Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Chavez the peacemaker? Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged Colombian rebels on Sunday to lay down their weapons, unilaterally free dozens of hostages and put an end to a decades-long armed struggle against Colombia's government. Chavez sent the uncharacteristically strong message to the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, saying their ongoing efforts to overthrow Colombia's democratically elected government were unjustified. "The guerrilla war is history," said Chavez, speaking during his weekly television and radio program, "Hello President." "At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place." Such declarations were unexpected from Chavez, a self-described socialist who earlier this year called on world governments to remove the FARC from terrorist lists and suggested the guerrillas should be recognized as a legitimate insurgent force. Addressing new FARC leader Alfonso Cano, Chavez said, "I think the time has come to free all of the hostages you have. It would be a great, humanitarian gesture. In exchange for nothing."

The effects continue to reverberate: The credit crisis triggered by bad home loans is spreading to other areas, forcing banks to tighten credit and probably extending the credit crisis that's dragging down the economy well into next year, and perhaps beyond. That means consumers are going to have an increasingly difficult time getting bank loans for car purchases, credit cards, home equity credit lines, student loans and even commercial real estate, experts say. When financial analyst Meredith Whitney wrote in a report last October that the nation's largest bank, Citigroup, lacked sufficient capital for the risks it had assumed, she was considered a heretic. However, Whitney was proved correct: Citigroup pushed out its CEO, sought foreign investors and slashed its dividend. Her comments now carry added weight on Wall Street, and she has a new warning for ordinary Americans: The crisis in credit markets is far from over, and it increasingly will affect consumers. "In fact, we believe that what lies ahead will be worse than what is behind us," Whitney and colleagues at Oppenheimer & Co. wrote in a lengthy report last month about threats faced by big national banks, including Bank of America, Wachovia and others.

So what terms can you use?It's the only way Tory Bowen knows to honestly describe what happened to her. She was raped. But a judge prohibited her from uttering the word "rape" in front of a jury. The term "sexual assault" also was taboo, and Bowen could not refer to herself as a victim or use the word "assailant" to describe the man who allegedly raped her. The defendant's presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial trumps Bowen’s right of free speech, said the Lincoln, Neb., judge who issued the order. Bowen's case is part of what some prosecutors and victim advocates see as a national trend in sexual assault cases. "It's a topic that's coming up more and more," said Joshua Marquis, an Oregon prosecutor and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. In Kansas City, Senior Judge Gene Martin recently issued a similar order for the trial of a man charged with raping a teenager in 2000. Despite the semantic restrictions, the Jackson County jury last week found Ray Slaughter guilty of forcible rape and two counts of forcible sodomy. Bowen's case gained national notoriety and drew the attention of free-speech proponents after she filed a lawsuit challenging the judge's actions as a First Amendment violation. A federal appeals court dismissed the suit, but Bowen's attorney plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

Huckleberry Graham is the gift that keeps on giving...

Governor's mansion gutted in Austin, Texas: Arson is suspected in the fire that struck the historic Texas Governor's Mansion early Sunday, causing damage that state officials described as "bordering on catastrophic," the state fire marshal said. No one was inside the 152-year-old mansion at the time, said Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. The mansion had been undergoing a $10 million renovation, and Perry and his wife, Anita, had moved out last fall. "We have some evidence that indicates that we do have an intentionally set fire," said state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado. "So we believe that we may be looking at a criminal act here." The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was sending in a team to help investigate, Maldonado said. He did not give details on how the fire may have been set or whether there was a suspect, but said there were security cameras on the premises.

You gotta be kidding me...A military defense lawyer today said that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were instructed by the Pentagon “to destroy handwritten notes that might have exposed harsh or even illegal questioning methods.” According to Navy Lt. Commander Bill Kuebler, who is representing Canadian Omar Khadr, interrogators may have “routinely destroyed evidence” that could have been used to defend Khadr and other detainees.

Get out your stopwatches: The Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak approved changes Friday, to the city’s vehicle idling ordinance that aims to reduce air pollution. The ordinance limits most vehicle idling to three minutes, except in traffic. "Most of the air pollution in Minneapolis comes from vehicles and cutting down in idling is one easy thing we can all do for our environment, our health, and the health of our neighbors," said Mayor R.T. Rybak. Vehicle motors release particulate matter, dirt, nitrous oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into the air. These chemicals are linked to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease and asthma and are the major source of human-caused climate change. Children are especially vulnerable to vehicle air pollution because their lungs are still developing, and they inhale more pounds of pollution per pound of body weight than adults do. For the driver, reducing idling saves money in fuel. On average, a car will burn more than half a gallon of fuel for every hour spent idling. In general, 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the car, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Well, duh...Mark Penn has an interesting confession of sorts, buried towards the end of his post-game analysis of why the Clinton campaign lost: The campaign should have done a better job at contesting the caucuses. "We should have taken on Mr. Obama more directly and much earlier, and we needed a different kind of operation to win caucuses and to retain the support of superdelegates," Penn writes. Penn adds shortly afterward: "Given her successes in high-turnout primary elections and defeats in low-turnout caucuses, that simple fact may just have had a lot more to do with who won than anyone imagines."

It's still not over in China: More than 10,000 people were moved to higher ground Thursday as water continued to rise in a brimming lake formed by landslides from China's May 12 earthquake and another strong aftershock rocked the quake-battered region. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries following the 5.3 aftershock in Sichuan province. Meanwhile, Premier Wen Jiabao arrived by helicopter Thursday afternoon in the town of Mianyang downstream from Tangjiashan lake to oversee attempts to drain the water. It was his third trip to the quake zone. "Now is a critical moment for the Tangjiashan quake lake, and the most important thing is to ensure there are no casualties," Wen was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. The lake was formed above the devastated town of Beichuan after rocks and soil blocked the route of the Tongkou river. Xinhua reported that water was still more than four feet below a diversion channel carved to drain the lake and it was not clear whether other measures were being taken to control the steadily rising water level.

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