10 worst ideas of the week: Jan. 17, 2010

Blagojevich keeps digging his hole, baggage fees and bridge tolls both on the rise, scammers steal money from Katrina relief fund and Facebook’s chief says privacy is overrated.


1. Early pattern

Officials had concerns about Fort Hood shooter

The details: A week after being hailed as a qualified and caring physician by a superior, questions arose about the man who would eventually kill 13 people on a military base. Officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had serious concerns about Army Maj. Nidal Hasan’s poor judgment, questionable behavior and lack of drive. It was a behavioral pattern that Hasan repeated throughout his medical education, an internal Pentagon review found. While findings have not been made public — it was obtained by The Associated Press — his supervisors are emerging as negligent culprits in his oversight, continually giving Hasan positive performance reviews despite his behavior.


2. Check it

Airlines raising fees for checked baggage on flights

The details: While Southwest Airlines has the catchy commercial touting its “bags fly free” policy, two competitors are raising fees for checking luggage during flights. Continental Airlines followed Delta Air Lines’ fee increase, charging $23 for the first bag and $32 for the second — among the highest rates in the country. While Continental’s jump is $5 per bag, Delta’s hike is $8 for the first checked bag and $7 for the second. And if you think it’s cheaper to check bags curbside for the two carriers, think again: Both are charging $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second.


3. Stolen charity

Ex-FEMA worker, cousin charged with Katrina fraud

The details: Former FEMA worker Lashonda Booker, 35, and her cousin, Peggy Hilton, are accused of stealing more than $721,000 in money that was meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina — possibly the biggest theft of the relief money by individuals discovered since the 2005 storm, a U.S. attorney said Monday. The two women reportedly also recruited the help of family members and friends, who allowed the money to be deposited into their bank accounts, prosecutors say.


4. Oops!

Man with TB boards flight

The details: A day after a man with tuberculosis was placed on a “do not board list,” he boarded a Philly-to-San Francisco flight and risked contaminating fellow passengers with the disease. Officials from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and the Transportation Security Administration are investigating how the man was able to board the flight. San Mateo County public health officials quickly isolated the man, who most likely did not expose any of the passengers to the bacterial infection because the flight was less than six hours.


5. Swing and a miss

McGwire falls flat with confession

The details: At first glance, former A’s and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire coming clean about his use of performance-enhancing drugs was a happy occasion. Then, Big Mac kept talking — and digging himself a deeper hole. Saying that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs, but they did help him stay on the field while his body was breaking down is contradictory. The statement also seems self-serving, as McGwire is to publicly begin his tenure as the Cardinals’ hitting coach next month at spring training.


6. Tiny suspect

Cub Scout on terror watch list

The details: An 8-year-old Cub Scout from New Jersey shares the same name of a person who has drawn the suspicion of the Homeland Security Department. According to The New York Times, the name Mikey Hicks appears to be among the 13,500 on the “selectee” list, which sets off a higher level of security screening. So every time the elementary-aged youngster flies, he faces extra security scrutiny, including being patted down as a 2-year-old.


7. Low cost, high risk

Dangerous cadmium used in some imported jewelry

The details: According to an Associated Press investigation, manufacturers in some Chinese factories are making jewelry with lower quality materials, including cadmium, a metal that is shiny, strong and malleable, but is also known to cause cancer.


8. Status update

Facebook CEO claims privacy less important now

The details: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the 2009 Crunchies Awards ceremonies in San Francisco that social norms are changing and people don’t expect or want nearly as much privacy as they have in the past. He theorized that blogging has become so ubiquitous that Internet users are comfortable sharing more information of different kinds more openly and with more people. However, the blogosphere and industry pundits immediately went on the attack against Zuckerberg’s downplay of online privacy.


9. Cyber wars

Google under cyberattack from within China, may leave communist country

The details: After discovering that e-mail accounts of human rights activists had been hacked by sources within China, Google has taken a bold stand by insisting that the country either allow it to provide uncensored Internet search results or risk losing what has become a major employer. Chinese officials so far have said only that their Internet is open and that foreign companies are welcome to operate in China “according to law.”


10. Going up

Committee recommends bridge toll hikes

The details: A plan to raise tolls for cars and other two-axle vehicles by $1 on state-owned bridges is moving forward with approval this week by a committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. On the Bay Bridge, tolls will stay at $4 during off-peak travel hours but reach $6 during peak commute hours. In addition, carpoolers will for the first time be required to pay a toll, although the rate is reduced to $2.50 for them.


Dim bulb of the week

Who: Rod Blagojevich

What: The ousted Illinois governor told an Esquire magazine interviewer he’s “blacker than Barack Obama.” But in a later radio appearance Blagojevich called his comment a “stupid thing to say.” He had knocked Obama for being elected because of voter hope and depended too much on the teleprompter.

How it started: Blago’s original quote was, “I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived.”

The apology: “It’s not appropriate for me, a white person, to stand out somehow and claim to be a black person,” he said. “That’s just wrong.” Blagojevich is awaiting federal trial on corruption charges.


Sinking ship

Reports of airplanes hitting birds and other wildlife surged last year, including serious accidents such as birds crashing through cockpits and crippling engines in flight, according to an Associated Press analysis of new government data. There were at least 57 cases in the first seven months of 2009 that caused serious damage and three in which planes and a corporate helicopter were destroyed by birds. At least eight people died and six more were hurt.

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