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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday April 15 2008 - (813)

Tuesday April 15 2008 edition
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Poll: 70% Of Americans Disapprove Of Bush's Handling Of The Economy
2008-04-15 02:32:52
Public disapproval of the way President Bush is handling the nation's economy has hit a new high in Washington Post-ABC News polling, polling, and his overall favorability rating remains near an all-time low.

Seven in 10 Americans now give negative ratings to the president's stewardship of the sinking U.S. economy. Only 28 percent approve of his performance in this area, a double-digit decline from a year ago, and even core Republicans have begun to abandon the president on the issue.

Among Republicans, 59 percent approve of the way he is handling the economy, down from 70 percent at the beginning of February and well off his career average of about 80 percent from his party's base. Only a quarter of independents and 6 percent of Democrats approve of Bush's performance on the economy.

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Commentary: Credit Crunch? The Real Crisis Is Global Hunger
2008-04-15 02:32:19
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Prof. George Monbiot and appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, April 15, 2008. Prof. Monbiot is visiting professor of Planning at Oxford Brookes University. An author of several books and has held fellowships or professorships at the universities of Oxford (environmental policy), Bristol (philosophy), Keele (politics) and East London (environmental science). His commentary follows:

Never mind the economic crisis. Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: the great food recession that is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch. You have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen by three-quarters over the past year, that of wheat by 130%. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, according to the World Bank, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices.

But I bet that you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1 billion tons, the global grain harvest broke all records last year - it beat the previous year's by almost 5%. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?

There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13 billion tons likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01 billion, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, will feed people.

I am sorely tempted to write another column about biofuels. Beginning Tuesday morning all sellers of transport fuel in the United Kingdom will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that "the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol ... could feed one person for a year". This year global stockpiles of cereals will decline by around 53 million tons; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels will consume almost 100 million tons, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis.

On these pages Monday Ruth Kelly, the (British) secretary of state for transport, promised that "if we need to adjust policy in the light of new evidence, we will". What new evidence does she require? In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity, in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.

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Debt Collectors Cost IRS Millions
2008-04-15 02:31:35
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service expects to lose more than $37 million by using private debt collectors to pursue tax scofflaws through a program that has outraged consumers and led to charges on Capitol Hill that the agency is wasting money for work that IRS agents could do more effectively.

Since 2006, the agency has used three companies to go after a $1 billion slice of the nation's unpaid taxes. Despite aggressive collection tactics, the companies have rounded up only $49 million, little more than half of what it has cost the IRS to implement the program. The debt collectors have pocketed commissions of up to 24 percent.

Now, as Americans file their 2007 taxes, Democratic leaders want to end the effort.

"This program is the hood ornament for incompetence," said U.S. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-North Dakota), a leading critic who has introduced a bill to stop the program. The measure has 23 co-sponsors, all but one of them Democrats. "It makes no sense at all to be turning over these tax accounts to private tax collectors that end up costing the taxpayers money."

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U.K. Housing Prices Fall At Fastest Rate In 30 Years
2008-04-15 02:30:39

House prices in Britain are falling at their fastest rate since records began 30 years ago as the mortgage lending freeze continues to undermine the housing market, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said Tuesday.

In a big blow to the government, which claims Britain is well-placed to withstand the global economic downturn, the RICS paints a bleak picture, in which the number of estate agents saying house prices rose, rather than fell, has dropped to the lowest point since the survey began in 1978.

The latest monthly snapshot of the housing market shows that 78.5% more surveyors reported a fall rather than a rise in house prices. The gulf has widened since February and easily eclipses the previous low of 64.5% in June 1990, when the economy was heading into recession.

The survey comes amid growing government frustration with banks and mortgage lenders. Prime Minister Gordon Brown summoned the heads of Britain's top banks for breakfast meetings Tuesday and, while government ministers still believe the housing situation is not as severe as the 1990s slump, they are concerned that some lenders are exploiting the global financial crisis.

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Pope To Arrive In U.S. Tuesday
2008-04-15 02:29:37

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Washington, D.C., Tuesday for the start of his first journey to the U.S. as pontiff, a six-day tour that will include masses at two baseball stadiums, meetings with political and religious figures, an address to the United Nations and a visit to Ground Zero.

Dubbed "the apostolic journey to the United States", the pontiff's visit begins Tuesday when he is to be welcomed by President George Bush at Andrews Air Force Base, then whisked away to the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C.

While it will be the first papal visit to the U.S. by Benedict - who turns 81 Tuesday - since he was elected in 2005, as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he traveled to the U.S. five times during his many years as the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog.

He will meet with Bush at the Oval Office Wednesday, lunch with church officials, and lead prayers at the national shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a church at the Catholic University of America.

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Co-Payments Soar For Drugs With High Prices
2008-04-14 15:57:56
Health insurance companies are rapidly adopting a new pricing system for very expensive drugs, asking patients to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for prescriptions for medications that may save their lives or slow the progress of serious diseases.

With the new pricing system, insurers abandoned the traditional arrangement that has patients pay a fixed amount, like $10, $20 or $30 for a prescription, no matter what the drug’s actual cost. Instead, they are charging patients a percentage of the cost of certain high-priced drugs, usually 20 to 33 percent, which can amount to thousands of dollars a month.

The system means that the burden of expensive health care can now affect insured people, too.

No one knows how many patients are affected, but hundreds of drugs are priced this new way. They are used to treat diseases that may be fairly common, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, hepatitis C  and some cancers. There are no cheaper equivalents for these drugs, so patients are forced to pay the price or do without.

Insurers say the new system keeps everyone’s premiums down at a time when some of the most innovative and promising new treatments for conditions like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis can cost $100,000 and more a year.

The result is that patients may have to spend more for a drug than they pay for their mortgages, more, in some cases, than their monthly incomes.

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Politics Blog: McCain Says Obama Remark 'Elitist'
2008-04-14 15:57:11
John McCain called Barack Obama’s recent comments that Pennsylvanians are “bitter” an “elitist” remark but stopped short of calling Obama himself elitist.

“I don’t know Senator Obama very well,” said Senator McCain, addressing a packed crowd of journalists at a newspaper editors’ conference on Monday.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, spoke at length about how small town Americans in places like Pennsylvania are the backbone of America. Those folks don’t support the Second Amendment because of recent economic hardships, said McCain, they do it because that’s been part of their values system for generations.

“These are the people that produced a generation that made the world safe for democracy,” sais McCain. “These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual, and other values that in my view have very little to do with their economic condition.”

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CBS Journalist Freed In Iraq Raid
2008-04-14 15:56:39
Iraqi soldiers burst into a house in Basra on Monday morning and freed a British journalist who had been kidnapped two months ago in the southern port city.

The journalist, Richard Butler, a photographer for CBS, was found with his hands bound and a bag tied over his head.

Shortly after being freed, Butler appeared on Al Iraqiya, the government’s television network, smiling and embracing Iraqi military officials, who offered him apples and water. An official of Iraq's Defense Ministry, holding a microphone, asked him, “Iraqi Army good?”

“Iraqi Army brilliant,” said Butler, adding, “The Iraqi Army stormed my house and overcame my guard.”

After the broadcast, Butler, who along with an Iraqi interpreter was kidnapped from the Sultan Palace Hotel in downtown Basra, was taken to the British consulate, where he was examined by doctors, said a spokesman for the consulate in Basra. The interpreter was released on Feb. 13 after negotiations between the kidnappers and representatives in Basra of Shiite cleric Moktada Al-Sadr. 

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Zimbabwe Court Refuses To Release Vote Results
2008-04-14 15:56:01
Zimbabwe's political opposition suffered a rebuff on Monday when the country’s High Court dismissed its demand that the results of last month’s presidential election be released immediately.

Nqobizitha Mlilo, a spokesman for the main opposition party, confirmed that the court had dismissed its demand, and he said the party was still considering how it would react to the ruling. The opposition has already threatened to hold a general strike this week. Later Monday, news agencies in Harare, the capital, quoted opposition officials as saying they would go ahead with the strike.

Zimbabwean election officials have yet to announce the winner of the presidential election, held March 29, causing widespread suspicions that Robert Mugabe, who has been president since the country won its independence 28 years ago, is refusing to accept defeat.

On Tuesday, the court is expected to consider a separate petition from Mugabe’s party, known as ZANU-PF, which is seeking a recount of the vote in 23 parliamentary constituencies.

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D.C. Madam Case Goes To Jury
2008-04-14 15:54:42

Jurors began deliberating this afternoon in Deborah Jeane Palfrey's prostitution-related racketeering trial after federal prosecutors rested their case and Palyfrey's attorney said he would call no witnesses.

After four days of testimony last week in which 13 women said they worked as call girls for Palfrey's Washington, D.C., area escort service, prosecutor Daniel Butler said in his closing argument today that evidence showed that Palfrey, 52, was aware that her employees were engaging in prostitution.

"Men do not pay $250 an hour for 90 minutes for casual conversation," Butler told the jurors in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Palfrey, who ran her escort business, Pamela Martin & Associates, from 1993 to 2006 from her California home, says it was "a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service" allowing men to engage in "quasi-sexual" game-playing with women. She says she did not know her escorts were performing sex acts for money.

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World Bank Call For Immediate Action On World Food Crisis
2008-04-14 03:04:59

Gunfire in Haiti. Riots in Cameroon. A government crisis in the Philippines. The effects of skyrocketing food prices have reached every corner of the globe. Now, the World Bank has called for world leaders to take action before it is too late.

The president of the World Bank Sunday urged immediate action to deal with sharply rising food prices, which have caused hunger and violence in several countries.

Robert B. Zoellick said the international community has to "put our money where our mouth is" now to help hungry people. Zoellick spoke as the bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, ended two days of meetings in Washington, D.C.

Zoellick said that the fall of the government in Haiti over the weekend after a wave of deadly rioting and looting over food prices underscores the importance of quick international action.

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Fossilized Finds - Scientists Reveal Secrets Of Opaque Amber
2008-04-14 03:03:57

Until now, fossils hidden inside opaque amber have remained elusive to scientists. But now French researchers have developed a special technique which allows them to peer inside the material using X-rays - and the results are spectacular.

Opaque amber conceals insights into life forms from tens of millions of years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. But until now, the animals preserved inside the opaque "stones" have remained tantalizingly hidden.

However, a new technological breakthrough has changed all that, enabling scientists to peer into the amber chunks for the first time - and make some fascinating discoveries.

By aiming a high-tech X-ray machine at opaque amber chunks found near Charentes in southwest France, Paul Tafforeau from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, was able to shine a new light into the amber's secrets.

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Chinese Ambassador To London Warns Of Backlash Over 'Demonization' Of China
2008-04-14 03:03:06

The western media's "demonization" of China could lead to a backlash against the west, the Chinese ambassador to London warned Sunday.

Fu Ying said that "violent attacks on the torch" in London eight days ago, when thousands of people protested, had convinced Chinese Olympic athletes that people in Britain "were against them". Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Fu said: "One girl remarked she couldn't believe this land nourished Shakespeare and Dickens. Another asked: where is the 'gentlemenship'?"

The ambassador warned that negative media coverage and the protests that have dogged the Olympic torch relay were damaging the west's image in China.

"Many who had romantic views of the west are very disappointed at the media's attempt to demonize China. We all know demonization feeds a counter-reaction," she said. "Many complain about China not allowing enough access to the media. In China, the view is that the western media need to earn respect."

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Kenyan Rivals Reach Accord On Cabinet
2008-04-14 03:02:24
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his political rival Raila Odinga agreed on the details of a 40-member cabinet Sunday, implementing a power-sharing deal they reached in February.

The two leaders had bickered for weeks over key ministries as Kenyans grew increasingly worried that the country was again slipping into the violence that killed an estimated 1,000 people and displaced as many as a million after the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election.

Last week, demonstrators took to the streets in two Odinga strongholds, the western city of Kisumu and Kibera, one of Nairobi's poorest neighborhoods, as people grew impatient waiting for the political announcement.

With international pressure mounting, Kibaki on Sunday announced the new cabinet and named Odinga as prime minister. Odinga will oversee and manage the cabinet.

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U.S. Retail Chains Caught In Wave Of Bankruptcies
2008-04-15 02:32:37

The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains - as diverse as the furniture store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image - have filed for bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining sales.

The troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to people briefed on the matter.

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to shutter 117, and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

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U.S. Bank Admits Sub-prime Emergency
2008-04-15 02:32:01
Wachovia to cover losses with $7 billion fundraising; Citigroup and Merill Lynch expected to report huge writedowns this week.

The gloom enveloping the banking sector worsened Monday after America's fourth-largest bank, Wachovia, admitted it needed to raise $7 billion (£3.52 billion) through an emergency fundraising after running up losses caused by the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The North Carolina-based bank incurred a surprise $350 million loss in the first quarter of 2008 compared with a $2.3 billion profit a year earlier, driving its shares down 10%.

The news came as two of the biggest names on Wall Street - Citigroup and Merrill Lynch - are poised to report huge writedowns. Analysts are bracing themselves for total writedowns of $17 billion when the two banks report their quarterly results this week.

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Editorial: When Medicine Costs Soar Beyond Reach
2008-04-15 02:31:13
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, April 15, 2008.

It doesn’t take a health policy expert to recognize that something has gone terribly wrong when patients have to pay thousands of dollars a month for drugs that they need to maintain their health - and possibly save their lives. Congress needs to determine why this is happening and what can be done about it.

The plight of patients who have recently been hit with a huge increase in their insurance co-payments for high-priced prescription drugs was laid out in The Times on Monday by Gina Kolata. Instead of paying a modest $10 to $30 co-payment, as is usually the case for cheaper drugs, patients who need especially costly medicines are being forced to pay 20 percent to 33 percent of the bill (up to an annual maximum) for drugs that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, a year.

These drugs - what insurers call Tier 4 medicines - are used to treat such serious illnesses as multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, certain cancers and rheumatoid arthritis. And since there are usually no cheaper alternatives, patients must either pay or do without, unless they can get their medicines through some charitable plan.

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Delta, Northwest Agree To Merger Forming World's Largest Airline
2008-04-15 02:30:04
Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines last night announced a proposed merger that would create the world's largest carrier and possibly spur an industry-wide round of restructuring that could vastly change air travel for millions of Americans.

The proposal, which was months in the making, would create a global airline with seven domestic hubs and international destinations stretching from Asia to South America to Europe. It comes as new international agreements have reduced barriers to competition, fuel prices have skyrocketed and the economy has weakened. In the past month, four discount airlines have sought bankruptcy protection.

The merger of the two carriers is far from a certainty, however. It would need to pass regulatory muster, and Northwest has yet to reach an agreement with its pilots, an employee group that could complicate integrating the airlines. Concerns about industry consolidation have been raised on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have expressed extreme frustration in recent weeks at declining airline customer service, increasing flight delays and questions over the industry's maintenance practices.

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MDC Party Calls For General Strike In Zimbabwe
2008-04-15 02:28:44

Zimbabwe's opposition party has called an indefinite general strike beginning Tuesday after the county's high court rejected its attempt to force the immediate release of the results of the presidential election held 17 days ago.

The strike is a crucial test of the Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC) ability to mobilize popular protest against what it says is President Robert Mugabe's refusal to accept defeat. Some party leaders believe a strike is now the only effective way of pressuring the government.

The MDC said the high court accepted the state-run election commission's explanation that the results were being withheld because it was investigating alleged irregularities. "It's a very sad day in Zimbabwe," said the party's lawyer, Andrew Makoni. "[The court] has given the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) a blank check. We don't know when the ZEC will be ready with results. We don't know what specific time would be reasonable in the eyes of the court."

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Editorial: Foreclosure Politics
2008-04-14 15:57:25
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Monday, April 14, 2008.

With foreclosures running at about 20,000 per week, at least 100,000 more families are likely to lose their homes before Congress passes a relief bill. And even then, the measure may fail to stanch the problem unless Congress comes up with something that is significantly better than proposals currently in either chamber.

To produce a worthy relief package, lawmakers will first have to scrap most of the provisions in a bill passed last week by the Senate.

That bill would cost $21 billion over 10 years, with $15 billion of the total going to tax cuts that offer no direct help to at-risk families or hard-hit communities. One set of cuts would subsidize renewable energy; another would let businesses take temporarily larger write-offs for losses. A proposed $7,000 tax credit for buyers of foreclosed homes could backfire, encouraging more foreclosures by allowing banks to charge more for repossessed property. A measure to let non-itemizers deduct property taxes is dubious tax policy and bad foreclosure prevention, since it does not target the neediest.

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Chinese Official Freeze Olympic Construction Projects
2008-04-14 15:56:57
Chines officials laid out an ambitious series of measures on Monday that will freeze construction projects, slow down steel production and shutter quarries in and around the capital this summer in an attempt to clear the air for the Olympics. Even spray painting outdoors will be banned during the weeks before and after sporting events, which begin Aug. 8.

Although officials initially suggested the city’s wholesale transformation would be complete long before the opening ceremonies, the announcement nonetheless represents the most detailed possible plan for how Beijing might reach its long-standing pledge to stage “green Games” in one of the world’s most polluted cities. In earlier proclamations, officials had said that the city’s makeover would be competed by the end of 2007.

The measures announced on Monday include a two-month halt in construction, beginning July 20, and government directives will force coal-burning power plants to reduce their emissions by 30 percent throughout most of the summer. Officials said that 19 heavy-polluting enterprises, including steel mills, coke plants and refineries, would be either temporarily mothballed or forced to reduce production. Gas stations that do not meet environmental standards will closed, cement production will stop, and the use toxic solvents outdoors will be forbidden. If Beijing’s air remains unacceptably sullied in the days leading up the Games, officials said they would take “stringent steps” to curb polluting industries, although they declined to say what those measures might be.

“We will do everything possible to honor the promise,” Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau, said during a news conference. “Just tell everybody they don’t have to worry.”

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Wachovia Posts $350 Million First Quarter Loss
2008-04-14 15:56:23

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia bank posted an unexpected net loss of $350 million for the first three months of the year, as problems in the U.S. mortgage market continued to drag down financial companies that invested heavily in riskier sub-prime loans.

The company announced today it would seek to raise as much as $8 billion through a stock sale - the second time this year Wachovia has moved to bolster its balance sheet with additional capital - and slash its dividend to investors.

The Wachovia report added to a dismal start for the current round of corporate earnings reports. On Friday, General Electric reported a rare drop in earnings, helping send major Wall Street markets down more than 2 percent.

Although futures were pointing sharply lower, markets were largely flat when trading began after new data showed a slight rise in retail spending in March - a better than expected outcome.

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Berlusconi Wins Election In Italy
2008-04-14 15:54:59
Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi reclaimed power in key U.S. ally Italy on Monday after clinching decisive victories in both houses of parliament.

The 71-year-old media mogul was congratulated by his main rival, former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, who conceded defeat even though the vote counting was still under way.

''The election result is clear even if we wait for the final data,'' said Veltroni. ''It says that the right will govern this country.''

Berlusconi, who was in his villa near Milan, made no immediate statement, just waving as he passed in his Mercedes.

In the Senate - a race that had been expected to be close - Berlusconi was projected to win 163 seats compared to 141 for Veltroni. The body has 315 seats.

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Clinton, Obama Discuss Faith At College Forum
2008-04-14 03:05:17
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) asserted Sunday night that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois), through his recent description of sentiments in small-town America, reinforced a stereotype of "out-of-touch" Democrats that doomed the party's past two presidential nominees.

"We had two very good men, and men of faith, run for president in 2000 and 2004, but large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life," said Clinton at Messiah College, referring to former vice president Al Gore and Sen. John F. Kerry (Massachusetts). She repeated her view that Obama had been "elitist ... and, frankly, patronizing."

Her remarks came in a nationally televised forum on religious and moral values, which brought Clinton and her rival to the private Christian school just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The discussion represented a remarkable departure from the Democrats' increasingly harsh tone of campaign rhetoric. Both candidates dropped biblical references and spoke of policy issues such as energy and health care in the context of their Christian faith.

Obama was questioned at the start of his session about his reference to religion in his small-town remarks - perhaps the most controversial word he uttered. Describing the Pennsylvania political landscape at a private fundraiser last Sunday in San Francisco, California, Obama told of how people "cling" to such issues as religion and guns when they become disillusioned by hard economic times and by politicians who promise much but deliver little.

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U.N. Climate Chief Says Rich Nations Failing To Lead On CO2 Emissions
2008-04-14 03:04:35
Developing world "dismayed by lack of leadership; new deal to replace Kyoto protocol under threat.

Developing countries, including China and India, are unwilling to sign up to a new global climate change pact to replace the Kyoto protocol in 2012 because the rich world has failed to set a clear example on cutting carbon emissions, according to the United Nation's top climate official.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said too many rich countries, including the US, had failed to take the action needed to convince the developing nations to sign up to a deal in Copenhagen next year that could help to stabilize global emissions.

"You may not be able to get an agreement in one shot, let's say by Copenhagen, that sets you on the path of stabilization in keeping with some kind of long-term target," Pachauri told the Guardian. "Looking at the politics of the situation, I doubt whether any of the developing countries will make any commitments before they have seen the developed countries take a specific stand."

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Is Northern Afghanistan Becoming A Powderkeg?
2008-04-14 03:03:29
The slayings of six development aid workers and three attacks against the German military in four weeks underscore the "alarming developments" in Northern Afghanistan, warns the head of the German Army, the Bundeswehr. The area of German deployment once believed to be safe is turning into a powderkeg.

It was a dark Wednesday for the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan. First, a car laden with explosives managed to wedge its way between an armored Wolf jeep and a Mungo truck near Kunduz at 6:35 p.m. Then the driver detonated a bomb. It was only by chance that nothing terrible happened in Esakhail that evening. Other than suffering from fear and shock, the Germans escaped uninjured. The Germany army, the Bundeswehr, though, knew the area had become dangerous. Indeed, just days before, at the end of March, an explosive device was detonated near a military convoy.

Just two hours later, the next alarm bells began to ring. A reconnaissance patrol was driving a Fennek vehicle out of the camp at Kundus as the Germans were attacked with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The soldiers reacted to the attack, which set fire to a camouflage net on a vehicle, by firing back from their own cannon. The troops returned to the base after the incident and no German soldiers were injured.

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Pakistan's Musharraf Blasts West Over Olympics, Criticism Of China
2008-04-14 03:02:50
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is accusing Western leaders and media of politicizing the Olympics by criticizing China's human rights record and its policy in Tibet.

"First of all, we consider Tibet an inalienable part of China," he said in an interview with China Daily on Sunday. If "anyone is harboring or abetting the separatists, we condemn that."

Musharraf is in Beijing to meet with various Chinese officials.

Last week the international leg of the Olympic torch relay set off protests in London, Paris and San Francisco. The relay received warmer receptions over the weekend in Argentina and Tanzania.
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Former Maoist Guerrillas On Brink Of Historic Nepal Election Victory
2008-04-14 03:02:07

Former communist rebels in Nepal appear to be on the brink of a historic sweep in elections that will decide the political future of the Himalayan nation and end the rule of its 239-year-old royal dynasty.

The Maoists' party has won 42 seats and is leading in 58 constituencies, the election commission said in a statement on its website. The traditional politicians, who had expected to win the polls, have been reduced to bit-part players.

The country's oldest and biggest political party, the Nepali Congress, has so far won 13 seats and the Unified Marxist-Leninists, the traditional communist party, had just 14 seats in the latest count.

The vote is the culmination of a peace process that began in 2006 when street protests ended the absolute rule of King Gyanendra.

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