Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

A judicious use of arrest powers: Staff at Phoenix Center in Annapolis [Maryland] said three students separately but simultaneously ran wildly around the school on May 14. A 9-year-old boy refused to go to class and ran through the halls, school officials said. He allegedly kicked and punched a teacher and kicked the principal. Another 9-year-old boy refused to go to class and ran through the halls and around the school, officials said. He also allegedly kicked a teacher's car four times. When he was taken to the office, he allegedly tried to kick members of the school staff. A 14-year-old girl also refused to go to class and ran through the halls, but she did not assault anyone, officials said. Police said they arrested the three juveniles. The 9-year-olds were charged with assault and disrupting school activities. The 14-year-old was charged with disrupting school activities. And, I hope you know, that this will go down on your permanent record...

Peace breaking out in Lebanon? It must have been the APPEASEMENT: Rival Lebanese factions reached an agreement to resolve their 18-month political crisis after five days of intensive talks in the Gulf state of Qatar, Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Wednesday. Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said at a ceremony Wednesday in Doha that the agreement is be "carried out immediately" and that the election of a new president of Lebanon will follow within 24 hours. The agreement was a major triumph for Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition, as it met the side's two key demands — veto power in a new national unity government, and an electoral law that divides up Lebanon into smaller-sized districts, for better representation of the various sects. But the opposition was not gloating, and Hamadeh said "there are no losers" in this agreement. "Lebanon is the winner," he told The Associated Press on the phone from Doha, the Qatari capital.

Depends on what you call a disgrace, though: D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says members of Congress should be ashamed of the condition of the National Mall. She spoke during a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday. The panel also heard from the chairman of the Trust for the National Mall, developer John Ackridge. He called the park a "disgrace," and said the trust would help raise private dollars for the mall's restoration. The National Park Service is preparing a 50-year plan that will be a guide for the restoration project. Ackridge says the improvements could cost $500 million. Norton and others say the mall has dying trees, trampled grass and lacks restrooms and other amenities for visitors.

Errol Morris dissects the photo of Sabrina Harman at Abu Ghraib: “How can you say she’s a good person?” I am sitting in an editing-room in Cambridge, Mass. arguing with one of my editors. I reply, “Well, exactly what is it that she did that is bad?” We are arguing about Sabrina Harman, one of the notorious “seven bad apples” convicted of abuse in the notorious Abu Ghraib scandal. My editor becomes increasingly irritable. (I have that effect on people.) He looks at me as you would a child. “What did she do that is bad? Are you joking?” And then he brings up the trump card, the photograph with the smile. “How do you get past that? The smile? Just look at it. Come on.”

Another reason why Defense Secretary Gates probably isn't the right guy for the job--he wants to replace pilots with drones: It's one of the many, many reasons why there's been a 300% annual increase in requests for the drones' video. In response, Gates has called for more UAVs to be put into the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, he ordered the Air Force to push nearly all of its drones into action. Pilots were pulled out of standard planes, and put into the Predators' remote cockpits, outside of Las Vegas. The Air Force, in response, complained that all those extra flight hours were turning the UAVs' remote pilots into virtual "prisoners." Gates then publicly chastised the service during the drone build-up, comparing it to "pulling teeth." But even if the Air Force suddenly started being more cooperative, National Defense argues, "the military’s ability to gather useful intelligence from ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] systems also faces a major obstacle: a data glut." Analysts are not currently equipped to cope with gobs of data and parse them in real time. This problem only will worsen as more surveillance aircraft are deployed... said Roy F. Schwitters, a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin and chairman of the JASON Defense Advisory Group...The complications caused by a data glut are especially acute in Iraq as a result of efforts to detect roadside bombs and insurgents who plant them — all of which requires vast amounts of streaming video and high-resolution imagery.

It all comes back to the Jeep--bigger isn't necessarily better: There are narrow alleyways and small streets in Fallujah, Iraq, through which most military trucks cannot travel. Even the formidable mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle — rushed to the battlefield to protect troops from roadside bombs — has difficulties driving in the urban terrain. To cross small bridges, troops must dismount from the vehicle while the driver sticks his foot out the door to “walk” the multi-ton truck across the way, says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, deputy commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. The scenario may sound like the punch line of a joke, but it is no laughing matter to Defense Department officials speaking here at NDIA’s tactical wheeled vehicles conference. They point to this boots-on-the-ground situation as one of the salient reasons for continuing to buy humvees — the military’s longtime workhorse — while developing its next-generation replacement, the joint light tactical vehicle.

Everything you wanted to know about the way Hezbollah communicates: An intelligence map released by a French web site, referencing Lebanese sources, shows the extensive communications network established by Hezbollah throughout Lebanon. These closed telephone circuits are operationally independent of government networks. The Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications has no link to these closed cable-based networks. These systems were at the heart of the latest confrontation between the Seniora cabinet and Hezbollah commander Hassan Nasrallah. The latter accused the government of attempting to seize these networks or supervising them, and the Lebanese government naturally stating that all telephonic networks in Lebanon, as in any country, must be under the auspices of the legal government.

Yes, but what about Holy Joe, Huckleberry Graham, Liddy Dole and Mitt? Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be Arizona-bound this weekend for a sitdown with other pols who could be on Sen. John McCain's running-mate shortlist. Joining Crist at McCain's home: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a handful of others whose names have not been made public. McCain spokesman Jeff Sadosky said the campaign would not discuss the candidate's possible vice presidential picks or the process for it. Whether the gathering is even a vice-presidential pow-wow or a simply a meeting with high-level supporters is unclear. Crist and Jindal have both made healthcare high priority issues. Crist signed a law Wednesday to offer inexpensive health insurance plans and Jindal tapped one of Florida's top healthcare minds, Alan Levine, to work in his administration.

Always kow-tow to what's left of your base: President Bush announced Wednesday that Americans soon will be allowed to send cell phones to Cubans - a move that he hopes will push the communist regime to increase freedom of expression for Cuban citizens. Addressing recent changes in Cuba, Bush said, "Cubans are now allowed to purchase mobile phones, DVD players and computers and they have been told that they will be able to purchase toasters and other basic appliances in 2010." "If the Cuban regime is serious about improving life for the Cuban people, it will take steps necessary to make these changes meaningful," Bush said at the White House as he marked Cuba's 106th anniversary of independence this week. If the Cuban people can be trusted with mobile phones, "they should be trusted to speak freely in public," he said. Too bad Americans can't be trusted to have mobile phones that aren't subject to warrantless wiretaps.

They're in the "last throes" if you will: The al-Qaida terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that al-Qaida remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure al-Qaida has paid big dividends. "Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted al-Qaida, probably to a level that we haven't seen at any time in my experience," said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces. "They can regenerate, and do from time to time," he added in the interview in his office at Central Command headquarters. And--at their peak--they have never been responsible for more than 10 percent of attacks on coalition forces. But why let that little fact get in the way?

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