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Monday, May 19, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday May 19 2008 - (813)

Monday May 19 2008 edition
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Bush Memo Updates Secrets Policy
2008-05-19 03:35:35

Sometime in the next few years, if a memorandum signed by President Bush this month ever goes into effect, one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: "What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination."

That would mean, according to the memo, that the information requires safeguarding because "the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure would create risk of substantial harm."

Bush's memorandum, signed on the eve of his daughter Jenna's wedding, introduced "Controlled Unclassified Information" as a new government category that will replace "Sensitive but Unclassified."

Such information - though it does not merit the well-known national security classifications "confidential", "secret" or "top secret" - is nonetheless "pertinent" to U.S. "national interests" or to "important interests of entities outside the federal government," the memo says.

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A Fifth Top Campaign Aide To McCain Resigns
2008-05-19 03:35:07

Tom Loeffler, the national finance co-chairman for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, resigned Sunday because of his lobbying ties, a campaign adviser said.

He is the fifth person to sever ties with the campaign amid a growing concern over whether lobbyists have too great an influence over the Republican nominee. Last week, campaign manager Rick Davis issued a new policy that requires all campaign personnel to either resign or sever ties with lobbying firms or outside political groups.

"The campaign over the last week or so obviously had a perception problem with regards with this whole business of lobbyists and their work," said spokesman Brian Rogers. "This is really all about setting a policy so that we can just get through that perception problem and the issues that come up with regards to lobbyists affiliated with the campaign and move on."

McCain has built his reputation in Congress on fighting special interests and the lobbying culture, but he has been criticized for months about the number of lobbyists serving in key positions in his campaign. Until recently, his top political adviser, Charles R. Black, Jr., was the head of a Washington lobbying firm. Black retired in March from BKSH & Associates, the firm he helped found, to stay with the campaign. Davis ran a lobbying firm for several years but has said he is on leave from it.

Black, in particular, remains in the cross hairs of McCain's critics. Campaign Money Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, D.C., Sunday praised Loeffler's departure but renewed its call for Black's departure. The group has launched a Web site,, to urge McCain to rid his campaign of their influence. Loeffler's lobbying for Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments was revealed over the weekend.

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Trash For Treasury - What A Deal For Banks
2008-05-18 15:08:44
Saving the nation’s financial system from reckless banks and brokerage firms is an enormous job, heaven knows. But somebody’s got to do it, so the Federal Reserve Board, with its taxpayer-funded balance sheet, stepped in.

To grease the gears of the nation’s seized-up credit markets, the New York Fed in recent months created three new lending entities. Together, they allow banks and financial firms to swap up to $350 billion of securities they cannot sell for cash or United States Treasuries.

The entities will stay in business as long as the markets for mortgage securities and other orphaned “investments” are closed, the Fed said. This allows institutions to exchange their trash for cash that they can turn around and lend to corporations or individuals.

The nature of these new Fed lending facilities is not without risks, of course. One of those risks is that taxpayers may have to cover losses if a firm or bank fails to repay a loan.

So far, the Fed’s noble experiment seems to be working. Back in March, when two of the entities were set up, banks and brokerage firms fairly beat down the Fed’s door to swap unwanted securities for cash or Treasuries. In early April, for instance, the Fed had to turn away many of the nation’s largest brokerage firms when they showed up, trash bags a-bulging, at the lending entity created just for them. These firms hoped to unload securities valued at almost twice what the Fed was offering to lend.

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U.S. Apologizes After G.I. Uses Koran For Target Practice
2008-05-18 15:08:07
U.S. commanders scrambled to avert a crisis after a soldier deployed in Baghdad apparently used a copy of the Koran for target practice.

The incident had the potential to inflame Muslim opinion against the U.S. military and compromise the delicate alliance it has been seeking to forge with local communities against the extremists in their midst.

Local tribal leaders accepted an apology from senior U.S. commanders, and the military said today that the soldier responsible had been disciplined and pulled from Iraq.

Col. Bill Buckner, a U.S. military spokesman, described the incident as "serious and deeply troubling" but stressed that it is an isolated case.
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Commentary: Peak Oil And Politicians
2008-05-18 02:21:44
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by environment editor Kelpie Wilson and appeared on the's website edition for Saturday, May 17, 2008. Ms. Wilson's commentary follows:

In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a petroleum geologist with Shell Oil, presented a paper to the American Petroleum Institute that predicted U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s and then follow a declining curve, now known as Hubbert's curve, but Hubbert almost didn't get to give his paper. He got a call from his bosses at Shell, who asked him to "tone it down." His reply was that there was nothing to tone down. It was just straightforward analysis. He presented the paper, unedited. You can read the whole story here: .

Since that time, the oil industry and its political supporters have done everything they can to tone down the message that oil is a finite resource and that we will run out of it some day. Why would they do that? To further the short-sighted, short-term pursuit of profit. In 2004, Shell finally got caught in a lie about the size of its oil reserves. The company had inflated the stated size of its oil reserves to keep stock share prices high because who wants to invest in a company - or an industry - that is going the way of the dinosaurs?

Since 1956, the world economy has proceeded under a sort of oil company spell that has woven the illusion all around us that oil depletion is so far into the future that we don't need to worry about it. That belief was essential to support the aim of an endlessly growing economy.

There have been a few hitches in that strategy. In 1972, just as oil production in the United States reached its all-time peak, a group of computer modelers from MIT released a study called "The Limits to Growth." They predicted a steep decline in natural resources of all kinds. Because reserve numbers for many minerals, including oil, were not accurately known back then, they looked at different scenarios. Some showed us running out of oil before 2000 and some showed the peak occurring toward the middle of the 21st century.

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Commentary: John McCain's Fantasyland
2008-05-18 02:20:40
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert and appeared in the N.Y. Times edition for Saturday, May 17, 2008. Mr. Herbert's commentary follows:

Walt Disney would have been proud of John McCain’s presentation on Thursday of what the world might look like at the end of a first McCain term as president.

Listening to the speech was like walking through the gates of Fantasyland, which Disney always said was the happiest kingdom of them all. The war in Iraq will have been won. Crack intelligence work will have led to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden. Taxes will be lower and the U.S. economy will be swell. And maybe best of all (I’m not sure for whom), work will have begun on 20 brand-new nuclear reactors.

Senator McCain never bothered to mention how we were to reach this wondrous state, and he bristled when a reporter suggested he was offering a “magic carpet ride.”

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times had the best line when she wrote in Friday’s paper that “there were no real checkable facts in Mr. McCain’s divination.”

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Hezbollah's Actions Ignite Sectarian Fuse In Lebanon
2008-05-18 02:20:07
For two-and-a-half days, Hussein al-Haj Obaid lay on the floor of a darkened warehouse in west Beirut, blindfolded and terrified. Militiamen loyal to Hezbolloah had kidnapped him at a checkpoint after killing his nephew right in front of him.

Throughout those awful days, as his kidnappers kicked and punched him, applied electrical shocks to his genitals and insulted him with sectarian taunts, he could hear the chatter of gunfire and the crash of rocket-propelled grenades outside, where Hezbollah and its allies were taking control of the capital.

He returned to this northern village only after family members won his release just over a week ago by threatening the kidnappers with retaliation. By that time Obaid, a Sunni Muslim, had gained a whole new way of seeing his Shiite countrymen and his native land.

“We cannot go back to how we lived with them before,” he said as he sat with relatives and friends at home here. “The blood is boiling here. Every boy here, his blood is boiling. They push us, they push us, they push us.”

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Obama Warns Seniors On Social Security Privatization
2008-05-19 03:35:23
Hours before being greeted by the biggest crowd of his campaign, Democrat Barack Obama quietly told a small group of seniors Sunday that Republican John McCain would threaten the Social Security they depend on because he supports privatizing the program.

Fire officials estimated 65,000 packed into a riverside park for a spectacular afternoon rally at a sun-splashed scene on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland. They said an additional 15,000 were left outside and dozens of boaters could be seen floating in the river.

"Wow, wow, wow," Obama said as he surveyed the audience. "We have had a lot of rallies. This is the most spectacular setting, the most spectacular crowd we have had this entire campaign."

While more subdued, his appearance early in the day before about 130 people at an assisted living facility to talk Social Security was a significant attempt to tie the GOP's presidential nominee-in-waiting to an unpopular President Bush on a pocket book issue that motivates seniors - and also concerns younger generations worried about their own future retirement.

"Let me be clear, privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it, it's a bad idea today," said Obama. "That's why I stood up against this plan in the Senate and that's why I won't stand for it as president."

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HUD Repeatedly Dismisses Staff Concerns About Contracts
2008-05-18 15:08:59

The small Texas property-management company had no experience overseeing hundreds of defaulted homes across the country. It did have two former Reagan administration officials at the helm and warm relations with senior Republican appointees at the federal housing agency.

During a few weeks in 2004, the three-employee company, Harrington, Moran and Barksdale Inc. (HMBI), went from no government work to landing $71 million in contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the upkeep and sale of defaulted homes. It had previously managed a handful of apartment buildings and development projects.

The company's meteoric rise - and HUD's willingness to bend the rules to accommodate it - surprised veteran agency contracting specialist Gloria Freeman.

"After you've been in the business awhile, you get to know the signs - 'This is a friend; let's help him out'," she said in an interview. Not long after Freeman complained to her supervisors, she was asked to return to her previous policy job.

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As China Mourns, A New Tremor Hits, Damaging Roads, Houses, Bridges
2008-05-18 15:08:27
A fresh tremor in southwestern China killed three people on Sunday, injured 1,000 others and sent thousands of people already traumatized by last week's massive earthquake fleeing their homes into the streets. The tremor, the strongest aftershock since the May 12 earthquake, hit Jiangyou city in Sichuan, Xinhua state news agency said, on the eve of three days of national mourning for the dead that now stands officially at 32,500.

The fresh tremor, which measured 5.7 in magnitude, brought down a large number of houses, damaged 235 miles of roads and six bridges, rescue authorities said late on Sunday.

In the provincial capital, Chengdu, some 125 miles south of the epicenter, thousands fled swaying buildings, Xinhua said.

More than six days after the main quake of 7.9 magnitude rattled Sichuan province, authorities are worried by the aftershocks and the build up of water in blocked rivers and have tried to stop people from entering the affected area.

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World's Poor Pay Price As Crop Research Funding Is Cut
2008-05-18 02:22:42
The brown plant hopper, an insect no bigger than a gnat, is multiplying by the billions and chewing through rice paddies in East Asia, threatening the diets of many poor people.

The damage to rice crops, occurring at a time of scarcity and high prices, could have been prevented. Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute here say that they know how to create rice varieties resistant to the insects but that budget cuts have prevented them from doing so.

This is a stark example of the many problems that are coming to light in the world’s agricultural system. Experts say that during the food surpluses of recent decades, governments and development agencies lost focus on the importance of helping poor countries improve their agriculture.

The budgets of institutions that delivered the world from famine in the 1970s, including the rice institute, have stagnated or fallen, even as the problems they were trying to solve became harder.

“People felt that the world food crisis was solved, that food security was no longer an issue, and it really fell off the agenda,” said Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the rice institute.

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Chinese Flee Flood Threat From Earthquake
2008-05-18 02:21:27
Thousands of earthquake survivors fled tent camps and villages across the ravaged landscape of southwestern China on Saturday after the government warned that several lakes and rivers were getting dangerously close to overflowing because landslides have blocked water flow.

The new threats came as government officials said that more than three million homes had been destroyed by Monday’s earthquake, and more than 12 million had been damaged. The government again raised the death toll, to nearly 29,000.

The resulting humanitarian crisis is the largest in China in decades, and in the process of covering the developments, Chinese news organizations have been testing strict government censorship in new ways - and even winning some concessions.

With the scale of the disaster becoming ever more apparent, the United Nations announced that it would provide a grant of $7 million from an emergency response fund “to help meet the most urgent humanitarian requirements.”

The danger of flooding on Saturday was so severe that some rescue workers had to abandon their efforts, at least temporarily, to find people buried beneath rubble in Beichuan, one of the hardest-hit counties. Such interruptions could doom the relatively few who could be expected to be alive under debris.

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Sen. Edward Kennedy Hospitalized After Seizure
2008-05-18 02:20:19
Edward M. Kennedy, a liberal Democratic icon of the Senate and the surviving patriarch of American political royalty, suffered a seizure at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., yesterday and was rushed by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said hospital officials.

The 76-year-old senior senator from Massachusetts was awake and joking with his family by late afternoon, according to a source close to the Kennedy family who spoke on the condition of anonymity. By early evening, he was watching a Boston Red Sox game and ordering dinner from Legal Seafood, said the source.

Larry Ronan, Kennedy's primary-care physician, released a statement saying Kennedy was "not in any immediate danger."

"Senator Kennedy will undergo further evaluation to determine the cause of the seizure, and a course of treatment will be determined at that time," said Ronan's statement.

Further information on his prognosis is not likely until Monday, said a spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter.

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International Pressure Is Building On Myanmar Junta
2008-05-18 02:19:37
International pressure on the ruling military junta in Myanmar continued to grow over the weekend as a senior United Nations envoy is due to arrive in Yangon on Sunday to talk with government officials about what the United Nations has called a slow response to international aid offers after Cyclone Nargis.

John Holmes, under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, has talks scheduled with top members of the government, although diplomats in Yangon said it was unlikely that Holmes would be allowed to meet with the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. The general has remained in the remote capital of Naypyidaw, far from the storm-damaged delta in the south.

In the two weeks since the cyclone hit, the junta has allowed in a modest amount of supplies from a number of nations, but relief workers say it is far short of what they need to fend off starvation and disease. The United Nations says only 20 percent of the survivors have received even “rudimentary aid.”

In some of the harshest comments, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the BBC on Saturday that a natural disaster “is being made into a man-made catastrophe by the negligence, the neglect and the inhuman treatment of the Burmese people by a regime that is failing to act and to allow the international community to do what it wants to do.”

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