Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

More of this, please: Congress has rejected President Bush's veto of a bill protecting doctors from Medicare rate cut. Bush vetoed the bill earlier Tuesday. He says he supports rescinding the pay cut but objects to financing the plan largely by reducing spending on private health plans serving the elderly and disabled. First the House voted to override the veto, 383-41. Later, the Senate voted 70-26 to override.

Not even Ron Paul voted "nay!" The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to punish Myanmar's brutal ruling regime "where it hurts - in the wallet," by freezing assets of political and military leaders there and banning the importation of rubies from that country into the U.S. The unanimous vote sent the bill back to the Senate, which voted last year to also bar timber from Myanmar, also known as Burma. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman said the legislation would put financial pressure on a corrupt regime that failed to adequately help its citizens recover from a cyclone and famously put down democracy demonstrations by Buddhist monks last year. "The legislation before the House today hits the regime where it hurts - in the wallet," Berman, a Democrat, told the House. "By blocking the import of Burmese gems into the United States and expanding financial sanctions, the legislation will take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of the regime each year."

Exactly what we don't need, redux: Russia announced Monday that it is sending warships to patrol Arctic waters for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union - the latest move to increase the country's global military presence. Patrols by the Northern Fleet's Severomorsk submarine destroyer and Marshal Ustinov missile cruiser will begin Thursday, Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said. Russia began sending aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean Sea in December and resumed long-range bomber patrols in August. "We have been talking for a long time about widening our activity in the Arctic," Dygalo said. "There is nothing aggressive in it - it is in the interests of security." Former President Vladimir Putin expanded Russian military patrols and Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in May, appears to be maintaining that course. Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said security was not Russia's primary motivation in sending the Navy ships to the Arctic. "This is flag-waving and that's basically it," Felgenhauer said. "Sending a couple of patrol boats to the Arctic won't change anything."

Another person that the Bush Administration can't find and bring to justice: A message purported to be from the fugitive deputy of executed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has called on insurgents to make a final push against US forces. The message attributed to Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri urged Iraqi fighters to "make this year... decisive for victory". The message also called on US President George W Bush to "come clean about the scale of US losses". Ibrahim is the most senior member of Saddam Hussein's regime still at large. The message, aired by Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al-Arabiya and reported by the AFP news agency, urged Iraqi insurgents to "strike the enemy everywhere". Not that it would matter if they caught him. Remember how catching Saddam would end the war? Remember how killing Zarqawi would end the war?

Fighting between the PKK and the Turks: Two Turkish soldiers and three Kurdish rebels have died in clashes in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Iraq, security officials say. The fighting took place on Sunday during an operation against the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Sirnak province, the Turkish officials said. Turkey has launched repeated air and land attacks in the region, targeting PKK rebels based in northern Iraq. The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984. A PKK spokeswoman, Sozdar Avesta, has demanded a ceasefire in the Mount Ararat area, further north, where the PKK is holding three German tourists hostage. She said "the PKK is ready to release the three German tourists on condition that Turkey halts its military attacks in the area where they were captured". They were snatched last Wednesday. The hostages were being held in protest at German pressure on PKK supporters in Germany, she said, adding: "We urge the German government to undertake a new policy towards the Kurds".

Is GM going to collapse altogether? General Motors Corp. said Tuesday it will lay off salaried workers, cut truck production, suspend its dividend and borrow $2 billion to $3 billion to weather a severe downturn in the U.S. market. GM said the moves will raise $15 billion to help cover losses and turn around its North American operations, including $10 billion from internal cost-cutting and $5 billion from selling some assets and borrowing against others. “In short, our plan is not a plan to survive. It is a plan to win,” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said in a broadcast to employees.

Why the economy is going to be a bigger issue by Election Day: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress Tuesday the fragile economy is facing "numerous difficulties" despite the Fed's aggressive interest rate reductions and other fortifying steps. At the same time, Bernanke, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, sounded another warning that rising prices for energy and food are elevating inflation risks. This problem looms even as officials try to cope with persistent strains in financial markets, rising joblessness and housing problems. The situation, he said, poses "significant challenges" for Fed policymakers as they try to chart the best course for keeping the economy growing, while making sure inflation doesn't dangerously flare up. All the economy's problems, including slumping home values, which threaten to make people feel less wealthy and less inclined to spend in the months ahead, represent "significant downside risks" to economic growth. Over the rest of this year, the economy will grow "appreciably below its trend rate" mostly because of continued weakness in housing markets, high energy prices and tight credit conditions.

Shades of the Great Depression and It's a Wonderful Life: Police were called Tuesday to tame an angry crowd of IndyMac Bank customers trying to pull money from their accounts on Day 2 of a federal bank takeover. At least three police squad cars showed up as tension mounted outside a branch in suburban Encino. Customers were warned against becoming unruly but no arrests were reported. "I've already lost three nights of sleep and three days of eating, now I'm done," customer Joan Rubin said as she sat in a beach chair on the sidewalk, waiting for her turn to empty her account. "It's a very sad day in America," she said. Rubin, 52, said she was drawn to IndyMac Bank about 18 months ago by high, well-advertised interest rates and friendly service close to home. Federal regulators seized IndyMac on Friday. It was reopened Monday under the control of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Deposits to $100,000 are fully insured by the FDIC.

Manson follower to stay in prison: The state Board of Parole Hearings on Tuesday denied compassionate release for convicted killer and Charles Manson follower Susan Atkins, who is dying of brain cancer. After listening to 90 minutes of testimony on Tuesday from people who both supported and opposed Atkins release, then came back quickly with a denial. Eighteen of the 23 people who spoke at the board's hearing room near the Capitol in Sacramento implored the panel to allow Atkins, who has brain cancer and has been told she has six months to live, to go home to die. "Susan has served a life sentence," said Virginia Seals, Atkins' sister-in-law. "This is about her death." Similar comments came from other family members and friends, who were each given five minutes to speak to the panel. But others, including relatives of victims she killed in the 1960s, insisted that Atkins should serve out her life prison sentence. "You'll hear various perspectives today, but you'll hear nothing from the nine people in their graves who died horrendous deaths at the hands of Susan Atkins," said Anthony Di Maria, nephew of slaying victim Jay Sebring.

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