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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday December 18 2007 - (813)

Tuesday December 18 2007 edition
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Food And Fuel Compete For Land
2007-12-18 02:52:59

Shopping at a Whole Foods Market in suburban Chicago, Illinois, Meredith Estes said food prices have jumped so much she has resorted to coupons. Charles T. Rodgers, Jr., an Arkansas cattle rancher, said normal feed rations so expensive and scarce he is scrambling for alternatives. In Oregon, Jack Joyce, the owner of Rogue Ales, said the cost of barley malt has soared 88 percent this year.

For years, cheap food and feed were taken for granted in the United States.

Now, the price of some foods is rising sharply, and from the corridors of Washington, D.C., to the aisles of neighborhood supermarkets, a blame alert is under way.

Among the favorite targets is ethanol, especially for food manufacturers and livestock farmers who seethe at government mandates for ethanol production. The ethanol boom, they contend, is raising corn prices, driving up the cost of producing dairy products and meat, and causing farmers to plant so much corn as to crowd out other crops.

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Laws Of Nature, Source Unknown
2007-12-18 02:52:21

“Gravity,” goes the slogan on posters and bumper stickers. “It isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.”

And what a law. Unlike, say, traffic or drug laws, you don’t have a choice about obeying gravity or any of the other laws of physics. Jump and you will come back down. Faith or good intentions have nothing to do with it.

Existence didn’t have to be that way, as Einstein reminded us when he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Against all the odds, we can send e-mail to Sri Lanka, thread spacecraft through the rings of Saturn, take a pill to chase the inky tendrils of depression, bake a turkey or a souffle and bury a jump shot from the corner.

Yes, it’s a lawful universe. But what kind of laws are these, anyway, that might be inscribed on a T-shirt but apparently not on any stone tablet that we have ever been able to find?

Are they merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don’t know and that most scientists don’t seem to know or care where they come from?

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Pentagon Wants Bush To Drawdown Iraq Forces, Beef Up Afghanistan Forces
2007-12-17 18:16:56

With violence on the decline in Iraq but on the upswing in Afghanistan, President Bush is facing new pressure from the U.S. military to accelerate a troop drawdown in Iraq and bulk up force levels in Afghanistan, according to senior U.S. officials.

Administration officials said the White House could start to debate the future of the American military commitment in both Iraq and Afghanistan as early as next month. Some Pentagon officials are urging a further drawdown of forces in Iraq beyond that envisioned by the White House, which is set to reduce the number of combat brigades from 20 to 15 by the end of next summer. At the same time, commanders in Afghanistan are looking for several additional battalions, helicopters and other resources to confront a resurgent Taliban movement.

Bush's decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan could heavily influence his ability to pass on to his successor stable situations in both countries, an objective his advisers describe as one of the president's paramount goals for his final year in office. They say Bush will listen closely to his military commanders on the ground before making any decisions on troops but is unlikely to do anything he believes could jeopardize recent, hard-won security improvements in Iraq.

Administration officials say the White House has become more concerned in recent months about the situation in Afghanistan, where grinding poverty, rampant corruption, poor infrastructure and the growing challenge from the Taliban are hindering U.S. stabilization efforts. Senior administration officials now believe Afghanistan may pose a greater longer-term challenge than Iraq.

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U.S. Judge Orders Release Of White House Visitor Logs
2007-12-17 18:16:07

A federal judge Monday rejected Bush administration claims that White House visitor logs created by the Secret Service are not public records and ordered information involving the visits of nine conservative religious figures to be released to an advocacy group.

The dispute involved an effort by the administration to keep secret records that have traditionally allowed the news media or Congress to keep tabs on who has been visiting the White House or vice president's office. Administration lawyers have taken the position that the logs are presidential records outside of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth rejected the Bush Administration's argument, saying the records qualify as "agency records" subject to disclosure, noting that the information in the visitor logs was created by the Secret Service and is under its control, not the White House.

He also rejected the government's argument that the records should be kept secret to preserve the confidentiality of presidential and vice presidential deliberations. He noted testimony of an aide to Cheney herself that the purpose of the visits is not apparent from the documents.

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Photos Show Black Hole Blasting Neighboring Galaxy With Deadly Radiation, Energy
2007-12-17 18:15:33
The latest act of senseless violence caught on tape is cosmic in scope: A black hole in a "death star galaxy" blasting a neighboring galaxy with a deadly jet of radiation and energy.

A fleet of space and ground telescopes have captured images of this cosmic violence, which people have never witnessed before, according to a new study released Monday by NASA.

"It's like a bully, a black-hole bully punching the nose of a passing galaxy," said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who wasn't involved in the research.

Ultimately, this could be a deadly punch.

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Economic Worries Cause Stocks To Fall On Wall Street
2007-12-17 18:14:57
Wall Street extended last week's losses Monday as investors remained concerned about flagging growth and rising prices, and were skeptical that a special Federal Reserve credit auction will be a solution.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 175 points and all the major indexes lost at least 1 percent.

The Fed offered $20 billion in 28-day credit through an auction Monday. The central bank will not release the results until Wednesday, but the aim of the auction is to encourage commercial banks to borrow from the Fed. That, in turn, is designed to boost banks' lending to businesses and consumers and keep the economy humming.

Last week, the Fed disappointed investors when it cut interest rates by only a quarter of a percentage point, which was less than some analysts expected. Wall Street is pleased that policy makers say they will keep trying to lift market confidence, which has dwindled since home foreclosures started soaring, but the market is so far unconvinced that the auction will be enough.

A speech Sunday night by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan added to the market's ill humor. Greenspan said "stagflation" - when inflation accelerates and the economy weakens - is a growing possibility, given last week's data showing spiking consumer prices. With inflation on the rise, the Fed, which has reduced the target federal funds rate three times since the summer, might feel less inclined to lower rates again.

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Fed Reserve Shrugged As Subprime Crisis Spread
2007-12-18 02:52:42
Until the boom in subprime mortgages turned into a national nightmare this summer, the few people who tried to warn federal banking officials might as well have been talking to themselves.

Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor who died in September, warned nearly seven years ago that a fast-growing new breed of lenders was luring many people into risky mortgages they could not afford, but when Gramlich privately urged Fed examiners to investigate mortgage lenders affiliated with national banks, he was rebuffed by Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman.

In 2001, a senior Treasury official, Sheila C. Bair, tried to persuade subprime lenders to adopt a code of “best practices” and to let outside monitors verify their compliance. None of the lenders would agree to the monitors, and many rejected the code itself. Even those who did adopt those practices, Bair recalled recently, soon let them slip.

Leaders of a housing advocacy group in California, meeting with Greenspan in 2004, warned that deception was increasing and unscrupulous practices were spreading.

John C. Gamboa and Robert L. Gnaizda of the Greenlining Institute implored Greenspan to use his bully pulpit and press for a voluntary code of conduct.

“He never gave us a good reason, but he didn’t want to do it,” Gnaizda said last week. “He just wasn’t interested.”

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$7.4 Billion Pledged For Palestinians
2007-12-18 02:51:13
Eighty-seven countries and international organizations pledged $7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians on Monday, in the most ambitious fund-raising effort in more than a decade to help Palestinians create a viable, peaceful and secure state of their own.

The total is set to cover the next three years. The Palestinians had hoped to secure $5.6 billion in budgetary and development support over the next three years, but the amount pledged exceeded that figure.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represented the United States at the one-day conference here.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said at the conference that a “moment of truth” had arrived, urging the world to increase its aid for Palestinians - or risk disaster.

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Telecom Immunity Bill Advances In U.S. Senate
2007-12-17 18:16:34
President George W. Bush's demand for immunity for telephone companies that participated in his warrantless domestic spying program won an initial victory on Monday in the U.S. Senate.

On a vote of 76-10, far more than the 60 needed, the Democratic-led Senate cleared a procedural hurdle and began considering a bill to increase congressional and judicial oversight of electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists.

It includes a provision to grant retroactive immunity to any telecommunications company that took part in Bush's spying program - surveillance without court warrants of e-mails and telephone calls of people in the United States - begun shortly after the September 11 attacks.

Nearly 40 lawsuits have been filed accusing AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel Corp. of violating U.S. privacy rights.

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Editorial: Disappointments On Climate
2007-12-17 18:15:48
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Monday, December 17, 2007.

A week that could have brought important progress on climate change ended in disappointment.

In Bali, where delegates from 187 countries met to begin framing a new global warming treaty, America’s negotiators were in full foot-dragging mode, acting as spoilers rather than providing the leadership the world needs.

In Washington, caving to pressures from the White House, the utilities and the oil companies, the Senate settled for a merely decent energy bill instead of a very good one that would have set the country on a clear path to a cleaner energy future.

The news from Bali was particularly disheartening. The delegates agreed to negotiate by 2009 a new and more comprehensive global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. (Kyoto expires in 2012 and requires that only industrialized nations reduce their production of greenhouse gases.) They pledged for the first time to address deforestation, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And they received vague assurances from China - which will soon overtake the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases - and other emerging powers that they would seek “measurable, reportable and verifiable” emissions cuts.

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Russia Delivers First Shipment Of Nuclear Fuel To Iran
2007-12-17 18:15:14
Russia, announced Monday that it has delivered an initial shipment of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, a step that Moscow and Washington said removes any need for Tehran to pursue a widely opposed uranium enrichment program.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had received written assurances from Tehran that the 82 tons of fuel will be used only at the Bushehr power plant, which has been dogged by delays amid suspicions that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The oil-rich country insists that the plant, which will generate electricity, is part of an effort to diversify its energy sources.

In an appearance in Northern Virginia, President Bush expressed support for the Russian delivery, saying it obviates the need for Iran to proceed with a program to enrich uranium. Bush also said he still thinks that "Iran is a danger to peace" despite a recent U.S. intelligence finding that Tehran ended a covert nuclear weapons program four years ago.

Russia, which is building the $1 billion Bushehr facility, had halted construction at the plant this year, ostensibly because of a financing dispute. But Western diplomats and analysts here said Moscow was in fact expressing its displeasure at Iran's failure to cooperate fully with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog organization. They said Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, were also alarmed at the bellicose rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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