Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

The South Carolina GOP obviously hates America and wants the terrorists to win:Buddy Witherspoon is challenging Lindsey "Huckleberry" Graham and this is what happened to him at their state convention: Witherspoon, who said he faces an "uphill battle" against the incumbent, focused on his signature issue, fighting illegal immigration. "They're stealing across the border all the time" bringing crime, drugs and gangs, he said, calling for scrapping the I-9 form in favor of an electronic verification system that employers could use to screen out illegals from hiring, making English the nation's "standard language" and replacing the income tax with a sales tax. The latter, Witherspoon said, would cover "those who don't pay taxes now, illegal aliens, drug dealers." Graham used his remarks to embrace President Bush, just hours before he was to meet Bush at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and accompany him to Furman University for a presidential commencement address that has divided the campus. At his first mention of Bush's visit, Graham paused, waiting for applause. When it didn't come, it took a slight nod from Graham to prompt a round of applause. "President Bush is my friend," he continued, "and I'm not going to run away from the friend." See how far THAT gets you... [h/t to ThinkProgress]

Iraqis have concerns about striking deals with the US: Thousands of followers of militant Muqtada al Sadr peacefully took to the streets Friday following his call to protest a bilateral pact that would govern the economic, security and political relationship between Iraq and the United States. The Status of Forces Agreement and an economic and political accord are expected to be completed by July and must pass the parliament before being finalized. Already voices of dissent are in the air. The United Nation's mandate that allows foreign forces to occupy Iraq will not be renewed at the end of the year. So any future U.S. military involvement in the war-torn nation can only continue with such an agreement. From Sadr City to Kufa in southern Iraq, thousands of followers of Sadr prayed and then peacefully stood in protest. In Sadr City, followers set fire to an American flag and an image of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Saddam Hussein's green military uniform. "A curse upon him who agrees!" demonstrators chanted. "We are with you Sayyed Muqtada for liberating Iraq from the aggressors." (By the way, THAT is what a revolution looks and sounds like).

Another civil war? Yes, and it's geeky, too: This winter, the Air Force, as the Pentagon’s point agency for "cyberwarfare," banned access from official networks to many blogs, declaring that they weren’t "established, reputable media." The Air Force didn’t seem concerned that international jihadists had long ago latched onto websites as cheap, effective tools for sharing ideas. Indeed, the Air Force’s ban was part of a widening military crackdown on the so-called “Web 2.0.” Mostly, Website-banning Pentagon officials were worried that U.S. troops might inadvertently release secret information on the Internet. But the Army cleverly dodged the Pentagon's Web 2.0 crackdown, scoring the upper hand in a growing "civil war" within the military over how to deal with the Internet. [snip] The Army set up...its own versions of popular Web 2.0 sites, but [hid] them behind password-protected portals. In that way, the Army appears to have found a middle ground between Internet proponents and skeptics. On this toehold, the land combat branch is steadily building new Internet tools that might help the United States catch up to Internet-savvy jihadists. In late April, the land-warfare branch even launched an official blogging service for officers. The blogs combine the best of the civilian Web 2.0 with old-fashioned military-grade security.

Mars lander hacked and on the fritz? A short circuit is serving as a nuisance to scientists operating the Phoenix Mars Lander. The problem is in a device used to analyze ice and soil dug up from the Martian ground. The short was found during testing yesterday. Scientists say they know what the problem is, and are working to fix it. They're also excited by new pictures which show the lander may be sitting on a patch of ice. It's thought the spacecraft's thrusters may have uncovered the ice when the robot landed last Sunday. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission said a hacker took over the mission's public Web site during the night and changed its lead news story. Spokeswoman Sara Hammond says a mission update posted Friday was replaced with a hacker's signature and a link redirecting visitors to an overseas Web site.

Hell no, he won't go: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf dismissed mounting speculation he is preparing to resign while his political opponents and media on Friday clamored for his departure. A late-night meeting this week between Musharraf and his successor as army chief fueled rumors that the longtime U.S. ally in its war on terror could resign. Pakistan's new civilian government wants to strip the president of key powers and some in the coalition are seeking his impeachment.

Sometimes it's fun to say "duh" The federal government is showering households with tax rebates to spur spending and invigorate a troubled economy. But many Americans are so consumed with debt and the soaring price of gasoline that they are opting to save the money or use it to pay bills, according to surveys, sales data and interviews with people from Florida to California. Guillermo Gonzalez, a wine salesman, said he was behind on payments and sent his rebate to the mortgage company. “The way the economy is going, people are too scared to spend,” he said. Between late April and the end of last week, the Treasury handed out more than $50 billion of the $100 billion in tax rebates it plans to distribute to 132 million households. But only once in the last six weeks have chain stores registered an increase in sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, whose weekly sales survey is a widely watched barometer. “The initial sense is that people are not running out to the malls to spend their checks,” said Stuart G. Hoffman, chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. “It’s not quite proving to be a hot potato that’s burning a hole in people’s pockets.”

Oh no! More than 80 years ago, the Hook brothers started trucking their catch of lobsters from Maine and Canada to Boston's fish piers, selling them directly to the city's top restaurants. Ever since, four generations of Hooks have kept their seafood wholesale business in a squat wooden building with a corrugated steel roof, resisting multiple offers from developers as luxury hotels, gleaming office towers and the Big Dig highway project dwarfed and surrounded them. On Friday, a seven-alarm fire gutted their landmark waterfront location, causing $5 million in damage that included the loss of 60,000 pounds of lobster, but the Hooks vowed to rebuild James Hook & Co.

Let us know if you find anything, okay? Federal regulators are six months into a wide-ranging investigation of U.S. oil markets, with a focus on possible price manipulation. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Thursday said it started the probe in December and took the unusual step of publicizing it "because of today's unprecedented market conditions." Crude prices, which on Thursday hovered around $127 a barrel, have risen more than 42 percent since early December. Gasoline prices are nearing a national average of $4 a gallon, up from about $3.20 a year ago. The commission said details of the investigation remain confidential, but announced a handful of other initiatives designed to increase transparency of U.S. and international energy futures markets.

Do we need shoes? Of course not. If shoes can make the man - then what are we to make of Chris Roat? He's a 32-year-old IT specialist and member of the Society for Barefoot Living... “It’s more connected to the earth," Roat said. "You get more of a sensory feedback.” The society is an international organization of more than 1,000 loafer loathers - people who, not only prefer going barefoot, but believe we should all give our shoes the boot. “Foot ailments that podiatrists spend a lot of time treating are at least exacerbated by, if not caused by shoes.” ...there are several recent studies that seem to back him up. One, in a podiatry journal called “The Foot,” compared feet today with 2,000-year-old skeleton feet - and discovered that, as a species, we had healthier feet before we invented the shoe … that shoes do more harm than good.

Fix that toilet up there, will ya? Space shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven blasted into orbit Saturday, carrying a giant Japanese lab addition to the international space station along with something more mundane - a toilet pump. Discovery roared into a brilliant blue sky dotted with a few clouds at 5:02 p.m., right on time. The shuttle's trip to the space station should take two days. Once there, Discovery's crew will unload and install the $1 billion lab and hand-deliver a specially made pump for the outpost's finicky toilet. The school-bus-size lab, named Kibo, Japanese for hope, will be the biggest room by far at the space station and bring the orbiting outpost to three-quarters of completion.

A 6.8 quake hit Taiwan today but no damage or injuries have been reported. Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau says the magnitude 6.8 quake hit at around 9:57 a.m. on Sunday (0157 GMT Sunday). It was faintly felt in Taiwan. The bureau says the epicenter was located at the Pacific Ocean about 140 miles (230 kilometers) south of the eastern island of Lanyu, which is about 180 miles (300 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Taipei. The epicenter was as deep as 29 miles (46 kilometers) below the ocean surface. Didn't one of those Godzilla movies start this way?

Piracy continues: Somali pirates have hijacked two more boats in the Gulf of Aden, bringing to 26 the total number of ships seized off Somalia this year, a Kenyan maritime official said Thursday. Andrew Mwangura, head of the East Africa Seafarers Assistance Program, said the two ships were taken on Wednesday near where a Dutch ship was seized on Monday. He did not have any information about the owners or the nationalities of the crew onboard the MV Lehmann Timber or the MV Arean or any information on the pirates' demands. Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau confirmed the attack on the MV Lehman Timber but said the bureau was still waiting for final confirmation on the MV Arean. Mody, a piracy analyst with the bureau, a specialized maritime crime division of the International Chamber of Commerce, could not provide any further details.

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