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Outside the Gates

Credit Card Reform

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to eliminate sudden increases in interest rates and late fees for consumer credit cards.

If passed, the new measures won’t take effect for a year. However, the requirement that customers get 45 days notice before their interest rates are increased would take effect in 90 days.

Banks opposed to the legislation have warned it could reduce the amount of credit available and make it more costly to use a credit card.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign a bill into law by late May once the Senate considers its own version of this bill next week.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

H1N1 Flu (a.k.a. Swine Flu)

As of Thursday, health officials have confirmed 16 cases of swine flu in California.

This strain of Swine flu has spread throughout the U.S. since mid-April, and has many of the same symptoms as the common flu.

The flu has caused at least 160 deaths in Mexico and was decreed an epidemic last week. However, public health authorities in San Francisco said U.S. residents should not panic. The swine flu cases in the U.S. so far have been milder than the seasonal flu.

Medication for the flu exists, but health experts urged people not to seek medical attention unless they are seriously ill. However, children should not go to school or daycare if they have any illness, not just swine flu.

Many U.S. residents are still concerned. Some schools all over the nation have shut down because some students were tested as “probably” having swine flu.

California schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell said that just four of 9,000 public schools in California have closed due to swine flu, including Highlands Elementary School and Branham High School in San Jose.

San Francisco had its first confirmed case of swine flu, a child who recently traveled to Mexico and is currently recovering from his illness. This child’s name was not announced.

The state Department of Public Health said it was also investigating 23 probable cases of the virus in the state.There is one confirmed case in San Francisco.

The confirmed cases are in five counties: seven in San Diego County, five in Imperial County, two in Marin County and one each in Sacramento and San Bernardino counties.

Sources: The Associated Press; San Francisco Chronicle; Yahoo News

Outside the Gates

Oakland may raise parking fines

On Tuesday, Apr. 14 the Oakland City Council will meet to consider raising parking fines by $10.

This means the minimum fine would be $38 and the maximum fine would be $510.

If passed, the increased fee for parking violations will raise about $3.4 million a year, officials said.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Dungeons and Dragons co-creator dies

Dave Arneson, one of the two co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), died of cancer last week.

He and Gary Gygax, who died in 2008, created the role-playing game in 1974.

D&D soon became an underground sensation and sparked a new market for fantasy-themed games that required players to create their own characters, plots and sensory details based on standard game rules.

The 61-year-old was survived by his daughter, Malia Weinhagen and two grand-children.

Source: The TG Daily

Bedbug outbreak a problem in U.S.

Bedbug infestations are becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and has led government agencies to reconsider bug policies.

Bedbugs, tiny reddish-brown insects, feed on blood and live in clothes and furnature such as sofas.

They were last seen in great numbers before World War II, but now infest places ranging from homeless shelters to swanky New York hotels.

Faced with rising numbers of complaints to city information lines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted its first-ever bedbug summit Tues. Apr. 14.

About 300 participants gathered at the two-day conference at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, Va. to advise the agency.

An aide to Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said he plans to reintroduce legislation, called the Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite Act, to expand grant programs to help public housing authorities deal with infestations.

One problem is that many bedbugs have developed a resistance to common pesticides on the market and many pesticides that do destroy bedbugs were banned due to potential environmental hazards.

Because the registration of new pesticides takes so long, one thing the EPA could do is to approve some pesticides for emergency use, Miller said.

The pesticide management industry will be pushing for federal funding for research into alternative solutions, such as heating, freezing or steaming the bugs out of bedrooms.

Bedbugs are not known to transmit any diseases, but their bites can cause infections and allergic reactions in some people.

Source: Discovery News

Outside the Gates

?MCT Campus

1. Oakland middle school renamed after Obama

The former Alternative Learning Community public school was the first middle school in the United States to change its name to honor President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, students convinced the Oakland school board that the school’s original name was too negative. In a unanimous vote, the board voted to change the name to the Barack Obama Academy.

The school, which enrolls mainly low-income and African American students celebrated the victory, calling it “inspirational” and “history in the making.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

2. Vermont advances bill on gay marriage

On Thursday, the Vermont House advanced a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in a 95-52 vote.

Opponents of gay marriage called for a referendum plan that would be non-binding on the Vermont constitution.

Skeptics of the referendum idea noted the events leading up to Proposition 8’s passing in November, where “robo-calls,” national funds and out-of-state campaign money swayed voter opinion.

Currently, Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states that allow gay marriage.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

[UPDATE: The Vermont legislature passed bill on Apr. 7, becoming the fourth state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.]

3. Food safety reform may be in U.S.’s future

A recall of 2 million pounds of salmonella infested pistachios last Monday has caused Congress to consider reforming the U.S. food safety system.

Some legislative changes Congress is considering are mandatory FDA authority to recall products; companies to minimize chances of contamination with food safety systems; increased inspections, more funding and better tracking of products.

Two democrats in California are proposing a bill that would require food processors to prevent contamination and plans to be set up in case contamination occurred.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Outside the gates


Important NASA satellite sinks

A NASA satellite designed to monitor carbon dioxide emissions with unprecedented accuracy crashed into the Indian Ocean near Antarctica on Feb. 24.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It would have monitored the source points of CO2 emissions as well as the locations where carbon is taken out of the atmosphere.

Officials will investigate why the satellite fell, but Edward J. Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said it appears that the protective nose cone on the satellite did not separate. With the extra mass, the rocket didn’t have the energy to boost it into orbit.

Weiler said it’s too soon to say whether NASA will attempt to launch a duplicate of the satellite.

Source: Washington Post

Newspaper owner says he is sorry for racist cartoon

After widespread criticism, the New York Post owner, Rupert Murdoch, apologized for a cartoon which critics said was a racist portrayal of President Barack Obama.

The cartoon, which came out on Feb. 18, depicted police shooting a chimp, while saying “they’ll have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”

Murdoch said the cartoon chimp was not supposed to represent Obama. It was meant to mock the economic stimulus legislation Obama wrote, which Mardoch felt was poorly written.

The cartoon also referenced a crime that occurred weeks before the cartoon came out. A pet chimp was shot by a police officer in Connecticut after it mauled a woman who was visiting its owner.

After its release, the cartoon was denounced by famous public figures including Rev. Al Sharpton and Andrew Rojecki, the co-author of the book The Black Image in the White Mind.

Murdoch said he had spoken to a number of people since the publication and that he could now “better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused.”

Source: BBC News

Outside the gates

Ruling against prison overcrowding

Last Monday, federal courts in San Francisco decided to reduce the nation’s largest prison system by one-third.

The courts intend to cap the number of prisoners at about 101,000, a reduction of 55,000.

The judges encouraged the state to negotiate with inmates’ lawyers to cut the prison population from 156,000, which is about double the system’s capacity, within three years. If the state refuses to negotiate, the judges could shorten prison sentences and send nonviolent felons to county programs instead of prisons.

The state disagrees that the court has such authority. Attorney General Jerry Brown of California vowed to appeal the judges’ final order to the United States Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the state have argued that the federal courts lack the authority to order prison reforms costing billions of dollars, especially at a time when California is facing a $40 billion deficit.

Some critics of the current California prison system blame California’s three-strikes law, which doubles sentences for second-time felons, and reserves life sentences for even nonviolent third-felony offenders. As of March 2008, there were 41,284 prisoners serving time under the three-strikes law.

– Source: The New York Times

Starbucks to offer value-meals

Starbucks Corp., which is trying to refashion its image as a more recession-friendly coffeehouse, will begin to sell breakfast “pairings” beginning in March.

Customers will be able to order a tall latte and oatmeal or a slice of reduced-fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake for $3.95 each. Drip coffee drinkers can get a tall brewed coffee with a breakfast sandwich at the same price.

Starbucks said it will also launch two new breakfast sandwiches – a bacon sandwich with egg and gouda cheese and a ham sandwich made with egg and cheddar.
– Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area activist may receive U.S. government seat

President Barack Obama will nominate Bay Area education activist Russlynn Ali to a key civil rights post.

If confirmed by the Senate, Ali would become assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, responsible for ensuring equal access to education through enforcement of civil rights.

Ali is vice president of the Education Trust, a Washington group whose goal is to close the achievement gap, and is the founding director of the Education Trust-West in Oakland.

She supports the federal No Child Left Behind education act and California’s high school exit exam.

Ali is a member of the State Bar of California and holds a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law.

– Source: San Francisco Chronicle

New Drugs Uses Genetically Engineered Materials

Last Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug that contains materials from genetically engineered animals.

The drug, ATryn, includes milk from goats that have been genetically altered to produce an extra protein that acts as a blood thinner.

The drug will be used to treat hereditary antithrombin deficiency, a disease that increases the likelihood of getting deadly blood clots. About one in 5,000 people have this genetic disorder.

– Source: U.S. News