Later in the process, however, Donald Sterling tried to stop the sale by dissolving the trust.
Lawyers for Shelley Sterling urged the judge to allow the sale to go forward so a contract can be in place before NBA owners meet on Aug. 15.
Lawyers spent the better part of a month questioning witnesses at the trial, and on Monday will try to persuade a judge to agree with their respective positions.
Shelly Sterling's lawyers along with an attorney for Ballmer filed a voluminous legal brief citing case law that they say proves that Donald Sterling did not have the right to dissolve the trust that owned the Clippers.
They urged the judge to allow the sale to occur and reject any delay if appeals are filed.
"The trust has a golden bird in the hand," the brief said. "A sale of the Clippers for $2 billion is indisputably a bonanza for the Sterling family. Donald's strident opposition is motivated by only selfish considerations. This court has the power to make this precedent-setting sale happen."
The 49-page document notes that if the sale is ordered, it also could be delayed by numerous legal provisions in the probate code allowing review of the ruling. The lawyers urged Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas to streamline the procedure.
They cited 80-year-old Sterling's vow on the witness stand to continue suing the NBA for the rest of his life and noted his threat to seek an injunction to stop the sale if the judge rules against him.
Donald Sterling was removed as a trustee after his wife had him examined by two doctors who found he lacked the mental capacity to handle his own business affairs.
His lawyers filed a 70-page brief that focused heavily on that point. They said the doctors were hand-picked by lawyers for Shelly Sterling and did not do adequate exams.
Donald Sterling maintained he didn't know his competency as a trustee was being evaluated. His lawyers said in their brief that he appeared alert and able to express himself during his testimony and showed no signs of being incompetent.
Still, Sterling spent much of his time on the witness stand shouting at attorneys for both sides, expressing his outrage at the NBA and its commissioner for trying to oust him from the league over racist recordings.
At one point he called Shelly Sterling a "pig" as she left the witness stand.
Donald Sterling has filed another lawsuit in state court against Shelly Sterling, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league.
Shelly Sterling's potentially record-breaking deal with Ballmer was struck after Donald Sterling's racist remarks to a girlfriend were recorded and publicized. The NBA moved to oust him as team owner, fined him $2.5 million and banned him for life.
Shelly Sterling went to probate court to ensure that the sale she negotiated with Ballmer would go through.