Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Post

Not getting a Christmas bonus this year?

A county employee in Arizona has been fired after mistakenly euthanizing a dog that saved soldiers in Afghanistan and lived through explosions in the war-torn country, officials announced Friday.

The unidentified Pinal County animal control employee euthanized the female shepherd mix on Monday and was immediately placed on administrative leave.


After a disabled 10-year-old Australian girl went missing in this small city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, her family's former home became an impromptu memorial piled with stuffed animals and birthday cards.

Now it sits with its front windows smashed by vandals, while frustrated residents complain that the investigation into her death is taking too long, even as increasingly bizarre and potentially damning revelations about Zahra Baker's stepmother and father pile up.

The case has riveted followers in North Carolina and Australia, where she was born and where her biological mother still lives. She was reported missing on Oct. 9 and last week police confirmed everyone's worst fears: A bone from her body and other suspected remains were found in two remote spots.

No charges have been filed in her death, though her stepmother is accused of obstructing justice in the investigation and led police to the remains.

The area's top prosecutor is defending the pace of his investigation. In fact, similar cases have been notoriously difficult to prosecute and rushing into charges unsupported by evidence could be more disastrous than waiting.

"Once we have a complete picture of the events surrounding Zahra's disappearance and her death, we will meet with law enforcement to determine what, if any, charges are required," District Attorney James Gaither Jr. wrote in an email in response to questions from The Associated Press.

After Zahra's disappearance, scrutiny immediately fell on her stepmother, Elisa Baker, and father, Adam Baker, after police publicly doubted their story of how she vanished from their home and neighbours talked about their suspicions of abuse.

Elisa Baker's attorneys have said in court documents that their client told police two weeks ago that Zahra "was deceased, that her body had been dismembered and that it would be recovered at different sites." Elisa Baker then accompanied police to sites where the remains were found.

What is Russia's angle in this?

NATO will invite Russia to take part in a U.S.-European missile defense shield at a summit on Saturday, a move that would herald the closest cooperation between the powers since the end of the Cold War.

NATO leaders agreed on Friday to develop a missile system to protect the territory of all NATO member states in Europe and North America. It will be capable of intercepting long-range missiles fired from the Middle East.

Russia will be invited to be involved in the system when President Dmitry Medvedev meets U.S. President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders at the summit in Portugal, but it remains unclear what role Moscow might play.

When you are not a bastion of human rights, it's probably not a good idea to cast aspersions:

Vietnam's communist government has slammed the U.S. State Department's annual religious freedom report, calling it biased and based on incorrect information.

The report on the status of religious freedom worldwide, released Wednesday, noted an improved respect for religious freedom and practices in Vietnam, but said significant problems remained....

Vietnam's foreign ministry said the report "continues to produce biased assessment that is built on incorrect information on Vietnam."

"In Vietnam, the rights to freedom of belief and religion of the Vietnamese people are enshrined in the national constitution and are respected and guaranteed in reality," ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said in a statement posted on the ministry's website late Thursday.

There are a dozen sanctioned religions in Vietnam, a nation of 86 million people, with Buddhism and Christianity the largest. Those not recognized by the communist government are outlawed.

Once again, Christie Blatchford:

Maria and Dieter Rauscher came to Canada from Germany as immigrants. In 1978, Dieter transferred into a management position with Lake Erie Steel (now U.S. Steel Canada) at Nanticoke, a short trip south of Caledonia. The couple moved to a rambling old farmhouse on a small acreage on the Sixth Line, east of Six Nations.

On the morning of April 20, 2006, Maria and Dieter were still in bed when they heard police cruisers speeding by on the Sixth Line, heading east toward the train tracks.

“As we look out the window,” Dieter says, “there was a Suburban or something like that, a big one, stopped, and cops get out. They were standing there with hands behind their backs. Six or eight of them. And there were about three or four Indians who came out the back here.”

Dieter watched as one of the officers pulled out a piece of paper and began reading something — presumably the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP)’s warning to protesters — aloud.

“All of a sudden, there was a big kerfuffle,” he says. “Out of the bush came another twenty people … there were already people coming from Six Nations down the road. And they all walked by our entrance to our driveway, they all had sticks, baseball bats.”

The OPP, seeing the crowd, just “high-tailed it” and took off.

“That,” Dieter says, “was the last police we saw.”

Quebec is finished (sorry, Quebec, but you knew this was coming):

Ironically, the Conference Board concludes that a balanced budget could be achieved by hiking the Quebec sales tax from 9.5 to 19.5%, between 2012 and 2031. It notes that France currently has a similarly high Value Added Tax of 19.6%. Almost risibly, the report asks, “But is it politically “doable” in Quebec?” Answer: in an election year – or any year – it is about as likely to happen as Mr. Charest shaving his head.

But the Conference Board also posits another path to fiscal sanity: questioning the entitlements which cost Quebecers so dearly in the first place. Universal health care and rock-bottom university tuition fees make the report’s list: add to that $7-a-day daycare, free in vitro treatments, child assistance payments, and subsidized private schools.

Ironically these pricey programs are the same ones designed to combat what the Conference Board pinpoints as the source of Quebec’s malaise: its low birth rate and aging population. While the province’s fertility rate has increased slightly over the past decade, Quebecers need to ask themselves: is it enough to warrant these expenditures, while the public purse bleeds dry? Or is it time to curb the largesse of the state, before it’s too late? As the report notes in its conclusion, ultimately, “it is up to the people of Quebec” to make that decision. 

And, of course, up to their leaders to implement it.

When Iran isn't killing one of our citizens, it's warning fellow Iranians not to go to Canada. To what end, I don't know.

IRI’s [Islamic Republic of Iran] Foreign Ministry has warned Iranian nationals against traveling to Canada as the new wave of Islamophobia is sweeping across the North American country.
The ministry issued a statement on Tuesday, cautioning Iranian citizens who plan to visit Canada to take precautionary steps.

The statement warns that the wave of Islamophobia in the Western countries has expanded its reach and is claiming new victims as a number of Muslims, especially Iranian nationals, have been deported under different pretexts, while Ottawa actively hinders Iranian nationals who want to seek justice through the Canadian courts, IRIB reported.

Many Muslims, particularly Iranians, are deprived of their social and political rights…

Because, as we all know, Canada hangs homosexuals, stones allegedly adulterous women to death, threatens Israel and shoots students in the streets. Oh wait! That isn't us!

In other news, China sucks:

A new report by a panel of U.N.-appointed experts confirms what we’ve really known all along — that China is acting in bad faith by helping North Korea violate three U.N. resolutions China’s U.N. Ambassador voted for. 

Besides, U.S. officials believed, the global issues on the table were far too important to be disrupted by a minor perennial irritant such as arms sales to Taiwan. 

But Chinese leaders clearly saw a link between their cooperation on global issues such as climate change, Iran and North Korea, and American arms sales to Taiwan. 

"The U.S. thinks China's recent reactions are provocative or even arrogant," said Yuan Peng, director of the Institute of American Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. "But China thinks that China didn't change. Taiwan and meeting the Dalai Lama have always been the core interests of China. These are never minor issues. 

"China is disappointed by the Obama administration," Yuan added. "Before, China thought Obama was the president for change, and he would have some new thoughts about cooperation between great nations. However, he has no essential difference from other previous presidents." 

I guess the Americans aren't moving fast enough for the Chinese.

Weighing in on body searches at the airport:

And now three months later, the newest airport hero arrives. His genius was not innovation in getting out, but deconstructing the entire process of getting in. John Tyner, cleverly armed with an iPhone to give YouTube immortality to the encounter, took exception to the TSA guard about to give him the benefit of Homeland Security's newest brainstorm - the upgraded, full-palm, up the groin, all-body pat-down. In a stroke, the young man ascended to myth, or at least the next edition of Bartlett's, warning the agent not to "touch my junk." 

Not quite the 18th-century elegance of "Don't Tread on Me," but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket....

(Sidebar: I'll say.)

The ultimate idiocy is the full-body screening of the pilot. The pilot doesn't need a bomb or box cutter to bring down a plane. All he has to do is drive it into the water, like the EgyptAir pilot who crashed his plane off Nantucket while intoning "I rely on God," killing all on board. 

But we must not bring that up. We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches. 

The junk man's revolt marks the point at which a docile public declares that it will tolerate only so much idiocy. Metal detector? Back-of-the-hand pat? Okay. We will swallow hard and pretend airline attackers are randomly distributed in the population. 

But now you insist on a full-body scan, a fairly accurate representation of my naked image to be viewed by a total stranger? Or alternatively, the full-body pat-down, which, as the junk man correctly noted, would be sexual assault if performed by anyone else? 

This time you have gone too far, Big Bro'. The sleeping giant awakes. Take my shoes, remove my belt, waste my time and try my patience. But don't touch my junk.

Related: TSA Training Lacking:

A government investigation came to a conclusion many travelers have voiced for years: TSA’s security screeners should be better trained.....

Among the shortcomings that the inspector general found: TSA doesn’t have standard processes to use screener test results, such as “covert testing’’ where government officials try to smuggle weapons through checkpoints, to evaluate and update training programs. On-the-job training is lacking, and TSA doesn’t have uniform steps to “to ensure that officers have the tools and time necessary to complete training requirements,’’ the IG’s report said.

In addition, there aren’t standard procedures for allocating equipment, support and time needed to complete training requirements, either, the report found.

“Without guidance and a documented process for updating training based on screener performance data and changes in technology or equipment, TSA may be missing opportunities to enhance its [screeners’] skills and abilities,’’ the inspector general said.

The study found problems with computers used in on-the-job training for screeners, such as machines that were slow or malfunctioning and networks that crashed. The agency hasn’t consistently allocated computers nationwide, the investigation found. One airport had one training computer for every 32 screeners while another had one computer for every screening officer. And training locations are often inconvenient to screening checkpoints and baggage areas, or placed in break rooms or areas close to checkpoints where screeners were taking training courses “surrounded by the conversations of coworkers or the traveling public,’’ the report said.

Oh great....

And now for something completely cuddly.

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