Saturday, August 30, 2008

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

Gustav hits the western tip of Cuba as a Category 4 hurricane Forecasters said Gustav could become a Category 5 hurricane before or shortly after crossing western Cuba late Saturday, and is expected to make landfall on the U.S. gulf coast late Monday or early Tuesday. As the storm lashed Cuba this afternoon, hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles.

One dead, 116 sickened in e coli outbreak in northeast Oklahoma Leslea Bennett-Webb, director of communication for the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed that more than 50 people have been hospitalized and nine people -- six of them children -- have been placed on dialysis. She said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, had helped state officials determine the pathogen, but said the cause of the outbreak remains unknown.

"This was every bit the classic near miss" Two passenger jetliners were 60 seconds away from colliding over open ocean north of Puerto Rico last week when one of the pilots took evasive action, dropping altitude and averting disaster. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating an incident in which a Delta Air Lines flight and a Russian-registered passenger jet were heading toward each other last Thursday, when alarms sounded in the cockpits. The planes were at the same altitude and were "60 seconds apart from occupying the same airspace," said a spokesman for the NTSB.

Did Nigerian rebels kill Nigerian soldiers, or not? A group of Nigerian militants is claiming that it killed 29 Nigerian soldiers and lost six of its own fighters on Saturday in retaliation for the military's killings of civilians. The military rejected the claim and said no soldiers were killed. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is the largest rebel group in Nigeria, and has been targeting attacks against foreign oil companies since 2006, bombing pipelines and kidnapping hundreds of foreign oil workers, typically releasing them unharmed, sometimes after receiving a ransom.

Another serial killer on the loose in L.A. Ballistics and DNA evidence have led police to confirm that detectives are looking for a serial killer who they believe killed at least 11 people, many of them prostitutes, over a 23-year period. The victims were prostitutes or drug users who were sexually assaulted and then shot and dumped in alleyways or in Dumpsters, police said. "We have a lot of evidence, and the connection between so many cases of DNA will allow us to eventually solve this," said a police department spokesman.

No contest... Who would you rather hear sing? Sheryl Crow, or Gretchen Wilson? Charlie Daniels, or the Black Eyed Peas? The Democrats had a lot more interesting and cooler stars show up at their convention than the republicans have on tap, that's for sure. Rage Against th Machine played for free in Denver - but tickets for their show in the twin cities during the republican convention are $60.

We cannot have this--something has to be done in conjunction with Mexican authorities to protect US citizens: Eleven decapitated bodies have been found outside the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula, heightening fears that Mexico's recent descent into violence has reached even heavily protected tourist areas. All the bodies showed signs of torture and were tattooed with star signs and the letter “Z”, suggesting that they had fallen victim to the country's growing drug war, which has left more than 2,700 dead so far this year. Merida is a popular stop-off point for tourists on their way to visit the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza. On the other side of the Yucatan peninsula is Cancun, a Las Vegas-style holiday destination popular with US tourists; an hour or so farther south of Cancun is the resort town of Playa del Carmen, where many US hotel chains have built five-star properties.

A purge is underway in Pakistan: Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the murdered former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has purged almost all of his wife’s top advisers from her party, including her political secretary and closest friend, who cradled her as she died. Bhutto was killed by an assassin’s bullet as she waved to supporters at an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27 last year. Shortly after her death Zardari took control of her Pakistan People’s party (PPP) and led it to an election victory, invoking Bhutto’s memory and capitalising on the public grief that followed her death. He is expected to become Pakistan’s president this week in an election that will formally acknowledge him as the country’s most powerful man.

What's going on in Detroit is an embarrassment to this country: He is an ordinary 15-year-old boy who wants to know what happened to his murdered mother. Yet Jonathan Bond’s painful and protracted quest for justice has plunged him into the heart of an explosive political scandal that has shaken Detroit and wrecked the career of one of America’s most promising young black politicians. Bond is the son of Tamara Greene, a statuesque black stripper known as Strawberry, whose murder in 2003 triggered an avalanche of sordid allegations about mayoral misconduct, police cover-ups, aromatic bubble baths, lurid text messages, extramarital affairs and a talking turtle. The case pits Kwame Kilpatrick, the charismatic 37-year-old mayor of one of America’s most blighted metropolises, against a teenage plaintiff whose white lawyer, Norman Yatooma, has an unusually personal stake in the outcome. Yatooma told The Sunday Times: “No reasonable compassionate person could look at Jonathan and turn away. This is a kid who had the world in front of him and had everything ripped up beneath him.” Yatooma knows exactly how that feels. Fifteen years ago his father was murdered in Detroit when he tried to intervene in a carjacking. His killers have never been found and Yatooma has devoted much of his career to helping the children of murdered parents. At the heart of the Kilpatrick case is a hotly disputed account of a supposed party at Manoogian Mansion, the city-owned home on the Detroit River that is the mayor’s official residence. It was there in late 2002, according to court documents, that Strawberry was hired to perform at a raucous party allegedly attended by Kilpatrick, several police officers and “nude exotic dancers”. At one point, the court documents allege, Kilpatrick’s wife, Carlita, “arrived at the party unexpectedly and assaulted Tamara Greene and possibly one other dancer”. Several police officers and ambulance workers have testified that a woman calling herself Tammy Greene received hospital treatment at the time for injuries consistent with an assault.

Common sense at work: The craggy gullies where Idaho cowboy Paul Nettleton runs 1,200 head of cattle are often precious minutes from reliable cell phone coverage. That could spell disaster in this region where sudden summertime storms howl in from eastern Oregon, bringing dry lightning that can ignite fast-moving wildfires on sage- and juniper-covered hillsides. Unchecked, the flames could quickly turn this old mining town's historic wooden buildings to ashes. This spring, Nettleton and six other Owyhee County ranchers who make their livelihoods in some of America's most remote backcountry began carrying satellite telephones provided by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security. It's an effort to turn men whose ranching families have been wedded to this land for more than a century into a high-tech advance guard against devastating wildfires.

This is a good time to remind people that offshore drilling isn't exactly safe: Royal Dutch Shell, BP and other oil companies wrapped up evacuations and shut down production Saturday as an intensifying Hurricane Gustav churned toward the petroleum-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico. As of midday Saturday, slightly more than three-fourths of the Gulf's oil production and nearly 40 percent of its natural gas output had been shut down, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore activity. Shell said it was on schedule to complete the evacuation of more than 1,300 workers from 20 production platforms and other facilities by Saturday afternoon. The task took four days and involved 17 helicopters.

No, not that U2: The U.S. Air Force is considering -- once again -- delaying the retirement date for its workhorse intelligence collector, the U-2 Dragon Lady, as developers work out issues with integrating a signals intelligence payload onto the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to service officials. The current plan calls for the completion of U-2 retirement in the third quarter of fiscal 2012. But the Pentagon is considering delaying the retirement to fiscal 2014 or possibly later, depending on the maturity of the Global Hawk. And retiring a mainstay intelligence collector like the U-2 during wars that require massive amounts of sensor data is also unlikely, according to one USAF official. The USAF has wrangled for years with various dates for U-2 retirement. Earlier plans called for the retirement to start as soon as FY '07. But the date has continually slipped. Regional commanders such as in the Pacific realm rely heavily on the U-2. Key advantages of the aircraft over the Global Hawk include higher altitude (above 70,000 feet) and more available onboard power to run a larger selection of intelligence-gathering sensors.