Clem's Chronicles: Pirates and Wildfires and Mortgages: OH MY

Clem Lane here with another PM editorial note. The wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas have really kicked up this evening.

PIRATES-Still no resolution on the high seas off the Somali coast. Martha Raddatz, filing for WORLD NEWS reports that “the 28 foot lifeboat containing the Maersk Alabama’s captain, Richard Phillips and four armed pirates is floating near the massive US destroyer Bainbridge, which is keeping watch over the small vessel.” Today the pirates asked for fuel, food and radio batteries. They got the food and the batteries, Raddatz notes “so they can keep talking to the pirates under the guidance of FBI negotiators.” The Maersk Alabama has left the area, believed to be heading to port in Kenya. The 19 remaining crewmembers have company-Raddatz tells us that “the Navy put 18 armed guards on the ship to make sure the transit is a safe one.” Good news for the family and friends of the Maersk Alabama’s crew. As for the ship’s captain and his fate, Raddatz says that “the negotiations seem to be at a standstill . The pirates want money and unlike some private shipping companies, the US does not pay ransom.” Both the US and the shipping company are looking for a peaceful end to the stand-off which Raddatz points out “could take awhile”.

WHY AREN’T MERCHANT SEAMEN ARMED?-Sharyn Alfonsi went out to the US Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island and asked that question for her WORLD NEWS spot this evening. Surprisingly (at least to me), there are lots of good reasons. Captain Jon Helmeck of the U.S. Maritime Services told Alfonsi “there are issues of international law that prohibit that.” Such as? Alfonsi: “An un-armed ship is given a ‘right of innocent passage’ thru international waters. If the crew is armed…the ship must be stopped and inspected at every port. Slowing them down, Then there’s the issues of cargo. This Saudi-oil supertanker was loaded with two million barrels of oil when it was hijacked. A spark from a gun could cause a massive explosion.” Okay then, how do we protect these ships? Alfonsi notes that some have suggested “having the Navy escort commercial ships. Experts say that would be impossible. The Navy is already stretched thin and there’s simply too much area to cover.” Any other ideas? Alfonsi reports that “experts say to truly stop pirates you need to take them on at their home bases…not on the water. But so far, no governments have been willing to take that step.”

WILDFIRES-There have been a spate of wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas thanks to high winds and dry conditions. The worst areas are southern Oklahoma and western and northern Texas. At least six wind-whipped grass fires were burning in Oklahoma this evening, forcing some highway closures and forcing evacuations in several communities. Many of the fires were burning in rural areas. There were no reports of injuries. but an untold number of homes have burned. One of those locations is Midwest City, where as many as 100 homes may have already been damaged. To add to Oklahomans’ woes, there have been two confirmed tornado touchdowns and the dark red signifying severe weather on the map looks to hang around the area throughout the night before moving further east tomorrow.

HOUSING-If you own a home, or are thinking of buying one, you’re probably well aware how low mortgage rates are right now. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock, the First Realtor weighed in today. As Betsy Stark said in her WORLD NEWS piece, “the President took it upon himself today to remind Americans that now may be as good as it gets if you’re thinking about refinancing.” President Obama said in part “There are 7 to 9 million people across the country who right now could be taking advantage of lower mortgage rates. That is money in their pockets.” Plenty of people didn’t need to wait for a presidential endorsement-Stark notes that “applications to refinance have soared 88 percent since the Administration and the Federal Reserve began attacking the housing crisis in February.” Unfortunately, Stark adds that “housing analysts say the homeowners most in need of a lower mortgage rate are also the ones least likely to qualify for it.” And then there’s the “upside-down” homeowner-folks who owe more than their house is worth. Stark points out that “nearly three million Americans still making their mortgage payments are not eligible for lower mortgages because their homes have fallen too much in value.”

QUICK RESIGNATION:  Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer has stepped down after an embarrassing faux pas that divulged details of a top-secret operation.  Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick was photographed entering the 10 Downing Street residence of Prime Minister Brown yesterday openly carrying a secret document revealing plans to crack down on a group suspected of plotting attacks in Britain.   What else did we learn about the document?  Jim Sciutto tells us:  “An Al Qaeda-driven plot…11 suspects, 10 of them Pakistanis on student visas…living in three British cities. 'The document even showed police would be armed.  A judge banned the photo's publication but once it was on the internet, the investigation was blown. So authorities were forced to act immediately, sending hundreds of police across Britain to make all the arrests in broad daylight… one on a university campus… another outside a home supply store.”  Police in Britain didn’t want to disclose the potential targets of the plot. But Jim Sciutto says the raids across northwest England put “renewed focus on Pakistan as a primary source of terror recruits and planning.”   (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry) LOS ANGELES ANGELS PITCHER KILLED-Tragedy has struck the Los Angeles Angels family.  22-year-old rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was among three passengers who died early Thursday after their car was struck by a motorist who ran a red light. Adenhart had made his season debut a few hours earlier in a loss to Oakland. It was just the fourth start and appearance of his major league career. The Angels' game against Oakland tonight was postponed after commissioner Bud Selig talked with Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno. "Nick was just 22 years of age, with a wonderful life and career ahead of him," Selig said in a statement. Union head Donald Fehr said the players' association was "shaken and deeply saddened." Many teams held moments of silence in Adenhart’s honor before their games today and fans have been streaming by a makeshift memorial at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

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