Italy upholds verdict on CIA agents in rendition and torture case

Imam Abu Omar, now living in Egypt

Italy’s highest appeals court has upheld guilty verdicts on 23 Americans, all but one of them CIA agents, accused of kidnapping a terror suspect.

Their case related to the abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan in 2003.

The man, known as Abu Omar, was allegedly flown to Egypt and tortured.

The Americans were tried in absentia, in the first trial involving extraordinary rendition, the CIA’s practice of transferring suspects to countries where torture is permitted.

The practice has been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international agreements.

The group of Americans – 22 of whom were CIA agents and one an Air Force pilot – are believed to be living in the US and are unlikely to serve their sentences.

Italy has never requested their extradition but they will be unable to travel to Europe without risking arrest…

The court upheld the sentences of the lower court which had sentenced all of them to seven years in prison, apart from Seldon Lady [CIA station chief], who was given a nine-year sentence.

The Court of Cassation also ruled that five senior Italian secret service agents – including the former head of the country’s military intelligence agency – should be tried for their role in the kidnapping.

I have no idea if Abu Omar was connected to terrorism or not. What I do know is that my government, the government of the United States of America broke every relevant law on civil liberties with the rendition and torture program run under the governance of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Anyone associated with that program – especially including the thugs whose only defense is that they were just obeying orders – is equally guilty in my eyes and I am certain in the judgement of history.

81-year-old Packard is over 20 years younger than its driver

When Margaret Dunning was 10 years old, she lost control while driving the family’s Overland touring car and careered into a barn, fracturing several boards.

“I hit it, and it didn’t move,” Ms. Dunning, who turned 101 last month, said…“That car had a mind of its own,” she said. “And I’m not a very tall person, so I had trouble getting onto the brakes with enough power to hold that engine down. It just got away from me…”

After that, Ms. Dunning, an only child, drove everything on the farm that was drivable, she said, including a Maxwell truck and eventually, tractors.

When she was 12 her father died, and his Model T Ford became hers.

Once her politically connected mother, who had arthritic feet and could not drive cars, finagled a driver’s license for the 12-year-old Margaret, she drove her mother everywhere…

Her love affair with vehicles never waned. She drove a truck as a Red Cross volunteer and has owned a parade of classic and antique cars. At her home, she also keeps a 1931 Ford Model A, a 1966 Cadillac DeVille that she often drives to car meets, a 1975 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and her everyday car, a 2003 DeVille. A battered Model T steering wheel is her garage doorstop.

But her real love is a cream-color 1930 Packard 740 roadster, which she has owned since 1949. She plans to show the Packard at the Concours d’Élégance of America in Plymouth on July 31…

Since it was restored, the Packard has mostly been a show car, although Ms. Dunning used to drive it more often than the three or four times a year that she takes it out now. “It’s always been a car that I’ve kept separate from other cars,” she said, adding that she has owned other Packards.

They’re just made out of such fine material,” she said. “I love the engineering that went into it. There’s just a lot of very, very fine workmanship.”

Packard, an upscale brand produced from 1899 to 1958, ushered in several innovative designs, including the modern steering wheel. Ms. Dunning’s roadster was built in Detroit in an Albert Kahn-designed factory complex, now abandoned, that covered 3.5 million square feet and once employed 40,000 workers. In addition to the luxury vehicles, the factory turned out engines for World War II fighter planes.

“With the older cars you have to use what I call arm-strong steering. But cars like the Packard make it all worthwhile. I love that car a great deal. I mean, I honestly do love it.”

A wonderful car, A wonderful brand. They were still advancing new engineering and design ideas into the 1950’s – but, didn’t make it through to a period when classic cars returned to being part of American style.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

This is not how I want to remember Motherly Love!


Lawrence, Ohio — Authorities say a woman accused of stealing her son’s state and federal income tax refunds while he was serving his country in Iraq and Afghanistan was arrested on felony warrants…following a traffic stop in Brewster.

Jennifer L. Fletcher, 42, was booked into the Stark County Jail on charges of identity fraud, forgery and two counts of theft, said Lawrence Township Police Chief Mark Brink.

Fletcher reportedly was stopped by Brewster police after officers did a license-plate check and discovered the vehicle she was driving had been reported stolen out of Akron. After the stop, Fletcher was transferred to the custody of Lawrence Township police and interviewed by Sgt. Paul Stanley.

She admitted to taking the money,” Brink said. “It was a good stop by Brewster, and a good job by our guys getting a confession out of her.”

According to court records, Fletcher withdrew roughly $7,500 from Scott Davis’ bank account between the fall of 2010 and the spring of 2011. The theft occurred after Fletcher reportedly agreed to file her son’s taxes while he was stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army.

Court records show Fletcher used her son’s personal information to obtain checks in his name, then cashed them after forging his signature. Fletcher also is accused of depositing nearly $1,400 of Davis’ state and federal income tax refunds into her account to pay bills.

Wow! A contemptible series of crimes on just about any level you might consider.

Cracking the Medicare [over]billing codes

Judging by their bills, it would appear that elderly patients treated in the emergency room at Baylor Medical Center in Irving, Texas, are among the sickest in the country — far sicker than patients at most other hospitals.

In 2008, the hospital billed Medicare for the two most expensive levels of care for eight of every 10 patients it treated and released from its emergency room — almost twice the national average, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Among those claims, 64 percent of the total were for the most expensive level of care.

But the charges may have more to do with billing practices than sicker patients. A Baylor representative conceded hospital billing for emergency room care “did not align with industry trends,” but said that the hospital since 2009 has reined in its charges.

The Texas hospital’s billing pattern is far from unique. Between 2001 and 2008, hospitals across the country dramatically increased their Medicare billing for emergency room care, adding more than $1 billion to the cost of the program to taxpayers, a Center investigation has found. The fees are based on a system of billing codes — so-called evaluation and management codes — that makes higher payments for treatments that require more time and resources.

Use of the top two most expensive codes for emergency room care nationwide nearly doubled, from 25 percent to 45 percent of all claims, during the time period examined. In many cases, these claims were not for treating patients with life-threatening injuries. Instead, the claims the Center analyzed included only patients who were sent home from the emergency room without being admitted to the hospital. Often, they were treated for seemingly minor injuries and complaints.

While taxpayers footed most of the bill, the charges also hit elderly patients in the pocketbook, increasing the amount of their 20-percent co-payments for emergency room care.

Asked if the hospital returned Medicare overpayments, Baylor Irving’s president, Cindy Schamp said it has not. “To date, we have not made any payments back to Medicare,” Schamp wrote in response to questions. “However, continuing to work to do the right thing, we feel it is appropriate to review.”

Long, very detailed, worth reading and re-reading.

I post articles here with some frequency about Medicare fraud, healthcare fraud. The articles that reach the surface of the scum sitting atop American healthcare practices generally concern individual physicians, the odd cluster of group practice thieves, scumsuckers who feed off the lives of ailing and dying Americans. Obama’s lead on digitizing medical records and feeding the info into formats useful for data mining are producing a refined understanding of just how much ethical standards have diminished in the United States.

Grayheads especially have to develop a habit of reading those periodic statements that arrive in the mail or online from Medicare. It’s not uncommon in my experience to find a medical procedure double-billed, triple-billed. It isn’t unusual to find a bill that starts out with two minor procedures expanding to three or four by the time each specialist gets a shot at including their added take.

The Office of the Medicare Ombudsman can help you if you have a complaint about your quality of care. That includes overbilling, false billing, questions you have about the facility you deal with raising the care they provided to a classification above the actual service. Call 1-800-MEDICARE and ask for the OMO – the Office of the Medicare Ombudsman or go online for more details.

Not so incidentally, the Feds will give you a $1,000 reward if you spotted something they truly need to put a stop to.

Priest says there’s nothing improper about ceremonies with children – and whipped cream

Police in Poland have launched an investigation after photographs were posted on a school website of 14-year-old children licking whipped cream from the knees of a priest.

The series of pictures show boys and girls, apparently pretending to be cats, approaching the priest, seated in a battered armchair, on all fours.

They then take turns at licking cream from his legs in what the school has described as an “initiation ceremony” for first year pupils at the school in the south-west town of Lubin where the priest is also the director…

“This is very disturbing,” said Marek Michalak, the Polish government’s spokesman on child affairs. “Surely the boundaries of decency and acceptable forms of bodily contact have been exceeded. I’ve ordered an enquiry and demanded an explanation from all relevant authorities…”

But the priest involved, Father Marcin Kozyra, defended the “ceremony”.

“There has never been a complaint from either parents or students about any impropriety involved in these games,” he said…

The priest has also won the support of his immediate superior, Father Leja.

Well, that certainly makes it all OK. I wonder what tweaks Father Leja’s cassock?

Remote-control tech turns cockroaches into beasts of burden

Scientists have outfitted a cockroach with a high-tech backpack that allows them to remotely control where it scurries.

While the concept may sound terrifying, anyone buried alive under rubble in an earthquake will shout for joy at the sight of one of these bugs. The shout will be relayed to rescue teams…

The research builds on studies that have attached radio tags and sensors to insects to learn how their muscles work. Bozkurt and colleagues took this a step further and stimulated their muscles.

Their remote control system consists of two parts: antennae stimulators and another on their rear end.

Cockroaches use their antennae to feel their way around the environment. “What we do is we insert tiny electrodes to the antennae and we send low-power pulses [to them],” Alper Bozkurt said.

The pulse simulates the antenna feeling an obstacle, such as a wall, causing the cockroach to turn the other direction. Buzz the left antenna, the cockroach turns right; buzz the right one, the bug turns left…

The electrical engineer likened his research to the domestication of horses, oxen and other so-called beasts of burden that were a boon to the development of ancient civilizations…

What’s different today is we have the tools and biological know-how to control the cockroaches as well as a use for a beast of burden that can only carry a payload of a couple of grams.

“We are now living in the information era,” Bozkurt said. “So the most important payload is the information itself and we can … gather megabits of information on the insect’s backpack.”

Useful, cool – and you know Uncle Sugar’s Army gets first crack at using them.