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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday May 22 2008 - (813)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bush Vetoes Farm Bill, Override By Congress Likely
2008-05-21 14:24:54
President Bush vetoed the $300 billion farm bill on Wednesday, calling it a tax increase on regular Americans at a time of high food prices in the face of a near-certain override by Congress. It was the 10th veto of Bush's presidency but, since it passed both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities, his action will likely be overridden.

The president believes the legislation is fiscally irresponsible and gives away too much money to wealthy farmers, yet his criticism rang hollow with lawmakers from both parties who voted for increased crop subsidies, food stamps for the poor and other goodies to help their districts in an election year.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said lawmakers should think twice before they override Bush's veto.

''Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise,'' she said. ''People are not going to want to see their taxes increase.''

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American Airlines To Charge For Checked Baggage
2008-05-21 14:24:12
American Airlines, struggling with escalating fuel expenses, said today it would charge $15 for checked baggage, slash domestic flights and lay off an unspecified number of workers.

In a dramatic series of moves that it said were needed to "remain viable," the nation's largest airline and the largest carrier at Los Angeles International Airport also said it would retire at least 75 older, fuel-guzzling aircraft.

The fee for the first checked bag marks the first time that an airline will charge for a service that has always been included in the airfare.

That fee applies to passengers who purchased discounted tickets and starts June 15. The airline said it also plans to raise other fees for services ranging from reservation help to handling of over-sized bags.

"The airline industry as it is constituted today was not built to withstand oil prices at $125 a barrel, and certainly not when record fuel expenses are coupled with a weak U.S. economy," Gerard Arpey, chief executive of American Airlines parent AMR Corp., said in a statement.
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Government, Hezbollah Agree To End Lebanon Crisis
2008-05-21 14:23:25
The Hezbollah-led Shiite opposition and the Lebanese government backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, reached an agreement on Wednesday to resolve an 18-month political crisis that has crippled the country and recently triggered the worst fighting since the 1975-1990 civil war.

After five days of fraught negotiations among Lebanon’s rival political groups in Doha, the Qatari authorities said the agreement called for moves within 24 hours for Parliament in Beirut to begin the process of electing Gen. Michel Suleiman, the commander of Lebanon’s army, as president.

The deal was also expected to lead to the formation of a cabinet in which Hezbollah, supported by Iran and Syria,  along with its allies will enjoy the veto power it had sought in the negotiations .

Under the terms of the agreement, the government will also debate anew electoral law designed to provide better representation in the country’s sectarian system of power-sharing.

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Time Warner, Time Warner Cable To Split
2008-05-21 14:22:32
Time Warner Inc. said Wednesday it would formally split off its cable TV business, giving the media conglomerate a $9.25 billion windfall and allowing it to focus on cable network, entertainment and publishing operations.

The separation with Time Warner Cable Inc. gets Time Warner out of the media distribution business altogether, something investors had been clamoring for. The company announced its decision to split up last month and said Wednesday that the boards of the two companies had agreed to financial terms.

Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable provider in the country after Comcast Corp. with about 13.3 million video subscribers. It has been a public company for more than a year, but Time Warner had held on to an 84% stake.

Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's CEO, said in a statement that separating Time Warner Cable into its own business will give both companies "greater strategic, financial and operational flexibility" in order to compete.

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Elderly Chinese Cling To Ruins, Resist Going To Camps
2008-05-21 02:08:27
To reach the shattered, deserted mountain town of Chaping, China, Chen Tong Quan hiked for six hours the other day, his third trip back since the earthquake to convince his mother-in-law that it was time to go.

Chen's only way here is on foot, over a 5,900-foot mountain, an arduous climb made treacherous by frequent aftershocks and rock slides.

Despite his efforts, Chen's 73-year-old mother-in-law still did not want to leave. "I'm too old! I'm afraid I won't make it," she pleaded, standing near a wooden crate covered with a strip of cardboard where she had collected whatever she could salvage from her ravaged home: a few articles of clothing, some tissue paper, an umbrella, a scythe.

"She wants us to leave enough food and drink and then come back every two months to check on her," said her son, Ye Ning Gui, 40. "She hasn't left these mountains in 10 years."

Scenes like this are playing out in dozens of remote mountain towns like Chaping, which lies 70 miles north of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Those able to walk streamed out first, after last week's rains stopped and the mud began to dry on narrow paths. Now, villagers are joining army and police units trudging back into the mountains to bring out the injured and elderly, many of whom are refusing to budge.

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Almost 30 U.S. Cities Saw Scheduled Airline Service Disappear Last Year
2008-05-21 02:07:42

Earlier this decade, city officials in Hagerstown, Maryland, started making the case to build a longer runway at their airport to lure service by regional jets, instead of the turboprop planes that provided its only flights.

Several years and $61.4 million later, the city opened its concrete welcome mat, a new 7,000 foot runway, last November - two months after the airport lost scheduled air service altogether.

Despite its costly investment, a dogged marketing effort by local officials and even help from Congress, the airport has had no luck attracting a new carrier, as the industry struggles under soaring fuel prices.

“Could we pick a worse time to go out and get commercial service? Probably not,” said Carolyn Motz, director of the Hagerstown Regional Airport, which had 10 daily flights a decade ago.

The airports have grown quiet in many other communities, too.

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Clinton Sees Many Reasons To Stay In The Hunt
2008-05-21 02:06:53

Rebuffing associates who have suggested that she end her candidacy, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has made it clear to her camp in recent days that she will stay in the race until June because she believes she can still be the nominee - and, barring that, so she can depart with some final goals accomplished.

Clinton has disagreed with suggestions, made directly to her by a few friends recently, that her continued candidacy was deepening splits within the Democratic Party and damaging Senator Barack Obama's chances of emerging as a formidable nominee. She has also disputed the notion that, by staying in, she was unintentionally fostering a racial divide with white voters in some states overwhelmingly supporting her.

Rather, in private conversations and in interviews, Clinton has begun asserting that she believes sexism, rather than racism, has cast a shadow over the primary fight, a point some of her supporters have made for months. Advisers say that continuing her candidacy is partly a means to show her supporters - especially young women - that she is not a quitter and will not be pushed around.

Campaigning in New Hampshire and Indiana this year, Clinton endured taunts from passers-by who questioned her abilities because she is a woman and mocked her husband’s affair with a White House intern. Yet Clinton has also benefited from the strong support of white voters in many states, including some who have said that race was a factor in their support.

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Military Rejects Wider Antiterrorism Role For Elite Forces
2008-05-21 02:05:57
The military’s elite Special Operations Command has quietly stepped back from a controversial plan that gave it the authority to carry out secret counterterrorism missions on its own around the world.

The decision culminates four years of misgivings within the military that the command, with its expertise in commando missions and unconventional war, would use its broader mandate too aggressively, by carrying out operations that had not been reviewed or approved by the regional commanders.

A new Special Operations commander, Adm. Eric T. Olson of the Navy Seals, has now said publicly that he intends to play a different role, and will instead continue the command’s new mission as coordinator of the military’s counterterrorism efforts around the world.

The shift reverses what Donald H. Rumsfeld put in place as defense secretary in 2004, when he said he wanted the Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, Florida, to operate unilaterally; he believed that it would be more aggressive in hunting down terrorists than the regional commanders, who are tied most closely to conventional forces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sen. Kennedy Released From Hospital
2008-05-21 14:24:34
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has been released from the hospital and is heading to his Cape Cod home after being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor.

The 76-year-old Kennedy waved to a crowd of well-wishers and gave a thumbs-up as he walked out of Massachusetts General Hospital amid heavy security. His dogs greeted him at the hospital door.

Doctors said Wedneday the Massachusetts Democrat "has recovered remarkably quickly" from a brain biopsy conducted Monday. Kennedy will recuperate at home while the doctors await further test results and determine his treatment plan.

Kennedy has a malignant glioma in his left parietal lobe. Experts say such tumors are almost always fatal.
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Dow Falls As Oil Prices Touch $132.08 A Barrel
2008-05-21 14:23:47
The Dow Jones industrials fell on Wednesday as record crude oil prices fueled concerns about inflation and cutbacks in non-essential consumer spending, which could hurt corporate profits.

U.S. oil futures touched $132.08 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after weekly data showed inventories of both crude oil and gasoline dropped unexpectedly.

Airline stocks, heavily influenced by the cost of fuel, also lost ground as did retailers, home builders and financial services stocks. An index of airline stocks was down nearly 8 percent.

Shares of airplane maker Boeing Co. fell 3 percent to $82.31 and were the biggest drag on the Dow industrials. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite recouped losses and were slightly higher by the mid-session.

"As oil goes up it increasingly applies pressure to the economy in terms of inflation and slower growth," said Jim Awad, chairman of W.P. Stewart Asset Management in New York. He said stocks were also retracing some of their gains since the March lows.

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Saudi Critic Jailed After Decrying Justice System
2008-05-21 14:22:52
An outspoken critic of the Saudi government who was previously jailed for calling for greater democracy has been arrested, his wife said Tuesday.

Matrouk al-Faleh, a professor of political science at King Saud University in Riyadh, the capital, was detained Monday after he left for work, said his wife, Jamila al-Ukla. Over the past year, Faleh has accused the Interior Ministry of disregarding laws that ban arrests without charge and guarantee the right to counsel.

An Interior Ministry spokesman was unavailable for comment on Faleh's arrest.

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that restricts press and speech freedoms, does not allow political parties, civil rights groups or demonstrations but, since King Abdullah took the throne in 2005, official tolerance of criticism and debate has grown.

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Obama Wins Oregon, Clinton Takes Kentucky
2008-05-21 02:08:43

Sen. Barack Obama crossed another threshold Tuesday night in his march toward the Democratic presidential nomination, splitting a pair of primaries with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and claiming a majority of the pledged delegates at stake in the long nomination battle.

Obama scored an easy victory in Oregon after being trounced by Clinton in Kentucky. The results left him fewer than 100 delegates short of the 2,026 currently required to win the party's nomination after one of the closest contests that Democrats have staged in a generation.

The senator from Illinois stopped short of claiming the nomination, a milestone he may not be able to reach until the end of the primaries on June 3. But he staged a victory rally in Iowa, the site of his first big win of the year, to highlight his near-lock on the nomination and to continue to shift his focus to a general-election campaign against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Recalling the lengthy road he has traveled, Obama told a boisterous crowd gathered near the Iowa State Capitol:  "Tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States."

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New Biofuels Trend Comes With New Risks
2008-05-21 02:08:13
In the past year, as the diversion of food crops like corn and palm to make biofuels has helped to drive up food prices, investors and politicians have begun promoting newer, so-called second-generation biofuels as the next wave of green energy. These, made from non-food crops like reeds and wild grasses, would offer fuel without the risk of taking food off the table, they said.

Now, biologists and botanists are warning that they, too, may bring serious unintended consequences. Most of these newer crops are what scientists label invasive species - that is, weeds - that have an extraordinarily high potential to escape biofuel plantations, overrun adjacent farms and natural land, and create economic and ecological havoc in the process, they say.

At a United Nations meeting in Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday, scientists from the Global Invasive Species Program, the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as other groups, presented a paper with a warning about invasive species.

“Some of the most commonly recommended species for biofuels production are also major invasive alien species,” the paper says, adding that these crops should be studied more thoroughly before being cultivated in new areas.

Controlling the spread of such plants could prove difficult, the experts said, producing “greater financial losses than gains.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature encapsulated the message like this: “Don’t let invasive biofuel crops attack your country.”

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Arjun N. Murti - The Cassandra Of Oil Prices
2008-05-21 02:07:19

Arjun N. Murti remembers the pain of the oil shocks of the 1970s, but he is bracing for something far worse now: He foresees a “super spike” - a price surge that will soon drive crude oil to $200 a barrel.

Murti, who has a bit of a green streak, is not bothered much by the prospect of even higher oil prices, figuring it might finally prompt America to become more energy efficient.

An analyst at Goldman Sachs, Murti has become the talk of the oil market by issuing one sensational forecast after another. A few years ago, rivals scoffed when he predicted oil would breach $100 a barrel. Few are laughing now. Oil shattered yet another record on Tuesday, touching $129.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gas at $4 a gallon is arriving just in time for those long summer drives.

Murti, 39, argues that the world’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil means prices will keep rising from here and stay above $100 into 2011. Others disagree, arguing that prices could abruptly tumble if speculators in the market rush for the exits. The grim calculus of Murti’s prediction, issued in March and reconfirmed two weeks ago, is enough to give anyone pause: in an America of $200 oil, gasoline could cost more than $6 a gallon.

That would be fine with Murti, who owns not one but two hybrid cars. “I’m actually fairly anti-oil,” says Murti, who grew up in New Jersey. “One of the biggest challenges our country faces is our addiction to oil.”

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Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Virginia's Abortion Ban Law
2008-05-21 02:06:17

A federal appeals court panel in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday struck down a Virginia state law that made it a crime for doctors to perform what the law called “partial birth infanticide.”

In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the law was more restrictive than the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which the United States Supreme Court upheld last year in Gonzales v. Carhart. 

Both laws prohibited the procedure known medically as intact dilation and extraction. It involves removing an intact fetus and, typically, piercing or crushing its skull. The more common second-trimester abortion procedure, dilation and evacuation, involves dismembering the fetus in the uterus.

The key difference between the two laws, Judge M. Blane Michael wrote for the majority, was that the federal law imposes criminal charges only when doctors intend at the outset to perform the procedure, while Virginia law also made it a crime for doctors to perform the prohibited procedure by mistake.

“Unlike the federal act,” Judge Michael wrote, “the Virginia act subjects all doctors who perform” the more common procedure “to potential criminal liability, thereby imposing an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to choose.”

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