Monday, May 19, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

John Dean ORDERED the Watergate Break-in? A new book on the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon alleges that White House counsel John Dean ordered the infamous Watergate break-in in 1972, a charge Dean strongly rejected. James Rosen, a Fox News Channel correspondent in Washington, made [up?] the charge based on interviews and an exhaustive review of documents for “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate.” Dean called Rosen's assertion “pathetic.”

Border violence continues: Four people believed to be Americans were shot in the head and dumped in a notorious drug-smuggling area in northern Mexico near the border with California, Mexican police said on Monday. Police in the beach town of Rosarito, across the border from San Diego, said they discovered the bodies of three men and a woman on Sunday in an abandoned car in a remote patch of scrubland near the Pacific coast. "The bodies had been there for at least a week. They were spotted by local people out hunting," a municipal police spokesman said. Police concluded the victims were U.S. citizens because the vehicle had California license plates, the three men were of African-American appearance, the woman was Caucasian and a U.S. driver's license was found in the car, the spokesman said.

Venezuela complains about US activities: Venezuela's foreign minister said the U.S. ambassador will be summoned to explain an alleged incursion by a U.S. military plane in Venezuelan airspace. Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceno said the U.S. Navy plane was detected in Venezuelan airspace Saturday near the Caribbean island of La Orchila and the plane was contacted by radio. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Robin Holzhauer says the United States is looking into "any possible accidental incursion of Venezuelan airspace."

Cuba complains as well: Cuba on Monday accused America's top diplomat in Havana of carrying mail to dissidents that contained private funds from an organization run by the benefactor of an alleged terrorist. Authorities presented e-mails and other correspondence they say back their claim against Michael Parmly, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. But while the evidence referred to "letters," it included no direct proof there was money involved...Nevertheless, Cuba claimed the funds were sent to political opposition leaders Martha Beatriz Roque and Laura Pollan from a Miami-based organization called Fundacion Rescate Juridica, which is headed by Santiago Alvarez - a benefactor of Luis Posada Carriles, accused by Cuba of masterminding bombings of a jetliner and hotels and other terrorist acts. Posada has denied the allegations.

Dan Froomkin on Bush's recent foreign policy debacle: The notion that President Bush could serve as an honest broker between Israelis and Arabs has always been something of a fantasy. Now it appears to be a fantasy the lame-duck Bush White House is no longer willing to put much effort into sustaining. The Israeli portion of Bush's latest trip to the Middle East was a nearly nonstop love fest, with Bush enthusiastically celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state, delivering a speech that imbued Israel with the same absolute moral authority that he claims for himself, and bathing in adulation that literally brought tears to his eyes. In all the excitement, Bush nearly forgot to even mention his lip-service devotion to a Palestinian state. But in Egypt, when it came time to address an Arab audience, Bush was hectoring and remote. He not only chastised Arab leaders for failing to live up to his moral standards, but he held up occupied Iraq as one sign that "the light of liberty is beginning to shine" in the Middle East, and he urged Arab countries to wean themselves off oil revenues.

Speak Arabic now: The U.S. military has been given all kinds of grief for not training their troops in the language and culture of places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And rightly so. But a first-rate website, from the Defense Language Institute, could give every soldier a working knowledge of Arabic or Pashto -- if the troops are willing to put in the work, that is. The DLI has put together dozens of online "field support modules," which provide cultural and historical backgrounders on Somalia, Uzbekistan, South Korea, and just about any other place that American forces are likely to deploy. But it's the Web-based tutorials in Amharic, Urdu, Hindi, and so many other tongues that are the site's real gems. Hundreds of phrases are written in both English and the foreign language, and transliterated as needed. Most importantly, every phrase is linked to an audio file, to get the proper pronunciation. The vocabulary is geared more towards pacifying a village than visiting a museum, of course. And you could quibble with the translations, a bit -- Iraqis probably use "salam aleikum" more than "merhaba," to say "hello." But with the modules, troops can learn to rent a car or order from a restaurant, as well. And "merhaba" will work just fine, in Baghdad.

No more metallic balloons for you: Balloon vendors say the Altadena Democrat [California State Senator Jack Scott] is threatening their livelihood with a bill that would ban helium-filled metallic balloons. Their rallying cry: "Don't outlaw fun in California." As curious as this all sounds, Scott's Senate Bill 1499 really would burst a few foil bubbles if it becomes law. One family's fun, he explained, can disrupt life for thousands of their neighbors. Utility companies blame the metallic inflatables for hundreds of power outages and millions of dollars of losses.

First the bees now the birds? Climate change is "significantly amplifying" the threats facing the world's bird populations, a global assessment has concluded. The 2008 Bird Red List warns that long-term droughts and extreme weather puts additional stress on key habitats. The assessment lists 1,226 species as threatened with extinction - one-in-eight of all bird species. The list, reviewed every four years, is compiled by conservation charity BirdLife International. "It is very hard to precisely attribute particular changes in specific species to climate change," said Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's global research and indicators co-ordinator. "But there is now a whole suite of species that are clearly becoming threatened by extreme weather events and droughts."

Another leader of the FARC surrenders: A leading commander of the FARC rebels in Colombia has surrendered to the authorities, officials say. Nelly Avila Moreno, known as Karina, was blamed for a string of murders and abductions, and for extortion in the north-western Antioquia region. Her surrender is a coup for President Alvaro Uribe who made her a priority target for the security forces in 2002, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott says. The FARC has been fighting to overthrow the government for more than 40 years. Karina was "nearly dying of hunger" when she and another guerrilla, known as Michin, handed themselves in, Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

Don't know if this is a good idea, but we'll follow this wherever it goes: Today the name Carmelo Rodriguez marks a modest grave in upstate New York, where his family still visits, and still mourns. But soon - as early as Tuesday - that name will be introduced on the floor of the U.S. Congress..."The bill is called the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Malpractice and Injustice Act," said Rep. Maurice Hinchley. CBS News reported exclusively on the life and death of Marine Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez last January. While he was serving as a platoon leader in Iraq, his family says a military doctor there "misdiagnosed" the sergeant's skin cancer, calling it instead "a wart." A condition first diagnosed in 1997 during Rodriguez's original medical exam from his enlistment. But doctors did not inform him or recommend any follow-up. Untreated for years, the melanoma worsened. By the time Pitts met Sgt. Rodgriquez, the once-fit, gung-ho Marine had lost nearly 100 pounds. As we were preparing to interview him … he died. His death sparked a rush of e-mails, letters and calls to CBS News and members of Congress. Due to what's known as the Feres Doctrine, Rodriguez's family, including his 7-year-old son, cannot sue the military for medical practice.

The first no-hitter of the season: Boston's Jon Lester can now add pitching a no-hitter to his already amazing list of accomplishments. The 24-year-old lefty, who survived cancer to pitch the clincher of Boston's 2007 World Series victory, shut down Kansas City 7-0 Monday night for the first no-hitter in the majors this season. Lester (3-2) allowed just two baserunners, walking Billy Butler in the second inning and Esteban German to open the ninth. He struck out nine, including Alberto Callaspo to end the game.

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