Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

I can remember when they were called "fallout shelters:" Just before the tornado sirens sounded, school superintendent Floyd Marshall got the warning from police -- a twister was coming right for the town's elementary and high school. Marshall had a weapon of his own: Unlike most other schools in Arkansas, the two Carlisle schools have specially designed interior hallways -- dubbed tornado-safe rooms -- where 750 students cowered until the storms passed by Friday. "You may never need it, but that one time that you do that you don't have it, it's something you can't recover from," Marshall said. The tornado eventually veered away from the shared campus of the schools at the last moment, but Gov. Mike Beebe acknowledged the importance of the rooms on a visit to the city Monday. "I'd like to see them everywhere. I'd like to see them as much as possible," Beebe said. "But at this juncture, we're not in a position to mandate them everywhere, unless you have the money to be able to give them to everybody." Julie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education, acknowledged that many schools throughout the state do not have the safe rooms. She said officials do not keep a count of how many schools have them.

Shining that turd, one glorious smile at a time: As the newspaper industry—and print media in general—struggle to survive in the age of digital news, the business has found an unlikely ally: the nation's gravest housing crisis in recent memory. While newspaper executives have for years complained that online resources—like Craigslist—are cutting deep into their classified advertisement revenue, the foreclosure crisis has created a much-needed revenue stream for at least one struggling newspaper. From the Washington City Paper: Foreclosure notices are filling in where condo sales and auto deals once held sway. "There are definitely more than we've ever seen," says Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association. "I've been in the business 30 years." Here's what Stanley's talking about: On March 13, the Washington Post's classifieds section totaled 22 pages, approximately 14 of which were devoted to what are technically known as "trustee's sales."

Yes, folks--Nancy is taking care of business: For the estimated 60 million Americans suffering from mental illness, treatment can be an elusive and costly ordeal. Many health care plans don't cover mental care, and those that do usually provide lesser benefits for mental disorders than for physical ailments. Co-payments, for mental patients, are usually higher. In addition, the last major federal law tackling the problem is 12 years old. Now Congress is hoping to fix some of that. Bills passed in both the House and Senate would require most employer-based health plans to eliminate the current pay discrepancies between coverage for mental and physical conditions. Supporters say that equating the two -- and thus establishing "parity" -- is long overdue. Helping their push, the stigma that's contributed to the legal discrimination has slowly faded as scientists uncover the biological and genetic causes of mental disorders. "There is no shame in mental illness," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) said following passage of the House bill in March. "The great shame would be if Congress had not taken action." Someone's gotta help the 28% who still approve of President Bush, you know.

San Diego's mayor wants an investigation
to determine if Blackwater misrepresented itself during the process of obtaining permits to open a military training facility in Otay Mesa. “Questions have been raised as to the appropriateness of this location for the uses planned by Blackwater and the means used by the company to acquire the necessary permits from the City,” the mayor wrote in the memo to the city's chief operating officer in which he requested the investigation. “Specifically, allegations have been made that the company potentially used misleading names . . . to inappropriately disguise the true identity of the occupant.” The permits were obtained by Raven Development Group, a Blackwater affiliate.

Good luck shaming the shameless
Rep. Tom Cole (R, OK) head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, took republican house members to task today, chiding them for failing to support republican candidates in congressional bids, saying those who have not helped “ought to be ashamed of themselves.” Sure they should. But most of them lack the capacity to feel shame.

Brownback takes a prominent role in the McCain campaign: He is going to co-chair
The National Catholics for McCain Committee, along with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. "Committed to the protection of innocent human life, he is a leader Catholics will be proud to support," Brownback said when the announcement was made.

Deforestation magnified the effects of the Myanmar cyclone
Coastal development has happened at the expense of Mangrove forests that used to act as storm breaks. Secretary General of of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) said that the combination of more people living in coastal areas and the loss of mangroves had exacerbated the tragedy. "Encroachment into mangrove forests, which used to serve as a buffer between the rising tide, between big waves and storms and residential areas; all those lands have been destroyed," the AFP news agency reported him as saying. "Human beings are now direct victims of such natural forces."

Another record-setting day for oil futures with the price climbing to $122.73 on speculation that prices have only begun to climb, based on a report from Glodman-Sachs that predicts $150-200 bbl oil by 2010. Oil prices are just cents shy of being double what they were one year ago, a signal, according to analysts at G-S that oil prices are experiencing a "super spike."

I bet he wishes he had activated his cell phone's keylock feature a soldier in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan pressed against his phone just right, and redialed his mother in Oregon. She wasn't home at the time, but her answering machine picked up and recorded three minutes of battle. She heard gunfire, cursing and calls for more ammo before the machine cut off the message. How unnerving would that be, to return home, see the blinking light, press play, and hear that message?

Serbs go to the polls Sunday to elect members of parliament The election is a referendum on nationalism vs modernity, east vs west, the future vs the past. Liberals have turned their back on Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister who helped overthrow Slobodan Milosevic, but who has since adopted his harsh nationalist rhetoric. Liberal intellectuals fear that embracing nationalism will result in Serbia becoming a pariah nation. One western diplomat was blunt in his assessment: "For the West, this election is a choice between bad and worse."

Something tells me that the first victims of Indiana's voter suppression law aren't who the Supremes meant to disenfranchise. The Romans on the court were dismissive and contemptuous - the burden to get an ID wouldn't be undue, they said. Today, a dozen nuns were turned away at the polls in South Bend, Indiana for not having the appropriate ID. I hope they chase the bastards through their dreams, wielding rulers, every night, so long as that horrible voter disenfranchisement law stands.

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