Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Interesting post from Tim Johnson...Remember that big blackout that hit the northeast United States back in the summer of 2003? I certainly do. I was in Vermont at the time, and the whole country was talking about what turned out to be the biggest power outage in U.S. history. Official explanations were all over the map, including overgrown trees and overtaxed utilities. Now comes the latest explanation: Chinese hackers. According to this article just out in the National Journal, some U.S. intelligence people now believe Chinese hackers have triggered two separate blackouts in this decade. Here are three paragraphs: One prominent expert told National Journal he believes that China’s People’s Liberation Army played a role in the power outages. Tim Bennett, the former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a leading trade group, said that U.S. intelligence officials have told him that the PLA in 2003 gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern United States. The intelligence officials said that forensic analysis had confirmed the source, Bennett said. “They said that, with confidence, it had been traced back to the PLA.” These officials believe that the intrusion may have precipitated the largest blackout in North American history, which occurred in August of that year. A 9,300-square-mile area, touching Michigan, Ohio, New York, and parts of Canada, lost power; an estimated 50 million people were affected.

Aussies end combat role in Iraq: Australian troops in Iraq officially ended combat operations Sunday, the Department of Defense said, fulfilling a campaign promise of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Troops held a ceremony that included lowering the Australian flag, which had flown over Camp Terendak in Talil, southern Iraq, a Department of Defense spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity as required by the department. Australia, a staunch US ally, was one of the first countries to commit troops to the Iraq war five years ago. But Rudd was swept to office last November on the promise to bring Australia's 550 combat troops home by the middle of this year. Several hundred other troops will remain in Iraq to act as security and headquarters liaisons and to guard diplomats. Australia will also leave behind two maritime surveillance aircraft and a warship to help patrol oil platforms in the Gulf.

At this point, why bother trying to sell them beef in the first place Police clashed with elements of a crowd estimated at nearly 40,000 who protested into early Sunday in downtown Seoul against South Korean government plans to import U.S. beef. Water cannons were fired at some of the protesters who were blocked by police buses from a road leading to the presidential Blue House, prompting angry reaction from demonstrators. Several protesters injured by the water cannon were taken to hospital. A crowd estimated by police at 38,000 people filled a plaza in front of city hall. Protesters lit candles, waved placards and chanted slogans criticizing President Lee Myung-bak. The rally was largely peaceful, with most protesters dispersing voluntarily. But sporadic clashes between some protesters and police continued into the early hours of Sunday. South Korea agreed in April to reopen what was formerly the third-largest overseas market for U.S. beef. It had been shut most of the past 4 1/2 years following the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state in 2003.

US will abandon efforts to help Myanmar? Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday he will make a decision within "a matter of days" to withdraw U.S. Navy ships from the coast of Myanmar, because "it's becoming pretty clear the regime is not going to let us help." As a result, he said many more people will die, particularly those in areas that can only be reached by helicopters, such as those sitting idle on the U.S. ships. Asked if the military junta there is guilty of genocide, Gates said, "I tend to see genocide more as a purposeful elimination of people; is is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect." Speaking to reporters at the close of an international security conference here, Gates said the Myanmar representative at the forum did not seem interested in speaking with him. But, he said "it was interesting to watch as minister after minister described their respective unhappiness at their inability to get assistance in to Burma." It was particularly pointed, he said, since Chinese officials thanked other countries for the help provided after the earthquake in China.

Universal Studios sees many familiar places destroyed: One of Hollywood's largest movie studios starred in a disastrous sequel Sunday as a fire ripped through a lot at Universal Studios, destroying a set from "Back to the Future," a King Kong exhibit and a streetscape seen frequently in movies and TV shows. It was the second fire at the historic site in nearly two decades, leveling facades, hollowing out buildings and creating the kind of catastrophe filmmakers relish re-creating. This time around, thousands of videos chronicling Universal's movie and TV shows were destroyed in the blaze. But Universal officials said that they were thankful no one was seriously injured at the theme park and that the damaged footage can be replaced. "We have duplicates of everything," said NBC Universal President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer. "Nothing is lost forever." The blaze broke out on a sound stage featuring New York brownstone facades around 4:30 a.m. at the 400-acre property, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said. The fire was contained to the lot, but about 400 firefighters were still trying to put it out several hours later.

Another unintended consequence: The immigration debate is being felt this summer in some unlikely places -- the pool deck, for instance. "We simply cannot get Americans to take lifeguarding jobs," said professional swimming pool manager Steve Lavery of Sierra Pools of Arlington. But the flow of temporary foreign workers has been sharply curtailed by Congress' failure to extend a visa program that many seasonal businesses have come to depend on. "We're having and H-2B crisis," Lavery warned, referring to the program that has allowed him to bring about 500 overseas workers per season into the US to cover the apartment complex and hotel pools he manages from Baltimore to Richmond. The number of available visas dropped from approximately 200-thousand last season to only 66-thousand for the summer of 2008. Many lifeguards hail from eastern European nations like Bulgaria and Ukraine. At $9-per-hour, American's have migrated away from such summer jobs, in part because high schools and colleges often start classes before pools close on Labor Day.

You still can't buy any good press, can you? President Bush has asked his defense and interior secretaries to look into designating Pearl Harbor and other historic World War II sites in the Pacific a national monument. A May 29 presidential memo to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said such status could offer the sites additional protection. "These objects of historical and scientific interest may tell the broader story of the war, the sacrifices made by America and its allies, and the heroism and determination that laid the groundwork for victory in the Pacific and triumph in World War II," Bush said. The letter, posted on the White House Web site, doesn't say what specific places Bush has in mind aside from Pearl Harbor. How about just taking care of the Veterans instead? How about taking care of the people, not the sites?

Have a little intolerance with your mass: Carol Race thinks it's important for her 13-year-old son to be in church on Sundays for Catholic Mass. Leaders of the Church of St. Joseph once felt the same way, but not anymore. They say Race's autistic son Adam is disruptive and his erratic behavior threatens the safety of other parishioners. The northern Minnesota church has obtained a restraining order to keep Adam away, an action that has been deeply hurtful to the Race family and has brought them support from parents of other autistic children. "My son is not dangerous," Carol Race said. The church's action is "about a certain community's fears of him. Fears of danger versus actual danger," she said. In court papers, church leaders say the danger is real. The Rev. Daniel Walz wrote in his petition for the restraining order that Adam — who already is more than 6 feet tall and weighs more than 225 pounds — has hit a child, has nearly knocked over elderly parishioners while bolting from his pew, has spit at people and has urinated in the church. "His behavior at Mass is extremely disruptive and dangerous," wrote Walz. "Adam is 13 and growing, so his behaviors grow increasingly difficult for his parents to manage."

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