Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Marijuana Farm Busted on Girl Scout Camp

Police found thousands of marijuana plants being grown in a remote part of a Girl Scout camp, according to court documents and a scout official.
Officials at Camp Ella J. Logan were dismayed when they found out what had happened, said Sherri Weidman, chief executive of the Limberlost Girl Scout Council.
Police found the hidden marijuana farm with plants in various stages of cultivation in a wooded swampy area of Kosciusko County, according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in South Bend. Some of the plants were growing on land belonging to a local resident, while the bulk - about 5,000 plants - were growing on camp land. State troopers in an airplane spotted the plots.Mario Comacho, 44, Mariano Gonzales, 38, and a juvenile were arrested last week after police found the farm.
Comacho and Gonzales, both of Goshen, appeared for an initial hearing Monday in federal court on charges of possession of more than 1,000 marijuana plants with the intent to distribute. Neither man had an attorney, according to court documents.
Johnny Coy, who owns part of the land where the pot was found growing, said he wasn't aware of the operation and rarely visits the swampy area.
Weidman said the area was in a remote part of the 220-acre camp accessible only by wading through the muck or taking a canoe. The land was bought by the council to provide a safety buffer, she said.
Parents of campers were informed of the discovery when they picked up their children.

Senate Votes to Triple AIDS Funding
The Senate voted Wednesday to triple spending for a much-acclaimed program that has treated and protected millions in Africa and elsewhere from the scourges of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
The 80-16 vote committed the United States to spending up to $48 billion over the next five years for the most ambitious foreign public health program ever launched by the United States.
The legislation would replace and expand the current $15 billion act that President Bush championed in a State of the Union address and Congress passed in 2003. That act expires at the end of September.
In a statement, Bush said that when the program was launched in 2003, about 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS. Today, the program supports lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment for more than 1.7 million people around the world, he said. It also has supported treatment and prevention programs that have helped HIV-positive women give birth to nearly 200,000 infants who are HIV-free.
"Traveling in Africa earlier this year, Laura and I had our most recent opportunity to witness the effectiveness of this program," he said. "We were honored to see the doctors, nurses and caregivers of all faiths working to save the lives of their fellow citizens. And we met the patients, including many children, who understand and appreciate America's generosity."
The Democratic-led Senate, rarely in agreement with the White House, gave Bush credit for initiating the program. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a chief negotiator in crafting the bill, said the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, is "the single most significant thing the president has done."
The global AIDS program will save tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives, Biden said, "and the president deserves our recognition for that."
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and co-negotiator with Biden, said the program "has helped to prevent instability and societal collapse in a number of at-risk countries." He added that it has "facilitated deep partnerships with a new generation of African leaders, and it has improved attitudes toward the United States in Africa and other regions."
Biden said he had been coordinating with House leaders and was confident they could come up with a final version "within a matter of days."
The bill passed by the House in April approved $50 billion, including $5 billion for malaria, $4 billion for tuberculosis and $41 billion for AIDS. Of the AIDS money, a proportion — $2 billion next year — would go to the international Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Actual spending levels still have to be approved in annual appropriations bills.
Earlier Wednesday, the Senate, acceding to arguments that Congress must also address humanitarian issues closer to home, agreed to set aside $2 billion of the $50 billion for American Indian water, health and law enforcement projects.
"We don't have to go off of our shore to find third world conditions," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., sponsor of the amendment with Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and others. Biden said House negotiators had indicated they would accept the change.
The Senate vote came after months of negotiations with Senate conservatives wanting assurances that the new AIDS bill would continue to include programs promoting abstinence and fidelity and would not discriminate against religious groups in allotting funding.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., saying he wanted to prevent money from being diverted to irrelevant development programs, secured language that more than half the money would go to treating AIDS victims.
He said he was still concerned about how to pay for the $50 billion program. But Coburn, a medical doctor, said he believed that "this is our most successful foreign policy initiative in my lifetime. This is the most effective thing we have done to build America's prestige, esteem and respect."
Senate changes will have to be worked out with the House. Those include a measure added to the Senate bill by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., that would reverse a policy that has made it difficult for HIV-positive foreigners to visit or seek residency in the United States.
"For 20 years the United States has barred HIV-positive travelers from entering the country even for one day," said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. "Today the Senate said loud and clear that AIDS exceptionalism must come to an end."
The Senate was able to reject several proposed amendments offered by Republicans to cut the spending level in the bill. Supporters of tripling current spending said that 33 million are infected by HIV/AIDS around the world and that 13,000 people die every day from AIDS, TB and malaria."
The amount per year, about $10 billion, is less than 1 percent of this year's federal budget, and this is a small price to pay for a program that will save millions of lives and foster good will around the world," said Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Assisted Suicide Provokes Outcry in Germany

Lawmakers gathered in Berlin today to discuss legislative steps for a new law that would outline Germany's position on the right to die.
The meeting, which had been scheduled some time ago, came only a few days after a widely publicized suicide that caused public outcry here.
Earlier this week, Roger Kusch, a German campaigner for assisted suicide, admitted publicly that he'd helped a 79-year-old woman from the Bavarian city of Wuerzburg after she'd decided to commit suicide.
He told reporters at a news conference in Hamburg that he had counseled the woman about how to commit suicide but that he did not administer the deadly drugs.
Kusch said he actually left the room after she drank a poisonous brew, which contained the anti-malaria drug chloroquine and a sedative called diazepam.
He returned to the woman's apartment three hours later to find her dead on her bed.
"She has died with dignity, a peaceful death for which she had decided of her own free will," he said. "Her last words were "auf Wiedersehen," or farewell.
The woman, Bettina Schardt, a retired X-ray technician, was single and apparently had no family to look after her.
Kusch said that she was neither terminally ill nor suffering acute pain but her life was unpleasant.
He showed reporters a video tape on which the woman was heard saying, "I can't really say I'm suffering, but I find it extremely hard to care for myself."
Kusch also said that she had trouble moving around in her apartment and hardly ever went outside.
"She knew her physical condition was deteriorating, she figured life in a nursing home would soon become her only option, and she was not going to accept that," Kusch told ABC News in a telephone interview today.
"That thought was simply unbearable for her. She has decided of her own free will that she would rather die than live in a nursing home."
Kusch is a trained lawyer who formerly served as a secretary of justice in the Hamburg city council.
He knew to be careful about actively assisting the woman, and he videotaped the entire process by remote control as proof to avoid legal prosecution.
Neither suicide nor passively assisted suicide is illegal. But euthanasia, or killing on demand, is a punishable crime in Germany, which can blur the line.
Germans are struggling with the issue because it brings back horrible memories of the Nazi's euthanasia program, which was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people.
Kusch, who is also the founder of an organization called Assisted Death, told ABC News, "Most people simply want to die in their own beds; most important, they want to die with dignity. Why not help those who decide of their own free will they want to commit suicide? Every person has the right to choose to die, even if they are not terminally ill.
"Mrs. Schardt had already decided to commit suicide when she first contacted me in April," he said. "She was a very analytical person, there was no question if she would kill herself but only how she would proceed in taking her life. She left a goodbye letter thanking me for helping her to die in dignity."
Other European countries have more flexible rules when it comes to assisted suicide.
In Switzerland, it is legal to actively assist a person committing suicide, provided a doctor has been consulted and the patient is fully aware of the consequences of his decision.
A Swiss euthanasia group called Dignitas claims it offers a dignified death to terminally ill people by administering lethal injections to end their suffering.
In the past decade, about 500 Europeans, many Germans among them, are said to have traveled across the Swiss border to find help to end their lives.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told German TV station ARD she was absolutely against any form of assisted suicide, and her government is almost unanimously on her side, calling for strict legislation.
Lawmakers today postponed their decision on a new law until October 2008, but they ruled that law and justice enforcement authorities should put a break on commercial ventures that make money by helping people kill themselves.
They suggested that any commercially assisted suicide should be considered a punishable crime that will be prosecuted, and offenders can be sentenced to three years in prison.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Russia may ban Halloween

Russia's State Duma is currently considering a package of laws aimed at protecting the morality of its children and preventing youth suicide and alcoholism. Some of the ideas kind of seem like overkill:
Together with proposals to combat child alcoholism and pornography, the policy project outlines a raft of draconian measures such as a 10 p.m. curfew for all school-age children and a ban on tattoos and body-piercings.Under the new measures, schools would be prohibited from celebrating Western holidays like Halloween and St. Valentine's Day, which are deemed inappropriate to "Russian culture." Toys in the shape of monsters or skeletons would be banned as "provoking aggression."
The proposal also sets its sights on teenage subcultures such as emo, a style of hardcore punk, and goth, which lawmakers accuse of "cultivating bisexuality." Both styles, the legislation implies, are social scourges on a par with the skinhead movement, and must be eliminated from the social landscape.

Model Ruslana Korshunova's 'suicide' conspiracy theories
Police have ruled that catwalk model Ruslana Korshunova's death was a suicide as conspiracy theories as to why she ended her life flood the internet.
The 20-year-old was found dead outside her downtown Manhattan building on Saturday afternoon after eyewitnesses described seeing a body plunge nine floors from a balcony.
Friends have since cast doubts that the successful Kazakh would have had reason to end her life however.
"There's no way she would have killed herself," Kira Titeneva, a friend from Korshunova's home town, told the New York Daily News. "She loved life so much".
Investigators have reportedly found no signs of a struggle inside Korshunova's apartment and a spokeswoman for New York's medical examiner said that Korshunova died from blunt impact injuries.
Theories blaming the Russian mafia for the model's death have swept the web.
It has been suggested that the model may have been desperate to get out of the fashion industry but been prevented from doing so by murky underworld bosses who manage the Eastern European models.
There is more to suggest that the model may have been depressed though, with recent blog posts hinting at hidden angst.
In one message three months ago she wrote: "I'm so lost. Will I ever find myself?"
The New York Post quoted a friend of Korshunova claiming she had just returned from a modeling gig in Paris and seemed to be "on top of the world."
"There were no signs," he said. "That's what's driving me crazy. I don't see one reason why she would do that."

Russia warns Lithuania on US missile defense
Russian lawmakers warned Lithuania against agreeing to place U.S. missile defense sites in the Baltic country, saying Wednesday that such a move could trigger a Russian military buildup in the region.
Russia could deploy more troops to its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad if Lithuania offers its soil for the deployment of U.S. missile interceptors, said a statement approved unanimously by the Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma.
Lithuania's Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas was in Washington on Wednesday for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he did not know if the two were discussing the possibility of placing missile-defense components in the former Soviet country on Russia's northern border.
But on Tuesday, the Pentagon had said Lithuania would be a "good alternative" to Poland if negotiations with Warsaw collapse. Poland has demanded increased U.S. military aid in exchange for approving the deal.
Russia is fiercely against the U.S. plans to deploy components of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying the move would undermine its nuclear deterrent.
The Duma statement said that placing U.S. interceptors in Lithuania would "lead to a change of the Russian Federation's approach to military security in the Baltics, which is currently based on the principle of minimal sufficient military presence."
The lawmakers said using Lithuania in the missile-defense plan "will lead to an adequate modernization and strengthening of a grouping of Russian forces deployed to the Kaliningrad region."
Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost region, is located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.
The Duma statement also criticized a Lithuanian law passed last month banning the public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols. It said the law insulted the memory of the Soviet soldiers who fought the Nazis in the World War II and amounted to an attempt to "rewrite history."
The Soviet Union annexed independent Lithuania in 1940. Nazi Germany quickly seized the Baltics after invading the Soviet Union in 1941, and the Soviet army drove Nazi troops back in 1944.

Police Say Missing Girl's Body Is Found

The body of a missing 12-year-old whose uncle allegedly planned to force her into a sex ring the day she disappeared was found Wednesday in Randolph, not far from his house.
State Police Director Col. James Baker said Brooke Bennett's body was found about 4:45 p.m. and her family had been notified.
The uncle, Michael Jacques, has been in custody since Sunday on charges of aggravated sexual assault against a different underage girl. He has pleaded not guilty.
Brooke was last seen alive with Jacques at a convenience store a week ago.
"The painful discovery of Brooke's body today is tragic and heartbreaking," Baker said at a news conference.
He called the death "clearly suspicious" but declined to give details before a planned briefing Thursday morning.
But in an affidavit unsealed earlier in U.S. District Court in Burlington, the FBI said an unidentified teenager told investigators she was present on June 25 when Jacques, 42, tricked Brooke into thinking she was going to a party and took her to his Randolph home to be initiated into a sex ring.
The girl said she was led to believe that Brooke would "would have sex with adult males" during the initiation.
After the three got to Jacques' home, the girl said she and Brooke watched television for a while before Jacques told her to leave and took his niece upstairs. The witness, who is 14, said she left the house with her boyfriend and did not see Brooke again.
The 14-year-old said she herself had been having sex with Jacques since she was 9 as part of the sex ring.
Brooke's former stepfather, Raymond Gagnon, appeared in federal court Wednesday on an obstruction of justice charge in the case. He was denied bail and was held pending another hearing on Monday.
Police say Gagnon, 40, lives in Texas but often visited Vermont. According to the affidavit, he told police he accessed Brooke's MySpace page from a laptop computer at his home in San Antonio after getting login information from Jacques.
Police said they have evidence that postings to the account were altered to make it appear that Brooke had discussed a secret rendevous with someone identified as "Skittlemeup" shortly before she disappeared.
Gagnon also told police he had downloaded child pornography onto the laptop, according to the affidavit.
In Randolph before the announcement, Brooke's friends and family put up signs saying they missed her and were praying for her safe return. She lived in Braintree, a small town close to Randolph.
"To the community, thank you so much for all your support and help, and I hope I can keep continuing to get that," said Brooke's mother, Cassandra Gagnon. She wore a photo pin of her daughter on her T-shirt.
She said she was "very surprised" by her ex-husband's alleged involvement.

Mom Accused of Denying Son Chemo
A woman has been charged with withholding cancer medication from her 8-year-old autistic son, who prosecutors say likely will die because the cancer has returned.
Kristen Anne LaBrie, 36, of Beverly, was released on personal recognizance Monday after pleading not guilty in Salem District Court to a charge of reckless child endangerment.
Her son, Jeremy Fraser, had been in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
He had a good prognosis when first diagnosed, with chances of recovery put at 85 percent to 90 percent, according to a police report. But his chances have dropped to 10 percent since being deprived of medication, authorities said.
Prosecutor Kate MacDougall said "in all likelihood, Jeremy Fraser will not see his ninth birthday."
"This child was in remission," she said. "His prognosis was good. This child came out of remission. ... He is not expected to survive."
Labrie declined comment to the Salem Evening News as she left court. Her lawyer, Kevin James, said Labrie had taken her son more than 100 times to Massachusetts General Hospital and "has been extensively involved in this child's care."
He said prosecutors had "a very weak case."
According to a police report, Fraser was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006 and underwent a five-phase regimen of chemotherapy, including drugs that were supposed to be given to him at his house by his mother.
Police said LaBrie canceled at least a dozen appointments for chemotherapy treatments. MacDougall also said LaBrie did not fill at least half of the prescriptions her son was given.
In March, Dr. Alison Friedmann, the child's oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, filed a report of suspected neglect with the Department of Social Services after discovering Fraser's cancer had returned, something that should not have happened if he was on his medications.
The boy's father, Eric Fraser, now has full custody of his son in Saugus. He said Jeremy spends part of his day in a special education program.
"The kid's a peach," he said. "He doesn't do one bad thing."
Eric Fraser said he's outraged LaBrie did not have to have to post bail Monday.
"I'm pretty disgusted about the whole justice (system) and DSS," Fraser said. "Now my son's going to die."