July 5, 2006

GAO Gets Radioactive Materials Past Inspectors at BOTH Borders

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:18 pm

Here’s an excerpt from the Government Accountability Office’s abstract of their full report (PDF) released yesterday (paragraph breaks added to improve readability):

For the purposes of this undercover investigation, GAO purchased a small amount of radioactive sources and one secure container used to safely store and transport the material from a commercial source over the telephone. One of GAO’s investigators, posing as an employee of a fictitious company located in Washington, D.C., stated that the purpose of his purchase was to use the radioactive sources to calibrate personal radiation detection pagers.

The purchase was not challenged because suppliers are not required to determine whether prospective buyers have legitimate uses for radioactive sources, nor are suppliers required to ask a buyer to produce an NRC document when purchasing in small quantities. The amount of radioactive sources GAO’s investigator sought to purchase did not require an NRC document.

Subsequently, the company mailed the radioactive sources to an address in Washington D.C. The radiation portal monitors properly signaled the presence of radioactive material when our two teams of investigators conducted simultaneous border crossings.

Our investigators’ vehicles were inspected in accordance with most of the CBP policy at both the northern and southern borders. However, GAO’s investigators, using counterfeit documents, were able to enter the United States with enough radioactive sources in the trunks of their vehicles to make two dirty bombs.

….. GAO investigators were able to successfully represent themselves as employees of a fictitious company present a counterfeit bill of lading and a counterfeit NRC document during the secondary inspections at both locations. The CBP inspectors never questioned the authenticity of the investigators’ counterfeit bill of lading or the counterfeit NRC document authorizing them to receive, acquire, possess, and transfer radioactive sources.

The full report indicates that one of the “successful” crossings occurred at the Canadian border, and one at the Mexican border. Investigators used commercial, off-the-shelf computer programs to produce the counterfeit documents.

In terms of corrective action:

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “agreed to work with the NRC and CBP’s Laboratories and Scientific Services to come up with a way to verify the authenticity of NRC materials documents.”
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) appears to be totally unimpressed (paragraph breaks added):

    NRC officials disagreed with the amount of radioactive material we determined was needed to produce a dirty bomb, noting that NRC’s “concern threshold” is significantly higher. We continue to believe that our purchase of radioactive sources and our ability to counterfeit an NRC document are matters that NRC should address.

    We could have purchased all of the radioactive sources used in our two undercover border crossings by making multiple purchases from different suppliers, using similarly convincing cover stories, using false identities, and had all of the radioactive sources conveniently shipped to our nation’s capital.

    Further, we believe that the amount of radioactive sources that we were able to transport into the United States during our operation would be sufficient to produce two dirty bombs.

I would think that the question of whether or not the GAO snuck through enough fissionable material for dirty bombs would be easily answered, and it’s hard to believe there’s a legitimate difference of opinion on this. If there actually is, being a cautious person, I choose to be more than a little worried about what the GAO pulled off, and the NRC’s nonchalant reaction.

The GAO did its investigation late last year, and had its follow-up discussions with the agences involved in December and January.

It is now nearly five years since the September 11 attacks. The fact that this aspect of border protection remains so apparently weak is inexcusable.

One State Outlaws Universal Default; Will It Stand, and Will Others Follow?

Jeff at Credit/Debt Recovery caught this virtually unnoticed story from a couple of weeks ago:

The New York state Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill that would ban “universal default” from being imposed on credit card holders in the state.

Universal default, which is provided for on most credit card agreements signed by consumers, allows card companies to adjust upward the interest charge rates if there are adverse aspects of a consumer’s other credit activities. That could include a person being late in paying their utility or cable television bills.

Sponsors of the bill sent to Gov. George Pataki Wednesday say it is unfair to penalize consumers with higher credit card interest for activities that have nothing to do with their payments on those credit cards.

As Moderate Mainstream noted many months ago, universal default, which I noted about a year ago has gotten way out of control, is akin to your landlord charging you a higher monthly rent because you were late with your water bill.

It will be interesting to see if credit-card issuers and other lenders challenge the law, and if it stands up. I also question whether the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal watchdog lapdog agency that supposedly monitors abusive banking practices (but has no problem with universal default) will attempt to claim it has sole jurisdiction in the matter. I would think that many more states will move to eliminate the practice of universal default if it looks like the coast is clear for the Empire State’s law.

Jeff at Credit/Debt Recovery also links to one of his previous posts about cards without universal default provisions and otherwise decent terms. Consider switching.

AP Uses Story of Man’s Remarkable Recovery to Engage in Euthanasia Advocacy

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 9:35 am

What The Associated Press’s Marilynn Marchione did in the third and fourth paragraphs of her report about the remarkable story (referred to in today’s Positivity Post) of a minimally conscious man rewiring his brain and achieving a amazing degree of recovery after 20 years is really offensive:

Doctors Have Proof That Man’s Brain Rewired Itself After Car Crash Severed Nerve Connections


Jul 3, 2006 (AP) — Doctors have their first proof that a man who was barely conscious for nearly 20 years regained speech and movement because his brain spontaneously rewired itself by growing tiny new nerve connections to replace the ones sheared apart in a car crash.

Terry Wallis, 42, is one of the few people known to have recovered so dramatically so long after a serious brain injury. He still needs help eating and cannot walk, but his speech continues to improve and he can count to 25 without interruption.

Wallis’ sudden recovery happened three years ago at a rehabilitation center in Mountain View, Ark., but doctors said the same cannot be hoped for people in a persistent vegetative state, such as Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who died last year after a fierce right-to-die court battle. Nor do they know how to make others with less serious damage, like Wallis, recover. (Aside: It wasn’t a “right-to-die” battle at all; it was about someone’s right to continue living.)

“Right now these cases are like winning the lottery,” said Dr. Ross Zafonte, rehabilitation chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who was not involved in the research. “I wouldn’t want to overenthuse family members or folks who think now we have a cure for this.”

Translation: Despite Terry Wallis, people shouldn’t waste their time hoping and praying that their loved ones will recover, because almost all of the time it will be futile. Oh, and if your doctor or another relative thinks that offing your loved one is what should be done, please don’t make a fuss.

And while Marchione went out of her way to get the “expert” opinion of someone NOT involved in the Wallis case, she “somehow” managed to omit the overall conclusion of those who were:

His case and his recovery hold huge importance for other patients in his condition, the researchers concluded.

Look, I understand the scientific distinctions between Wallis’s situation and the more challenging situations of Terri Schiavo and others. That’s not the point. This is the point: Marilynn Marchione and her editors at the AP have arrogated to themselves the right to downplay and simultaneously politicize positive medical stories. What makes them think they can do this in what should be a straight news story with a positive result?

The media is always oh-so-ready to relay the accusations of those who say that politicians and pundits are “politicizing” events. Marilynn Marchione and her editors at the AP have done exactly the same thing to the Terry Wallis story.

Have they no decency?

UPDATE: Terence Jeffrey at Townhall has much more to say.

UPDATE, July 13: Life News has an important article on comparing the Schiavo and Wallis situations that, among other things, reminds us that Schiavo did not receive the care she deserved, and if she had, might have been able to achieve a recovery:

While some observers say the situations of Terry Wallis and Terri Schiavo are different, Schindler maintains that the only difference was Wallis was given proper medical care and rehabilitation while Terri’s former husband Michael refused her care for many years.

During the long legal battle between the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo, Dr. William Maxfield testified that he believed that part of Terri’s brain was improving. The autopsy conducted on Terri confirmed her frontal temporal, temporal poles and insular-cortex demonstrated relative preservation.

This meant the parts of her brain that control higher level thinking was more normal than some believed.

He also pointed to the 40 medical affidavits submitted to the court saying Terri was not PVS and that she could improve with rehabilitative therapy.

“Sadly, no one will ever know how much Terri would have improved because she was warehoused and denied any form of therapy or rehabilitation for over thirteen years,” Schindler said.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (070506)

Free Links:

  • The bloom may be off the Apple — Its flagship iPod music players are getting grief over unreliability and working conditions in Chinese factories. The linked article doesn’t even get into the issue of lack of portability of iTunes songs, which caused a busybody French legislature to pass a law requiring compatibility with rival music players and online services last Friday. The stock is at an 8-month low, and with a P/E ratio of 29, it could fall a lot further if the “cool” factor dissipates.
  • Big Three auto company sales were awful in June, while the Japanese transplant companies did well.

    U.S. sales fell for all three big American automakers in June, led by a 26 percent drop at General Motors Corp. (GM), while Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. surged.

    Higher gas prices, slower sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles and a lack of deep incentives compared to last summer — when GM rolled out employee-level pricing — hurt the Detroit-based automakers in a weaker U.S. auto market.

    The tough sales comparison comes at a time when GM’s board is under pressure to consider a three-way alliance with Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co.

    Ford’s June sales dropped 7 percent and DaimlerChrysler’s plunged 13 percent, underscoring the pressure on Detroit automakers at the start of a summer season they are counting on to clear an unsold inventory of 2006 models.

    By contrast, Toyota — now No. 3 in the U.S. market for cars and trucks — posted a 14 percent sales gain. Toyota sold more cars in June than Ford and Chrysler combined.

    Toyota’s share of the total U.S. vehicle market rose to 15 percent in June, up from 12 percent a year earlier. The Detroit-based companies’ market share sagged to 56 percent, down from 62 percent.

  • I’d like to think that an example of a politician pulling strings, as just happened in New Jersey, would cause the string-puller to lose his or her job. It would appear that The Garden State’s Attorney General will skate.
  • Yahoo China is being sued by the recording industry for its permissiveness toward music piracy to the point of aiding and abetting it — Great. They’re acting like intellectual property should be free, but as an affiliate of BizzyBlog Internet Wall of Shame member Yahoo!, they aren’t doing anything to ensure that speech is.

Positivity: Man’s Brain Rewired Itself After 20 Years

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:02 am

That’s right — After 20 years in a “minimally conscious state”:

Man’s brain recovered by growing new nerve connections
Posted on : 2006-07-04 | Author : Jack Myers

Nearly two decades after suffering a severe brain injury, Terry Wallis was able to speak out. The incident is being dubbed as nothing short of a miracle by doctors who say that his brain, which was badly damaged when his pickup truck went over a cliff, was able to rewire itself.

After the accident, Wallis had sunk into a “minimally conscious state” (MCS) and was unable to utter any word. His recovery has been progressing steadily for about three years now. “This is the only patient who was known to emerge after such a long time from such a state,” said Dr. Nicholas Schiff of the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “This particular story of a man 20 years out recovering and sustaining the recovery and moving on is certainly, to my knowledge, unique and never studied.”

Dr Schiff and colleagues have penned a paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation detailing how Wallis’s brain was able to recover. He met Wallis in April 2004, about 8 months after he started to speak. “We saw a man with very severe brain injury with a lot of motor impairment. He had a very inarticulate speech pattern but was fluent in language and had recovered a good deal of what appeared to be his baseline personality,” Schiff noted. He added that prior to speaking out Wallis had been able to look at people and follow their actions across the room, but was unable to communicate.

Almost two years after scripting this amazing recovery, Wallis is able to come across as a more alert person and has in fact regained motor function in his lower extremities. Doctors wanted to find out why this happened. Schiff and his colleagues took the help of advanced neuroimaging techniques in order to understand what stood out in Wallis’s brain. Comparing the images with healthy subjects and one other patient who has not recovered from MCS, they found that Wallis’s brain had regrown some vital nerve connections.

“We think that there was some axon reorganization,” said Henning Voss, lead author of the study. “I think that it was just a very, very slow remodeling of the brain, which takes years.” Another factor could be the medications that Wallis is taking. He started Paxil two years before he started to speak. “I have become more willing to believe over time that that might have played a role,” Schiff said. “I kind of doubt that axonal regrowth is the whole story.”

His case and his recovery hold huge importance for other patients in his condition, the researchers concluded.