Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lawsuit: Comcast Leaked Customer's Banking Info After She Sent Check For "My Right Arm"

A woman who sent a sarcastic payment to the "Comcast Vampires" for "My Right Arm" is suing because she says Comcast employees posted a copy of her unredacted check on the internet. She says she was alerted to the security breach by a stranger from Colorado who received the check in an email that said: "This is too funny not to pass on. This is an actual payment we received via yesterdays mail."

The woman says "attached was a copy of my personal check with my name, my address, my phone number, My account numbers, my signature... nothing was blacked out...Nothing! And a copy of my comcast statement."

Here's her story as she tells it, from the Comcast Must Die website:

My gripe with comcast started when i received my first bill after signing up for the Comcast Triple Play. $99 a month, right? No...It was an additional $30 on top of that because i was already a comcast customer. If you have cable in my area, yes, you have to be a comcast customer.

So my first bill was for $228. When i paid my bill i paid $200. Leaving a $28 balance to be tacked on to next months bill. When i had family visiting, my cable wasnt working for a few days, finally i called and the reason was because my account was past due. In order to get it turned back on i had to pay $169 (not my $28 balance)by phone immediately. So i did, electronically... and before i hung up the phone the tv was on again. That fast. Embarrassing.

So since i paid over the phone i disregarded my next payment and instead sent my check to the "Comcast vampires" and paid in the amount of "My right Arm and zero dollars" memo "Robbing customers blind". Haha, i got my little dig in there, so i thought.

About 2 weeks later, i was out of town visiting family when my husband calls from home telling me that he just recieved a strange phone call from a woman in Colorado. We live in Pennsylvania. She just recieved an email that said "This is too funny not to pass on. This is an actual payment we recieved via yesterdays mail." And attached was a copy of my personal check with my name, my address, my phone number, My account numbers, my signature... nothing was blacked out...Nothing! And a copy of my comcast statement.
Immediately, i called my bank, then comcast, then the police. I had to cut my visit short to come home and take care of this situation. That was last August. Since then i have filed complaints with the BBB, Attorney General, and the FTC. I have searched for an attorney to file a case against them. No Luck. There are 3 Consumer Rights attorneys in Pittsburgh. I am afraid of the whole identity theft thing. A comcast employee put all of my personal information out there, its just a matter of time in my eyes. They have given me so much runaround, i dont even want to go there. I even spoke to a comcast security agent that couldnt even tell me her last name, she just had an Agent ID B!<. How ridiculous is that. She gave the the number for the comcast legal dept, 1-800-871-6298 and fax, 1-720-267-2794. She claimed that she had reported the incident and it was now out of her hands.
Nothing has been done, i have had to change my bank account, get new checks, and constantly keep an eye on our credit report. They issued me credit for 3 months of services.
A few people got fired, but that doesnt help me any. For all i know, the email could still be circulating. Now i am not sure where to go now. I just know that this incident could haunt me for years to come. And i still write my checks out to the comcast vampires.

Original here

Why oil prices will tank

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- High-flying tech stocks crashed. The roaring housing market crumbled. And oil, rest assured, will follow the same path down.

Not everyone agrees. In an echo of our most recent market frenzies, some experts pronounce that the "world has changed," and that the demand spikes, supply disruptions, and government bungling we face now will saddle us with a future of $4, $5 or even $10 a gallon gasoline.

But if you stick to basic economics, it's clear that the only question is when - not if - prices will succumb.

The oil bulls are correct in their explanations of why prices have jumped. It's indisputable that worldwide demand has surged, chiefly driven by strong growth in China, India and the Middle East. It's also true that most of the world's reserves are controlled by governments in places like Russia and Venezuela that mismanage production, thus curtailing supply growth.

But rather than forming a permanent new plateau for prices - as the bulls contend - those forces are causing a classically unstable market that's destined for a steep fall.

In a normal oil market, the cost of producing the last, most expensive barrel of oil needed to satisfy worldwide demand sets the price for every barrel the world over. Other auction commodity markets work much the same way.

So even if Saudi Arabia produces at $4 a barrel, if the final, multi-millionth barrel required to heat houses and run cars costs $50, and is produced, for argument's sake, at a flagging field in West Texas, the world price is $50. That's what economists call the equilibrium price: It's where the price that customers are willing to pay meets the production cost, including a cushion, naturally, for profit or "the cost of capital."

But today, the sudden surge in demand and the production bottlenecks have thrown the market radically out of balance.

Almost exactly the same thing happened in the housing market. And both housing and oil supply react to a surge in demand with a long lag. In housing, the lag is caused by restrictive zoning and development laws, especially in coastal markets like California and Florida.

So when the economy roared back in 2002 and 2003, builders couldn't turn out homes fast enough for buyers armed with those cheap mortgages. As a result, prices spiked. They no longer bore any relation to the actual cost of buying and improving land, or constructing and marketing a new house (at some reasonable profit margin). Instead, frenzied buyers were setting the price.

Because builders were reaping huge windfall profits, they rushed to buy and develop land. And sure enough, those new houses were ready just as buyers were retreating to the sidelines because they could no longer afford to buy a home. That vast overhang of unsold homes is what's driving down prices today.

The story is much the same with oil, with a twist. A big swath of the market isn't really paying that $125 a barrel number you hear about seemingly every hour. In China, India and the Middle East, governments are heavily subsidizing oil for their consumers and corporations, leading to rampant over-consumption - and driving up prices even more.

But sooner or later the world won't keep paying those prices: Eventually, the price must fall back to the cost of that last barrel to clear the market.

So what does that barrel cost today? According to Stephen Brown, an economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, that final barrel costs just $50 to produce. And when the price is $125, the incentive to pour out more oil, like homebuilders' incentive to build more two years ago, is irresistible.

It takes a while to develop new supplies of oil, but the signs of a surge are already in place. Shale oil costing around $70 a barrel is now being produced in the Dakotas. Tar sands are attracting investment in Canada, also at around $70. New technology could soon minimize the pollution caused by producing oil from our super-plentiful supplies of coal.

"History suggests that when there's this much money to be made, new supplies do get developed," says Brown.

That's just the supply side of the equation. Demand should start to decline as well, albeit gradually.

"Historically, the oil market has under-anticipated the amount of conservation brought on by high prices," says Brown. Sales of big cars are collapsing; Americans are cutting down on driving. The airlines are scaling back flights.

We've learned another important lesson from the housing market: The longer prices stay stratospheric, the worse the eventual crash - simply because the higher the prices and bigger the profit margins, the bigger the incentive to over-produce.

It's even possible that, a few years hence, we could see a sustained period of plentiful oil supplies and low prices, meaning $50 or below.

A similar scenario occurred following the price explosion in the 1970s and early 1980s. The price spike caused the world to cut back sharply on oil consumption. By the mid-80s, oil prices had fallen from almost $40 to around $15. They remained extremely low for two decades.

It's impossible to predict how the adjustment this time will take shape, just as it was in housing. There the surge in supply came in places the experts swore there was "no supply," and wouldn't be any. Builders found a way to extend vast tracts of homes into California's Inland Empire and Central Valley, and even build "in-fill" projects near the densely-populated coasts.

An earlier bubble is also instructive. In the early 1980s silver prices jumped from $10 to $50 on the theory that the world was facing a permanent shortage of silver. Suddenly ads appeared asking homeowners to bring their tea sets and jewelry to Holiday Inns for a big price. Silver supplies poured from seemingly nowhere, out of America's cupboards, of all places.

And so it will be with oil. We don't know where the new abundance will come from, from shale, or tar sands or coal or an OPEC desperate to regain market share. We just know that it will appear. With prices like these, it always does.

Is Tully right? Join the reader debate here.

Original here

In Turnabout, Antitrust Unit Looks at Intel

WASHINGTON — A global legal battle between the two largest makers of computer processors took an abrupt turn this week when the Federal Trade Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation of the Intel Corporation.

For years, Advanced Micro Devices, a smaller rival of Intel, has been scouring the world in search of regulators in Europe, Asia and the United States who would agree to prosecute Intel for what A.M.D. maintains are anticompetitive pricing practices.

The worldwide campaign — over a market that generates more than $225 billion in global sales each year — has cost both companies tens of millions of dollars in legal and public relations expenses. A.M.D. has met with considerable success in Europe, Japan and Korea.

In the United States, however, the quest had not gained much ground among state authorities or federal regulators appointed by President Bush, who have taken a less aggressive antitrust approach than their foreign counterparts.

But on Friday the federal approach toward the case began to change — and those changes could accelerate depending on the antitrust stance of the next administration and its regulatory appointees.

The investigation, into accusations that Intel’s pricing is intended to maintain a near monopoly on the microprocessor market, was authorized by William E. Kovacic, the new chairman of the trade commission, and has the support of the agency’s other commissioners, officials said.

It reversed a decision by his predecessor, Deborah P. Majoras, who had been blocking the formal inquiry for many months, frustrating other senior commission officials and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Ms. Majoras, a former senior official in the antitrust division at the Justice Department, where she was an architect of the Bush administration’s antitrust settlement with Microsoft in 2001, left the commission two months ago, and the seat remains vacant.

Since it will almost certainly be many months before the commission decides whether to make a case against Intel, as European and Asian regulators have already done, the investigation could mark an important early test for the next administration on antitrust policy.

Among the states, only the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, has publicly signaled his intention to review the matter. Other states have declined to take action. When the attorney general of California, Jerry Brown, rejected A.M.D.’s complaint this year, he said in The San Francisco Chronicle that he was “not barking at every truck that comes down the street.”

A.M.D. has accused Intel of systematically giving its customers — the world’s leading personal computer makers — large discounts, at times below Intel’s own manufacturing costs, in exchange for commitments not to do business with competitors. Intel has responded that its discounts were legitimate incentives, not offered below cost, and benefiting customers who can buy computers at lower prices.

Intel has also maintained that A.M.D. tried to make up in the courts for its failures in the marketplace.

While Intel has denied the allegations, A.M.D. executives are hoping the case will present an easy opportunity for the next administration to take a noticeably more aggressive approach to competition issues. Technically independent of the White House, the trade commission is led by appointees of the president.

D. Bruce Sewell, Intel’s senior vice president and general counsel, said that because American and foreign antitrust law are fundamentally different, the company is confident of vindication, regardless of the leadership of the Federal Trade Commission next year, when the new president can fill the vacant seat and name its own chairman.

Still, Intel has been planning to increase the size of its Washington operations, a move that could be helpful both for the antitrust case and a variety of other issues before Congress and the regulators that are important to the company.

The official signs of the heightened scrutiny by the commission came in recent days when Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, and several of the world’s largest personal computer makers that buy semiconductors from the two companies began to receive subpoenas from the agency.

Commission officials have also been working closely with their foreign counterparts, and have had access to the same evidence that is being used abroad to make the cases against Intel.

Mr. Sewell said that Intel had been working closely with the trade commission on a less formal review that had been under way since 2006. He said the company would continue to cooperate with authorities.

A.M.D. executives said they were pleased with the commission’s decision.

“Intel must now answer to the Federal Trade Commission, which is the appropriate way to determine the impact of Intel practices on U.S. consumers and technology businesses,” said Tom McCoy, executive vice president for legal affairs at A.M.D. “In every country around the world where Intel’s business practices have been investigated, including the decision by South Korea this week, antitrust regulators have taken action.”

The fight between the two companies is among the largest antitrust matters pending before American and foreign regulators, and is considered to be among the most important since the antitrust cases brought against Microsoft in the 1990s.

A.M.D.’s latest success abroad came just this week, when the Korean Fair Trade Commission said it would order Intel to pay more than $25 million for violating its fair trade laws.

The Korean commission found that Intel had violated antitrust law when it offered $37 million in rebates to the personal computer makers, Samsung Electronics and the Trigem Company, from 2002 to 2005 in return for a pledge not to buy microprocessors from A.M.D. Intel responded by saying it was disappointed with the decision and would probably appeal.

Lawyers involved in the proceedings say they expect that later this year European regulators will expand their statement of objections, or official charge sheet, against Intel. Last year, the European Commission said the company had engaged in anticompetitive conduct by providing rebates to customers that limit their business with rivals and by paying computer makers to either delay or cancel the release of products that used A.M.D. microprocessors.

The European complaint said that Intel had abused its market dominance “with the aim of excluding its main rival from the market.” The complaint was the culmination of a six-year investigation.

A.M.D. has also sued Intel in Federal District Court in Delaware. As a result of the crushing amount of evidence being gathered by both sides, a special master in that case this week delayed the start of the trial to early 2010. The trial had originally been scheduled for next spring.

Intel, which was founded by engineers who were leaders in developing and advancing computer chip technology, controls 80 to 90 percent of the microprocessor market. American antitrust law permits a company to hold a monopoly, but it forbids a company from leveraging its dominance to restrict competition.

A.M.D. has asserted that Intel offers rebates and discounts that, in effect, result in its chips’ being sold at prices below the cost of production, a practice that some courts in cases involving other companies have said can be a violation of antitrust law.

Intel denies that its discounts and rebates drive its prices below cost, or to predatory levels. Intel has said that it offers legitimate discounts based on the volume of chips that have been purchased by companies, and that consumers benefit when personal computer manufacturers — using the discounts — are able to lower the cost of their products.

Intel executives have also said that, to the extent the foreign antitrust regulators have come down harder on the company than American officials, it was a reflection of the different approach toward antitrust law. The American approach toward antitrust has been historically aimed at protecting competition, while the others use antitrust often to protect rival companies.

Original here

Tiger mauls to death zookeeper in Japan: official

A Siberian tiger, at a zoo in Austria

TOKYO (AFP) — A Siberian tiger mauled to death a zookeeper on Saturday in western Japan who had been trying to encourage the animal to mate, a zoo official said.

A horrified visitor to the Kyoto City Zoo reported to management that the 150-kilogramme (330-pound) tiger had pounced on zookeeper Atsushi Ito, an official said.

Zoo authorities shot the tiger with a tranquiliser gun and rushed Ito to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from serious injuries to his head, face, neck and hands.

Ito, 40, had been trying to couple the tiger with a three-year-old female tiger.

The zoo, the second oldest in Japan, was shut down on Saturday. It has launched an investigation into the incident.

In 2005, a white bear attacked and seriously injured another keeper at the zoo.

Original here

U.S. Government Sought Customer Book Purchasing Records from

(NaturalNews) Recently unsealed court records shed more light on the federal government's attempts to secure the online book purchase records of 24,000 customers.

In 2006, federal prosecutors investigating Robert D'Angelo, a Madison, WI official accused of fraud and tax evasion, subpoenaed online book retailer for transaction records on anyone who had purchased books from him through Amazon Marketplace since 1999. Prosecutors said they were hoping to find witnesses to testify against D'Angelo.

Amazon agreed to tell prosecutors what books D'Angelo had sold, but refused to turn over information on the buyers, citing its customers' First Amendment rights to privacy. The government came back with a request for only 120 customers, but Amazon still refused. The case went before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker, who ruled in June to strike down the subpoena on First Amendment grounds.

"The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their knowledge or permission," Crocker wrote in his ruling. "It is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else."

Crocker also expressed concerns that allowing the government to pry into people's reading habits could function as intimidation, thereby depriving them of their right to read what they wish.

"The chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost keyboards across America," he wrote.

Under Crocker's urging, prosecutors reached a compromise with Amazon in which the company would send letters to the 24,000 customers sought in the initial subpoena, inviting them to contact prosecutors if they wished to testify.

Crocker also criticized prosecutors for seeking to force Amazon's hand rather than seeking a compromise on their own.

"If the government had been more diligent in looking for workarounds instead of baring its teeth when Amazon balked, it's probable that this entire First Amendment showdown could have been avoided," he said.

Original here

B2 Stealth Bomber Crashes

Here's a good way to destroy $1.4 billion in a matter of seconds. This footage was just released today and is from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, it happened Feb 23, 2008.

US threatens Britain with legal action over airline taxes

Gordon Brown is embroiled in a major diplomatic row with the United States over controversial plans for new airline taxes which could see British families paying £400 extra for transatlantic flights.

7 Jun 08: Government plans for Green changes to taxes on flights, have sparked a transatlantic row with the US. Mark Morris has the details. ;

An official letter sent by the US Embassy to the British Government - which has been leaked to The Daily Telegraph - reveals the Americans have "deep concerns with the proposal". They threaten the Treasury with legal action over the planned tax increase.

Ministers are planning to sharply increase the amount of money raised from airline taxes in a move that will net an extra £520 million annually.

Airlines - already struggling to deal with record fuel prices - calculate that the tax per person on a flight to America or other long-haul destinations will rise from £40 to about £100 from next year. The levy will be passed on to passengers.

The unusual attack from the Americans - ahead of a visit to Britain by President Bush next week - is understood to be causing serious concerns within Downing Street. It could lead to yet another climb-down by the Government over a major tax policy.

The six-page letter provides a detailed rebuttal of claims made by Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, that taxes on flying are being increased to produce environmental benefits.

The letter states: "The Treasury's proposal, although cast as an environmental measure, appears in reality to constitute nothing more than a device for generating additional revenue from the airline community."

"There is no linkage between the funds collected from airlines and the mitigation of any environmental impact of airline emissions or any other environmental problem…Moreover, the Treasury's proposal does not demonstrate that the new duty would influence airlines to adjust their fleets or their booking practices to achieve higher load factors…Nor are any data provided to justify the levy based on an assessment of damage from aircraft emissions."

The American Embassy - which is headed by Ambassador Robert Tuttle - also warns Britain that the proposed levy threatens to damage this country's competitiveness.

"The proposed duty, by raising the overall cost of flying aircraft to the United Kingdom relative to other destinations, is likely to diminish the number of flights operating to and from the United Kingdom," the official note sent on April 15th states.

"This would seem an anomalous result, however, given the focus in the United Kingdom on, among other things, restoration of the competitiveness of Heathrow Airport with the opening of Terminal 5 and consideration of a third runway."

The Americans also warn the Treasury that the "proposed duty raises serious legal concerns".

It details a number of international treaties and agreements which would allegedly be breached by the new tax raising the spectre of international legal action. The Americans have also sent the memo to other European governments.

The intervention of the American Government is the latest setback to hit the Treasury who have already had to water down a series of other policies announced in the budget and pre-budget report over the past year

The issue is particularly sensitive as airlines - particularly in America - are suffering from the sharp rise in fuel prices and travellers are faced with a range of higher fees and fares for this year's summer holidays.

A source close to the discussions said: "The whole thing is a total nightmare. The Treasury have made a major mistake and not thought through the consequences. The Chancellor will have to sort this out or he will threaten the health of the airline industry in this country."

Under the plans unveiled by Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, last year, the way in which flights are taxed will be changed from autumn 2009. Instead of each passenger paying a fixed levy per flight, the Treasury will instead tax each plane. Airlines will then pass on the tax to passengers.

The amount paid per plane will depend on how far it is travelling with the world divided into three taxation zones and European flights charged less that American and other long-haul destinations.

There will therefore be a major incentive for people flying long-haul not to take direct flights but to change planes in Europe - producing a significant disadvantage for British and American airlines that operate direct flights to the US and other destinations.

It is unusual for a foreign Government to launch such a detailed attack on a domestic British policy.

Mr Darling is also thought to have come under pressure from the US over plans to increase tax on non-domiciled people - including wealthy Americans - living in this country. He backtracked on this proposal.

The Treasury has also backed down on plans to change the taxation of small businesses and entrepreneurs and offered compensation to those who lost out following the abolition of the 10p rate of income tax. Mr Darling and Mr Brown are also under intense pressure to abolish planned increases in motoring taxes.

Along with the motoring tax rises, the airline levy is the latest example of a large tax rise being implemented under the guise of an environmental measure.

When announcing the proposal, Mr Darling, said it was to "encourage more efficient use of planes" so that aviation makes a "greater contribution in respect of its environmental impact".

A spokesman for the Treasury insisted that the proposed tax did offer environmental benefits.

"The per plane tax is intended to ensure the industry makes a greater contribution towards its environmental costs and to ensure that the aviation sector continues to contribute fairly and equitably towards the funding of public services," he said.

"The Government aims to have a fairer duty more in line with the environmental impacts of flights, including the distance travelled, and which takes account of any social or economic impacts including market distortions. We are committed to meeting our international obligations under the Chicago Convention and the EU-US Open Skies bilateral agreement and would not propose a measure that we considered illegal."

Original here

Protesters blockade oil refinery

Stanlow Oil Refinery, Cheshire
A number of tankers were delayed by the protest

Protesters blockaded an oil refinery in Cheshire in a bid to put pressure on the government over rising oil prices.

The organisers claim up to 500 people took part in the protest at Stanlow on Friday, the second in five weeks.

A number of tanker drivers decided not to leave the depot but a spokesman for Shell which owns the refinery, said only 20 tankers had been delayed.

Officers from Cheshire Police were at the scene but the force has not so far commented on the protest.

The Shell spokesman put the number of protesters at 60 although one of the demonstrators said the figure was nearer 500.

He said that for the first hour of the demonstration "movements of fuel were delayed".

But later the fuel had "started to flow again so there's no problem".

About 100 farmers and hauliers took part in the first demonstration outside Stanlow at the start of May.

The Stanlow plant was at the centre of many of the fuel protests that took place in 2000.

Original here

US quits Human Rights Council

6 June 08 - There was widespread consternation on Friday at the Palais des Nations in Geneva when the US mission gave up his observer status - a step backwards for human rights around the world, says Human Rights Watch.

Carole Vann/Juan Gasparini/Human Rights Tribune - The news that the US has completely withdrawn from the Human Rights Council spread like wildfire Friday afternoon (June 6) through the corridors of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. There was general consternation amongst diplomats and NGOS. Reached by phone, the American mission in Geneva neither confirmed nor denied the report. Although unofficial, the news comes at a time of long opposition by the Bush administration to the reforms which created the Human Rights Council in June 2006. Washington announced from the beginning that the US would not be an active member but its observer status would mean that it could intervene during the sessions. To date even this has rarely happened.

“We don’t understand the reasons nor the timing of the decision”, said Sebastien Gillioz of Human Rights Watch. “There have even been some positive signs during this Council. For example Belarus was not re-elected as a member in 2007 nor Sri Lanka this year”.

The stupefaction was made greater by the fact the US actively took part in the universal Periodic Review (UPR) process where 32 countries were scrutinized by their peers in April and May. In particular a series of recommendations were made regarding Romania, Japan, Guatemala, Peru, Tunisia, Ukraine, Indonesia and others.

Diplomats are equally concerned. If the current president of the Council, Doru Costea, declined to comment, his predecessor, Luis Alfonso De Alba said that he didnt see any reason to justify such a decision. Several observers mentioned Washington’s growing discontentment with the influence of the Islamic and African countries in the Council.

“It is an aberration”, said Peter Splinter of Amnesty International. “It seems that the government has lost its mind. How could it believe it is going to improve human rights by running away? It is like those who say, ‘I don’t like the way this town is governed so I’m not going to vote’”.

For Human Rights Watch (HRW), the US has shown very little commitment to human rights in general. The working group against arbitrary detention gave up going to Guantanamo last month because Washington would not allow its members to have face to face meetings with detainees. For its part, the Rapporteur against racism, Doudou Diene, has fought for years to be able to pay a visit and only recently got permission.

But Eric Sottas, director of the International Organisation against Torture sees it as a a political gesture. “The US has always clearly shown its opposition to the Council. This is a slightly more public way of putting pressure on it in order to raise the stakes. What is more the Bush dynasty is coming to the end of its mandate,” he said. “It reminds me of the time when the Nixon administration, which backed Pinochet in Chile, chastized the UN for criticising the Chilean dictator. But when Carter was elected in 1977, the American government took the floor at the Human Rights Commission to ask forgiveness. After a presidency like that of Bush, you can expect some important changes in US policy on human right.”

HRW is still worried about the withdrawal. “The message is worrying”, says Sebastien Gillioz. “ Ever since September 11, 2001, the US has constantly interpreted international standards in an “ a la carte” manner that has eroded human rights. Its behaviour has served as an example to a stream of states, including Pakistan, Egypt and other, who are not embarrassed to review human rights standards on homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment. It is a step backwards.”

Translated from the French by Claire Doole

Original here

India grounds 'fat' air hostesses

Air hostess with Kingfisher Airlines (file photo)
Air India faces competitions from other airlines with younger flight crew

An Indian court has ruled that state-owned airline Air India has the right to prevent its air hostesses from flying for being overweight.

The Delhi high court was responding to a case filed by five air hostesses who had been grounded by the airline for being too fat to fly.

The air hostesses are expected to appeal against the decision.

The judges agreed with the airline's view that overweight crew present a safety and health hazard.

They also said that, in the highly competitive airline industry, an air hostess's physical condition and appearance played an important role in her overall personality.

Air India, whose air hostesses wear traditional Indian saris, is facing a stiff challenge from a number of private airlines with younger flight crew typically dressed in skirts or Western suits.

A few years ago, during a recruitment drive for new crew, the airline said that it would not consider applicants with acne or bad teeth.

Original here

Pasadena officer wounds 13-year-old boy wielding gun

A police officer investigating reports about gunfire in a Pasadena neighborhood critically wounded a 13-year-old boy early today after the boy turned toward him with a pistol, investigators said.

The youth, who was shot while standing in his family's driveway in the 2200 block of Wren, was flown to Memorial Hermann Hospital with three bullet wounds in the right side of his lower back.

He was in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said this afternoon.

The shooting happened about 3:30 a.m. after police had investigated several complaints about numerous gunshots fired in the neighborhood, beginning about 1 a.m., said Pasadena police Capt. A.H. "Bud" Corbett.

According to residents, as many as 20 to 30 shots were fired. Officers were unable to pinpoint the source of the gunfire, however, until several patrolmen went to the neighborhood and searched along Vince Bayou, which runs behind some homes.

The officers reported that they heard gunfire coming from the front of a house and heard bullets ripping through the wooden back fence.

They moved toward the front of the property and, as two of them reached the front, they saw the boy standing in the driveway, firing a .38-caliber revolver toward the back fence, Corbett said.

One officer, an eight-year veteran of the department whose name has not been released, drew his pistol and ordered the boy repeatedly to drop the gun, Corbett said.

Instead, the teenager turned toward him with the revolver still raised, the two officers reported.

"He didn't turn all the way around, but he turned toward the officer and the officer responded by shooting three or four times," Corbett said.

Two other teenagers who were present — a boy and a girl — were taken into custody. The girl kicked out a window of a patrol car after being placed inside, Corbett said.

He said at least one of the other youths is believed to have fired some shots, but the reason for the shooting was not clear.

The wounded youth's mother was not at home when the shooting took place, Corbett said. She was scheduled to return home at 6 a.m., he said, but it wasn't immediately known whether she had received word of the shooting and gone to the hospital, instead.

Scott McKay, who lives on a neighboring street, said he awoke to noise at about 2 a.m.

"I was awakened by what I thought was maybe fireworks,'' McKay said. "My first assumption was that school is out and maybe some kids were celebrating summer.''

Hearing nothing more, he returned to bed only to be disturbed soon by more noise.

Still thinking some neighborhood youths might be causing a disturbance, McKay said he got a flashlight and went into his backyard, a short distance from Vince Bayou.

Finding nothing, he returned to bed and soon heard what by then he had recognized as gunshots. He had heard about five shots each time he investigated.

"I called police and they said they had already gotten some calls,'' McKay said.

By the time police appeared in the neighborhood, McKay said he had gotten into his truck to look around.

"A policeman shined a flashlight in and said 'Get back in your house,''' McKay said.

Police went through McKay's neighbors' properties to get to the fence that blocked access to where the shooting was determined to have been going on, McKay said.

"Then I heard a number of shots,'' McKay said. "Then, it sounded like a different type of shots after that.''

McKay, who with his wife has lived nearly five years in the neighborhood, said Friday was the first time he and neighbors with whom he spoke had heard gunfire around their homes.

"Everybody here is very nice,'' McKay said.

Neighbors said the boy is a student at Queens Intermediate School.


Original here

Déjà vu all over again

The US is smearing IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei for not finding evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons. Sound familiar?

When it comes to Iran's nuclear capabilities, whose word would you rather take: that of a Nobel prize-winning head of an international agency specializing in nuclear issues who was proved triumphantly right about Iraq, or that of a bunch of belligerent neocons who make no secret of their desire to whack Iran at the earliest opportunity and who made such a pigs ear of Iraq?

That is the stark choice facing the sane people of the world, given the smearing of IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei for not joining the hysterical lynch mob building up against Iran. Criticised by Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush administration, it is uncannily reminiscent of the slurs against him and UN weapons inspector Hans Blix in the run up to the invasion of Iraq - and we should remember that the US vindictively tried to unseat him afterwards for not joining in the lying game.

ElBaradei is hardly acting as cheerleader for the Iranians. He says that his inspectors have not seen "any concrete evidence that there is a parallel military program," though he could not yet swear to its absence. But he does believe that our issues with Iran can be resolved through negotiations - in which it would help if the US were not implicitly threatening war. But it looks as though we have reached a similar stage to when Saddam let in the inspectors. When they found no WMDs Washington cried foul, ordered the UN inspectors out and sent the troops in. The US and its allies will not accept anything short of regime change in Teheran - no matter what ordinary Iranians might want and what the IAEA says.

The only difference from last time is that France has defected, and France's opposition to the war in Iraq was as much because of Saddam's oil contracts with Total and Elf-Aquitaine as any deep attachment to international law. Teheran should sign a contract immediately!

There are, of course, several separate issues here. One is whether Iran has the right to enrich uranium. The second is whether it is abusing the putative right to build nuclear weapons. A third is whether the nuclear issue is not just some sort of White House feint, since we all know that if the shooting starts, it will really be about fighting terrorism, liberating gays and women, restoring democracy and taking down a major rival in the region to both Saudi Arabia and Israel - or any permutation of the above.

On the first question, stupid though it is, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty does not ban countries from reprocessing and purifying uranium. It should have done, and it should have allowed more intrusive inspections, but it doesn't, and one reason for that is that the US, under the influence of the people who now want to cite non-proliferation against Iran, fought against attempts to strengthen the treaty. These are the same people, in fact, who have successfully fought against the senate ratifying the comprehensive test ban treaty.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's maladroit diplomacy led to Iran being outmanoeuvred. His comments on Israel and the Holocaust, no matter whether interpreted correctly or not, have made it difficult for many countries to support him. The US got a resolution against Iran through the IAEA council calling on Iran to stop its uranium reprocessing, largely by promising council member India a free pass for developing nuclear weapons outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and with the enthusiastic support of Israel, the only definite nuclear state in the Middle East.

The US then took that IAEA council resolution to the UN security council, whose word, whether Iran likes it or not, is law under the UN charter, even though it is manifestly a political rather than a judicial body. (The law is not always just, and that goes for international law as well). It does not help Iran as much as it should that Washington, a major scofflaw in the international field, is once again talking piously about the need to enforce UN resolutions, with its own interpretation and its own timetable - just as was the case with Iraq.

Iran is playing a dangerous game. Most countries have deep reservations about what the US, France and, to a lesser extent, the UK are up to, but few of them are prepared to go to the wall, diplomatically, let alone militarily, for the ayatollahs.

Iran should accept the additional and more intrusive inspections that it did before, and throw open its program to the IAEA inspectors, but the war talk in Washington and Jerusalem gives it a plausible excuse not to, since it would be tantamount to offering them a list of targets.

Of course it is difficult to support someone like Ahmadinejad, even when he does for once have a point in the nuclear stand-off. But we can support ElBaradei and the IAEA, as the only sane voices around. With enemies such as ElBaradei has marshalling against him, he must be right.

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Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe accused of using food as 'political weapon'

Zimbabweans have been given the stark choice of eating or voting, as Robert Mugabe tightened his grip ahead of the final round of voting in presidential elections.

The government has been accused of trying to become the sole distributor of food to help President Mugabe win the election

The US ambassador to Harare, James McGee, said that President Mugabe was using food as a "political weapon", allowing members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change food aid only if they handed over their voting cards.

The claim came after the regime banned all overseas aid agencies and non-government organisations from working in Zimbabwe, ending the food relief they provide to millions of dependent Zimbabweans.

Mr McGee said the government was trying to become the sole distributor of food to help President Mugabe win the election in three weeks' time.

"If you have an MDC card, you can receive food, but first you have to give your national identity card to government officials. This means they will hold on to it until after the election," Mr McGee said.

"The only way you can access food is to give up your right to vote. It is absolutely illegal. We are dealing with a desperate regime here which will do anything to stay in power," he said.

The government said the groups had been banned for "operating politically" and supporting the MDC.

Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, said the use of "hunger as a political weapon shows a callous contempt for human life".

Human rights workers meanwhile said the order would also prevent there being "human witness" to attacks on opposition supporters by the police, army and so-called "war veterans".

Care International's Africa spokesman, Kenneth Walker, said the order will affect the people "very badly".

"All of the NGOs together provide some very basic services to several million Zimbabweans," he said.

"Nobody is going to starve to death tomorrow," Mr Walker said. "But obviously the longer the suspension remains, the more dire the circumstances become."

The ban came on the same day as police arrested and detained MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai for the second time this week, preventing him from campaigning. He was released after being held for nearly three hours.

The regime also announced that all opposition rallies were banned.

Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general told the World Economic Forum meeting in Cape Town that the Mugabe regime was "increasing the decibels of insanity".

"It is almost as if the regime is sending out a message to the region and to the international community that it doesn't care, that it has no respect for life or for the rule of law," Mr Biti said.

The MDC says that at least 65 of its officials had been killed by state agents in the past three weeks. Many hundreds of villagers suspected of having voted for the MDC have been injured, harassed and had their homes burned down by thugs.

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