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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday May 25 2008 - (813)

Sunday May 25 2008 edition
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Analysis: Oil - Power Has Changed Sides
2008-05-25 02:52:15
In the beginning of the 1970s, when a barrel of black gold cost less than $2, no one imagined that one day an American president would be reduced to begging the king of Saudi Arabia for an increase in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC's) production to bring down prices. Yet the West has reached that point. After an initial rebuff in mid-January, George W. Bush was at it again on Friday, May 16, during his meeting with King Abdullah in Riyadh. With no more success than the first time, unless one counts a limited and temporary increase.

The time is long gone when Standard Oil of New Jersey, Anglo-Persian, Gulf Oil and their four other "sisters" dominated the world market. When President Roosevelt got King Ibn Saud to open Saudi wells to foreign companies in exchange for American military protection (1945). When Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh - guilty of nationalizing hydrocarbons - could be overthrown with impunity (1953). When one could pretend to believe that oil is an inexhaustible cornucopia.

Market power has changed sides. It has slipped away from consuming countries and from Big Oil (Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP ...). The development of the price per barrel ($128), is being determined behind the scenes in the Kremlin and in the meanders of the Iranian government, in Nigerian mangroves and on the banks of the Venezuelan Orinoco, in OPEC's Viennese corridors and in the halls of the New York Mercantile Exchange. And, above all, in Saudi palaces.

The world is experiencing a third oil shock - slower than those of 1973 and 1980. The barrel, the price of which has increased six times in as many years, is more expensive in constant dollars than it was in the beginning of 1981. Its price may ebb by some $10 or $20 in coming months, but nothing is less certain. Analysts as respected as those of investment bank Goldman Sachs see the price going to an average of $141 in the second half of 2008 and to $148 in 2009. OPEC no longer rules out $200.

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IEA Investigates Fears That Oil Is Running Out
2008-05-25 02:51:44

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has ordered an inquiry into whether the world could run out of oil, The Observer reported. It will consider whether fears about global shortages are real.

Observers say that the IEA, which provides authoritative research to OECD countries, is concerned that the supply of oil could fail to keep up with demand driven by the fast-industrializing economies of China and India. The investigation comes at a time of mounting concern that the sky-high price of oil could derail the global economy and plunge the world into recession. Oil hit $135 a barrel last week, the highest price on record, forcing airlines to cut back on flights to save fuel and pushing up the cost of living around the globe.

Lawrence Eagles, head of oil markets research at the IEA, said the situation was complex but added: "Our findings will form part of short- and long-term forecasts that we intend to publish in July and November. Up to now we have believed that supply can cope with demand. One caveat is that we don't know for certain whether estimates of reserves in countries such as Saudi Arabia are entirely accurate."

John Waterlow, analyst at oil research consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said: "Many oil-producing countries are closed, secretive societies where it can be difficult to pinpoint the level of provable reserves."

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Afghanistan Adds Hunger To Its Worries
2008-05-25 02:49:02
By 7 a.m., the bakers of Sang Tarashi Street have been hard at work for hours, shaping globs of dough, slapping them into a hot clay oven and flipping them out at just the right second. A stack of fresh flat bread called naan sits invitingly by the window, and the familiar morning smell wafts into the street.

Yet the scene outside the window has a desperate feel. Customers ask for half their normal breakfast purchases. A carpenter counts out the equivalent of 40 cents and buys two naans, far too little to feed his family of seven. A gaunt man in a threadbare tunic hovers nearby, looking ashamed, until the bakery owner notices him and tosses him a piece.

"When the price goes up, your stomach has to shrink," said the man, a handcart hauler named Abdul Karim. "I used to be able to buy a sack of flour, and my wife could bake for us, but now it is far too expensive. I have to rely on this baker's kindness so my children can eat. I do my best for them and work hard all day, but it is not enough anymore."

As the global food crisis deepens, bringing inflation and shortages to many countries, Afghanistan - already facing a protracted drought, entrenched rural poverty and an ongoing conflict with Islamist insurgents - finds itself battling the added threat of hunger.

For generations, Afghans have depended on cheap, plentiful bread as their main staple. The country's principal crop is wheat, and its farmers produce more than 5 million tons in a good year. Although that is not enough to feed the entire population, wheat can usually be trucked in from neighboring Pakistan. 

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Argentina Turns Against President After Farmers' Strike
2008-05-25 02:46:31

Argentina's first female President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is fighting to restore her tattered reputation after a 70-day rural strike saw her public image plummet to its lowest level.

Only one in four Argentinians has a positive image of her, according to figures released last week by a leading polling group. Three months ago, her approval rating was more than 50 per cent. Elected last October with 45 per cent of the popular vote, Fernandez's popularity has sunk in recent months as a lock-out by farmers threatened food shortages and frozen farm exports.

Argentina's powerful farm lobby initially went on strike in mid-March after the introduction of controversial new taxes on soya, wheat and other key agricultural products. Fernandez won a brief reprieve after the main farming associations agreed to re-enter negotiations but angry farmers are still planning to go ahead with a huge demonstration today in the port town of Rosario.

Fernandez will be heading a rally of her own today to mark Argentina's National Day. Behind the customary flag-waving and confetti, she must be asking herself where it all went wrong. The economy, the usual weather vane of public content, is growing at more than 6 per cent a year thanks to rocketing commodity prices, but there are some worrying economic and political trends, including inflation. Government figures put price rises at 9 per cent a year, but private sector analysts say the government is massaging the numbers. Independent data suggests inflation could be three times higher.

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TV's 'Laugh-In' Comic Dick Martin Dies at 86
2008-05-25 02:41:09
Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.

Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, said family spokesman Barry Greenberg.

"He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago," said Greenberg.

Martin had lost the use of one of his lungs as a teenager, and needed supplemental oxygen for most of the day in his later years.

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FDA Warns Nipple Cream Could Harm Infants
2008-05-24 15:07:28
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned women not to use or purchase Mommy's Bliss Nipple Cream, marketed by MOM Enterprises Inc. of San Rafael, California.

The cream, promoted to nursing mothers to help soothe dry or cracked nipples, contains ingredients that may cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants, said the agency.

The potentially harmful ingredients in the cream are chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol.

"FDA is particularly concerned that nursing infants are being unwittingly exposed by their mothers to this product with dangerous side effects," said Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Additionally, these two ingredients may interact with one another to further compound and increase the risk of respiratory depression in nursing infants."

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Poll: Obama Would Win California In November
2008-05-24 14:51:38
Less than four months after losing the California primary, Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain in projected November general election matchups, a new Los Angeles Times/KTLA Poll has found.

Obama, the Illinois senator who has inched close to his party's nomination, would defeat McCain by seven points if the election were held today. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose fortunes have faltered since her Feb. 5 drubbing of Obama in California, would eke out only a three-point victory, the poll found.

The poll appeared to illustrate that Democrats, at least in California, are gravitating toward the candidate who is broadly expected to eventually seize the party's mantle. Obama now runs better against the Arizona senator than does Clinton among many of the groups that powered her victory in the state, among them Latinos, Catholics and those without college degrees.

Although exit polls in recent primaries elsewhere have shown Clinton supporters reluctant to embrace Obama as the nominee, there was little of that sentiment evident in the California poll. The survey could not measure whether time had eased partisan passions or whether Californians were predisposed to embrace either Democrat.

Overall, Obama led McCain 47% to 40% among registered voters, while Clinton led McCain 43% to 40%.
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Cable Prices Rise And Customers Keep Paying
2008-05-24 14:49:04

Americans discouraged by higher gas prices and airline fares may decide to spend more vacation time at home, perhaps watching television.

That, too, will cost them more than ever.

Cable prices have risen 77 percent since 1996, roughly double the rate of inflation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics  reported this month.

Cable customers, who typically pay at least $60 a month, watch only a fraction of what they pay for - on average, a mere 13 percent of the 118 channels available to them. And the number of subscribers keeps growing.

The resiliency of cable is all the more remarkable because the Internet was supposed to change all things digital. Technology has led to more choices and lower prices for news and music as well as cellphone and landline minutes -  not to mention computers, cameras, music players and phones themselves.

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Opposition Political Leader Tsvangirai Returns To Zimbabwe
2008-05-24 14:48:13
Opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai returned to his homeland Saturday, stopping first to visit hospitalized supporters who had been targeted in an onslaught of state-sponsored violence.

He then called on increasingly autocratic President Robert Mugabe to "set his people free from poverty, hunger and fear" by stepping down.

Tsvangirai, who had left Zimbabwe six weeks earlier, tried to return a week ago but called that off after his party said he was the target of a military assassination plot. The former union leader has survived at least three assassination attempts.

He arrived at the capital's main airport Saturday with little fanfare and then sped off in a three-car convoy to a Harare hospital were victims of political violence are being treated.

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City Of Vallejo, California, Files For Bankruptcy
2008-05-24 14:47:28
The city of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy protection Saturday after administrators and leaders were unable to sufficiently trim a nearly $17-million shortfall.

The Bay Area city, with a population of about 120,000, had been bracing for the possibility since February as tax revenues fell and employee costs remained high. Eighty percent of the city's budget goes to police and firefighters, far above the norm for most California cities.

"I had hoped that even at the 11th hour and 59th minute we could come up with an alternative," said Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis.

It appears that Vallejo negotiated contracts with employees that were too burdensome when the economy slowed down, said Juliet Musso, an associate professor of public policy and political science at USC.

"It's a continuation of the story of bust-and-boom cycles in California," she said.
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Growing Food Crisis Strain United Nations
2008-05-25 02:52:05
For four years, United Nations peacekeepers have protected Haiti's fragile government from attacks by street gangs, drug lords and political agitators, but they were no match for a bowl of rice that has doubled in price during the past year.

Thousands of demonstrators last month rampaged through the streets of Haiti's main cities, protesting the high cost of living in a spree of violence that toppled the prime minister and set the stage for the country's worst political crisis in more than a year.

"If people are hungry, they have no stake in stability," said Hedi Annabi, the U.N. special representative in Haiti, in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince. "They will be ready for anything - for anarchy - because they have nothing to safeguard or to fight for."

The Haitian experience has been playing out around the world. Food protests and riots have erupted in more than 30 countries, bringing unrest in places as diverse as Bolivia, Burma, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan and Senegal. The unrest has placed strains on U.N. peacekeepers and relief workers, who provide security and lifesaving assistance where the crisis has hit most severely. Some U.N. relief planners have raised concern about the organization's capacity to cope with an increase in the world's chronically hungry, to more than 850 million.

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Upset At Gas Prices? Don't Blame The Dealer
2008-05-25 02:50:03
Awash in profit, Exxon fights for pennies while raising the rent.

Every time Sohaila Rezazadeh rings up a sale at her Exxon station on Chain Bridge Road in Oakton, her cash register sends the information to Exxon Mobil's central computers. If she raises the price of gasoline a couple of pennies, chances are that Exxon will raise the wholesale price she pays by the same amount.

Through a password-protected Web portal, Exxon notifies Rezazadeh of wholesale price changes daily. That way the oil giant, which is earning about $3.3 billion a month, fine-tunes the pump prices at the franchise Rezazadeh has owned for 12 years.

Now, however, Rezazadeh says she cannot stay in business. Credit-card fees are eating her profit margins. Exxon, which owns the station land, last week handed Rezazadeh a new lease raising her rent about 30 percent over the next three years. She stuck a copy on the window of her station to show customers who are angry about soaring pump prices. Rezazadeh has told Exxon that she cannot make money with the rent that high. Her territory manager's reply, she said, was simple: When you go, leave us the keys.

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Britain's Defense Ministry Denies Compensation To Soldiers Injured By 'Wrong Bomb'?
2008-05-25 02:46:55

British soldiers seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are being denied government compensation because they were wounded by the "wrong type of bomb". Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) has refused payouts for injuries under its criminal injuries scheme that may have been caused by landmines left by the Soviet army in Afghanistan or other discarded ordnance.

Under the MoD's criminal injuries compensation overseas scheme, frontline troops can claim for an injury or death not caused by military operations against the Taliban or Iraqi militia.

Alternatively, troops injured after April 2005 can also apply for financial support under the armed forces compensation scheme, which offers payouts for soldiers injured or killed on duty.

However, troops rejected from the criminal injuries scheme are no longer eligible for the other scheme, with soldiers' lawyers claiming that a number of injured frontline troops are being denied their rightful compensation.

Manchester-based Hilary Meredith Solicitors, which has more than 20 years experience in pursuing claims against the military, said: "The government's logic is bizarre and they are clearly wriggling out of paying men injured in war zones by suggesting they have been injured by the wrong type of bomb."

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Mars Spacecraft Faces Riskiest Part Of Mission
2008-05-25 02:41:54
After a nearly 10-month journey, a NASA spacecraft will land softly Sunday on the northern polar region of Mars, if all goes as planned.

The Phoenix Mars Lander is set to touch down in a broad, shallow valley in the Martian arctic plains believed to hold a vast supply of underground ice. Phoenix's job during the 90-day mission is to excavate the soil and ice to study whether the site could have supported microbial life.

The stakes are especially high: Fewer than half of the world's attempts to land on the Red Planet have succeeded.

"I'm getting a real case of heebie-jeebies," Joe Guinn, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on the eve of the landing.

In keeping with tradition, JPL project manager Barry Goldstein plans to hand out bags of peanuts _ both salted and unsalted - to his team members on landing day. Over the years, JPL found that missions with the lucky charms have better success than those without.

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Afghans Outraged U.S. Marines Not Charged In Killings
2008-05-24 15:07:43
Afghan officials expressed outrage Saturday at the decision by the U.S. military not to charge U.S. Marines involved in a shooting spree that left 19 Afghan civilians dead in 2007.

U.S. military officials said Friday that no criminal charges will be brought against two U.S. Marines officers in a unit accused of firing indiscriminately at vehicles and civilians after their convoy was hit by a suicide bomber on March 4, 2007, in eastern Nangarhar province.

"I am very angry," said Kubra Aman, a senator from Nangarhar. "This is too much. They are killing people. First, they say it is a mistake, and after that they let them go without charges."

Afghan witnesses and a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded that a unit of Marine special operations troops opened fire along a 10-mile (16 kilometer) stretch of road, killing up to 19 civilians and wounding 50 other people.

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$130 A Barrel Oil Could Be Tipping Point In U.S.
2008-05-24 14:51:54
Only a few weeks ago, prominent policymakers and economists were cheerfully asserting that the U.S. economy would dodge recession and keep chugging forward despite a housing bust, a credit crunch and continuing job losses.

"The data are pretty clear that we are not in recession," said President Bush's chief economist, Edward Lazear. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., declared "the worst is likely to be behind us" and confidently predicted that more than $100 billion in tax rebates would help create half a million new jobs by the end of the year.

Instead of clearing, the skies over the economy have ominously darkened in recent days. The chief reason is oil. And there are signs the nation may have reached an economic tipping point after years of shrugging off the petroleum problem.

"We may finally have crossed the line where the price of crude actually matters for most companies," said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at New York financial firm Miller Tabak & Co. "The stock market has been in la-la land when it comes to oil, but they got a pretty good dose of reality the last few days."

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Clinton Sorry For RFK Assassination Remark
2008-05-24 14:51:19
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday invoked the 1968 assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in explaining her decision to remain in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, comments that drew criticism from aides to Sen. Barack Obama and cooled speculation that the two may form a joint ticket for the general election.

Clinton was asked during a meeting with the editorial board of the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about continuing to run despite long odds of winning the nomination. She said that while the media and Obama's campaign have urged her to withdraw, "historically, that makes no sense."

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?" she continued. "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

Her advisers quickly explained that Clinton merely intended to note that this was not the first primary campaign to stretch into the summer, not to suggest that Obama might be assassinated. Clinton later apologized to the Kennedy family while speaking to reporters, saying she did not mean to offend anyone.

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Zimbabwe Is On A Political Precipice
2008-05-24 14:48:34
Zimbabwe hangs in a dangerous political limbo: A ruling party clique clings to power amid rumors of a coup if President Robert Mugabe loses the upcoming presidential runoff. His opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, far from facing down military hard-liners, has been out of the country for weeks, fearing assassination.

As regional leaders dither, a new wave of systematic abductions and killings of top opposition activists suggests a regime that is unwilling to leave office, even if it loses the second round of voting, scheduled for the end of next month.

"There's no way we are going to lose the runoff," one senior ruling party figure said. "We are going to make sure of that. If we lose the runoff, then the army will take over.

"Never be fooled that Tsvangirai will rule this country. Never," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in an interview in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

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At Least A Dozen Tornadoes Strike Kansas
2008-05-24 14:47:53
Forecasters said Saturday that at least a dozen tornadoes spun across western and central Kansas on Friday, destroying numerous homes, downing trees and injuring several people.

The National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kansas, said there were at least 10 twisters that touched down in central Kansas, while the Goodland office reported seven or eight in the western part of the state.

At least four people were hurt in Stafford County, including one person who was taken to a Wichita hospital with serious injuries, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Department.

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