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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday May 24 2008 - (813)

Saturday May 24 2008 edition
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Adapting, With Gritted Teeth, To High Gas Prices
2008-05-23 19:36:58

Hating every minute of it, Americans are slowly learning to live with high gasoline prices. For a nation accustomed to cheap fuel, big vehicles and sprawling suburbs, the adjustments are wrenching.

Cory Asmus, of Temecula, California, just bought a $4,800 motorcycle for his 20-mile drive to work so he could cut his gas bill to $8 a week, from $110.

Florian Bialas, a retiree who lives near Chicago, Illinois,sold his 1987 Pontiac Sunfire for $3,000 and plans to relinquish his license when it expires in September. “I can walk to most places where I need to go,” he said.

Debbie Gloyd of Cleveland, Ohio, has parked her Chrysler Concorde and started taking the bus to work. “I can’t afford these gas prices,” she said. “They’re insane.”

With the nationwide average price for regular gasoline closing rapidly on $4 a gallon, people are bracing for a summer of pain at the pump.

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Record Oil Prices Fuels Markets' Worst Week In 3 Months
2008-05-23 19:33:58
Wall Street ended a week of big losses with more selling Friday as rising oil prices again raised worries that strained consumers will cut back spending and hurt the overall economy. The Dow Jones industrials fell nearly 150 points in the final session before the three-day holiday weekend.

Investors are uneasy about consumers, who at the start of Memorial Day weekend are paying gasoline prices that have gone up nearly 20 percent, or 65 cents a gallon, in the past year.

Wall Street fears that consumers, who account for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, will pare spending to make room in their budgets for gas that has topped $4 a gallon in some parts of the country.

Light, sweet crude rose $1.38 to settle at $132.19 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil saw its third weekly gain after surging to a record $135.09 a barrel on Thursday. Some investors are buying on the belief that global demand from countries like China and India will outstrip supply. A weak dollar also makes each barrel more expensive.

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Editorial: Talking With The Enemy
2008-05-23 19:33:37
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, May 23, 2008.

Everybody knew President Bush was aiming at Senator Barack Obama last week when he likened those who endorse talks with “terrorists and radicals” to appeasers of the Nazis. But now we know what Mr. Bush knew then - that Israel is in indirect peace talks with Syria, a prominent member of Mr. Bush’s list of shunned nations - and it seems as if the president was going for a two-for-one in his crack about appeasement.

If so, it was breathtakingly cynical to compare the leadership of the Jewish state with those who stood aside in the face of the Nazi onslaught, and irresponsible to try to restrain this American ally from pursuing a settlement that it judges as possibly being in its best interests.

But Mr. Bush turned his back on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for seven years (before opening the anemic Annapolis process in November), and he resisted previous moves by Jerusalem and Damascus to revive serious negotiations, last held in 2000, over the Golan Heights. Instead, he has sought to isolate Syria.

The list of Syria’s bad behavior is long: support for Hamas and Hezbollah, interference in Iraq; objections to Israeli-Palestinian peace; a suspected role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; and increasingly close ties to Iran. But Israel has chosen to keep talking anyway and despite discovering - and bombing -  an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria.

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Burma's Junta To Allow Foreign Aid Workers To Join Relief Efforts
2008-05-23 19:33:05
Burma's powerful army chief, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, agreed Friday to allow all foreign aid workers, regardless of nationality, to join relief efforts for survivors of Cyclone Nargis, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported.

The concession, a potential turning point in the delivery of aid to survivors of the devastating May 2-3 storm, came during a two-hour meeting between Ban and Than Shwe, the head of the ruling military junta, in the isolated Burmese capital, Naypyidaw. However, the junta has continued to bar U.S. and French naval vessels from directly delivering aid.

"He has agreed to allow all the aid workers, regardless of nationality," Ban told reporters after his meeting with Than Shwe.

A senior U.N. official said the world body expects that foreign aid workers - many of whom have arrived in Burma but have been confined to Rangoon - will be permitted to work in the stricken Irrawaddy Delta, from which they have been barred until now.

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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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Russia And China Condemn U.S. Missile Shield
2008-05-23 19:36:47

Russia President Dmitri A. Medvedev traveled to Beijing, China, Friday to conclude a deal on nuclear cooperation and join Chinese leaders in condemning American proposals for a missile shield in Europe. Both countries called the plan a setback to international trust likely to upset the balance of power.

Medvedev’s choice of China for an early diplomatic foray as president seemed to signal a desire to continue Moscow’s assertive foreign policy - particularly toward the United States - that was a hallmark of his predecessor, Vladimir V. Putin, during his eight years in office.

Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia’s president earlier this month, but Putin retained significant powers as prime minister.

Friday’s announcements in Beijing came as the two giant neighbors, who challenged the United States - and each other - during the cold war, grapple with newer tensions over an array of military and economic issues, including their rivalry over the energy resources of central Asia.

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Sentence In Memo Discounted FISA
2008-05-23 19:33:48

What does "exclusive" mean?

The answer was at the heart of a highly sensitive memo by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2001, when Bush administration officials were keen to institute warrantless domestic surveillance after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A 1978 law appeared at first glance to be an impediment to using new procedures for such surveillance. It stated that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provided the "exclusive means by which electronic surveillance ... and the interception of domestic wire, oral and electronic communications may be conducted."

Yet the Bush administration did not want to follow FISA, because the law requires court approval. The administration has said that law could be a cumbersome obstacle in real-time efforts to intercept intelligence.

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Despite Glitch, Senate Votes To Override Bush Veto Of Farm Bill
2008-05-23 19:33:20

With an overwhelming 82 to 13 vote, the Senate yesterday completed the override of President Bush's veto of a comprehensive farm bill, shrugging off Republican concerns about an embarrassing legislative glitch to make the $307 billion bill the law of the land.

House Republican leaders continued to grumble that Democrats had violated the Constitution by pressing forward with the veto override after they discovered that a whole section of the bill on trade policy had been inadvertently dropped from the version vetoed Wednesday.

But Democratic leaders said they had court precedent and constitutional scholars on their side. "The veto override will have the force of law," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

Pelosi added that her original response upon learning of the mistake had been "uncustomarily crude".

Senate Republican leaders appeared unconcerned. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) were among the 35 Republicans who joined in the most significant legislative rebuff of Bush's presidency.

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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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