Friday, June 20, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Remember when we told you about that possible violation of the Hatch Act? Well, the Democratic National Committee is on it: The Democratic National Committee has submitted a request under the Freedom of Information act to the State Department, asking for records relating to actions by Canadian Ambassador David Wilkins in helping to set up a visit to Ottawa by Sen. John McCain. In the request, DNC Research Director Mike Gehrke asks for "any and all records (including but not limited to letters, written requests, memorandum, reports, telephone records, electronic communication) created on or after January 1, 2008 and relating to travel by U.S. Senator John McCain to Canada during the period April 1, 2008 to the present. " The Edmonton Sun reported Thursday that Wilkins contacted Thomas d'Aquino, the president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, to help set up what they described as a fundraiser before McCain's visit. McCain is scheduled to give a speech at the the Chateau Laurier Hotel and to meet with several Canadian officials. Democrats contend that by doing so, Wilkins violated the Hatch Act, which proscribes the kind of political activity a government employee may engage in.

We've had enough Mugabe to last us a lifetime--he needs to go: Zimbabwe's opposition leader called on his supporters Friday to challenge President Robert Mugabe's rule in next week's runoff election despite a "wave of brutality" he says the government has unleashed. Even as Morgan Tsvangirai urged Zimbabweans to have the courage to vote in the face of a violent crackdown, a judge ordered the No. 2 opposition leader held on treason and other charges until after the election. "The wave of brutality being inflicted upon our people is reminiscent of the worst days of" white rule, Tsvangirai said in an e-mail, one of the few ways he has of reaching voters. The opposition leader's attempts to tour the country have regularly been stymied by police at road blocks, and the state-controlled media here all but ignore him.

Thirty-five levees and counting: The crest of the flood-swollen Mississippi River moved steadily downstream toward St. Louis yesterday, but authorities said they expect levees there to hold -- in part because breaches and overflows upstream have reduced the volume of water in the river. So far, the Mississippi floodwaters have overtopped 35 levees along the river, three of them since Thursday, said Suzanne Fournier, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those overflows have inundated towns along the upper Mississippi, knocked out roads, bridges and rail lines, and swamped millions of acres of farmland, driving up the prices of corn, soybeans and other foods. But by dispersing the floodwaters produced by heavy rains in recent weeks, the overflows have slowed down the river and reduced the pressure on levees farther south. "Right now we're watching the crest as it moves downriver," Fournier said in an interview today. She said the river is expected to crest at St. Louis tonight at 37 feet, well below the top of the 52-foot federal levees built there to withstand 100-year floods -- the type of inundation expected to occur, on average, about once a century.

It makes sense that they would eat more meat because they have more money--how is it that no one saw this coming? To understand the changing dietary habits of Chinese, it helps to listen to 6-year-old Lin Xingni talk about her favorite foods. "I like to eat chicken and fish. I also like pork ribs," she said...Chinese are eating more meat than ever. In 1980, the average Chinese ate 32 pounds of meat per year. By 1995, per-capita meat consumption had climbed to 86 pounds. Last year, Chinese wolfed down more than 117 pounds of meat on average, a little more than half of what an average American eats. Yet the carnivorous trend line keeps going up. A steady dietary transition is under way in China, as the country grows more prosperous. Barely half a century ago, the nation suffered a famine so severe that several million people died of hunger. Back then, the Chinese diet was mostly limited to rice, a limited selection of vegetables, soybean-based tofu and the rare meat dish. Now supermarket shelves sag under an array of foods. Meat is widely available. Fast-food restaurants dot the urban landscape, ranging from domestic noodle chains to familiar foreign brands. One chain in particular, KFC, is all over China, with 2,200 outlets in 450 cities. McDonald's trails with 930 restaurants in the country. And Chinese are consuming not just more meat. Lester Brown, the head of the Earthwatch Institute, a research center based in Maynard, Mass., described the phenomenon as "moving up the food chain," noting that Chinese also are eating more eggs, milk and high-protein foods.

Hey, thanks for sharing all of this with us, but how about we quit with the Blue Dog shenanigans and get back to work, okay? "What Scripture are you going to read?"[Senator Claire] McCaskill froze: "I beg your pardon?" "Well, you know you're supposed to read a Bible verse when you take the oath," [Senator Ben] Nelson said. Panic. The aide who briefed her never said a word about Bible verses. Nelson let her fret for another moment or two, then relented. He'd done the same to Hillary Clinton years ago...

So much for free speech: American taxpayers are paying for a Middle Eastern television network that broadcast an anti-Israeli diatribe as recently as last month, a joint investigation by 60 Minutes and ProPublica reveals. This, despite the fact that Al Hurra management promised Congress nearly two years ago that they would take measures to prevent such mistakes, which had occurred repeatedly before...Al Hurra is headquartered in Springfield, Va.; it was created four years ago by the Bush Administration to counter what was seen as an anti-American bias at Arab satellite news channels like the Qatar-based Al Jazeera. Nearly half a billion dollars has been spent since its inception and its top executive, Brian Conniff, assures Scott Pelley things have improved editorially. "We now have a fully functioning assignment desk that views all packages and scripts…I have an independent monitoring system…."

You know, we never talk about Nigeria, do we? The most powerful militant group in Nigeria said it launched a rare attack against an offshore oil installation Thursday, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it shut down production from the area after the violence. A leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta told the Associated Press that militants in open-hulled boats traveled through heavy seas to attack the Bonga oil field more than 65 miles from land. But they were not able to enter a computer control room they had hoped to destroy. The militant leader spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid punishment. Olav Ljosne, a spokesman for Royal Dutch Shell confirmed the attack but gave no details. He said production had been stopped at the field, which normally produces about 200,000 barrels of crude per day. That accounts for about 10 percent of Nigeria's current daily output of about 2 million barrels per day - already significantly down from the amount produced before years of militant attacks on oil infrastructure.

Did they or didn't they? A recent operation uncovered an Iraqi insurgent weapons cache that contained, of all things, a downed drone aircraft normally used by the US military in Iraq...[b]ut "it wasn't shot down. it went down due to a mechanical malfunction," Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a military spokesman in Baghdad, tells DANGER ROOM. The UAV had been assigned to 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division. That unit left in March, and was replaced with 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, working out of Forward Operating Base Falcon. The cache was only 500 meters south of that FOB. Hence, another reason why the cache seizure by the IA [Iraqi Army] soldiers was good news for us. The UAV's recovery is also great news. How the [militants] got it... Well, it is speculation on my part, but they likely got to the area it went down ahead of us, they can't really use it - as it 'talks' to our system, the ground operator.

Juan Cole has more on Ahmadinejad's contention that Bush wanted to kidnap him: According to one of the lecturers present at the meeting, Dr Ahmadinezhad added: Simultaneous with my visit to Iraq, the Americans intended to carry out a calculated plan to abduct me and transfer me to the US so that they could use the issue of terrorism as an excuse to blackmail the Islamic Republic. The president continued: Despite this, praise be to God, the changes which were made to my travel schedule spoilt their plan. They were taken by surprise and realized what had happened when I was flying back to Iran. This was whilst we didn't even visit the Green Zone, which is Baghdad's safest area. The interesting point is that Bush, the US president, hasn't even stayed overnight in Iraq. No, he's just not that into slumber parties, but that's a whole other can of worms we'd better not open up.

Although, we're not holding our breath that they'll get it right this time: The Air Force has struggled mightily for years to build its KC-X tanker airplane. Its first attempt to procure the plane through a complicated leasing deal met a spectacularly bloody end, largely at the hands of Sen. John McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now, its second attempt has been derailed by the Government Accountability Office, which sustained Boeing's protest of an Air Force decision to award the contract to a joint venture of Northrop and EADS...

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