10 worst ideas of the week: Jan. 31, 2010 

Politician compares welfare recipients to stray dogs, bridge tolls on the rise again, China backs off historic Internet blackout, and stranded tourists greeted with price gouging.


1. Milk of human kindness

S.C. politician compares poor people to stray animals

The details: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of South Carolina really stepped in it when he made comments about people on government assistance. Bauer said his grandmother always told him not to feed stray animals. "You know why? Because they breed," he said, "especially ones who don’t think too much further than that." Bauer’s comments on the animal kingdom vis-à-vis welfare recipients have drawn criticism from right and left. Greenville Republican Rep. Harry Cato put it this way: Bauer "has gone overboard."


2. Coughing up evidence

Man swallows stolen ring, but can’t keep secret inside

The details: Police were questioning a Missouri man about a stolen two-carat diamond ring when the suspect began to cough uncontrollably and up came the jewelry. The man had apparently swallowed the ring — which was stolen from the owner’s purse and was worth about $20,000 — as officers arrived to start asking questions. The man and a woman are charged with receiving stolen property.


3. Going up ... again

MTC approves toll hikes on Bay Area bridges

The details: Get ready, because bridge tolls are going up — again — on July 1. To help finance $750 million worth of seismic retrofitting, the Bay Area Toll Authority voted to raise tolls by at least a dollar on seven state-owned bridges. You’ll have to pay a dollar more to cross all bridges except the Bay Bridge, where the toll will go up by $2, to $6, during peak commute hours. Even carpoolers, who now cross for free during rush hour, will have to pay: It’s $2.50 for them on all seven affected bridges.


4. Endangered cat

Last known U.S. jaguar may have been accidentally killed

The details: A federal report accuses Arizona Game and Fish employees of deliberately snaring the last known wild jaguar in the U.S. Southwest, contrary to earlier denials. The animal died soon afterward, possibly as result of injuries from being snared. The 118-pound jaguar appeared to be in fine health when captured in a leg-hold snare in the mountains near Nogales. Arizona claims the trap was set for mountain lions or bears, but the area was known as the jaguar’s range.


5. Sinking feeling

Not just homes in Pacifica fear threat of tumbling

The details: Construction crews in San Antonio are moving dirt to shore up a group of houses precariously perched on a crumbling hill while engineers try to determine why the land below was shifting, causing about 80 homes to be evacuated. Experts said the cause of the landslide appeared to be the result of poor retaining wall design, and a city official said the nearly 1,000-foot-long stone retaining wall that split in half in the upper-middle class neighborhood of sprawling, $250,000 two-story homes was built without a permit.


6. Internet blackout

20 million Web users in China back online in tiny steps

The details: The Chinese government shut down the Internet for 20 million people in an area three times the size of Texas since July because of rioting between the Han majority and Muslim Uighurs that killed 197 and injured thousands. Authorities are only now beginning to restore access in bits and pieces. Business people regularly ride trains for 13 hours to leave their province and contact customers. This has been the largest Internet blackout in history.


7. Secret mission

Four charged for infiltrating office of Louisiana senator

The details: A conservative activist who made undercover videos in an attempt to discredit liberal group ACORN was among four men charged with attempting to illegally access and manipulate the phone system in a district office for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. While the men intended the event to be a prank, according to one of the suspect’s lawyers, the event has more of a Watergate feel.


8. Prompted

President uses assistance when giving talk at school

The details: President Barack Obama used a teleprompter this week when he made an appearance at a school in Falls Church, Va., to address 30 sixth graders. Though Obama only used the teleprompter in his remarks to the media — and not to the children — he was criticized for not being able to convey information about his $1.3 billion "Race to the Top" funds project for the nation’s schools.


9. Stuck at Machu Picchu

More than 2,000 tourists stranded by flooding, landslides

The details: After flooding and landslides cut off access to the fabled and remote site of Machu Picchu in Peru, more than 2,000 tourists visiting the Inca ruins were stranded. While wealthier travelers were able to pay for hotels and food — despite reports that many locals immediately jacked up rates, charging as much as $10 for a bottle of water according to some stories — many younger and poorer travelers were forced to sleep in the muddy streets and rely on scarce handouts for food. It was not until the weather cleared late in the week that helicopters were able to access the area and begin airlifting travelers out.


10. Secret banking cabal?

$180 billion AIG bailout deal details emerge

The details: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week went on the attack over the $180 billion bailout of AIG, calling it a "backdoor bailout" of U.S. and European banks because nearly $70 million of the U.S. funds were funneled in initially undisclosed payments to 16 U.S. and European banks that had bought derivatives from the firm. Revelations that the SEC and New York Federal Reserve helped keep those payments secret added fuel to the fire. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the bailout as necessary to save the economy.


Dim bulb of the week: Chris Matthews

What: The MSNBC political commentator said that while watching President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, he "forgot he was black."

Why: A furor grew instantly thanks to new media such as Twitter. The immediate and massive negative reaction prompted Matthews to return less than 90 minutes later to explain himself. He said it was noteworthy that a black president was addressing a room filled mainly with white people and race was not an issue. He recalled his childhood, when he grew up at a time of racial divide.


SinKing ship

Toyota has decided to send new gas pedal systems to its factories rather than its dealership service departments. The move angered some dealers who say they should get these parts for the millions of car owners already on the road with faulty accelerators known to freeze. Toyota’s explanation of this latest glitch in its 4.2 million vehicle recall is that the company’s decision on whether to repair — or completely replace — the gas pedals is being made this coming week.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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