Monday, November 29, 2010

Second-hand smoke kills 600,000 a year: WHO study

Second-hand smoke kills 600,000 a year: WHO study

An advisory image printed on cigarette packs sold in Brazil. Around one in a hundred deaths worldwide is due to passive smoking, which kills an estimated 600,000 people a year, says the WHO. REUTERS/Health Ministry/Handout
LONDON | Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:56am EST

LONDON (Reuters) - Around one in a hundred deaths worldwide is due to passive smoking, which kills an estimated 600,000 people a year, World Health Organization (WHO) researchers said on Friday.
In the first study to assess the global impact of second-hand smoke, WHO experts found that children are more heavily exposed to second-hand smoke than any other age-group, and around 165,000 of them a year die because of it.
"Two-thirds of these deaths occur in Africa and south Asia," the researchers, led by Annette Pruss-Ustun of the WHO in Geneva, wrote in their study.
Children's exposure to second-hand smoke is most likely to happen at home, and the double blow of infectious diseases and tobacco "seems to be a deadly combination for children in these regions," they said.
Commenting on the findings in the Lancet journal, Heather Wipfli and Jonathan Samet from the University of Southern California said policymakers try to motivate families to stop smoking in the home.
"In some countries, smokefree homes are becoming the norm, but far from universally," they wrote.
The WHO researchers looked at data from 192 countries for their study. To get comprehensive data from all 192, they had to go back to 2004. They used mathematical modeling to estimate deaths and the number of years lost of life in good health.
Worldwide, 40 percent of children, 33 percent of non-smoking men and 35 percent non-smoking women were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004, they found.
This exposure was estimated to have caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer.
For the full impact of smoking, these deaths should be added to the estimated 5.1 million deaths a year attributable to active tobacco use, the researchers said.
While deaths due to passive smoking in children were skewed toward poor and middle-income countries, deaths in adults were spread across countries at all income levels.
In Europe's high-income countries, only 71 child deaths occurred, while 35,388 deaths were in adults. Yet in the countries assessed in Africa, an estimated 43,375 deaths due to passive smoking were in children compared with 9,514 in adults.
Pruss-Ustun urged countries to enforce the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which includes higher tobacco taxes, plain packaging and advertising bans, among other steps.
"Policy-makers should bear in mind that enforcing complete smoke-free laws will probably substantially reduce the number of deaths attributable to exposure to second-hand smoke within the first year of its implementation, with accompanying reduction in costs of illness in social and health systems," she wrote.
Only 7.4 percent of the world population currently lives in jurisdictions with comprehensive smoke-free laws, and those laws are not always robustly enforced.
In places where smoke-free rules are adhered to, research shows that exposure to second hand smoke in high-risk places like bars and restaurants can be cut by 90 percent, and in general by 60 percent, the researchers said.
Studies also show such laws help to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked by smokers and lead to higher success rates in those trying to quit.

Will the euro survive Europe’s latest sovereign debt crisis?

Will the euro survive Europe’s latest sovereign debt crisis?

Nov 19, 2010 07:21 EST

Kathleen Brooks is research director at The opinions expressed are her own.
Ireland’s banking crisis reached boiling point this week. The Irish authorities are still adamant the country doesn’t need a bailout and are trying to draw a distinction between a sovereign bailout (which Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan et al claim they don’t need) and banking sector support (which they most definitely do).
Regardless of the semantics, it seems highly likely that Ireland will receive funds from the EU and the IMF possibly by the end of the week. With Ireland likely to be the second member of the Eurozone to require financial assistance in six months, it brings into question the “no bailout” clause in the European Union treaty.
2010 has been the year when Europe’s grand project was fundamentally altered, but where does this leave its most precious commodity – the euro?
Some argue that the precarious financial position of the peripheral nations is evidence that the European project did not work. Interest rates that were too low caused debt bubbles in the fast-growing peripheral nations that eventually burst. Cleaning up the mess is costing billions of euros, the European Financial Stability Fund – which is designed to provide “temporary” financial support to member states in financial difficulties will guarantee 440 billion euros of liabilities. And austerity measures for these nations will crimp growth for many years to come.
While the fund may be able to cope with the claims of Ireland and Greece, it could not cope with those of Spain, another debt-laden southern European economy that is at risk from bond vigilantes once the focus shifts from Ireland’s woes. If Spain was to require financing in the coming months then it would come down to Germany, as the largest economic force in the Euro zone, to cough up more cash. Angela Merkel certainly doesn’t seem to have the political will to “donate” any more money to bail out its Eurozone peers, and if the funds are not there then a situation where Spain is “too big to bail” could break the Eurozone and cause the demise of the Euro.
But we believe this is an extremely unlikely scenario. So what is a more realistic conclusion to the current crisis in Europe? At the moment, it appears that Ireland will receive some form of financial assistance, which will reduce the near-term risks of an Irish default and should calm the markets. But on a more fundamental level, the Irish crisis has shown the political will in Europe to keep the Union afloat. Ireland has been pushed to accept financial assistance from all corners of Europe in an attempt to calm the markets and stop contagion in other fiscally challenged members like Portugal and Spain.
This suggests that although the way that Europe has coped with its first major challenge has been inconsistent and laden with confusion, there is an overwhelming desire to keep the monetary union intact. Thus, investors who believe that this is the death knell for the Eurozone will have to battle the political will of Brussels.
Secondly, Spain is a large economy and although it has suffered the bursting of its real estate bubble, it has other industries to try and pull it out of its economic malaise. As well as this, its financial position is clear, whereas Ireland’s financial liabilities are still technically unknown as more bad mortgages turn sour on Irish banks’ balance sheets. This should help Spain avoid a similar fate to Greece and Ireland in the capital markets.
Lastly, although the euro has come under some selling pressure during this most recent debt crisis, it hasn’t suffered a capitulation. The forex market is not pricing in the chance of a collapse in the euro any time soon. While there are major structural issues – including implementing strict fiscal rules and setting up an automatic default mechanism for member states – this is to be expected with a political union that is essentially only 10-years old.
Essentially the peripheral nations need to be more like Germany, and Germany needs to consume a little more. If Europe can get succeed in its own balancing act, then it could emerge from this crisis as the strongest of the major economies.
Spain is sitting on 620 bil Euros of non performing loans to the construction sector, via the Caja banks. At the moment they are still in the books as good debts. Once the write down starts the focus will be on Spain and the banks debts. I can’t see the Germans bailing out Spain as well as Ireland and Portugal. Either the central bank takes over the economic running of the Euro zone in totality or the Euro collapses. The former brings an unacceptable loss of sovereignty and unbelievable financial hardship for the PIIGS whilst the latter brings chaos. I can’t think of a third scenario.

Thai court set to rule on fate of ruling party

Thai court set to rule on fate of ruling party

  • BANGKOK (AP) — Judges from Thailand's Constitutional Court are deciding whether to disband the ruling party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva over charges it misused government funds. Former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai delivered closing arguments Monday defending his Democrat Party of charges it misused 29 million baht ($907,000) of a government fund allotted for political parties. The court indicated it would deliver a verdict later in the day. If found guilty, the party could be disbanded and about 40 of its executives — including Abhisit — banned from politics for five years. That would force the formation of a new government. The punishment is at the discretion of the court.

Ireland Wins $113 Billion Aid; Germany Drops Threat on Bonds

Ireland Wins $113 Billion Aid; Germany Drops Threat on Bonds
By James G. Neuger and Simon Kennedy - Nov 28, 2010 4:01 PM PT

Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, adjusts his glasses during a press conference following an emergency meeting of European Union (EU) finance ministers in Brussels. Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg
European governments sought to quell the market turmoil menacing the euro, handing debt-strapped Ireland an 85 billion-euro ($113 billion) aid package and diluting proposals to force bondholders to cover a share of future bailouts.

European finance chiefs ended crisis talks in Brussels yesterday by endorsing a Franco-German compromise on post-2013 rescues that means investors won’t automatically take losses to share the cost with taxpayers as German Chancellor Angela Merkel initially proposed to the consternation of bond traders.

The first test of the twin decisions will come when markets resume trading today after speculation intensified last week that Portugal and perhaps even Spain will require external support. In a third move, Greece was told it could have an extra four-and-a-half years to repay emergency loans totaling 110 billion euros to match the seven-year term under Ireland’s deal.

“People are now going to focus on Portugal and it’s probably also going to need some help,” said Axel Merk, president and chief investment officer of Merk Investments LLC in Palo Alto, California. “We’ll maybe see some relief in markets, but governments need to show they’re getting their economies in shape.”

Six months after the Greek rescue exposed flaws in the euro’s makeup and fueled doubts whether 16 countries belong in the same currency union, policy makers again found themselves meeting on a Sunday racing to calm markets. They convened after a week in which the cost of insuring Portuguese, Irish and Spanish government debt against default rose to a record and the 10-year bond yields of those nations, Italy and Greece averaged more than 7.5 percent, a euro-era record.

German Debt Fix

The euro gained 0.3 percent to $1.3277 at 7:20 a.m. in Tokyo after weakening 3.2 percent against the dollar last week.

Germany, which built the euro on the principle of budgetary rigor, unleashed the latest phase of the crisis by demanding a “permanent” system as of 2013 that would enable fiscally troubled countries to restructure their debts and cut the value of bond holdings.

The German push ran into criticism from policy makers elsewhere who called it mistimed and from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, who warned that it would unsettle bondholders. Germany yesterday backed away from the pitch for an automatic penalty, agreeing to give the International Monetary Fund a role in determining losses on a case-by-case basis.

The new proposal, fast-tracked from a debate set for December, would introduce “collective action clauses” for debt sold as of 2013, enabling fiscally hard-hit governments to renegotiate bond contracts. EU governments aim to enshrine it in the bloc’s treaties by mid-2013 and pair it with a new emergency liquidity fund to replace the one expiring then.

‘Herd Behavior’

Trichet yesterday called the compromise a “useful clarification” and the ECB’s Governing Council said in a statement that the Irish program will “contribute to restoring confidence and safeguarding financial stability in the euro area.”

“There’s plenty of herd behavior in the market,” EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said. “We want to clarify any possible confusion.”

Germany’s export-led economy has powered through the euro crisis, with business confidence at a record high in November and the government projecting expansion of 3.7 percent this year, the fastest pace in more than a decade. That resilience contrasts with recession in Greece and Ireland, splitting the euro region between better-off countries in Germany’s economic slipstream and poorer ones on the continent’s fringes.

Irish Interest Rate

Yesterday’s decisions bring “hope of preventing contagion spreading to other countries but do not address long-term solvency issues,” said Andrew Bosomworth, a Munich-based fund manager at Pacific Investment Management Co. “It’s a kick-the- can-down-the-road solution as opposed to acknowledging and confronting the here and now insolvency problems.”

Ireland said it will pay average interest of 5.8 percent on the loans, which break down into 45 billion euros from European governments, 22.5 billion euros from the IMF and 17.5 billion euros from Ireland’s cash reserves and national pension fund.

“I don’t believe there were any other real options,” Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told reporters in Dublin.

A day after more than 50,000 protesters marched through Dublin to denounce Cowen’s budget cuts to stave off financial ruin, the EU gave Ireland an extra year, until 2015, to get its budget deficit to the euro limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Including the bill for propping up Irish banks, the deficit is set to reach 32 percent of GDP this year, the highest in the euro’s 12-year history.

U.K. Loan

Cowen has overseen the collapse of Ireland’s banking system and public finances, leading to recession and unemployment of close to 14 percent. Cowen’s government is also unraveling. The Green Party, a junior coalition partner, wants January elections, his party last week lost a special election for a vacant parliamentary seat and some of his own colleagues are slamming his leadership.

Close banking links led Britain, a non-euro user that didn’t contribute to Greece’s 110 billion-euro rescue in May, to contribute 3.8 billion euros to Ireland’s package.

“That is money we fully expect to get back,” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told reporters in Brussels. “It’s in everyone’s national interest and it’s in Britain’s national interest that we get some economic stability in Ireland and indeed across the euro zone.”

Portugal’s Growth

The deal for Ireland shifts attention to Portugal, which last week passed the deepest spending cuts in more than three decades with the goal of getting back under the EU’s deficit limits by 2012. HSBC Holdings Plc estimates it needs to find 51.5 billion euros over the next three years to meet its likely budget and bond redemption needs.

While Greece let the budget get out of hand and Ireland fell prey to a housing bust, Portugal suffers from a lack of competitiveness that kept average economic growth below 1 percent in the past decade. Its government has also been slower to cut its deficit than others with the central government deficit widening 1.8 percent in the first ten months of the year as Spain’s fell 47 percent.

Like Ireland, Portugal doesn’t immediately need money to run the government. It has completed this year’s bond sales and doesn’t face a redemption until April. The government debt agency plans to hold an auction of 12-month bills on Dec. 1.

“Portugal doesn’t see a need to ask for help,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said yesterday.

Budget Gap

Spanish Economy Minister Elena Salgado yesterday also reiterated that her economy -- the euro zone’s fourth-largest and almost twice the size of Portugal, Ireland and Greece combined -- won’t need aid either. As well as slashing its budget gap, the country has brought regional spending under greater control and half of its debt is held at home, limiting the threat of a withdrawal by foreign investors. It too doesn’t face the first of its 45 billion euros in bond redemptions next year until April.

Investors have nevertheless expressed worry that the EU’s bailout pot may be smaller than advertised and so not large enough to save Spain. HSBC’s sums show the country needs 351 billion euros over the next three years.

In practice, the EU may only be able to deploy 255 billion euros of the 440 billion-euro European Financial Stability Facility, according to Nomura International Plc. That’s because the rescue fund is financed by issuing bonds and to secure a AAA rating, governments agreed to set aside cash and to link lending to the creditworthiness of donors.

Bailout Pool

The rest of the bailout pool consists of 60 billion euros from the European Commission and 250 billion euro pledged by the IMF.

The reigniting of the crisis means the ECB may again postpone its exit from emergency measures just as it did at the height of the Greek turmoil. It’s likely to also provide more help to banks in Spain and Portugal and could ultimately extend its bond purchase program to Spanish securities and maybe even conduct broader asset purchases to protect its economy, said Janet Henry, chief European economist at HSBC in London.

Analysis: Portugal, Spain in crosshairs as Ireland bailed out

Analysis: Portugal, Spain in crosshairs as Ireland bailed out

BRUSSELS | Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:09pm EST
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's bailout of Ireland is unlikely to halt expectations that the euro zone debt crisis will spread to Portugal, or provide reassurance that a firewall can be built around Spain.
Europe's debt contagion has moved on from Greece to consume Ireland in a matter of months, even though Ireland had complained it was not like Greece and did not need help to sort out its bad banks or a gaping budget deficit.
Sunday's decision by EU finance ministers to prop up Ireland with 85 billion euros may temporarily halt financial market pressure on euro-zone debt.
But renewed pressure is likely to be applied to Portugal and Spain, where yields on 10-year government bonds rose sharply last week as debt markets priced in the risk that Iberia could be next in line after Ireland.
"I think it is almost impossible now to stop the contagion," said Mark Grant, managing director of corporate syndicate and structured debt products at Southwest Securities in Florida.
"If Ireland is dealt with, it will not be solved and then bond owners will turn their attention to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium et al as the monetary union is full of structural defects. With the possible exception of Germany, it appears to me that no sovereign debt is safe."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said last week there was no chance Madrid would follow Dublin and Athens in requesting aid, a line repeated by his economy minister as she arrived for Sunday's EU talks in Brussels.
Portugal's prime minister has said similar things about Lisbon. But the words may not be enough to stop it happening.
Ireland's situation may be different to Greece's, Portugal's different to Ireland's and Spain's different to Portugal's, but they all still have enough bad ingredients -- whether high deficits, low growth prospects, large debts or bad banks -- to create market uncertainty and raise their risk profiles.
"If we look at the wider situation, markets are already concerned about contagion spreading to Portugal, and then Spain, and to a certain extent the European Union are playing catch up to market fears," said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec.
"There's absolutely no indication that the agreed package for Ireland is going to soothe those concerns spreading from the Iberian peninsula."
European Union leaders and senior finance officials now find themselves confronted by an array of unappealing challenges.
If Ireland's bailout does not stop the rot, they will have to convince financial markets they have the capacity to bail out Portugal and potentially Spain too. Otherwise yields on Portuguese and Spanish debt will go on rising and further contagion would be self-fulfilling.
In theory, they have the money to help both.

The European Financial Stability Facility, a joint EU-IMF fund created in May, started with 750 billion euros in the kitty. After Ireland's bailout, there is 665 billion euros left -- Greece's package was a separate 110 billion euro arrangement.
If Portugal were to seek EU assistance, economists estimate it would need up to 100 billion euros, well within the EFSF's reach. Spain, however, is a very different case. It's economy is twice the size of Portugal, Ireland and Greece combined.
While there may in theory be enough funds to help Spain as well, such a bailout would come close to using up everything, which would be a red rag to those determined to see what the EU would do next if, say, Belgium or Italy came under pressure.
In terms of macroeconomic fundamentals, Portugal and Spain do not need a bailout. But this has become a sentiment-driven crisis, with bond market fears driving up yields, raising the cost of funding and forcing EU states to crisis point.
"The problem is that the markets have moved," said Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Bloxham stockbrokers.
"I don't think they really care about Ireland any more, they've moved on to Portugal and Spain. The crisis has moved on. The politicians don't seem to realize, but the markets have."
In the long term, the best defense against attack will be Portugal, Spain, Ireland and others retooling their economies to improve primary budget balances, increase productivity and growth, and lower unemployment. But that will take years.
In the short term, the EU is faced with dealing with the immediate problems and communicating better on how it plans to overcome them. Past communications have been patchy and may well have exacerbated the crisis.
On Sunday, as well as agreeing the Irish bailout, finance ministers discussed how a permanent mechanism for resolving future euro zone sovereign debt crises -- which the EU plans to introduce from 2013 when the EFSF expires -- will work.
Germany had insisted that the permanent mechanism should involve substantial write-downs for private bondholders, a view that provoked more turbulence on financial markets last week, aggravating the situation for Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
Those demands were dropped on Sunday as finance ministers laid out a more nuanced mechanism that would involve private bondholders being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with debt restructurings handled along IMF lines.
Those measures and others may calm the more critical voices, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to convince financial markets that the EU actually has its crisis in hand.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Sarah Young in London; editing by Ron Askew)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Taxes, budget and jobless benefits - Congress at the wire

Taxes, budget and jobless benefits - Congress at the wire

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- The lame-duck Congress returns on Monday to a daunting agenda of economic issues.
And lawmakers will try to accomplish in a few weeks what has eluded them all year.
Some deadlines, such as extending unemployment insurance and passing a federal budget, will hit this week. On other matters, such as the Bush tax cuts, lawmakers have until year's end.
Here's their To Do list:
Medicare payments to doctors: The House on Monday is set to take up a measure delaying a 23% cut in federal reimbursements to doctors by one month.
The Medicare payment reduction is scheduled to go into effect Wednesday if lawmakers don't act. Physicians have threatened to drop Medicare patients if their rates are slashed.
Bush tax cuts: On Tuesday, President Obama will meet with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to tackle the extension of the Bush tax cuts.
Just about the only thing both parties agree on is preserving the tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families, which is estimated to cost $3 trillion over a decade. At issue is extending them permanently for the high-income earners, which adds $700 million to the tab.

President Obama and many Democrats have said they want the tax cuts to expire on family income above $250,000. But the GOP contends that raising taxes now on anyone will imperil the still-fragile economy.
Unemployment benefits: It looks increasingly likely that hundreds of thousands of people will start running out of extended unemployment benefits this week.
Lawmakers are expected to let the Nov. 30 deadline to file for federal unemployment insurance pass without extending it. But that doesn't mean it's the end of the road for federal benefits, which last 73 weeks. Congress may take up the measure during December, either as stand-alone legislation or as part of a bigger bill.
The main sticking point is paying to maintain the safety net. The most recent six-month extension cost $34 billion.
Some 2 million people are expected to run out of federal benefits in December if lawmakers don't extend the deadline. Advocates want action taken before deficit-conscious Republicans take over the House in January.
Deficit commission: President Obama's fiscal commission is scheduled to issue a report on how to reduce the nation's long-term on Dec. 1. But it's unlikely the 18-member panel will get the votes required to make official recommendations to Congress.
Earlier this month, the commission's co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, issued their own recommendations, including spending cuts, tax reforms and other ways to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.

Fiscal 2011 budget: Lawmakers are already two months late in enacting the fiscal 2011 budget, though they passed a temporary spending plan that expires on Friday. If they don't act by then, the federal government will shut down.
Congress could finally pass a full-year budget, but that's a long shot. It's more likely that lawmakers will approve another so-called continuing resolution, which maintains funding for federal operations at 2010 levels. The big question is how long the Band-Aid will last.  To top of page

Driver cams: Safety tool or the road to loss of privacy

Driver cams: Safety tool or the road to loss of privacy

Published Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010

Smile at the windshield – and say cheese?
California is giving the green light to allowing video cameras to be mounted onto vehicle windshields in an attempt to improve road safety.
The goal is to make participants aware of bad habits by recording their behavior seconds before and after a crash or erratic driving maneuver.
"It seemed like a common-sense approach," Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher said of permitting but not requiring the use of video recorders.
Parents could buy such cameras to place in their teenager's car, but the prime market is expected to be truck, bus or other transportation companies with large fleets.
Critics question whether expanding workplace recording intrudes upon privacy in a society where cameras already are used for purposes ranging from monitoring department store aisles to detecting red-light violations.
"We have this fundamental right to privacy, and I don't think there was a case made for why we need to have continuous recording of drivers and traffic," said Valerie Small Navarro of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The issue comes at a time when the country is split on another matter pitting privacy concerns against public safety policy – full-body scans and aggressive pat-downs at airports.
California's new recording law, Assembly Bill 1942, will allow cameras to be mounted on windshields beginning Jan. 1, much as electronic GPS mapping and toll-paying devices are permitted now.
Fletcher, R-San Diego, carried AB 1942 on behalf a company in his district that produces vehicle cameras, DriveCam, but competing firms exist nationwide, he said.
DriveCam's camera simultaneously records actions inside a vehicle – by the driver or passengers – and any traffic movement in lanes directly in front of the windshield.
The camera continuously records audio and video but saves images only from eight seconds before and four seconds after a crash or erratic motion, like a sudden stop, acceleration or swerve. Images of any event are uploaded to DriveCam, analyzed, and then posted to a secure website.
Recordings can be used as evidence of fault in traffic collisions.

Tool for driver education

They also can help eliminate bad driving habits: By analyzing events leading up to a collision or near miss, fleet managers and parents can coach safer driving, said Eric Cohen of DriveCam.DriveCam points to a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that found cameras reduced the number of collisions or risky maneuvers per miles driven by 37 percent and 52 percent, respectively, in two groups of truck drivers tested.
Families can buy a windshield camera from DriveCam for about $900, including one year of monitoring during which the firm collects all recordings and provides an analysis to clients for coaching purposes, Cohen said.
DriveCam has joined forces with American Family Insurance in a 19-state program, not available in California, which offers a free vehicle camera to families in which a teenager recently received a driver's license.
Nationally, DriveCam has equipped 150,000 vehicles with recording devices. Prior to AB 1942, California did not outlaw such cameras but barred their placement on windshields, the prime spot for recording.
Fletcher said he tried to narrow privacy concerns by amending AB 1942 to allow no more than 30 seconds of recordings to be retained per incident, to require a posted notice for passengers that talking may be recorded, and to ensure that owners of participating vehicles can disable cameras and employee drivers can obtain recordings.
"If you have a technology that's been demonstrated to reduce accidents, and you can allow its use in a way that safeguards privacy, you should do it," Fletcher said.
Because AB 1942 allows recordings to be examined only if there is a crash or erratic motion, the cameras cannot be used to routinely check whether radios are blaring or drivers are talking on cell phones.

Bad precedent feared

Nonetheless, society should think twice about continuous on-the-job video recording of employees, says Small Navarro of the ACLU."What is our reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace?" she asked.
For union employees, use of recording devices would be subject to collective bargaining, Fletcher noted.
But former Republican legislator Tim Leslie said allowing continuous video recording inside vehicles sets a sobering precedent.
"Are we going to be filmed all the time, in a few years, or what?" he asked.
"Big Brother does not need to land on my dashboard," added Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said that cameras might be acceptable in buses, taxis and other forms of mass transit, but that allowing them in all vehicles could be a "slippery slope to major privacy invasions."
Fletcher said the new law seeks to enhance traffic safety, not weaken privacy rights.
"We made it very focused and very narrow for a specific purpose," Fletcher said.
Several truckers interviewed at a West Sacramento truck stop gave thumbs-up to cameras, saying their value in documenting collisions outweighs privacy concerns.
"Hopefully, it will save on the insurance," said Gordon Ohta, 52, of Sacramento.
"I always feel that it you don't have anything to hide and it improves safety, that's the way to go," said Hans Plesman, 48, of Atherton.

US asks WikiLeaks to halt document release

US asks WikiLeaks to halt document release

Gizmodo Goes Crazy, Reality Isn't What It Seems

Updated: November 28, 2010, 07:13 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration has told whistleblower WikiLeaks that its expected imminent release of classified State Department cables will put "countless" lives at risk, threaten global counterterrorism operations and jeopardize U.S. relations with its allies.
In a highly unusual step reflecting the administration's grave concerns about the ramifications of the move, the State Department late Saturday released a letter from its top lawyer to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney telling them that publication of the documents would be illegal and demanding that they stop it.
It also said the U.S. government would not cooperate with WikiLeaks in trying to scrub the cables of information that might put sources and methods of intelligence gathering and diplomatic reporting at risk.
The letter from State Department legal adviser Harold Koh was released as U.S. diplomats around the world are scrambling to warn foreign governments about what might be in the secret documents that are believed to contain highly sensitive assessments about world leaders, their policies and America's attempts to lobby them.
In the letter, Koh said the publication of some 250,000 secret diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, which is expected on Sunday, will "place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals," ''place at risk on-going military operations," and "place at risk on-going cooperation between countries."
"They were provided in violation of U.S. law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action," he said. Koh said WikiLeaks should not publish the documents, return them to the U.S. government and destroy any copies it may have in its possession or in computer databases.
The State Department said Koh's message was a response to a letter received on Friday by the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Louis Susman, from Assange and his lawyer, Jennifer Robinson. The department said that letter asked for information "regarding individuals who may be 'at significant risk of harm' because of" the release of the documents.
"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals," Koh wrote in reply. "You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger."
He said the U.S government would not deal with WikiLeaks at all in determining what may or may not released.
"We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. government classified materials," wrote Koh, who is considered to be one of the world's top experts in international law and was reportedly considered for a seat on the Supreme Court.
WikiLeaks is expected to post the documents online on Sunday and Koh said the U.S. government had been told that The New York Times, the British newspaper the Guardian and the German news magazine Der Spiegel had prior access to them.
The release of Koh's letter comes as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top U.S. officials are reaching out to numerous countries about the expected WikiLeaks release.
Clinton spoke to leaders in China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France and Afghanistan on Friday, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. Canada, Denmark, Norway and Poland have also been warned.
The cables are thought to include candid assessments of foreign leaders and governments and could erode trust in the U.S. as a diplomatic partner.
Crowley said the release will place "lives and interests at risk. We are all bracing for what may be coming and condemn WikiLeaks for the release of classified material. It will place lives and interests at risk. It is irresponsible."
Diplomatic cables are internal documents that would include a range of secret communications between U.S. diplomatic outposts and State Department headquarters in Washington.
WikiLeaks has said the release will be seven times the size of its October leak of 400,000 Iraq war documents, already the biggest leak in U.S. intelligence history.
The U.S. says it has known for some time that WikiLeaks held the diplomatic cables. No one has been charged with passing them to the website, but suspicion focuses on U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in Iraq in June and charged over an earlier leak.

Teen held in alleged Portland bomb plot

Teen held in alleged Portland bomb plot

FBI agents say Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, planned to detonate explosives during a tree lighting downtown. But he'd been working all along with undercover agents, an affidavit says.

By Bob Drogin and April Choi, Los Angeles Times
November 28, 2010
Reporting from Washington and Corvallis, Ore.
In August, the FBI says, 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud told two men who claimed to be Al Qaeda operatives that he had considered violent jihad since he was 15, and that he now was ready to commit mass slaughter.

Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, said he wanted to set off a bomb during the lighting of a giant Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving in an outdoor plaza in downtown Portland, Ore. The festive ceremony on the busiest shopping day of the year normally draws thousands of people.

"You know, the streets are packed," said Mohamud, at the time a student at Oregon State University in Corvallis. When one of the men responded that "a lot of children" would attend, according to an FBI affidavit, he replied, "Yeah, I mean, that's what I'm looking for."

Mohamud — tall, thin and known for enjoying rap music and pickup basketball — reportedly shrugged off concerns about security at the event, explaining: "They don't see it as a place where anything will happen.... It's on the West Coast, it's in Oregon, and Oregon's like you know, nobody ever thinks about it."

But the two men were undercover FBI agents, and audio and video recorders captured that conversation and many others like it. Mohamud now sits in federal custody — the latest alleged domestic terrorist to fall for an elaborate FBI sting — after months of secret surveillance and a grisly plot worthy of Jack Bauer.

A 38-page FBI affidavit released Saturday paints Mohamud as highly determined and deadly serious. He is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is due in court Monday.

"The threat was very real," said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. "Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale."

According to the FBI, they arrested Mohamud after he dialed a cellphone that he thought would detonate a huge bomb — six 55-gallon drums, diesel fuel and a large box of screws — in a large white van parked near the tree lighting.

But the bomb was a fake built by the FBI, and the packed crowds who enjoyed a youth choir and a symphony orchestra at Friday's holiday celebration at Pioneer Courthouse Square were never in danger, authorities said.

Mohamud appears to have joined a growing list of amateurs who have shown more fervor than smarts in their apparent plots against America. His alleged operation unfolded under the careful supervision, and with the direct assistance, of undercover FBI agents.

Aided by good luck and good intelligence, U.S. authorities have disrupted or uncovered at least 15 homegrown terrorist conspiracies over the last two years, often by penetrating the scheme at an early stage and carefully orchestrating the results.

Two domestic attacks have produced casualties — the shooting deaths of 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, and the slaying of an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Ark., both last year. Another plot, involving a failed car bomb in New York's Times Square in May, was traced to a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, who was arrested and pleaded guilty.

The alleged plot in Portland also would have carried the potential for mass slaughter.

According to the affidavit:

The FBI began tracking Mohamud in August 2009 when they discovered he was e-mailing a former Oregon student who was living in Pakistan's lawless northwest region, where Al Qaeda has a stronghold. The Associated Press reported that the bureau was led to Mohamud by a tip from someone concerned about him.

By December, Mohamud was trying to visit the area. His friend, who was not named in court documents, urged him to contact an associate named Abdulhadi to arrange the trip. But Mohamud repeatedly mixed up the Hotmail address with the password, and the e-mails bounced back.

Apparently frustrated, Mohamud tried to fly to Kodiak, Alaska, on June 10. He already was on a no-fly list, however, and was stopped from boarding at Portland International Airport. He told the FBI that he had hoped to go to Yemen, but couldn't obtain a visa or ticket, so had gotten a summer fishing job in Alaska instead.

Two weeks later, an FBI undercover agent contacted Mohamud and pretended to be Abdulhadi, providing an e-mail address that the FBI controlled. Mohamud and the agent met for the first time on July 30 in downtown Portland.

Mohamud boasted that he had written in support of violent jihad for an online, English-language propaganda magazine called Jihad Recollections, using the pen name Ibnul Mubarak.

The FBI later recovered the three articles, including one titled "Getting in shape without weights." It seeks to introduce Pilates training to those preparing "physically for jihad."

Mohamud also submitted an article to Inspire, an extremist magazine published by the media arm of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American, allegedly ran Jihad Recollections from his parents' home in Charlotte, N.C. He moved to Yemen last year and now is believed to edit Inspire.

Mohamud told "Abdulhadi" that he "initially wanted to wage war in the U.S." The FBI agent told Mohamud he could not tell him what to do, but suggested several options, including going "operational" or becoming a shaheed, or martyr. Mohamud said he wanted to build a car bomb, but would need help.

At Oregon State, about 80 miles south of Portland, Mohamud had a benign profile. "He wasn't the most social person, but he wasn't anti-social," said Omar Mohamed, president of the Muslim Student Assn. "He seemed like a pretty normal guy."

Mohamud also was not known for being particularly pious. "From what I understand, he wasn't the most religious person," Mohamed said. "He didn't regularly go to mosque."

And unlike some Muslim students, he was known to attend college parties where alcohol was served, though it was unclear whether Mohamud actually drank.

On Aug. 19, Mohamud and "Abdulhadi" met again — in a bugged hotel room — and "Abdulhadi" brought another undercover FBI agent, who claimed to be an expert in explosives. Mohamud told them that he had begun thinking of jihad when he was 15.

The FBI affidavit then goes on to say how he described his plan to bomb the Nov. 26 event.

"They have a Christmas lighting and some 25,000 people that come," he said. They should "be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays," he added, quoting Osama bin Laden.

He said he had scouted where Black Friday shoppers streaming from nearby stores would likely gather in the busy outdoor square. The tree lighting was scheduled for 5:30 p.m., "so I was thinking that would be the perfect time."

The trio met again Sept. 7. This time, the undercover agents asked Mohamud to buy the bomb components. They gave him $2,700 in cash to rent an apartment where they could all hide, and $110 to cover the cost of the bomb parts.

Over the next few weeks, the affidavit says, Mohamud mailed them a Utiliteck programmable timer, two Nokia cellphones, stereo phone jacks, a toggle switch and other gear, mostly from Radio Shack. One package also had a pack of gum and a scrawled note: "Good Luck with ur stereo system Sweetie. Enjoy the Gum."

They held more meetings in early October in Corvallis, and Mohamud gave them a computer thumb drive with Google street-view photographs of his preferred parking spot, the attack site and escape routes. And he enthused again about his plan.

"It's going to be a fireworks show… a spectacular show… New York Times will give it two thumbs up."

According to the university, Mohamud stopped attending the school that month.

On Nov. 4, Mohamud and the two agents drove to a remote location near the coast west of Corvallis, supposedly to test the homemade bomb design. In reality, federal agents remotely detonated a device.

On the way home, he recalled the Sept. 11 attacks. "Do you remember when 9/11 happened, when those people were jumping from skyscrapers? … I thought that was awesome." He said he hoped people attending the tree lighting would "leave either dead or injured."

That afternoon, the undercover agents helped Mohamud record a video statement. Explaining that he wanted to dress "Sheik Osama style," he donned a white robe and camouflage jacket. He then read a lengthy testimonial to jihad on camera. According to an FBI transcript of the statement, Mohamud, who was born in Mogadishu, briefly mentions his parents and suggests they had tried to steer him on another path in life. Arabic phrases are set off in brackets:

"To my parents, who held me back from jihad in the cause of Allah. I say to them [by Allah] if you — if you make allies with the enemy, then Allah's power [the glorified and exalted] will ask you about that on the day of judgment, and nothing you can do can hold me back."

In a follow-up meeting, their seventh, he gave the FBI agents hard hats, safety glasses, and reflective vests and gloves. He said they would wear the gear before the attack as a disguise, and put traffic markers around the parked van.

Abdulhadi, the first FBI agent, picked up Mohamud at about noon Friday, and they went to inspect the bomb. Built by FBI technicians, it appeared impressive. But the explosives, the detonation cord and the blasting caps all were inert.

"Beautiful," Mohamud said.

At 4:45 p.m., they drove the van to Yamhill and Sixth Street and parked. Police had secretly kept the space open. Mohamud attached the blasting cap and flipped the toggle switch to arm the bomb, then put on his hard hat.

They walked several blocks, got in another car and drove to a pre-selected parking lot. Mohamud quickly dialed the number to detonate the bomb. When they didn't hear anything, he got out of the car to look for a better signal, and FBI agents swarmed in for the arrest.

An Oregon State student directory listed an apartment address for Mohamud in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. A woman who answered the apartment door declined to speak with a reporter. Hanging to the right of the door was a heart-shaped sign with the words "Bless this home."

When Mohamud attended Oregon State, he was not a member of the Muslim Student Assn. and rarely attended events held by the group. But Mohamed, the association president, recalls that Mohamud had recently attended "Night of the Crescent: Understanding Muslims," a program aimed at showing that "Muslims in general are not scary people. They are neighbors, your best friends. We're not all scary men with beards."

That was Nov. 17. The next day, Mohamud met with the undercover agents to continue planning the attack.

99 Cents Only Stores Face Lawsuits Over Price Increase

99 Cents Only Stores Face Lawsuits Over Price Increase

"If they call themselves 99 Cents Only, it should be 99 cents," said a lawyer.

Updated 1:56 PM PST, Thu, Jul 22, 2010
Higher operating costs have forced  a company famous for 99 cent deals to raise their prices. But with a name like 99 Cents Only, how do you do that? Charge 99.99 cents it turns out.
But the fractional cent increase has some customers upset and now the company is facing two class-action lawsuits that claim unfair and deceptive business practices and deceptive advertising.
"If they call themselves 99 Cents Only, it should be 99 cents," Dan Callahan, an Orange County lawyer, told the LA Times.
Callahan said in surveys, most customers didn't realize they were paying more than 99 cents. The lawsuits are asking the chain to be more clear in their advertising and are seeking unspecified monetary compensation, according to the Times.

99 Cents Only chief executive Eric Shiffer told the Times he didn't believe there was any wrongdoing and insists the company made ever effort to tell consumers about the change…or lack of it:
"We changed all the signs, we have a large poster in the window of every store explaining the increase, we put it in our ads in the newspaper, we put it on the radio," he said. "Never mind the fact that the price increase was a very tiny amount, as we all know. So I don't think consumers were misled."
Industry experts say as long as the company offers better prices than the competition, then the issue may not matter to consumers.
"As long as they offer the best value in the marketplace, then who cares?" Joan Storms, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, told the Times.
The company estimates the fractional price increase may bring in as much as $12 million.
First Published: Jul 22, 2010 11:31 AM PST

Divorced and under a pile of debt

Divorced and under a pile of debt

Torrance mom needs to save less and concentrate on paying off her credit card and a home equity credit line, and consider selling her house.

After more than a year of calls to her bank, Nicole Rasmussen finally got a mortgage modification. But she still owes tens of thousands on a credit card and home-equity and car loans. (Christina House, For The Times / October 28, 2010)

In the midst of a divorce and unable to afford her Torrance home, Nicole Rasmussen phoned her lender to ask for a mortgage modification.
She phoned every week for more than a year.
She also called her congressman and a senator to seek their help. Then, in desperation, she and her ex-husband — who still jointly owned the home — stopped making the payments on their $475,000 mortgage.
It was the only way, she felt, that the bank would seriously consider her pleas for a modification.

"I didn't know what was going to happen," said Rasmussen, who was frightened that she and her 7-year-old daughter would be forced out of the home. "We were living in limbo."
The risk paid off. Several weeks ago Rasmussen finalized the loan modification on the three-bedroom, 1950s ranch-style house.
Grateful to be at home for the holidays, she now looks forward to trimming the three artificial Christmas trees in the house and baking snickerdoodle cookies with her daughter.
But the mortgage mess and divorce have rocked her finances.
Like millions of other Americans, Rasmussen, 38, is facing an uncertain financial future, even with the loan modification. The only thing that's certain this holiday season is that she will have to change her financial life.
She has already started. To make the mortgage payments more manageable Rasmussen took in a roommate. She also succeeded in getting the property reassessed, resulting in a lower tax bill.
And there were smaller steps — raising the deductible on her auto insurance and canceling her Costco membership.
But there are often reminders that, though she makes a very good salary, her financial picture has changed. For example, not only was she refused when she applied for a new credit card, but a card she already had was frozen.
On her own for the first time in more than a decade, Rasmussen has to navi-
gate her finances while balancing a tenuous mixture of income, debt and assets that could all too easily unravel.
"I have a general idea of what to do, but I don't know for sure what to do," Rasmussen said.
She wants to save for emergencies and retirement and pay down her debt, but she also wants to have enough money to splurge occasionally on theater tickets and attend out-of-town artist workshops to indulge her passion for mixed-media collages.
And she wants to be able to pay a portion of college costs for her daughter, who is so academically minded that she does multiplication problems at home for fun.
Certified financial planner Dirk Huybrechts reviewed Rasmussen's financial details and drew up a plan for her.
Rasmussen makes $75,600 a year as a workers' compensation claims analyst for a Torrance-based insurer. She also gets $300 a month in spousal support from her ex-husband.
She has nearly $15,500 in savings and stock holdings, plus another $60,000 in retirement savings.
Finally, she and her ex-husband jointly have $20,000 set aside for improvements and repairs on the house that they still own together. (He lives elsewhere and does not contribute to the mortgage payments).
As for debt, the new terms of the mortgage require a monthly payment of $2,260. She is also making payments on $60,000 that came out of a home equity credit line.
In addition, she has $11,000 in credit card debt and $7,500 left on a car loan.
Saving for the future has given Rasmussen comfort, and she's ahead of her peers when it comes to putting money away for retirement. She has put retirement savings in nearly 40 different accounts established over the years.
"I have a vicious need to plan," she said. "If you don't have a plan, suddenly 20 years are gone and you don't know where they went."
Growing up in Beaverton, Ore., Rasmussen said she watched her mother labor to provide for the family.
"I didn't want to struggle like my mom," she said.
But saving when you have pressing debt — and having those savings spread among so many accounts — can be counterproductive.
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone who has so many funds based on the value of their holdings," said Huybrechts, who is with HFM Advisors in Brentwood. "She's probably getting killed on fees."
He suggested that she consolidate her accounts into eight or so low-fee mutual funds and reallocate her retirement savings into a split of 60% stocks and 40% bonds.
For the near term, Huybrechts said, Rasmussen should stop saving so much and channel more of her income into paying down debt.
"She needs to focus on things that are important," Huybrechts said. "She's scattered in her effort to save and lost sight of the impact of her debt and her overhead."
She should start by paying off the credit card with the highest interest.
"There's no point in sitting on $6,500 credit card debt with 11% interest," he said, especially when the account is frozen and unusable.
If she increases her payments on the debt by $200 a month, she'll pay it off in 14 months, he estimated. Then she can start putting additional money toward her other card and car loan.
Meanwhile, Huybrechts said Rasmussen needs to tighten up her budget, nixing annual passes and memberships, and avoiding splurges.
Rasmussen was amenable to the planner's suggestions. But there was one expense she was loath to give up: her $280 annual pass to Disneyland.
At least that was down from her more flush days, when she took trips to visit every Disney park in the world.
Then there is the question of the house.
She and her now-ex-husband bought it five years ago by paying 20% down and taking out a loan for $605,000. The $60,000 that came out of the home equity line went mostly toward a kitchen remodel.
Huybrechts had two words for the house: sell it.
It might not be easy in this ailing real estate market, but the $20,000 set aside for home repairs could be used to sweeten a deal with a prospective buyer, or for improvements to make the home more saleable.
Huybrechts is aware that by selling now, Rasmussen would not make back the money she and her ex-husband put into the house in payments and improvements.
"She'd be lucky to sell the house for what she owes on it, plus expenses," he said. "The idea would be to sell it and break even."
But owning the house comes with expenses — mortgage, taxes, insurance — that give little room to adjust her overhead when needed. If she loses her job or even just her roommate, she could be back in arrears quickly.
"She can't do anything with her fixed housing costs as long as she owns the house," he said.
If the house sells, she should move into an apartment, even if the monthly rent is about the same as what she now pays toward the mortgage, he said.
The relative flexibility of renting would allow her to downsize, if need be, in the future. Meanwhile, she could concentrate on paying down her debt and rebuilding her credit. Eventually she could buy a more affordable home.
But after all she has gone through, Rasmussen says leaving the house might be too much for her, emotionally. She put a lot of herself into it, particularly in the kitchen remodel, and did a lot of the work herself, including installing the cork flooring.
"All of it was my choice," she said. "It's very me."
She knows, however, that eventually she'll probably have to let go.
"It's a home and it's security," she said. "But it won't be the place my daughter comes home to when she's in college."

'Error-free' hospitals scrutinized

'Error-free' hospitals scrutinized

State health officials question whether a lack of reports required by a 2007 law means a lack of incidents.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
7:02 PM PST, November 27, 2010

California public health officials are scrutinizing hospitals that claim to be error-free, questioning whether nearly 90 facilities have gone more than three years without any significant mistakes in care.

Eighty-seven hospitals — more than 20% of the 418 hospitals covered under a law that took effect in 2007 — have made no reports of medical errors, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The high percentage has raised concerns that errors have gone unreported. Some patient advocates say it is an indication that hospitals are unwilling to police themselves. State officials have given hospitals until Tuesday to verify their records as error-free or to report errors, as required by law.

Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, called it "almost inconceivable" that so many hospitals were error-free for the last three years.

"This is a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil problem. If you're not looking, you're not going to find any," Court said. "But if you are looking, you're more than likely to find some, regardless of the size of the hospital."

State law outlines 28 medical errors that hospitals must report to the state because they place patients at risk of death or serious injury. After investigating, the state can issue fines of $50,000 for the first incident, $75,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third or subsequent error at the same hospital. The state must be notified of such errors within five days of the incident, with fines of up to $100 a day for delays.

The state has substantiated reports of 1,100 medical errors since the law took effect in 2007. During that period, the state has fined 112 hospitals for medical errors, and 39 of those have appealed.

State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D- Santa Clara), who wrote the medical error law, said she was concerned that errors are going unreported.

"What are the chances that nearly a quarter of California's hospitals didn't have a single medication, surgical or safety error since the reporting requirement became law?" Alquist asked.

Among the hospitals with no reported errors are about a dozen state facilities, accounting for more than 1,055 beds, including the massive Atascadero and Patton state hospitals.

Two dozen of the hospitals are in the Los Angeles area, each with fewer than 200 beds. Some of the largest and best-known include Community Hospital of Long Beach, Temple Community Hospital in Los Angeles, Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA in Westwood and Shriners Hospitals for Children Los Angeles.

Resnick hospital officials said it was not surprising that psychiatric facilities would have few errors, because they do not handle the high-risk surgical cases seen at acute-care hospitals. There were 19 psychiatric hospitals on the list of those not reporting errors.

Karen White, Temple Community's risk manager, said the 150-bed hospital and other small facilities on the list also handle fewer high-risk patients because they do not have emergency rooms or obstetrics departments.

White said she was pleased that Temple Community had no reportable medical errors.

"Hopefully there will be more and more people on the list every year," she said.

In some cases, however, hospitals may have been listed incorrectly. Debby Rogers, vice president of quality and emergency services at the California Hospital Assn., said her office contacted all of the hospitals on the list, and officials at some said they had reported medical errors. She would not identify those hospitals.

Although state law defines preventable medical errors, Rogers said many hospital officials are unclear about which incidents should be reported.

For instance, hospitals are required to report when an object is left in a patient after surgery. But if the surgeon discovers the object before he or she finishes sewing up the patient and removes it, Rogers said, should that incident be reported to the state? Hospitals should err on the side of caution and report anything that might be an adverse event, a state spokesman said.

"There's confusion. I don't know that I would say there's underreporting or overreporting . Probably there's a little bit of both," Rogers said.

So far, 66 hospitals have been fined for failing to report errors, including at least one on the no-errors list: the San Diego Hospice and the Institute for Palliative Medicine. The state-licensed hospital was fined $12,700 in May 2008 for failing to report a medication error the year before, according to state records.

Melissa DelaCalzada, spokeswoman for the hospital, said it did not initially consider the incident a medical error and disputed the state's findings. The facility later paid the fine and submitted a plan of correction to the state.

California Hospital Assn. officials said they are working with the state Department of Public Health to clarify how it defines reportable errors in its regulations.

The department is hiring a University of California faculty expert in public data reporting to review medical error data and gauge potential underreporting, said spokesman Ralph Montano. The post will be funded out of $250,000 in fines collected from hospitals last fiscal year, money earmarked for patient safety, Montano said.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Sacramento-based Health Access, said he hopes the list of error-free hospitals can be verified and one day used to prevent the state-defined medical errors, also called "never events."

"If there are hospitals that are getting zero errors, which is the goal, we should find out what they're doing right so we can replicate it," Wright said.

"But we should also tease out the difference between people who are having the systems in place to prevent 'never events' from happening and those that are just not reporting."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Propane truck on fire; fuel burning off - Palmer, Mass.

Propane truck on fire; fuel burning off

Truck hit pole near Osterman Gas

Updated: Friday, 26 Nov 2010, 10:38 PM EST
Published : Friday, 26 Nov 2010, 10:21 PM EST
PALMER, Mass. (WWLP) - Sargeant Christopher Burns of the Palmer Police Department told 22News that a propane tractor trailer hit a telephone poll while it was manuervering around Osterman Gas at 1 Blanchard St. in Palmer.

Electrical lines fell on the truck and started a fire.

The fire engulfed the cab of the truck and some of the tanker.

Police and fire departments are letting the fuel burn off the truck.

Palmer police evacuated a 3/4 to 1 mile radius in the area as a precaution.
No one was hurt and Sgt. Burns told 22News that the "hazard is diminishing."
Roads are blocked from Rt. 20 East of Thorndike to the Brimfield line and on Rt. 32 south of Main St. in Palmer to the town line of Monson.
A shelter is set up for these displaced families at Converse Middle School, near Legion Field in Palmer.

Norm Coleman says he'd seek RNC chair if Michael Steele bows out

Norm Coleman says he'd seek RNC chair if Michael Steele bows out

Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman says he would be interested in the post only if Michael Steele decides not to seek a second term.

By Tom Hamburger, Tribune Washington Bureau
1:55 PM PST, November 24, 2010
Reporting from Washington

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Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, who led the American Action Network, an independent group that spent $25 million on behalf of Republican candidates this year, said Wednesday that he would be interested in chairing the Republican National Committee only if the current chairman, Michael Steele, chooses not to seek a second term.

"I am not here to do any battles with our chairman; he is a friend," Coleman said in a C-SPAN interview to be broadcast Sunday. If Steele decides to retire from the post, Coleman said "I would say with humility if there was an opportunity to help the party I would do that."

Several other candidates have been rumored as interested in the RNC position including Gentry Collins, former political director at the Republican National Committee; Maria Cino, who served in the Transportation Department under former President George W. Bush; and former Michigan Republican Party chair Saul Anuzis.

Coleman served as a Minnesota senator for one term, losing to Democrat Al Franken in 2008 after an extended recount.

On Wednesday Coleman also said he thought it was time for Joe Miller to stop contesting his race against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who ran as a write-in candidate after Miller defeated her in the state's Republican primary.

After election day, the number of write-in votes exceeded Miller's total. A subsequent counting of those ballots showed most were for Murkowski, putting her in the lead.

In a lawsuit, Miller claims election officials have illegally counted some ballots for Murkowski, including ones that misspell the senator's name.

"I think the counting has been done and I am not sure there is anything that would change," Coleman said.