Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Notice our nifty new byline for this feature? Because this is a team effort, we have created the Nightowl to round up stray bits of news and opinion for us. We also have a dedicated email for news tips: thenightowlnewswrap@gmail.com. We want to encourage you to use it when you come across those interesting little bits of information that might not merit a post of their own, but deserve a mention - and there is just too much out there - we can't catch it all! Now put that email in your address book and make use of it. Thanks in advance for your help. You regular readers know that you are an integral and important part of this blog, right? Well, you are. And now you get to play along at home...and one more thing...Our readers are informed and intelligent and mostly have something to say worth hearing. You noticed the "Guest Blogger" handle that appeared recently? Yeah, if you have something to say that goes beyond the 3000 characters allowed by the Haloscan comment system, you might want to think about just emailing it to us, and if we think what you have on your hands is more along the lines of a follow-up post than a comment, we will send you the log in and you can post it as a guest blogger. Whatdaya think? Hey - 01 June is coming...promotions all around! --BG

I want to thank "Blue Girl" for this opportunity to crosspost and share some of my newsier posts and I hope to be able to add something to this great blog and to this great community. --Warren Street

Now on with the news...

Ecuador seeks to end Manta agreement with US military: The scene at the Manta Ray Cafe, a mess hall [in Ecuador] at the most prominent American military outpost in South America, suggests all is normal. A television tuned to Fox Sports beams in a golf tournament. Ecuadorean contractors serve sloppy Joes near refrigerators bulging with Dr Pepper and Gatorade. Air Force personnel in jumpsuits preparing to board an Awacs surveillance plane leaf through dog-eared paperbacks. But by next year, if President Rafael Correa gets his way, this base [Manta] will be gone, and, with it, one of the most festering sources of controversy in Washington’s long war on drugs. “It’s not panic mode yet,” said Steven Tate, 42, a Clearwater, Fla., contractor who moved here two years ago after retiring from the Air Force to help run the base fire station. “I’m hoping a miracle will happen that will allow us to stay.” To the Bush administration, the American air station [in Ecuador] is a critical component in the war on drugs in the Andes. The 180 service members based [in Ecuador] conduct about 100 flights a month over the Pacific looking for drug boats from Colombia, the source of about 90 percent of the cocaine used in the United States. Last year, those flights led to about 200 cocaine seizures, the Air Force said. But to Ecuadoreans, Manta is a flash point in a regional debate over the limits of American power in Latin America.

Is the government of Pakistan headed for a collapse? Pakistan’s ruling coalition has entered crisis talks following a breakdown of negotiations (Dawn) over the reinstatement of deposed Pakistani justices. News reports indicate the government faces possible dissolution. The party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has apparently threatened to abandon its alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party, the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Reuters notes reassurances from the current prime minister’s office saying that even if party members from Sharif’s PML-N quit Pakistan’s cabinet, they are likely to retain their support for the ruling coalition more broadly.

McCain not fully tied to the Bush legacy as of yet: Americans are gloomier about the direction of the country than at any point since 1992, and Democrats have matched their biggest advantage in 25 years as the party better able to deal with the nation's main problems, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Despite more than eight in 10 now saying the country is headed in the wrong direction and growing disaffection with the Republican Party, Sen. John McCain, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, remains competitive in a general election matchup with Sen. Barack Obama, the favorite for the Democratic nomination, and runs almost even with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Those findings indicate that McCain continues to elude some of the anger aimed at his party and at President Bush, whose own approval dipped to an all-time low in Post-ABC polling. Maintaining a separate identity will be a key to McCain's chances of winning the White House in November. Overall, Democrats enjoy a 21-point advantage over Republicans as the party best-equipped to handle the nation's problems.

Florida faces wildfires: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency Monday as wildfires fed by drought conditions threatened homes and businesses and forced the closing of part of Interstate 95 in Brevard County. Firefighters work to put out flames at a house in Malabar, Florida, early Monday. Seven to 10 structures, including some homes, have been destroyed by the largest of the fires, said Yvonne Martinez of the Palm Bay Fire Department. "The fire situation has been very unpredictable," she said. "The winds have basically caused what fires we had yesterday to jump a half a mile at a time." Martinez said three firefighters were injured -- including one who was airlifted from the scene -- but she did not know the nature of their injuries. Many residents have been asked to evacuate "because the situation is so unstable," said Martinez, adding that "hundreds" were affected.

Another empty promise to fight drug corruption south of the border? Mexican officials vowed Friday to press their war on organized crime despite the brazen killing a day earlier of a top federal police official by a gunman believed to be working for a drug cartel. "We will not be intimidated," federal Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said during an official memorial service in Mexico City for Edgar Millan Gomez, who was acting chief of a federal police agency. President Felipe Calderon, visiting the violence-plagued northern border town of Reynosa later in the day, said organized crime groups were striking back against the federal government "because they know we are hitting their criminal structure."

Another frivolous lawsuit? A New York City man is suing JetBlue Airways Corp. for more than $2 million because he says a pilot made him give up his seat to a flight attendant and sit on the toilet for more than three hours on a flight from California. Gokhan Mutlu, of Manhattan's Inwood section, says in court papers the pilot told him to "go 'hang out' in the bathroom" about 90 minutes into the San Diego to New York flight because the flight attendant complained that the "jump seat" she was assigned was uncomfortable, the lawsuit said. Mutlu was traveling on a a "buddy pass," a standby travel voucher that JetBlue employees give to friends, from New York to San Diego on Feb. 16, and returned to New York on Feb. 23, the lawsuit said. Initially, Mutlu was told a flight attendant had taken the last seat on the plane, but then he was advised she would sit in the employee "jump seat," meaning he could have the last seat, the lawsuit said. The pilot told him 1 1/2 hours into the five-hour flight that he would have to relinquish the seat to the flight attendant, court papers say. But the pilot said that Mutlu could not sit in the jump seat because only JetBlue employees were permitted to sit there, the lawsuit said.

Enemy combatant case unravels: The Pentagon is dropping charges against a Saudi at Guantanamo who was supposed to have been the “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11 attacks. Mohammed al-Qahtani was one of six men facing murder charges before a U.S. military tribunal for the attacks. But U.S. military defense lawyers confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that a Pentagon official has finalized the charges only against the other five, including the alleged architect of the attacks.

Probation for businessman who bribed U.N. official Nishan Kohli, the INdian-born U.S. businessman who bribed a U.N. procurement officer to the tune of $400,000 and received $50 Million in U.N. procurement contracts has been sentenced to five years probation and ordered to forfeit $600,000; in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors in the trial of Sanjaya Bahel, the chief commodity procurement officer from 1999-2003. Bahel convicted with the help of Kohli's testimony and was sentenced to eight years in prison last month. Kohli faced as much as ten years in prison, but Judge Thomas Griesa said he reduced the sentence because of Kholi's willingness to cooperate, his apparent remorse, and the fact that the judge found that Kohli's father had a great deal of influence over the dealings with Bahel.

"Let them eat spuds!" As the price of rice spirals upward, the people of Bangladesh are being encouraged to "Think potato, grow potato and eat potato." That was the theme of a three day potato festival in Dhaka last week. The government of Bangladesh is encouraging the population to eat potatoes as the price of grains such as rice and wheat have more than doubled, in the last year, while the country produced a bumper-crop of potatoes.

File this under "it takes one to know one" Earlier today aWol Bush, banging the war drum, told Israel's Channel 10 that the Iranian regime represents "the single biggest threat to peace" in the Middle East. (Here we remind everyone that Iran hasn't invaded anyone or declared preemptive war lately. Indeed, it has been centuries. Just sayin'...)

Egypt expresses optimism about possible Israel-Hamas truce
A top egyptian moderator expressed hopeful optimism that a cease fire can be reached between Israel and the Hamas militants that control the Gaza Strip. Hamas has offered to implement a cease-fire in the past, contingent upon Israel lifting a crippling embargo on Gaza.

Separatist attacks in India kill ten rail workers
Heavily armed militants from the outlawed Dima Halam Daoga (DHD) separatist group raided a railway construction site in the normally restive northeast state of Assam on Sunday, killing at least ten rail workers in two separate attacks on two consecutive days.

Lebanon slides closer to all-out civil war The all-too familiar sound of gunfire rang out in Lebanon yesterday as supporters of the western-backed government clashed with Shiite militants loyal to the Hezbollah-led opposition party in the port city of Tripoli. At least one man was killed in the skirmish that lasted most of the day, dying down by late afternoon as the army rolled in.
The army declared that if force was necessary, force would be used henceforth to disarm militant fighters and restore law and order following six days of fighting that has left at least 61 people dead, and wounded nearly 200. This is the most volatile situation Lebanon has faced since the end of the civil war that raged from 1975-1990.

We will definitely be keeping an eye on this over the coming days the petro-politics of the middle east might have just gotten a whole hell of a lot more complicated. Upping the ante of alliances, Iran has offered transport facilities and infrastructure for the oil coming out of Kazakhstan. Most Americans couldn't find Kazakhstan on a map, and that is a cryin' damn shame, because oil is at $126 bbl and rising, and Kazakhstan is where the largest known oil fields and reserves currently reside - there is so much oil there that they are about to outstrip their export capacity. Iran just upped the ante by offering an alliance, complete with pipelines. All that oil, that America needs...and if we bomb their good buddy Iran...well, China and India need a lot of oil, too...Oh yes, this is going to be very interesting to watch unfold...so long as you don't rely on the American media to cover this - our media bobbleheads are way too un-serious to tackle this topic.

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