Saturday, August 23, 2008

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

Wolfgang Vogel is dead: East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, who oversaw some of the Cold War's biggest swaps of captured spies in Berlin, has died at 82, his family says. Vogel died on Thursday at his home in Schliersee, Bavaria, after recently suffering a heart attack. His swaps included KGB agent Rudolf Abel for US pilot Gary Powers, shot down over the USSR, in 1962. He also oversaw the transfer of nearly a quarter of a million people from East to West Germany for billions of marks. After reunification in 1989, Vogel was accused of fleecing some of his former East German clients of their properties and swindling his Western negotiating partners, and was briefly imprisoned in the 1990s.

Yeah, I can believe it...Signs are emerging that history is repeating itself in the Big Easy, still healing from Katrina: People have forgotten a lesson from four decades ago and believe once again that the federal government is constructing a levee system they can prosper behind. In a yearlong review of levee work here, The Associated Press has tracked a pattern of public misperception, political jockeying and legal fighting, along with economic and engineering miscalculations since Katrina, that threaten to make New Orleans the scene of another devastating flood. Dozens of interviews with engineers, historians, policymakers and flood zone residents confirmed many have not learned from public policy mistakes made after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which set the stage for Katrina; many mistakes are being repeated.

Please tell me this is being regulated, monitored, and tracked-- Steve Lubs was looking to get rid of his $8,000 in credit card debt, but his high interest rate had him bogged down. He tried getting a loan through a bank to pay off the balance but couldn't find one with an interest rate lower than 12 percent. That's when he turned to Prosper, one of several peer-to-peer lending networks that connect people who need a cash infusion with those who have money to lend. About 70 people have pitched in with $100 to $300, totaling the sum he needs to get out of debt, at a rate of 8 percent. "When it comes to borrowing, it's a bargain," said Lubs, an engineer who lives near Columbia. Rather than turning to the traditional sources of loans -- banks, mortgage lenders, credit unions -- many cash-strapped consumers are borrowing from friends, family members and even strangers and are getting favorable terms and rates. And people with money to spare see lending it to others as a better investment than socking it away in a low-yield savings account or playing the volatile stock market.

The boats are carrying 40 activists, 200 hearing aids and 5,000 balloons: Two boats carrying members of a US-based pro-Palestinian group have arrived in the Gaza Strip, despite an Israeli blockade of the territory. Israel earlier said they would be let in, saying they would not be given the chance to have a "provocation at sea". The boats left the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on Friday morning. The Free Gaza protest group said about 40 activists from 14 countries were on board the boats to highlight the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in June 2007 when the militant group Hamas took control of the territory by force. Since then, Israel has allowed in little more than basic humanitarian aid as a means of isolating Hamas and persuading militant groups to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Yeah, this was fishy as hell...Former NASA scientist Yousaf Butt didn't buy his former employer's explanation for why a dying satellite had to be shot out of orbit. Publicly, the space agency and the military insisted that the satellite's payload of hydrazine rocket fuel was a significant risk to public health. Butt -- now an astrophysicist at Harvard -- wasn't so sure. So he filed a Freedom of Information Act request, to force the space agency to disclose the documents related to its shootdown rationale. Interesting to see where that goes...

Time for the Cappuccino suckin' Conservative meme, don't you think? You would think that one of those servants the McCain's spend nearly $300K per year on could make a cup of coffee, wouldn't you? Well, maybe not...because the whole entourage schlepps to Starbucks regularly.

This is a good start For the first time in more than a decade, the majority of Americans say churches should stay out of politics. It's a narrow majority, but at least we're in it for a change. Now can we start being critical of that asshole Reagan?

Where we come from, they call this "influence peddling" Cheney is implicated in the Stevens corruption trial. Seems he used his influence to get a pipeline project approved. The FBI has Stevens on tape telling the Veco exec who paid him off that he would have some "bigwigs" weigh in and get the project approved. Two days later, Cheney wrote a letter to the Alaska legislature.

The message went out at 0300 because it had to, not because it was a dig at Hillary, and it still managed to overwhelm some systems and some people didn't get it for minutes or even hours. Here's the deal - we have crappy cellular service in this country, compared to other industrialized nations. One electron has to get out of the way before another one can go, and they can't leapfrog. Think of it as a giant pallet of crates that have to be moved to a room down a narrow hallway...they simply can't all go at once. During daylight hours would have likely crashed our systems completely, so I have no doubt that the cellular companies insisted that it happen when it did.

Terrorism on the cheap You know that the planning and execution of the September 11 attacks only cost about half a million bucks, right? Since then, the attacks credited to al Qaeda have run about a tenth that much, relying on small, localized cells. The cheap plots are evidence that the U.S. government and its allies fundamentally miscalculated in assuming they could defeat the network by hunting for wealthy financiers and freezing bank accounts, according to many U.S. and European counterterrorism officials.