Saturday, November 14, 2009

NEWS: Medicare scam; Annise Parker; Hjras; Solar Winds; Caster Semenya

Social conservatives plan to "discourage" voters from choosing openly lesbian Houston mayoral candidate, Annise Parker

A cluster of socially conservative Houstonians is planning a campaign to discourage voters from choosing City Controller Annise Parker in the December mayoral runoff because she is a lesbian, according to multiple ministers and conservatives involved in the effort. The group is motivated by concerns about a “gay takeover” of City Hall, given that two other candidates in the five remaining City Council races are also openly gay, as well as national interest driven by the possibility that Houston could become the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay woman. Another primary concern is that Parker or other elected officials would seek to overturn a 2001 city charter amendment that prohibits the city from providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees. “The bottom line is that we didn't pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, numbering more than 200 senior pastors in the Greater Houston area. “National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that's because they're promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.” Welch said he had “no doubt” there would be numerous independent advocacy efforts urging voters not to choose Parker, most of which would involve mail.

Buenos Aires OKs first gay marriage in Latin America
The government of Argentina's capital will not appeal a court decision this week that legalizes same-sex marriage, Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri said Friday. The court ruled that two articles in the city's civil code that say only people of different sexes can get married are illegal. The court decision applies only to Buenos Aires. Same-sex unions in most of the rest of Argentina remain illegal. The legal challenge was initiated by a gay couple, Alejandro Freyre and Jose Maria Di Bello. Judge Gabriela Seijas ordered the city's civil registry department to honor their union. "The law should treat each person with equal respect in relation to each person's singularities without the need to understand or regulate them," the judge said in her ruling. The city code, she added, prevents people from "enjoying the rights that couples who enter into matrimony are entitled to." Those rights, she said, include inheritances, pensions and the ability to make decisions for the other person when he or she is incapacitated. Macri called the ruling a "very important step," adding that "we have to live together and accept reality. ... The world is headed in that direction." His decision was not easy, Macri said. Many people wanted him to appeal. "I had an important internal debate, weighing my upbringing with my search for the best customs and best liberties for society," he said in a videotaped message on his Facebook page. "What we have to learn," he said, "is to live in liberty without violating the rights of others." Macri likened the current debate over same-sex marriage to a similar discourse years ago in the Catholic country. "It's the same as happened with divorce several decades ago -- a very intense debate. And today it is something very natural," the mayor said.

Feds ignored Medicare scam warnings for years
For three years, the federal agency in charge of preventing Medicare fraud repeatedly ignored internal watchdog warnings about swindlers stealing millions of dollars by scamming several programs, documents show. READ MORE

Evangelist sentenced to 175 years for sex crimesEvangelist Tony Alamo used his stature as a self-proclaimed prophet to force underage girls into sham marriages with him, controlling his followers with their fears of eternal suffering. But the judge who sentenced Alamo on Friday to 175 years in prison for child sexual abuse warned of another kind of justice awaiting the aging evangelist. "Mr. Alamo, one day you will face a higher and a greater judge than me," U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes told the preacher. "May he have mercy on your soul." Barnes leveled the maximum sentence against the 75-year-old, who preyed on followers' young daughters and took child "brides" as young as age 8. A jury convicted Alamo in July on a 10-count indictment accusing him of taking the girls across state lines for sex. READ MORE

Connecticut celebrates first anniversary of gay marriage

Lawyers, lawmakers, activists and newlyweds gathered at the state Capitol Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the effective date of the court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in Connecticut. They began with a group photo on the north steps of the building. Then the celebration moved inside the ornate chambers of the Old Judiciary Room with its stained glass windows and gilded wallpaper. The crowd marked the occasion with slices of wedding cake and a toast. Over the past year, more than 1,700 same-sex couples have married in Connecticut; about 50 percent of them came from out of state. Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont permit gays and lesbians to marry and it will become legal in New Hampshire in January. Bennett Klein, an attorney with the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, predicted that one day every state will permit same-sex couples to marry. "We will have victories, we will have setbacks," Klein said, citing what he called "painful" losses in both California and Maine. "But we are always moving forward."

Craigslist founder joins Wikimedia advisory boardThe nonprofit group that runs online encyclopedia Wikipedia said Friday that it named Craig Newmark, the founder of Web classifieds site Craigslist, to its advisory board. READ MORE

Doctors create gum that helps promote tooth health
With the help of a gum chomping machine and years of careful chemistry, University of Kentucky researchers have developed a chewing gum that can help replace toothpaste and a toothbrush, thus improving the health of soldiers in the field as well as children in poor countries. READ MORE

Colorado balloon boy parents plead guilty in hoax
A Colorado couple who reported their son was aboard a runaway balloon could land in jail after pleading guilty Friday to charges they made up the story to generate publicity for a possible reality TV show. Richard Heene appeared before a Larimer County District Court judge first, pleading guilty to a felony count of falsely influencing the sheriff who led the rescue effort during the 50-mile balloon chase that captivated a global television audience Oct. 15. Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of knowingly filing a false report with emergency services. Prosecutors said she had a lower level of culpability and cooperated with authorities, telling investigators the balloon launch was a publicity stunt two weeks in the making. READ MORE

Splash! NASA moon strikes found significant water

Suddenly, the moon looks exciting again. It has lots of water, scientists said Friday — a thrilling discovery that sent a ripple of hope for a future astronaut outpost in a place that has always seemed barren and inhospitable. Experts have long suspected there was water on the moon. Confirmation came from data churned up by two NASA spacecraft that intentionally slammed into a lunar crater last month. "Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit. We found a significant amount," said Anthony Colaprete, lead scientist for the mission, holding up white gallon water buckets for emphasis. The lunar crash kicked up at least 25 gallons and that's only what scientists could see from the plumes of the impact, Colaprete said. Some space policy experts say that makes the moon attractive for exploration again. Having an abundance of water would make it easier to set up a base camp for astronauts, supplying drinking water and a key ingredient for rocket fuel. "Having definitive evidence that there is substantial water is a significant step forward in making the moon an interesting place to go," said George Washington University space policy scholar John Logsdon.

Robots perform Shakespeare to learn how to save people
A pizza-sized AirRobot helicopter used for military operations in Iraq, and six toy radio controlled helicopters slightly bigger than a fist, are part of the high-tech production directed by Amy Hopper, from Texas A&M’s Department of Performance Studies. Besides being a fun way to introduce science to the general public, researchers from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are using the experience to learn more about how the actors and the audience react to the flying devices. “Imagine a disaster with people unsure of where to go or how to handle a riot,” says computer science and engineering professor Robin Murphy, who is an expert in rescue robotics. “It’s now possible for these unmanned aerial vehicles to be used for evacuation or for crowd control. But what’s missing is understanding what makes a person trust or fear the robot.” READ MORE

India's Hijras (trans) community given separate IDs

India's Election Commission has given eunuchs an independent identity by letting them choose their gender as "other" on ballot forms. The commission said it had received representation from various individuals and interest groups on the subject. So far, eunuchs were forced to put down their gender as either male or female. There are about 500,000 eunuchs in India. Known as hijras, they comprise the hermaphrodite, transvestite and transsexual communities. Eunuchs are feared and reviled in many parts of India, where some believe they have supernatural powers. The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi says the election commission's recognition of eunuchs as an independent group is a first step towards an official recognition of the community which has so far remained on the margins of society. READ MORE

Fort Hood suspect may be permanently paralyzed
The U.S. Army psychiatrist charged with 13 counts of murder in the Fort Hood Army base shootings may be permanently paralyzed from the waist down due to the gunshots used to subdue him, his lawyer said on Friday. John Galligan, a retired Army colonel appointed to represent Major Nidal Malik Hasan during an upcoming military trial, also said Hasan, 39, could face more charges. The U.S. Army has charged Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim who is the son of immigrant parents, with premeditated murder in the deaths of 13 people on November 5 at the huge military base in Texas. He could face the death penalty if convicted. Police officers shot Hasan four times during the incident to bring him down, and the wounds appear to have left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down, Galligan said. READ MORE

South African runner Caster Semenya is very uncomfortable with fame

South African runner Caster Semenya says she isn't comfortable with all the attention she has received since her world championship title was marred by controversy over gender tests conducted to determine whether she is eligible to compete as a woman. Semenya won the women's 800 metres at the world championships in Berlin on Aug. 19. "People want to stare at me now. They want to touch me," Semenya said in an interview published Friday in the British newspaper the Guardian. "I'm supposed to be famous, but I don't think I like it so much." The International Association of Athletics Federations is reviewing gender test results to determine whether Semenya qualifies to compete as a woman. Besides the international intrigue created by the gender test, the case has also entangled the president of the South African athletics federation, Leonard Chuene. In September, Chuene admitted he lied about his knowledge of gender tests performed on Semenya in South Africa before the world championships. He has since been suspended. "Everyone just accepts me," Semenya said in the interview, which will be published in full on Saturday. "They know who I am. I am just Caster to these guys. I feel good with them."

Solar winds triggered by magnetic fields
Solar wind generated by the sun is probably driven by a process involving powerful magnetic fields, according to a new study led by UCL (University College London) researchers based on the latest observations from the Hinode satellite. READ MORE

Anti-gay church sets its sights on Jews
For more than a decade, Westboro Baptist Church has raised a ruckus with the message that God hates gays, posting itself outside government buildings, college campuses and even the funerals of American soldiers. But in recent months, the Topeka, Kan.-based church has been moving toward other targets, predominantly in the American Jewish community. READ MORE

White House counsel to resign: reports
White House Counsel Gregory Craig, who has tried to lead the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison, intends to resign on Friday, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported. Quoting associates and people familiar with the situation, the papers said in their online editions that Craig had decided to resign, ending months of speculation over whether he would stay as President Barack Obama's top lawyer. The White House declined to comment on the reports. The military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. naval base on Cuba, was opened after the September 11 attacks to hold foreign terrorism suspects. It has been widely criticized around the world for its harsh interrogations. Obama ordered the controversial prison closed on his second day in office but administration officials have run into numerous legal, political and diplomatic hurdles. Both papers said Craig would be replaced by Bob Bauer, a Democratic lawyer in Washington who has represented Obama for years. READ MORE