Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Yeah, I would imagine that he probably shouldn't be on the terror watch list: Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to pass legislation to remove former South African President Nelson Mandela from a U.S. list of terrorists by his 90th birthday next month, officials said on Thursday. South African Ambassador to the United States Welile Nhlapo said he was in talks with the State Department and lawmakers to resolve the issue by Mandela's birthday on July 18. Lawmakers in April introduced legislation in Congress to remove Mandela from the list, a step that is normally a government administrative matter, because they were frustrated by the time the process was taking. Really, it's enough to make you want to puke--can't these people do anything right? What do you have to do to get a functioning State Department around here?

Venezuela lines up against the European Union: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened Thursday to punish European countries that apply strict new rules for deporting illegal immigrants by denying them oil and blocking their investments. The EU Parliament passed new guidelines Wednesday under which illegal migrants can be held in special detention centers - not jails - for up to 18 months before being expelled. Chavez said in a televised speech that the measure shows "signs of fascism," and that countries would have to "build concentration camps" to hold millions of immigrants. "Our oil shouldn't go to those countries" that adopt the policy, he said. Venezuela sells most of its oil to the United States despite political tensions between the two nations, but is only a minor supplier to Europe. Some European companies operate in Venezuela, including France's Total and Norway's Statoil. Chavez added that "if some European country starts to apply this and jails Colombians, Paraguayans, Bolivians, Ecuadoreans, then we're going to make our own list of companies from that country that have investments in Venezuela.

But good things only happen to good people in a Christian land, right? The winner of last week's $57 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot is a registered sex offender who also pleaded guilty to two breaking and entering charges in the 1980s. Fred Topous Jr., 45, was discharged from Michigan Department of Corrections supervision in October 2006. The Kent City man traveled to Lansing on Tuesday to claim the prize from Friday's drawing in the multistate game. Topous chose to take the prize as a $34 million lump sum payment, before taxes.

Four opposition party activists were killed in a firebombing near Harare overnight, the party said Thursday, the attacks carried out even as South African President Thabo Mbeki was in Zimbabwe on a mediation mission.
The opposition has said more than 60 of its activists have been killed in recent weeks, and accuses President Robert Mugabe of unleashing widespread violence to ensure victory over Movement for Democratic Change candidate Morgan Tsvangirai in a presidential runoff to be held in just over a week. Independent human rights activists have implicated police and soldiers as well as Mugabe party militants in the violence. Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said that militants linked to Mugabe's party were seen in the area before the firebomb attack on the home of one party activist. Mlilo said the activist and three colleagues were killed, an unusually high one-day toll. Mugabe "is behaving like a warlord," Mlilo said. "This violence must stop."

If we can't get Bin Laden, how the heck are we going to get Ahmadinejad?Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday accused the United States of plotting to kidnap and assassinate him during a visit this year to Iraq, state media reported. The hardline president told a meeting of clerics in the central city of Qom that Iran's "enemies" planned to kill him when he went to Baghdad in March, according to the president's Web site. Iranian leaders usually use the term "enemies" to refer to Western nations and the United States in particular.

Long overdue: With their arrest Thursday on a nine-count indictment, two former investment fund managers for banking titan Bear Stearns are now the public face of the nation's mortgage finance meltdown. FBI agents made the first high-level arrests of Wall Street executives in connection with the nation's sub-prime meltdown, parading the handcuffed fund managers in front of cameras as the sun came up over Manhattan. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn brought the securities and wire fraud charges against Ralph Cioffi, 52, and Matthew Tannin, 46, respectively the founder of two Bear Stearns hedge funds for ultra wealthy investors and the funds' manager. The two were also charged with conspiracy, and the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil charges against the pair Thursday. The indictment alleges the two deceived investors into believing the hedge funds, which held special mortgage bonds that were backed with now-toxic sub-prime home loans, were healthy when they knew clearly they were not. The end result was that well-heeled investors like the one described in the indictment, Major Investor #1, collectively lost more than $1.5 billion.

How does this guy remain in office? I mean, really... What's it like to be working in Rep. Don Young's office when an "A Team" lobbyist calls? What about when you sneeze in the presence of Young's wife, Lu? Or what to expect if you show up with that new nose ring and a hangover from the night before? "The 2111: An Intern's Survival Guide,” surfaced Wednesday in Washington with two pages of advice, suggestions and etiquette for college-age youth on temporary duty with Alaska’s sole Representative. The number in the title refers to Room 2111 of the Rayburn House Office Building, Young's official office. Among the survival skills: any of the nine "A Team" lobbyists — a group that includes Coconut Road lobbyist Rick Alcalde and the brother of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay — "can talk to whomever they want."

DARPA not getting the money it needs? The head of the Defense Department's premiere science and technology arm is blasting the Pentagon's higher-ups in an unusually public spat over tens of millions of dollars for cutting-edge research. Darpa director Tony Tether even went so far as to say that the U.S. military's chief financiers "apparently d[o] not believe in accountability." The Pentagon recently took $32 million away from Darpa, to fund other military efforts. According to a Defense Department document, the agency's budget was cut because it "continues to underexecute" many of its high-tech programs -- in other words, not spend the money that it was allotted...During his tenure at Darpa, research projects have been kept on a short leash -- only given enough money to hit their next goal. "Sometimes [it] takes longer (or shorter) to accomplish/start something than originally estimated," Tether e-mails. "We just don't start the next effort phase or continue to fund something when completed, just because the money is available."

Remember, wingnuts--this is all something we just made up to piss you off: As greenhouse-gas emissions rise, North America is likely to experience more droughts and excessive heat in some regions even as intense downpours and hurricanes pound others more often, according to a report issued yesterday by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. The 162-page study, which was led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of how global warming has helped to transform the climate of the United States and Canada over the past 50 years -- and how it may do so in the future. Coming at a time when record flooding is ravaging the Midwest, the new report paints a grim scenario in which severe weather will exact a heavy toll. The report warned that extreme weather events "are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate."

Did he yell "psych!" and then laugh hysterically? Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, now under investigation for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department, ousted a top lawyer for failing to adopt the administration's position on torture and then promised him a position as a U.S. attorney to placate him, highly placed sources tell ABC News. Gonzales, who was just taking over as attorney general, asked Justice Department lawyer Daniel Levin to leave in early 2005, shortly after Levin wrote a legal opinion that declared "torture is abhorrent" and limited the administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques. At the time, Levin was in the middle of drafting a second, critical memo that analyzed the legality of specific interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.

And who are you again? What have you done with your life that makes you so special? A day after Michelle Obama took her turn co-hosting "The View," regulars Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck chatted about their impressions of her. Hasselbeck, who gave her reaction to Mrs. Obama's 'View' appearance last night on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, said she's received some flack for being friendly to the potential first lady. "I've probably taken some heat for being soft on her, you know, 'the role of the Republican was soft on Michelle Obama,'" she said. "But I think it was a nice environment here. We were actually able to have a nice talk." Oh, never mind. You're that blonde twit on the end who isn't Barbara Walters.

That's a good way to start reducing our dependence on foreign oil: Americans are starting to drive less. At a time of record-high gas prices and a corresponding surge in transit ridership, Americans are driving less for the sixth month in a row, highlighting the need to find a more sustainable and effective way to fund highway construction and maintenance, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters. The Secretary said that Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than at the same time a year earlier and 400 million miles less than in March of this year. She added that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all public roads for April 2008 fell 1.8 percent as compared with April 2007 travel. This marks a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled this year, and nearly 30 billion miles traveled since November.

Strange Bedfellows What can get Libertarians, (real) Democrats, the ACLU and trial lawyers all singing from the same hymnal? Telecom immunity in a "FISA overhaul" that was unnecessary in the first damned place. Blue Dogs - take note - you soft little lapdogs are screwed if this passes - you have a Hellhound on your tail and I don't think Fluffy has a prayer against Cerberus.

Our feckless congressional leaders won't hold the bastards accountable But the Europeans just might if any of the criminal fuckers travel abroad. Which makes me wonder...can we convince them to look for something to charge Judith Iscariot Miller and Michael Gordon with?

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