Sunday, August 31, 2008

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

Why do we pay our military so little that their families need food stamps, anyway? A few years ago, the Department of Agriculture replaced paper foodstamps with a reloadable debit card. The stigma remained on military installations, however, as the system was only available on one or two checkout lanes in each commissary. Now the cards can be used in any checkout lane in any commissary. But still, why aren't we paying our military enough that they don't need food stamps?

Sarkozy to visit Syria, Wingnuts expected to scream appeasement. The President of France has confirmed that he will visit Syria on September 3-4. The visit represents a big step toward normalizing relations and returning Damascus to the international bargaining table and reversing a policy of exclusion that has kept the country alienated from western countries since the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Pakistan suspends offensive in tribal areas during Ramadan The new government of Pakistan announced today that it would cease the offensive it has mounted against Taliban fighters in the federally administered area along the Afghan border, allowing Pakistanis displaced by the recent fighting a chance to return home for the holy month of Ramadan, expected to start Monday. The Interior Ministry hastened to ad that if the militants took advantage of the cease fire, the Pakistani military will "retaliate with full force."

South Korea now a net debtor nation In another sign that our economic woes are a symptom of a global downturn, South Korea this month moved from being a net creditor to a net debtor nation, reversing eight years of economic gains and stability. The should be careful about complaining though, lest McCain adviser Phil Gramm call us a planet of whiners.

Zardari to face two rivals for presidency of Pakistan in elections later this week. The widower of slain former Prime minister Benazir Bhutto is heavily favored to win the presidency against former chief judge Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui and pro-Musharref candidate Mushahid Hussain Sayed. Sayed has, in recent days, mounted a whisper campaign against Zardari, implying he is mentally ill, and urging him to withdraw from the race in "the supreme national interest." Meanwhile, Zardari has moved into the heavily-fortified Prime Ministers residence for security reasons in the run-up to the election.

Opium addiction on the rise in Afghanistan The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Afghanistan now produces about 93 percent of the world's opium, yielding an estimated $3 billion a year. The money typically benefits local warlords, corrupt government officials and the Taliban, which once famously banned production of the crop. It is estimated that at least one million of Afghanistan's 32 million people suffer from narcotics addiction, but in the entire country there are only about three dozen treatment centers.

Leave the nuns alone, people:Police in riot gear arrested two women in their 70s and seven others taking part in an antiwar march at the Republican National Convention on Sunday after they crossed a security fence into a restricted area near Xcel Energy Center. The nine were arrested for trespassing, said Doug Holtz, a St. Paul police commander. All but one, who did not have identification, were released by police shortly after their arrest. Eight of the protesters were handcuffed, and some flashed the peace sign to onlookers and media gathered at the security fence. Betty McKenzie, a 78-year-old nun, was not handcuffed as she was led away. The protesters had planned ahead of time to cross the fence, and organizers had announced it ahead of the march, which drew about 250 people.

Chemicals shut down two St. Louis Emergency Rooms: One of two Missouri hospital emergency rooms reopened Sunday, a day after being shut down under quarantine when eight people sickened by a dangerous chemical's release sought treatment. Price McCarty, an FBI spokesman in Springfield, Ill., said Saturday's chemical release at the Ro-Corp. plant caused no deaths, countering a statement early Sunday by East St. Louis' city manager, Robert Betts.

Russia makes South Ossetia guarantees: Russia's president said Sunday his country will give military aid to the two separatist regions at the center of the war with Georgia - signaling Moscow has no intention of backing down in the face of Western pressure. Dmitry Medvedev also warned that American domination of world affairs is unacceptable, though he insisted that Russia did not want hostile relations with the United States and other Western nations. Medvedev's decision Tuesday to recognize the Georgian breakaway provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent drew condemnation from the West. Though no other countries have followed Russia's lead, Medvedev reaffirmed the decision on Sunday. "We have made our decision, and it's irreversible," he said in a speech broadcast on Russian television.

At least Quayle had a law degree: Most Americans have never heard of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and 39 percent of voters said they were uncertain if she was qualified to lead as president should it become necessary, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll. That is the lowest level of trust that Americans have shown in a potential vice president since the elder George Bush chose Dan Quayle in 1988. Sen. Barack Obama's running mate Joe Biden did far better with 57 percent of those polled saying he was qualified to run the country. Keep in mind--about 35% of the people in this country are going to say "No!" no matter what on that poll, for political reasons. Not such a great choice, huh McSame?

Business is about to boom in New Orleans for Blackwater: But perhaps the most startling call for forces comes from Blackwater, the controversial prviate security contractor. The firm -- which famously patrolled New Orleans after Katrina -- is "compiling a list of qualified security personnel for possible deployment into areas affected by Hurricane Gustav," according to an e-mail obtained by R.J. Hillhouse. They're looking for current sworn law enforcement officers, with "arrest powers" and "armed status (must indicate Armed and/or Semi Auto. Revolver only not accepted)." The firm is also looking for "current/active/licensed/registered armed security officer[s]," but "only from the following states: OR, WA, CA, NV, NM, AZ, TX, FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, IL, OK." Applicants "must be US citizens," the e-mail notes. "Contract length is TBD."