FBI busts major auto theft ring

The FBI says it has broken up one of the largest auto theft rings in U.S. history — a “car cloning” operation that went on for more than 20 years.

In such a theft, expensive cars are stolen and their vehicle identification numbers replaced by those belonging to legally obtained vehicles of similar makes from around the country, thus allowing the stolen cars to be sold, the FBI said in a release Tuesday.

The bureau’s “Operation Dual Identity” netted the arrests of 17 suspects in Tampa and Miami, Fla., Chicago, Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico. More than 1,000 vehicles worth a total of $25 million have allegedly been stolen by the ring in Florida, officials said.

Police say they hope to put an end to car cloning through the implementation of the National Motor Vehicle Information system database, which enables state motor vehicle departments to share vehicle registration information with each other.

This has been going on for decades before the FBI learned the word “cloning”. Cripes. I had a business associate back East who did the books for the regional Cosa Nostra. And for a major auto junkyard they owned.

The FBI figured it was just for money laundering when the reality was it was a source for VIN numbers. The same went for several used and new car lots. Get rid of the clunkers. Sell the almost-new hot cars.

These state and federal officers are just figuring out they should talk to each other.

White House unveils effort against drug gangs for Mexican border

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The Obama administration plans to send about 500 more agents and equipment to the nation’s southwestern border and Mexico to fight Mexican drug cartels and keep violence from spilling over into the United States.

Speaking at the White House Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said officials were still considering whether to deploy the National Guard to the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico, which the governors had requested…

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travels to Mexico Wednesday for the start of several weeks of high-level meetings between the two countries on the drug violence issue. Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder meet with Mexican officials in early April.

Authorities said they will increase the number of immigrations and customs agents, drug agents and anti-gun trafficking agents operating along the border. The government also will allow federal funds to be used to pay for local law enforcement involved in Southwest border operations, and send more U.S. officials to work inside Mexico.

Prosecutors say they will make a greater effort to go after those smuggling guns and drug profits from the U.S. into Mexico…

I won’t take more time, today, to insist upon the logic of decriminalization of marijuana – which still is the central pillar of the Mexican drug cartels. Read back through here and here. It’s decades overdue.

Someday, this nation will grow beyond Sunday School moralizing and face real-world conditions with real-world analysis. Until then, the need to crack down on gangsters is no less a priority today than it has been through all the years off Republican impotence along our southern border.

OnLive promises Cloud Gaming – UPDATED

A new online video game distribution network hopes to free players from buying game discs or the console systems and high-priced computers needed to play them.

The OnLive Game Service, expected to launch later this year — was officially announced today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco — lets subscribers choose from a on-demand catalog of new video games that can be played on Windows and Apple Macintosh computers or television sets.

Bypassing current console systems such as the Microsoft Xbox that play only games made for that specific platform, OnLive lets computers play games stored on its network of super-powerful data servers. These servers bounce game data back and forth from the player’s computer using proprietary compression technology to make the games run as if they are loaded on the computer.

To play over big-screen HDTVs, a small microconsole unit (the size of a deck of cards) that connects to home broadband networks is used. Game controllers and headsets can connect to the microconsole using USB or wireless connections…

The price of the microconsole needed for TV-based connectivity and monthly subscriptions will be announced later.

“Were providing you with the latest high-end titles, the exact same ones you would see at Target or Best Buy, in the same release windows. But what is really cool is you don’t need any high-end hardware to play them,” says OnLive founder and chief operating officer Steve Perlman. “There’s no physical media. It’s an all-digital platform. You never need to upgrade your equipment at home.”

I went looking for the most trustworthy person I can think of writing about gaming – Garnett Lee. At least at time of posting, he’s probably too busy crawling the booths at the GDC to get something in print about this. So, I’m adding a link from MTV Multiplayer – who interviewed Pearlman at the conference.

UPDATE: Wagner James Au has a good article over at GigaOm.

HSBC chairman says the global economy is rebalancing towards Asia

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A fundamental trend that has emerged in the world economy is the rebalancing of the global economy toward Asia, says HSBC Group Chairman Stephen Green.

“While the global financial crisis is still ongoing, what is clear to me is a fundamental trend that has emerged in the world economy. And that is the rebalancing of the global economy towards Asia where China is a leading power,” Green said in an interview with Xinhua.

“In the long run, it is this shift that will affect the world’s financial markets most profoundly,” he added.

“As the Asian economies grow larger, we will see the continued development of regional and domestic capital markets, and more of the capital generated in the fast growing emerging markets will in the future stay closer to home,” he said.

“This will be a positive factor for both developed economies and developing ones,” Green said, “The financial system has in recent years, particularly since the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s, grown increasingly unbalanced. There is a recognition that countries running persistent deficits must encourage consumers to save more and spend less while those countries in persistent surplus must be given capital market tools to encourage spending.”

I’m prompted to Google around to get more than just the portions of Green’s statement making it into the press. The article notes his suggestions to China on international banking – which carries a lot of weight. HSBC really is a central voice of commerce and banking in the Far East – and globally.

I wonder how much this alteration might be affected by Obama’s goal of reviving the U.S. economy?

Judge in ‘Plan B’ case condemns Bush’s political FDA


The politics of birth control can produce unusual allies. Take Monday’s ruling in federal district court in New York, overturning the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on selling the morning after Plan B contraceptive over the counter to women younger than 18.

The judge in that case, Edward Korman, scathingly criticized several Health and Human Services and FDA officials for bowing to “pressure” from President George W. Bush’s White House and its “constituents,” and for using “political considerations, delays, and implausible justifications” to hold up nonprescription sales of the birth control drug for years.

In a 52-page ruling, Korman sounded like a speechwriter for President Barack Obama, accusing the FDA and the Bush administration of tossing science under the bus to “appease” conservative supporters of Bush in Congress and the Republican Party.

But Judge Korman is no leftover liberal from Bill Clinton’s era—he’s an appointee of Ronald Reagan, and long before that, was in the Justice Department under President Richard Nixon…

Meantime, if the Obama White House does not appeal the ruling, it will mark the fourth significant departure from the Bush administration’s positions on controversial health-care issues since Obama’s inauguration. The other three decisions allow federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research and for international aid groups that offer abortion counseling, and a move to lift the rule that would let medical personnel shun abortion-related services on the basis of their conscience.

Only controversial to nutballs who think we should live under a theocracy.

British court will consider Hindu funeral pyres – UPDATED

The High Court will consider a legal challenge from a 70-year-old Hindu today that would allow him to have an open-air cremation when he dies. The judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice will hear a case brought by Davender Kumar Ghai, founder of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, who wants the law changed to allow traditional Hindu funeral pyres in Britain.

Newcastle City Council has refused him a permit to be cremated in line with Hindu ritual, arguing that a pyre outside a crematorium is prohibited by the 1902 Cremation Act.

Although there have been Hindu cremations in the the past in Britain, in recent years the authorities have become stricter about enforcing the rules. There are more than 600,000 Hindus in Britain and many families pay thousands of pounds to fly the bodies of their loved ones to India for a traditional cremation.

Three years ago the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute after Mr Ghai organised a funeral pyre in Northumberland for Rajpal Mehat, 31, from India.

Hindus believe that cremation is essential to free the soul from the body after death. The dead person’s oldest son is usually expected to light the fire. Monks and children, having no children of their own, are sometimes buried instead of cremated. The pyre must take place at a site on which the sun shines directly at noon and which is close to running water.

Yup. Let’s expand the precedence of religious law over secular, national law. We followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have a few rituals of our own we’d like to introduce – in the States and the U.K.

Or does the number of member of a religion – registered to vote – enter into the equation?

UPDATE: The High Court has ruled against Mr. Ghai’s request.

Democracy run amok!

NASA’s online contest to name a new room at the international space station went awry. Comedian Stephen Colbert won.

The name “Colbert” beat out NASA’s four suggested options in the space agency’s effort to have the public help name the addition. The new room will be launched later this year.

NASA’s mistake was allowing write-ins. Colbert urged viewers of his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” to write in his name. And they complied, with 230,539 votes. That clobbered Serenity, one of the NASA choices, by more than 40,000 votes.

NASA still reserves the right to choose an, uh, appropriate name.

Teenager charged with murder of Northern Ireland policeman

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A Northern Ireland teenager has been charged with the murder of PSNI constable Stephen Carroll earlier this month.

The 17-year-old appeared at Lisburn magistrates court shortly before 11am today where he faced four charges including murder, possessing of an AKM assault rifle and 26 rounds of ammunition, gathering intelligence likely to be of use to terrorists, and membership of the Continuity IRA.

The youth, who cannot be named because of his age, denied all the charges, according to his solicitor.

Carroll, 48, was shot dead as he answered a call for help in Craigavon on 9 March. He was the first Police Service of Northern Ireland officer to be murdered by terrorists.

No just reason to comment on the individual arrested. That’s for the law courts to bring forth.

Just another opportunity to offer an observation drawn from a half-century of supporting guerilla movements and wars of national liberation, trying to free individual nations from the colonial past. Terrorist attacks on non-military targets are the work of ignorant fools.

When you have a chance to achieve liberty through democratic and peaceful means, involving the whole population – that’s where you put all your efforts.

UPDATED: Second man arrested and charged. And a third.

Discarded embryos to generate O-negative blood for transfusions

Researchers in the UK plan to make what’s being hailed as an unlimited supply of blood for transfusions using discarded stem cells found in human embryos. They’ll test embryos discarded from in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments to find those with embryonic stem cells that will make O-negative blood, which is the one type that can be transfused into anyone without being rejected…

Supplies of blood available for life-saving transfusions are limited. Local and regional pleas for blood by the Red Cross, owing to critically low levels, have become routine in the past decade. There’s more to it all than just giving blood. There are a host of tests that must be run on donor blood to make sure it is free of infection. And blood has a limited shelf life. Blood stored for 29 days or more (nearly 2 weeks less than the current standard for blood storage) is more likely to cause infection in transfusion patients, a study last year found.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to become all the cells of the body. The idea is that harnessing their power would allow infinite production of what’d being termed “synthetic” blood that would be free of any infections that sometime plague blood supplies.

In principle, we could provide an unlimited supply of blood in this way,” said team member Marc Turner, director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

This is a fascinating and exciting time to be alive – and considering the wonders of modern science. I’ve mentioned it in older posts; but – starting with the pioneering work in genetics by Craig Venter – I’ve discovered what would be my career if I was just starting out in life. Computational analysis focused on medicine and science in general.

Yeah – I’d still be a geek.

Toronto to pay $10K to imitation homeless people


The city of Toronto will pay 100 individuals $100 each to sit on streets posing as homeless people when it conducts its headcount of street people next month. The volunteers will have to attend a 30-minute training seminar to be “decoys,” have their locations assigned and then be given a $100 prepaid Visa card, the Toronto Sun reported.

In 2006, the city did its first Street Needs Assessment that also included decoys as a control measure and estimated there were 5,052 homeless people living on the streets and in shelters across the city, the newspaper said.

Homeless advocate Michael Shapcott of the Wellesley Institute told the Sun the $10,000 the city is giving away to decoys would be better spent going directly to shelters.

“The decoys are supposed to look like homeless people but a lot of homeless people don’t look like homeless people because it’s a survival strategy,” he said.

I’m really not clear on whether the decoys are checking on the veracity of the homeless – or the folks taking the survey.