Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Josh Marshall has been owning this story, and has discovered that the attempts to discredit what Maliki said about endorsing Obama's plan to get us out of Iraq are patently ridiculous:Der Spiegel is standing by its story, its translation of what Maliki said. And as Ben Smith aptly puts it, "It's almost a convention of politics that when a politician says he was misquoted, but doesn't detail the misquote or offer an alternative, he's really saying he wishes he hadn't said what he did, or that he needs to issue a pro-forma denial to please someone. The Iraqi Prime Minister's vague denial seems to fall in that category. The fact that it arrived to the American press via CENTCOM, seems to support that." ...I'll be watching to see whether the major papers continue to downplay the story. As Todd Gitlin notes, of the LA Times, Washington Post and NY Times, only the LAT put the story on the front page of their Sunday paper, though the Post had it as an ambiguous subhed on their front page Obama to War Zone story.

Las Vegas development goes belly up: When it comes to local real estate, it's hard to find anything more impressive than Lake Las Vegas. But as of Thursday night, the financial waters are anything but calm for the master-planned community. The developer of Lake Las Vegas has filed for Chapter Eleven Bankruptcy Protection. Located 17 miles east of the Strip, Lake Las Vegas is an oasis of calm - one that may be drowning in a sea of debt. The hotels, houses, and golf courses still have their loyal fans, but in a very challenging real estate market, the Las Vegas-based ownership group that controls the man-made Lake is scrambling to re-structure its debt so employees and contractors can continue to be paid.

Gitmo trials to begin: A special military trial at Guantanamo is due to open Monday as detainee Salim Hamdan, who worked as a driver for terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, faces the first US war-crimes tribunal since the end of World War II. Hamdan, who is from Yemen, is the first "enemy combatant" from the US "war on terror" to face a full-scale trial since the prison camp at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was opened in late 2001. And with a federal judge rebuffing the last-ditch attempt by Hamdan's lawyers to halt the trial, the landmark case is now set to open Monday after preliminary hearings over the past week. Hamdan, whose trial is expected to last two weeks, faces charges of "conspiracy" and "material support for terrorism," and could receive life imprisonment if convicted.

Interesting charges: US human rights lawyers charged Sunday that US military prisons are "legal black holes" and the force is detaining journalists to "shut people up" about activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. A vast detention camp planned for the main US base in Afghanistan will be a "second Guantanamo" where laws do not apply, they said at a press conference about an Afghan reporter in US military custody without charge for nine months. The US military is holding Jawad Ahmad, who has worked with Canadian Television (CTV), at its detention facility at Bagram north of Kabul on allegations he is an "unlawful enemy combatant." Ahmad is among 650 people being held at Bagram without trial, US-based International Justice Network executive director Tina Monshipour Foster told reporters. "Many people in Afghanistan and in Iraq that have been targeted for detention are local journalists covering the conflict in their own country," said another prominent US human rights lawyer, Barbara J. Olshansky. "When the United States detains reporters, photographers, camera operators and holds them for long period without charge for any offence and without trials and without any evidence, we know that part of the goal is to just shut people up," she said. The intention was to "make sure that the people of those countries and the United States do not know what is going on," she alleged.

Brace yourself for more: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sought to reassure an anxious public Sunday that the banking system is sound, while also bracing people for more troubled times ahead. "I think it's going to be months that we're working our way through this period - clearly months," he said. Paulson said the number of troubled banks will increase as they struggle to cope with big losses on bad mortgages. The government this month took over IndyMac (IDMC) after a run led it to become the largest regulated thrift to fail. "Of course the list is going to grow longer given the stresses we have in the marketplace, given the housing correction. But again, it's a safe banking system, a sound banking system. Our regulators are on top of it. This is a very manageable situation," he said in broadcast interviews.

Tragedy: NATO said Sunday that its forces accidentally killed at least four civilians in eastern Afghanistan, while an official in the nation's west said foreign troops used air strikes against Afghan police, killing nine. A NATO soldier died in fighting in the east. The reported civilian and police deaths could damage popular support for the Afghan government as well as for foreign forces operating here. President Hamid Karzai has pleaded with the U.S. and other nations fighting resurgent militants to avoid civilian casualties. NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it was investigating whether three other civilians also were killed Saturday night in the Barmal district of Paktika province when its troops fired two mortar rounds that landed nearly half a mile short of their target. The alliance said it was providing medical aid to four civilians who were wounded.

The Potemkin Village prepares itself: Authorities Sunday ordered half of Beijing's 3.3 million vehicles off city streets for a two-month period in an experiment designed to remove a smoggy halo over the capital and ease traffic jams before the Summer Olympics. Poor air quality is a major concern for the Aug. 8-24 Summer Games, already causing a few high-profile athletes to pull out. Patrolling tow trucks impounded vehicles that violated rules that restrict cars to alternate days based on whether license plates end in odd or even numbers. Authorities forecast that the sweeping traffic restrictions, along with a major expansion of the capital's subway system that began over the weekend and measures to shut down polluting factories, would help clear smog over Beijing in time for the Games. Some foreign experts voiced doubts, saying air pollution is too intense to clear so easily. It marked the second time in less than a year that Beijing restricted traffic. In a four-day test last August, pollution experts noted a slight improvement in air quality.

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