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This year’s gun-gift swap in Los Angeles netted a record number of weapons: 967 guns were turned in anonymously, in exchange for gift cards—$200 for an assault weapon and $100 for any other gun. The most popular vouchers were for a supermarket chain, leading the officers to suggest that the economic downturn might be behind the annual amnesty’s record haul (578 more weapons were swapped this year than last). Although the gun-swap scheme has successfully reduced gun crimes in the area, most of the weapons brought in this year, including a Soviet-era semi-automatic carbine and two hand grenades, belonged to people who had never used them.
Source: Los Angeles Times

In June, a Congressional investigation revealed that world-renowned child psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman, chief of the Johnson & Johnson Center for the Study of Pediatric Psychopathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, had earned a substantial amount of unreported income from drugmakers. A unit of Johnson & Johnson responsible for the manufacture of the antipsychotic Risperdal said it had given Biederman’s center $700,000 in 2002 to “conduct rigorous clinical trials to clarify appropriate use and dosing of Risperdal in children.” In November, the hospital claimed that grant agreements indicated that the center had been used “for scientific and educational purposes only.” Through influential lectures and studies written under his name, Biederman helped to fuel a fortyfold increase in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric bipolar disorder from 1994 to 2003.
Source: New York Times

The EPA has approved a last-minute rule change by the Bush administration that will allow coal companies to bury streams under leftover detritus from mining enterprises. The rule, established in 1983, prohibited companies from dumping mountaintop fill within 100 feet of streams. The law had been used by citizens groups to keep mining waste out of streams, which in turn prevented erosion or flooding prompted by the diversion or subsequent loss of mountain streams. Coal companies and lawmakers arguing on their behalf assert that the change in regulation is the only thing keeping the mining industry in business during a national recession. Finalized in December, the rule will go into effect late this month.
Source: CommonDreams.org

In December, 19-year-old Abraham Biggs announced to the members of a bodybuilding website that he planned to “lifecast” his suicidal overdose on a website called Justin.tv. It was not the first time Biggs had made such a claim online, and while some egged him on or assumed he was kidding, others offered advice or attempted to notify police, whose discovery of the corpse was also broadcast over the Internet.
Source: New York Times

In November, Swiss voters elected to permanently legalize a program that has distributed carefully measured doses of heroin—produced by a government-approved lab—to approximately 1,300 addicts in Switzerland over the last 15 years. Advocates argue that the heroin program has reduced some of the risks and crimes associated with the use of the drug. Swiss citizens also voted against decriminalizing the cultivation or possession of marijuana for personal use.
Source: New York Times

South Korean company Daewoo Logisitics is negotiating with Madagascar’s government to secure a lease of some 3.2 million acres (slightly over 2 percent of the island’s surface) for 99 years, with the goal of ensuring a food supply for South Korea, where land is scarce and expensive. Roughly 2.4 million acres will be devoted to corn cultivation, and the remainder will be used to cultivate palm oil. Though exceptional in scope, the operation is not the only one of its kind, as other African countries (namely, Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola, and Tanzania) also propose the sale or long-term lease of their territories to countries lacking an abundance of arable land.
Source: LesEchos.fr

According to Doctors Without Borders, Myanmar’s government spends 70 cents per citizen for health care each year while thousands of Burmese citizens are dying of AIDS. The country’s government, which is run by a secretive military junta, has a long record of disregarding the health care of its people. Money for AIDS medication is available from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, but only governments can apply for it, and they are required to prove that the money will not be diverted to corrupt ends.
Source: New York Times

Birth by Caesarean-section is associated with an 80 percent increased risk of asthma by age 8 compared with vaginal birth, according to a recently released study of almost 3,000 children in the UK. The study’s leader, Dr. Caroline Roduit, said that rates of asthma in industrialized countries had soared in parallel with a rise in medically unnecessary Caesarian births, which have swelled from 5 percent in the 1970s to more than 30 percent in 2000. Roduit suggested a possible reason: Caesarian-section babies are not exposed to microbes as early as babies born by vaginal delivery.
Source: BBC News

The biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 (adjusted for inflation), while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families. Especially worrying is the likelihood of large tuition increases in 2009—even among community colleges, which have long been seen as a safety net.
Source: New York Times


While tussles and even broken bones are common, Jdimytai Damour, who was trampled by a horde of customers at a Long Island Wal-Mart on the day after Thanksgiving, was apparently the first person to be killed in a shoppers’ stampede. Fisticuffs and trampling injuries have long been staples of Black Friday news cycles. In 2003, 41-year-old Patricia van Lester of South Florida was knocked unconscious and trampled by thousands of Wal-Mart shoppers. Two years later, Josephine Hoffman was knocked down and trampled by hundreds of Sawgrass Mills shoppers. That same year, a woman who fell down and struggled with her wig as hundreds of shoppers stepped or fell over her made national news. This year, four people (including a woman who was eight months pregnant) were taken to hospitals for crowd-related injuries, and there were two other fatalities: Two men in rival gangs shot each other to death inside a crowded South California Toys “R” Us store during the Black Friday mayhem.
Source: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times

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