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."


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