Friday, July 18, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Say 'hi' to your friends from UBS bank when you leave, okay?Under fire for calling the United States a nation of "whiners" about the economy, former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas Friday night resigned as co-chairman of John McCain's presidential campaign. "It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country," Gramm said in a statement released Friday evening. "That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain's ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country's problems, it hurts the country. To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as co-chair of the McCain campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters." Gramm's brief return to the spotlight reminds us of when he ran for President--and set a new standard for sucking wind and failing in public.

Mark Krikorian at the Corner wrote today:As I write this, I'm looking down on a Falun Gong parade below my office window down the middle of K Street in Washington, and it's going on and on and on. It's got to be two miles long. Look, I hate the ChiComs as much as the next guy, but who gave these people a permit to close half of one of the city's main east-west arteries? Go march on the Mall, for heaven's sake — it's just a media photo-op anyway. Way to go, asshole--you just mocked and denigrated an oppressed movement in China that has come here for asylum so that they can practice what they believe in a free country. "These people" have suffered imprisonment, torture and execution--probably no great shakes to someone who supports the Bush Administration, of course. Thanks for pissing all over them--thanks for reminding everyone that Conservatives are whiny-assed titty babies who sit in buildings and denigrate people who get off their asses and do something about being free.

Does this mean anything? Or is it another sign things are slipping away?Pakistan's Taliban militants threatened to attack the government of the insurgency-racked North West Frontier Province unless it resigns from office, a move that threw the country into a new security crisis. Baitullah Mehsud, the warlord who leads the growing Taliban movement in Pakistan, Thursday gave the administration of the North West Frontier Province five days to cease sporadic military operations against Taliban groups and demonstrate its "sincerity" in peace negotiations. "We will attack the provincial government and the ANP leaders after five days if they do not quit (office)," said Maulvi Omar, spokesman for Mehsud, a warlord based in the tribal area of Waziristan. "The provincial government is playing games with us. It is not sincere in the talks." Mehsud, whom the Pakistan government has linked to al Qaida, recently described suicide attackers as "our atom bombs," raising the possibility of targeted killings of provincial political leaders. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has accused Mehsud of organizing the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Business bankruptcies soar--so much for the ownership society: Driven by a sour economy and skittish consumers, U.S. business bankruptcies saw their sharpest quarterly rise in two years, jumping 17 percent in the second quarter of 2008, according to an analysis by McClatchy. Commercial filings for the first half of 2008 are up 45 percent from last year, as the national climate for commerce continues to deteriorate amid rising energy and food costs, mounting job losses, tighter credit and a reticence among consumers to part with discretionary income. From April through June, 15,471 U.S. businesses called it quits, according to data from Automated Access to Court Electronic Records, an Oklahoma City bankruptcy management and data company. States that saw the biggest increase in filings were Delaware, Montana, Oregon, Maryland and Connecticut, suggesting that the economic gloom is spreading beyond large population centers.

Want to spend time where Herbert Hoover spent time? Perhaps if your name is Bush, you might: To capture the essence of Rapidan Camp, the summer home of President Herbert Hoover in what is now Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, stand on the back deck of his cabin and just listen. Hear the breezes rustle through the thick forest, the gentle sounds of mountain streams. Hoover and his wife chose the site, at the confluence of the Mill Prong and Laurel Prong, partly because it afforded excellent trout fishing, which the president loved, but also because of its ambiance. As Lou Henry Hoover wrote to a friend in January 1929, shortly before becoming first lady: "My husband's idea was to have a camp down on one of the tree-covered flats beside a stream or at the junction between two streams. He likes to be near enough to hear the water murmuring." Almost 80 years later, a visitor to Rapidan Camp can do just that. You don't have to be grappling with the onerous demands of the Depression to appreciate the camp's soothing qualities. And you gain a greater appreciation of the man who created his own Shangri-La in the middle of what was then primitive mountain land.

An oldie but a goodie from last month on Rocket Propelled Grenades found in Iraq: The Bush administration has long sought to create the impression that Iran has been playing a major military role in Iraq by supplying arms to Shiite militias, including the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's powerful Mahdi army. But to date, U.S. military officials have offered scant or even dubious evidence of Iranian military involvement in Iraq -- and Petraeus' allegation about the RPGs is a clear-cut case of unsubstantiated charges. Last October, and again in late December, Petraeus stated emphatically there was "absolutely no question" that Iran provided RPG-29s, a sophisticated anti-tank weapon, to Iraqi Shiite militiamen. He even called the RPG-29 an Iranian "signature weapon." What Petraeus failed to mention, however, is that RPG-29s are manufactured by Russia, not Iran, and those that have shown up in Iraq apparently came from Syria. The Syrian government bought large numbers of RPG-29s from Russia in 1999 and 2000, many of which ended up being used by Hezbollah in the war against Israel in 2006, according to Israeli and Lebanese media reports. Even some U.S. military officials were quoted in the media in May 2006 as saying that they believed RPG-29s had been smuggled into Iraq from Syria. Moreover, as Air Force Col. Scott Maw of the Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-I) Strategic Communications Office told me in a telephone interview last week, "very few" RPG-29s have actually been found in Iraq. An examination of U.S. military press releases on weapons caches found in Shiite areas reveals no mention of RPG-29s. Additionally, the U.S. military has never displayed a captured one to reporters. In a highly publicized February 2007 slide show, U.S. military briefers did include a picture of what was identified as a round to be fired by an Iranian-made RPG-7AT-1 launcher, a less advanced weapon than the RPG-29, although it did not depict the launcher itself. But the U.S. military has found no evidence of an Iranian pipeline of RPG-7s to Iraqi Shiite militants, either. In more than two dozen MNF-I news releases on Iraqi Shiite weapons since early 2007, more than 200 RPGs are listed. Not a single one was identified as Iranian-made. That was not because of a lack of effort by the U.S. military, however, to determine whether captured weapons were of Iranian origin. Lt. Col. Steve Stover, the spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, which is deployed in and around Baghdad, confirmed that explosives experts examine the findings at each cache site to determine the origin of the weapons. "Normally we say whether they are Iranian-manufactured or not," Stover said in a telephone interview.

Another thing you won't hear the truth about--Fallujah is heating up: Once a sign of victory and a model for other provinces to follow, it appears that trouble may be brewing again in Anbar. Security has collapsed again in Fallujah, despite United States military claims. Local militias supported by US forces claim to have "cleansed" the city, 70 kilometers to the west of Baghdad, of all insurgency. But the sudden resignation of the city's chief of police, Colonel Fayssal al-Zoba'i, has appeared as one recent sign of growing unrest. Authorities may have controlled the media better than the violence. "Assassinations never stopped in Fallujah, but the media seem unwilling to cover the actual situation here," a human-rights activist in Fallujah, speaking on terms of anonymity given the tense situation, told Inter Press Service (IPS). "The two bomb blasts that killed six policemen earlier this month and another two that killed three on the weekend seem to have terminated the silence." While many in the US have claimed that the successes in Anbar were due in part to the Awakening groups there, many of the local population are also blaming these same groups for the current violence.

The kind of an economy where it's easy to lose everything: Eileen Selkis had some money left over from selling her house in Connecticut, and she knew she couldn't afford to lose any of it. She says her broker at Wachovia Securities pointed out that she could get a good return – better than the money market account it was in – by moving it to something called auction-rate securities. The higher interest rate was appealing, but Selkis wanted to make sure she'd be able to access her money easily. "They're as good as liquid cash," she recalls her broker telling her, in late 2006. "You can get to your principal any time; you just need to let me know about seven days ahead." That was before the market for those securities began to dry up in February, another result of the tumultuous state of the financial services industry. That means that many investors can't sell their holdings and get their money out of those securities, and they allege that brokers understated the risks of such investments.

Take them out or leave them in? There is not enough evidence to justify the routine removal of the ovaries during hysterectomy - a common practice that may convey as many risks as benefits for premenopausal women, a new analysis suggests. About half of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed in the U.S. each year include surgical removal of the ovaries along with the uterus. The most common reason cited for ovary removal is to prevent ovarian cancer. But there is growing evidence that ovary removal may be associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, and other age-related diseases, such as osteoporosis and even dementia. The ovaries continue to produce hormones even after menopause that may be protective against such diseases, says ob-gyn Leonardo J. Orozco, MD, of the Women's Hospital, San Jose, Costa Rica. In their newly published analysis, Orozco and colleagues were unable to find any high-quality controlled trials that examined the risks and benefits of routine ovary removal during hysterectomy in women with a low risk for ovarian cancer.

As this story keeps bubbling to the surface, remember: the IG for the entire Pentagon is a part-time employee: Inferior electrical work by private contractors on U.S. military bases in Iraq is more widespread than the Pentagon has acknowledged, according to a published report. A Senate panel investigating the electrocutions of Americans on bases in Iraq was told last week by former KBR Inc. electricians that the contractor used employees with little electrical expertise to supervise subcontractors in Iraq and hired foreigners who couldn't speak English. The Pentagon has said 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq since September 2003. It has ordered Houston-based KBR to inspect all the facilities it maintains in Iraq for electrical hazards. The New York Times reported on its Web site Thursday night that many more people have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to internal Army documents. A log compiled this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters almost daily, the paper reported. "We consider this to be a very serious issue," Chris Isleib, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday in an e-mail message to the Times, though he declined to address the Army documents' findings.

It's called the "dog and pony show" and it's a pain in the ass: When it comes to hosting congressional delegations, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad likes to think of itself as the eHarmony of Iraq -- lawmakers outline what they're looking for, and officials try to set up the perfect date. Choices include visits with home-state troops, bull sessions with Iraqi parliamentarians, tours of urban markets or military training facilities, and briefings from senior U.S. and Iraqi officials. A trip to the shrinking front lines -- Mosul is the summer's preferred destination -- can still be arranged for what the embassy calls "tip-of-the-spear groupies." It is not known what itinerary Sen. Barack Obama has requested for his impending trip to Iraq, which will be his second. But if the visits of hundreds of other members of Congress over the past five years are any measure, nothing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee will see is likely to change his mind about the war. Most seem to return even more convinced of the views they held before they left. Remember--this was an "impending" trip, meaning, Obama was going to go there "at some point." McCain sort of let the cat out of the bag by saying "this weekend." Personally, I think Obama needs to go and then see the presentation for himself.

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