Monday, July 28, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Some legacy...The U.S. budget deficit will widen to a record of about $490 billion next year, an administration official said, leaving a deep budget hole that will constrain the next president's tax and spending plans. The projected deficit for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 is higher than the $407 billion forecast by President George W. Bush in February. The bigger shortfall reflects dwindling tax receipts because of the U.S. economic slowdown, the cost of a $168 billion economic stimulus package and spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ``We've already seen a pretty sharp cooling in tax receipts, and it's just going to continue into next fiscal year,'' Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Capital Markets, said in a telephone interview. The deficit projection will burden either Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, the presumptive presidential nominees of the major political parties, with a constricted budget that has little room for cutting taxes or increasing spending. The next president also will inherit the deepest housing recession in a generation, fears of a crisis in the banking industry, a falling dollar and high energy prices. Bloomberg is hilarious, by the way--McCain won't be "burdened" by something he doesn't understand, and that is, the deficit. He's a Reagan man, and deficits don't matter, you see, and besides--Dick Cheney will simply wave his hand and make it all disappear.

If things are so great, why are the recruiters having to stoop to threats?...Irving Gonzalez signed a non-binding contract that left him free to change his mind about joining the Army up to the moment he reported for basic training - which is exactly what he did. "I'd rather just stay here," he said. "Go to college." But listen to what his recruiter, Sgt. Glenn Marquette, told him would happen. "As soon as you get pulled over for a speeding ticket, they're gonna see you're a deserter. They're gonna apprehend you, take you to jail. So guess what, all that lovey-dovey 'I wanna go to college' and all that? Guess what? You just threw it out the window 'cause you just screwed your life," Marquette said on tape. Not only is none of that true, but it also violates regulations that prohibit the threatening of potential recruits. Seventeen-year-old Eric Martinez says he was told the same thing when he changed his mind. "You can go to jail, put out a warrant for you and spend your time in jail instead of in the Army," he said they told him. Scratch one recruiter--and let's hope he gets a relief for cause NCOER for that crap.

The numbers swell--and this means we have a crisis on our hands: More than 55,000 people - including about 22,000 who identified themselves as veterans - have called the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide hotline during its first year in operation and CBS News has learned that many of the calls, in recent months, have come from the mid to south central part of the country. According to the VA’s own count, during a three month time period between March and May of this year, the regions where the highest number of calls originated include the states of Texas, Tennessee, Illinois and Florida among other surrounding areas. (California and Florida have the nation's largest veteran populations.) Other data, obtained by CBS News, shows that during the first six months of the hotline’s operation, the state of Texas had more callers than any other state with 2,102 out of 21,439 calls. California came in second with 2,088 calls, then Florida (1,250 calls) and Massachusetts (1,051 calls.) As demonstrated though, you cannot trust the VA to self-regulate or self-identify anything accurately. We need oversight and compliance and we need to have a massive effort to reach out to Veterans in need.

Negotiations stop in Zimbabwe: Power-sharing talks between Zimbabwe's opposition and negotiators for President Robert Mugabe broke off on Monday and the longtime leader's representatives flew home, two officials close to the talks said. One of them, in Zimbabwe, said the two negotiators - Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche - might be going home to consult Mugabe about their mandate. He said it was not clear whether the talks were in recess or had broken down. All the officials insisted on anonymity because the parties agreed to a media blackout during the talks in South Africa. A third official in Zimbabwe said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai left Zimbabwe Monday and was driving to the South African capital, Pretoria, to consult with his negotiators. The talks between Zimbabwe's ruling and opposition parties began Thursday. One of the officials said the talks stalled over Mugabe's insistence that he remain president.

Every time someone says the war is over and won, this shit happens. Shut up already! Three suicide bombers and a roadside bomb struck Shiite pilgrims taking part in a massive religious procession in Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 28 people and wounding 92, police said. The attacks occurred in quick succession as tens of thousands of Shiite worshippers streamed toward a shrine in northern Baghdad for an annual event marking the death of an eighth-century saint. The event climaxes on Tuesday. Meanwhile, officials said at least 15 people had been killed and 54 wounded when a suicide bomber struck a Kurdish rally in the disputed city of Kirkuk in Iraq's north. Police and hospital officials said the attack occurred as demonstrators gathered to protest a draft provincial elections law that is being debated in parliament. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

Yeah--shut up already! The Environmental Protection Agency is warning its pollution enforcement officials not to talk directly to congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail provided to The Associated Press. The June 16 e-mail tells 11 managers in the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the branch of the agency charged with making sure environmental laws are followed, to remind staff to keep quiet. "If you are contacted directly by the IG's office or GAO requesting information of any kind ... please do not respond to questions or make any statements," reads the e-mail sent by Robbi Farrell, the division's chief of staff. Instead, staff should forward inquires to a designated representative. Here's to the whistle blowers--hopefully, someone will start talking soon. The head of the EPA needs to go, by the way--Stephen Johnson is a disgrace.

Fighting terrorism with one hand tied behind your back means having to kiss Musharraf's ass--and here's to a whole lot less of that: A U.S. missile strike that's believed to have killed a senior al Qaida operative in Pakistan's tribal area roiled talks Monday between President Bush and Pakistani Prime Minister Sayed Yousaf Gilani, who reproached Bush for acting unilaterally and failing to share intelligence with Pakistani authorities. A U.S. official defended the missile strike as a message that Washington will no longer abide Pakistan's failure to deny al Qaida and the Taliban refuge at a time of surging cross-border attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. "If they (Pakistan) aren't doing anything, then we are," said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly. Pakistan, however, considers U.S. strikes on its territory violations of its sovereignty and interference in its internal affairs. Gilani, appearing on CNN, said he told Bush, "This action should not be taken by the United States" and, "It's our job because we are fighting the war for ourselves."

More companies should do this--and a tax break for doing so wouldn't be unreasonable public policy, either: While other companies are shying away from the considerable costs involved, Coca-Cola announced Monday it is rolling out 10 heavy-duty hybrid trucks in South Florida, part of a national campaign to put 142 of these so-called green trucks on the road in North America in the next several weeks. Many companies — from utilities to architectural firms — are rushing to jump on the green bandwagon, and the soft-drink industry is no exception. Coke's new trucks are estimated to lower fuel consumption by 37 percent and emissions by 32 percent — solid figures to impress the growing number of people who are demanding a reduction in greenhouse gases. But heavy-duty hybrid trucks aren't cheap. Coca-Cola estimates the special engines add about $35,000 to the cost, making the total about $85,000 per truck.

No, extracting oil from oil shale isn't exactly the best option: Oil shale in the American West might contain three times the oil of Saudi Arabia, but getting it out of the ground would require much more energy than drilling for conventional oil does, and the result would be more greenhouse-gas emissions. Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced proposed regulations last week to start a commercial oil-shale program on public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. He said that with gasoline around $4 a gallon, "we need to be doing more to develop our own energy here at home, through resources such as oil shale." President Bush started speaking about the prospects for oil shale in June, when he said that Congress shouldn't block regulations that would allow exploration to proceed. Congress last year blocked final regulations through September. Bush "wasn't speaking to emissions. He was just talking about expanding more American energy," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. The amount of emissions would depend on what kinds of energy are used to obtain fuel from the shale, he said. Whatever, dude. Finding a cleaner way to use that stuff--hey, subsidize that, too.

This explains so goddamned much, I can't think straight right now contemplating how accurate this really is: A milder type of mental decline that often precedes Alzheimer's disease is alarmingly more common than has been believed, and in men more than women, doctors reported Monday. Nearly a million older Americans slide from normal memory into mild impairment each year, researchers estimate, based on a Mayo Clinic study of Minnesota residents. That's on top of the half million Americans who develop full-blown Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia - a problem sure to grow as baby boomers age. The oldest boomers turn 62 this year. "We're seeing that in fact there's a much larger burgeoning problem out there" of people at risk of developing dementia, said Dr. Ronald Petersen, the Mayo scientist who led the study.

When we see posts and bloggers like this, we know we're in good company and we strive to be better: For some reason, every time we hear about an incident like this, and a skipper gets replaced, it leaves a bad taste in our mouth. The skipper of the dock landing ship Pearl Harbor was fired Sunday after running aground July 21 while in the Persian Gulf, according to the Navy.
Cmdr. Xavier F. Valverde, a Bronze Star recipient who started his career as an enlisted sailor, was relieved by Rear Adm. Kendall Card, commander of the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group.

“Following a preliminary inquiry after a recent grounding incident in the Arabian Gulf, Rear Adm. Card expressed his loss of confidence in Valverde’s ability to command,” said a statement released by Naval Surface Forces in Coronado, Calif. “No injuries or damage occurred as a result of the incident.”

Last year every time a ship ran aground, a CO was replaced, it was like clockwork. While it is entirely possible that the CO did something worth being replaced (in every situation), and we just don't have all the details, we keep thinking this policy carries with it mixed signals that may not be good for the Navy.

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