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US: Bonus Payments to City Retirees Are Drawing Ire

As San Francisco struggles under ballooning pension and health care costs, the city's retirees will receive unexpected cost-of-living bonuses totaling $170 million. The city's anticipated budget deficit for the coming year is $360 million.

A political battle has raged over the city's growing retirement obligations. In November, Proposition B, which would have required city workers to contribute more toward their pensions and benefits, was soundly defeated. The measure's opponents - every major elected official and energetic public-employee unions - said fears about the pension fund were overblown.

Meanwhile, the fund's fundamentals deteriorated as it gradually accounted for its huge losses in the stock market crash. It took in $414 million in contributions in 2010 but paid out $819 million.


US: LucasFilm spokesperson pooh-poohs George Lucas belief that world will end in 2012

George Lucas
© bananawacky/Flickr
George Lucas: another 2012er
Star Wars creator George Lucas was just kidding when he chatted with Seth Rogen about the Mayan prophecy of an apocalypse in 2012. But that hasn't stopped news sites from regurgitating Rogen's weird report that Lucas truly believes the end is near.

Even The Washington Post's Celebritology 2.0 blog got in on the action Wednesday, with a post headlined, "Does George Lucas Think the World Will End in 2012?"

While the question mark might indeed be the blogger's best friend, the answer to the query is a resounding "no."

"I spoke with George," said Lucasfilm rep Lynne Hale in an e-mail to Wired.com about this issue of obvious intergalactic importance.

"He was not serious when he talked about the end of the world in 2012 but he is an adamant believer that the world is flat, that Stonehenge was built by aliens, and that the sun revolves around the Earth," Hale said. "These are among the many subjects he commonly discusses at length with Elvis, who he's going to digitally insert into Indy 5 along with a roster of famous dead actors."

While Lucas and his associates clearly have a sense of humor about the rumor's wildfire propagation, Rogen was reportedly "left stunned" by Lucas' comments during a meeting that was also attended by Steven Spielberg, according to The Toronto Sun story that set the rumor mill buzzing.


Communist Vietnam's $35 bowl of noodle soup


As the communist country of Vietnam increasingly embraces the ways of capitalism, the gap between rich and poor is rapidly expanding.

I have had some odd days, but Sunday in Hanoi was certainly a very odd day.

It started off with me gawping at a preserved and somewhat waxy-looking man, then there was a taste of Vietnam's most expensive soup - and a sight of its most costly car.


Poachers toss thousands of fish

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina - WAVY.com has received numerous e-mails in regard to a major commercial trawler discard off the coast of North Carolina this past weekend. Several people have reported that trawlers fishing off the coast of the Outer Banks were caught tossing thousands of dead, or near dead, rock fish overboard. A YouTube video and several pictures emailed to WAVY.com show the fish floating everywhere.

A concerned fisherman told WAVY.com, "Commercial netters are dredging thousands of striped bass off the Outer Banks, and throwing back thousands of fish in the quest to fill their quotas with the largest fish possible. Miles of dead, floating striped bass are the result. Classic example of poorly designed fishing laws creating waste in a vulnerable and valuable fishery."

According to the Coast Guard , several fishing vessels were cited in violation of federal law, including one vessel in possession of 58 illegally caught Atlantic striped bass. The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Beluga, while on patrol, detected and intercepted the illegal poachers Friday.


What happens when mom unplugs teens for 6 months?

© Frances Andrijich
This undated photo shows Susan Maushart, second from left, with her children,from left to right, Anni, Sussy and Bill
New York - Susan Maushart lived out every parent's fantasy: She unplugged her teenagers.

For six months, she took away the Internet, TV, iPods, cell phones and video games. The eerie glow of screens stopped lighting up the family room. Electronic devices no longer chirped through the night like "evil crickets." And she stopped carrying her iPhone into the bathroom.

The result of what she grandly calls "The Experiment" was more OMG than LOL - and nothing less than an immersion in RL (real life).

Bad Guys

US: Hundreds of Yankton, South Dakota Birds Poisoned by USDA

It's happened in places like Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky. Hundreds of birds mysteriously found dead.

Folks in Yankton, South Dakota, thought they were being added to the list after hundreds of dead birds were found there on Monday. Turns out the unpleasant feathered discovery has a solid explanation. They were poisoned.

Some had thought 200 starlings found dead in Yankton's Riverside park had frozen to death. But they were actually poisoned on purpose, by the US Department of Agriculture.

Many of the European Starlings discovered by a passerby, were laying on the ground or frozen in trees. Officials first thought the birds were late to migrate and froze to death during the recent cold spell.

But that theory changed after Yankton police received a phone call from a USDA official who said the birds had been poisoned.

"They say that they had poisoned the birds about ten miles south of Yankton and they were surprised they came to Yankton like they did and died in our park," says Yankton Animal Control Officer Lisa Brasel.

The USDA confirms the story, saying the deaths were part of a large killing at a private feed lot in Nebraska.

Comment: USDA poisoning these birds could be one possible answer to the bird deaths in South Dakota. But there have been many bird and other animal deaths going on all over the world. Are they all unrelated? Time will tell...

Dead birds rain down on towns half a world apart

Dead birds found in Koroneia Lake, Greece

Dead Birds in China: Birds continue to fall around the world - may be a precursor to reversal of poles

Mystery as thousands of dead birds fall from sky in Australia

Romania: A Second Wave of Dead Birds

New Zealand: Mystery as sparrows drop dead

Hundreds of dead penguins wash up on Brazil shores

More mass animal deaths: Hundreds of fish meet an icy end in a frozen pond in Manchester

Heart - Black

Canada: 'Bizarre' Incest Appeal from Woman Who Married Her Son Dismissed by Court

Ontario's top court says the case of a woman who married her son, conceived several children with him and tried to pass him off as an African prince "gives new meaning to the word 'bizarre.'"

The Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld an incest conviction, as well as convictions on 46 counts of forgery and uttering forged documents, for a woman named B.D. in a decision released Thursday.

B.D. had appealed, saying the judge should have struck down DNA warrants, erred in his charge to the jury and in admitting some documents.

B.D., 47, maintains she is married to a man named Prince Wafi R. Dz., a real prince and a descendent of Nigerian or Ethiopian royalty. But, as found at her trial, her husband is really her 21-year-old son, Wafi. She also maintains that Wafi died in a volcano in the Congo, the court said.

The Appeal Court decision did not use real names, to protect the identities of the people involved, instead using fictitious names to help the decision be understood.

Psychiatric reports filed for the B.D.'s sentencing said she suffers from some delusional psychosis and is "intellectually deficient" with an IQ of 60.

The woman has seven children, including Wafi, three children fathered by Wafi and a girl named Wafu who died of natural causes at the age of two, but with characteristic traits of inbreeding, the court said.


Canada: An 11-year-old Cold Case, With a Murder Confession from Beyond the Grave?

© unknown
Richard Bouillon
It's a heartbreaking tale that could close the books on an 11-year cold case.

It involves a missing girl and a cancer-stricken convict who, on his deathbed, allegedly confessed to murdering her many years ago.

A health-care worker emerged this week to say that a convicted sex-offender, the prime suspect in the Julie Surprenant kidnapping case, revealed before dying that he dumped the girl's body in a river.

The medical worker apparently waited almost five years before going public with her story. She finally told a television celebrity, a well-known Quebec crime reporter, this week.

It's a story that Surprenant's father struggles to accept.

"It was a shock when I heard the news (this week) because I wasn't expecting it and because there's a level of credibility to it," Michel Surprenant said Thursday.

"For the time being, I'm holding back a little."

The father said he doesn't understand why it would take so long to go public with the supposed confession of the long-time suspect, Richard Bouillon.

Julie Surprenant, one of Quebec's best-known abduction cases, became famous as the smiling, curly-haired girl in the high-school graduation photo splashed on missing person's posters around the province.


US: Victim's Family Sues Schwarzenegger Over Clemency

© The Associated Press / Eric Risberg
Fred Santos, left, and his wife Kathy, parents of Luis Santos who was stabbed to death just over two years ago, hold a news conference outside the Sacramento County Courthouse in Sacramento, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. The family of Luis Santos has filed a lawsuit against former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for issuing an 11th hour clemency for the son of former Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, who pleaded guilty for participating in the San Diego stabbing. The lawsuit seeks to reverse the commutation and restore the full sentence.
The parents of a slain college student said Thursday that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "messed with the wrong family" by reducing the prison sentence of the son of a political ally.

Fred and Kathy Santos spoke after filing a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court asking a judge to restore a 16-year sentence for Esteban Nunez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger underestimated us," Kathy Santos said outside the courthouse. "I think he believed he could get away with this despicable commutation. He messed with the wrong family."

The younger Nunez, 21, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon for his involvement in the 2008 stabbing death of Luis Santos on the San Diego State University campus.

Prosecutors said Nunez and his friends were irate after being turned away from a fraternity party and were looking for revenge. After drinking alcohol, prosecutors alleged, they headed out on the street and came upon an unarmed group that included Santos, 22.

Schwarzenegger reduced Nunez's sentence to seven years the night before he left office and did not contact the family or the San Diego County district attorney's office before making the move.


US: Clovis Unified expels wrestler in 'butt drag' case

© Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee
Chuck Magill, attorney for Buchanan High wrestler Preston Hill at the center of the butt-drag controversy, second from right, argues his client's case before the Clovis Unified School Board on Wednesday night.

Clovis, California - The Clovis Unified school board voted unanimously Wednesday night to expel a Buchanan High student, concluding that a wrestling move he used on a teammate during practice constituted sexual battery and bullying.

Preston Hill, 17, and his parents left before the decision was announced.

"They thought it would be a waste of time to stick around," said attorney Charles Magill, who made a last-ditch effort to get Hill reinstated at Buchanan.

The board deliberated privately for fewer than 30 minutes before announcing the decision at a public hearing at Clovis Unified School District headquarters.

Hill, who was suspended before the school year started, now can't finish his senior year at Buchanan or set foot on Clovis Unified property. His options include enrolling in another school district or attending a charter or private school.