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Friday, May 30, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday May 30 2008 - (813)

Friday May 30 2008 edition
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Lose Homes, Pay More Tax
2008-05-30 03:45:06

Some of the biggest losers in the real estate slump are not purchasers of mansions they could not afford. They are buyers of second homes - or third ones, for that matter - who are sitting on a tax time bomb.

Many of these people will lose their properties in foreclosure and then stagger into bankruptcy under the weight of a sizable tax bill. While Congress has granted some tax relief to people who lose their primary homes, there is no such aid for those who fall behind on payments on a getaway condo in Las Vegas, Nevada, a retirement home on the Florida coast or an old house that they are renting out for income.

Bankruptcy lawyers say they are seeing a wave of foreclosures among owners of second homes in such a position, owners who thought they had found sound advice for financial security.

Two years ago, Lilia Garcia and her husband, Jesus, bought their dream house in Linden, California, for $535,000 and financed it in part by taking out a bigger loan backed by their previous house in nearby Stockton. They decided to hang onto the Stockton house and rent it out, believing that it would more than pay for itself and could be sold years in the future to help pay for college for their two children.

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Bear Stearns Shareholders OK $1.4 Billion Buyout By JP Morgan
2008-05-30 03:44:41

It took barely 10 minutes for a room full of sombre shareholders to deliver the last rites Thursday to Bear Stearns, the 85-year-old Wall Street brokerage once feared for its swashbuckling, high-risk culture of aggression.

At a special meeting convened at Bear's 45-floor octagonal midtown office tower, investors nodded through a sale of the cash-strapped company to its rival JP Morgan at a bargain price of about $1.4 billion (£700 million).

The meeting was closed to the media but those in the room said Bear's chairman, Jimmy Cayne, told investors he was "personally sorry" for the way the firm had collapsed.

"Words alone can't describe the pain that I feel," said Cayne, a former scrap-iron salesman who joined the bank in 1969 but whose hands-off management style came under criticism. He was described as looking "disheveled" by one shareholder.

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Abdul Qadeer Khan, "Father" Of Pakistan's Atomic Bomb, Disowns Confession
2008-05-30 03:44:01

For four years Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, has lived in the shadows, confined to his Islamabad home since a tearful televised confession in which he admitted selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Friday, however, the 76-year-old scientist returned to the spotlight with a bold new twist: that he had not meant a word of his earlier admission.

In his first western media interview since 2004, Khan said the confession had been forced upon him by President Pervez Musharraf. "It was not of my own free will. It was handed into my hand," he told the Guardian. More worryingly, he swore never to cooperate with investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency, despite persistent fears that nuclear technology traded by his accomplices could fall into terrorist hands.

"Why should I talk to them?" he said. "I am under no obligation. We are not a signatory to the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]. I have not violated international laws." He said details of his clandestine nuclear supply network were "my internal affair and my country's affair".

Despite numerous requests from the IAEA and the U.S. government, Pakistan has refused access to Khan, who is still considered a national hero. A spokesman at the United Nations watchdog's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, declined to respond to his comments.

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Climate Enters Debate Over Nuclear Power
2008-05-30 03:43:07
After part of a cooling tower collapsed last August at Vermont's only nuclear power plant, the company that runs it blamed rotting wooden timbers that it had failed to inspect properly. The uproar that followed rekindled environmental groups’ hopes of shutting down the aging plant.

The proposed closing, albeit a long shot, has gained some support this year among Vermont politicians. The discussion is bringing into sharp relief a conflict between two objectives long held by environmental advocates: combating nuclear power and stopping global warming. 

Nuclear plants supply nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, and they do so without emitting the carbon dioxide that is the principal cause of global warming.

Vermont’s 36-year-old plant, which feeds into the regional power grid, represents a third of the state’s electrical generation.

Antinuclear groups that are arguing for closing the plant hope to replace the lost electricity with renewable generation from wind turbines, solar power and the combustion of plant material. Additionally, they cite the potential for cutting electrical demand by making homes and business more efficient.

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World's Largest Mud Volcano On Brink Of 'Catastrophic Collapse'
2008-05-30 03:42:24

The world's largest mud volcano that has been erupting continuously since 2006 is beginning to show signs of "catastrophic collapse", according to geologists who have been monitoring it and the surrounding area.

The volcano - named Lusi - has already devastated homes and businesses in Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia, displacing around 10,000 people and killing 14.

Now scientists say that the land near the central vent could sag by up to 146 meters in the next decade. In March, the scientists observed drops of up to 3 meters in one night. Most of the subsidence in the area around the volcano is more gradual, at around 0.1 centimeter per day.

"It is starting to show signs that the central part is undergoing a more catastrophic collapse," said Prof. Richard Davies, a geologist at Britain's Durham University.

"The fact that the whole area is collapsing means there are probably new faults forming. These faults are new pathways for fluids to seep up to the surface. We've never really seen a mud volcano develop so quickly."

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Texas Supreme Court Back Polygamist Sect's Parents
2008-05-30 03:41:48

The Texas Supreme Court affirmed Thursday that state officials should not have seized scores of children from the ranch compound of a polygamist sect, agreeing with an appellate court that the group's beliefs were not, by themselves, proof of abuse.

The decision, issued Thursday afternoon in Austin, Texas, did not immediately bring the release of the more than 460 children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints  compound near Eldorado, Texas. But it did seem to make that outcome very likely. Child-protection authorities said Thursday evening that they would comply if the trial court judge ordered the children returned.

"We are disappointed, but we understand and respect the court's decision and will take immediate steps to comply," a statement from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services read in part. It added: "We will continue to prepare for the prompt and orderly reunification of these children with their families."

Because the case involves state law, not federal statutes, legal experts said the Texas Supreme Court was as high as an appeal could go. That court agreed with a decision last week by the state Court of Appeals for the Third District, which rejected arguments at the heart of the state's case.

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Obama Prepares To Declare Victory After Tuesday's Primaries
2008-05-29 15:02:29
Barack Obama is preparing to claim victory in the Democratic presidential nominating contest after next Tuesday's final primaries in Montana and South Dakota.

In a question and answer session Wednesday night with reporters on his campaign plane between Denver, Colorado,  and Chicago, the Illinois senator dismissed the idea that rival Hillary Clinton's stated willingness to take her fight for the nomination to the party convention in late August would matter.

"When Dukakis won the nomination, you know, Jesse (Jackson) was still running until the convention," said Obama.  "When Bill Clinton was running, Jerry Brown was still technically in it. As far as I can tell, this is fairly standard fare."

Obama said the nominee would be clear "after Tuesday". "I am sure we will have discussions with Senator Clinton and her team," he said.

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Lawsuit Filed Against Maker Of Baby Bottles With BPA
2008-05-29 15:01:51
An Arkansas woman filed a federal lawsuit accusing a Connecticut company of making plastic baby bottles with a dangerous chemical linked to serious health problems.

The lawsuit by Ashley Campbell against Playtex Products of Westport is the latest challenge involving the industrial chemical bisphenol A (BPA). The lawsuit seeks nationwide class-action status to represent what it says are thousands of people who bought plastic bottles containing the chemical from Playtex or other companies.

Canada said last month that the chemical, found in hard plastic water bottles, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of other common items, was potentially harmful and may ban its use in baby bottles. Some parents are turning to glass bottles because of the concerns over bisphenol A.

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McClellan Faults Bush, Not Aides, For Disillusionment
2008-05-29 15:00:40
Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan made clear today that it was President Bush - not the high-profile aides around him - who left him most disillusioned in the run-up to the Iraq War.

In an interview on NBC's "Today Show," McClellan called it a "defining moment" when he learned that President Bush had secretly declassified a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. The move allowed Vice President Dick Cheney and his top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to leak information to reporters at a time when the press secretary was at the podium criticizing those who would leak classified information.

"I was kind of taken aback," he said. "It undermined a lot of what I had been saying."

He also said he was troubled by instructions from Bush and Cheney to defend Libby and political guru Karl Rove as uninvolved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative. The leaks were an attempt to discredit her husband, who was disputing the rationale for war in Iraq. They later acknowledged their roles and Libby was convicted of lying to prosecutors; his sentence was commuted by Bush.
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While U.S. Natural Gas Prices Rise, Imported Natural Gas Is On Hold
2008-05-29 01:46:41
The cost of a gallon of gas gets all the headlines, but the natural gas that will heat many American homes next winter is going up in price as fast or faster.

That fact makes the scene in the languid, alligator-infested marshland here in coastal Louisiana all the more remarkable.

Only a month after Cheniere Energy inaugurated its $1.4 billion liquefied natural gas (L.N.G.) terminal Cameron Parish, an empty supertanker sat in its berth with no place to go while workers painted empty storage tanks.

The nearly idle terminal is a monument to a stalled experiment, one that was supposed to import so much L.N.G. from around the world that homes would be heated and factories humming at bargain prices.

Now L.N.G. shipments to the United States are slowing to a trickle, and Cheniere and other companies have dropped plans to build more terminals.

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111 Nations, Minus The U.S., Agree To Cluster-Bomb Ban
2008-05-29 01:46:08
More than 100 countries reached agreement Wednesday to ban cluster bombs, controversial weapons that human rights groups deplore but that the United States, which did not join the ban, calls an integral, legitimate part of its arsenal.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose personal intervention Wednesday led to final agreement among representatives of 111 countries gathered in Dublin, called the ban a "big step forward to make the world a safer place."

In addition to the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan - all of them major producers or users of the weapons - did not sign the agreement or participate in the talks.

The weapons consist of canisters packed with small bombs, or "bomblets," that spread over a large area when a canister is dropped from a plane or fired from the ground. While the bomblets are designed to explode on impact, they frequently do not. Civilians, particularly children, are often maimed or killed when they pick up unexploded bombs, sometimes years later.

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McCain's Rebuke Of Minister May Alienate Evangelicals
2008-05-29 01:45:25

The Rev. Rod Parsley paces the stage, wiping his forehead and shouting to his congregation in a taped sermon that marriage is under attack by "tortured and angry homosexuals."

During another of his nationally broadcast television shows, he compares Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan,  saying that its goal is to "eliminate" blacks. And at another service at his 12,000-member World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, he punches the air and calls Islam a "false religion" that God has told America to destroy.

"We were built for battle! We were created for conflict! We get off on warfare!" he adds.

Images of one of the nation's rising stars of television evangelism are widely available on DVDs and Web sites, with sermons that are almost certain to inflame some segment of the voting public but, in its quest to secure support from evangelical Christians, the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain did not note a long record of inflammatory statements by Parsley and the Rev. John Hagee, of Texas, another TV evangelist, until long after McCain had accepted their endorsements.

The move backfired last week when clips of the ministers' sermons gained national attention, prompting McCain to reject their support. The candidate's abrupt turnabout brought criticism not only from secular viewers, who questioned why he had aligned himself with controversial religious voices, but also from evangelicals, who said he may have alienated a powerful bloc of potential Republican voters.

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Crude Oil Trading Being Investigated
2008-05-30 03:44:53

During continued volatility in oil prices, federal regulators said Thursday that they had been investigating crude oil trading, storage and transportation for the past six months with a focus on possible "futures market manipulation".

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which normally keeps investigations confidential, said in a statement that it was "taking the extraordinary step of disclosing this investigation because of today's unprecedented market conditions."

Those conditions have sent oil prices to record heights, adding to the U.S. trade deficit, hurting consumers and companies, and weighing heavily on the nation's economy.

Gregory Mocek, director of enforcement at the CFTC, said five senior trial lawyers, "some of the most experienced prosecutors that we have," and other investigators were engaged in the inquiry. "The scope is quite broad," Mocek said, adding that the commission was looking at the "national crude market," including trades on regulated exchanges, cash trades, storage, pipeline operations and shipping.

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Chemical Fire, Rain Hamper China Earthquake Recovery
2008-05-30 03:44:18
A stockpile of chemicals being used to disinfect an earthquake-shattered Chinese town ignited Thursday and injured scores of soldiers doing relief work, adding to a day of problems for urgent recovery efforts.

Heavy rain also added to the misery of crowds of homeless survivors living in tents or lean-tos, and hampered troops rushing to drain a quake-spawned lake before it floods a valley filled with villages.

The chemical fire took place in the town of Leigu, in devastated Beichuan county. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that more than 800 people were evacuated to avoid a cloud of dense chlorine gas caused by the blaze.

As in many destroyed towns, officials have been spraying disinfecting bleach on streets and rubble in an effort to prevent disease breakouts. Thousands of people are still missing and their bodies could be buried in the rubble, while rats and other scavengers have been reported in some places.

One expert said the spraying of bleach on rubble has little effect except perhaps a psychological one for victims.

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Storm Derails Train, Damages Buildings In Nebraska
2008-05-30 03:43:33
A storm bearing hail and possible tornadoes struck central Nebraska Thursday night, damaging businesses, derailing train cars, tearing down trees and disrupting power to thousands.

A possible tornado touched down near Aurora, about 70 miles west of Lincoln, damaging a few businesses and damaging at least one house on the outskirts of town.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

Tornadoes were also reported in Kearney, about 60 miles west of Aurora, where 90 rail cars were blown off the tracks outside the city limits. There were reports of downed trees and power lines throughout Kearney, and reports of damage on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus and at a county fairgrounds.

Initial reports from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency indicated several dozen homes were damaged in both Aurora and Kearney.

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Plunging RBS Share Prices Raise Questions Over Take-Up For Cash Calls
2008-05-30 03:42:39

There was further pressure on the shares of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Bradford & Bingley Thursday amid concern that investors would shun their rights issues.

The share prices have fallen sharply since the cash calls were announced and are getting ever closer to the discounted offer price.

RBS fell as much as 6% Thursday before closing 6.25 pounds lower at 231.75 pounds. The shares on offer have been priced at 200 pounds. At the time of the rights issue announcement, they were at a discount of 46% but the differential is now only 16%.

Bradford & Bingley is even closer to the rights issue price of 82 pounds a share, dropping 6.75 pounds Thursday to 90.5 pounds.

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Confidence In The U.K. Economy Evaporates
2008-05-30 03:42:13
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown's hopes of recovering from this month's hat-trick of electoral setbacks received a fresh blow Friday as falling house prices and rising food and energy bills prompted the biggest slump in consumer confidence since the onset of the last U.K. recession in autumn 1990.

A report by GfK NOP showed that the government's efforts to bounce back from the Labour Party's third place in the local elections, defeat in the London mayoral election and the loss of the Crewe and Nantwich seat are being hampered by a mood of deep gloom that has engulfed voters in the year since Brown became prime minister.

Friday morning's survey of public opinion followed a report by the Nationwide building society showing that house prices dropped by 2.5% last month, the biggest one-month drop since the property crash of the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) reported a second month of declining spending on the high street.

Adding to the prime minister's woes, an opinion poll published Thursday night showed that support for Labour has fallen to its lowest level for more half a century. The YouGov survey for the Daily Telegraph shows Labour at 23 points and the Conservatives at 47 - a Tory lead of 24 points.

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DOH! World Food Prices Will Remain High
2008-05-29 15:02:39
Uncertain weather, rising demand in developing countries and the increased use of grains for biofuel will likely keep food prices higher than average over the next 10 years and make it harder for the world's poorest countries to feed themselves.

In their latest annual assessment of global agriculture, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the current record levels for grain, milk, oils and other staples will likely fall as drought conditions abate in major grain-producing countries and as higher food prices encourage production in others.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, the agencies said that high food prices are likely here to stay: Between 2008 and 2017, beef and pork are likely to cost about 20 percent more than they did between 1998 and 2007; milk, wheat and corn are expected to cost as much as 60 percent more; vegetable oils as much as 80 percent more.

Those projections do not account for inflation. When overall price increases are taken into account, the cost of some types of food may actually fall, said the agencies.

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Suicides Among Active Army Soldiers Up Again - 115
2008-05-29 15:02:17
The number of Army suicides increased again last year, amid the most violent year yet in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

An Army official said Thursday that 115 troops committed suicide in 2007, a nearly 13 percent increase over the previous year's 102. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a full report on the deaths wasn't being released until later Thursday.

About a quarter of the deaths occurred in Iraq.

The 115 confirmed deaths among active duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops that had been activated was a lower number than previously feared. Preliminary figures released in January showed as many as 121 troops might have killed themselves, but a number of the deaths were still being investigated then and have since been attributed to other causes, said the officials.

Suicides have been rising during the five-year-old war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

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Could Alaska's Sen. Stevens And Rep. Young Be Indicted Close To Elections?
2008-05-29 15:01:18
Campaigning under the cloud of federal investigations is tough enough, but could Sen. Ted Stevens or Rep. Don Young (both R-Alaska) have the added worries of an indictment before they face the voters? Would prosecutors wait until after the election to bring charges to avoid the appearance of meddling in Alaska politics?

It has been 21 months since the federal corruption investigation surfaced in Alaska with a series of dramatic raids on legislative and other offices. Eight cases have been brought, resulting in convictions in all but one - and that matter is still pending.

No one outside the government is privy to where the investigation is headed and whether it will eventually lead to charges against Stevens and Young, who deny wrongdoing but who won't discuss specifics about the allegations.

It remains especially difficult to charge members of Congress for matters related to legislation. The Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause offers a broad shield against interference by the Justice Department and other agencies of the executive branch into how a congressman might have created, for example, an earmark that benefited a campaign contributor, family member or former aide - matters that are part of the investigations of Young and Stevens.

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Magnitude 6.1 Earthquake Shakes Iceland
2008-05-29 15:00:14
A strong earthquake shook southern Iceland on Thursday, damaging roads and buildings and causing some injuries, said officials and local media.

Channel 2 television cited civil protection authorities as saying the quake caused injuries, but it was not immediately clear how many.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.1 quake hit at 3:46 p.m., with its epicenter near the town of Selfoss, 30 miles east-southeast of the capital, Reykjavik. The Icelandic Geological Survey said it measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.

Residents in the capital felt buildings shake.

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Citizens' Groups Get Supplies To China Quake Victims
2008-05-29 01:46:27
Grass-roots organizations and informal networks of private citizens are playing a vital role in getting supplies to rescue workers and survivors of this month's devastating earthquake in China. The government, in a notable shift, appears content to let them do so.

Officially, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China must register with the government; the larger groups are as rigid and controlled as their official sponsors. Authorities remain deeply suspicious of smaller, independent groups.

Now, however, aided by the proliferation of online bulletin boards, blogs and on-the-ground coordination centers, unregistered grass-roots organizations are essentially functioning as legitimate earthquake-relief NGOs, operating for the first time without having to look over their shoulders and helping to manage a crisis whose death toll could surpass 80,000.

Here in the ruined town of Yingxiu, about 40 miles from the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake, a ragtag group of citizens - a shopkeeper from Guizhou province, his friends and a volunteer worker who knew the way - emerged the other day after a four-hour trip.

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Ruling Of Democratic National Committee Lawyers A Setback For Clinton
2008-05-29 01:45:52
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's prospects of persuading Democratic officials to override party rules and recognize all delegates selected in the Florida and Michigan primaries suffered a setback yesterday after lawyers for the party ruled that no more than half of those delegations could be legally recognized.

Democratic National Committee lawyers wrote in a memo that the two states must forfeit at least half of their delegates as punishment for holding primaries earlier than DNC rules allowed. Clinton (New York) prevailed in both contests, although the Democratic candidates had agreed not to campaign in Florida and Michigan, and Sen. Barack Obama removed his name from the Michigan ballot.

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee is scheduled to meet Saturday to make a final determination on Florida and Michigan, which would have collectively awarded 368 convention delegates. In the memo, party lawyers determined that full restoration, as sought by Clinton, would violate DNC rules, although it did note a loophole that would allow her to carry the challenge to the first day of the Democratic National Convention in late August.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters that the senator from Illinois is prepared to forfeit a portion of his delegate lead, as part of a compromise to resolve the Florida and Michigan flap. "We don't think it's fair to seat them fully," Plouffe said of the two delegations, adding, "We're willing to give some delegates here" in order to put the matter to rest.

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Obama's Cautious Policy Stand
2008-05-29 01:45:10

Already famous for his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama entered the Senate with more than the usual aspirations about the impact he could have.

So in 2005, he had his office arrange informal seminars so that experts on health care, the economy, energy and education could brief him. "I'm not running for president," he told a group of experts at his Capitol Hill office in the spring of 2006, but he said he had a "national voice" and wanted to use it.

When Obama changed his mind and decided to run for president after only two years in the Senate, however, he effectively dismissed the importance of policy proposals, declaring in one speech in early 2007, "We've had plenty of plans, Democrats," and in another: "Every four years, somebody trots out a white paper, they post it on the Web." He cast his "new kind of politics" in terms of his ability to transcend divisions and his unique biography and offered few differences on issues from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the other Democratic presidential candidates.

Now this approach faces a new test from Sen. John McCain. The Republican candidate is making an aggressive appeal to independents by emphasizing his past and present stances against party orthodoxy, particularly his proposals to combat global warming.

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