Nation roundup for December 30
Snack machines to get health info
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Office workers in search of snacks will be counting calories along with their change under new labeling regulations for vending machines included in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law.
Requiring calorie information to be displayed on roughly 5 million vending machines nationwide will help consumers make healthier choices, says the Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to release final rules early next year. It estimates the cost to the vending machine industry at $25.8 million initially and $24 million per year after that, but says if just .02 percent of obese adults ate 100 fewer calories a week, the savings to the health care system would be at least that great.
The rules will apply to about 10,800 companies that operate 20 or more machines. Nearly three quarters of those companies have three or fewer employees, and their profit margin is extremely low, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association. An initial investment of $2,400 plus $2,200 in annual costs is a lot of money for a small company that only clears a few thousand dollars a year, said Eric Dell, the group’s vice president for government affairs.
“The money that would be spent to comply with this — there’s no return on the investment,” he said.
While the proposed rules would give companies a year to comply, the industry group has suggested a two-year deadline.
Scouts will open to gays on Jan. 1
The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications — ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Yet despite their be-prepared approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event, comparable to another New Year’s Day in 2000 when widespread fears of digital-clock chaos to start the new millennium proved unfounded.
“My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare,” said Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee. “It’s business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward.”
Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven’t materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of fallout,” said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. “If a church said they wouldn’t work with us, we’d have a church right down the street say, ‘We’ll take the troop.’”
The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council.
Files shed light on killer’s mom
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Thousands of pages of documents from the Newtown shooting investigation help fill out the picture of the gunman’s mother as a dedicated and loving, if bewildered, parent who acknowledged her son appeared to be spiraling downward but was not aware to what extent.
Nancy Lanza told a lifelong friend about two weeks before the massacre that her 20-year-old son, who lived with her, was becoming increasingly despondent. Adam Lanza hadn’t left his room in three months and was communicating with her only via email. When Hurricane Sandy blew through Connecticut in late October and cut power to the Lanza home, the documents say, it “put Adam over the edge.” She couldn’t persuade him to stay at a hotel or in an RV.
When Nancy Lanza asked her son whether he would feel bad if something happened to her, he replied no, she told her friend, who was not identified in the documents. Still, “Nancy never expressed any concern about fearing for her safety while alone with Adam,” the report said.
About two weeks later, Adam fatally shot his mom in the head while she was in bed, gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the worst mass shootings in the nation’s history, and killed himself with a handgun as police closed in.
Connecticut police released the documents Friday from their investigation into the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre, providing the most detailed and disturbing picture yet of Nancy Lanza’s relationship with her son; his fascination with violence; and school employees’ brave and clear-headed attempts to protect the children.
“In the midst of the darkness of that day, we also saw remarkable heroism and glimpses of grace,” wrote Reuben F. Bradford, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, in a letter with the files.
Calif. man pleads guilty to terror
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California man who used the Internet and Facebook to connect with al-Qaida pleaded guilty Friday to a federal terrorism charge after admitting he attempted to assist al-Qaida by providing weapons training, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, 24, of Garden Grove unexpectedly entered the plea before U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter, who scheduled sentencing for March 21, prosecutors said in a statement. Reporters were not notified of his court appearance and were not present. Nguyen faces a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.
The judge who accepted the plea previously expressed skepticism about whether Nguyen had any special skills to offer al-Qaida.
Nguyen confessed to federal agents after he was unmasked by an undercover FBI agent posing as a recruiter for the terror group. He said he planned to offer himself as a trainer of some 30 al-Qaida forces to ambush troops in Syria, where he already spent five months fighting with rebels, Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Heinz said. after his arrest in October. She said he underwent 50 hours of interrogation during which he confessed to his plan.
Nguyen’s admission was contained in a plea agreement filed in federal court, according to a U.S. attorney’s press release issued after the plea was entered and accepted.
“Nguyen admitted that approximately one year ago he traveled to Syria where he joined opposition forces,” the statement said. “Using a social network site during a four-month period he was in Syria, Nguyen told people that he was fighting against the Assad regime and that he had had a ‘confirmed kill.’”
Nguyen returned to the U.S., where he told associates that he had offered to train al-Qaida forces in Syria but was turned down, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
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