In brief | Nation & world | 7-17-14


US escalating economic sanctions against Russia in response to crisis in Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The United States imposed new sanctions Wednesday on lucrative Russian energy and defense entities, as well as major banks, as the Obama administration struggles for a way to quell an insurgency in eastern Ukraine widely believed to be backed by Moscow.

The penalties significantly expand on previous U.S. sanctions, which hit Russian individuals and companies with travel bans and asset freezes. But the new sanctions stop short of fully cutting off key Russian economic sectors, a step U.S. officials said they were continuing to hold in reserve in case Moscow launches a full-scale invasion of Ukraine or takes similarly provocative actions.

The Treasury Department sanctions target two major Russian energy firms, Novatek and Rosneft, and a pair of leading Russian financial institutions, Gazprombank and VEB. The sanctions restrict the entities’ ability to access U.S. capital markets, officials said.

Eight Russian arms firms responsible for the production of small arms, mortar shells and tanks were also hit with sanctions.

Two studies reveal more side effects for cholesterol drug niacin; some doctors say it’s too risky

New details from two studies reveal more side effects from niacin, a drug that many Americans take for cholesterol problems and general heart health. Some doctors say the drug now seems too risky for routine use.

Niacin is a type of B vitamin sold over the counter and in higher prescription doses. Some people take it in place of or in addition to statin medicines such as Lipitor for cholesterol problems.

The studies previously found that niacin did not prevent heart problems better than statins alone and carried more side effects. Details in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine suggest that deaths, bleeding, infections, gastrointestinal and other problems were more common among niacin users.

Heart specialists say no one should stop taking any drug without talking with a doctor.

Texas woman gets 18 years in prison for sending ricin-laced letters to Obama, Bloomberg

TEXARKANA, Texas — A Texas actress who tried to blame her husband after sending ricin-laced letters to officials including President Barack Obama was sentenced Wednesday to 18 years in prison.

A federal judge gave Shannon Guess Richardson, 36, the maximum sentence under her plea deal on a federal charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin. Richardson was also ordered to pay restitution of about $367,000. She had pleaded guilty to the charge in December.

“I never intended for anybody to be hurt,” she told the court, adding later, “I’m not a bad person; I don’t have it in me to hurt anyone.”

Judge Michael H. Schneider noted that she had put many lives in danger and threatened public officials.

Richardson, who had minor acting roles in film and television including in the series “The Walking Dead” and the movie “The Blind Side,” said she thought security measures would prevent anyone from opening the letters addressed to Obama, then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Glaze, who at the time was director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Bloomberg’s group advocating for tougher gun control.

NYC Mayor de Blasio’s Italian vacation amid looming commuter rail strike questioned

NEW YORK — A screaming headline that reads “Good luck on that, I’m off to Italy.” A composite photo depicting his family in a gondola in Venice. Withering criticism from a former mayor.

Despite the increasingly bad political optics, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio remains set to depart Friday for a lengthy Italian vacation in the face of a potential strike at the nation’s largest commuter railroad.

If Long Island Rail Road workers walk off the job at midnight Sunday, it could paralyze portions of the city and lead to a public relations nightmare for de Blasio, with the city’s tabloids — who have been nipping at his heels since he took office — eager to juxtapose a photo of him gallivanting on an Italian beach with a shot of a city highway clogged by a nightmarish traffic jam.

De Blasio, a Democrat who took office in January, had said he would return from his trip if a crisis arose but signaled this week that he believed his team could manage without him. His spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the trip was proceeding as planned.

By wire sources