Friday, May 16, 2008

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

Gay Marriage Ban Overturned in California: The California Supreme Court has overturned a ban on gay marriage, paving the way for California to become the second state where gay and lesbian residents can marry. The case involved a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn a voter-approved law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The court in a 4-3 ruling issued the long-awaited decision on its Web site, saying that domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, reports CBS affiliate KPIX in San Francisco. The opinion was written by Chief Justice Ron George.

Hezbollah Gains Concessions: Hezbollah will "return things" to normal in Lebanon after the government reversed key decisions that had triggered days of bloody conflict, the militant group's deputy leader said Thursday. The comments by Sheik Naim Kassem came after a meeting between Hezbollah representatives and a high-powered Arab delegation that is in the country trying to find a solution to Lebanon's worst crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. "The Cabinet's reversal of the two decisions is a natural step to return things to the way they were before the two decisions," Kassem said. "We want a political settlement that will lead, in the end, to there being no victor and no vanquished."

Home Foreclosures Continue to Rise: More U.S. homeowners fell behind on mortgage payments last month, driving the number of homes facing foreclosure up 65 percent versus the same month last year and contributing to a deepening slide in home values, a research company said Tuesday. Nationwide, 243,353 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in April, up 65 percent from 147,708 in the same month last year and up 4 percent since March, RealtyTrac Inc. said. Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida were among the hardest hit states, with metropolitan areas in California and Florida accounting for nine of the top 10 areas with the highest rate of foreclosure, the company said.

Oil pipeline disaster in Nigeria: At least 100 people have been killed in an oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, the local Red Cross says. The explosion tore through the Ijegun suburb, engulfing schools and homes after a bulldozer burst the pipeline, reports Reuters news agency.

Changes in the Kremlin: There are many familiar faces in the new cabinet of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, yet his appointment of two former Kremlin aides suggests he wants to strengthen his powers at the expense of the new presidency. There has been a generally good reception of the new government from business and diplomatic circles. Igor Sechin was the deputy chief of Vladimir Putin's presidential administration. He was an enforcer, who also chaired Russia's biggest state oil company, Rosneft, at the time when it controversially absorbed the Yukos empire. Yukos was broken up and its billionaire boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky jailed. Mr Sechin has been seen as something of a grey cardinal, opposed to the eventual nomination of Dmitry Medvedev as former President Putin's chosen successor. His new post - deputy prime minister - is a minor demotion. Along with the removal of two of Mr Putin's closest allies - the former justice minister, and the head of the domestic security service - Mr Sechin's move suggests Mr Putin may be starting a process of mutual distancing from the hardest of the hardliners.

The price of tortillas, a staple food in Mexico, are set to rise 18% in the next few weeks, an industry group says. Thousands of people protested against tortilla price rises in Mexico last year and they have become a big political issue. The National Chamber for the Tortilla and Dough Industry told Reuters that prices would rise from 8.5 pesos (est $.82) a kilo now to 10 pesos in June.

West Virginia faculty demands University President resign: The West Virginia University faculty demanded on Wednesday that the president of the university, Mike Garrison, quit over the awarding of a degree to Gov. Joe Manchin III’s daughter, the second call for his resignation in 10 days. The nonbinding resolution, was approved, 565 to 39, at a meeting for all faculty members. Last week, the 114-member Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to demand that Mr. Garrison resign. Mr. Garrison has refused, and Mr. Manchin and the university board of governors, appointed by the governor, have continued to support him. “W.V.U. cannot recover from this crisis under the leadership that created it,” Prof. Boyd Edwards said at the University Assembly, which had not met since 1977. In a statement, Mr. Garrison restated his intention to remain, adding, “I am dismayed that it happened under my administration, and I’m committed to making sure nothing of this sort happens here again.” In April, an independent panel found that the university gave Mr. Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch, an executive M.B.A. degree that she had not earned.

A hundred years or 2013, whichever comes first
Speaking to an audience in Ohio today, McCain gazed into his crystal ball and waxed poetic about 2013, and the end of his first term and how the troops are home, Iraq is a democracy and violence only happens in occasional, rather than daily, bursts (pardon the pun). Not a peep about how any of this would be achieved, of course, but hey, details, shmetails. I haven't seen anyone else speculate about it, but his choice to back off of his hundred years of war might have had something to do with the state where he was speaking. Ohio, you might remember, was home to the 19 Marine Reservists who died in the first days of August in 2005 - 14 were lost in a single attack, blown up in an amphibious landing craft with a top speed of about 20 miles per hour, and a flat bottom to really get the most out of an explosive impact...I doubt the people of Ohio, who have suffered greatly the folly of the decision made by other people to invade and occupy Iraq, are much interested in hearing about a hundred years of war if those spasms of violence are going to keep killing Ohio's children. Look at it this way - If I remember that horrible August so vividly, do you think that the good people of Ohio have let it slip from memory? With Memorial Day fast approaching? No way in hell.

File this under the fact that blind pigs score the occasional acorn Chris Matthews had roast wingnut for dinner tonight. He called right-wing radio screecher Kevin James out, took him down and wouldn't let him up. It would have been embarrassing, except the dillweed didn't know enough to STFU and kept yelling "he was an appeaser!" to Matthews insistent question "what did Chamberlain do?" After the guy hangs himself, Matthews explains the difference between talking and appeasing. Go, Tweety! I'm not letting you out of the box just yet, but I'll say "good on ya" when it's deserved. So...Good on ya, Tweetster! (Transcript and video at the link.)

Senate Passes Farm Bill with an overwhelming, veto-proof majority. The house earlier passed it with similar margins, and now it goes to the president for his expected, but futile, veto. The bill includes a $10.3 billion increase in spending on nutrition programs, including food stamps, that supporters called “historic,” as well as increases for rural development and land conservation programs.

Waltz with Bashir is going to be the film everyone talks about at Canne. It is an animated feature that brings to the screen the internal struggle of a middle age man who, as a young man participated in the slaughter of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982. The film doesn't yet have an American distributor, but look for that to change given the films message and the reaction of those who saw it at Canne.

McCain adviser forced out over conflict of interest
republican consultant Craig Shirley was asked to step down from his official role in the campaign on Thursday, following a story in asking questions about Shirley's dual role consulting for both the campaign and for an independent "527" group opposing the Democratic presidential candidates. The campaign also released a new conflict of interest policy barring such arrangements.