Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Hypocritical Holidays!

A privileged old man clad in Prada slippers, flowing robes of silken embroidery and an enormous bejeweled golden hat has warned Christians that the true meaning of Christmas was being lost to the pursuit of “superficial glitter.”

Merry Christmas and don't let your children be caught alone in the cathedral!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hungry Hippo Chomps Cheery Chum

A South African farmer has been killed by the pet hippopotamus he raised from the age of five months, and which he once described as being like a son to him.  Humphrey the Hippo gouged his 41-year-old owner Marius Els to death by repeatedly biting him in a vicious attack. The farmer's mutilated body was discovered submerged in a river running through his 400-acre farm in rural South Africa.

Els kept 20 different species of exotic animals, including giraffe and rhino, on his farm near Klerksdorp in NW South Africa. But he developed a special fondness for Humphrey, whom he bought aged just five months and for whom he even built a special lake. 6-year-old Humphrey weighed over a ton when he killed his adopted father.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Poop Scoop

A leading Nigerian comic actor arrested on suspicion of ingesting drugs to smuggle to Europe was on Friday freed on bail after 25 closely monitored bowel movements produced nothing suspicious.

Babatunde Omidina, known by his stage name Baba Suwe, was arrested last month at Lagos's international airport where he had been due to take a flight to France. But after 24 days in detention during which his bowel movements were earnestly followed by authorities and the media, an apologetic High Court judge in Lagos ordered his release.

Judge Yetunde Idowu told the frail and emaciated looking actor: "I wish you well. Take care of yourself. You are free to go home."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Prize-Winning Chinese Fire Drill

Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize - China's alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize - say they are determined to give the award to Vladimir Putin, despite opposition from Beijing.  The Culture Ministry announced earlier that the award would not be given this year and disbanded the prize committee.

But committee member Qiao Damo, a poet, says he has set up a new panel and insists that a ceremony will go ahead.  He said Mr Putin was chosen for his opposition to Nato's Libya bombing.  However, it seems he was made aware of the award, and he failed to turn up for the ceremony.

The Confucius Peace Prize was established last year, apparently with official backing from Beijing, shortly after the Nobel committee announced it was awarding the peace prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  Mr Liu has been in jail since 2008, and the decision to award him the Nobel Peace Prize enraged Beijing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Betrayed With A Kiss

Benetton's latest controversial ad campaign depicting world leaders kissing had folks buzzing, but now the Italian clothing retailer has pulled one of its ads -- the one of the Pope making out with a top Egyptian imam -- right after the Vatican denounced it.

 The photo of the pope kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb of Cairo's al-Azhar institute, the pre-eminent theological school of Sunni Islam, had been on Benetton's website all day but was pulled about an hour after the Vatican's protest.

Benetton had said its "Unhate" campaign was aimed at fostering tolerance and "global love." Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi called the ad an "unacceptable" manipulation of the pope's likeness that offended the religious sentiments of the faithful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Boning Up On Phillipino Politics

The Philippine government has defied a Supreme Court ruling that allowed former President Gloria Arroyo to travel abroad for medical treatment.  Former President Arroyo, who is suffering from a bone disease, was prevented from boarding a plane at Manila airport.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court ruled that a travel ban imposed by the government was unconstitutional.  Arroyo is currently facing corruption claims, and the government fears that if she leaves the country she will never return.

A government spokesman said the Arroyos would be treated with dignity but "we will be firm in our decision not to allow them to leave the country  This is all high drama. They want the public to sympathise with them," he was quoted as saying.  Arroyo's lawyer Raul Lambino accused the government of inflicting "inhumane, cruel punishment" on his client.

The majority of the Supreme Court judges were hired during Mrs Arroyo's term, and it is not the first time the court has overruled the current president.  Last year the current administration tried to set up a Truth Commission to investigate Mrs Arroyo's administration, but the court ruled that such a panel would be unconstitutional.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Runaway Bride: Bangladesh Edition

A top human rights group in Bangladesh has praised a bride who disowned her husband within minutes of their wedding because he demanded a dowry.  Sultana Kamal of the Ask rights group said that Farzana Yasmin had taken a "principled and brave stand against the gross injustice of dowry payments".  Yasmin told the BBC that dowries "were the cancer of society".

Yasmin's decision to divorce her husband within minutes of their wedding in the conservative southern district of Barguna has sent shockwaves through the country, with supporters and opponents of her action fiercely arguing their cases on Facebook.

Giving or receiving dowries is a criminal offence in Bangladesh but is still widely practised.
"Ms Yasmin has shown considerable bravery in doing what she did to highlight the evil and oppressive dowry system," said Ms. Kamal, the head of the Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) rights group.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Get Yourself Off The Web

Stumbled on this great site-- it has information on dozens of top-level sites, giving you details on what information is being gathered and stored about you and instructions on how to unlist it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Crackdown On Immigrant Labor Hurts The Economic Recovery

Apple growers say they could have had one of their best years ever if a shortage of workers hadn't forced them to leave some fruit on trees.

Farmers say an immigration crackdown by the federal government and states such as Arizona and Alabama scared off many more workers. They have tried to replace them with domestic workers with little success and inmates at a much greater cost. Many growers have resorted to posting "pickers wanted" signs outside their orchards and asking neighbors to send prospective workers their way.

Farmers in other states also are struggling with a labor shortage. A Georgia pilot program matching probationers with farmers needing harvesters had mixed results. Some Alabama farmers tried hiring American citizens after the state's new immigration law chased away migrant workers, but they said the new employees were often ready to call it a day by mid-afternoon. Many quit after a day or two.

Some critics say growers would have enough workers if they paid more. Washington, however, has the highest minimum wage in the country at $8.67 per hour. Apple pickers are also paid based on how much they pick, on top of the guaranteed minimum wage.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Obama: No Green People

The Obama administration has formally denied that it has any knowledge of contact with extraterrestrial life.   "The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race," wrote space policy expert Phil Larson of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  "In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye."

The announcement came as a response to submissions to the "We The People" website, which had previously promised to address any petition that gains 5,000 signatures.  However, after over 17,000 people signed petitions calling for disclosure of government information on alien life, officials moved the goalposts and are now requiring a minimum of 25,000 signatures.

Monday, November 7, 2011

No Way San Jose

A 36-year-old North American man was killed Thursday in front of the Caribeños bus station in downtown San José.  The incident unfortunately serves to reinforce the Costa Rican capital's reputation as one of the most crime-ridden of the Central American region. 

A close friend of the victim  told The Tico Times that the victim's full name is Victor Manuel Grisales.  Authorities initially responded to reports of a wounded man in the street near the bus station, which services the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, in the Tournon neighborhood of San José. They found a 36-year-old-man identified as having the last name Grisal. He had suffered gunshot wounds in various parts of his body.

Friday, November 4, 2011

No Arab Springtime In North Korea

North Korea has banned 200 of its nationals in Libya from returning home amid fears that they may import the revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. Hundreds more North Korean citizens, including construction workers and nurses throughout the Middle East, have also been told to stay put, according to South Korean media reported by the Independent.

The move is being seen as further evidence that the Kim Jong-il regime’s response to the string of Middle East revolutions has been to tighten the screws at home. The North’s government has recently strengthened control over mobile phones, computers and foreign popular culture which has for years been creeping into the country from the South, via China.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chinese Oppression Results In Tibetan Desperation

A Tibetan nun died after setting herself on fire in southwest China on Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency said, in the eleventh such incident involving Buddhist monks and nuns in the restive region.

Eight Tibetan Buddhist monks and two nuns have now set themselves alight in Tibetan-inhabited regions of Sichuan since the self-immolation of a young monk at the Kirti monastery in Aba county in March sparked major protests that led to a government clampdown.

Many Tibetans in China are angry about what they see as growing domination by the country's majority Han ethnic group.  Most of the suicide attempts have taken place around the Kirti monastery, which is also in Sichuan, and which has become a flashpoint for the mounting anger at the erosion of Tibetan culture.

In an incredible display of self delusion, Xinhua later claimed an initial police investigation had shown the case was "masterminded and instigated by the Dalai Lama clique, which had plotted a chain of self-immolations in the past months for splitting motives".

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tourism vs Mining

A battle is brewing between Mexican citizens and a Canadian mining company for control of the UNESCO-recognized Wirikuta Natural and Cultural Ecological Reserve in the northern state of San Luis Potosí.   The conflict has been unfolding over the past year, since word got out that First Majestic Silver Corp. of Canada had been granted 22 mining concessions for more than 6,000 hectares, nearly 70 per cent of it within the reserve.

Locals are calling on Mexican President Felipe Calderon to honor his promises, reminding him of the 2008 Pact of Hauxa Manaká, when Calderon donned the ceremonial Wixarika clothing in a ceremony attended by five governors and guaranteed the protection of the Wixarika culture and sacred sites.

Local residents in the desperately poor region are torn between their desire for jobs on the one hand, and fears of losing their scarce water reserves on the other. They also worry about the impact on the local tourism industry, currently one of the only sources of employment. 

In 1998, UNESCO declared Wirikuta as one of the world's 14 natural sacred sites in need of protection. Since 2004, it’s been on the tentative World Heritage Site list, and defenders are urging the agency to grant protective status before it’s too late. They are also asking that the reserve's jurisdiction shift from the state to the federal level, since they say the state is not fulfilling its obligations to protect the reserve.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'Corrective Rape' On The Rise In South Africa

20-year-old South African Zukiswa Gaca was at a bar with friends  when a man tried to ask her out.  "I told the guy that no I'm a lesbian so I don't date guys and then he said to me, 'no I understand. I've got friends that are lesbians, that's cool, I don't have a problem with that.'"

Gaca says he was nice and she trusted him, and they left the bar to meet up with a group of friends, but things went bad quickly.  He told Zukiswa that he actually hated lesbians and threatened her, saying, "I'm going to show you that you are not a man, as you are treating yourself like a man,'"     Then he raped her as his friend watched.

CNN details Zukiswa's story and describes the scope of "corrective rape" in South Africa-- a horrible phenomenon where men rape lesbians in the belief that it will turn them straight.

It was not the first time Gaca had been raped, either. She ran away from her home village, in the rural Eastern Cape, after the first rape when she was 15 years old and too afraid to press charges.  Most known victims, like Gaca, are poor and black and so are the perpetrators, prompting many to ask how a people who fought against discrimination during apartheid can today treat some of its most vulnerable in such a violent manner.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fired Over "Shake-Spear"

In a rare example of the federal agency caving to public outrage, the TSA has been forced to fire a screener who left a lewd message in lawyer Jill Filipovic’s checked bag after conducting an inspection and finding a vibrator.

After arriving at her hotel, Filipovic discovered that her bag had been searched and a TSA inspection form had been amended with the words “GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL” written on the reverse side.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

BP Continues To Victimize The Gulf

Over a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there continues to be many serious issues that plague the local environment and population.  While the U.S. mainstream press has long-since moved on from the story, Al-Jazeera continues to document ongoing medical issues instigated by the spill and the use of toxic disperants to "clean" the ocean.

In addition, victims who are pursuing litigation against BP are now being subjected to harassment from sources alleged to have ties with BP.  Read about all the details here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

NM Woman Goes To Jail- Does Not Pass Go, Does Not Collect $200

A New Mexico woman repeatedly stabbed her boyfriend after accusing him of cheating during a Monopoly game early yesterday, according to police.

Laura Chavez, 60, and her boyfriend were playing the popular board game at her Santa Fe apartment when the dispute occurred. Chavez admitted stabbing her beau, Clyde "Butch" Smith, with a kitchen knife. Smith told investigators that Chavez first hit him over the head with a glass bottle and then “grabbed a knife and began cutting him, causing injuries to the top of his head, neck, left eye brow and right wrist area."

When cops arrived at Chavez’s building, she was sitting under the porch “covered with suspected blood.” Asked if the blood was Smith’s, she answered, “Yes, I fucked him up.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tensions Rise In Tibet As Tenth Monk Sets Himself On Fire

A Tibetan Buddhist monk has set himself ablaze in western China, the tenth reported ethnic Tibetan this year to resort to the extreme form of protest.

Free Tibet, a UK-based advocacy group, said that the latest self-immolation took place outside a monastery in Ganzi in Sichuan province. The city is about 150km south of Aba, the site where eight of the last nine self-immolations happened since March in protest against religious controls imposed by the Chinese government.

Most people in Ganzi and neighbouring Aba are ethnic Tibetan herders and farmers, and many see themselves as members of a wider Tibetan region encompassing the official Tibetan Autonomous Region and other areas across the vast highlands of China's west. China has ruled Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950.

The series of self-immolations, at least five of them fatal, "represents a wider rejection of China's occupation of Tibet", Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet, said.

Chinese government rejected the criticisms of rights groups and exiled Tibetans and has condemned the self-immolations as destructive and immoral.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TSA Now Leaving Rude Notes In Travelers' Luggage

It isn't enough that TSA creeps are rifling through Americans’ private possessions-- now wise-ass screeners are seeing fit to to make humiliating jokes about the contents, writing a personal message on a TSA inspection note after finding a sex toy in writer Jill Filipovic’s luggage.

After arriving at her hotel, Filipovic was unpacking when she discovered her bag had been individually searched by a TSA screener who, having seen the “personal item,” saw fit to comment, writing “GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL” on the reverse side of an inspection notice.

While proving themselves adept at identifying women’s vibrators, TSA screeners are notoriously less skilled at actually doing what they’re paid to do – find dangerous items. TSA screeners missed a loaded gun inside a checked bag at Los Angeles International Airport. The .38-caliber handgun fell out of a duffel bag as a luggage ramp crew was loading it onto an Alaska Airlines flight to Portland, Ore.

Perhaps Filipovic should be relieved that the TSA goon didn’t just steal the vibrator-- but then again, they only tend to do that when it’s something really valuable like a laptop, jewelry, precious metals, or cash.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Poachers Kill Last Javan Rhino In Vietnam

A critically endangered species of rhino is now extinct in Vietnam, according to a report by conservation groups. The WWF and the International Rhino Foundation said the country's last Javan rhino was probably killed by poachers, as its horn had been cut off.

Experts said the news was not a surprise, as only one sighting had been recorded in Vietnam since 2008. Fewer than 50 individuals are now estimated to remain in the wild.

"It is painful that despite significant investment in Vietnamese rhino conservation, efforts failed to save this unique animal, " said WWF's Vietnam director Tran Thi Minh Hien. "Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage."

The authors of the report, Extinction of the Javan Rhino from Vietnam, said genetic analysis of dung samples collected between 2009-2010 in the Cat Tien National Park showed that they all belonged to just one individual. Shortly after the survey was completed, conservationists found out that the rhino had been killed. They say it was likely to have been the work of poachers because it had been shot in a leg and its horn had been cut off.

An assessment carried out by Traffic, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, said the surge in the illegal trade in rhino horns was being driven by demands from Asian medicinal markets.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Obama Tax Proposal Sticks It To Vacationers

Bet you didn't know that nearly 20% the cost of a U.S. domestic airfare is taxes. Well, get ready for even more of that.

The Obama administration’s deficit-reduction plan includes a new mandatory $100 surcharge per flight for air traffic control services, which airlines would pay directly to the FAA. The fee, however, would almost certainly be passed along to customers. The plan also raises the passenger security tax from $2.50 to $5 per non-stop flight, and eventually to $7.50.

A recent letter to the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader and the co-chairmen of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction signed by 116 members of Congress expresses “strong opposition” to the proposal. “Imposing a new fee on the aviation industry in order to raise revenue would have a devastating impact on the aviation industry and fails to achieve our shared goal of improving the economy and creating jobs,” it notes.

The airline industry is unhappy, too. In a campaign that includes newspaper ads and a Web site (, it’s trying to prevent the proposal from taking off.

“Aviation is already taxed at a higher rate than alcohol, beer, cigarettes and firearms — products taxed at high rates to discourage use,” says Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group. “In short, the administration is proposing a huge new tax on the least profitable and most highly taxed industry in the economy, while all its competitors are left untouched.”

But no one will be hit harder than passengers, experts say. “The airline industry will figure out some way to pass this tax along to the consumer,” says Thomas Cooke, a federal taxation expert at Georgetown University’s business school. “It’s incredibly unfair to air travelers.”

In fact, air travelers are paying more than their fair share in taxes, including a Sept. 11 fee of up to $10 per round-trip ticket, to fund the TSA, as well as a cargoload of other taxes, including passenger ticket taxes, international departure taxes, a jet fuel tax, an aviation security infrastructure fee and an immigration user fee.

What pisses travelers off more than anything is that the money would go to reduce the deficit, while the balance would fund something that passengers aren’t exactly clamoring for — a larger Transportation Security Administration. If you were wondering whether anything in the administration’s current budget-reduction proposal would benefit air travelers-- don't bother.

“There are zero benefits,” according to tax expert David Selig. “The only thing that gets raised are air travelers’ stress and frustration levels. Higher taxes provide travelers a stronger incentive to either stay home or find an alternative means of transportation, which ultimately costs airlines in the end.”

This proposal might make sense if it actually helped air travelers in a meaningful way (it doesn’t) or if you could make the argument that the airline industry is responsible for the current deficit (it isn’t).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Swiss Voters Display Common Sense Not Seen In The U.S.

Switzerland's right-wing People's Party has seen its share of the vote fall unexpectedly after parliamentary elections, defying forecasts of an historic increase.

It had campaigned on a tough anti-immigration platform, and had predicted it would receive an unprecedented share of the vote. But with the count nearly complete, it was set to get less than 27%. Its calls to limit immigration strictly are now likely to be quietly ignored, according to reports.

The right-wing People's Party had been emboldened by recent successes in campaigns to ban minarets, and to automatically deport foreign criminals. But voters gave the party something of a slap in the face-- fewer votes and the loss of seven parliamentary seats.

The party's single campaign theme-- restricting immigration-- did not seem to find favor. Switzerland's foreign population may be almost 25% but its unemployment rate is less than 3%. Voters know many Swiss businesses, and their health service, depend on foreign workers.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

3 Years Into Obama, Healthcare Still A Travesty

Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.

In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan (although children can still be covered).

This is a big shift from just a few years ago when Wal-Mart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism because so many of its 1.4 million workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering many of them eligible for Medicaid.

This news only reinforces the desperate need for a national health care option for Americans. The "free market" for health care is anything but free and is still leaving over 50 million uninsured (who knows how many millions more are under-insured).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bigoted Bone-Bag Brewer Beaten By Bolton

A federal judge has dismissed Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's lawsuit that accused the Obama administration of failing to enforce immigration laws or maintain control of her state's border with Mexico.

The Republican governor was seeking a court order that would require the federal government to take extra steps, such as more border fencing, to protect Arizona until the border is controlled.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said Brewer's claim that Washington has failed to protect Arizona from an "invasion" of illegal immigrants was a political question that isn't appropriate for the court to decide.  The judge also barred the remainder of Brewer's claims because the issues were dealt with in a 1994 case by Arizona and can't be litigated again.

Keeping Up With the Khaddafis

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shock Over Chinese Indifference To Injured Tot

Chinese media and internet users have voiced outrage at a hit-and-run incident involving a two-year-old child left injured in the road as passers-by ignored her. The toddler was hit by a van in the city of Foshan. Surveillance footage showed the van hitting the little girl, pausing briefly while she was under the vehicle and then driving off, running over her legs.

The video then shows about a dozen passers-by, including cyclists, a motorcyclist and a woman and child, noticing the little girl lying injured in the street but ignoring her and walking on. Several minutes later she was hit by yet another vehicle. A rubbish collector finally stopped to helped her, but she was already seriously hurt. The child, named Yue Yue, was taken to hospital for emergency surgery but was later pronounced brain dead, according to reports.

The little girl had wandered off unattended while her mother went to collect some laundry. The drivers of both vehicles have now been arrested, but the incident has also triggered outcry among Chinese citizens.

Some commentators have said they understand the dilemma for the passers-by - that if they helped out they might incur costs or be blamed for the accident. Chinese media widely reported an incident from last January in which elderly men who fell in the street were left alone because people did not want to get involved. Those reports cited an earlier case in which a man who helped an injured elderly lady to hospital was then found by a court to be liable for some of her medical costs.

Another recent case which attracted considerable attention throughout China was one in which an elderly woman believed to have fallen in the road accused a man who stopped to help her of hitting her with his car. "There's been so many cases where people have been treated unjustly after doing good things," one Chinese commenter said.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Death Cheney-Style

Fifty-six-year-old monk Kazuaki Kinoshita and the girl's 50-year-old father Atsushi Maishigi were accused of what police described as "waterfall service": strapping the victim Tomomi Maishigi to a chair and dousing her face with water.

According to reports, the two men poured water over her as an "exorcism" with the father holding the girl down while the monk chanted sutras. Miss Maishigi's mother called an ambulance after her daughter fell unconscious, but it was too late. She was confirmed dead early the next morning. "The cause of death [was] suffocation," the police official said.

Reports said the girl's parents had turned to the monk after the youngster had suffered several years of mental and physical ill health that doctors had not been able to resolve. The monk, who belongs to a religious group deriving from a Buddhist sect, said that the girl was possessed by an evil spirit. Her parents had taken her to one of the group's facilities equipped with a water pump and made her go through the dousing practice about 100 times prior to the fatal incident.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brown Beer Bottle Bonking Bags Bestowal

Certain Australian beetles will try to copulate with discarded beer bottles, but they have to be of the right type - brown ones with bobbly bits on them. This fascinating observation made almost 30 years ago has finally landed entomologists Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz with an Ig Nobel Prize.

The Igs are the "alternative" version to the rather more sober Nobel awards announced in Sweden next week.  Other recipients this year of the prizes run by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research included the mayor of Vilnius in Lithuania, Arturas Zuokas.  He was honored with the Ig Peace Prize for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars could be solved by squashing them with an armoured tank.

The Chemistry Prize went to an inventive Japanese team that worked out how to use wasabi (pungent horseradish) in a fire alarm system. The group even has a patent pending on its idea.  Understanding why discus throwers get dizzy was the topic of the study that won the Physics Prize.

The American awards were handed out on Thursday at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre, in what has become down the years a slightly chaotic but fun event where people throw paper planes and a little girl berates the winners.  More details and a full list of winners can be found here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chavez Now Seizing Private Homes

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced that his government will expropriate homes on the Caribbean resort islands of Los Roques, saying the structures were built on plots bought in shadowy business deals.

Chavez has nationalized hundreds of privately owned companies since taking office in 1999, but this is the first time he has targeted private homes for expropriation. Chavez offered no details regarding the planned seizures of private homes and quaint inns, known in Spanish as "posadas."

The president said the government would build state-run inns on Los Roques, which is an archipelago of tiny islands offering snorkeling and scuba diving along numerous coral reefs and deserted white-sand beaches.

Chavez's government has nationalized hundreds of businesses including cement makers, retail stores and steel mills as part of his drive to establish a socialist economic model in Venezuela. Authorities have also seized large swaths of agricultural land deemed idle by officials, turning parcels over to poor peasants.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gulf Residents Still Suffering From The BP Oil Spill

Just weeks after BP's oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, 2010, Fritzi Presley knew something was very wrong with her health. The 57-year-old singer/songwriter from Long Beach, Mississippi began to feel sick, and went to her doctor.

"I began getting treatments for bronchitis, was put on several antibiotics and rescue inhalers, and even a breathing machine," she said. The smell of chemicals on the Mississippi coastline is present on many days when wind blows in from the Gulf. Presley's list of symptoms mirrors what many people living in the areas affected by BP's oil spill have told Al Jazeera in its detailed report.

"I was having them then, and still have killer headaches. I'm experiencing memory loss, and when I had my blood tested for chemicals, they found m,p-Xylene, hexane, and ethylbenzene in my body."

Presley lives three blocks from the coast with her daughter, 30-year-old Daisy Seal, who has also become extremely sick. Both of them had their blood tested for the chemicals present in BP's oil, and six out of the 10 chemicals tested for were present. Daisy Seal has had skin rashes, respiratory problems, and two miscarriages, which she attributes to chemicals from BP's oil and toxic dispersants.

"I started having respiratory problems, a horrible skin rash, headaches, nosebleeds, low energy, and trouble sleeping," Seal said. "And I now feel like I'm dying from the inside out." Seal, who already has an eight-year-old son, has had two miscarriages in the last year.

The 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf last year was the largest accidental marine oil spill in history, affecting people living near the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Compounding the problem, BP has admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic dispersants, which are banned by many countries, including the UK. According to many scientists, these dispersants create an even more toxic substance when mixed with crude oil.

Dr Wilma Subra, a chemist in New Iberia, Louisiana, has tested the blood of BP cleanup workers and residents. "Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and hexane are volatile organic chemicals that are present in the BP crude oil," Subra explained. "The acute impacts of these chemicals include nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, lung irritation, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting."

Subra explained that exposure has been long enough to create long-term effects, such as "liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to the nervous system. So the presence of these chemicals in the blood indicates exposure". Testing by Subra has also revealed BP's chemicals are present "in coastal soil sediment, wetlands, and in crab, oyster and mussel tissues".

Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, and skin and eye contact. Symptoms of exposure include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitization, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, genetic mutations, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiovascular damage. The chemicals can also cause birth defects, mutations, and cancer.

"In 'Generations at Risk', medical doctor Ted Schettler and others warn that solvents can rapidly enter the human body," Dr. Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, said. "They evaporate in air and are easily inhaled, they penetrate skin easily, and they cross the placenta into fetuses. For example, 2-butoxyethanol [a chemical used in Corexit, an oil dispersant] is a human health hazard substance; it is a fetal toxin and it breaks down blood cells, causing blood and kidney disorders."

"Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber," Ott continued. "Spill responders have told me that the hard rubber propellers in their engines and the soft rubber bushings on their outboard motor pumps are falling apart and need frequent replacement. Given this evidence, it should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known."
In March the US National Institutes of Health launched a long-range health study of workers who helped clean up after BP's oil disaster.

According to the NIH, 55,000 clean-up workers and volunteers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will be checked for health problems, and participants will be followed for up to 10 years. The study is funded by NIH, which received a $10 million "gift" from BP to run the study. BP claims not to be involved in the study, which will cost $34m over the next five years.

But the study focuses mainly on people who participated in the clean-up. John Gooding, a resident of Pass Christian, Mississippi, began having health problems shortly after the oil spill started. He has become sicker with each passing month, and has moved inland in an effort to escape continuing exposure to the chemicals.

"I can't live at my home address anymore because it's too close to the coast," Gooding said. "I'm hypersensitive to the pollution, and there is a constant steady chemical smell coming off the Gulf. Even both my dogs had seizures and died."

The U.S. Coast Guard held an Area Contingency Plan meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi recently to discuss the lessons of the BP disaster. Coast Guard Captain John Rose was asked what has changed regarding the Coast Guard's dispersant use policy since April 20, 2010.

"We were pre-authorized to use it before, but now we have to get permission from the higher-ups. But it is still in the plan for how we will respond to oil spills in the future," he said. During the meeting, Captain Rose continuously referred to the use of dispersants as a "scientific tool" that is "effective in keeping oil from reaching beaches and wildlife".

Monday, October 3, 2011

Transparency In Government: Another Broken Obama Promise

The Obama administration has closed public access to its database of disciplinary action against doctors and other medical professionals, basically because reporters were getting too good at using it.

The Department of Health and Human Services compiles a National Practitioner Data Bank to centralize reports on malpractice cases and licensing board actions against individual doctors and health care companies. The idea is to make it harder for practitioners who've been hit with disciplinary actions or malpractice judgments to move to other states and get new licenses.

Four times a year, HHS has published a version of the database to the public. Because the database is supposed to be confidential, it's scrubbed of names, addresses and other information that patients, lawyers and reporters could use to identify who's in it. Still, because it provides a wealth of aggregate information, the quarterly summary has been a regular source of medical stories for a quarter-century. (As recently as June, the database was generating stories like this one, reporting that half of U.S. malpractice payments involve patients seen outside a hospital.)

Or at least it did until this month, when HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration added this sentence to the databank's Web page: "The NPDB Public Use Data File is not available until further notice."

The Kansas City Star says it's largely to blame, reporting that HRSA took the action "shortly after it learned The Kansas City Star planned to use its reports" for a story on doctors who have frequently been accused of malpractice but who have escaped the attention of the Kansas or Missouri medical boards.

An HRSA spokesman told the Star that while the agency was bound by federal law to keep the data confidential, reporters had been able to "triangulate on data bank data" to put names to reports.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

China: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like-- But You Can Never Leave

In the year-plus since he was released from jail, scientist Hu Zhicheng has been free, free to drive from his Shanghai apartment to his office two hours away, free to get acupuncture treatment for chronic back pain, free except to leave China and rejoin his family in America.

Twice Hu went to airports to board flights out of China only to be turned back by border control officers. A China-born U.S. citizen and award-winning inventor of emission control systems for autos, Hu has written to the police who investigated him for infringing commercial secrets and even met face-to-face with the prosecutors who dropped the charges for lack of evidence. Yet he has not been allowed to leave, nor told why he can't leave. "My priority is to go home and be with my family," said Hu, slight, soft-spoken and reserved. "I know how much they have suffered."

An acclaimed inventor of catalysts in the U.S., Hu returned to his native China in 2004 to grab opportunities in a rocketing Chinese auto market that was short of experienced innovators. Hu worked for several different companies in the intervening years, and eventually he got caught in the crossfire when a trademark dispute sprung up between his current company and a former employer.

Trade disputes that would be civil suits in the West often become criminal cases in China. Chinese companies often cultivate influence with local officials and often coerce law enforcement to take their side when deals with other companies go awry. When Hu sensed that a former employer was trying to make him a pawn in a trade dispute with his current employer, he moved his family to Los Angeles.

Hu and his wife believe that the company which accused him of taking trade secrets persuaded authorities to keep the travel ban in place. In China, sometimes punishment goes on even when the law says stop.

Police in the eastern port of Tianjin where the dispute occurred said its case against Hu was closed long ago. With no apparent charges or investigation pending, lawyers said Hu should be free to go abroad under Chinese law.

Since his release, he and wife Hong Li refused repeated requests for interviews, hoping that quiet lobbying of Chinese and U.S. officials would bring him home. Their frustration growing, Hu finally agreed to be interviewed, providing the fullest account of his predicament. "My life is miserable. What do they want from me?" said Hu.

Left in limbo, Hu has been consumed with trying to find out why he cannot leave and with seeking treatment for a herniated disc in his spine, a problem that arose soon after he left jail. He feels outmatched by a well-connected local company, having lived outside China for so long and having failed to cultivate the contacts Chinese prize for smoothing business. "I'm used to the U.S. and following the laws," Hu said. "Clearly China is a different place."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bob Dylan: Painter or Plagiarist?

Copyrighted photos on the left, Dylan's "original" art on the right-- you be the judge.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fukushima: 200 Days Later

What’s emerging in Japan six months since the nuclear meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power plant is a radioactive zone bigger than that left by the 1945 atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While nature reclaims the 12 mile no-go zone, Fukushima’s $3.2 billion-a-year farm industry is being devastated and tourists that hiked the prefecture’s mountains and surfed off its beaches have all but vanished.

The March earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear crisis and left almost 20,000 people dead or missing may cost 17 $223 billion, hindering recovery of the world’s third-largest economy from two decades of stagnation.

Fukushima schoolchildren are now being bullied at their new school in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo for “carrying radiation,” according to reports. Produce from Fukushima’s rich soil is also being shunned. Peaches, the prefecture’s biggest agricultural product after rice, have halved in price this year. Beef shipments from the prefecture were temporarily suspended and contamination concerns stopped the town of Minami Soma from planting rice. Land around the Fukushima reactors will lie fallow for two decades or more before radiation levels fall below Japan’s criteria for evacuation, the government recently announced.

While scientists knew back in March that radiation contamination would create an uninhabitable zone in Fukushima, information to the public has come intermittently, which created widespread distrust of politicians and scientists. This resulted in conflicting public commentary, making it harder for residents to decide whether to stay or leave.

The coastal town of Minami Soma this year canceled its annual qualifying stage for the world surfing championship, part of a waterfront that lured 84,000 beachgoers in July and August last year. The beaches, now destroyed by radiation and the tsunami, saw no visitors during the two months.

The area’s biggest festival, Soma Noma Oi, a re-enactment of samurai battles, attracted 200,000 visitors last year. This year 37,000 came. Of the 300 horses typically used in the event, 100 were drowned in the tsunami and another 100 were evacuated due to radiation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Facebook Pissing People Off Globally

Although the soundtrack is in Korean, they pretty much capture the new Facebook changes spot-on:

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Aussies Tell It Like It Is

An amazing editorial on the Greek financial crisis from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Greece may be far away, it may be a small economy, but it is dragging down the value of your pension because its problems are a drag on the global market. The root cause of the problem is simple. The national sport of Greece is cheating. Cheating across every tier of society.

Greece needs to be thrown out of the euro zone. The crisis is coming to a head, as it must, but we will all pay. It is merely the most extreme manifestation of a failure of democracy by the European Union.  The Greeks are being forced into a humiliating and unsustainable austerity program, which is contracting their economy into a depression. Feel no sympathy for Greece. The Greek government lied its way into the Economic and Monetary Union in 2001, presenting false data, and ever since Greece has been a cancer in the euro zone.

Ostensibly, the national sport of Greece is football, but even football is compromised by the real national sport of cheating. Two years ago, the governing body of European football, UEFA, sent the Hellenic Football Federation dossiers detailing a pattern of illegal betting and match-fixing involving dozens of games. Some of the biggest clubs in Greece were involved.  The Hellenic Football Federation, like so much of the rest of Greek society, preferred the path of delusion, delay and denial. It did not respond. It did nothing. After 18 months, UEFA officials went to the Greek criminal justice system. News of the meeting broke in the media. The Greek government had to begin a criminal investigation.

It was a metaphor for the nation which Transparency International rates as the most corrupt in Europe. Greece has the highest rate of tax evasion in Europe. So pervasive is this problem that the nation is bankrupt. Confronted with a need to cut spending and raise revenue, the government has been crippled by an inability to raise taxes because the tax system is so rotten and the culture of evasion is so ingrained across everyday life.

Almost every element of society shares in this inglorious achievement. Successive governments piled up debt to pay for social services and pensions. The courts have a backlog of 300,000 tax cases. The tax-collection system is riddled with a culture of bribery.  The black economy in Greece, where tax is avoided altogether, is estimated at 27.5 per cent of GDP, about double the scale of the black economy in Australia, and does not include the underground economy of crime.

Ever since the high point for modern Greece, the 2004 Olympics in Athens, it has become increasingly clear that the country was living on borrowed time and borrowed money, a state of collective delusion. Even Greece's two biggest Olympic stars, two medal-winning sprinters, turned out to be drug cheats. They even staged a fake accident to avoid a doping test.

The whole country is heading into a crash now and it is not fake.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Forest Boy Baffles German Police

Berlin police are investigating the case of an English-speaking teenager who appeared in the German capital saying he had lived the last five years in the woods with his father.

The boy, aged about 17, appeared at Berlin's city hall and was then taken in by a youth emergency center. The boy claims that he and his father took to the woods about five years ago after his mother died and have been living in a tent and earth huts.

The boy - who says he does not remember where the family came from - claims he followed his compass north after his father recently died, reaching Berlin after walking for two weeks. The boy appears to be in good health and police have issued a Europe-wide appeal to try to determine his identity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

German Politician Wearing Blackface To Portray Obama Sparks Outrage

A well-known German comedian named Martin Sonneborn is in hot water over a satirical political billboard of him posing in blackface makeup as President Barack Obama.

The billboard is the latest in Sonneborn’s campaign for his satirical political party Die Partei. It’s meant to make fun of the entire German political establishment and go up to the edge of propriety – another billboard is entitled “MILFS against Merkel” and the campaign has also mocked the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party.

In a recent interview, Sonneborn said his billboard wasn’t racist. Sonneborn joked that he was “Germany’s Obama” and added he was mocking the “hype” surrounding the U.S. president. Sonneborn, formerly editor-in-chief of the German satire magazine Titanic, said he wasn’t aware of the history of blackface in the U.S. and didn’t care if anyone was upset. “No, I didn’t know that,” he told reporters. “If Americans associate it with that, then I’m sorry, but I’m not going to take it down.”

But Tahir Della, a spokesman for the Initiative for Black Germans (ISD), which tries to represent the interests of the black community in Germany, called the billboard "unbelievably hurtful."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dial M For Misguided

Nigeria's government is trying to assure its people that a phone call can't kill you.

A text message has spread across the oil-rich country, warning that people will die if they answer mobile phone calls from 09141. The widespread fear has forced the Nigerian Communications Commission to issue a public statement saying it is "unimaginable that somebody will die while receiving a call."

Commission spokesman Reuben Muoka stated, "It is only very gullible people that will believe such a rumor."

Text message panics in Nigeria have included rumors of bombings and rumors that acid rain from seasonal dust storms can burn people alive. The campaigns are aided by poor education and lack of faith in the government.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Minnesota Bigots Ignore Gay Bullying, Despite Surge In Student Suicides

Bullying of gay students is rampant in a Minnesota school district after Christian groups lobbied for a policy that allows teachers and school officials to "look the other way" when bullying takes place.

Conservative Christian groups in the Anoka school district have demanded that the schools avoid any descriptions of homosexuality or same-sex marriage as normal, warning against any surrender to what they say is the “homosexual agenda” of recruiting youngsters to an “unhealthy and abnormal lifestyle.”

Six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma. The suit alleges that district staff members, when they witnessed or heard reports of antigay harassment, tended to “ignore, minimize, dismiss, or in some instances, to blame the victim for the other students’ abusive behavior.”

Local bigots have remained defiant in their beliefs, despite a spate of eight suicides in the school district within the past two years-- what most see as proof positive that the current approach to bullying is not working.

Gay children, and some parents and supporters, say these efforts are undercut by what they call the district’s “gag order” on discussion of sexual diversity — a policy, adopted in 2009 amid searing public debate, that “teaching about sexual orientation is not part of the district-adopted curriculum” and that staff “shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.” They believe the district’s demand of neutrality on homosexuality is inherently stigmatizing, has inhibited teachers from responding aggressively to bullying and has deterred them from countering destructive stereotypes.

Colleen Cashen, a psychologist and counselor at the Northdale Middle School, said that by singling out homosexuality, the policy created “an air of shame,” and that contradictory interpretations from the administration had left teachers afraid to test the limits, seeing homosexuality and the history of gay rights as taboo subjects. “I believe that the policy is creating a toxic environment for the students,” she said.

But conservative parents have organized to lobby against change. “Saying that you should accept two moms as a normal family — that would be advocacy,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council. “There should be no tolerance of bullying, but these groups are using the issue to try to press a social agenda.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chinese Kidnapped From The Street And Forced Into Hard Labor

Authorities in China are struggling to identify 30 people they rescued from illegal brick kilns where they were being enslaved and abused, according to state-run media reports.

The officials are having a difficult time identifying some of the workers because at least 17 of them are disabled or have a mental illness. "Some of them can't even speak a whole sentence, and they don't act like normal people," according to Liu Weiming, deputy director of publicity in Zhumadian, where the workers were rescued. "Most are staying at a relief station because they can't remember where they are from."

The scandal was exposed by the City Report TV channel who reported that workers were "abducted from streets and railway stations and then sold to bosses at brick kilns for 300 yuan to 500 yuan ($45 to $80)."

Bai Shasha, one of the rescued victims, said he and his father got lost in March and were abducted when several people with knives approached him. He said during the time he was enslaved at the kiln he was regularly beaten with bricks or whips, China Daily reported. Bai also said he and other workers were forced to work all day long without any rest, and then they all slept in cramped confines at night. One supervisor accused of beating the workers with whips is just 14 years old.

Incidents of kidnapping and forced labor are common, with over 1,500 people rescued from illegal brick kilns since 2007.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Not Satisfied With Taking Away Your Privacy, TSA Now Wants To Take Away Freedom Of Speech

Attacking the TSA for its privacy-invasive screening procedures has become a favorite activity for many journalists. TSA horror stories are often featured prominently on The Drudge Report and he has taken to calling Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security “Big Sis.”

Napolitano has publicly said people are wrong in describing DHS programs as Orwellian and says that the DHS "wants to be conscious of civil liberties and civil rights protections—and we are.”

Syndicated columnist Amy Alkon would likely disagree with the Secretary, however. After a particularly aggressive TSA patdown earlier this year, Alkon graphically described how she sobbed out loud a TSA agent inserted her hands into her vagina through her pants four times-- each time, moving her fingers back and forth between her labia.   She screamed “You raped me” after the LAX patdown and took the agent’s name with plans to file charges of sexual assault. Those plans fell through after consulting an attorney, but Alkon did blog about it and included the agent’s name.

The TSA agent then hired a lawyer who contacted Alkon asking her to remove the post, threatening her with a defamation lawsuit, and asking for a settlement of $500,000.  Free speech lawyer Marc Randazza stepped in to assert Alkon’s right to post about her patdown experience, and to defend both her definition of the patdown as rape and, regardless of that, her right to rhetorical hyperbole.  More details are here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

China's New Millionaires Can't Wait To Dump Their Country

Chinese millionaire Su builds skyscrapers in Beijing and is one of the people powering China's economy on its path to becoming the world's biggest. He sits at the top of a country — economy booming, influence spreading, military swelling — widely expected to dominate the 21st century.

Yet the property developer shares something surprising with many newly rich in China: he's looking forward to the day he can leave. Su's reasons: He wants to protect his assets, he has to watch what he says in China and wants a second child, something against the law for many Chinese.

China's richest are increasingly investing abroad to get a foreign passport, to make international business and travel easier but also to give them a way out of China. It is a bothersome trend for China's communist leaders who've pinned the legitimacy of one-party rule on delivering rapid economic growth and a rising standard of living.

Despite more economic freedom, the communist government has kept its tight grip on many other aspects of daily life. China's leaders punish, sometimes harshly, public dissent and any perceived challenges to their power, and censor what can be read online and in print. Authoritarian rule, meanwhile, has proved ineffective in addressing long standing problems of pollution, contaminated food and a creaking health care system.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

People In Texas Still Think Al-Jazeera Was Behind 9/11

Gabriel Elizondo, correspondent for Al Jazeera, was in the middle of a road trip across the United States, talking to people about the effects of 9/11 on American life.  In Texas, Elizondo experienced part of that impact firsthand.

On a Friday night, Elizondo decided to stop at a high school football game in Booker, Texas, near the Oklahoma border. He approached Booker High School's principal, explaining who he was and saying that he was driving across the country to talk to people about the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. He asked to film parts of the football game and see if anybody wanted to talk about their views of 9/11 during halftime.

Principal Yauck bounced up from her seat, giving Elizondo a wonderful Texas hospitality smile and commenting on “what an interesting project” he was doing. “So you will need to send me the link of this when it goes on the internet or whatever,” she added.

When she couldn't find a business card, Elizondo gave her one of his. Then came this exchange (from Elizondo's blog about the incident):

“So you’re from Al Jazeera,” Mrs Yauck says in a sharp tone, still looking down at my card. Looking up at me, she adds quickly, “ So what’s your spin on this story?”

“I don’t have a spin,” I say, still smiling to try to ease any sudden tension. “What I told you is exactly what I want to do. Just talk to people, film a bit. That is it. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

“But you’re with Al Jazeera?”

“Yes,” I say proudly, still smiling.

But Mrs Yauck is again staring down at my business card.

“Our superintendent is here, let me just go talk to him and I’ll be right back.”
Needless to say, the Superintendent made it clear to Elizondo that he was not welcome to shoot any film or talk to anyone at the game. Elizondo later blogged about the incident, after which the school Superintendent wrote a self-serving response, going so far as to brag about their "Fiesta Night" in an attempt to demonstrate Booker High's spirit of culture acceptance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meanest Jokes From Charlie Sheen Roast

1. “You’re just like Bruce Willis — you were big in the 80s and now your old slot is being filled by Ashton Kutcher.” — Amy Schumer

2. “If you’re winning, this must not be a child custody hearing. The only time your kids get to see you is in reruns — don’t you want to live to see their first 12 steps?” — Jeffrey Ross

3. “Brooke Mueller is not very bright unless Charlie throws a lamp at her. … Mike Tyson, your opponents spent more time bleeding in the corner than Charlie’s ex wives.” — Jeffrey Ross

4. “The only reason you got on TV in the first place is because God hates Michael J. Fox.” — Anthony Jeselnik

5. “Charlie still hasn’t hit rock bottom. He’s looking forward to it though, because he thinks there’s a rock there.” — Steve-O

6. “You dropped out of school faster than Casey Anthony’s kid.” — Anthony Jeselnik

7. “It’s amazing — after abusing your lungs, liver and kidneys, the only thing you’ve had removed is your kids.” — Kate Walsh

8. “Charlie, you claim to have ‘tiger blood,’ but after all the porn stars you’ve [had sex with], it’s probably Tiger Woods’ blood.” — Seth MacFarlane

Michigan GOP Sticks It To The Poor

Michigan's first-year Republican governor Rick Snyder has signed into law a stricter, four-year lifetime limit on cash welfare benefits, prompting advocates for the poor to warn that tens of thousands of residents will find themselves without cash assistance on October 1.

The 2010 election of Snyder and the simultaneous Republican takeover of the Michigan House gave the GOP a free hand to set its own course on public assistance. The change gives Michigan the Midwest's toughest welfare time limit, according to a survey by The Detroit News. It said there are five-year limits in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Indiana has a two-year limit for adults — but none for children.

Gilda Jacobs of the Michigan League for Human Services said she expects about 41,000 people to lose their cash assistance payments on Oct. 1 when the state's new budget year begins. That includes 29,700 children, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services. "We're very, very concerned," Jacobs said. "As the days go by, new people will be meeting the 48-month limit. ... More will be falling off that cliff."

Jacobs said it's hard to see how adults cut off from welfare will find a job when Michigan's July unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, tied with South Carolina for third-highest in the nation.

"We still have to preserve a safety net for people who, through no fault of their own, can't find a job," she said, noting that most cash assistance goes to help poor residents pay their rent. "There's obviously a lot of anxiety out there. Folks aren't sure exactly what this means to them."

Michigan ranked 38th in child poverty for 2009, defined as income below $21,756 for a family of two adults and two children. About 23 percent of Michigan's children lived in poverty in 2009, compared with 20 percent nationally. In 2000, only 14 percent of Michigan children lived in poverty. The average age of a child in a family receiving cash assistance is around 7 years old.

GOP governor Snyder has claimed that reducing the number of children living in poverty is a priority of his administration. The Michigan Catholic Conference has objected to the four-year limit. The conference said the effect will be felt for years by society and by children who lose services.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Obama Retreats On Yet Another Campaign Promise

In a dramatic reversal, President Barack Obama, who had previously pledged to make decisions based on science, scrubbed a clean-air regulation that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in America's ailing economy. The Clean Air Act bars the EPA from considering the costs of complying when setting public health standards.

The regulation would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.

Withdrawal of the proposed regulation marked the latest in a string of retreats by the president in the face of GOP opposition, and it drew quick criticism from liberals. Environmentalists, a key Obama constituency, accused him of caving to corporate polluters, and the American Lung Association threatened to restart the legal action it had begun against rules proposed by George Bush.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mexican Gangs Now Targeting School Teachers

Terror has engulfed schools in the city of Acapulco, Mexico.

Criminal gangs in the resort city have kidnapped at least four teachers in the last two weeks. Another 500 teachers say they're being told to turn over half their salaries or they too will turn up missing. Many students are deeply worried.

In the face of such threats, teachers from at least 80 schools have decided to stop working, just as the new school year is getting underway. The problem is exacerbated by the public's mistrust in local police, so many leads are not reported. Criminal gangs are focusing their activities on the poorest neighborhoods, where the need for public education is at its highest.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shear Agony

An Arizona man whose eye socket was impaled with a pair of pruning shears said he experienced excruciating pain during the ordeal and feels lucky to be alive.

86-year-old Leroy Luetscher said he had just finished trimming plants in his backyard when he lost his balance and fell on the pruning shears. The tool went into his right eye socket and down into his neck, resting against the carotid artery. Half the shears were left in his head pushing up against his eye, while the other half was sticking out.

Luetscher said he put his hand to his face and realized the shears had gone into his eye. "I didn't know if my eyeball was still there or what," he said. "I never had pain like that in all my life." Luetscher, whose face was gushing blood, was able to walk to the laundry room of his house and beckon his longtime live-in girlfriend, Arpy Williams, who called 911.

An ambulance rushed him to University Medical Center in Tucson, where a team of surgeons immediately took scans of his brain and came up with a plan to treat him. "You know, if it went a little bit in a different direction, it basically could have killed him or he could have had a stroke," surgeon Dr. Lynn Polonski said. "He's was very lucky that it missed all vital structures and we were basically able to put him back together."

Luetscher said he's not sure he'll be doing much more gardening in the future.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

While Perry Fiddles, Texas Burns

As Texas Governor Perry organizes prayer events and complains about the federal government's response to his state's wildfires, he and his lawmakers have been busy cutting volunteer fire departments by 75%.

As reported by the Texas Independent, Perry and Texas lawmakers have also been called to task for huge cuts to state firefighting resources passed earlier this year. The two-year budget that took effect last Thursday includes a 75 percent slash to volunteer fire departments — from $30 million to $7 million — and a one-third cut to the Texas Forest Service. State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said this year’s fires near the capital city underscore the need to better fund the emergency-services districts stretched thin at the outskirts of Texas’ growing cities.

Texas’ 879 volunteer departments are the first line of defense against wildfires for much of the state. The forest service, with 230 firefighters and 15 trucks, provides statewide support. After that, help comes from the federal government and other states.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Giant Croc Caught Alive In Phillipines

A giant saltwater crocodile weighing more than a ton has been captured in a remote southern Philippine village following a series of attacks on humans and animals, according to reports.

Measuring 21 feet and weighing 2,370 pounds, it is believed to be the biggest to be ever caught alive in the Philippines. Saltwater crocodiles can live for more than 100 years and grow to 23 feet.

Josefina de Leon, wildlife division chief of the environment ministry's protected areas and wildlife bureau, said it was likely to be the biggest crocodile ever captured. The captured croc will now become the main attraction at a planned nature park in the area.

The hunt for the crocodile in the village of Bunawan began in mid-August and it took dozens of local men to secure its capture. But crocodile hunter Rollie Sumiller, who led the hunt, said this reptile may not be the killer they have been looking for after at least one attack on a human was reported in the area. "We're not really sure if this is the man-eater, because there have been other sightings of other crocodiles in the area," he said.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Spin On Plugging The Meter

German prostitutes must carry a ticket purchased from a new parking meter-like machine while working the streets or face hefty fines from tax authorities in a new scheme launched in the city of Bonn.

Germany hookers pay income tax, but compliance is difficult to enforce with women seeking business on the street. Bonn's "sex tax meters," from which prostitutes can purchase a ticket for $8 per night, will ensure the tax system is fairly implemented, a city spokeswoman said.

"Inspectors will monitor compliance - not every evening but frequently," the spokeswoman told reporters.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Letter From Dick Cheney

Dear Readers:

I was a huge war hawk, happily sending other people's kids to war, but I "had other priorities in the '60s than military service" and got five deferments.

Saddam Hussein was a friend before he was an enemy.

I happily did business with Iran, Libya and Iraq as CEO of Halliburton.

I held secret White House meetings with oil companies to expand their influence and profitability, and suppressed information about the health effects of global warming.

As a Congressman I opposed the Department of Education and economic sanctions against South Africa's apartheid government.

I started a trillion-dollar war based on cherry-picked intelligence and outright lies, including "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

I said that "There's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government."

I insisted that the war would be over in less than six months.

I warned in late 2004 that if John Kerry won the election, "…we'll get hit again, and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating."

I supported the torture of human beings. I still do.

I stayed on vacation for days after hurricane Katrina hit.

I had no objection to tossing the writ of habeas corpus into the garbage disposal.

I couldn't find Osama bin Laden

I responded to the American people's concern about the Iraq war with: "So?"

I drank a beer and then shot a lawyer friend in the face because I wasn't following proper gun safety rules. I never apologized.

I told the FISA court to go fuck itself---we can spy on Americans without a warrant anytime we feel like it.

I left office with a 13 percent approval rating, for which you can all go fuck yourselves, too.

Now buy my book, suckers!

(Courtesy of the Daily Kos)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Details On CIA Kidnap-For-Torture Scheme Unveiled

A trove of new information about the international renditions business has been unveiled by legal action charity Reprieve.

Over 1500 operational and legal documents were disclosed as part of a lawsuit brought by a company called Richmor Aviation over unpaid bills by the CIA. These documents now offer the first comprehensive overview of the CIA’s unlawful program of kidnapping ('extraordinary rendition’). Reprieve’s evidence shows how:

  • A complicated billing chain obscured the ultimate end user of the flights -- the CIA.
  • The U.S. government used the same aircraft – tail number N85VM, owned by Liverpool FC owner Philip Morse -- for over 55 flights to Guantanamo Bay, Kabul, Bangkok, Dubai, Islamabad, Cairo, Baghdad, Djibouti, Rabat, Frankfurt, Ramstein, Rome, Tenerife, the Azores and Bucharest. The plane, a Gulfstream jet, frequently passed through British and Irish airports en route, including Shannon, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London Luton.
  • Richmor executives used disturbing newspeak to describe the prisoners-- calling them 'invitees'-- as they were shuttling them to torture sites across the globe.
  • All rendition flights were covered by a "letter of convenience" from the State Department.
  • Richmor frequently subcontracted for private business jets to conduct the flights. One single flight alone cost the U.S. government as much as $300,000.
  • The crew of one of the jets involved made expenses claims for items such as $20 sandwiches and $40 wine bottles.
  • The CIA continued to pay millions to cover its its tracks, well after its illegal rendition-to-torture program was made public.

The documents also add previously unseen detail to several notorious rendition cases, including that of Abu Omar (kidnapped in Milan in February 2003 and sent to be tortured in Egypt)-- a case which culminated in the 'in absentia' kidnapping conviction of 22 CIA operatives by an Italian judge.

According to Reprieve’s Legal Director Cori Crider, “These documents give us an unprecedented insight into how the government outsourced renditions, right down to the complicated paper-trail the CIA used to cover their tracks. This case proves, once and for all, that the reason the government blocked the rendition cases was not to protect sensitive material. It was to avoid embarrassment.”


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