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Syria's health system crumbles while UN humanitarian appeal runs dry

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© Photograph: Heba Aly/IRIN
Shelling in Amoon el-Yousif's native city of Hama made it impossible for her to access needed medication from the pharmacy.
Healthcare crisis could mean life or death for many desperate Syrians left without drugs or doctors, hospitals or health centres.

Eid Hanani has not been affected by the bombs, the snipers or the shelling that have engulfed many parts of Syria. He only barely escaped death, but faced a threat of a different kind. In July, he was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. But the only cancer hospital in the capital, Damascus, was out of the serum injections used for treatment.

The nearly two-year conflict in Syria has claimed tens of thousands of lives, destroyed entire neighbourhoods and sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing. More quietly, however, it has eaten away at the country's healthcare system. Pharmaceutical factories, which used to produce more than 90% of the country's drug needs, are down to one-third of their former production, according to Elizabeth Hoff, the representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Syria.

Many have been destroyed or damaged in the fighting - sometimes directly targeted by the opposition. The northern city of Aleppo, one of the worst affected, was home to most of the factories. Other factories are struggling to import raw materials due to sanctions imposed on Syria by western countries. Insecure routes have affected supply lines.

On the black market, Hanani was able to find an alternative to the cancer serum, smuggled in from Lebanon. The dose costs him 5,000 Syrian pounds (£43) a month, half the monthly salary of his son, the family's sole breadwinner. "Without it, the pain is extreme, I don't sleep, and eventually I would die," said Hanani, who wore a small cloth tied around his neck to cover the hole in his throat - a legacy of another bout of cancer he overcame four years ago. His dirty fingernails hold a machine against his throat to help him speak. "My life is in God's hands," he told IRIN with a smile, exposing missing teeth.

The shortage of medicines is just one part of the healthcare crisis in Syria, as hospitals run out of space and supplies, health workers struggle to get to work, patients lose access to health facilities, and medicines shoot up in price.

Ambulance

Kenya hospital imprisons new mothers with no money

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© Nick Czernkovich/CBC
The director of the Pumwani Maternity Hospital, located in a hardscrabble neighborhood of downtown Nairobi, freely acknowledges what he's accused of: detaining mothers who can't pay their bills. Lazarus Omondi says it's the only way he can keep his medical center running.

Two mothers who live in a mud-wall and tin-roof slum a short walk from the maternity hospital, which is affiliated with the Nairobi City Council, told The Associated Press that Pumwani wouldn't let them leave after delivering their babies. The bills the mothers couldn't afford were $60 and $160. Guards would beat mothers with sticks who tried to leave without paying, one of the women said.

Now, a New York-based group has filed a lawsuit on the women's behalf in hopes of forcing Pumwani to stop the practice, a practice Omondi is candid about.

"We hold you and squeeze you until we get what we can get. We must be self-sufficient," Omondi said in an interview in his hospital office. "The hospital must get money to pay electricity, to pay water. We must pay our doctors and our workers."

"They stay there until they pay. They must pay," he said of the 350 mothers who give birth each week on average. "If you don't pay the hospital will collapse."

Sheriff

Husband of slain officer arrested in connection with death

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The husband of a police officer who was fatally shot while patrolling in suburban Milwaukee on Christmas Eve has been arrested in connection with her death.

The Wauwatosa police department says in a Thursday statement that Benjamin Sebena, of Menomonee Falls, was booked into Milwaukee County Jail Wednesday night on a tentative charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

He has not been formally charged in 30-year-old Jennifer Sebena's death.

Attention

In anticipation of plague outbreak? UK government has contingency plan for 'Zombie Apocalypse'

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Screwed up society... people the world over appear to have been psyching up for something truly horrific by 'playing zombies' at so-called 'zombie walks'.
It's not often you hear of fears of a zombie invasion - and if you do, it's almost certainly on television.

But in the event of an apocalypse brought about by an army of the undead, civil servants would co-ordinate the military's efforts to 'return England to its pre-attack glory'.


The country's contingency plans for a zombie onslaught emerged in a response to an enquiry from a member of the public.

A Freedom of Information request has shown the surprising level of readiness for the eventuality.

The Ministry of Defence would not lead efforts to plan for such a horror attack or deal with the aftermath, reported by the Daily Telegraph, because that role would rest with the Cabinet Office, which co-ordinates emergency planning for the Government.

The MoD replied to the FoI request: 'In the event of an apocalyptic incident (e.g. zombies), any plans to rebuild and return England to its pre-attack glory would be led by the Cabinet Office, and thus any pre-planning activity would also take place there.

'The Ministry of Defence's role in any such event would be to provide military support to the civil authorities, not take the lead.

Comment: Bristol city council isn't the only local authority to have acted on this plan, according to the Daily Telegraph:
Last year, Leicester city council was forced to admit that it had no specific preparations for dealing with a zombie invasion, although the local authority stressed that certain aspects of its emergency plan would apply to any disaster. Bristol city council went rather further when asked what it would do in the event of an undead rampage through the West Country.
The Bristol city council plan further states:
Under the heading "procurement implications", the memo said Bristol city council had ordered suitable equipment for tackling the undead, "where possible, in line with our buy-local policy". It added: "A catalogue of standard issue equipment - cuffs, stun guns, protection suits, etc - is available on the staff intranet."
If this is just tongue-in-cheek, as the Daily Telegraph makes out, then the joke appears to making the rounds among the Anglo-American elite...

No, really: Government warns of 'zombie apocalypse'

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© Museo del Prado, Madrid
Maybe a return of the Black Death is what's really on people's minds?...



Nuke

U.S. Navy sailors sue Japan for lying about Fukushima radiation

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© Agence France-Presse/TEPCO
Workers removing fresh nuclear fuel (black pole at centre), for the first time since last year's tsunami-sparked crisis, from the spent fuel pool of the Unit 4 nuclear reactor building at TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture
American sailors have filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government for allegedly lying about the health risks they faced while assisting in rescue efforts after last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Crewmembers from the USS Ronald Reagan filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in San Diego, California this week in an attempt to hold Japan accountable for any long-term damage they'll caused during "Operation Tomadachi," the spring 2011 relief effort that sent sailors near the coast of Japan to assist in the days after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged the island nation and caused a level 7 meltdown at three reactors in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

The plaintiffs, eight sailors from the 5,500 or so that were aboard the USS Reagan at the time, say Japan did not act honestly in regards to explaining the severity of the meltdown and the risks they faced in involving themselves in the relief efforts. They are asking the state-owned Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) for $10 million in compensatory damages, as well as another $30 million in punitive damages for fraud, negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, public and private nuisance and defective design, Courthouse News Service reports.

Additionally, the sailors want TEPCO to set up a $100 million fund to pay for any future medical expenses they're accrue as a result of the relief effort.

Courthouse News claims that plaintiffs say in the complaint that TEPCO, "a wholly owned public benefit subsidiary of the government of Japan," misrepresented radiation levels after the meltdown in order to lull the US Navy "into a false sense of security."

Santa

Austin police arrest Santa for chalking nice Christmas wishes with kids


Only days before he reportedly traveled the world delivering gifts to good boys and girls around the globe, Santa Claus was arrested in Austin, Texas for writing with chalk in front of the State Capitol Building.

Police officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested 36-year-old James Peterson on Friday afternoon at around 1:30 p.m. Peterson, adorned in a full-on Santa suit complete with a big white beard, was placed in cuffs and dragged away in front of a group of children after cops charged him with criminal mischief and evading arrest.

Peterson was participating in an event in front of the Capitol along with members of the Occupy Austin movement at the time of the alleged crime. He had been asking children what their wishes for the world were - and then writing them on the sidewalk with chalk - when police handcuffed him and hauled him away.

"Today I saw the jolly red elf at the Capitol, cheerfully requesting that children write their wishes for a better world in chalk on the sidewalk. Santa said his favorite word was 'Community.' Various children wrote words like 'Peace,' 'Friendship,' and 'Grace,'" Occupy Austin's Lainie Duro recalls in a statement released on Friday by the group.

In video taken shortly before his arrest, Peterson, as Claus, is seen chatting with young kids and writing their wishes on the ground. Police ignored reports from eyewitnesses who admitted that both parents and children were also participating - and had video to prove it - but arrests were limited to only Santa and a single helper, identified only as "Corey Elf."

Stormtrooper

Hazel Crest cops shoot, kill dog during search for fugitive on Christmas Eve

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© Family photo
Kobi, the Weaver family’s 70-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, was shot by Hazel Crest police officers, who apparently were searching for an escaped fugitive at a neighbor’s house.
Hazel Crest, Illinois - The search for a fugitive might have taken a tragic turn; Kenneth Conley escaped from the federal jail in downtown Chicago last week, and one suburban family said the search for Conley claimed the life of their beloved pet.

CBS 2′s Pamela Jones reports this past September was supposed to be the 6-year-old pooch's birthday, not a prelude to his death Christmas Eve.

Kobi, a 70-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback mix was shot dead, allegedly by a Hazel Crest police officer.

Chanette Weaver said a police officer told her officers were acting in self-defense when they shot Kobi.

She said she'd just put Kobi in her closed, fenced-in yard at about 6:50 a.m. on Christmas Eve. She said, five minutes later, Hazel Crest police showed up at her door.

"One of the officers said, 'Ma'am, your dog is dead.' Heartless," Weaver said.


Light Saber

Hollywood studios employees caught pirating films

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BitTorrent logo
The US movie industry claims online piracy is costing it billions of dollars in lost revenues. However, data released by TorrentFreak shows "BitTorrent piracy is rampant in Hollywood" where studios employees are busy pirating films.

­"Hollywood isn't without 'sin' when it comes to piracy. The MPAA and others lobby very hard for anti-piracy measures, but can't even stop piracy in the offices of their own member studios," Torrentfreak.com reported.

The website dedicated to reporting the latest news and trends on the BitTorrent protocol and file sharing claims "BitTorrent piracy is rampant in Hollywood."

Torrentfreak published some of the files that Hollywood studios were sharing; starting with Paramount Pictures who's static IP-addresses were associated with the downloading of a wide variety of content. The indie production Battle Force was one of the movies shared, as well as the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games. However, the list also included Happy Feet, a movie distributed by competitor Warner Bros.

Better Earth

Does Hillary Clinton have brain cancer? White House denies report that debilitating illness was behind her collapse and decision to step down

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    © National Enquirer
    The National Enquirer splashed the story across its front page, pictured
    The National Enquirer claims brain cancer is behind Clinton's recent collapse and that she is facing a barrage of medical tests
  • State Department labelled the claims 'absolute nonsense' and insists she is recovering well at home
  • The Secretary of State suffered a concussion after she collapsed in her home earlier this month
  • On Friday, President Barack Obama nominated Senator John Kerry to replace Clinton after she chose to step down
Government officials have vehemently denied claims that Hillary Clinton is undergoing extensive tests for brain cancer.

The National Enquirer reported the debilitating illness was behind the Secretary of State's recent collapse and that she was facing a barrage of medical tests to confirm the diagnosis.

But a spokesman for the 65-year-old Democrat labelled the claims 'absolute nonsense' and insisted Clinton was recovering well from the fall and subsequent concussion.

The Secretary of State suffered a concussion after she collapsed in her home earlier this month.

Pistol

Man accused of shooting at Edmonton police faces 31 charges with more pending

Edmonton, Canada - A man accused of shooting at Edmonton police and holding RCMP at bay in a rural motel faces 31 criminal charges, with more pending.

Police say things went wrong Sunday night during a routine traffic stop in Edmonton when the driver of an SUV fired a shot at officers before speeding off.

Edmonton police say they found a suspect on Christmas Day at a motel in Redwater, a rural community north of the capital.

Police say when more shots were fired an RCMP tactical team surrounded the motel and arrested a man after a seven-hour standoff.

Patrick Young, 22, faces aggravated assault on a police officer and 30 other charges, including firearms offences.

Police say RCMP are to lay additional charges.

Source: The Canadian Press