Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap - a roundup of news you might have missed

A "Witness Tree" falls at Gettysburg: Standing just 150 feet from the platform on which President Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, one of the few remaining "witness trees" to the Battle of Gettysburg has been severely damaged by a storm, National Park Service officials said. A park historian knows of only three other witness trees that stand in the heart of the battlefield. The huge honey locust tree on Cemetery Hill fell Thursday evening. "The top of it is totally broken off, and [the storm] severely damaged 70 to 80 percent of the tree," Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Jo Sanders said. "That means there's not a whole lot left of it. But it didn't kill the tree." The tree, which stood on the right side of the Union lines, "was there as a silent witness -- to the battle, to the aftermath, to the burials, to the dedication of the cemetery," park historian John Heiser said. "I have no doubt that Union soldiers sat under it for all three days of the battle," he said.

McCain Campaign Official Lobbied For Georgia: John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randall Scheunemann, lobbied for the nation of Georgia for four years, including for about a year after he joined the Republican senator's presidential campaign staff in early 2007. Georgia has paid Scheunemann's firm, Orion Strategies, LLC, nearly $900,000 since 2004, including $200,000 for an eight-month contract that began on May 1, two weeks after McCain issued a strong statement criticizing Russia and supporting Georgia. Scheunemann took a leave from lobbying for Orion in March, two months before McCain barred active lobbyists from serving on his staff. He's still listed as Orion's president and owner. Reached by phone, Scheunemann declined comment and referred a reporter to the campaign. Asked about Scheunemann's lobbying connections, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said that the Arizona senator's interest in Georgia "predated" his first visit to the republic in 1997. He said that McCain "has spoken for years about Russian policies that threaten the sovereignty of its neighbors, from Estonia to Ukraine to Georgia." Don't forget his brilliant idea of kicking Russia out of the G8. Is McCain the guy to deal with these issues at 3AM? Of course not. But he has plenty of friends who can lobby him.

Good news for the pocketbook: Oil prices fell Friday by almost $5 a barrel to $115.20 and are down more than 20 percent from their early July record high of more than $147, a trend that's triggering a sudden boom in stock prices and giving the U.S. economy its best news in months. Energy analysts cautiously believe that oil's recent price surge finally may be reversing for good, as a weakening global economy and a strengthening dollar take the shine off oil as an investment. The falling price of oil — and gasoline prices, too — should lower inflation and lending rates, boost consumer confidence and could even influence whom voters chose in November's presidential election. For motorists, it could mean oil prices under $100 a barrel later this year and deeper price declines at the gasoline pump. Already, the national average for a gallon of gasoline, which stood at $4.10 a month ago, was down to $3.83 on Friday, according to the AAA Motor Club. This has always been a speculation bubble, and now that everyone sees that, the prices are coming down. Americans are also using a lot less oil, and that's a good thing as well. The problem comes when they start driving again because the price will likely climb.

Of course, had they done this five years ago, would the Taliban have been able to come back? US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has endorsed a 17-billion dollar plan to double the size of the Afghan army over five years, the Pentagon said Friday. Under the plan, the Afghan army would grow from 65,00 to 122,00 active duty soldiers by 2014, said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, adding that it also includes upgrades to Afghanistan's fledgling air corps. "It's an Afghan government plan he (Gates) has endorsed, and we are now working to achieve," Morrell said. He said the planning was still in the early stages, but the Pentagon estimates it will cost 17 billion dollars over five years to train, equip and double the size of the force. Too little, too late?

I like the "Princess Sparklepony" name--it fits: Apparently, Princess Sparklepony did not and will not sign the follow-on white paper to Maintaining Deterrence in the 21st Century, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the RRW. At least that is what Elaine Grossman reports: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has declined to formally endorse an interagency "white paper" on nuclear deterrence strategy, Global Security Newswire has learned (see GSN, July 25, 2007). The roughly 30-page document, which has yet to be publicly released, is intended to expand on a four-page statement about nuclear weapons policy issued jointly in July 2007 by three Cabinet secretaries: Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The unclassified version of the new paper has been delayed several times but should be unveiled in the next few weeks, according to Bush administration officials.

Whole Foods recalls ground beef that originated at the beleaguered Nebraska Beef processing plant On Friday Whole Foods Market pulled all fresh ground beef from all of its stores. It was the latest retailer affected by an E. coli outbreak that has been traced back to Nebraska Beef, one of the largest meatpackers in the country. Nebraska Beef has a history of food-safety and other violations.

So much for their self-deportation scheme The three-week pilot program was touted with fanfare and hoopla and promoted on Spanish-language radio - undocumented workers could turn themselves in and not be arrested or detained, instead they would be allowed to remain free while their deportations were processed. Three people have taken them up on it.

Yes, we are disturbed by the increase in reports of police brutality A dashboard camera caught an undercover police officer hitting an 18 year old drug suspect in the face thirteen times with his closed fist. Once back-up deputies arrived, the suspect was pulled out of his vehicle and tasered and kicked while lying prone on the ground. We think it is time for juries to start meting out severe sentences for cops that thug it up and brutalize citizens.

This is actually rather encouraging. While 63% of Americans favor domestic oil drilling even in protected areas, 70% of the people polled by ABC news are making a conscious effort to reduce the size of their carbon footprint.

Homeless people used as unwitting pawns to defraud the healthcare system Remember a few years ago when you first heard about patient dumping on skid row? We do, and we were as livid as the activist who reported the apparent dumpings - but an investigation into what initially looked like patient dumping turned out to be single aspect of a larger scheme to defraud Medicare and Medi-Cal. “These allegations involve individuals in a complex arrangement involving shell companies, kickbacks, bogus contracts with the people committing fraud and hospitals covering up kickbacks,” said Thomas P. O’Brien, the United States attorney for the Central District of California.

Can we move on now? The ex-mistress of former presidential candidate John Edwards said Saturday she will not participate in DNA testing to establish the paternity of her daughter. Rielle Hunter's lawyer, Robert Gordon, says his client is a private individual who is not running for public office and that she wishes to maintain the privacy of her and her daughter. "Rielle is therefore making no statement now or in the future," Gordon said in a statement. "Furthermore, Rielle will not participate in DNA testing or any other invasion of her or her daughter's privacy now or in the future." On Friday, Edwards admitted to having an extramarital affair with Hunter in 2006 but denied that he was the father of Hunter's 5-month-old daughter. Edwards offered to take a paternity test to prove he is not the father.
You might find the rest of this cross-posted over at They Gave Us a Republic...