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News from the Week of 10th to 16th of October 2010
U.S., California probe Prime Healthcare (12 October 2010)
A Southern California hospital chain known for aggressive billing practices and cost-cutting is being investigated by state and federal authorities for an unusually high rate of life-threatening infections among its older patients.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the state Department of Justice are looking into whether a reported surge in septicemia infections at hospitals operated by Prime Healthcare Services reflects a serious health problem or multimillion-dollar Medicare fraud, officials at both agencies said.
Septicemia, or blood poisoning, arises most often in hospitals with poor procedures for infection control. Severe cases can be difficult and costly to treat, and are often deadly. Medicare pays hospitals several thousand dollars more to treat septicemia than less severe hospital-acquired infections � prompting some hospitals to file what officials say are false claims.
Health and Human Services Department spokesman Don White said the federal probe of Prime Healthcare was requested in July by Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Pete Stark (D-Fremont).
Brazil eyes microchips in trees for forest management (12 October 2010)
It is only a small pilot project, but its leaders say the microchip system has the potential to be a big step forward in the battle to protect the Amazon.
The chips allow land owners using sustainable forestry practices to distinguish their wood from that acquired through illegal logging that each year destroys swathes of the forest.
Each microchip tells a tree's story from the point it was felled to the sawmill that processed and sold the wood, key information for buyers who want to know where it came from.
"People talk a lot these days about wood coming from sustainable forestry practices -- this is a system that can prove it," said Borges, of the organization Acao Verde, or Green Action, which is managing the project on a large farm.
Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Praise, and Backing (12 October 2010)
WASHINGTON � Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region�s electrical map.
The 350-mile underwater spine, which could remove some critical obstacles to wind power development, has stirred excitement among investors, government officials and environmentalists who have been briefed on it.
Google and Good Energies, an investment firm specializing in renewable energy, have each agreed to take 37.5 percent of the equity portion of the project. They are likely to bring in additional investors, which would reduce their stakes.
If they hold on to their stakes, that would come to an initial investment of about $200 million apiece in the first phase of construction alone, said Robert L. Mitchell, the chief executive of Trans-Elect, the Maryland-based transmission-line company that proposed the venture.
Supreme Court Case Could Significantly Change Vaccine Lawsuits (11 October 2010)
Wyeth countered that the family had no right to sue outside vaccine court on grounds of a defect in vaccine design, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says if the Supreme Court reverses the decision, it will flood civil courts with expensive lawsuits that may put the nation's supply of childhood vaccines at risk.
"We very much wanted to make sure vaccine manufacturers are out of the line of lawsuits," said Dr. O. Marion Burton, president of the AAP. "Otherwise, we end up with nobody producing vaccines, and nobody making new vaccines."
However, vaccine injury lawyers say if the court finds in favor of Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer, Inc.), the decision will block crucial lawsuits that could reveal unknown risks of vaccines.
PAM COMMENTARY: Why would lawsuits put vaccine manufacturers out of business, unless their products are too dangerous to use? Do people sue toaster makers in large numbers, claiming their kids got autism from the toast? No, because they can't prove that toasters caused their kids' autism, but they do have enough evidence to show that vaccines did.
Oilsands worker says he was fired over blog
(11 October 2010)
On his blog, adhdcanuck, Thomas wrote that 50 workers have to share four urinals, toilets and showers, the latter of which are encrusted with calcium buildups.
He also said the camps have shared ventilation, which leads to outbreaks of cold and flu among hundreds of workers. Thomas also took pictures and videos of the poor conditions, showing long lineups for food and plates of deep-fried items. He said these conditions are markedly worse than what is offered in other camps.
Two days after that Oct. 4, post was written, Thomas said he was terminated by his employer AECON Lockerbie & Hole, a contractor, at the request of Suncor and banned from all company sites.
He said Suncor has a policy prohibiting photography within work sites, which is intended to protect industry secrets. He said the policy is being abused to turn the chain-link fences around work sites into a wall of silence.
Cost concerns weakened Forest Service's assault on Station fire, study says (11 October 2010)
A desire to control costs slowed the arrival of "critical resources" in the attack on last year's disastrous Station fire as the U.S. Forest Service delayed ordering reinforcements from other agencies that had crews and equipment at the ready, according to an internal federal review.
The finding contradicts statements made for more than a year by Forest Service officials, who have insisted repeatedly that cost concerns never impeded the Station battle. It is likely to sharpen questions about the firefighting decisionmaking as a local congressional panel prepares to examine the Forest Service's actions.
The review by the Agriculture Department, which runs the Forest Service, echoes a Times report last fall that a Forest Service directive to reduce spending might have dissuaded fire managers from using more state and local strike teams and aircraft on the fateful second day of the blaze.
The new study also determined that the Forest Service, in opting to concentrate on protecting hillside neighborhoods and the communications towers and observatory on Mt. Wilson, did not stage a sustained direct assault on the back-country front of the fire as it spread into Angeles National Forest.
Steelhead in Anchor River elude biologists floating downstream (11 October 2010)
Michael Booz, Edan Badajos and Meredith Banner donned dry suits with neoprene hoods, masks and snorkels to float about two miles down the Anchor River from the old Sterling Highway bridge to Grass Hole near the river mouth.
The purpose: To count steelhead in a river that pretty well marks the northernmost reach of one of North America's most beloved sportfish.
The result: So-so at best.
"The water was really low, but visibility was very poor," said Carol Kerkvliet, the assistant area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based in Homer who organized the effort. "We expected to see a lot of steelhead as we floated by, and we didn't see that. We were just basically giving it the old college try, but it was less than scientific and doesn't really reflect the abundance of steelhead downstream."
The 30-mile-long Anchor River north of Homer is a clear-water stream narrow enough that most fly fishermen can cast across. Decades ago, some 4,000 steelhead returned each year; now the estimate is considerably lower and steelhead fishing is catch-and-release only.
Coastal panel weighs restoration of Malibu Lagoon (11 October 2010)
The Coastal Commission will consider on Wednesday a $7-million fix that would temporarily drain a 12-acre section of the lagoon to re-contour it, remove sediment and replant its banks with native plants in order to improve water circulation and ecological health.
The plan is more than a decade in the making and has sparked a rare public rift among environmentalists.
Although most conservation groups support the project and the coastal panel's staff has recommended approval, some activists say the heavy grading, use of construction equipment and ripping out of vegetation is heavy-handed and would essentially destroy the habitat in order to save it.
"If it was a tabula rasa, like a parking lot, that would be different," said Marcia Hanscom of the Wetlands Defense Fund. "But this is a thriving ecosystem."
'Simpsons' animation studio Film Roman sold to group led by its ex-president (11 October 2010)
Starz Media has sold its Film Roman animation studio to a group of investors led by Scott Greenberg, a former president of the studio.
Burbank-based Film Roman, best known for its two decades of work on "The Simpsons," will be merged with Bento Box Entertainment, another animation studio in Burbank started by Greenberg and two partners last year.
The parties involves declined to comment on financial details. But according to one person familiar with the deal, the buyers paid $2 million to $4 million in cash for Film Roman and assumed more in liabilities and leases.
Starz has for the last year been trying to sell Film Roman, movie studio Overture Films and DVD distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment as a package in order to focus entirely on its pay television network. When a deal failed to materialize, Starz shut down Overture in July and sold the studio's marketing and distribution assets to Relativity Media. For the time being, Starz is expected to hold onto Anchor Bay.
With funds from a group of private investors who backed the acquisition, Greenberg and his partners hope to grow Film Roman in new platforms including digital media, e-books and video games while maintaining the established business of animation service for shows such as "The Simpsons," "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!" and a new version of "Beavis and Butthead."
'What is this, Russia?' Cop claims NYPD had him committed for being a whistleblower (10 October 2010)
Part of the formula for success has been CompStat � a program to squash spikes in crimes, petty and otherwise, before they get out of control. Patterns are tracked by computer. Patrols are deployed based on where and when criminals are most active.
Precinct commanders are judged mercilessly on the results at CompStat meetings at police headquarters.
Critics say the strict accountability has created the temptation to record felonies as misdemeanors � or sometimes not to record them at all. In recent years, a handful of commanders have been demoted or transferred amid allegations of cooking the books.
"The years of crime going down has put incredible pressure on everyone in the NYPD," said criminologist Eli Silverman. "The police department is fighting its own success."
The NYPD stands by its numbers, saying the instances of manipulating stats are minute in a city where more than 2,000 serious crimes are reported each week. A special unit regularly audits the figures to protect accuracy.
But officers insist the fudging exists. Silverman and a fellow researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, John Eterno, recently published a study based on 491 surveys of former NYPD captains that said they felt pressure to downgrade crimes, put off reports, anything to keep the stats down.
PAM COMMENTARY: We've all known this for years (and not only in New York) -- that the drop in crime after the crime bill, and touted by politicians elsewhere in their election campaigns, is bogus. All that happened was cops stopped taking reports, even for serious crimes. And the most serious crimes -- where there were bullets and blood, or anything other than a dead body they couldn't hide -- were filed as minor abuse charges.
Student released from hospital after spiked-drinks incident (10 October 2010)
Other partygoers told CNN affiliate KOMO on Saturday that they believe a bottle of vodka at the party had been spiked with a date-rape drug known as "roofies."
They said several people at the party used vodka from the bottle to make mixed drinks. Those who brought their own alcohol, drank beer or didn't drink any alcohol were not affected, the students told KOMO.
Ferguson said he has only heard about the vodka bottle from media reports, but said witnesses told police about their suspicions that a drug may have been placed in pre-made drinks in red cups. One partygoer told KOMO that people were talking about staying away from the drinks in the cups, and that when he took a sip of one, it made him want to vomit.
"Whatever occurred up there wasn't consensual," Ferguson told CNN on Saturday.
Brain sees what it can�t hear, study finds (10 October 2010)
People born deaf can see with parts of their brain that normally process sound, a new University of Western Ontario study says.
The research helps explain why the congenitally deaf often exhibit enhancements in their vision and other senses, says Western neuroscientist Stephen Lomber.
�There is a very large region of the brain that normally processes auditory input,� says Lomber, the lead study author.
�When that area is (permanently) denied auditory input . . . the brain is a fairly efficient structure and usually doesn�t let processing power go to waste.�
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Sources (if found on major news boards):
[AJ] - InfoWars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, or other Alex Jones-affiliated sites
[BF] - BuzzFlash.com
[DN] - DemocracyNow.org
[R] - Rense.com
[WRH] - WhatReallyHappened.com