Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Palin gets another pass: The Federal Election Commission on Thursday granted Sarah Palin a four-day extension of the deadline for revealing her personal finances, allowing her to wait until the day after her debate with Democrat Joe Biden to file the required forms. The federal financial disclosure report was initially due Monday. Now Palin has until Oct. 3, the day after her debate in St. Louis with Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Earlier this month, Biden released a decade of personal financial records that showed the veteran U.S. senator from Delaware earned less than many of his congressional colleagues. For example, Biden and his wife, Jill, earned $319,853 in 2007. On Thursday, Biden submitted an updated report to the Federal Election Commission. She's been shielded and hidden from the press--why does she need a delay?

Nuclear material piles up in hospitals: For years, truckloads of low-level nuclear waste from most of the U.S. were taken to a rural South Carolina landfill. There, items such as the rice-size radioactive seeds for treating cancer and pencil-thin nuclear tubes used in industrial gauges were sealed in concrete and buried. But a South Carolina law that took effect July 1 ended nearly all disposal of radioactive material at the landfill, leaving 36 states with no place to throw out some of the stuff. So labs, universities, hospitals and manufacturers are storing more and more of it on their own property. "Instead of safely secured in one place, it's stored in thousands of places in urban locations all over the United States," said Rick Jacobi, a nuclear waste consultant and former head of a Texas agency that unsuccessfully tried to create a disposal site for that state.

Meanwhile, the financial sector of the economy keeps evolving and changing: what is by far the largest bank failure in U.S. history, federal regulators seized Washington Mutual Inc. and struck a deal to sell the bulk of its operations to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. The closing represents the demise of what once was the largest U.S. thrift but came to symbolize many of the worst excesses of the mortgage boom. Federal regulators said WaMu has suffered an exodus of $16.7 billion in deposits since Sept. 15, leaving the Seattle thrift "with insufficient liquidity to meet its obligations." As a result, WaMu was in "an unsafe and unsound condition to transact business," according to the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Yes you can, and should, push back: Battling a health insurer when it refuses to cover certain treatments can be aggravating and time-consuming. But if you choose to join the growing number of people who are appealing coverage denials, there are several strategies that can bolster your case. Some health-coverage problems -- such as when your doctor enters a wrong code on a claim form -- can be resolved with a phone call. But other issues can be more difficult, because they center on complex medical questions like whether a certain cancer treatment is appropriate for you. Faced with such a situation, you may need to enlist help from your doctor, and even do some scientific research of your own. As a last resort, most states will consider appeals that have been denied by private insurers. Insurance companies generally don't disclose how many appeals they receive. But state regulators keep data on the frequency of cases filed with them, and the trend is up -- 12% growth between 2004 and 2006, according to a survey by America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group, which says such appeals represented less than one out of every 10,000 insured people. That's a small share of the total, though, since most appeals never get to the state bodies.

And it probably won't happen: The Bush White House has been pressing its European allies to accept Ukraine into NATO — over Russia's bitter opposition — but the continuing political crisis in Kiev raises serious questions about whether this country is ready to join. Viktor Yushchenko, the U.S.-backed president, was in New York this week, ringing the bell on the New York Stock Exchange and exhorting the U.N. General Assembly to contain Russia. Back home, his ruling coalition remains fractured, raising the prospect of a third parliamentary election in as many years. Approval ratings for the one-time hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution are consistently below 10 percent. Despite Yushchenko's strong condemnation of Russia's invasion of Georgia last month and his enthusiastic support for NATO, polls show that only some 22 percent of Ukrainians favor joining the alliance.

No, we're not sinking--we're just finding a creative way to stay afloat: President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela Thursday described the U.S. economy as "a sinking ship" in the final throes of capitalism but pledged that he would not cut off oil exports to the U.S. unless his nation were attacked. Chavez, speaking moments before flying on to Russia as part of a five-nation tour, said Venezuela's sharply rising oil exports to China wouldn't cut into sales to U.S. or other markets. Venezuela has among the largest proven oil reserves of any country, and Chavez said his country could handle a rise in exports to China from a current level of 360,000 barrels a day to a target of 1 million barrels a day by 2012 while it still meets commitments to other clients.

A lot of people lost money--time to panic? Retirees...who depend on investment income to help buy groceries and pay the bills, are among the most vulnerable groups scrambling for cover in the current market upheaval. South Florida, with its wealth of retirees, may suffer disproportionately because of its large number of older souls whose financial well being is closely tied to Wall Street. ''This whole debacle is so much harder on older people -- approaching retirement and those in retirement,'' said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. "They're jammed: They don't have the time and space to bounce back like someone in their 30s or 40s.''

This is going to hit military families hard--Columbus, Georgia is where Fort Benning is located: Nicholas Tilton was walking toward his Chevy Tahoe. "I'm sure glad I've got about three-quarters of a tank of gas," he said. The Army sergeant was at a Chevron Station on Moon Road in Columbus where one vehicle after another pulled in, saw there was no gas, and made for the exit without stopping. "A co-worker told me that he was driving on I-85 and stopped at four places looking for gas. It's really terrible. It surprises me," said Tilton. What was happening at the Moon Road station was similar to the scene at several stations around the area; a Circle K on Veterans Parkway had empty tanks, as did one on U.S. 80 in Phenix City. The latter ran out early Monday. Some stations still had some gas but were out of particular grades. Some only had diesel. The Citgo on U.S. 80, for example, still had regular unleaded Monday afternoon but was out of premium.

Mudflats on Palin and Wolves: I don’t like to do to living things what I don’t want done to me. I don’t like eating things that have been sprayed with stuff I wouldn’t spray on my own salad. I know that not everyone feels this way. I also know that when I write, I like to write as an Alaskan. I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and my patterns of thinking have shifted quite a bit in that time. I ‘get’ Alaskans even though I wasn’t born here. But I also know them well enough to know when I fall out of line with typical “Alaskan thinking.” That said, my feelings about hunting do not reflect the feelings of most Alaskans. I could write you a great piece on why I think aerial wolf hunting, or any kind of wolf hunting, is wrong, and why I’m outraged at the entire political process that has now legalized it in this state. I could get on my soapbox and have at it for a good long while. But it would definitely be colored by my own, very out of the main stream of Alaskan thinking. So, I have hesitated to talk about this issue “from an Alaskan perspective”, because I don’t believe I can. Fortunately, I did know just the person to do it. Friend and fellow blogger Shannyn Moore was born in rural Alaska. If there’s anyone who can claim to be coming at this particular issue from a truly “Alaskan perspective”, she’s the one. She speaks about the wolf hunting issue as the daughter of a trapper, not a relocated environmentalist from the East Coast (not that there’s anything wrong with that). She agreed to write a post on her own blog about this topic and to let me cross-post here.

Did it lead to convicting the wrong people? The Detroit police crime lab was shut down by the city's new mayor and police chief after an outside audit found errors in some evidence used to prosecute cases involving murder and other crimes, officials said Thursday. An audit by Michigan State Police found erroneous or false findings in 10 percent of 200 random cases and subpar quality control compliance at the lab, said Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy. The report revealed a "shocking level of imcompetence" in the lab and constitutes a systemic problem, she said at a news conference. When it came to recognized work standards, the lab met only 42 percent of a required 100 percent, Worthy said.

Major archeological find in Egypt: Egypt's antiquities council says that archaeologists have unearthed a 3,000-year-old red granite head believed to portray the 19th Dynasty pharaoh Ramses II. The Supreme Council of Antiquities says the discovery was made recently at Tell Basta, about 50 miles northeast of Cairo. The council's statement Thursday says the 30-inch high head belonged to a colossal statue of Ramses II that once stood in the area. Its nose is broken and the beard that was once attached to the king's chin is missing.