Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Arrest made in slaying of Fort Bragg soldier: Police arrested a soldier Tuesday evening in the death of a Fort Bragg soldier who was found in a Fayetteville motel room over a month ago, Fayetteville police Chief Tom Bergamine said. Edgar Patino, 27, of 374 Lairgate Lane in Hope Mills, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Spc. Megan Touma, police said. They withheld details about how he knew Touma. Patino was being held Tuesday evening in the Cumberland County Jail without bond. Police were releasing few details about him, saying they planned a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. Touma's body was found at the Fairfield Inn at Cross Creek Mall on June 21 after a motel employee responded to guests' complaints about an odor coming from Touma's room. Her body was discovered in the bathtub, and police said she had been there for a few days. A "Do Not Disturb" sign had been hung outside the door since Touma checked in on June 17, so no motel employee had entered the room during that time, police said.

Good for the stock market, good for you? Wall Street shot higher Tuesday, gaining back the previous session's sharp losses and then some, after a drop in oil prices and a rise in consumer confidence gave investors some hope for a letup in Americans' financial woes. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 266 points. Crude oil prices sank $2.54 to $122.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, extending their two-week-long retreat from record highs above $147. The prospect of lower energy costs for U.S. consumers, along with a modest uptick in the Conference Board's July index of consumer confidence to 51.9 from 51 in June, came as welcome news. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. "The thinking is that oil prices are heading lower, and that's obviously a positive for the market," said Richard E. Cripps, chief market strategist for Stifel Nicolaus. The American consumer is driving this, by not driving. As Americans stop driving, the price of gas will drop. Will it last?

The South American balloon priests' body was found: Authorities say DNA from a body found earlier this month off Brazil's coast matches a priest who disappeared while flying over the Atlantic attached to hundreds of brightly colored party balloons. Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli set off from the Brazilian port city of Paranagua on April 20 strapped to 1,000 helium-filled balloons in an attempt to raise money to build a rest stop and worship center for truckers. When de Carli, took off that fateful day he was wearing a helmet, aluminum thermal flight suit, water proof coveralls and parachute and was seeking to break a record for the longest time in-flight with party balloons. The experienced skydiver, who had survival and wilderness training, was also carrying a GPS tracker and a radio so he could report his position to the Brazilian Navy and air traffic control. He planned to use the money raised in his attempt to break the 19-hour record to fund a "spiritual" rest stop in Paranagua, home to Brazil's largest grain port.

Short term loans are just another way to prey on people who are desperate: Today there are 24,000 payday lending stores in America - more than Starbucks and McDonald's combined. They provide 19 million American households a quick way to make ends meet. "Please borrow only what you feel comfortable paying back," says a video by the lending industry. A typical customer takes out about eight payday loans a year - in essence, an advance on their paycheck - with rates as high as 20 percent, Keteyian reports. For lower- and middle-class families with few financial options, such loans - even at that price - are a godsend. It's time to regulate and stop these "stores." which are selling nothing more than bullshit.

Crossing a grim threshold: Nearly twice as many U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq so far this month, marking the lowest death toll of any month since the U.S. invaded Iraq and putting July on course to be the first month in which the American military suffered more casualties in Afghanistan than in Iraq. As of Tuesday, 11 U.S. service members had been killed in Iraq and 20 in Afghanistan in July, according to icasualties.org, which tracks coalition casualties in both wars. If the July statistics hold for the next two days, they'll mark the lowest American military death toll in Iraq since February 2004, when 20 service members were killed, and the second highest toll in Afghanistan, after June, when 27 U.S. troops were killed there and 29 Americans were killed in Iraq. In all, 29 NATO and U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan this month. The American military is debating shifting more troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and expanding its counterinsurgency strategy there. Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the military can't send more troops to Afghanistan unless it draws down more in Iraq, despite the surge of violence around Kabul and southern Afghanistan.

Using "green" to defraud: State regulators Tuesday terminated a Florida Power & Light voluntary green energy program because three-fourths of the money customers were donating went to marketing and administrative costs, not to the purchase of energy from renewable sources. By a unanimous vote, the Public Service Commission ended FPL's Sunshine Energy Program in which 39,000 customers have voluntarily added $9.75 to their monthly electric bill so that FPL could purchase renewable energy. FPL in turn contracted with a Texas company, Green Mountain Energy, to carry out the program. PSC staff have been trying for months to find out where the money went, but all it could learn was that only 24 percent was going to purchase renewable energy. Commissioner Nathan Skop, who once worked for an FPL sister company promoting renewables, said about $9 million in customers' money had gone "into a black hole where there is no transparency. . . . Clearly this is not right.'' Skop said the program was "a lot of marketing hype but very little of substance.''

Fires: A fire charring forest land west of Yosemite National Forest and threatening communities in Mariposa County continues to spread fast. The Telegraph fire, which is burning in the Merced River Drainage on both sides of the river, has scorched 29,600 acres and remains only 10 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire is burning with "a rapid rate of spread in multiple directions" in steep, rocky terrain that is challenging firefighters, Cal Fire states. Erratic fire behavior also is attributed to plentiful fuel provided by vegetation in an area that has not burned in 100 years. and Earthquakes: The strongest earthquake to strike a populated area of Southern California since the 1994 Northridge quake rocked the region from Los Angeles to San Diego on Tuesday but caused only limited damage and a few injuries. Strongly felt but considered moderate, the magnitude-5.4 jolt struck at 11:42 a.m. and centered 29 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles near the San Bernardino County city of Chino Hills. It was felt as far east as Las Vegas.

Tragedy: The commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base died of what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sunday night, Air Force Col. Richard Walberg said Monday. Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley, 45, appears to have shot himself in the chest with a handgun in his base house, Walberg said. It was unclear whether the shot was an accident or a suicide. He did not leave a note, Walberg said. His wife and daughter were home at the time.

Duh...they never should have been awarded the Olympics in the first place: China has failed to improve its human rights record in the run-up to next month's Olympics, with the government intensifying its crackdown on activists in recent years, Amnesty International charged in a report released Tuesday. The report entitled "The Olympics Countdown - Broken Promises," which accuses Chinese authorities of "tarnishing the legacy of the Games," came as the International Olympic Committee clarified that many Web sites will be blocked under controls applied by the communist government. The clarification followed months of promises to journalists that China would allow unfettered access to the Internet during the Olympics, which begin Aug. 8. Amnesty said that the Games, touted by Chinese and Olympic officials alike as a way to help expand freedoms in the authoritarian country, have instead led the government to muzzle critics in hopes of presenting an image of harmony and stability to the outside world. I'm telling you right now--the first Chinese athelete who flubs and blows their chance at a gold medal is going to be pilloried and abused in spectacular fashion before they can towel themselves off...

Really? But aren't they all up on our side? A top Central Intelligence Agency official traveled secretly to Islamabad this month to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to American military and intelligence officials. The C.I.A. emissary presented evidence showing that members of the spy service had deepened their ties with some militant groups that were responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the officials said. The decision to confront Pakistan with what the officials described as a new C.I.A. assessment of the spy service’s activities seemed to be the bluntest American warning to Pakistan since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks about the ties between the spy service and Islamic militants.

Interesting...Due to a "scheduling problem," PolitickerMD.com has learned that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will not attend tomorrow night's Unity '08 Fundraiser for the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee as previously planned. The State Democratic Party learned of Kaine's cancellation earlier today. Kaine's appearance at the Baltimore event was announced on July 11, just as speculation over his vice presidential prospects were ramping up. Some believed he would be in a secret meeting with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama earlier today, but Kaine has insisted otherwise.

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