10 brightest ideas of the week: Feb. 21 

Toyota promises better quality checks, France makes major donation to Haiti, the White House joins Twitter, and an American stays in the Olympic spotlight.

 

1. Good Samaritan

Glass worker turns hero when plane hits Texas building

The details: Robin Dehaven, a glass worker, happened to be driving by the Internal Revenue Service’s Austin offices when a small plane flew into the seven-story building. Dehaven quickly drove over, got out his ladder and used it to rescue five people from the second story of the building, which was quickly filling with choking black smoke.

 

2. Back on track?

Toyota promises improvements in safety testing, disclosure

The details: Reeling from global criticism after a seemingly ongoing series of high-profile recalls, Toyota is preparing to beef up its quality checking. Apparently since the late 1990s, the world’s largest auto company cut back its vehicle development process to save time and money, leaving out steps such as testing physical prototypes. Instead, Toyota relied more on virtual engineering and computer-aided-design tools. By 2005, there was a sharp rise in the number of recalled vehicles around the world.

 

3. French pony up

Sarkozy pledges massive Haiti aid

The details: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s first head of state to visit Haiti — a former French colony which gained its freedom in 1804 — offered the earthquake-ravaged country a financial aid package of almost half a billion dollars. The $447 million package includes cancellation of debt, direct funding and money sent via the European Union. More than 200,000 people were killed and more than a million left homeless by the Jan. 12 quake. It’s estimated the cost of rebuilding the country could reach $14 billion.

 

4. Fixing bad mortgages

BofA says it is helping more homeowners

The details: Bank of America Corp. has seen "significant gains" in the number of mortgage loan modifications going through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program. BofA said more than 12,700 of its customers had a permanent loan modification, and another 13,700 permanent modifications are pending. The HAMP lowers monthly mortgage payments for financially strapped homeowners.

 

5. Presidential tweets

The White House joins Twitter

The details: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has joined the social networking age by launching a Twitter account, and had already amassed more than 25,000 followers as of this week. White House staff were barred from sites like Twitter and Facebook until midway through last year due to legal concerns over how they fit into the Presidential Records Act. Now, however, the White House’s general Twitter site, @whitehouse, is followed by more than 1.7 million people, and Gibbs’ deputy, Bill Burton, has been actively tweeting since January. Both Gibbs and Burton use the site to highlight stories that support the White House message and to call out those they consider inaccurate or misleading.

 

6. Girl geek

Latest Barbie to become a computer engineer

The details: Barbie, who has held 125 different careers over the years, will turn to computer engineering next. The new Computer Engineer Barbie, while still as blond, anatomically improbable and fond of pink as ever, will sport a T-shirt with a binary code pattern and hot-pink glasses, and carry a smartphone and a Bluetooth headset. Her new career was chosen by a first-ever online vote.

 

7. Admit wrongdoing

Vatican warns Irish bishops of coming mistrust

The details: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, in a strongly worded homily during Mass told Irish bishops to admit covering up the sexual abuse of minors or risk alienating Ireland’s Catholics. The 24 Irish bishops met with Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders in a two-day summit. "Sinners must acknowledge their own blame in the fullness of truth," urged Bertone, otherwise the evil could push faithful toward "discouragement and desperation."

 

8. Dirty cops

Russia making reforms to clean up corrupt police force

The details: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired two top Interior Ministry officials and 10 regional police chiefs in an opening salvo to reform a national police force widely criticized for corruption and abuse — including trumped-up charges, torture and blackmail. Medvedev said some 15,000 police corruption cases were logged last year, which were "just the tip of the iceberg." He wants personnel numbers cut by half, to about 10,000. Medvedev also fired 20 senior Federal Penitentiary Service officials.

 

9. All-in-one

Swine flu vaccine to be added into regular flu vaccine

The details: The World Health Organization is recommending that swine flu vaccine be added into the regular flu vaccine next season. The pandemic H1N1 virus emerged too late last year to be part of the regular flu vaccine, and a separate vaccine was needed. But the WHO expects swine flu to remain a significant threat. About 15,000 people reportedly died after being diagnosed with swine flu since April, though the true number is likely higher.

 

10. Parolee loopholes

California revamps sex offender monitoring after Garrido case

The details: The state claims to have improved the way it monitors parolees following the botched supervision of Phillip Garrido, who is accused of kidnapping Jaycee Dugard and holding her prisoner for 18 years — mostly while on parole. The head of California prisons told a Senate hearing that parole agent supervision and field training have been "greatly improved"; the parole academy is being revamped; and electronic tracking of parolees is now used more effectively.

 

Bright light of the week

Lindsey Vonn

What: The American superstar skier got off to a quick start in the Winter Olympics, winning gold in the women’s downhill.

Why: Vonn has overcome a deep tissue bruise and a host of other injuries to get to these Olympics. She’s stayed in the spotlight as America’s darling with her sunny outlook while she good-naturedly competes against some of the world’s top women skiers, whom she calls her best friends. Look for Vonn to keep the momentum going through the Olympics and beyond.

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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