Wednesday, March 19, 2014

FBI, Malaysian investigators working to retrieve deleted files from pilot's simulator, source says

The FBI and Malaysian investigators are working to retrieve files that were recently deleted from a home flight simulator belonging to a pilot on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a source says, in a hunt for clues as to where the plane headed after it changed course from its planned route to Beijing.
The source, who is familiar with the ongoing investigation, told Fox News that FBI agents are in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysian officials have asked them to assist in the data recovery efforts. Authorities also are looking to analyze the files in the context of other traffic on the pilot’s computer.
The massive multinational search for the jetliner – which involves 26 countries -- expanded to the southern Indian Ocean Wednesday.
Planes from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand are searching an area stretching across 117,000 square miles of the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,600 miles southwest of Perth, on Australia's west coast. The Pentagon said the Navy’s P8 Poseidon search aircraft is participating in the effort. The area was assigned to the U.S. by Australian officials, but the Pentagon would not give further details.
Nothing has been found, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Earlier in the day, Malaysia’s defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said the plane’s pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing. He added that members of his family are cooperating in the investigation.
Files containing records of simulations carried out on Shah’s machine were deleted Feb. 3, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said.
The Telegraph, citing Malaysian police, that Shah played the popular games Flight Simulator X, Flight Simulator 9 and X-Plane 10.
Deleting files would not necessarily represent anything unusual, especially if it were to free up memory space, but investigators would want to check the files for any signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went.
The plane, with 239 people on board, disappeared March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanations, but have said the evidence so far suggests the flight was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca. They are unsure what happened next.
Investigators have identified two giant arcs of territory spanning the possible positions of the plane about 7½ hours after takeoff, based on its last faint signal to a satellite. The arcs stretch up as far as Kazakhstan in central Asia and down deep into the southern Indian Ocean.
A source close to the investigation told Reuters that authorities believe the jetliner is likely in the southern corridor. "The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The theory is based on the lack of evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the jetliner crossed their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in that area, Reuters reported.
China has said it was reviewing radar data and deployed 21 satellites to search the northern corridor of the search area. But those searches so far have turned up no trace of the plane, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, former FAA spokesman Scott Brenner said that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was already 12 minutes into its diverted course when the plane's co-pilot calmly told air traffic controllers that things were "all right."   
"One of the pilots clearly had the intention ... that he was going to take (the plane) in a different direction," Brenner told host Megyn Kelly on "The Kelly File." "It's 100 percent clear this pilot, or this co-pilot, was going to take this plane with the intent of doing something bad."
Brenner also believes it's likely that co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid and Shah were both involved in the decision to change the flight's course.
"For a pilot or a co-pilot to punch in a new waypoint in their flight management system without the other one noticing would be hard to do," he said.
However, on Wednesday, Hussein dismissed the claim that the co-pilot signed off after the plane changed course, without elaborating, The Guardian reports.
“I can confirm that the aircraft flew on normal routing up until the waypoint IGARI,” Hussein told reporters,“There is no additional waypoint on MH370’s documented flight plan, which depicts normal routing all the way to Beijing.”
The waypoint IGARI is northeast of Malaysia.
Airline pilots and aviation safety experts told The Associated Press that an onboard computer called the flight management system would have to be deliberately programmed in order to follow the route taken by the plane as described by Malaysian authorities.
The New York Times it is unclear if the change in course was reprogrammed before or after the plane took off, but the change was likely made by someone in the Boeing 777's cockpit with knowledge of airplane systems.
Hussein said background checks have been received from overseas agencies for all foreign passengers on the plane except for those from Ukraine and Russia -- which accounted for three passengers. He says none of the checks has turned up anything suspicious.
Meanwhile, relatives of passengers on the missing plane have grown increasingly frustrated over the lack of progress in the search, in its 12th day on Wednesday.
"It's really too much. I don't know why it is taking so long for so many people to find the plane. It's 12 days," Subaramaniam Gurusamy, 60, said in an interview from his home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. His 34-year-old son, Pushpanathan Subramaniam, was on the flight heading to Beijing for a work trip.
Before Wednesday's news briefing at a hotel near the Kuala Lumpur airport, two Chinese relatives of passengers held up a banner saying "Truth" in Chinese and started shouting before security personnel escorted them out.
"I want you to help me to find my son!" one of the two women said.
Hussein announced that a delegation of Malaysian government officials, diplomats, air force and civil aviation officials will head to Beijing -- where many of the passengers' relatives are gathered -- to give briefings to the next of kin on the status of the search.

World War 3: Are We Really Talking About This Again?

The notion of a third World War was of real concern during the Cold War between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Both sides had nuclear weapons, and acronyms like M.A.D. (mutually-assured destruction – the idea that if either side started, both sides would be wiped out) and an “arms race” kept tensions high but real actions at bay.
The World War 3 trope ran through out movies. The villains in films in America had Russian accents. The color red, bears, sickles, hammers, and big coats with furry hats were all anathema to Yanks until the late 1980′s when Sting convinced us that the Russians surely must love their children, too.
We watched Ronald Reagan shake hands with Mikhail Gorbachev, felt sure that we had SDI (a “strategic defense initiative”, commonly called “star wars”), and relaxed a bit. Turns out we didn’t have SDI at all. We bluffed, and the Soviets bought it. Then the big, red giant developed some money problems. America was left to stand alone as the only superpower that mattered.
Hell, we even went to Russia for the Olympics.
For a while after 9/11, the notion of a World War 3 sparked by rogue nations or groups that had obtained nukes (always from someone in Russia) got traction. We still see movies with that plot. Sometimes they have Korean accents now, too, though most Americans snicker at the idea of North Korea ever getting within spitting distance of an American flag, much less our homeland.
World War 3 has been firmly a Hollywood construct for some time. Until now.
Now the idea is in real news again The U.S. has"warned" Russia about its interference in the recent events in Ukraine. Russia has warned back. Russia fired a dummy nuke in a show of force. The U.S. has imposed sanction on some Russian officials it sees as responsible for the upheaval in Ukraine. 
The inquisitr reports that former Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk stated:
“Does Russia not understand that this is the beginning of World War 3?”
And now Reuters reports that a news presenter with Russian state television has said:
“Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.”
Behind him was a green-screen backdrop of a nuclear mushroom cloud.
In America, there is a saying: Them’s fighting words.
Cooler heads tend to think that any kind of World War 3 scenario would end up badly for everyone involved. Maybe this is just big talk and headline-grabbing bluster.

But hearing it with a Russian accent after all these years sure makes some people’s eyebrows raise.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

'Veronica Mars' love triangle resolved?

One thing fans of the TV series "Veronica Mars" -- sometimes called "marshmallows" -- hope to see in the movie "Veronica Mars" is a resolution to the ongoing debate: Team Logan or Team Piz?
When last we left the young detective, it seemed Veronica had finally settled down with Piz -- something that still seems to be the case in the trailer for the movie, which was funded entirely by legions of devoted fans.
"I know people were pissed off the way it did end, mostly because it was unknown," Jason Dohring (Logan) told CNN Thursday at the PaleyFest event for "Veronica Mars," out this weekend.
"We give it some resolution in the film, but playing it back and forth is what makes the drama in the show. "
Logan was never supposed to be coupled with Veronica originally, show creator Rob Thomas revealed at the PaleyFest panel. But he grew on the writers when they saw Dohring's chemistry with star Kristen Bell.
That chemistry came back right away when he did his first scene with Bell on set, Dohring told CNN.
"I think Kristen is amazing, and when she smiles at me I kind of go, 'holy s--- what do I do?' I smile back, and it just comes right back."
Meanwhile, Chris Lowell offered "Team Piz" fans this hint about his character's chances of being the one to end up with Veronica.
"I think Rob likes to not put a period on the end of every sentence when he finishes something," he said. "The show ended on a cliffhanger note. I believe in a way he did a similar thing here."
Thomas said the resolution might still be debated in fan circles even after they see the movie.
"I think that fans will understand why Veronica makes the decisions she makes," he said.
"It's a fun predicament to put Veronica in -- will she go with her good sense or her passions?"
One thing Thomas did make clear is that he made the final call on how things ended up.
"It was not up for a vote. Certainly I had a way I wanted it to go and that's how it went, but we'll let the fans decide if they're happy with how it ended up."
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the crowdfunding from Kickstarter, which gave the movie its budget of well over $5 million.
"It's been a roller coaster ride for me in terms of hope," he said.
"There were moments where I felt optimistic and bullish about our chances, and others where I felt so low, I thought it wouldn't happen. Kristen Bell has this confidence and optimism that kept it going. It was like a mini-miracle when it came together."
Thomas thinks this could potentially be something we see more and more, especially when it comes to Warner Bros., the studio that owns "Veronica Mars" and gave Thomas the opportunity to try crowdfunding. (Warner Bros. Pictures is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN.)
"The next few weeks will tell. If the movie makes money then I think there's an opportunity for more movies like ours to be made," he said.
"If we find this model that can support $5 or $10 million, I think [Warner Bros.] would be thrilled, and I'd be proud if we got more $5 to 10 million movies [based on existing series or properties] because of this."
So might we get more "Veronica Mars" after this? There's already a CW Web series based on Ryan Hansen's character Dick Casablancas set to shoot in July.
Thomas told the fans at PaleyFest that the idea of a Netflix or Amazon season of "Veronica Mars" excites him to no end.
"I would love to be able to do the R-rated version of 'Veronica Mars.' I would love to tell some darker stories."
In the meantime, fans can hope that Thomas' TV adaptation of the comic book "iZombie" starring Rose McIver ("Once Upon a Time," "Masters of Sex") gets picked up by the CW.
"They said they wanted a kick-ass female centric show like 'Buffy' and 'Veronica,' and I think it's a fun show in that vein," he told CNN.
"I think we jump off the comic book [storylines] quite a bit, but we keep the basic idea that our young female zombies have to eat brains to survive, and she gets the memories of the people whose brains she's consuming."
Well, we can see one big difference right away. So not just "Veronica Mars" fans but clearly, "Walking Dead" fans might want to check it out, as well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Dot on the Map, After Scandal, Could Be Wiped Off

It’s easy for motorists driving down busy Route 301 to miss this speck of a city in rural north-central Florida: Fiddle with the car radio, unwrap a pack of gum, gaze out the window at the sunset and, whoosh, it’s gone.
And so it fell to the police to force hurried travelers to stop and savor the 1,260-foot ribbon of roadway belonging to this city. Hidden by trash bins or concealed in a stretch of woods, the officers — a word loosely applied here — pointed their radar devices. Between 2011 and 2012, Hampton’s officers issued 12,698 speeding tickets to motorists, many most likely caught outside Hampton’s strip of county road.
But, as it turns out, surprised motorists are not the only ones getting burned. So many speeding tickets were churned out for so many years and with such brazenness that this city of 477 residents came under scrutiny — and not just for revenue raising with a radar gun. Now, Hampton, an 89-year-old city, is fighting legislative momentum to wipe it off the map, after a state audit last month uncovered reams of financial irregularities, shoddy record-keeping and missing funds.
The state attorney, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Bradford County
 Sheriff’s Office recently opened a criminal investigation, focusing primarily on the actions of the city’s three former full-time employees — the city clerk, the maintenance operator and the police chief.
“If half of this is remotely true, they’ve used the city as a personal pocketbook,” said the Bradford County sheriff, Gordon Smith, who routinely butted heads with John Hodges, Hampton’s police chief.
In the audit, the city sometimes offered an explanation for its slipshod documentation. The reason, for example, that no water meter logbooks before April 2012 could be found was that they were “lost in a swamp,” the result of a car accident involving the water utility operator. (There was no accident report filed.) Those logbooks might have clarified why the city’s elder-care center did not receive a water bill for seven years and why three city commissioners went unbilled for 17 months. As for the city’s pre-1999 records, Florida floods were blamed for obliterating them.
“I have said it before: It’s something out of a Southern Gothic novel. You can’t make this stuff up,” said State Senator Rob Bradley, whose district includes the city. “This situation went on for so long and the mismanagement was so deep, we have to seriously consider abolishing the government.”
Hampton, a mishmash of trailers and wood-frame houses, some ramshackle, some not, has about 30 days to come up with a plan and make a genuine attempt to right itself or it will tumble into oblivion. The State Legislature would then take up a vote to dissolve it, handing over management of the city’s one square mile to Bradford County.
Mustering salvation is a tall task for a city of this size and condition. Hampton lost its three full-time employees to the scandal, seldom runs City Council elections because nobody wants the jobs and often skips holding monthly Council meetings altogether.
Even picking a mayor among the five Council members proved an ordeal. The post was finally filled last September, but two months into the job, the new mayor, Barry Moore, was charged with possession of Oxycodone with intent to sell. He now sits in jail awaiting trial.For years, complaints about Hampton streamed in to local politicians and the county sheriff, most often about the speed trap. Tens of thousands of motorists were stopped for speeding, even though they had little time to slow down from 65 miles per hour to 55 m.p.h., particularly coming from the south, on 301’s 1,260-foot Hampton strip. Among them were the legions of University of Florida Gator fans making game-day pilgrimages from Jacksonville to Gainesville. Even State Representative Charles E. Van Zant Sr., who represents Hampton and spearheaded the audit, got a speeding ticket here in 2011. (He said his speeding ticket — which he paid — had nothing to do with ordering the audit.)
In 2011, the city took in $268,624 from traffic fines. The sum was $197,247 in 2010 and $151,000 in 2012. Despite those windfalls, the city operated at a deficit.
Traffic fines were by far the chief source of revenue in a city with two gas station convenience stores and only scrapings of property taxes. In fact, Jim Mitzel, 50, a former mayor who left office in 2008 after a conflict with the police chief and the city clerk, said he helped Hampton annex the tiny slice of 301 in the mid-1990s simply to help fill city coffers.
“This town has struggled financially for years and years,” Mr. Mitzel said. “But once we got 301, our chief went crazy.”
The city went so crazy that it wasn’t long before AAA put it on its list of notorious speed traps.
Nothing changed.
“The last couple of years were the worst,” Mr. Mitzel said. “They went after people like fresh meat. They pulled out in front of semis.”
In pursuit of speeders, the city’s force grew to 17 from one, some of them volunteers and a few of them driving uninsured cars. Sheriff Smith said he did not know how many were actually police officers and how many were trained in radar detection. Fed up, the sheriff last year cut the police chief’s access to databases, radio communications and the use of the jail.
“We didn’t know who was bringing someone to our jail,” Mr. Smith said. “Was he a cop?”
A few years ago, the police chief added ministering to his job description. He suddenly began holding services at the tumbledown City Hall in a novel merger of church and state.
“I called it the John Hodges Church of God,” Mr. Mitzel said.
City grievances ran deeper than the tickets, but no one ever challenged it robustly, not wanting to rock the boat, Mr. Mitzel said.
There was chatter about nepotism at City Hall. Jane Hall, the former city clerk, is the mother of the former maintenance operator, Adam Hall, who also ran the water system, and the wife of Charles Hall, a longtime city councilman. Her daughter also worked there for a short time.
“I called it, the City of Halls,” Mr. Mitzel added.
There were mutterings about vanishing city funds; personal use of city credit cards, trucks and gas; and trips to Ms. Hall’s clutter-filled house to hand over cash payments for water bills for which she offered no receipts. Some residents were threatened with the loss of water — the one utility controlled by the city — if they made trouble, Mr. Smith said. Auditors found that 46 percent of the city’s water went unaccounted for, much of it leaking through decrepit lines.
In a February email to The Gainesville Sun, Ms. Hall defended herself and said, “There has been a deliberate attempt to make me look like some criminal mastermind.”
Councilman Frantz Innocent said a lack of staff and “oversight” was part of the problem. “We are just trying to fix things that happened,” he said. “If you want to go poking around looking for something, you can always find something wrong.”

General's defense to try for plea deal in sex case

Attorneys for an Army general charged with sexual assault will try renegotiate a plea deal with a new set of military officials.
The judge in Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair's case sent the jury of generals back to their duty stations on Tuesday morning, indicating that the trial is not likely to resume soon.
Judge Col. James Pohl made the offer for another try at a plea deal Monday after finding evidence that the case may have been improperly influenced by political concerns.

The twist came with the Pentagon under heavy pressure from Congress and beyond to combat rape and other sex crimes in the military.
Sinclair, 51, is accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex. He has admitted to an affair but denied assaulting the woman.

U.S. cancer doctors urge payment fix as cases set to rise

U.S. cancer doctors are worried about their ability to handle an expected surge in cancer cases in the coming years as they face cuts to government health plans and efforts to reduce payments to physicians.
The influential American Society of Clinical Oncology, in a report released on Tuesday, cited estimates that cancer will become the leading killer in the United States by 2030 as the population ages, while treatment costs reach new heights. The group is calling on the U.S. Congress to help stabilize payments to doctors under the Medicare insurance program for the elderly.
"What you are seeing from Medicare as well as others is they continue to constrain the revenues to practices. At the same time, the number of patients everyone is seeing is going up as the population increases," said Blase Polite, an oncologist at the University of Chicago.
"Combine that with the cost of the care that we're providing ... It's really creating a very difficult financial situation," Polite, incoming head of government relations for ASCO, told Reuters.
A projected workforce crunch could also hamper care as demand for cancer treatment rises, ASCO said in the report summarizing its survey of 1,162 oncology practices in 2012 and 2013 representing more than 13,000 physicians. Overall, ASCO represents 35,000 doctors, nurse practitioners, researchers and other cancer care professionals.
Its survey, to be unveiled in a briefing on Capitol Hill later on Tuesday, comes as Congress grapples with how to address looming physician payment cuts ahead of a March 31 deadline.
ASCO and other physician groups have been pressing Congress for years to alter the reimbursement formula known as the
 sustainable growth rate, or SGR. The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on a replacement on Friday.
About 14 million people in the United States have had cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 1.7 million people will be newly diagnosed in 2014 and more than 585,000 will die from it.
By 2030, the rate is expected to jump to 2.3 million new cases each year, ASCO said in its report. The number of those who previously had cancer and survived is also expected to grow.
ASCO President Clifford Hudis said he does not see the group's push taking away from the needs of other specialty physicians and their patients. "All of this crisis-to-crisis management has to come to a stop," Hudis, a breast cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, said of Congress's efforts.


Congress is weighing changes to the physician payment system that calls for sharp cuts in reimbursement to doctors. The system has yet to be put in place because lawmakers have overridden the legislation each year. By the end of March, Congress must either repeal the formula or pass another temporary patch, or "doc fix."
One proposal under consideration would replace the formula with a 0.5 percent annual increase through 2018, then a two-track system with either a 0.5 percent or a 1 percent rise depending on which of the two systems providers use. The Congressional Budget Office has said that measure would increase federal spending by about $138 billion between 2014 and 2024.
Most cancer cases are diagnosed in older Americans, many of whom are covered by Medicare. Other insurers also look to Medicare when setting reimbursement rates to doctors.
The ASCO report estimates a possible shortage of more than 1,487 oncologists by in 2025, in part because cancer providers, like their patients, are aging.
Nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 40 million people, is age 65 or older, 2012 data from the Census Bureau show.
Drug costs are also a worry, ASCO's Polite said, as prices have risen to $10,000 a month from $1,000 a month in 1990.
Oncologist Sharon Giordano of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas said while the baby boom generation is likely to "put a strain on the healthcare system," there is room for promoting preventive steps such as quittingtobacco use or controlling obesity to help reduce cancer cases, including recurrence.
"Certainly a new diagnosis ... can be really motivating" to make lifestyle changes, said Giordano, who is an ASCO member but was not directly involved with the report. "It's never too late."
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Mohammad Zargham)

Pistorius had 'big love for guns' part 2

Pathologist Gert Saayman said Ms Steenkamp had been shot three times, in the head, hip and arm but that

he did not know the order of the injuries.
If she had been shot in the hip or arm first, screaming would have been expected, he said.
Neighbours have previously said they heard a woman screaming before the shots were fired but Mr Pistorius' defence lawyers argue that the athlete was the only one who screamed.
When pressed by defence lawyer Barry Roux, Dr Saayman said that there could be an error of "an hour or two" in his estimation of when Ms Steenkamp last ate.
"Gastric emptying is not an exact science My Lady but I don't think we should throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater," Dr Saayman said.
Judge Thokozile Masipa banned live coverage of Monday's testimony from the post-mortem because of its graphic nature.

Mr Pistorius has appeared distraught as the events of 14 February 2013 have been recounted in the court in Pretoria.
He was physically sick as Dr Saayman presented his evidence about the nature of Ms Steenkamp's injuries.
The state is seeking to convince the court that Mr Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, reality TV star and law graduate, had an argument before the athlete fired the shots that killed his girlfriend.
There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.
If found guilty, the 27-year-old, a national sporting hero dubbed the "blade runner" after having both lower legs amputated, could face life imprisonment.