Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Gamesmanship: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling Shiite coalition withheld support Sunday for the proposed security pact that would keep U.S. troops here for three more years, dealing a setback to American hopes of a speedy approval of the agreement. The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance called for unspecified changes to the draft agreement, which parliament must ratify by the end of the year when the U.N. mandate expires. Guess what wingnuts? You broke it, you still own it. November changes nothing in that regard.

Defining down the American dream never looked so pathetic: During the first quarter of this year, the percentage of households headed by homeowners had its sharpest decline in two decades, while the number of people choosing to rent soared. Right now, renting is red hot. "We'll call on a place and somebody will say, 'Yeah, we'll show it to you' and then we'll call back the next day to set it up and they say 'Oh sorry, we've already rented that,' " said Luke. At, an online Los Angeles rental search service, owner Mark Verge says his market is exploding. "[There are] enormous amounts of renters coming through here that we haven't seen before. People of all ages that used to be home buyers." It's called desperation, and rental properties are already charging people an arm and a leg--they had rough times during the "ownership society" boom and now they're coming back for theirs. Renting is fine--but let's not celebrate it as something "hot."

J'accuse! The French Cabinet's spokesman says "swindlers" have broken into the personal bank account of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Spokesman Luc Chatel told France's Radio-J an investigation is under way and insists the incident "proves that this system of checking (bank accounts) via the Internet isn't infallible." He did not elaborate.

Well, this IS better than airstrikes, I guess: U.S. forces fought their way into anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's home turf last spring. But when the fighting died down, this became a political battle and the Americans insist they've been on the offensive...First Lieutenant Shawn McKinney is an engineer with Task Force Gold which is rebuilding the Southern end of Sadr City. He took CBS News on a tour of his projects. "Everything is going to be repaved, the sewer's going to be cleaned out as part of the project," said McKinney. "Manholes raised along with the new road. A lot of work." And that will make a big difference. On hot days in Sadr City now, children swim in filthy water right next to ponds filled with raw sewage.

Nobody wants to remember the Yankees: Not even Yankee pride can overcome the poor economy. The last ball hit out of Yankee Stadium didn't leave the auction block Saturday in a memorabilia auction celebrating Bronx Bombers history. The ball, smacked by catcher Jose Molina on Sept. 21, was one of several big ticket items that failed to sell in early bidding at Madison Square Garden on a trove of Yankees artifacts. It was expected to fetch up to $400,000, but was pulled after offers fell short of the suggested opening bid of $100,000.

Try to keep a straight face on this one: Greek police are investigating reports that a number of officers humiliated a suspect by carrying out a strip search in the centre of Athens. The inquiry was ordered after a Greek newspaper published photographs of the incident involving a man who appears to be of Asian or Middle Eastern descent. He was told to drop his trousers and underwear in the middle of the street, according to Ethnos.

Drought in Afghanistan? The Saighan Valley, high in the central highlands, has been hit particularly hard. All around it is like a moonscape, bare, brown fields, dry gullies, and jagged mountains stripped of vegetation. Erosion means you can see clearly how the rocks have been formed in layers over millions of years, stripes of pinks, greys, browns and oranges running through the mountains. Up here Afghans rely on the winter snows to recharge the ground water. But for six of the past seven years there has not been enough snow. This year was the worst of all. Some villages do not even have drinking water. Since nine out of every 10 Afghans rely on farming for survival, the drought means a serious food crisis is looming for millions.

Something is coming home to roost: Nine Chinese oil workers have been kidnapped in Sudan, a Chinese diplomat in the capital, Khartoum, has said. The men, and their two Sudanese drivers, were abducted in the southern Kordofan state on Saturday afternoon. The unidentified kidnappers later released one of the local drivers with a note saying they wanted a share in the region's oil wealth.

Fort Dix attack plot trial starts: A jury will hear opening arguments Monday in the trial of five men accused of plotting to kill soldiers on Fort Dix, a case the government has presented as one of the most frightening examples of homegrown terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks. The five defendants — all foreign-born Muslim men in their 20s who have spent much of their lives in the southern New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia — were arrested in May 2007 and accused of plotting to sneak onto Fort Dix to attack soldiers. The Army base primarily trains reservists for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. No attack was carried out and lawyers for the men say there was no plot.

Why decry the merger Merger talks between automakers Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp leaves Michigan politicians stuck with conflicting feelings: hopeful a combined entity would prosper but fearful it would mean job losses and tax revenue, plus a huge real estate headache. "If it means the survival of Chrysler, then I'd be all for a merger with GM," said L. Brooks Patterson, chief executive of Oakland County, home to Chrysler's headquarters. "If Chrysler were to go under it would be catastrophic." "Unfortunately, some of the steps they would need to take to guarantee may well entail the loss of a lot of jobs," added Patterson, a Republican. "This would exacerbate a lot of problems we're struggling with here in Michigan."

Cubans avoid sea patrols: Because it has become so hard to dodge the U.S. Coast Guard and reach Florida to qualify for U.S. residency, Cuban migrants in recent years have been heading for Mexico, then overland to Texas. Last year 11,126 used that route, compared to just 1,055 who landed in the Miami area, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Evidence of this new escape route is stacking up at a Mexican Navy yard in Isla Mujeres, where the dock regularly runs out of space for seized Florida boats. During a visit to the small Navy dock last week, The Associated Press counted eight super-fast boats, all with Florida registration numbers

Hurricane Ike recovery still going slow: Beyond the usual, dismal rebuilding, Hurricane Ike left another grim task when it struck last month: Its 13-foot storm surge washed an estimated 200 caskets out of their graves, ripping through most of Cameron Parish's 47 cemeteries and others in southwest Louisiana and coastal Texas. Some coffins floated miles into the marsh. At Hollywood Cemetery in Orange, Texas, Ike unearthed about 100 caskets. Dozens more were disgorged in hard-hit Galveston. Officials in coastal areas have long struggled with interring the dead, as caskets buried in low-lying areas are susceptible to being belched up by floodwaters. Some areas -- most notably New Orleans -- house the dead in above-ground crypts to keep them from drifting away in storms.