Grameen plans to reach the “unbanked” in India and Bangladesh

It can scale mountains in a single bound and wend its way down the most wretched roads. It is the mighty cellphone signal – and the latest hope for bringing financial services to the world’s masses who do not have access to banks.

Grameen Solutions, an affiliate of the Grameen Bank that was created by the Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, this week teamed with Obopay, a mobile payment company based in California, to provide banking to a billion poor people using cellphones.

“Today, it’s difficult to reach these people,” Aditya Menon, Obopay’s executive director for India, said at a news conference in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. “If you solve that problem, you are enabling them to enter the economy.”

The joint venture plans to introduce pilot programs in India and Bangladesh in October and aims to reach a billion people globally by 2018, in large part by keeping costs ultra low – possibly through the help of charitable foundations.

Obopay, whose partners include Verizon Wireless, Citigroup, the BlackBerry maker Research In Motion and AT&T, is already active in the United States, where customers who want to send money pay 10 cents for every transaction. After opening an Obopay account, you can transfer money between bank accounts, credit cards and phones via text messages.

Hopefully, the transaction fee in developing nations will be sufficiently small – and no hindrance.

Newspapers are bargains. So, who’s buying?

Polish the chrome and you’re OK, right?

Want to buy a newspaper company? No? You’re in good company.

The Chicago Sun-Times is the kind of trophy that once appealed to deep-pocketed buyers. It has a big audience in a big market, a storied name, and stars like Roger Ebert and Robert Novak. The Sun-Times Media Group, owner of the flagship paper and dozens of smaller suburban papers, said in February that it wanted to sell assets or maybe the entire company. The chief executive, Cyrus Freidheim Jr., said May 8 that “a large number of parties” had asked to see the books, and that the company expected to field offers by the end of that month.

Since then, silence.
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Bungled DNA test forces Australian police to reopen 7000 cases

Rape and murder victims

Australian police will re-examine 7,000 crimes solved through DNA evidence after a mistake forced detectives to free a suspect wrongly accused of murder.

Police in the southern city of Melbourne withdrew charges against Russell John Gesah, accused in July of the 1984 murders of a 35-year-old mother and her nine-year-old daughter.

It’s obviously an embarrassment and we would rather not be in this position,” said Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Simon Overland…

Police last month said a DNA sample taken from the murder scene, where Margaret Tapp was strangled and her daughter Seana raped and later killed, matched Gesah after comparison with 400,000 other DNA profiles on a national database.

Gesah was arrested and faced court, but a later check found the DNA evidence used against him was taken elsewhere and mistakenly tested with samples from the Tapp murder scene.

Overland said every crime solved by DNA in the state since the testing technology was introduced 20 years ago would now be reviewed to check no other bungles had occurred.

Of course, they could follow the Dallas, Texas, model and simply deny a mistake had ever occurred.

Shoot first, kill the Mayor’s dogs – ask later

The drug raid by Prince George’s County law officers on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo last week was a Keystone Kops operation from start to finish.

Understand from the beginning, there was little or no investigation, the mayor and his family -and their dogs – were innocent, the Sheriffs who invaded the mayors house did not have a no-knock warrant.

Acting on a tip that a 32-pound package of marijuana had been sent by Federal Express from Arizona to Mr. Calvo’s home (addressed to his wife, Trinity Tomsic), Prince George’s police swung into action. Which is to say they got on the phone, calling law enforcement agencies to see who might have a SWAT team available to bust the unsuspecting Calvo family. (It seems the police department’s own team was tied up.) After being turned down at least once, they finally struck a deal with the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office, whose track record with domestic disputes is extensive but whose experience with drug busts is slight. And it showed.

Without bothering to alert Berwyn Heights police, sheriff’s deputies moved into position. Posing as a deliveryman, a deputy took the package to the family’s door. After Mr. Calvo’s mother-in-law initially refused to sign for it, the package was finally taken into the home, where it sat, unopened, on the living room floor. Whereupon the deputies, guns drawn, kicked in the door, stormed the house and shot to death the Calvos’ two Labrador retrievers, one of them, apparently, as it attempted to flee. The canine threat thus dispatched, the mayor — in his briefs — and his mother-in-law were handcuffed and interrogated in close proximity to the bloodied corpses of their dogs.

Read the rest if you can stomach it. Lousy police work by incompetent coppers.

EU draft security plan calls for international police force and turning over all personal data to the U.S.

German and Italian immigration cops working the Polish border

Europe should consider sharing vast amounts of intelligence and information on its citizens with the US to establish a “Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation” to combat terrorism, according to a high-level confidential report on future security.

The 27 members of the EU should also pool intelligence on terrorism, develop joint video-surveillance and unmanned drone aircraft, start networks of anti-terrorism centres, and boost the role and powers of an intelligence-coordinating body in Brussels, said senior officials.

The 53-page report drafted by the Future Group of interior and justice ministers from six EU member states – Germany, France, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic -argues Europe will need to integrate much of its policing, intelligence-gathering, and policy-making if it is to tackle terrorism, organised crime, and legal and illegal immigration…

The group’s controversial proposals are certain to trigger major disputes, not least its calls for Europe to create an expeditionary corps of armed gendarmerie for paramilitary intervention overseas.

These idiots exemplify the blind leading the blind. Or is it the ignorant and arrogant in the lead?

The EU – led by the example of the Brits – seem bound and determined to give up freedoms in the name of security with little or no policing of the politicians in charge.

An End for the Need for Rejection Drugs Coming?

Hope for Transplants without the Anti-Rejection Drug Regimens

Scientists have developed a procedure which may help end the need for transplant patients to rely on powerful anti-rejection drugs.

The complex procedure involves mixing the patient’s infection-fighting white blood cells with cells from the donor.

One patient went eight months without immunosuppressive drugs and others were switched to low doses.

The study, by Germany’s University of Schleswig-Holstein, appears in Transplant International.

It could eventually offer patients who have had transplant surgery a much higher quality of life, free from complex drug regimes….

The new technique involves giving transplant patients an infusion of specialised cells known as a transplant acceptance-inducing cells (TAICs).

The TAICs are created by isolating a type of white blood cell from the donor, and modifying them chemically in the lab.

All preliminary, and we understand that. For the sake of the strong of spirit and courageous folks who have endured these anti-rejection medications, we wish the researchers well.

Blow-up church to lure beachgoers. Wha?

Catholic nuns and priests in Italy are following their flocks to the beach this summer, establishing an inflatable church and a beach-convent in the sands to lure sunbathers.

The 30-metre (98 ft) long blow-up church — staffed by priests ready to take confession — will debut this weekend on the Adriatic coast in the Molise region.

There will be four or five people singing, with music about God,” said Chiara Facci with Catholic group Sentinelli del Mattino. Night time activities, which will not include Mass, will run from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The first attempt to inaugurate the inflatable church last month on the holiday island of Sardinia failed after strong winds forced organizers to relocate, she said.

And in parallel – why should priests get all the sun:

On the Mediterranean coast, nuns from a convent near the southern Italian city of Naples have relocated to beach cabins to join holidaymakers saying the rosary. An adjoining altar was set up under two tents.

“The concept of a beach-convent is something that is appreciated by vacationers and the nuns themselves,” priest Antonio Rungi, who helped spearheaded the initiative.

The blow-up church brings to mind a congregation of blow-up parishioners to match.

And the beach-convent? Did I ever tell you about this nun who lived in the apartment next to mine, back in the day?

Drug bust nets 56 Miami-Dade government employees

Fifty-six government employees — including a police officer, a felony court clerk, two corrections officers and 27 school bus drivers and attendants — were arrested in a scam that used health insurance information to fraudulently obtain prescriptions for the painkiller OxyContin, authorities said Wednesday.

Sixty-two people were arrested in total and all face charges including racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and grand theft, according to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.

Authorities estimate 130 medically unnecessary prescriptions for OxyContin — more than 12,000 tablets — were presented to pharmacies. The drugs have an estimated street value of $400,000, prosecutors said.

The scam began in January 2003, when six “recruiters” enlisted a group of people, most of them employees of local government, to participate in the ring, according to prosecutors.

Those employees provided their health insurance identification information, and with that information they obtained unnecessary prescriptions for OxyContin from another codefendant, who was a physician, authorities said.

Your tax dollars at work.

It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to borrow it; but, over at the BIG Blog where I’m senior contributing editor, we have posted so many off-the-wall stories about Floriduh that we finally produced a special logo just for the category!

Abandoned by both mothers, surrogate infant trapped in red tape

A 13-day-old girl may become India’s first surrogacy orphan after the Japanese couple who paid for her to be conceived divorced just weeks before she was born, leaving her in legal limbo.

The baby, who has been named Manji and is being kept in hospital after falling ill, faces an uncertain future after her Indian surrogate mother and the Japanese woman who had planned to adopt her refused to take her.

Her biological father, who wants to keep the baby, has not been allowed to take her out of the country because of laws banning single men from adopting girls.

Lawyers said that the case highlighted the need for legislation to regulate surrogate pregnancies in India amid fears that the rent-a-womb industry in the country is out of control.

Poor little twerp. Hopefully, she’ll get past the legalese and have a chance at something passing for a normal life.