Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Another memo drips out...The Justice Department in 2002 told the CIA that its interrogators would be safe from prosecution for violations of anti-torture laws if they believed "in good faith" that harsh techniques used to break prisoners' will would not cause "prolonged mental harm." That heavily censored memo, released Thursday, approved the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques method by method, but warned that if the circumstances changed, interrogators could be running afoul of anti-torture laws. The Aug. 1, 2002, legal opinion signed by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee was issued the same day he wrote a memo for then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales defining torture as only those "extreme acts" that cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure. The Bybee legal opinion defining torture was withdrawn more than two years later. Justice spokesman Peter Carr said the conclusions of the opinion approving specific interrogation methods are still in force.

Probably not the smartest thing to do, but oh well: Ailing Fidel Castro said Wednesday that Cuba's president was right to adopt a "dignified silence" over a Moscow newspaper report that Russia may send nuclear bombers to the island, and said Cuba doesn't owe any explanation to Washington about the story. In a brief, cryptic essay posted on a government Web site Wednesday night, the 81-year-old former president neither confirmed nor denied the Monday report in Izvestia newspaper. Moscow is angry about U.S. plans for missile-defense sites in eastern Europe and Izvestia cited a "highly placed" military aviation source as saying, "While they are deploying the anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, our long-range strategic aircraft already will be landing in Cuba." Izvestia said this apparently refers to long-range nuclear-capable bombers. Izvestia points out that there would have to be a political decision on landing bombers in Cuba, and quoted the unnamed source as saying there have been such discussions.

Design flaw makes MRAPs vulnerable to tipping over: The towering trucks that give U.S. troops the best protection against roadside bombs and enemy bullets also make them vulnerable to routine hazards like sharp turns, rutted roads and rickety bridges. Five deaths caused by rollovers and dozens of other accidents in Iraq and Afghanistan have led U.S. military leaders to warn troops to be smart behind the wheel, according to military documents obtained by The Associated Press and accident reports released under the Freedom of Information Act. The message is especially relevant in Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban has boosted demand for these steel cocoons, known as MRAPs. Due to the country's mountainous terrain and unpaved roads, officials will send nearly 800 more RG-31s, the smallest of several different MRAPs the military now uses. Yet even at a comparatively nimble nine tons, the RG-31 is not immune from tipping. On June 29, three Green Berets drowned when theirs rolled into a canal in southern Afghanistan. The accident is under investigation. The MRAPs - the military's acronym for "mine-resistant, ambush-protected" - get high marks from commanders for protecting U.S. personnel from enemy attack. Close to 7,000 of the vehicles are already in use in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon will buy at least that many more. And despite their bulk, the MRAPs have power steering, air brakes and quick acceleration. These features can lull drivers into thinking they're just handling a bigger version of the smaller and more agile Humvee. The article goes on to talk about soft shoulders on the side of the road--deadly for large vehicles.

Of course there is manipulation of oil prices and oil supply--any idiot can tell you that: Facing congressional criticism that speculators are driving up oil prices, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) on Thursday announced that it has charged the Dutch company Optiver Holding BV and its American subsidiary with manipulating the trading of contracts for future delivery of oil and gasoline. In e-mails and phone conversations released by CFTC, Optiver's heads of U.S. and global trading talk about how they are able to "bully the market" and use similar references like "whack" or "push" or "move" the futures market. "Today's action lets the marketplace know that the (CFTC's) Division of Enforcement has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gamesmanship," Stephen Obie, the agency's new acting head of enforcement, said at a news conference announcing the market manipulation charges. Obie said the agency did not know how much Optiver's actions had caused the price of oil to rise. In a preliminary report issued earlier this week, a Bush administration inter-agency task force led by the CFTC said it believes that supply and demand fundamentals remain the best explanation for soaring prices.

D'oh! Soon after Osama bin Laden's driver got here in 2002, he told interrogators the identity of the al Qaeda chief's most senior bodyguard — then a fellow prison camp detainee. But, inexplicably, the U.S. let the bodyguard go. This startling information was revealed in the fourth day of the war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan, 37, facing conspiracy and material support for terror charges as an alleged member of bin Laden's inner circle. Michael St. Ours, an agent with the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service, NCIS, provided the first tidbit. He testified for the prosecution that his job as a prison camps interrogator in May 2002 was to find and focus on the bodyguards among the detainees. And Hamdan helped identify 30 of them — 10 percent of the roughly 300 detainees then held here. They had just been transferred to Camp Delta from the crude compound called Camp X-Ray, and U.S. intelligence was still trying to unmask them. Chief among them was Casablanca-born Abdallah Tabarak, then 47, described by St. Ours as ''a hard individual,'' and, thanks to Hamdan, ``the head bodyguard of all the bodyguards.'' That's what we've come to know and love--incompetence, torture and stupidity were all these people brought to the table, and the really dangerous terrorists are still running around free as a bird.

What is it with the sense of entitlement with these privileged fucking brats? Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has sued Duke University, saying the school breached a $200,000 contract with him by kicking him off the golf team. Giuliani, a rising senior at Duke, filed suit in federal court in Greensboro. Duke University officials said in a statement that they would "vigorously defend this lawsuit." "Duke's coaches and student athletes are held to the highest standards, which include a strong commitment to fairness for all participants in our sports programs," Michael J. Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement. The complaint, drawn up by Robert Ekstrand, a lawyer representing some of the members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team, outlines strife between Giuliani and O.D. Vincent, the head golf coach. Vincent came on board after the spring 2007 death of Rod Myers, the coach who recruited Giuliani in high school. In another era, Andrew Guiliani and his daddy would have been laughed out of court. In this era, Republicans decry trial lawyers and then whine, bitch, plead and moan--and hire the best trial lawyer they can find--when something as fucking trivial as being kicked off of the golf team happens to shatter their world. Put Andrew in a uniform and send his pink little pampered ass to Iraq for fifteen months and see how much whining he gets away with.

Yay! We've been fucked over by the Republicans again! Yay! House Republicans on Thursday scuttled a bill that Democrats hoped would help lower gasoline prices by forcing the Energy Department to release 70 million barrels of oil - about a three-day supply - from the national stockpile. Democrats promised that the action would have produced immediate relief at the pump, as was the case with similar releases in 1991, 2000 and 2005. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve now holds about 700 million barrels. Despite winning a clear 268-157 majority, the measure still lost. Democratic leaders had brought the proposal up for debate under rules requiring a two-thirds vote to pass. But passing the bill by just a majority would have meant allowing Republicans to force a vote on new offshore drilling leases. "They're hiding from a vote," said GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio. "They're scared to death to allow us to ... force their members to vote on drilling." Democrats said the release from the oil reserve could provide relief at the pump within two weeks, though they would not say how much it would help $4-per-gallon gas. Earlier releases, such as a 34 million barrel drawdown in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, caused prices to fall. This was piss-poor management by the House leadership, so, in all fairness, it wasn't just the Republicans that fucked us over. They did do something remarkably stupid in an election year by killing a piece of legislation that might have brought gas prices down. But I'm sorry, Nancy--next year, you and Steny have to go. And Harry Reid goes with you.

Ford reports a staggering loss: Ford Motor Co. said Thursday it lost $8.67 billion in the second quarter largely because of a reduction in the value of assets. The company also announced that it will bring six European small car models to North America by the end of 2012 as it deals with a market shift from trucks to cars brought on by high gasoline prices. The company also will retool two more North American truck and sport utility vehicle plants to build small, fuel-efficient vehicles. The second-quarter loss was $3.88 per share, compared with net profit of $750 million, or 31 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago. The loss includes $8.03 billion worth of write-offs because of a decline in value of North American assets and Ford Motor Credit Co.'s lease portfolio. Even excluding those special items, Ford lost 62 cents per share, worse than Wall Street expected. Twelve analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial, on average, expected a 27 cent loss per share.

Who will report the news? Regional and national newspaper publishers, already staggering with a drop in ad revenue more severe than the industry has seen since the Great Depression, say the second half of 2008 may be even worse. Three publishers - McClatchy Co., Lee Enterprises Inc. and E.W. Scripps Co. - reported Thursday that their profits had fallen by nearly half in the second quarter compared to last year. They joined industry heavyweights New York Times Co. and Gannet Co., which reported earnings Wednesday and last week, in saying double-digit drops in ad revenue were most to blame for plunging profits, though rising costs played a role too. All five publishers said ad revenue fell fastest in June, and most said July is looking as bad or worse. "It really shows we haven't yet reached a bottom for revenue declines," said Mike Simonton, a media analyst with Fitch Ratings.

One of our fave bloggers is Burban Mom--and she's got a great tip that you should hear: It's been over a year now that I've been gracing my table with soft, cotton, love-squares and I'll never go back to paper again. This is one of my earlier changes, and since its implementation, our little family has avoided using over 2,000 paper napkins. My favorite Christmas gift last year came from my 2-year-old niece, Libby, who took a set of nearly-new napkins from Goodwill and used fabric paints to add her handprints to them. They are absolutely adorable and we use them every single night. Switching from paper to cloth is not a difficult change to make and I'm surprised more people don't do it. It's cheap and classy, how often does that happen?!? Let's face it: cloth napkins aren't just for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. They are for everyday, every meal. For us, it was the thin flannel blankets we chopped up into squares. Grandma (who goes by the kid-friendly name Aunie) sewed the edges down to keep them from fraying. They have lasted over five years, and they are the perfect soft napkin/face wipe/emergency towel/bottle nappy that gets used, washed, and reused on a daily basis.

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