Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ex-US President Gerald Ford Died at age 93

Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr., 93, who became the 38th president of the United States as a result of some of the most extraordinary events in U.S. history and sought to restore the nation's confidence in the basic institutions of government, has died. His wife, Betty, reported the death in a statement last night.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Betty Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

Read the news here.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Diabetics Confront a Tangle of Workplace Laws

Is there such a thing as diabetic discrimination?

Read this excerpt of a news article from New Yok Times.

MINNEAPOLIS — John Steigauf spent more than a decade fiddling with the innards of those huge United Parcel Service trucks until an icy day two years ago when the company put him on leave from his mechanic's job. A supervisor escorted him off the premises.

His work was good. He hadn't socked the boss or embezzled money. It had to do with what was inside him: diabetes.

U.P.S. framed it as a safety issue: Mr. Steigauf's blood sugar might suddenly plummet while he tested a truck, causing him to slam into someone.

Mr. Steigauf considered it discrimination, a taint that diabetes can carry. "I was regarded as a damaged piece of meat," he said. "It was like, 'You're one of those, and we can't have one of those.' "

With 21 million American diabetics, disputes like this have increasingly rippled through the workplace:

¶A mortgage loan officer in Oregon was denied permission to eat at her desk to stanch her sugar fluctuations, and eventually was fired.

¶A Sears lingerie saleswoman in Illinois with nerve damage in her leg quit after being told she could not cut through a stockroom to reach her department.

¶A worker at a candy company in Wisconsin was fired after asking where he could dispose of his insulin needles.

In each instance, diabetics contend that they are being blocked by their employers from the near-normal lives their doctors say are possible. But the companies say they are struggling, too, with confusion about whether diabetes is a legitimate disability and with concern about whether it is overly expensive, hazardous and disruptive to accommodate the illness.

The debate will probably intensify. The number of diabetics in America swelled by 80 percent in the past decade. Experts say the disease is on its way to becoming a conspicuous fact of life in the nation’s labor force, raising all sorts of issues for workers and managers.

Even an outspoken advocate for diabetics like Fran Carpentier, a Type 1 diabetic and a senior editor at Parade magazine, understands the implications for business. "Knowing what it's like to live with the disease hour by hour, day by day, I wonder if I owned my own company if I would hire someone with diabetes," she said. "I'm being bluntly honest. And it kills me to say this."


Friday, December 15, 2006

Mice in the Plane

We heard the news about snakes and other exotic animals being smuggled thru the
plane. But this is the first time, I heard of mice in a plane.

Mass mice escape hits Saudi plane

More than 100 passengers on a Saudi plane were left panic-stricken by the unexpected appearance of furry fellow flyers - dozens of mice.

The small rodents - about 80 in total, according to a local newspaper - escaped from the bag of a man travelling on the domestic flight.

An airline official said the aircraft was at 28,000 feet (8,500m) when mice began scurrying around the cabin.

Some of the mice fell on passengers' heads, Al-Hayat newspaper reports.

The incident occurred on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from the capital, Riyadh, to north-eastern town of Tabuk.

The flight landed safely and the bag's owner was detained by police investigating how he managed to get the mice onto the plane.

No explanation was given for the man's live cargo.

Story from BBC NEWS


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Skilling Begins Sentence for Enron Malfeasances

The once-upon-a-time top honcho of Enron, Harvard graduate, finance wiz started serving his 24 year month sentence where he is going to earn a few dollars per day working 7 1/2 hours as groundskeeper, food service worker or warehouseman.

Skilling Begins Sentence for Enron Malfeasances

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006; Page D01

Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling reported to a low-security federal prison in Minnesota yesterday to start serving a 24-year, six-month sentence for his role in one of history's biggest corporate scandals.

Skilling arrived at the facility in Waseca, about 75 miles south of Minneapolis, at 1:07 p.m. EST. Accompanying him in a sport-utility vehicle were his wife, Rebecca, his longtime assistant Sherri Sera and his younger brother Mark. Under federal guidelines, Skilling, 53, must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence -- or more than two decades. He is appealing his conviction by a jury in May on 19 counts of fraud, making false statements and conspiracy.

Read the entire story here.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dr. Jack Kevorkian to be paroled in June 2007

I did not know his whereabouts until I read this news. Several years ago, he was always in the newspaper until he was convicted for his practice of assisting suicide.

LANSING, Michigan (AP) -- After more than eight years in prison, a frail Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be paroled in June with a promise that he won't assist in any more suicides, a prison spokesman said Wednesday.

Leo Lalonde, the corrections spokesman, would not provide further details.

Kevorkian, once the nation's most vocal advocate of assisted suicide for the terminally ill, is serving a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder in the 1998 poisoning of Thomas Youk, 52, Oakland County man with Lou Gehrig's disease. Michigan banned assisted suicide in 1998.

Youk's death was videotaped and shown on CBS' "60 Minutes."

Kevorkian, who claimed to have assisted in at least 130 deaths in the 1990s, called it a mercy killing.

Mayer Morganroth, Kevorkian's attorney, said this summer that Kevorkian, now 78, was suffering from hepatitis C and diabetes, that his weight had dropped to 113 pounds and that he had less than a year to live.

Read the entire news here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Chile's Gen Pinochet dies at 91

Chile's Gen Pinochet dies at 91

Gen Pinochet celebrated his 91st birthday last month
Gen Pinochet's life
Chile's former military leader Augusto Pinochet has died in hospital aged 91. He had been thought to be recovering after a heart attack a week ago.

Gen Pinochet took power in a 1973 coup, and more than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" in his 17-year rule.

He was accused of dozens of human rights abuses as well as fraud but poor health meant he never faced trial.

No state funeral or national mourning has been authorised. He will be buried with military honours on Tuesday.

"The government has authorised flags to fly at half-mast at army facilities," government spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said.

Thousands of anti-Pinochet protesters took to the streets in the centre of the capital, Santiago, with tear gas and water cannon used to disperse crowds.

Cheering opponents of Gen Pinochet attempted to reach the presidential palace, but found police barring their way.

Sporadic clashes broke out, with Chilean TV showing images of fires burning along one of the city's main avenues.

What saddens me is that this criminal has died without having been sentenced
Hugo Gutierrez
Human rights lawyer

Santiago's military hospital said Gen Pinochet passed away at 1415 local time (1715GMT).

Hospital spokesman Dr Juan Ignacio Vergara said that shortly beforehand, he "suffered grave and unexpected setbacks" requiring him to be moved into intensive care unit.

"We administered all the possible procedures but were not able to resuscitate the general," Dr Vergara said.

"He died surrounded by his family."

After last week's acute heart attack, the general underwent a procedure to unblock an artery, and received the last rites from a Catholic priest.

I hope my country can find peace after his death. Reconciliation is the key
Veronica, Santiago, Chile
But in the days afterwards his condition had been thought to be improving.

Chilean newspaper La Tercera de la Hora Online says dozens of supporters who had been keeping a vigil outside the hospital were weeping and praying following the general's death.

It is expected they will be joined by other supporters as the news spreads.

'Loved by many'

Opponents have expressed anger that Gen Pinochet died without justice being done over the charges that had been brought.

"What saddens me is that this criminal has died without having been sentenced and I believe the responsibility the state bears in this has to be considered", human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez told La Tercera Online.

Despite his human rights record, many Chileans loved him and said he saved the country from Marxism.

But even many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts that were under investigation at the time of his death, the BBC's Daniel Schweimler says.

There were also allegations that Gen Pinochet and his son Marco Antonio Pinochet made money from cocaine smuggling, charges which the family denied.

'Political responsibility'

In September 1973, Gen Pinochet led the armed forces in a dramatic coup against the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende.

Close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else
Recent Pinochet statement

The violence of the uprising and the oppression that followed shook the world. He went on to become one of South America's best-known military rulers of the 1970s and 80s.

Earlier in November, Gen Pinochet was placed under house arrest over the abduction of two people in 1973.

The charges - the latest in a series - related to the Caravan of Death, a military operation to remove opponents of his rule.

In a statement read by his wife on his 91st birthday, Gen Pinochet said he accepted "political responsibility" for acts committed during his rule.

"Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else," his statement said.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/12/11 00:53:29 GMT

D.C. Tenants Move From Building in Fear

So we think that the serious problem between landlords and tenants that results to threats arson happen only in movies.

D.C. Tenants Move From Building in Fear
Owner Denies Wrongdoing in Vandalism, Threat and Arson

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2006; C01

In trendy Adams Morgan, in the midst of a protracted eviction battle this fall, came the broken windows, cut electrical lines, a death threat from strangers pounding on doors and a brazen arson that caused a fleeing tenant to fall from the second story and break her leg.

The District recently ruled in the tenants' favor in the eviction fight, saying they did not have to move out while the landlord renovated the worn, three-story, gray-brick apartment building to bring it up to code. But it was too late.

By last week, all but one family had given up and moved from the 12-unit building at 1846 Vernon St. NW, a block from the bustling 18th Street entertainment strip. And that family plans to move, too.

"We were very scared to live there," said Rabia Begum, 20, a Montgomery College biomedical student who had lived in the building. "You don't know what could happen."

With a shrinking pool of affordable housing, landlords in Washington frequently urge tenants to move so they can convert apartment buildings to condominiums or, as in this case, renovate rental units. But the battle on Vernon Street between the management and tenants, most of whom are from Bangladesh, was especially ugly.

Tenants have accused management of orchestrating a campaign of fear and violence to get them to give up their rent-controlled apartments to make way for extensive renovations that ultimately would generate higher rents from new tenants.

The building's co-owner, Perseus Realty of Washington, denies any wrongdoing and suggested last week that tenants were behind the vandalism -- perhaps in search of financial gain.

The Nov. 5 fire, which investigators quickly declared an arson, remains under criminal investigation by police and fire authorities. No arrests have been made.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents Adams Morgan, has been holding investigative hearings to examine whether Perseus and the building's management company, Barac Co., have used undue pressure to get residents to move out of various buildings in the District. Barac officials would not comment on the dispute.

Perseus also owns an adjacent 12-unit building at 1840 Vernon St. Residents say that there has been no similar vandalism but that the management has been urging tenants there to move out as well.

Only a few tenants remain in that building, said Natalie LeBeau of the Tenant Anti-Displacement Program at the nonprofit Housing Counseling Services Inc.

"There has been a solid year of pressure, using a variety of techniques," LeBeau said, referring to both buildings on Vernon Street.

LeBeau said that the District has had many other contentious eviction battles and that in some instances the heat or electricity was suddenly shut off or "somehow, windows get broken." But she said this case stands out and added, "I've never had tenants accuse a landlord of arson."

The dispute at 1846 Vernon St. dates to August 2005, when the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs approved an application by Perseus to evict tenants there and at 1840 Vernon St. The agency agreed that the building was unsafe to live in while it was being brought to code. The company cited a study that found structural deficiencies, environmental hazards and unsafe levels of asbestos and lead paint.

Managers sent notices telling residents to move within 120 days and offered each leaseholder $1,000 to relocate. Tenants said they were never told that they could return to their units later at the same rent, a right they have under the city's real estate law.

"The tenants were asked to vacate permanently," LeBeau said.

Not so, said Woody Bolton, a principal of Perseus Realty. Tenants were offered other places to live and given written materials telling them they could return to the building, he said.

The tenants scored a victory in September 2005, after Graham intervened. The city rescinded its approval of the evictions, concluding that the study on asbestos and lead levels was for an apartment in Leesburg, not on Vernon Street. Perseus Realty says the mix-up stemmed from a clerical error: The study was in fact for Vernon Street, the company said, but was printed on the wrong stationery. The company asked the city to reconsider.

The city conducted its own safety inspection, leading to bureaucratic glitches and delays that Graham later called unacceptable.

Throughout this year, Barac, the management company, frequently knocked on doors, offering money to tenants if they would move out permanently, the tenants said. Some did.

Others resisted. Management raised the offer to a few thousand dollars. Some people still balked.

In late September, things got scary, tenants said.

First, a tenant who has since moved out said two strangers pounded on his door late one night, yelling obscenities and saying, "If you don't move out in 48 hours, we will kill you."

About noon Oct. 16, the former tenant said, electricity was cut off in some apartments. The former tenant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, said he went downstairs and confronted two men at the electrical box who were cutting wires. He called police, and the men vanished.

About midnight the same day, the former tenant said, someone broke a window in his apartment door and one across the hall.

"I didn't sleep one week," he said. "They cannot do it with American people, these things."

Then came the fire Nov. 5. About 10:30 p.m., residents heard the building's front door slam, followed by more loud noises.

Begum, who was doing homework on a laptop in the living room of her second-floor apartment, recalled seeing flames through the window on her apartment door and underneath it.

"I was just shocked," she said. She and her family ran to the balcony, and "we started screaming for help. Meanwhile, my brother and I started calling 911. I thought we would die."

Neighbors put out the flames before firefighters arrived, Begum said. Authorities declared that the fire had been set after they found evidence of an "ignitable liquid" in the basement and on the second floor.

Begum said she immediately suspected the management of arson.

She remained in her apartment until the fire was extinguished. Other residents described harrowing escapes. One man, speaking on the condition that his name not be used, said his wife and two children, who had arrived from Bangladesh two months earlier, had to run through the smoke down two flights of stairs. He was not in the building at the time.

Nearly everyone escaped unharmed. But a 45-year-old woman who lived on the third floor was not so fortunate. She started climbing down a drainpipe with one of her children when she fell from the second floor, according to two neighbors and the fire department. The child fell on her and emerged unscathed, but the woman broke her leg, the neighbors said.

After the fire, management again increased the incentive for tenants to move permanently. They raised the offer to $15,000 to $20,000, according to the residents.

In a statement defending Perseus Realty's handling of the matter, Bolton said owners have "continued to work with the tenants to grant them substantial assistance in the face of escalating structural and environmental concerns."

The tenants might be to blame for the fire and other incidents, Bolton contended. He said some allowed too many boarders in their apartments, running what amounted to "substandard rooming houses."

"The ownership believes that many of the building's recent problems stem from tenants trying to evict their illegal sub-tenants so they can vacate their apartments and take advantage of the relocation assistance grants," Bolton said in the statement.

"Some tenants may have used intimidating tactics to force their sub-tenants to vacate the property; it is also possible that evicted sub-tenants have vandalized the buildings," Bolton's statement said.

To that, Begum responded: "I absolutely disagree. They just made up something randomly."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Google Aims To Revitalize Advertising On Radio

More about Google advertising strategies.

Google Aims To Revitalize Advertising On Radio

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006; D01

Last week, listeners in Boston and Sacramento heard a commercial for, a small Internet company that aired its first radio ad with the help of Google Inc.

Until recently, Fred Yazdizadeh, owner of the Simi Valley, Calif., company, said radio air time was too expensive and the process of creating an audio message had been too daunting to consider. But under a new program being tested by Google, Yazdizadeh's ad was affordable and easy to manage. And, more important, it generated calls from potential customers living in the areas where the ad was broadcast.

"What Google is doing now is so good because I can now penetrate any market area I want," said Yazdizadeh. "It's going to take my business to the next level."

By tapping into its customer base of millions of small online advertisers, Google is looking to transform old media by removing the middleman, such as a radio station's ad department, and make it easier for small companies to gain access to radio, magazines and newspapers through the same types of online auctions that Google has used to sell its popular search ads.

This week, the company formally launched a test of the program, following almost a year of experimentation since it acquired dMarc Broadcasting, a small radio advertising firm, for $102 million in cash last January. DMarc had developed a technology that allowed radio stations to sell excess ad inventory at the last minute, using online tools.

Here's how the Google program works: A small advertiser logs into Google's Web site and creates a radio ad campaign online, selecting the geographical area, demographics of the radio audience, time of day and radio format. The advertiser bids on how much it is willing to pay to buy the air time, but doesn't know the exact station that will carry the ad.

If the advertiser doesn't already have a radio ad created, Google provides access to on-air talent and producers who bid on the job, allowing the two sides to negotiate the price and content.

The radio stations can see how many advertisers bid on each slot, listen to an ad and choose or reject one -- all online. Google makes a commission off of the transaction with the radio station.

"One of our primary objectives is to mobilize and introduce radio to our extensive advertising base and also introduce new advertisers to radio," said Ryan Steelberg, a founder of dMarc and now head of radio operations at Google. "If we can mobilize a few thousand advertisers, it's great for Google and great for radio broadcasters."

Some radio executives have expressed concern that Google's entry could force their own sales teams to compete against the search giant for the biggest customers and eventually degrade the value of a radio commercial. But others see Google's approach as a low-risk opportunity that could help bolster radio companies' lackluster results in recent years.

National radio advertising sales grew 2 percent from January to September, according to Radio Ink, an industry publication, but local ad sales during the period fell 1 percent. Next year, radio ad revenues are expected to rise 2 percent, said Mark R. Fratrik, vice president of BIA Financial Network.

Google's radio ad system "really has potential," Fratrik said. "It will take a little while, just because it's a new technique. . . . We will be seeing some impact in a year or two."

The search giant faces competition from SoftWave Media Exchange, which has a similar online technology and also sells cable television ads through its Web site. SoftWave's chief operating officer, Bill Figenshu, said Google lacked many big-market radio stations as part of its network, and its emphasis on small advertisers and excess inventory would go only so far in terms of generating sales.

"There isn't a market for all those small little advertisers to be on these big radio stations," he said. "The flower shop in Reston can't afford to be on WTOP."

But broadcasters participating in the Google test said they have been satisfied with the results.

XM Satellite Radio executive D. Scott Karnedy said Google had sold "hundreds, if not thousands of ads" since August. Rick Cummings, president of Emmis Radio, which owns 23 stations, said the experiment has not had an impact on his company's bottom line but has been worthwhile, regardless.

"There's been so much fear of Google -- they are red hot and we aren't," Cummings said. "We think doing more things in a Google-like manner might rub off on this industry and would be good for it."


Friday, December 08, 2006

Condoms are "too big" for Indian Men

This is an interesting news for condom makers.

A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men.

The study found that more than half of the men measured had penises that were shorter than international standards for condoms.

It has led to a call for condoms of mixed sizes to be made more widely available in India.

The two-year study was carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Over 1,200 volunteers from the length and breadth of the country had their penises measured precisely, down to the last millimetre.

The scientists even checked their sample was representative of India as a whole in terms of class, religion and urban and rural dwellers.

It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters
Sunil Mehra
The conclusion of all this scientific endeavour is that about 60% of Indian men have penises which are between three and five centimetres shorter than international standards used in condom manufacture.

Doctor Chander Puri, a specialist in reproductive health at the Indian Council of Medical Research, told the BBC there was an obvious need in India for custom-made condoms, as most of those currently on sale are too large.

The issue is serious because about one in every five times a condom is used in India it either falls off or tears, an extremely high failure rate.

And the country already has the highest number of HIV infections of any nation.

'Not a problem'

Mr Puri said that since Indians would be embarrassed about going to a chemist to ask for smaller condoms there should be vending machines dispensing different sizes all around the country.

"Smaller condoms are on sale in India. But there is a lack of awareness that different sizes are available. There is anxiety talking about the issue. And normally one feels shy to go to a chemist's shop and ask for a smaller size condom."

But Indian men need not be concerned about measuring up internationally according to Sunil Mehra, the former editor of the Indian version of the men's magazine Maxim.

"It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters," he said.

"From our population, the evidence is Indians are doing pretty well.

"With apologies to the poet Alexander Pope, you could say, for inches and centimetres, let fools contend."

Story from BBC NEWS:


HP, Calif. Settle Spying Lawsuit

HP, Calif. Settle Spying Lawsuit
State Exploring Deal With Dunn

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006; D01

California's attorney general announced a $14.5 million civil settlement with Hewlett-Packard over its corporate spying scandal yesterday and said in an interview that he was exploring a possible settlement of criminal charges against the firm's former chairman.

Patricia C. Dunn was ousted as chairman in September after the HP ethics and spying scandal became public. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed fraud and conspiracy charges against her in October, a day after Dunn learned that she had suffered a relapse of ovarian cancer.

Read the entire story here.


Sanyo phone batteries in recall

After the laptop batteries recalls come the batteries fro mobile phone.

Sanyo phone batteries in recall
Sanyo shares fell to a 31-year low in Tokyo after 1.3 million of its mobile phone batteries were recalled over fears they could overheat and rupture.

The recall by mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo applies to Sanyo-made lithium ion batteries used in Mitsubishi Electric D902i phones.

Rival Sony is recalling 9.6 million laptop batteries over similar problems.

Sanyo is the world's largest producer of rechargeable batteries, but has been loss-making for the last three years.

On Friday, its shares fell 3.1% to 159 yen, their lowest level since September 1975.

Last month, Sanyo said it expected to post a 50bn yen ($430m; £224.3m) net loss in 2006/07.

The recall is the latest setback for the firm, which is struggling against high costs and strong price competition from cheaper Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers.

In June, it scrapped plans for a joint venture to make mobile phone handsets with Finland's Nokia.

Sanyo embarked on a three-year restructuring drive last year in an effort to reduce its losses and refocus its operations.

The shake-up has resulted in a management overhaul and 14,000 job cuts.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/12/08 09:55:54 GMT

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fannie Mae to Restate Results by $6.3 Billion Because of Accounting

December 7, 2006
Fannie Mae to Restate Results by $6.3 Billion Because of Accounting

Fannie Mae, the largest buyer of American mortgages, said yesterday that it would reduce its earnings by $6.3 billion to correct several years of accounting problems in one of the nation’s biggest financial scandals.

Federal regulators, meanwhile, said they planned to file a lawsuit before the end of the year in an effort to recover millions of dollars from Fannie Mae’s former top two executives, whose bonuses were tied to the manipulated earnings. Franklin D. Raines, the former chairman and chief executive, and J. Timothy Howard, who had been chief financial officer, were ousted from the company in December 2004, and investigators have laid much of the blame on their shoulders.

“We will file charges within the next couple of weeks,” James B. Lockhart III, director of the Office of Housing and Enterprise Oversight, said in a brief interview yesterday. “Unfortunately, the legal process is very cumbersome.”

A lawyer for Mr. Raines declined to comment, and a lawyer representing Mr. Howard did not return phone calls yesterday. A Fannie Mae spokesman also declined to comment.

The two moves are significant steps in the effort to clean up Fannie Mae — formally, the Federal National Mortgage Association — a company whose influence once reverberated through the corridors of Washington and Wall Street. Over the last two years, though, the company has been mired in scandal.

The entire story here.