Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's News

When I have an extended absence from the Internet, it always takes me quite a while to get back up to speed. When I try to use almost any program, it begins frantically announcing that there's a new version available that I need to download or there are patches or new definitions or something that has to be done before any work can be accomplished. For instance, after about a year or so offline, I headed to the Microsoft site to see if I had missed any critical updates to Windows XP. A few? Only 47!!! Yikes. Then, less than 24 hours later, my computer automatically downloaded two more.

After a couple of days, I'm slowly starting to make the rounds again. Trying to find out what's what. Here's a sampling of some things that have caught my eye on the news sites. No O.J. or Paris or Britney here, but some things that might actually be news...

I guess everyone that cares has heard by now that President Bush has chosen Michael Mukasey to replace Gonzo as attorney general. And miracle of miracles, he's a conservative judge, but not some hardcore Kool-Aid drinking ideologue, but someone Dems can actually get behind. But Bush might not have avoided the bruising confirmation fight after all, Patrick Leahy and Charles Shumer "vowed today to use the nomination to pressure the White House into turning over information that the Senate Judiciary Committee has been seeking on the domestic wiretapping program and the government’s treatment of military detainees. 'All I want is the material we need to ask some questions about the former attorney general’s conduct, on torture and warrantless wiretapping, so we can legitimately ask, "Here’s what was done in the past, what will you do?" ' Mr. Leahy, the committee chairman, told reporters. Whether that is a negotiating tactic, or a threat that could turn into an all-out battle, was unclear today. But Mr. Leahy did say he had told the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, that the nomination could not go forward without the information, and that 'cooperation with the White House would be central' to scheduling hearings." (NY Times)

Congress has been tied up in knots over the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for quite a while. In Tennessee, CoverKids is almost out of money and is set to expire on September 30. In Georgia, the situation is worse. The state's version of SCHIP, PeachCare, has been out of money for quite a while and has now wracked up quite a deficit. They stopped accepting applications for adding new children to the program in March. Finally, the House and Senate are almost ready to send a bill to President Bush, "who has denounced similar legislation as a step 'down the path to government-run health care for every American.' Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said Sunday, 'The House and the Senate still appear to be far away from legislation that we would find acceptable.' Republicans will come under political pressure to support the compromise. But if the president vetoes it, he will probably have enough votes in the House to sustain his veto, Republicans say." (NY Times)

Many people don't realize that in addition to the 160,000 or so troops we have in Iraq there are also about 129,000 contractors there too. Most are doing the logistical jobs that the military used to do on its own -- cooking the meals, washing the clothes, driving the trucks, etc. But about 4600 of these contractors are doing combat roles. In other times, they have been called mercenaries. The largest of these firms is Blackwater and they're now being kicked out of the country. "Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight civilians were killed and 13 were wounded when contractors believed to be working for Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Mansour in western Baghdad. 'We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities,' Khalaf said. He said witness reports pointed to Blackwater involvement but added that the shooting was still under investigation. One witness, Hussein Abdul-Abbas, said the explosion was followed by about 20 minutes of heavy gunfire and 'everybody in the street started to flee immediately.' U.S. officials said the motorcade was traveling through Nisoor Square on the way back to the Green Zone when the car bomb exploded, followed by volleys of small-arms fire that disabled one of the vehicles but caused no American casualties...In one of the most horrific attacks of the war, four Blackwater employees were ambushed and killed in Fallujah in 2004 and their charred bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. But Iraqis have long complained about high-profile, heavily armed security vehicles careering through the streets, with guards pointing weapons at civilians and sometimes firing warning shots at anyone deemed too close. And Iraqi officials were quick to condemn the foreign guards. Al-Maliki late Sunday condemned the shooting by a 'foreign security company' and called it a 'crime.' Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani described the shooting as 'a crime about which we cannot be silent. Everyone should understand that whoever wants good relations with Iraq should respect Iraqis. We are implementing the law and abide by laws, and others should respect these laws and respect the sovereignty and independence of Iraqis in their country.' Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi told Iraqi television that 'those criminals' responsible for deaths 'should be punished' and that the government would demand compensation for the victims' families. Despite threats of prosecution, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Alhurra television that contractors cannot be prosecuted by Iraqi courts because 'some of them have immunity.' (Yahoo! News)

The problem with global warming is that everyone is too focused on the negative. Every cloud does have a silver lining. For centuries European explorers sought the fabled Northwest Passage, the trade route that they were sure would cut through the American continent and offer a more direct path to the Orient than having to sail around South America or Africa. Now, "The Arctic's sea covering has shrunk so much that the Northwest Passage, the fabled sea route that connects Europe and Asia, has opened up for the first time since records began. The discovery, revealed through satellite images provided by the European Space Agency (Esa), shows how bad the consequences of global warming are becoming in northerly latitudes. This summer there was a reduction of a million square kilometres in the Arctic's ice covering compared with 2006, scientists have found. As a result, the Northwest Passage that runs between Canada and Greenland has been freed of the ice that has previously blocked it and that, over the centuries, has frustrated dozens of expeditions that attempted to sail northwest and open up a commercial sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. (The Guardian)

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