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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday March 29 2008 - (813)

Saturday March 29 2008 edition
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Bush Finalizing Mortgage Aid Plan
2008-03-29 02:50:33

The Bush administration is finalizing details of a plan to rescue thousands of homeowners at risk of foreclosure by helping them refinance into more affordable mortgages backed by public funds, said government officials.

The proposal is aimed at assisting borrowers who owe their banks more than their homes are worth because of plummeting prices, an issue at the heart of the nation's housing crisis. Under the plan, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) would encourage lenders to forgive a portion of those loans and issue new, smaller mortgages in exchange for the financial backing of the federal government.

The plan is similar to elements in legislation proposed two weeks ago by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said officials. Administration officials said they believe they can accomplish some of the same goals through regulatory changes, though important details have yet to be nailed down.

If enacted, the plan would mark the first time the White House has committed federal dollars to help the most hard-pressed borrowers, people struggling to repay loans that are huge relative to their incomes and the diminished value of their homes. That may offer encouragement to the banking industry and help silence Democrats, who have accused the White House of rescuing Wall Street investment banks while ignoring distressed homeowners, but it could agitate conservatives, who are likely to view the FHA plan as yet another government bailout.

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We're Fighting For Survival, Says Mahdi Army Commander
2008-03-29 02:49:50

A senior commander in the Mahdi army said Friday the militia is fighting a battle for survival in Basra against a rival Shia faction seeking to obliterate it ahead of September elections.

Fighting broke out in Basra on Tuesday when Iraqi government forces launched an offensive against Shia militia in the city. Overnight, U.S. jets carried out air strikes in support of Iraqi forces in at least two locations.

Shiek Ali al-Sauidi, a prominent member of the Moqtada al-Sadr-led movement in Basra, said his men were being targeted not by the Iraqi government but by government militias loyal to the rival Supreme Islamic Council faction.

"They are a executing a very well drawn plan. They are trying to exterminate the Sadrists and cut and isolate the movement before the September local elections," he said in a telephone interview with the Guardian.

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White House Staffer Resigns Amid Investigations
2008-03-29 02:49:09

A mid-level White House staff member has resigned after informing officials of allegations that he misused federal grant money for personal gain before he joined the government, a White House official said yesterday.

Felipe Sixto quit as special assistant to President Bush on March 20 after learning that the nonprofit Center for a Free Cuba planned to take legal action against him, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. Sixto was chief of staff at the Washington, D.C.,-based group for about three years before joining the White House's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs last July.

The matter has been referred to the Justice Department, and the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the source of the grant funds, was investigating as well, said Stanzel.

"The president was notified about this," said Stanzel. "He thought the proper actions were being taken and the matter should be appropriately investigated."

Sixto, 28, did not return two telephone messages left Friday at his home in Frederick, Maryland.

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5 Former U.S. Secretaries Of State Urge Closure Of Guantanamo, Talks With Iran
2008-03-28 16:26:01
Five former U.S. secretaries of State on Thursday urged the next presidential administration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and open a dialogue with Iran.

The former chiefs of American diplomacy, who served in Democratic and Republican administrations, reached a consensus on the two issues at a conference in Athens, Georgia, aimed at giving the next president some bipartisan foreign policy advice.

Each of them said closing the prison in Cuba would bolster America's image abroad.

"It says to the world: 'We are now going back to our traditional respective forms of dealing with people who potentially committed crimes'," said Colin L. Powell, who served as President Bush's first secretary of State.
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Sen. Leahy Says Clinton Should Drop Out Of Presidential Race
2008-03-28 16:25:37
Sen. Patrick Leahy has gone where no Democratic leader has dared go. It's time, the Vermont senator said, for Hillary Clinton to get out of the presidential race. "She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama," he told Vermont Public Radio.

Clinton's campaign has spent the past two weeks trying to fight off such talk. The New York senator has argued her case that there are still 10 contests left on the calendar and that millions of Democrats deserve to be heard. She has argued that neither she nor Obama can hit the magic threshold of 2,024 delegates without the help of uncommitted superdelegates. She has argued - correctly - that pledged delegates aren't actually legally pledged to any candidate and can switch sides.

In every way possible, her campaign is trying to keep open any avenue that would help preserve a path to the nomination. Some of her leading fundraisers have tried to intimidate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into backing away from comments widely interpreted as sympathetic to Obama. Her advisers continue to look for a solution that will bring Florida and particularly Michigan voters back into play. Those advisers have continued to seed doubts about Obama's strength as a general election candidate.

The bitterness and frustration on both sides is growing. Near-daily conference calls by the two campaigns heap invective upon invective. Even if most of what is said on those calls is quickly lost to history, their fevered nature enlarges the gulf that eventually will have to be bridged once there is a nominee.

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U.S. Seen Taking Lead In Baghdad Fighting
2008-03-28 16:24:30
U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in the vast Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, and military officials said Friday that U.S. aircraft bombed militant positions in the southern city of Basra, as the American role in a campaign against party-backed militias appeared to expand. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the Sadr City fighting, as U.S. troops took the lead.

Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of U.S. weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.

As President Bush told an Ohio audience that Iraq was returning to "normalcy," administration officials in Washington, D.C., held meetings to assess what appeared to be a rapidly deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country.

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Economists Warn Of Long-Term Effects Of Bush Tax Cuts, But Are Candidates Listening?
2008-03-28 16:23:48

When President Bush pushed big tax breaks through Congress in 2001 and 2003, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona)  joined Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) and other Democrats in opposing them as fiscally reckless. But now that McCain and Clinton are running for president, neither is looking to get rid of the cuts. Instead, they are arguing over which ones to keep.

The same is true of Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois), who recently blamed the Bush tax cuts for driving the nation toward recession. But he, too, wants to preserve about half the cuts, and pile on new ones.

The direction of the tax debate is frustrating deficit hawks in Washington, who worry that none of the candidates is charting a course toward a balanced budget. Meanwhile, Bush and other politicians are telling voters alarmed by a sagging economy that keeping the cuts past their 2010 expiration date can help revive the nation's fortunes, a claim many economists say is nonsense.

Far from acting as an economic tonic, the tax cuts "are neither sustainable nor beneficial" without massive cuts in government spending far beyond what Bush or any candidate to succeed him has proposed, said Alan D. Viard, a former economist in the Bush White House who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The most popular cuts - those known as "middle-class" tax cuts - are more likely to slow economic growth than promote it, said Viard and others.

"Those are the provisions that detract from long-term growth even if you finance them with a reduction in government spending," said Robert Carroll, a former Bush Treasury official who teaches at America University. "If you pay for them with future tax increases, I think that would be awful."

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Asking A Judge To Save The World, And Maybe A Whole Lot More
2008-03-29 02:50:05
Two men are pursuing a lawsuit to stop scientists from using a giant particle accelerator, claiming it could create a black hole that may eat up the Earth.

More fighting in Iraq. Somalia in chaos. People in this country can’t afford their mortgages and in some places now they can’t even afford rice.

None of this nor the rest of the grimness on the front page today will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole that will spell the end of the Earth - and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely - though they have done some checking just to make sure.

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Treasury Dept. Plan Would Widen Fed Reserve's Power
2008-03-29 02:49:29
Plan that would give the Federal Reserve broad authority to oversee financial market stability could expose Wall Street to new scrutiny, but it avoids a call for tighter regulation.

The Treasury Department will propose on Monday that Congress give the Federal Reserve broad new authority to oversee financial market stability, in effect allowing it to send SWAT teams into any corner of the industry or any institution that might pose a risk to the overall system.

The proposal is part of a sweeping blueprint to overhaul the nation’s hodgepodge of financial regulatory agencies, which many experts say failed to recognize rampant excesses in mortgage lending until after they set off what is now the worst financial calamity in decades.

Democratic lawmakers are all but certain to say the proposal does not go far enough in restricting the kinds of practices that caused the financial crisis. Many of the proposals, like those that would consolidate regulatory agencies, have nothing to do with the turmoil in financial markets. And some of the proposals could actually reduce regulation.

According to a summary provided by the administration, the plan would consolidate an alphabet soup of banking and securities regulators into a powerful trio of overseers responsible for everything from banks and brokerage firms to hedge funds and private equity firms.

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Indians Pressure Dow On Bhopal Cleanup
2008-03-29 02:48:52
Twenty-three years after a Union Carbide chemical plant in India spewed poisonous gas in what remains the world's worst industrial disaster, survivors are demanding a cleanup of toxic chemicals at the abandoned factory site that have contaminated their groundwater.

On Friday, about 70 protesters arrived in New Delhi after marching 500 miles from Bhopal, the city whose name has become synonymous with the catastrophe. Organizers of the march said about 50 more people will arrive by train every day until their demands are met.

The marchers say Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., which acquired Union Carbide Corp. in 2001, is responsible for cleaning up the site and paying the medical bills incurred after their exposure to the toxic water. They have also asked Dow to produce representatives of Union Carbide who have been charged with culpable homicide in the disaster.

"After 23 years, the neighborhood around the factory still shows a high rate of birth defects, cancer and other disabilities," said Nafisa Khan, 40, who marched from her home near the factory site to New Delhi. "The toxic chemicals buried in and around the factory have entered groundwater, and we use the contaminated water for drinking, cooking and bathing. First we were hit by the poisonous gas and then by this bad water that gives us skin diseases, chest pain and loss of appetite."

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Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Casey To Endorse Obama
2008-03-28 16:25:49
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey plans to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president Friday in Pittsburgh, sending a message both to the state's primary voters and to undecided superdelegates who might decide the close race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Dan Pfeiffer, deputy communications director for the Obama campaign, confirmed that Casey would announce his support during a rally at the Soldiers and Sailors Military Museum and Memorial and that he would then set out with the Illinois senator on part of a six-day bus trip across the state.

The endorsement comes as something of a surprise. Casey, a deliberative and cautious politician, had been adamant about remaining neutral until after the April 22 primary. He had said he wanted to help unify the party after the intensifying fight between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"There are few stronger advocates for working families in Pennsylvania than Sen. Casey," said Pfeiffer.

By coming out for Obama, Casey puts himself at odds with many top state Democrats - including Gov. Rendell, Rep. John P. Murtha and Mayor Nutter - who are campaigning for Clinton.

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Editorial: Broken Ice In Antarctica
2008-03-28 16:24:48
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, March 28, 2008.

Winter is coming to Antarctica, and that may be the only thing that keeps another of its major ice shelves from collapsing. On Tuesday, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announced that there had been an enormous fracture on the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf, which started breaking last month.

That province of ice, a body of permanent floating ice about the size of Connecticut, lies on the western edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, the part of the continent regarded as most vulnerable to climate change. Scientists flew over the break - itself covering some 160 square miles - and what they saw is remarkable: huge, geometrically fractured slabs of ice and, among them, the rubble of a catastrophic breach. A great swath of the ice shelf is being held in place by a thin band of ice.

What matters isn’t just the scale of this breakout. Changes in wind patterns and water temperatures related to global warming have begun to erode the ice sheets of western Antarctica at a faster rate than previously detected, and the total collapse of the Wilkins ice shelf is now within the realm of possibility.

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Commentary: Beijing, Tibet And The West
2008-03-28 16:24:09
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Jean-Jackques Mevel, Beijing correspondent for Italy's Le Figaro newspaper. It appeared in the Le Figaro edition for Wednesday, March 26, 2008.

Le Figaro's correspondent in Beijing finds that "Beijing is wrong about Tibet; the West is wrong about China, and the Tibetans are wrong about Westerners."

The powerful machine of the Party-State surely did not foresee things happening this way. Beijing still wants the Games to be the brilliant showcase for its success. But right at the kick-off of the Olympic season, propaganda was forced to close the curtain. Chinese television cut the retransmission of the ceremony in Olympia and deprived its hundreds of millions of viewers of pictures - signaling that the Olympic Games have not won everyone over.

Of course, repression of the Tibetan revolt explains the controversy and the censorship. The incident is not the last. The flame's trek should be a triumphant ascent to the Games' Beijing opening on August 8. Instead, it will be an odyssey under elevated police protection in London, Paris, San Francisco and Nagano. The Chinese round will escape the booing. But in Lhasa June 21, throats will be choked up.

The Olympic ideal is a bit of sloppy multicultural mush. The peculiarity of this crisis is that all sides think they've been betrayed. Three misunderstandings crystallize this formidable debacle. China has erred with respect to Tibet. The West has been deluded about China. And to complete the circle, Tibetans run the risk of paying dearly for their illusions if they expect much more from democracies than smoke and mirrors.

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Former Alabama Gov. Sieggelman Freed On Appeal
2008-03-28 16:23:25
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was released on bond from a federal prison Friday, saying he remains upbeat despite serving nine months for corruption.

Leaving the prison in a black sport utility vehicle, he stopped on a road outside the lockup to comment. He wore a ragged shirt that appeared to be prison clothing.

''I may have lost my freedom for awhile, but I never lost faith,'' Siegelman, 62, told reporters.

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Siegelman should be released while he appeals his conviction.

He declined further comment, saying, ''I want to be with my family for a few days.'' But he said he would make a statement when he reaches his home in Birmingham, Alabama.

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