Monday, July 21, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Now, this is the worst idea I've heard today: Singapore is considering legalizing kidney trading to help meet demand for kidney transplants, the city-state's health minister said Monday. The Health Ministry will examine the feasibility of providing payments to unrelated donors to augment the supply of kidneys, Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament, acknowledging that the suggestion has stirred controversy. "We should not reject any idea just because it is radical or controversial," Khaw said. "We may be able to find an acceptable way to allow a meaningful compensation for some living, unrelated kidney donors, without breaching ethical principles or hurting the sensitivities of others." How about rejecting it because a lot of poor people are going to be desperate and sell their goddamned kidneys?

Olmert under more scrutiny: A key witness in the corruption case spent Monday trying to fend off attempts by Olmert's attorneys to undermine his credibility and call his memory into question. Morris Talansky, the 76-year-old American businessman at the center of the case, answered "I don't know" and "I don't remember" to many of the questions from Olmert's defense lawyers on the fourth day of his cross-examination in a Jerusalem courtroom. At times, Talansky has contradicted himself in his statements to police and in court. "We funded some expenses; what is wrong with that?" said Morris Talansky while being grilled by Israeli investigators about how much he gave Olmert and what it was used for. He's admitted to handing Olmert envelops full of cash over a decade - political donations, maybe $150,000 worth, maybe more - his memory is fuzzy, Phillips reports. But Talansky hadn't figured on Olmert's taste for the good life. Twenty-five thousand of those dollars, for example, spent on a family vacation in Venice.

No shit--cutting the staff at a newspaper actually hurts the content of the material in the paper--and that's why advertisers are pissed and don't want to pay to put ads in a newspaper with sucky content? Wow! What a genius observation: The many and deepening cuts at newspapers across the country are starting to take a toll on their content, according to a study being released Monday. The challenge newspapers must meet immediately is to find more revenue on the Internet, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's study, called "The Changing Newsroom: What is Being Gained and What is Being Lost in America's Daily Newspapers." Newspaper managers need to "find a way to monetize the rapid growth of Web readership before newsroom staff cuts so weaken newspapers that their competitive advantage disappears." Stories are shorter overall, the study found, and staff coverage tends to focus on local and community news. "America's newspapers are narrowing their reach and their ambitions and becoming niche reads," the study said. Even when foreign and national news makes it into the papers, it is being relegated to less prominent pages. Aw, just blame the bloggers.

Pakistan gags AQ Khan: A court on Monday barred the disgraced architect of Pakistan's atomic weapons program from speaking about nuclear proliferation, less than three weeks after he implicated the army in the sharing of nuclear technology with North Korea. Abdul Qadeer Khan has been largely confined to his home in the capital since taking sole responsibility in 2004 for leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. However, he recently began agitating for an end to his confinement, disowning his 2004 confession in media interviews and saying the army had known all about at least one act of proliferation in 2000. President Pervez Musharraf issued a swift denial.

Is Vytorin worth it? In the latest disappointment for cholesterol pill Vytorin, a major European study in patients with heart valve disease found the drug didn't prevent worsening of the disease or lower the need for valve surgery, sending its makers' stock plunging. Results of a preliminary analysis of the just-completed study showed Vytorin, marketed jointly by Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp., was no better than placebo at lowering the risk of major cardiovascular events — including heart attack, stroke, heart surgery and death — in patients with aortic stenosis. The sometimes deadly condition, which is becoming increasingly common in elderly people, involves partial blockage and stiffening of the aortic valve, which sends oxygen-rich blood through the aorta and throughout the body. More than 5 million Americans have the disease to some extent, and it's the No. 2 cause of heart surgery. Researchers at 173 hospitals and other sites in Europe were hoping the study, called SEAS, would show that Vytorin offers a nonsurgical way to treat aortic stenosis by reducing bad cholesterol and plaque buildup.

Anemic? Or no growth at all? Call it the big fizzle. The hoped-for second-half economic rebound is looking to be lethargic, with the country straining under high energy prices and fallout from the housing and credit debacles. Forty-five percent of economists believe the economy won't log any growth or will clock in at a feeble 1 percent pace in the final six months of this year, according to a survey being released Monday by the National Association for Business Economics, which is known by the acronym, NABE. And, 10 percent think economic activity could actually contract during the period. "Forecasters are approaching the second half with a lot of caution," Ken Simonson, point person on the survey and chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said in an interview. "Most forecasters are suggesting the outlook will be sluggish, but not desperate. I'm afraid we're stuck on the ground floor of growth." Thirty-two percent, meanwhile, think the economy growth's during the second half could be between 1 and 2 percent, which would mark a plodding performance. The more bullish are clearly in the minority camp: 11 percent think growth will come in between 2 and 3 percent. Only 1 percent expect growth to surpass 3 percent. The economy's growth slowed sharply in the final quarter of 2007 and remained stuck in a rut in the first quarter of this year. Tax rebates, which have energized shoppers, should help lift the country out of the doldrums somewhat in the second quarter. The government releases its estimate of the second-quarter's economic performance at the end of this month. However, as the bracing force of the rebates fade, some analysts fear the economy could hit another rough patch near the end of this year.

What would Jesus do? Besides fortify his armed compound and hire mercenaries? Blackwater Worldwide said Monday that it planned a shift away from the security contracting business that earned it millions of dollars and made it a flash point in the debate over the use of security contractors in war zones. "The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk," company founder and CEO Erik Prince told The Associated Press during a daylong visit to the company's North Carolina compound. Blackwater executives say they have unfairly become a symbol for all contractors in Iraq and thus the company is a target for those opposed to the war. It will continue guarding U.S. officials in Iraq but its future will be focused on training, aviation and logistics. "Security was not part of the master plan, ever," company president Gary Jackson said. The experience of hiring psychopaths who indiscriminately kill innocent civilians most certainly would give a company pause, that's for damned sure.

Damned right they need to be named--and what they paid for access needs to be documented as well:
Stephen Payne was operating as a free agent. Let's be clear about that. But the Houston lobbyist's actions should get President Bush's attention. Mr. Bush needs to be sure no one will undercut his presidential library, which will open at Southern Methodist University after he leaves office. What we're talking about is last week's story from The Sunday Times of London. According to the newspaper, Mr. Payne met with a man in London who claimed his Central Asian nation's exiled former leader wanted to meet with top U.S. officials and rehabilitate his image. Mr. Payne, who raised more than $100,000 for Mr. Bush's two presidential bids, had some ideas. He suggested "the family, the children, whatever, should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library." The figure he had in mind for the exiled Kyrgyzstan leader was "maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars ... enough to show you're serious." Now, how the fuck does that not land SOMEONE in jail?

Bin Laden's driver says he's not guilty: Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Hamdan, pleaded not guilty on Monday at the opening of the first trial before a special "war on terror" military tribunal at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials said. "The trial has started and he pleaded not guilty," Cynthia Smith, spokeswoman for the US Defense Department, told AFP. Hamdan, from Yemen, is the first "enemy combatant" in Guantanamo to face a full-scale trial before the special tribunals since the prison camp at the remote naval base opened in late 2001. 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 by a jury of military officers. In a new courtroom built for the proceedings at the naval base not far from the prison, lawyers, journalists and human rights monitors are watching a trial that is seen as a test of the controversial tribunal system.

Remember when Speaker Pelosi was attacked for talking to Syria? Well, get this--the US Government is now going to talk to Syria. Get your appeasement while it lasts: The United States said Monday it was ready to hold rare talks with two visiting key Syrian officials this week, in another signal of Washington's recent policy shift to engage directly with its enemies. Syria is on a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism. Riad Daoudi, Syrian lead negotiator with Israeli officials in Turkey and legal adviser to the Syrian foreign ministry, and Ahmad Samir al-Taki, a consultant to the Syrian prime minister, are in Washington on a private trip. Part of a four-member group from Damascus, they will participate at a forum "Engaging Syria: new negotiations, old challenges" at Washington-based Brookings Institution on Wednesday. Their visit is sponsored by Search for Common Ground, an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in Washington and Brussels, which had sought a meeting for them with the State Department. "It is customary for us to receive such visitors and Near Eastern Assistant Secretary of State David Welch is prepared to meet with them," Stat Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters.

B-52 goes down near Guam: A US Air Force B-52 bomber crashed off the coast of Guam in the central Pacific killing two crew members and leaving four others missing, navy officials said. A brief statement from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam said the B-52H Stratofortress crashed at approximately 9:45am (0325 GMT) off the northwest coast of Guam. "The bodies of two B-52 crewmembers were recovered ... approximately 30 miles northwest of Guam ... The joint effort continues search and rescue operations in the area" for the four missing crewmembers, it said. Taking part in the rescue efforts are the US Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as Guam Fire and Rescue and Police Department.

Brandon Friedman on what happened in Afghanistan: When nine soldiers were killed in a coordinated Taliban attack 10 days ago, details were slow to emerge regarding what had actually happened. But Stars and Stripes now has the story. Everything was on fire. The trucks. The bazaar. The grass. It looked surreal. It looked like a movie. That was what Spc. Tyler Stafford remembered thinking as he stepped onto the medical evacuation helicopter. The 23-year-old soldier would have been loaded onto the bird, but the poncho that was hastily employed as his stretcher broke. His body speckled with grenade and RPG shrapnel, the Vicenza, Italy, infantryman walked the last few feet to the waiting Black Hawk.

Don't worry, he'll be back at a local station near you: A longtime television newscaster was charged Monday with illegally accessing the e-mail of his glamorous former co-anchor, who suspected details of her social life were being leaked to gossip columnists. Federal prosecutors say fired KYW-TV anchor Larry Mendte accessed Alycia Lane's e-mail accounts hundreds of times and leaked her personal information to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter. Lane's personal life had routinely become tabloid fodder and eventually led to her own dismissal from the station. "The mere accessing and reading of privileged information is criminal," acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said. "This case, however, went well beyond just reading someone's e-mail." Mendte was charged with a felony count of intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization. A conviction could bring a six-month prison term under federal sentencing guidelines. Mendte gained access to Lane's accounts for more than two years, prosecutors said. In a five-month span starting in January, Mendte accessed her accounts approximately 537 times, authorities said.

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