Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Defeat for the Constitution: The Senate today approved a sweeping overhaul of rules governing secret government surveillance in terrorism and espionage cases, voting to effectively grant immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The bill tightens oversight procedures for the surveillance while expanding federal eavesdropping capabilities. The 69-28 vote on the overall bill came after senators rejected three amendments that proponents said were aimed at bringing "accountability" to the legislation. One of the amendments would have deleted provisions that retroactively shield the telecommunications companies from lawsuits potentially worth billions of dollars. It was defeated on a 32-66 vote. President Bush had threatened to veto the bill if it did not protect companies such as AT&T and Verizon Communications from about 40 lawsuits alleging they violated the privacy of their customers by helping the government conduct a secret surveillance program without court warrants after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Oh, and thanks for nothing, Claire. Thanks for NOTHING.

The votes against are a roll call of those who had the courage to fight for the Constitution:

NAYs ---28
Akaka (D-HI)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murray (D-WA)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Wyden (D-OR)

Senators Obama and Webb, thanks for nothing as well. Today would have been a good day to step up for a lot of Democrats, but they failed us.

Another can of worms? Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. will submit new offers for a disputed $35 billion Air Force tanker contract, and the Pentagon will pick a winner by the end of the year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that his office - not the Air Force - will oversee the competition between Boeing and the team of Northrop and Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. The plan, which hands control to Pentagon acquisition chief John Young and sets up a dedicated source-selection committee, is the latest illustration of senior Defense Department civilians lack of confidence in the Air Force's ability to manage the contract. Many lawmakers embraced the action, but analysts questioned the Pentagon's aggressive timetable. The Government Accountability Office last month detailed "significant errors" the Air Force made in the original award to the Northrop team. The GAO said Chicago-based Boeing, which protested the deal, might have won had the service not made mistakes in evaluating the bids. The Pentagon now will conduct a limited rebid that looks only at eight issues where government auditors found problems in the initial process, Gates said.

Why wouldn't a woman be able to do COIN? Spencer Ackerman's got an interesting piece in the Washington Independent about several leading female counterinsurgency theorists and practitioners. I know most of the women in the piece and think quite highly of them. Spencer's right that we'll likely see a number of them take top positions in the next Pentagon, at the State Department or on the next NSC staff -- regardless of who's elected in November. Spencer speculates about why women have done so well in the counterinsurgency community and correctly notes that they're competing for prominence in a male-dominated field, where it matters to many that you've served as a combat infantryman or have participated in special operations. Although many combat roles in the military have opened to women, most infantry and special operations jobs remain closed. And thus there are few opportunities for women to prove themselves on the frontlines, at least in the manner the defense establishment is used to. Times, though, are a changin'. A new generation of female military personnel is growing up, serving in combat with distinction -- as diplomats, helicopter pilots, civil affairs officers, engineers, logisticians, military police, and in many other roles. More than 100,000 women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan as military, civilian or contractor personnel.

Sweeps ensnare virtually everyone in China: Employing upward of 200,000 closed-circuit television cameras and reviving the use of neighborhood watch committees, [Chinese] authorities have their sights on foreigners with lapsed visas, property activists, petitioners, beggars, prostitutes, street vendors or anyone else who might give Beijing an unsanitary appearance or dare to raise a voice of protest as the world tunes into the Olympics.

Wear your helmet if you're going to get a noogie from Colonel Paschal: For the past 11 months Col. David Paschal has back-slapped, noogied and high-fived his soldiers. He's been kissed on both cheeks by local Iraqis, and he's upbraided or atta-boyed his counterparts in the Iraqi army and police. He's sent his gunfighters after the "bad guys." He's balanced that with a reconciliation program for about 350 former insurgents, a six-step process that's becoming something of a model for other provinces. Paschal, 46, a Chicago native, is the senior U.S. military officer in Kirkuk, a city of 800,000 some 155 miles northeast of Baghdad. He commands a brigade in the 10th Mountain Division, an Army division whose units have been sent overseas more than any other in the past 20 years. Kurds dominate the province, but there are Sunni Muslim Arabs, Turkmens, Chaldean Christians and others here too. Part of his job has been to coax Sunni Arabs who'd boycotted politics for several months back into the government. The approach of Colonel Paschal is classic COIN--winning back the hearts and minds of the people through an approach that has proven successful. The reconcilliation program he is using is the reason why violence has dropped--not the surge.

Peacekeepers in Sudan killed: Hundreds of heavily armed fighters riding horses and SUVs launched a brazen attack on a U.N.-African Union patrol in Darfur, killing seven peacekeepers and wounding nearly a dozen others, the U.N. said Wednesday. The ambush was the deadliest attack on the international mission since it deployed this year and highlighted the vulnerability of the short-staffed and under-equipped force. About 200 gunmen on horseback and in SUVs mounted with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons exchanged gunfire for more than two hours on Tuesday with the peacekeeping force that included 61 soldiers from Rwanda, the U.N. said. Five Rwandan soldiers and two police officers, one from Ghana, the other from Uganda, were killed. Twenty-two peacekeepers were wounded, including at seven who were in serious condition, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's said.

Find him and nail him: The Simon Wiesenthal Center has strong evidence that a former SS member known as "Dr. Death" is in southern Chile or Argentina, a top Nazi hunter for the human rights organization said Tuesday. Efraim Zuroff, the center's director in Israel, will fly Wednesday to the southern Chilean city of Puerto Montt, where SS doctor Aribert Heim's daughter has lived for years. Zuroff and center Latin America director Sergio Widder will then travel to Bariloche across the Andes in Argentina on Friday. Searchers think he's alive, Zuroff said, because a bank account with euro1.2 million (US$1.6 million) and other investments in Heim's name in Berlin have not been claimed by Heim's children. To do that, they would have to produce proof that Heim was dead.

Standing ovation: Senator Edward M. Kennedy returned to the Senate on Wednesday for the first time since being sidelined with cancer and was greeted by a bipartisan barrage of whoops, cheers and applause before savoring a legislative triumph. The starchy formality of the Senate floor dissolved as Mr. Kennedy, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, arrived to cast his vote on an important Medicare bill. The senator’s presence was considered crucial, since 60 votes were required to advance the measure. “Aye,” Mr. Kennedy said, flashing a thumbs-up when the clerk called his name. He was one of 69 senators to vote in favor, meaning that the bill has now a veto-proof majority in both Houses.

Um, why the hell not? The Federal Trade Commission indicated Wednesday that it would leave it to data-mining Web companies and Internet marketers to decide how best to protect users' privacy. "Self-regulation may be the preferable approach for this dynamic marketplace," Lydia Parnes, the director of the commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told a Senate committee. The FTC's decision not to step in — even as Microsoft and Google representatives testified that some regulation would be helpful — means that Washington won't address the matter before a new administration and Congress take office in January. At issue is what privacy rights consumers have when data-mining companies use their Web browsing patterns to target them for ads. It's a gold mine for online advertising and Internet marketing, but consumer and e-privacy groups say it's intrusive. NebuAd, a media company based in Redwood City, Calif., has been in the hot seat for partnering with Internet service providers to deliver personalized ads to users' computer screens. The company's chief executive officer, Bob Dykes, told the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that there's no privacy lost in the process. "Self-regulation" is what? A euphemism for anything goes? How does anyone think that's going to play out?

The West is a tinderbox, ready to burn: Firefighting reinforcements began flooding into Butte County Wednesday to battle a 49,000-acre blaze that officials say is now the state's top priority among the more than 300 burning across California. An additional 500 firefighters arrived, bringing to 2,773 the number on hand to battle the blazes, which already have destroyed 40 to 50 homes and are threatening countless others in Paradise, Magalia and other, smaller communities. Earlier, fire officials ordered the evacuation of another 1,000 homes over fears that flames could reach them, bringing to 4,800 the total number of homes evacuated since fires erupted out of control near here Tuesday morning. The latest evacuations were ordered between the town of Deadwood and across Highway 70 to the shores of Lake Oroville. By Wednesday afternoon, firefighters were evacuating much of Yankee Hill and surrounding areas near Deadwood Road. Those communities sit just south of Concow, where most homes burned Tuesday.

Courage looks like this: L.F. Eason III gave up the only job he'd ever had rather than lower a flag to honor former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. Eason, a 29-year veteran of the state Department of Agriculture, instructed his staff at a small Raleigh lab not to fly the U.S. or North Carolina flags at half-staff Monday, as called for in a directive to all state agencies by Gov. Mike Easley. When a superior ordered the lab to follow the directive, Eason decided to retire rather than pay tribute to Helms. After several hours' delay, one of Eason's employees hung the flags at half-staff. The brouhaha began late Sunday night, when Eason e-mailed eight of his employees in the state standards lab, which calibrates measuring equipment used on things as widely varied as gasoline and hamburgers. "Regardless of any executive proclamation, I do not want the flags at the North Carolina Standards Laboratory flown at half staff to honor Jesse Helms any time this week," Eason wrote just after midnight, according to e-mail messages released in response to a public records request. So just who was the supervisor? We sure would like to know.

This is what we've been talking about--times are much tougher than the media or McCain or the Washington DC insiders are capable of admitting: Every Wednesday night, Bruce Johnson dutifully puts his garbage and recycling on the curb for pickup, and every week he fumes as small trucks idle in front of his home and strangers dig through his bins stealing trash they aim to turn into treasure. Glass breaks, paper flies - the loot's gone hours before the waste company even arrives. "They're like an army out there," said Johnson. "They're in trucks. They're on cell phones. It's a business." With prices for aluminum, cardboard and newsprint going up and an economic slowdown putting added pressure on people's pocketbooks, curbside refuse has become a hot commodity. A truck piled high with mixed recyclables can fetch upward of $1,000; newspapers alone can grab about $600. "These guys are becoming much more organized and much more prevalent," said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems Inc., a garbage and recycling company in San Francisco and other cities throughout Northern California. "This has nothing to do with the lone homeless man picking up cans. We're seeing organized fleets of professional poachers with trucks." The issue has caught the attention of state and local officials, who are seeking more stringent regulations to curb theft, saying lost revenue threatens the financial viability of their recycling programs. That's right--local governments need income from recycling and if the poachers are taking all of the good stuff, the ability of those entities to keep picking up recyclables plummets.

No comments: