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Friday, May 23, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday May 23 2008 - (813)

Friday May 23 2008 edition
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McCain Denounces Hagee
2008-05-23 01:17:38
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) Thursday rejected the endorsement of megachurch pastor and ardent Zionist John Hagee after learning of a sermon in which Hagee posited that Nazism was God's will.

Hagee's sermon was delivered in the late 1990s but a video of it began circulating widely this week on the Web on the site talk2action,which monitors the religious right. The sermon calls Hitler a "hunter," a reference to the Book of Jeremiah, which quotes God saying he "will restore [the Jews] to the land I gave to their forefathers."

Hagee is one of the country's best-known evangelical Christian Zionists; he founded a pro-Israel alliance of Christian groups and has donated tens of millions from his Texas-based ministry to support humanitarian causes in Israel. He has said he is driven by the belief that the creation of the state of Israel, and the return of Jews to Palestine, are God's will.

"A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter," Hagee says in the sermon. "And the Bible says - Jeremiah writing - 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."

When asked what McCain thought of the remarks, campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds responded with an e-mail from the candidate, denouncing Hagee.

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U.S. Home Price Index Posts Sharpest Decline In 17-Year History
2008-05-23 01:17:12
A home-price index considered to be the most comprehensive reading of the U.S. market posted the sharpest decline in its 17-year history, and analysts say housing has yet to bottom out.

Rapidly falling home prices in California, Florida and Nevada skewed the national results.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight said Thursday that home prices fell 3.1 percent in the first quarter compared with last year.

It was only the second quarter of price declines since the index started in 1991. The price index first declined on a year-over-year basis in the final quarter of 2007, when it dropped 0.45 percent.

Another widely followed reading, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index, has shown larger declines for major U.S. metropolitan areas, but analysts say the government index provides a more comprehensive reading of nationwide housing market.

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Oil Rises Above $131 A Barrel After Mini-Slide From $135
2008-05-23 01:16:38
Oil rose on Friday, recovering from a strong bout of profit-taking in the previous session that pulled prices back more than 3 percent from the record high above $135 a barrel.

U.S. light crude for July delivery was up 44 cents at $131.25 a barrel by 0334 GMT. It surged to $135.09 on Thursday before slumping to settle at $130.81, the first time in five sessions that it settled lower.

London Brent crude was up 74 cents at $131.25.

"Supplies not growing is still the main thing. OPEC can turn the tap but they cannot do it forever, and non-OPEC growth is not enough," said Tony Nunan, risk management executive at Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Corp. 

"But demand is important too, and it is not falling as much as expected," he added.

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Oil Execs Sing Same Old Song On Gasoline Prices
2008-05-23 01:16:15
U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz peered down at the executives from the nation’s biggest oil companies, arrayed before the House Judiciary Committee like five targets in a carnival dunk tank, wearing dark suits and ties instead of swim trunks.

It was the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend - the ideal time for Congress to show its solidarity with angry American motorists. Ms. Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, channeled the rage of every parent in America who has pulled into a gas station recently on the way to ballet lessons or soccer practice, letting loose on the men from Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP America. 

“I’m a mom of three young children who filled up her minivan the other day for $68,” she said, seething. “Sixty-eight dollars - that’s real money. Maybe that’s not real money to the five people sitting here because $68 is like a nickel to you, based on the income you all earn.”

Ah, the sweet, indelible signs of summer. Baseball. Backyard barbecues. And dramatic Congressional hearings over the rising price of gasoline.

In what has become a regular show in the hearing rooms on Capitol Hill, the oil company executives took a second day of lashings on Thursday. On Wednesday, they went through a similar exercise with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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As Primary Race Wanes, Talk Of Obama-Clinton Ticket Increases
2008-05-23 01:14:54

While Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers insist that she is determined to win the Democratic nomination, friends of the couple say that former President Bill Clinton, for one, has begun privately contemplating a different outcome for her: As Senator Barack Obama's running mate.

The reports about Clinton’s musings surface as the Obama camp has quietly begun the process of searching for a partner on the Democratic ticket.

The prospect of an Obama-Clinton ticket has been fodder for political gossip for months, with some Democratic leaders pushing the idea as a way to unify the party. The Obama and Clinton campaigns have consistently shrugged off the idea, however, and Clinton has been adamant that she is only interested in the presidency.

Yet anyone who knows the Clintons is well aware that, at times, they come to politics with different motivations. Both of them want to return to the White House; Mrs. Clinton, of New York, also enjoys being a senator, while Mr. Clinton, according to associates, sees the vice presidency as perhaps her best path to becoming president someday if she loses the nominating fight. And Mr. Clinton has his own ideas about his wife’s best interests - even if she sometimes does not share them.

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House Judiciary Committee Subpoenas Carl Rove Over Role In Justice Dept. Decisions
2008-05-23 01:13:22

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed former presidential adviser Karl Rove Thursday to testify about his alleged meddling in Justice Department operations, escalating a long fight over lawmakers' authority to question Bush administration aides.

Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr., (D-Michigan) wants to ask Rove about alleged politicization of the Justice Department, including the firings of U.S. attorneys and any role Rove may have played in the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted on fraud charges but was released from prison in March pending the results of his appeal.

In recent weeks, Siegelman has intensified his accusations that the Bush administration targeted him for political reasons.

Separately, Conyers disclosed yesterday that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has opened an investigation of possible selective prosecution of Siegelman and at least three others, at the request of the House Judiciary panel. Attorney Gneral Michael B. Mukasey has vigorously rejected allegations of political motivation by department lawyers.

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UPDATE: Court Rejects Seizure Of Polygamist Sect's Children
2008-05-23 01:12:35

A Texas appeals court Thursday ruled that state child-protection officials lacked the evidence to seize children from the compound of a polygamist sect last month, rejecting arguments that the group's belief system is itself a dangerous form of abuse.

The court's decision, issued in Austin in response to petitions from 41 mothers, did not immediately return the 464 children seized at the Yearning for Zion Ranch to their parents, but experts said the state's justification for the raid at the West Texas compound run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) may have been fatally undermined.

"Even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse by grooming boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and raising girls to be victims of sexual abuse," the three-judge panel wrote, "... there is no evidence that this danger is 'immediate' or 'urgent' ... with respect to every child in the community."

If Texas officials cannot produce new evidence of abuse or win an appeal to the state Supreme Court, experts and lawyers involved in the case predicted, many of the children eventually could be returned to their parents. The appellate judges directed a lower court to vacate orders that had granted the mothers' children to the custody of the state.

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Economic Toll From High Oil Prices Continues To Mount
2008-05-22 14:16:23
Oil prices leaped above $135 in overnight trading on Thursday, a new record that underscored the growing pressures that runaway energy prices are placing on some of the biggest names in global industry.

By midday Thursday, oil had fallen back and was trading at $131.95, down $1.22 from Wednesday’s close but, in a week that has seen the oil price rise by $4, the economic consequences of high fuel costs continued to mount.

The Ford Motor Company, the American auto manufacturer, said on Thursday it would cut vehicle production for the rest of this year and fall short of reaching profitability in 2009, a long-held company goal. In a statement, a top Ford executive said rising gasoline prices “are having a tremendous impact on our sales, our manufacturing operations and our profitability.”

Meanwhile, Europe’s biggest airline, Air France-KLM, warned of a profound reshaping of the world airline industry caused by what it called the “explosion” in the price of oil. American Airlines said on Wednesday that it would slash flights and begin charging passengers to check bags, part of a company effort to cut costs in the face of skyrocketing fuel prices.

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U.S. Senate Approves $165 Billion For Iraq, Afghanistan Wars
2008-05-22 14:15:31

The U.S. Senate Thursday approved $165 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan well into the next presidency, but in a break with President Bush, also approved billions of dollars in domestic spending and a generous expansion of veterans education benefits.

The war funding measure passed 70-26, will be twinned with the domestic spending package and sent to the House for final approval. Senators stripped the package of all language governing the conduct of the Iraq war or mandating troop withdrawals that had been in a previous version approved by the House.

The separate domestic spending package served notice to the White House that in a political war, Congress will want to couple spending in Iraq with priorities at home.

The 75-22 vote surprised even the measure's advocates and showed clearly the impact of the looming November election on Republican unity. Senate Republicans who face re-election broke first on the amendment, followed by other Republicans who quickly jumped on board.

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U.S. Air Strike Kills 8 Civilians, Including 2 Children, In Iraq
2008-05-22 14:15:05
An American helicopter strike killed eight civilians, including two children, during an air assault near the northern Iraqi town of Baiji, the Iraqi police said on Thursday.

The American military confirmed that two children were among the people killed during an operation against “known terrorists” working with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia in the Baiji area on Wednesday night.

While the military expressed regret and confirmed that an investigation is under way, it said the children were “unfortunately” killed while traveling in a vehicle whose other occupants “exhibited hostile intent”. It did not identify the other people killed.

An Iraqi police official in Salahaddin province said the incident near al-Mazraa village would inflame anti-American feelings in the mainly Sunni area, 100 miles north of Baghdad.

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U.N. Chief Sees Devastated Myanmar Delta
2008-05-22 14:14:10
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon surveyed devastated sections of Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta on Thursday and said he was very upset by the conditions of cyclone survivors.

Ban went on a four-hour helicopter trip that touched down at several makeshift settlements of refugees from the May 2-3 storm. He is one of a handful of foreigners allowed to see the zone first hand.

Ban and his entourage flew over miles of badly damaged rice fields, collapsed and flooded houses, downed trees and overturned boats, rivers swollen past their banks and people huddled on rooftops or in makeshift tent villages.

Ban was first taken to a village called Kyondah, where 500 people huddled in just over 100 blue tents. The camp was set up on May 12 - ten days after the storm hit.

Ban, who spoke to some camp residents, said: "I'm very upset by what I've seen."

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Heavyweight Investors Join Rockefeller Global Warming Rebellion At ExxonMobil
2008-05-22 02:34:45

A campaign to persuade ExxonMobil to take climate change more seriously has won support from 19 institutional investors before a potentially explosive showdown at the annual meeting next week.

A coalition of disaffected shareholders stepped forward Wednesday, including public investment funds from California, New York, Illinois, Maine and Vermont plus the United Methodist Church and the AFSCME public employees' union. They intend to back resolutions calling for Exxon to appoint an independent chairman and to set up a task force tackling global warming.

Bill Lockyer, state treasurer of California, contrasted Exxon's view of itself as an oil company with the approaches of BP and Shell, which have attempted to re-shape themselves as broader energy providers using alternative sources of power.

"Exxon Mobil is a company with lots of creative business talent," said Lockyer. "They have the talent to be nimble and if they want to stay around, they need to be."

The institutions that came forward Wednesday hold 91 million Exxon shares worth $8.6 billion (£4.4 billion). Although this is small in the context of the company's $505 billion market capitalization, they are hoping to harness a groundswell of support from fellow investors.

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Editorial: What The FBI Agents Saw
2008-05-22 02:34:20
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, May 22, 2008.

Does this sound familiar? Muslim men are stripped in front of female guards and sexually humiliated. A prisoner is made to wear a dog’s collar and leash, another is hooded with women’s underwear. Others are shackled in stress positions for hours, held in isolation for months, and threatened with attack dogs.

You might think we are talking about that one cell block in Abu Ghraib, where President Bush wants the world to believe a few rogue soldiers dreamed up a sadistic nightmare. These atrocities were committed in the interrogation centers in American military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And they were not revealed by Red Cross officials, human rights activists, Democrats in Congress or others the administration writes off as soft-on-terror.

They were described in a painful report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, based on the accounts of hundreds of F.B.I. agents who saw American interrogators repeatedly mistreat prisoners in ways that the agents considered violations of American law and the Geneva Conventions. According to the report, some of the agents began keeping a “war crimes file” - until they were ordered to stop.

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Democrats Criticize McCain Advisor's Lobbying For Dictators
2008-05-22 02:33:42

Longtime uber-lobbyist Charles R. Black, Jr., is John McCain's man in Washington, D.C., a political maestro who is hoping to guide his friend, the senator from Arizona, to the presidency this November.

Yet for half a decade in the 1980s, Black was also Jonas Savimbi's man in the capital city. His lobbying firm received millions from the brutal Angolan guerrilla leader and took advantage of Black's contacts in Congress and the White House.

U.S. Justice Department records that Black's firm submitted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act detail frequent meetings with lawmakers and their staffs and lavish spending by Black and his partners as they attempted to ensure support for Savimbi, whose UNITA movement was fighting the Marxist Angolan government.

Then in his 30s, Black already had established himself as a pioneer of the revolving door between campaign consulting and lobbying, having been a senior adviser on President Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign before returning to K Street. And his clients, as often as not, were foreign leaders eager to burnish their reputations.

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At One Public University, Tobacco Money Is A Secret
2008-05-22 02:31:47

On campuses nationwide, professors and administrators have passionately debated whether their universities should accept money for research from tobacco companies, but not at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public institution in Richmond, Virginia.

That is largely because hardly any faculty members or students there know that there is something to debate - a contract with extremely restrictive terms that the university signed in 2006 to do research for Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company and a unit of Altria Group.

The contract bars professors from publishing the results of their studies, or even talking about them, without Philip Morris’s permission. If “a third party,” including news organizations, asks about the agreement, university officials have to decline to comment and tell the company. Nearly all patent and other intellectual property rights go to the company, not the university or its professors.

“There is restrictive language in here,” said Francis L. Macrina, Virginia Commonwealth’s vice president for research, who acknowledged that many of the provisions violated the university’s guidelines for industry-sponsored research. “In the end, it was language we thought we could agree to. It’s a balancing act.”

The contract, a copy of which the New York Times obtained under the Virginia Freedom of Information law, is highly unusual and raises questions about how far universities will go in search of scarce research dollars to enhance their standing. It also brings a new dimension to the already divisive debate on many campuses over whether it is appropriate for universities to accept tobacco money for research.
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Pakistan Makes Peace Deal To End Taliban Violence
2008-05-22 02:30:51

The Pakistani government has agreed to withdraw troops and introduce Sharia law in the conflict-ravaged Swat valley in return for an end to Taliban suicide bombings and attacks on government buildings.

The peace deal was signed Wednesday by the newly elected government of North-West Frontier Province and representatives of the extremist cleric Maulvi Fazlullah, whose fighters battled the army last year.

The breakthrough represents a coup for the government, which is eager to end militant violence, but will be warily regarded by the U.S., which advocates a strong hand against the Taliban.

The U.S. deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, told senators in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that any agreement was "something we're going to have to watch very carefully".

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U.S. House Overrides Bush Veto Of Farm Bill
2008-05-22 02:29:53

The U.S. House of Representatives easily overrode President Bush's veto of a $307 billion farm bill last night in what appeared to be the most significant legislative rebuff of Bush's presidency; but a legislative glitch is likely to force embarrassed Democratic leaders to pass the bill all over again Thursday - and prompt a second showdown with Bush next month.

The problem came when a House clerk mistakenly dropped a whole section dealing with trade policy from the 673-page bill before it was sent to the White House. Republican leaders argued last night that the House had overriden a veto on legislation that had never actually passed the House and Senate. For the sake of legislative integrity, said Democratic aides, Congress is likely to start the whole process again.

Republican leadership aides last night called it a "monumental Democrat screw-up," but it was Republican disarray that was on display for much of the evening. The bill pitted Republican leader against Republican leader as they argued publicly over another lapse in their commitment to fiscal discipline. As with the first veto override of the Bush presidency, which saved the Water Resources Development Act last year, lawmakers of both parties stepped in to save a law that promised to shower billions of dollars on key constituents and home-district programs.

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1 Killed As Tornadoes Rip Through Colorado, Wyoming
2008-05-23 01:17:26
A large tornado skipped through several northern Colorado towns on Thursday, destroying dozens of homes, flipping tractor-trailers and freight rail cars, and killing at least one person.

The National Weather Service said the tornado touched down just before noon near Platteville, about 50 miles north of Denver. Over the next hour, it moved northward past several towns along a 35-mile-long track toward Wyoming.

In Windsor, Colorado, a farming town of 16,000 that was hardest hit, dazed residents retrieved what they could from their homes.

"I didn't want to see this. That's for sure," 41-year-old Windsor resident Alexander Martinez said while staring at a staircase, balcony, and personal belongings from his apartment that ended up in his front yard. The apartment's roof and a front wall had been torn away.

Nine people were hospitalized with various injuries at the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, said spokesman Alex Stuessie. In Greeley, four people were treated for minor injuries at North Colorado Medical Center, said administrative representative Laurie Hamit.

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Grieving Chinese Parents Want To Know Why Schools Collapsed As Other Buildings Held
2008-05-23 01:16:54
The day the earthquake hit was supposed to be a special one for Ding Yao. Her hair done up in pigtails, she was sitting in the front of a fourth-grade classroom, waiting for the teacher to hand out prizes to students who had the highest scores on a math test. She wasn't sure, but she was hopeful she would get one.

One floor above her, fifth-graders Sang Xingpeng, the class troublemaker, and Peng Xinyin, the tall girl who loved to sing, were enjoying their midday break.

Outside, third-grader Zhou Yang was running late, busy playing with friends and chasing bees.

This, according to teachers, parents and students interviewed, was the scene at Fuxin No. 2 Primary School a few minutes before 2:28 p.m. on May 12 - when a massive earthquake ripped through China's Sichuan province in the country's worst natural disaster in 30 years. By the end of the day, 127 of the school's 320 students would die, buried in a mess of concrete chunks and flying glass.

Since the quake, parents' grief has turned to anger.

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Uranium Producer Warns Of Lake Ontario Pollution
2008-05-23 01:16:25
Cameco, the world’s largest uranium producer, has told the Canadian nuclear regulator that its refinery might have leaked uranium, arsenic and fluorides into Lake Ontario.

The plant at Port Hope, Ontario, across the lake from Rochester, New York, and down the shore from Toronto, first refined uranium for the Manhattan Project during World War II. It has been temporarily closed since July to remove contaminated soil.

A spokesman for Cameco, Lyle Krahn, said Wednesday that a computer model created for the cleanup, which is several months behind schedule, indicated that the radioactive and toxic materials have been polluting a harbor adjacent to the factory. The harbor leads directly to the lake.

The company notified the regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, about the finding at a meeting last week and now plans drilling tests to confirm the contamination and to measure its extent.

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Pentagon Audit: Iraq Spending Ignored Rules
2008-05-23 01:15:36

A Pentagon audit of $8.2 billion in American taxpayer money spent by the United States Army on contractors in Iraq  has found that almost none of the payments followed federal rules and that in some cases, contracts worth millions of dollars were paid for despite little or no record of what, if anything, was received.

The audit also found a sometimes stunning lack of accountability in the way the United States military spent some $1.8 billion in seized or frozen Iraqi assets, which in the early phases of the conflict were often doled out in stacks or pallets of cash. The audit was released Thursday in tandem with a Congressional hearing on the payments.

In one case, according to documents displayed by Pentagon auditors at the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a cash payment of $320.8 million in Iraqi money was authorized on the basis of a single signature and the words “Iraqi Salary Payment” on an invoice. In another, $11.1 million of taxpayer money was paid to IAP, an American contractor, on the basis of a voucher with no indication of what was delivered.

Mary L. Ugone, the Pentagon’s deputy inspector general for auditing, told members of the committee that the absence of anything beyond a voucher meant that “we were giving or providing a payment without any basis for the payment.”

“We don’t know what we got,” Ugone said in response to questions by the committee chairman, Henry A. Wazman, Democrat of California.

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Flooding In Chile Kills 5, Forces 13,000 People From Homes
2008-05-23 01:14:16
Heavy rains and flooding have killed five people and forced about 13,000 from their homes in south-central Chile, some evacuated after rivers swelled and burst their banks, the government said on Thursday.

Two died in landslides, one was struck by a boulder and another was hit by a falling tree. One man died of hypothermia.

Television images showed streets turned into rivers in the port town of Valparaiso, where 3.7 inches (93 mm) of rain fell in 24 hours during two storm fronts that began on the weekend.

Nearly 350 people were in shelters, while most of the displaced were staying with friends and relatives, said the government.

Parts of Chile experience downpours and flooding every year in the run-up to the Southern Hemisphere winter.

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Italy Plans To Resume Building Nuclear Plants
2008-05-23 01:12:57
Italy announced Thursday that within five years it planned to resume building nuclear energy plants, two decades after a public referendum resoundingly banned nuclear power and deactivated all its reactors.

“By the end of this legislature, we will put down the foundation stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear plants,” said Claudio Scajola, minister of economic development. “An action plan to go back to nuclear power cannot be delayed anymore.”

The change is a striking sign of the times, reflecting growing concern in many European countries over the skyrocketing price of oil and energy security, and the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. All have combined to make this once-scorned form of energy far more palatable.

“Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe - Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more,” said Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, an industry group based in London.

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Governor: Alaska To Challenge Polar Bear Listing As Threatened Species
2008-05-23 01:12:19
The state of Alaska will sue to challenge the recent listing of polar bears as a threatened species, Gov. Sarah Palin announced Wednesday.

She and other Alaska elected officials fear a listing will cripple oil and gas development in prime polar bear habitat off the state's northern and northwestern coasts.

Palin, a Republican, argued that there is not enough evidence to support a listing. Polar bears are well-managed and their population has dramatically increased over 30 years as a result of conservation, she said.

Climate models that predict continued loss of sea ice, the main habitat of polar bears, during summers are unreliable, said Palin.

The announcement drew a strong response from the primary author of the listing petition.

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BREAKING NEWS: Appeals Court Says Texas Had No Right To Seize Polygamist Sect's Children
2008-05-22 14:16:09

A Texas state appellate court has ruled that child welfare officials had no right to seize more than 400 children living at a polygamist sect's ranch.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the grounds for removing the children were “legally and factually insufficient” under Texas law.

Child welfare officials removed the children on the grounds that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex and trained boys to be grown-up predators.

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Flooding Feared As Earthquake Death Toll Reaches 51,000 People
2008-05-22 14:15:19
Landslides caused by last week's earthquake in central China have backed up rivers into more than 30 new lakes, threatening to flood downstream communities if the mud gives way under building pressure, Chinese officials warned Thursday.

Officials also announced that the known death toll from the massive quake had increased nearly 25 percent, to 51,151 people. More than 29,000 others are listed as missing, and 288,431 are known to be injured.

Flooding poses a danger to a zone where nearly a million people live, including many who have fled towns and villages destroyed by the May 12 tremor and taken up residence in mushrooming tent cities, according to Yun Xiaosu, deputy minister of land and resources.

Aftershocks combined with the June rainy season in Sichuan's mountains are likely to cause more landslides in the weeks to come, Yun warned, providing another indication that the earthquake that left 5 million homeless has created a series of problems that will confront China for months, if not years.

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UBS Moves To Raise $15 Billion To Mortgage Losses
2008-05-22 14:14:47
The Swiss banking giant, UBS, said Thursday that it would raise more than $15 billion by issuing sharply discounted shares as it tried to restore capital depleted by losses on mortgage securities.

The capital increase marks the second time that UBS has had to raise funds since the credit markets tightened last year with the collapse of the American subprime housing market. In February, the bank raised 13 billion Swiss francs, or $12.6 billion, in capital from the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation and an unidentified Middle Eastern investor.

The crisis has hit UBS harder than any other European financial institution. It posted a net loss of $10.9 billion in the first quarter. It also wrote down $19 billion of asset-backed securities in the quarter, bringing its total write-downs to about $38 billion since the credit markets began to tighten last summer.

Banks globally have written off more than $330 billion in losses since last summer and regulators have strongly encouraged them to shore up their capital.

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NOAA: Up To 9 Atlantic Hurricanes Anticipated This Year
2008-05-22 14:13:42
The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season should be about as bad as normal or slightly busier, with a good chance of six to nine hurricanes forming, federal forecasters said Thursday in a new way of making predictions.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials also said 12 to 16 named storms and two to five major hurricanes could form.

They said there is only a 60 to 70 percent chance for their predictions to come true, the first time officials gave a probability. They took that step following years of criticism of their long range forecasts, which have usually been fairly accurate but in some cases have been way off.

For example, government forecasters expected 12 to 15 named storms in 2005, but there turned out to be 28, the busiest season on record.

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As Oil Prices Skyrocket, Oil Execs Say Don't Blame Us
2008-05-22 02:34:34
Confused about oil prices? So are the experts.

Executives from the giant oil companies say it's partly the fault of "speculators" or financial players. Key financial players say it's really a question of limited supply and expanding global demand. Some members of Congress accuse the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for bottling up some of its production capacity. And OPEC blames speculators, wasteful U.S. consumers and feckless U.S. policy.

Almost everyone points at China's growing appetite for fuel.

Whatever the causes, one of the most dizzying runs in the history of oil prices picked up pace Wednesday - again - as crude oil prices jumped to settle at more than $133 a barrel, up $4.19 in one day, 18 percent so far this month and more than one-third so far this year. Prices climbed even higher in late electronic trading.

The nationwide average price for a gallon of regular gasoline yesterday also set another record at $3.81 a gallon, up a penny a day for the past month, the auto club AAA reported.

"People don't get it," said Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) at a Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday at which senior oil company executives were grilled about prices. Kohl said: "Demand is not crazy. Why are prices going crazy?"

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Homeland Security Dept. Will Face Questions On Care Of Detained Immigrants
2008-05-22 02:34:05
Top lawmakers in Congress criticized the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday for failing to provide adequate medical care to detained immigrants, and said they plan to demand explanations today from Secretary Michael Chertoff and Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Sen. Robert Menendes (D-New Jersey) announced that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nevada) and others will question Chertoff and Myers in a meeting Thursday about reports of medical negligence and deaths of immigrants in ICE detention, as well as improper detentions of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), head of the panel's immigration subcommittee, said they have asked for relevant Homeland Security records and plan a hearing after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess.

"We intend to press them on these issues. We cannot accept the nature of what is going on," Menendez said at a news conference with family members of illegal immigrants who died in U.S. custody, as well as representatives of immigrant advocacy groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

"The Constitution is what makes this country unique in the world, and its presumption of fundamental rights for all people at the end of the day makes us the beacon of light for the rest of the world. I am not willing to have it eroded," Menendez said.

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Analysis: Advice Given By Bush White House Is Not Always Followed
2008-05-22 02:33:07
Israel, America’s staunchest ally in the Middle East, just became the latest example of a country that has decided it is better to deal with its foes than to ignore them.

The announcement that Israel has entered into comprehensive peace talks with Syria is at odds with the course counseled by the Bush administration, which initially opposed such talks in private conversations with Israelis, according to Israeli and American officials. A week ago, President Bush delivered a speech to the Israeli Parliament likening attempts to “negotiate with the terrorists and radicals” to appeasement before World War II.

“We have heard this foolish delusion before,” said Bush. “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

In many ways, the Bush administration’s own policies appear to be at odds with his thesis.

While Bush and his advisers have repeatedly scorned the idea of talking to enemies without first getting preconditions met, administration policy over the last seven years has been far more nuanced. In fact, the United States under the Bush administration has shown a sliding definition of just when it is beneficial to talk to whom.

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Ex-CIA Official Indicted Over Agency Job For Mistress
2008-05-22 02:31:28

A federal grand jury has accused a former top CIA official of pulling strings to get a high-level CIA job for his mistress, as part of a new indictment against the official in an existing corruption case.

The new indictment against Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a former No. 3 official at the spy agency and a onetime senior CIA ethics officer, alleges that he pressured CIA managers into hiring the woman after she was turned down for a position in the CIA's general counsel office. He also allegedly made false statements about her qualifications, the indictment states.

Foggo, the CIA's executive director from 2004 to 2006, specifically told agency officials he had a "special interest" in seeing the woman hired, and he later berated them when they initially rejected her application. "When the ExDir has a special interest, you had better take notice," Foggo told the general counsel's staff, according to an indictment filed late Tuesday by the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Virginia.

Federal prosecutors say Foggo's alleged intervention on behalf of the woman was but one of a series of successful efforts by him to manipulate the intelligence agency, many of which went undetected for a time by its spies. Foggo managed to win jobs, money and other favors for friends and business partners while concealing the nature of his relationships from the agency, Justice Department officials allege in court documents.

Foggo, hired to the No. 3 position by then-CIA Director Porter Goss, faces charges of fraud, conspiracy and conflict of interest stemming mostly from alleged favors he performed for California businessman Brent R. Wilkes, a childhood friend and prominent Republican fundraiser.

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Commentary: Persian Pipelines
2008-05-22 02:30:21
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by British writer Roger Howard, author of the book "The Oil Hunters" which will be published in Britain next week. In his commentary, which appeared in the Guardian edition for Thursday, May 22, 2008, Mr. Howard writes: "A century after the West struck oil in the Middle East, today's great hope for secure energy is Iran." His commentary follows:

At a time when natural resources are becoming ever more precious, the leaders of the European Union can be forgiven if they are haunted by a particular nightmare - the accidental, or deliberate, disruption to the flow of gas from their single largest supplier, Russia. After all, it was only in January 2006 that Russian pipelines were briefly shut off during a pricing dispute with Ukraine, while western Europe prepared to freeze.

A clue to dealing with this very real threat comes from next week's centenary of an event of monumental importance. For it is exactly 100 years ago that commercial oil was first discovered in the Middle East. It was in a remote Persian wilderness, in the early hours of May 26, 1908, that a British-led drilling team stood back in awe as the ground rumbled and a black fountain spurted high into the air.

The repercussions of these dramatic events were far reaching, not just for Persia and the wider Middle East - to which investors and oil hunters from the world over, their appetites whetted, now turned - but also to Britain. Above all, the Persian wells had obvious strategic consequences for Whitehall at a time of growing tension with Germany.

Persian oil seemed to offer Britain's economy and the Royal Navy "security of supply" against price spikes and enemy disruption, prompting the government to buy a majority stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. This was in part because of its sheer quantity, vital in the run-up to the great war, but also because of its proximity to Britain. By 1916, Persia was meeting more than a fifth of the navy's overall demand.

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Somali Opposition Vows Islamist State
2008-05-22 02:29:12

The senior leader of Somalia's Islamist opposition vowed Wednesday to expel U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops by force and create an Islamic republic in the war-torn country on the Horn of Africa. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who led Somalia's Islamic Courts movement and who the Bush administration claims is a terrorist linked to al-Qaeda, said Mogadishu's western-backed Transitional Federal Government is run by "traitors".

United Nations-sponsored peace talks that opened in Djibouti last week were doomed to fail unless Ethiopia first withdrew all its forces, he added, and, unless the U.S. and other western countries heeded his words, the violence in Somalia would only get worse.

"The U.N. is not impartial. We don't want to pursue this [peace] process. Our plan is to continue the struggle. It is important to expel the enemy from all areas," said Aweys. "We don't want a fight to the death. We don't want to kill all the Ethiopian soldiers. We want to save them. We want them to leave."

Aweys, 62, made the comments in a rare interview at his base in Asmara, the Eritrean capital. To American dismay, many Somali Islamists gained a safe haven in Asmara after the Ethiopian intervention in late 2006 broke the Islamic Courts' grip on Mogadishu and southern Somalia.

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