Thursday, May 15, 2008

Overnight - A roundup of news items that you might have missed

The Polar bears are starving: ...the Interior Department HAS RULED that Polar Bears will be added to the Endangered Species List. There are an estimated 20,000 - 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic region, but environmentalists warn that rising temperatures and disappearing sea ice will cause a 30 percent decline in their population over the next 50 years. "We are now beginning to see declines in a number of populations of polar bears, and that's because of global warming," says John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation. "Effectively, the polar bears are starving."

More signs that the newspaper business is heading for hard times: Veteran Washington Post political columnist David Broder is going to take a buyout from the paper. As of Jan 1, 2009, he will become a contract employee of the Post. Here's a note sent to Broder's column clients this morning, obtained by Politico. The column you have been running will not change at all, and you will continue to receive it from The Washington Post Writers Group. I will continue to write from the same office in the Post newsroom and will continue to travel the country to wherever politics is happening. You will find me at the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer and on the campaign trail this fall, just as I have been this winter and spring. This isn't too surprising, considering the 78-year-old Broder has been at the paper since 1965. And the move comes while there's uncertainty as to whether executive editor Len Downie will remain...

Beer and liquor face off on the issue of what to put on product nutritional labels: The high-stakes lobbying campaign has pitted the liquor industry against beer makers, and each side has roped in a plethora of public health activists and members of Congress, as well as some of K Street’s most powerful hired guns. For the two competing segments of the alcohol industry, the labeling decision could give one side or the other a significant marketing edge. The regulatory duel revolves around a seemingly narrow issue: whether the nutritional labels being prepared for alcoholic beverage containers should list alcohol by serving size — in effect pointing out that one serving of spirits has the same alcohol content as a beer. That initiative, promoted by the liquor industry, has the beer lobby livid. It argues that liquor is normally consumed in amounts much larger than the official serving size of 1.5 ounces. “The products are not the same in the way they are actually consumed,” said Art DeCelle, chief counsel for the Beer Institute. The assumption that consumers will drink only a standard shot “is not real life,” he said. The beer industry wants the alcohol information to be displayed only as a percentage by volume, the way it is currently listed on spirits. Listing alcohol content relative to serving size is misleading, he said.

Much-needed cyber defense hub created: Seven Nato nations have backed a new cyber [defense center] in Estonia, which last year blamed Russia for weeks of attacks on its internet structure. Germany, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy and Spain will staff and fund the hub in the Estonian capital Tallinn. Estonia came under cyber attack in 2007 after its decision to remove the bronze statue of a Red Army soldier from the centre of Tallinn. Moscow denied involvement in the flood of data which crashed computers. "We have seen in Estonia that a cyber attack can swiftly become an issue of national security," Nato spokesman James Appathurai said after a signing ceremony in Brussels.

Farm Bill sent to the Senate: The House on Wednesday emphatically approved a massive five-year farm bill by a veto-proof margin, setting up President Bush for a major political embarrassment. Brushing off Bush's opposition, many Republicans joined a majority of Democrats in approving the farm bill 318-106. This is well over the two-thirds vote needed to override Bush's promised veto. "We've solved a lot of problems in this bill," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. "We have a bill that covers all of the interests in the country." The Senate is expected to approve the legislation by a similarly commanding margin as early as Thursday morning. If the farm bill support holds, as lawmakers expect, Congress is on track to hand Bush the second veto override of his presidency. In an election year, even GOP lawmakers stressed Wednesday that they cared more about their rural voters than about Bush's declining clout. "I agree that this farm bill is very far from perfect," said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, a senior Republican member of the powerful House Rules Committee, "but like many of my colleagues in the House, I must weigh the bill by its impact on my constituents." ...More than two-thirds of the first five years' total spending is devoted to nutrition and food stamps, which the bill renames the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Most political attention, though, has targeted the agricultural payments that are the bill's true foundation.

Italian trial for CIA operatives continues: An Italian judge ruled Wednesday that Premier Silvio Berlusconi will be called to testify in the trial of 26 Americans and several Italians charged with kidnapping a terror suspect during a CIA operation. Judge Oscar Magi approved the defense request as the case resumed. Magi also ruled that former Premier Romano Prodi will be called to testify. Berlusconi, who has just been re-elected to another term, is considered a key witness because he was premier when Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr disappeared in February 2003. Nasr's wife wept Wednesday as she described her husband's alleged torture in an Egyptian jail as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. Heavily veiled and speaking through a translator, Ghali Nabila testified in the trial of 26 Americans charged in Italy with kidnapping in February 2003. "They put him on a cross, they beat him on the ears and all over his body," she told the court, citing a letter from her husband and conversations with him. "They positioned him on a chair, tied up his hands and his feet," she said before breaking into tears. "And they gave him electrical shock all over his body, even his genitals." Nabila, 39, said the torture continued over 14 months.

Medved channels Steve Sailer: PZ Myers - Did someone declare this National Flaming Racist Idiot week, and I just didn't notice until now? You have got to read Michael Medved's latest foray into pseudoscience: he has declared American superiority to be genetic, encoded in our good old American DNA. Because our ancestors were immigrants, who were risk-takers, who were selected for their energy and aggressiveness. Oh, except for those who are descended from slaves. The idea of a distinctive, unifying, risk-taking American DNA might also help to explain our most persistent and painful racial divide - between the progeny of every immigrant nationality that chose to come here, and the one significant group that exercised no choice in making their journey to the U.S. Nothing in the horrific ordeal of African slaves, seized from their homes against their will, reflected a genetic predisposition to risk-taking, or any sort of self-selection based on personality traits. But, he hastens to add, modern African-American genetics have been leavened with the genes of recent, self-selected immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa, so their unfortunate stay-at-home genes have a "less decisive influence". As is usual for Medved, a dullard incapable of any kind of thought beyond the superficial, he doesn't think his thesis through. Wouldn't this imply that Moslem immigrants to Europe, with their risk-taking willingness to move to new environments, are their true hope for the future? That the old blue-bloods of this country are less fit than, say, the Nisei? And if the descendants of African slaves are not successful go-getters because their arrival was coerced, what about the immigrants who were fleeing religious persecution, or all the Americans who are descended from indentured servants?

Myanmar update: The Red Cross estimated Wednesday that the cyclone death toll in Myanmar could be as high as 128,000 - a much higher figure than the government tally. The U.N. warned a second wave of deaths will follow unless the military regime lets in more aid quickly. The grim forecast came as heavy rains drenched the devastated Irrawaddy River delta, disrupting aid operations already struggling to reach up to 2.5 million people in urgent need of food, water and shelter. "Another couple of days exposed to those conditions can only lead to worsening health conditions and compound the stress people are living in," said Shantha Bloemen, a spokeswoman for UNICEF. A tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal added new worries, but late in the day forecasters said it was weakening and unlikely to grow into a cyclone. Myanmar's government issued a revised casualty toll Wednesday night, saying 38,491 were known dead and 27,838 were missing.

The McCain Media Mancrush begins to fade as THIS story seems to be everywhere: Cindy McCain, whose husband has been a critic of the violence in Sudan, sold off more than $2 million in mutual funds whose holdings include companies that do business in the African nation. The sale on Wednesday came after The Associated Press questioned the investments in light of calls by John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, for international financial sanctions against the Sudanese leadership. McCain, who was campaigning in Ohio, said neither he nor his wife were aware of the Sudan-related holdings. Last year, at least four presidential candidates divested themselves of similar holdings involving companies doing business in Sudan. According to McCain's personal financial disclosure, Cindy McCain's investments include two mutual funds - American Funds Europacific Growth fund and American Funds Capital World Growth and Income fund - that are listed by the Sudan Divestment Task Force as targets for divestment. BUT, still no word on those tax returns.