Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teens Sue High School That Punished Them for Racy MySpace Pics

Two Indiana teenagers have sued their school district after they were punished for posting suggestive photos on MySpace.

The girls, 10th-graders at Churubusco High School in Churubusco, Indiana, say they were humiliated after the school banned them from fall semester extracurricular activities and forced them to apologize to the all-male Athletics Board (composed of varsity coaches). The girls also had to attend three counseling sessions.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed the proposed class-action suit on behalf of the girls and all present and future students at the school who participate or may participate in extracurricular activities. The ACLU argues the district violated the girls’ First Amendment rights and should not have punished them for activities conducted outside school. The suit names the girls’ high school, school district and principal.

According to the complaint, the photos in question were taken at a slumber party (.pdf) that occurred during the summer school break. The girls were photographed “pretending to kiss or lick a large multi-colored lollipop shaped phallus.” Other pictures showed them in lingerie with dollar bills tucked into the underwear.

The girls each posted the pictures to their MySpace pages. Only “friends” could view the photos on their pages. But after someone copied the images, they found their way to the school principal.

According to the school’s student handbook, the principal “may exclude any student-athlete from representing Churubusco High School if his/her conduct in or out of school reflects discredit” upon the school or creates a “disruptive influence on the discipline, good order, moral, or educational environment” at the school.

The ACLU says the photos were meant to be a joke shared among friends and had “no effect on the school whatsoever.” The girls’ self-expression has been curbed as a result of the school’s activity, the suit alleges. They’ve since become afraid to post any photos or otherwise communicate in writing to friends for fear of garnering additional punishment.

The suit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages. It also seeks a temporary injunction preventing the school from punishing the girls and a permanent injunction to strike any mention of the incident from the girls’ student record and to destroy the counseling reports.

Source : WireNews

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gene Therapy Cures Color-Blind Monkeys

After receiving injections of genes that produce color-detecting proteins, two color-blind monkeys have seen red and green for the first time.

Except in its extreme forms, color blindness isn’t a debilitating condition, but it’s a convenient stand-in for other types of blindness that might be treated with gene therapy. The monkey success raises the possibility of reversing those diseases, in a manner that most scientists considered impossible.

“We said it was possible to give an adult monkey with a model of human red-green color blindness the retina of a person with normal color vision. Every single person I talked to said, absolutely not,” said study co-author Jay Neitz, a University of Washington ophthalmologist. “And almost every unsolved vision defect out there has this component in one way or another, where the ability to translate light into a gene signal is involved.”

The full-spectrum supplementation of the squirrel monkeys’ sight, described Wednesday in Nature, comes just less than a year after researchers used gene therapy to restore light perception in people afflicted by Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a rare and untreatable form of blindness.

Those results were stunning, but they were also achieved in children, whose still-growing brains can rewire themselves on the fly in response to new sources of visual stimuli. By contrast, adult brains were thought to be too fixed and static to develop new pathways. Even if gene therapy healed their eyes, the signals would stall inside them.

“I remember telling them that it was unlikely to work, but it was so exciting they had to try,” said David Williams, director of the University of Rochester’s Center for Visual Science. “It’s just an incredible milestone in the history of color vision. Looking back on this in 50 or 100 years, it will be a landmark paper even then.”

Neitz’s team injected their monkeys’ eyes with viruses carrying a gene that makes L-opsin, one of three proteins released when color-detecting cone cells are hit by different wavelengths of light. Male squirrel monkeys naturally lack the L-opsin gene; like people who share their condition, they’re unable to distinguish between red and green.

At first, the two monkeys behaved no differently than before. Though quick to earn a grape juice reward by picking out blue and yellow dots from a background of gray dots on a computer screen, they banged the screen randomly when presented with green or red dots.

But after five months, something clicked. The monkeys picked out red and green, again and again. At the biological level, Neitz can’t say precisely what happened — the monkeys, named Sam and Dalton, are alive and healthy, their brains unscanned and undissected — but their actions left no doubt.

Neitz thinks the monkeys’ brains didn’t grow new neural circuits. “That’s the way we were thinking about neural plasticity before,” he said. Instead, their brains may have reconfigured themselves, “learning how to use the same old circuits in a new way when the information coming over the lines changed.”

“It’s incredibly cool. It demonstrates a fascinating plasticity in the brain,” said Jeremy Nathans, a Johns Hopkins neurologist regarded as the father of modern color-vision genetics. “We presume that we have that same kind of plasticity as well.”

If so, then gene therapies for severe human forms of color blindness could be successful. So could gene treatments for age-related macular degeneration. Ultra-experimental hacks that confer light- and color-perceiving powers on cells used in other aspects of sight would be that much closer to reality.

Neitz was quick to caution that “there’s a lot of steps before we actually cure a real blindness in people.” Except for the LCA trials, proposed gene therapies for blindness are still in animal-testing stages, if they’ve even progressed that far. The monkeys appear free of any side effects, but safety still needs to be proven.

Williams, however, was quicker to speculate. “Ultimately we might be able to do all kinds of interesting manipulations of the retina,” he said. “Not only might we be able to cure disease, but we might engineer eyes with remarkable capabilities. You can imagine conferring enhanced night vision in normal eyes, or engineering genes that make photopigments with spectral properties for whatever you want your eye to see.”

“This study makes that kind of science fiction future a distinct possibility, as opposed to a fantasy,” continued Williams.

In the meantime, Sam and Dalton remain in Neitz’s lab, drinking grape juice, unable to communicate — at least to us — what it’s like to see color in what was once a gray-yellow wash. “One wonders what the internal representation of color is for them, and how it changed,” said Nathans. “At a certain level, that’s a very difficult question to answer.”

Neitz was less uncertain. “You go out and look at a rainbow, or the fall leaves, or sunset over the ocean, and it’s not something where you just say, ‘I can see colors.’ It has a deep effect on us,” he said. “These emotions are something we inherited from our evolutionary past. I think monkeys have that, too. I think these animals must have the real experience of, ‘Oh! Wow!’”

Citation: “Gene therapy for red–green colour blindness in adult
primates.” By Katherine Mancuso, William W. Hauswirth, Qiuhong Li, Thomas B. Connor, James A. Kuchenbecker, Matthew C. Mauck, Jay Neitz & Maureen Neitz.
Nature, Vol. 461, No. 7261, September 16, 2009.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keeping In Touch In A Wired World

With the rapid improvement in technology today, acquiring instant information has never been easier. This is a big advantage to many businesses but there is also a downside to it. The information acquired can estrange or frustrate recipients. Business cards can help put the emotion back into customer relationships with a personal touch.

In the past, calling cards are used to tell the personality of a business man. With the traditional calling cards long out of style these days, business cards remain an important component in any workplace. It is important that your business cards exude professionalism because it is often the first thing that your prospect comes in contact with and they use your cards to sum up your professionalism. These little cards can bridge communication between your customers and you. They will serve as an introduction for your business.

You can always design and print your own business card. This would be easy for you to obtain but keep in mind that computer generated business cards will always look like computer generated. With this in mind, you can always ask for the services of professional printing companies to create and print your cards. A professionally printed business card will exude professionalism. Likewise, professional printers are more familiar with the designs that are suitable for the standard of your company because they have encountered a lot of business cards printing projects in the past. Thus, their experience will greatly help you create a stunning and professional looking business card.

The cost of printing business cards from printing companies is always a concern for many businesses. But the fact is the money you spend on professional looking business cards will be a solid investment for your own future.

Aside from being cost-effective business cards are a potent way to stay in front of your customers. One way of making them attractive is to include quotes. It could be a motivational saying or anything that you think will interest your prospects. But make sure that you have all the necessary information in your cars such as your NAME – this is very important as it carries your image and identity. Your name will be useful for your customers to know who they must contact. JOB TITLE – the job title will tell your customers what kind of job you do and if your services suit their project. CONTACT NUMBERS – this is very important because this is how your customers will contact you. ADDRESS – also important because if all fails your customers will have another option to reach you. BUSINESS NAME – having a unique name will be easily remembered by your customers.

So remember it all starts with these little cards and next to it is recognition. Thus, don’t underestimate the substantial benefits of these tangible objects.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Next Hacking Frontier

Hackers who commandeer your computer are bad enough. Now scientists worry that someday, they’ll try to take over your brain.

In the past year, researchers have developed technology that makes it possible to use thoughts to operate a computer, maneuver a wheelchair or even use Twitter — all without lifting a finger. But as neural devices become more complicated — and go wireless — some scientists say the risks of “brain hacking” should be taken seriously.

“Neural devices are innovating at an extremely rapid rate and hold tremendous promise for the future,” said computer security expert Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington. “But if we don’t start paying attention to security, we’re worried that we might find ourselves in five or 10 years saying we’ve made a big mistake.”

Hackers tap into personal computers all the time — but what would happen if they focused their nefarious energy on neural devices, such as the deep-brain stimulators currently used to treat Parkinson’s and depression, or electrode systems for controlling prosthetic limbs? According to Kohno and his colleagues, who published their concerns July 1 in Neurosurgical Focus, most current devices carry few security risks. But as neural engineering becomes more complex and more widespread, the potential for security breaches will mushroom.

For example, the next generation of implantable devices to control prosthetic limbs will likely include wireless controls that allow physicians to remotely adjust settings on the machine. If neural engineers don’t build in security features such as encryption and access control, an attacker could hijack the device and take over the robotic limb.

“It’s very hard to design complex systems that don’t have bugs,” Kohno said. “As these medical devices start to become more and more complicated, it gets easier and easier for people to overlook a bug that could become a very serious risk. It might border on science fiction today, but so did going to the moon 50 years ago.”

Some might question why anyone would want to hack into someone else’s brain, but the researchers say there’s a precedent for using computers to cause neurological harm. In November 2007 and March 2008, malicious programmers vandalized epilepsy support websites by putting up flashing animations, which caused seizures in some photo-sensitive patients.

“It happened on two separate occasions,” said computer science graduate student Tamara Denning, a co-author on the paper. “It’s evidence that people will be malicious and try to compromise peoples’ health using computers, especially if neural devices become more widespread.”

In some cases, patients might even want to hack into their own neural device. Unlike devices to control prosthetic limbs, which still use wires, many deep brain stimulators already rely on wireless signals. Hacking into these devices could enable patients to “self-prescribe” elevated moods or pain relief by increasing the activity of the brain’s reward centers.

Despite the risks, Kohno said, most new devices aren’t created with security in mind. Neural engineers carefully consider the safety and reliability of new equipment, and neuroethicists focus on whether a new device fits ethical guidelines. But until now, few groups have considered how neural devices might be hijacked to perform unintended actions. This is the first time an academic paper has addressed the topic of “neurosecurity,” a term the group coined to describe their field.

“The security and privacy issues somehow seem to slip by,” Kohno said. “I would not be surprised if most people working in this space have never thought about security.”

Kevin Otto, a bioengineer who studies brain-machine interfaces at Purdue Universty, said he was initially skeptical of the research. “When I first picked up the paper, I don’t know if I agreed that it was an issue. But the paper gives a very compelling argument that this is important, and that this is the time to have neural engineers collaborate with security developers.”

It’s never too early to start thinking about security issues, said neural engineer Justin Williams of the University of Wisconsin, who was not involved in the research. But he stressed that the kinds of devices available today are not susceptible to attack, and that fear of future risks shouldn’t impede progress in the field. “These kinds of security issues have to proceed in lockstep with the technology,” Williams said.

History provides plenty of examples of why it’s important to think about security before it becomes a problem, Kohno said. Perhaps the best example is the internet, which was originally conceived as a research project and didn’t take security into account.

“Because the internet was not originally designed with security in mind,” the researchers wrote, “it is incredibly challenging — if not impossible — to retrofit the existing internet infrastructure to meet all of today’s security goals.” Kohno and his colleagues hope to avoid such problems in the neural device world, by getting the community to discuss potential security problems before they become a reality.

“The first thing is to ask ourselves is, ‘Could there be a security and privacy problem?’” Kohno said. “Asking ‘Is there a problem?’ gets you 90 percent there, and that’s the most important thing.”

Via Mind Hacks

Friday, July 3, 2009

Child Porn Is Apple’s Latest iPhone Headache

A photo ostensibly showing a 15-year-old nude girl has turned up in an iPhone app, highlighting Apple’s inability to safeguard its application store from prohibited content.

The image appears in the free app BeautyMeter, which enables people to upload photos that are then rated by others, who assign a star-rating to members’ body parts and clothing. It’s much like an iPhone version of Hot or Not and many similar sites.

On Thursday, Apple pulled the app from the iTunes store.

The photo to the right (censored by depicts a photo of a nude girl snapping a photo of her reflection in a mirror. In the screenshot, the girl, who is listed as a 15-year-old from the United States, is topless and partially nude at the bottom. Nearly 5,000 users of the app have rated the photo. iPhone app review site Krapps discovered the photo.

The appearance of nudity in BeautyMeter underscored Apple’s difficulties regulating content in its App Store, which has surpassed 50,000 pieces of software available for download. For example, last week, reported on an app called Hottest Girls, which released an update for its app to include topless photos of women. Apple pulled the app hours later, saying porn is not allowed.

“Apple will not distribute applications that contain inappropriate content, such as pornography,” an Apple spokesman said regarding Hottest Girls on June 25. “The developer of this application added inappropriate content directly from their server after the application had been approved and distributed, and after the developer had subsequently been asked to remove some offensive content. This was a direct violation of the terms of the iPhone Developer Program. The application is no longer available on the App Store.”

Apple made no similar announcement regarding BeautyMeter. It simply disappeared from the App Store. But in theory people who already had the app can continue to use it, including the upload and rating functionality.

On its web site, BeautyMeter’s developer Funnymals says members of BeautyMeter are required to provide their iPhone device ID so illegal content can be traced back to the owner of that phone.

“We don’t review each uploaded photo exclusively but from time to time we will clean up,” Funnymals stated in BeautyMeter’s terms and conditions.

As of 1:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday the image of the purported 15-year-old was still in the app.

Funnymals and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment. has not confirmed the photographed girl’s identity or her age.

Although U.S. federal and state laws prohibit child pornography, Funnymals and Apple will probably not be held liable for the content because they would be protected by the Communications Decency Act, according to Mark Rasch, a lawyer and founder of computer security consulting firm Secure IT Experts. That’s because when Apple approved the app, it did not contain the prohibited content. Instead, the app downloads images off the internet, thus placing the responsibility on the people who use the app.

However, Rasch said he expects Apple to remove the application, or the developer to remove the content, once made aware of it.

“They probably don’t have liability unless they have actual knowledge, in which case they have at least a legal or moral duty to act,” Rasch said.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Web Attacks Expand in Iran’s Cyber Battle

More and more of Iran’s pro-government websites are under assault, as opposition forces launch web attacks on the Tehran regime’s online propaganda arms.

What started out as an attempt to overload a small set of official sites has now expanded, network security consultant Dancho Danchev notes. News outlets like Raja News are being attacked, too. The semi-official Fars News site is currently unavailable.

“We turned our collective power and outrage into a serious weapon that we could use at our will, without ever having to feel the consequences. We practiced distributed, citizen-based warfare,” writes Matthew Burton, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who joined in the online assaults, thanks to a “push-button tool that would, upon your click, immediately start bombarding 10 Web sites with requests.”

But the tactic of launching these distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attacks remains hugely controversial. The author of one-web based tool, “Page Rebooter,” used by opposition supporters to send massive amounts of traffic to Iranian government sites, temporarily shut the service down, citing his discomfort with using the tool “to attack other websites.” Then, a few hours later, he turned on the service again, after his employers agreed to cover the costs of the additional traffic. is opening up 16 Page Reboot windows simultaneously, to flood an array of government pages at once.

Other online supporters of the so-called “Green Revolution” worry about the ethics of a democracy-promotion movement inhibitting their foes’ free speech. A third group is concerned that the DDOS strikes could eat up the limited amount of bandwidth available inside Iran — bandwidth being used by the opposition to spread its message by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. “Quit with the DDOS attacks — they’re just slowing down Iranian traffic and making it more difficult for the protesters to Tweet,” says one online activist.

But Burton — who helped bring Web 2.0 tools to the American spy community — isn’t so sure. “Giving a citizenry the ability to turn the tables on its own government is, I think, what governance is all about. The public’s ability to strike back is something that every government should be reminded of from time to time.” Yet he admits to feeling “conflicted.” about participating in the strikes, he suddenly stopped. “I don’t know why, but it just felt…creepy. I was frightened by how easy it was to sow chaos from afar, safe and sound in my apartment, where I would never have to experience–or even know–the results of my actions.”

Meanwhile, San Francisco technologist Austin Heap has put together a set of instructions on how to set up “proxies” — intermediary internet protocol (IP) address — that allow activists to get through the government firewall. And the Networked Culture blog has assembled for pro-democracy sympathizers a “cyberwar guide for beginners.” Stop publicizing these proxies over Twitter, the site recommends. Instead, send direct messages to “@stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.” Other advice:

  • Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
  • Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
  • Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.
  • Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Airman Spots Jetliner’s Fuel Leak At 35,000 Feet

Staff Sgt. Bartek Bachleda knew something was amiss almost immediately after the jetliner left Chicago.

He’d looked out the window and saw what he thought was a fuel leak. He’d know, because he’s a boom operator with the 909th Air Refueling Station based at Kadena Air Base in Japan. That’s where he was headed. He was one of 300 people aboard the flight bound for Narita.

Still, he wanted to be sure, so he kept close watch on the situation. After an hour, he was convinced the plane had a serious problem. He alerted the flight attendant, who appeared unconcerned. He started filming the leak. No one knew it at the time, but the plane was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour. He showed the flight attendant the video.

“Ma’am, it’s an emergency,” he told her after identifying himself, according to the U.S. Air Force. “You need to inform the captain before we go oceanic.”

That convinced her. She told the captain. He watched the video. He announced that the plane was returning to Chicago, then decided to continue on to San Francisco. It was the only place passengers could catch another flight to Narita.

Bachleda’s actions may have saved the lives of everyone aboard that flight, which the Air Force did not identify. Upon landing, the captain told Bachleda the plane wouldn’t have made it to Japan.

Source: Air Force Link.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Swine Flu Ancestor Born on U.S. Factory Farms

Scientists have traced the genetic lineage of the new H1N1 swine flu to a strain that emerged in 1998 in U.S. factory farms, where it spread and mutated at an alarming rate. Experts warned then that a pocket of the virus would someday evolve to infect humans, perhaps setting off a global pandemic.

The new findings challenge recent protests by pork industry leaders and U.S., Mexican and United Nations agriculture officials that industrial farms shouldn’t be implicated in the new swine flu, which has killed up to 176 people and on Thursday was declared an imminent pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“Industrial farms are super-incubators for viruses,” said Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Farm Production, and a long-time critic of the so-called “contained animal feeding operations.”

As reported on Tuesday, geneticists studying the composition of viruses taken from swine flu victims described it as the product of a DNA swap between North American and Eurasian swine flu strains.

On Wednesday, Columbia University biomedical informaticist Raul Rabadan added new information on the virus’ family history in a posting to ProMed, a public health mailing list. His description paralleled that of other researchers who had analyzed the new strains, but with an extra bit of detail. Six of the genes in swine flu looked to be descended from “H1N2 and H3N2 swine viruses isolated since 1998.”

Experts contacted by agreed with Rabadan’s analysis. For researchers who track the evolution of influenza viruses, the news was chilling.

H3N2 — the letters denote specific gene variants that code for replication-enhancing enzymes — is the name of a hybrid first identified in North Carolina in 1998, the tail end of a decade which saw the state’s hog production rise from two million to 10 million, even as the number of farms dropped. H3N2 originated in a relatively benign swine flu strain first identified in 1918, but had absorbed new genes from bird and human flus.

These new genes provided replication advantages that allowed the hybrid to permeate densely packed pig farms whose inhabitants were routinely shipped across the United States. That rapid replication rate also increased the chances of strains evolving in ways that allowed them to evade hog immune systems.

Within a year, exposures topped 90 percent in several heartland states. A retrospective news account in Science said that “after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus had jumped on an evolutionary fast track.”

At the genetic level, the years that followed remain a mystery — hog flus are poorly monitored, compared to human influenza. But eventually an H3N2 spawn merged with a strain of Eurasian pig flu, producing the swine flu variant that’s now infecting humans.

At an environmental level, the conditions which shaped H3N2 and H1N2 evolution, and increased the variants’ chances of taking a human-contagious form, are well understood. High-density animal production facilities came to dominate the U.S. pork industry during the late 20th century, and have been adopted around the world. Inside them, pigs are packed so tightly that they cannot turn, and literally stand in their own waste.

Diseases travel rapidly through such immunologically stressed populations, and travel with the animals as they are shuttled throughout the United States between birth and slaughter. That provides ample opportunity for strains to mingle and recombine. An ever-escalating array of industry-developed vaccines confer short-term protection, but at the expense of provoking flu to evolve in unpredictable ways.

The Pew commission concluded that this system created an “increased chance for a strain to emerge that can infect and spread in humans.” Scientists and public health experts have said the same thing for years, in even starker terms.

In 2003, the American Public Health Association called for a ban on contained animal feeding operations. One year later, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital virologist Richard Webby, one of the original chroniclers of H3N2’s emergence, called the U.S. swine population “an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential.” United States Department of Agriculture researcher Amy Vincent reportedly said that vaccine-driven evolution created a “potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America.”

Officials and the pork industry argued this week that a direct link hadn’t been found to pigs, and that the new flu strain had yet to be found in farm animals or workers, both in the United States and at a giant hog factory near the outbreak’s epicenter in La Gloria, Mexico. Owned by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the largest U.S. pork producer and a notorious polluter, the factory processes one million hogs each year.

As of now, neither swine flu nor its close relatives have been found anywhere. But “that probably says more about the lack of sampling in pig flu than anything else,” said Andrew Rambaut, a University of Edinburgh viral geneticist who has studied swine flu. “We don’t sample nearly the complete diversity of pig flu around the world. Most outbreaks go unstudied.”

On Thursday, Reuters called concern with “evil factory farms in Mexico” one of many “wild theories,” on a par with a conspiracy between Al Qaeda and Mexican drug cartels. Indeed, the location may yet prove coincidental. But absence of evidence at the factory and elsewhere is not evidence of absence.

The new swine flu could have emerged in a myriad number of ways, passing between any number of birds and pigs and people, at locations across North America, during its evolutionary journey. It may well prove impossible to pinpoint exactly where it first emerged or became infectious to people. But most of its genes are almost certainly part of a North American industrial virus lineage long expected to produce pandemic variants like this one.

“We haven’t found evidence of infected pigs,” said Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist and member of the World Health Organization’s surveillance network. “But even if we never find that smoking pig, we can surmise that this is probably where it came from.”

The circumstances “are certainly enough to warrant asking questions,” said Lipkin. “The question, then, is how deeply do you want to look to try to find the evidence?”

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Anna Nicole Smith's boyfriend and doctors charged

LOS ANGELES – The late Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer-turned-boyfriend has been charged with being the principal enabler in a conspiracy, along with with two doctors, to supply the "known addict" with thousands of prescription pills in the months prior to her fatal drug overdose which led to her unfortunate death.

Prosecutors claimed that doctors Khristine Eroshevich and Sandeep Kapoor were responsible for supplying drugs, including opiates and sedatives, to Smith's boyfriend Howard K Stern just weeks before her death in 2007.

"What we have in this case is a conspiracy among three individuals," said California Attorney General Jerry Brown. "Howard K Stern is the principal enabler, and Dr Eroshevich and Dr Kapoor are prescribing drugs excessively to a known addict and using false and fictitious names, all in violation of the law and all in furtherance of a conspiracy."

This comes after a thorough two-year probe by the attorney general, state medical and insurance officials as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In addition to the conspiracy charges, the other charges filed include unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance and prescribing, administering or dispensing a controlled substance to an addict. Stern faces six felony counts and the doctors face seven each. Each count carries a potential sentence of three years, Brown said.

On what the possible motive behind the alleged conspiracy could possibly be, Brown said, "There's a certain psychic gain here, part of the glitz and the celebrity and the power. There's a lot of money floating around," he said. "Is it self-indulgence? Is it some power trip? Is it just getting some contact high off of celebrity? That remains to be seen."

Brown's spokesman, Scott Gerber, told The Associated Press that Stern and Kapoor have already turned themselves in and posted US$20,000 bond, and that Eroshevich will hand herself in on Monday.

The medical examiner's office said Eroshevich, a Los Angeles psychiatrist and friend of the former Playboy Playmate, authorised all the prescription medications found in the Hollywood hotel room where 39-year-old Smith was found unresponsive shortly before her death in February 8, 2007.

Eroshevich's attorney, Adam Braun, did not deny that his client had written some of the prescriptions using fictitious names for Smith, but he maintains the fact that Eroshevich’s intent was never to commit fraud.

According to Braun, Eroshevich began treating Smith in September 2006 when she suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of her 20-year-old son, Daniel Smith, three days after Smith gave birth to baby girl, Dannielynn. The doctor travelled on several occasions over a six-month period to the Bahamas where Smith was living with Stern and wrote her the prescriptions.

Prosecutors also alleged Kapoor wrote prescriptions for Smith under a fake name, Michelle Chase, and that he had prescribed excessive amounts of sleep aids, opiates, muscle relaxants and methadone-like drugs despite being fully aware of the fact that Smith was an addict.

According to Brown, Eroshevich and Kapoor have "violated their ethical obligations as physicians, while Mr Stern channelled highly addictive drugs to Ms Smith". Arraignments have been set for May 13.

- CNA/ap

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama: 'By Aug. 31, 2010, Combat Mission in Iraq Will End'

President Obama made it official today, that U.S. combat operations in Iraq are scheduled to end on Aug. 31, 2010.

On that date, the president expects to have withdrawn 70,000 combat troops who will mainly focus on training and advising Iraqi forces.

The United States will pursue a new strategy to end the war in Iraq through a transition to full Iraqi responsibility," Obama announced today.

"America's men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future. Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it," he said.

"Let me say this as plainly as I can: By Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama said. The plan has drawn "cautious" support from Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who battled Obama

over his Iraq withdrawal plans throughout the long presidential campaign.

But it has disappointed leading Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who are surprised that Obama plans to leave such a large contingent of

Americans in Iraq.

Addressing an audience of Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Obama said America's six-year Iraq experience "has already been a long war," and he praised the country's military.

"You have fought against tyranny and disorder. You have bled for your best friends and for unknown Iraqis. And you have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens," he said.

Obama warned Americans,"Let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq.

The president also wanted to "take a moment to speak directly to the people of Iraq."

"We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism," he said, adding, "We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country."

McCain, R-Ariz., noted that it will be important for Obama to remain open to changing the plan as the situation on the ground warrants.

"I think it's important to point out that the President's plan is not without risk," he said. "We have not yet completed the mission in Iraq, and the gains we have made there remain fragile. We'll need to be cautious as we withdraw troops so as not to jeopardize these achievements and listen closely to the commanders on the ground as the administration determines the pace of withdrawals."

McCain this morning warned that Americans should not think that the troops who will remain in Iraq under the Obama plan would not be in danger.

"The American people should be clear, the president's plan, even after the end of its withdrawal timeline is reached, will leave in place up to 50,000 U.S. troops. All will be in harm's way. Some will continue to conduct combat operations," he said.

McCain said the president should not "succumb to pressures to make deeper or faster cuts in force levels."

Those pressures will come primarily from Obama's own party.

Reid said on Thursday, "I have been one for a long time that's called for significant cutbacks in Iraq, and I am happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president, but when they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated."

Other leaders in the Democratic Party, including Pelosi, have expressed similar frustration with the high number of troops that will remain in Iraq after August 2010 under the president's plan.

The withdrawal plan will leave behind a "residual force" of between 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops whose new mission will be to train, equip and advise Iraqi Security Forces, support the Iraqi government and conduct targeted counterterrorism missions.

Officials told ABC News said the plan "will responsibly redeploy our troops" and in doing so, Obama "is living up to a commitment he made." They say his speech will outline "what he has been talking about for years … which is the plan to end the war in Iraq."

As of last night, Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had not talked about the president's decision due to scheduling conflicts.

However, the U.S. and Iraqi governments have discussed the issue and the two leaders plan to speak before the president's speech.

The officials said that under the plan, the remaining U.S. forces would be reconstituted into "Advisory and Assistance Brigades. According to the officials, these brigades will not be combat units, but units with different force structures that have been specifically retrained to conduct a training and advising mission.

A large portion of the remaining American forces will be combat support troops and only a very small percentage of the remaining troops will undertake the counterterrorism mission. U.S. forces will still be able to defend themselves, but after Aug. 31, 2010, American troops will not be responsible for providing security to large areas of Iraq as they do now.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the size of the residual force should be considered "a way station" since the current Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of that country by the end of 2011.

Many specifics of the plan remain to be determined by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, but both officials said that troop reductions will begin later this spring and continue through the summer. "Exact force levels will be risk-dependent, and the pacing will be in the hands of commanders with the goal and direction of the president to end the combat role by Aug. 31, [2010]," said one official.

The 18-month plan was a compromise between Obama's campaign promise to pull combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months and concerns raised by military commanders about the need for additional forces to maintain the security gains of the past year.

One official said military commanders made a compelling argument to the president that "they wanted increased flexibility" around upcoming key events this year, such as regional elections over the summer and a national election in December.

There had been a "meeting of the minds" between senior military commanders and the president since Jan. 21 when he asked Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to explore plans to reduce the number of combat troops in Iraq, an official told ABC News.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president had asked his national security team "to put together a plan that they and he believed would accomplish the goal of removing our combat forces from Iraq in the most responsible way."

At the White House on Thursday night, the president briefed congressional leaders on the plan. Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee released a statement after the meeting that during the meeting the president provided reassurances that he would "revisit" his withdrawal plan if the violence were to worsen.

"President Obama assured me that there is a 'Plan B'," said McHugh.

ABC News

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

IMF says it may need more funds to face global financial crisis

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) may need more funds in the future although its current resources is sufficient to face the global financial crisis, IMF chief said here on Saturday.

The IMF was facing a global crisis and the needs may be much ever bigger, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told reporters as the 44th Southeast Asian Central Banks (SEACEN) Governors' Conference was closing here.

The IMF could not promise it would have enough resources six to eight months later as it had to intervene in Asia, Africa and Central Europe, Latin America, maybe elsewhere, he said. The Fund was already looking into ways to increase its resources, he said.

Japan has already offered to add 100 billion U.S. dollars to IMF' s resources, according to Malaysia's national news agency Bernama.

The IMF needed other countries to follow the example, Strauss-Kahn was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Strauss Kahn had a dialogue with the Southeast Asian governors here and discussed the latest assessment of the Fund on the challenges facing the global economy and the international financial system, according to a press communique issued after the SEACEN Governors' Conference closed.

Bank Negara Malaysia, host of the Conference, said that representatives of central banks from more than ten countries and regions participated in the two-day conference.

The National Bank of Cambodia is expected to host the 45th Conference of the SEACEN Governors and 29th Meeting of the SEACEN Board of Governors in 2010. Link to this Page

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Pressures mount on new Thai PM

Abhisit Vejjajiva took office as Thailand’s prime minister last month promising political reconciliation and economic revival, but his honeymoon has been short.

On Friday, Mr Abhisit was confronted with evidence of the worsening economic picture. The central bank reported that December’s manufacturing output fell by nearly a fifth from a year before, exports fell 16 per cent and tourist arrivals were down 27 per cent. The finance ministry said this week that the economy could shrink in the three months to March for a second consecutive quarter.

They are pressing for the dismissal of his foreign minister, elections, reinstatement of the 1997 constitution and swifter prosecution of the protesters who occupied Bangkok’s airports last year.

Source : Charlotteobserver

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