Saturday, May 17, 2008

Overnight - a roundup of news items you might have missed

Huckabee makes a funny: During a speech before the National Rifle Association convention Friday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — who has endorsed presumptive GOP nominee John McCain — joked that an unexpected offstage noise was Democrat Barack Obama looking to avoid a gunman. “That was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair, he's getting ready to speak,” said the former Arkansas governor, to audience laughter. “Somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.” HUCKABEE APOLIGIZES: "During my speech at the NRA a loud noise backstage, that sounded like a chair falling, distracted the crowd and interrupted my speech. I made an offhand remark that was in no way intended to offend or disparage Sen. Obama. I apologize that my comments were offensive, that was never my intention."

McCain's Media Mancrush extends to flip-flopping: A May 15 Associated Press article reported that Sen. John McCain "has worked with Democrats on legislation" such as "redrafting immigration rules and regulations" and that this work with Democrats "has cultivated a maverick image for McCain." But the AP did not note that McCain said on January 30 that he would no longer support his own comprehensive immigration reform bill if it came up for a vote in the Senate. Additionally, McCain has reversed himself on the issue of border security; he now says that "we've got to secure the borders first" -- a position at odds with his prior assertion that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective. McCain has also reversed his position on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, the 2007 version of which would have allowed certain illegal immigrants under age 30 who had entered the country before age 16 to remain in the United States and gain legal status if they attend college or join the military. Twelve Republican senators voted in favor of the 2007 version of the bill, which had two Republican co-sponsors.

In the wake of the suicides, comes this: Responding to the suicide of a Missouri teenager who was teased over the Internet, state lawmakers Friday gave final approval to a bill making cyber harassment illegal. The bill updates state laws against harassment to keep pace with technology by removing the requirement that the communication be written or over the telephone. Supporters say the bill will now cover harassment from computers, text messages and other electronic devices. It was approved 106-23 in the House and 34-0 in the Senate and now goes to the governor. Now, what idiot(s) in Missouri voted against it?

The United States "appeases" another dictator: The United States said Friday it has reached a deal with North Korea to provide more than 500,000 tons of food aid over the coming year to the closed-off communist nation. The Bush administration says the aid is unrelated to its nuclear disarmament deal with Pyongyang, although both have involved an unusual intensity of U.S. diplomacy with a nation President Bush once included as part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran. "We don't see any connection," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said of the food aid and disarmament talks. "We're doing this because America is a compassionate nation and the United States and the American people are people who reach out to those in need." The United States last provided food aid to North Korea in 2005. Further deliveries fell apart in a dispute over a U.S. demand for close oversight of how the aid would be distributed. The United States wants assurances the food won't be diverted or used improperly by the government of Kim Jong Il. And we call bullshit--this is what appeasement looks like, as defined by Bush.

Cheaters never prosper: A former Bethlehem woman will serve up to 23 months in prison for having her 7-year-old son dress as a Cub Scout to collect money for a nonexistent cause. Sally Ann Gombocz, 51, told a Northampton County judge she wanted to apologize to anyone she hurt. She previously pleaded guilty to theft by deception and corruption of a minor. Gombocz had her son dress as a scout in 2003 and tell people he was raising money for a camping trip. A prosecutor says the family collected $69. Gombocz was sentenced Friday to six to 23 months in the county jail. She also was fined $2,000, ordered to perform community service, take parenting classes, have psychological counseling and submit to random urine screens. She also must pay restitution.

We'll be happy to sit down with him: yesterday when Mr. McCain invited non-conservative bloggers to join his regular blogger conference call, just hours after he delivered a major speech previewing his war strategy and other priorities for a first presidential term. It already has started a war among liberal bloggers over how to react to Mr. McCain's overture. In answering the first question on the call, Mr. McCain said his likely Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, lacks the judgment to be commander in chief, which set him up for a bruising from the readers at, a liberal-leaning site that joined in the call. Blogger Greg Sargent said it amounted to "what may be [Mr. McCain's] most direct attack yet on Barack Obama's national security credentials." But commenters were split: Some took aim at Mr. McCain, some said they were thankful for the intelligence on "what the enemy is planning," and others lashed out at Mr. Sargent, saying he should have been harsher in evaluating Mr. McCain's attack.

Bush refusing to talk to the press? No question about it: President Bush hasn't given reporters a chance to ask him anything on this Mideast journey. On foreign trips, Bush often holds mini-news conferences with his hosts, during which two U.S. reporters and two local media representatives get to ask questions. Yet there is not a single such session on his agenda this time as Bush tackles Mideast peace and soaring oil prices in stops through Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. By comparison, Bush held four of these "press availabilities" in five days during a trip to Africa in February. These impromptu back-and-forths are not always announced like news conferences, but are fairly common. Through the first three days of his current five-day trip, he has not had one. White House press secretary Dana Perino said that may change over the last two days of the trip in Egypt. In fact, it would be a big surprise if it didn't.

Buh-bye, Hans: Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer who became a lightning rod for partisan wrangling over an alleged Bush administration voter suppression campaign, pulled his name from consideration for a seat on the Federal Election Commission Friday. Von Spakovsky's nomination had been stalled for months amid allegations that he interpreted laws in ways that would inhibit voting by poor, elderly and minority voters, who tend to back Democrats. His withdrawal could break an impasse that has all but disabled the FEC from functioning in a year of record presidential campaign fundraising. The commission has operated for months with just two of its six commissioners in place, two votes short of a quorum needed to take enforcement action. In a letter to President Bush, von Spakovsky noted that his nomination has been pending for 2 1/2 years, a process that has been ``extremely hard'' on his family. His two-year presidential recess appointment to the FEC expired last December.

More heartbreak in China as accountability begins In town after town in Sichuan province, shoddily built schools were among the first to tumble during this week’s huge quake, and officials Friday found themselves under tough questioning and vowing to punish anyone found responsible. Public finger-pointing has grown over what one newspaper columnist described as schools that “crumbled like houses of sand” during Monday’s quake, whichnow is expected to leave a death toll of 50,000 people. A senior official promised an investigation and possibly punishment if the schools were poorly built. “We cannot exclude the possibility of bad quality construction of the (school) buildings. We will deal strictly with related problems after investigation,” Jiang Weixin, minister of housing and urban-rural development, told a news briefing after returning from a tour of the quake zone. The state Xinhua news agency said 6,898 school buildings were among the 216,000 structures in Sichuan Province destroyed by the powerful quake.

Never forget that rabies is everywhere: A woman was attacked by a rabid fox in Virginia, being the second attack in under one week. The fox tested positive for rabies, Arlington public health officials confirmed. The fox was captured and killed by animal control officers. The woman was attacked on May 9 in the 5100 block of S. 12th Road in Arlington County. She is getting anti-rabies treatment. Days later, a Fredericksburg woman was mowing her lawn when she was attacked. The fox left behind multiple marks on her hands and several bites on both of her legs. A neighbor saw her laying on the ground and came to help her out. The Arlington County Public Health Division is working with the Arlington Animal Welfare League and local organizations to find out if any other people or animals may have been exposed. Arlington Public Health says rabies is endemic in the area and reminds residents to never approach or handle a wild animal.

How is this possible? Back in the day of chain gangs, Alabama passed a law that gave sheriffs $1.75 a day to feed each prisoner in their jails, and the sheriffs got to pocket anything that was left over. More than 80 years later, most Alabama counties still operate under this system, with the same $1.75-a-day allowance, and some sheriffs are actually making money on top of their salaries. But exactly how much is something of a mystery because state auditors do not have access to sheriffs' private accounts. How could anyone turn a profit feeding men and women for an entire day on less than the price of a Coke and a bag of Fritos? Sheriffs practice Depression-style frugality and rely on such things as day-old bread, cut-rate vegetables and cheap inmate labor. Critics charge that Alabama is, in effect, paying law enforcement to skimp on food and may be rewarding sheriffs for mistreating prisoners. "It's a bad system, and it ought not be that way," said Buddy Sharpless, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. A prisoner advocate said he constantly hears complaints about jail food. "Most of it is like powdered food, and the portions are minimal in the county jails," said the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, who visits Alabama jails to register prisoners to vote.

The Council on Foreign Relations on the US-Saudi relationship: Seventy-five years ago this month, California’s Standard Oil Company closed a deal with the finance minister of Saudi Arabia, a country the United States had only officially recognized two years earlier. The agreement granted the oil firm an exploration contract and initiated a multifaceted and sometimes thorny bilateral economic relationship. Today, oil still dominates U.S.-Saudi ties, which went on display May 16 when President Bush met Saudi’s King Abdullah. But the fairly straightforward buy-sell dynamic between the world’s leading importer and leading exporter of crude is increasingly complicated by a host of other issues, from security cooperation to currency concerns. Bush’s meetings with Abdullah spotlighted this complexity. The past year has witnessed a historic run-up of oil prices, and some analysts are now projecting a “super-spike” (WSJ) that could bring even greater price increases. With U.S. consumers feeling the pinch, Bush pressed Saudi officials to boost oil production as a way of easing prices. U.S. senators have already threatened to block a major arms deal (AFP) between the countries if oil prices continue their rise. Some analysts say this focus is misguided. Given the way crude oil trades, there is only so much that can be done by Saudi Arabia, which already produces nearly a quarter of the world’s crude. To a certain extent Riyadh already runs interference for Washington within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), where some member states, including Iran and Venezuela, are pushing for production cuts (IHT).

Blogging takes hold inside of the military: Hopefully we’ll hear much more from the Army iron majors with the recent decision by Lieutenant General William Caldwell, IV, Commanding General of the US Army Combined Arms Center, as excerpted from a recent CAC memorandum below: Command and General Staff College faculty and students will begin blogging as part of their curriculum and writing requirements both within the .mil and public environments. In addition CAC subordinate organizations will begin to engage in the blogosphere in an effort to communicate the myriad of activities that CAC is accomplishing and help assist telling the Army’s story to a wide and diverse audience. LTG Caldwell’s memo detailed the purpose of his directive as an essential part of CAC’s responsibilities to provide information to the public and usher in a culture of change within the Army’s officer leadership, development and education community as well as to support military operations - leaders within the Army need to understand the power of the internet and leverage as many communications means as possible to communicate what CAC is doing. You can visit the new CAC Blog here. (They're taking baby steps right now...)

A crisis is brewing with the food stamp program: Poor people whose food stamps don't buy as much as they once did rushing into a store in the dead of night, filling shopping carts with cereal, eggs and milk so their kids can wake up on the first day of the month to a decent meal. "People with incomes below the poverty threshold are in dire straits because not only are food prices increasing but the food stamps they are receiving have not increased," said Dr. John Cook, an associate professor at Boston University's medical school who has studied the food stamp program, particularly how it affects children...Dennis Kladis began opening his family owned One Stop Food & Liquors once a month at midnight nine months ago to give desperate families a chance to buy food as soon as possible. "I'm telling you, by the end of the month they're just dying to get back to the first," said Kladis, who has watched other area stores follow his lead. "Obviously, they are struggling to get through the month." Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, which runs the food stamp program, said there is only so much the aid can do. "Food stamps were designed to be a supplement to the food budget," she said. They "were never intended to be the entire budget." Well, in Bush's America--guess what? People on foodstamps are suffering. Needlessly. And the local foodbanks are running on empty as well. That is the Republican legacy--hungry children and a government that doesn't care.