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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday May 20 2008 - (813)

Tuesday May 20 2008 edition
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McCain Finds A Thorny Path In Ethics Effort
2008-05-20 02:12:41

Sorting out the lobbying entanglements of his campaign advisers is proving to be a messy business for Senator John McCain.

On Monday, just days after it issued new rules to address conflicts of interest, the McCain campaign was furiously sifting through the business records of aides and advisers. The new rules were prompted by disclosures that led to the abrupt departure from the campaign of a number of aides who worked as lobbyists, including some with ties to foreign governments.

McCain’s political identity has long been defined by his calls for reducing the influence of special interests in Washington. As he heads toward the general election as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he has increasingly confronted criticism that his campaign staff is stocked with people who have made their living as lobbyists or in similar jobs, leaving his credentials as a reformer open to attack.

The process of trying to purge the campaign of conflicts that in appearance or reality might violate McCain’s stated principles or cause him political trouble has so far focused only more attention on the backgrounds of his aides and advisers.

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38 Charged In International Phishing Scheme
2008-05-20 02:12:13
Thirty-eight people were charged Monday with stealing names, Social Security numbers, credit card data and other personal information from unsuspecting Internet users as part of a global crime ring.

The Romanian-based phishing scams sought to rip off thousands of consumers and hundreds of financial institutions, according to indictments unsealed in Los Angeles and New Haven, Connecticut.

The two related cases marked the latest example of what the Justice Department describes as a growing worldwide threat posed by organized crime.

"International organized crime poses a serious threat not only to the United States and Romania, but to all nations," said Deputy Attorney General Mark R. Filip in a statement from Bucharest, where he announced the charges. "Criminals who exploit the power and convenience of the Internet do not recognize national borders; therefore our efforts to prevent their attacks cannot end at our borders either."

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U.S. Rep. Fossella Won't Seek Re-Election
2008-05-20 02:11:36
U.S. Rep. Vito J. Fossella (R-New York) will not seek reelection in November after admitting to an extramarital affair with a former Air Force official, which came after a drunken-driving arrest in Alexandria, Virginia, three weeks ago, said Republican Party sources.

Fossella is not resigning immediately, saving House Republicans from having to defend another seat in what would have been an expensive special election had he left Congress altogether. The party has lost three seats through such elections since March.

The Staten Island Advocate, Fossella's hometown newspaper, reported last night that he is to release a letter to constituents Tuesday.

"I have made the decision not to seek re-election to the United States House of Representatives this November. This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused to my wife and family," Fossella wrote, according to the paper.

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Obama To Reach Delegate Milestone On Tuesday
2008-05-19 22:04:16
Barack Obama will reach a significant milestone Tuesday as he marches toward the Democratic nomination for president - a majority of pledged delegates at stake in all the primaries and caucuses.

Obama will still be short of the overall number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination, unless he were to suddenly receive an avalanche of endorsements from the party and elected officials known as superdelegates. The Illinois senator's campaign is touting the delegate milestone as a big step in defeating his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

"A clear majority of elected delegates will send an unmistakable message - the people have spoken, and they are ready for change," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in a memo to supporters Monday.

"As we near victory in one contest, the next challenge is already heating up," Plouffe wrote. "President Bush and Senator McCain have begun coordinating their attacks on Barack Obama in an effort to extend their failed policies for a third term."

Obama picked up the endorsement of Sen. Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, Monday, less than a week after Clinton overwhelmingly won the state's primary. Byrd is the longest serving member of the U.S. Senate.

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Commentary: The War To End All Wars
2008-05-19 22:03:50
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by British writer and broadcaster Rosie Boycott and appeared in the Guardian edtiion for Tuesday, May 20, 2008. Ms. Boycott writes, "The climate change threat needs drastic action. Only a cross-party approach can deliver it." Her commentary follows:

How do you define a war? There is the disastrous one that Britain is waging in Iraq, involving tanks and guns and the lives of our young men and women. There is the kind the government claims it is waging variously against poverty, terror, and obesity. But the greatest threat to us all, global warming - a threat far greater than any airborne disease or foreign dictator - has yet to be elevated to war status. Day by day, before our eyes, the planet is deteriorating: ice caps are melting, weather systems shifting, and the poorest are finding themselves facing life-threatening water shortages. Our wildlife is suffering, species are being lost before our children even have a chance to witness them in all their beauty.

Britain, with 174 other countries, signed up to the Kyoto protocol, but while the government has made great political play of the fact that greenhouse gas emissions have decreased over the past decade, actual CO2 emissions have gone up. The only cuts that have been made have come from small, one-off technical fixes of things like landfill gas methane emissions. [The] Labor [party] might have great plans for cutting climate-changing gases, but most of its policies, from motorway widening to new runways, point in the opposite direction, and are actually worsening the situation.

As a group, some concerned mothers - myself among them- are coming together with their children this week because we want to leave our planet in much the same way as it was when we were born: rich, varied and able to support and feed us all. All across Britain, families are recycling waste, cutting back car use and giving up using plastic bags. But we know we are long past the time for small-time individual action - we need to direct a transition to a low-carbon economy. The government still seems to be terrified of motorists, frequent flyers and second home-owners, and is far too timid to take any measures that begin to address the scale of the problem. The targets in the climate-change bill are a good start, but there is no policy framework to actually achieve them - it is no good politicians saying each year, "Sorry, we failed", as the world fries. The climate crisis must be our pre-eminent policy priority.

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8 Former AOL Time Warner Execs Charged
2008-05-19 22:03:14
Federal regulators on Monday said eight former executives of AOL Time Warner Inc. fraudulently inflated the company's online advertising revenues by more than $1 billion between 2000 and 2002.

Four of the executives have agreed to settle the civil charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission by paying a total of roughly $8 million in fines and returning allegedly ill-gotten gains. They are David Colburn, Eric Keller, Jay Rappaport and James MacGuidwin, who was controller of the media company. The other three were in its business affairs unit.

The SEC charges are pending against the other four: John Michael Kelly, former AOL Time Warner chief financial officer; Joseph Ripp, ex-chief financial officer of the AOL division; Steven Rindner, a former senior executive in the business affairs unit, and Mark Wovsaniker, former head of accounting policy.

The world's largest media company by revenue, it is now called Time Warner Inc.

New York-based Time Warner was roiled by the accounting scandal at its AOL unit, involving online advertising revenue and subscriber counts. Time Warner agreed in late 2004 and early 2005 to pay $300 million in a settlement of civil fraud charges with the SEC and $210 million to resolve charges of criminal securities fraud in a separate investigation by the Justice Department. Time Warner also agreed to restate three years of financial results and to open its books to an independent examiner.

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Staying Connected And Safety Are At Odds On The Road
2008-05-19 18:03:26
When American drivers slam on the brakes, three out of four times it's because they were daydreaming, fiddling with the radio or chatting on the phone, a survey suggests today.

Nearly half of Americans consider talking on the phone and texting the most dangerous distractions while driving, but 81% acknowledge making calls from behind the wheel, according to the survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance.

Most cases of driving while distracted are caused by a need to be constantly connected, says Bill Windsor, Nationwide's associate vice president of safety. "It's our lifestyle and mentality. We're so used to multitasking that we don't recognize it as dangerous anymore."

The survey found that, surprisingly, older drivers were more likely than teens to multitask when driving.

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Bush Says He Won't Back Bill That Bails Out Lenders
2008-05-19 14:43:48
President Bush, acknowledging the economic "tough times" for many Americans, said Monday that he remains opposed to any homeowner rescue legislation that would be a bailout for lenders.

The president's comments came as Senate leaders are working on a bipartisan bill to help strapped borrowers get government-backed mortgages, paid for by tapping a fund designed to help poor families. Bush did not comment on that proposed legislation directly. He has threatened to veto a House version of the bill.

"Laws shouldn't bail out lenders," Bush said after getting an economic update from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. "Laws shouldn't help speculators. The government ought to be helping creditworthy people stay in their homes."

The president pushed Congress to pass legislation to more tightly regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored companies that finance home loans.

"Our fellow citizens have got to know that these major players in the mortgage markets - if reformed properly by Congress - will really help stabilize the markets and make it easier for people to stay in their homes," said Bush.

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China Mourns Quake Victims, 200 Rescuers Feared Dead In Mudslides
2008-05-19 14:43:11
China stood still Monday in mourning over tens of thousands of earthquake victims, and the government appealed for more international aid to cope with the country's deadliest disaster in a generation.

Construction workers, shopkeepers and bureaucrats across the bustling nation of 1.3 billion people paused for three minutes at 2:28 p.m. - exactly one week after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit central China.

Air-raid sirens and the horns of cars and buses sounded in memory of the dead. Rescuers searching for signs of life among the rubble paused briefly then continued to dig but hopes for finding survivors a week after the disaster were growing slim.

Further adding to the tragedy, state news reported that more than 200 workers who had been repairing quake-shattered roads in Sichuan province were buried over the past three days by mudslides.

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Zimbabweans, Other Foreigners, Attacked In South Africa
2008-05-19 14:42:37
Gangs of men armed with guns, clubs and threats have chased thousands of Zimbabweans and other foreigners from their homes in this nation's poor townships over the past week, leaving at least 12 people dead and scores injured, according to news reports.

The nighttime rampages have turned police stations in several townships in the Johannesburg area into virtual refugee camps, with makeshift tents, portable toilets and clusters of terrified people, many displaying wounds from the attacks.

Many have vowed never to return to their looted houses but have few options when their own nations are experiencing a dearth of economic opportunities, or, in the case of Zimbabwe, a devastating political crisis and inflation that has topped 165,000 percent.

"I'm not going back to Zimbabwe," said Patricia Sibanda, 38, a widow who, along with her 15-year-old daughter, was among more than 1,000 victims camped out in the police station in the township of Alexandra, where the attacks began May 11. "There's no food in Zimbabwe. There's no everything."

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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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White House Cited In EPA Reversal On California Law
2008-05-20 02:12:28
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks last year before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said Monday.

The five-month probe by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee drew upon more than 27,000 pages of internal EPA documents and interviews with eight key agency officials, and it provides the most detailed look yet at the administration's mid-December decision.

California sought permission to implement rules aimed at cutting its vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. A total of 18 states - representing 45 percent of the nation's auto market - have either adopted or pledged to implement California's proposed tailpipe emissions rules, but the administration's refusal to grant a waiver under the Clean Air Act has blocked the rules from taking effect.

According to the agency's documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson "was very interested in a full grant of the waiver" in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver "was the best course of action."

Burnett told the panel he thought Johnson had told White House officials that he supported a partial waiver and said there was "White House input into the rationale" for the Dec. 19 letter announcing EPA's complete denial of the waiver.

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U.S. Says It Is Holding 500 Youths In Iraq
2008-05-20 02:11:58

The American military is holding about 500 juveniles in detention centers in Iraq and has about 10 detained at the military base at Bagram, Afghanistan, the United States has told the United Nations. 

A total of 2,500 people under the age of 18, almost all in Iraq, have been detained for periods of up to a year or more since 2002, the United States reported last week to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Most are believed to be 16 or 17.

Civil liberties groups like the International Justice Network and the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the detentions as a violation of treaty obligations.

The United States confirmed a periodic report on its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child that “as of April 2008, the United States held about 500 juveniles in Iraq.”

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Venezuela Denounces U.S. After Air Space Violation
2008-05-20 02:11:16
The defense minister said Monday that an American fighter plane violated Venezuelan airspace over the weekend, prompting the government here to summon the United States ambassador to explain the incident and other recent statements about Venezuela by senior American officials.

The denunciation, issued on state television Monday morning, suggests that political relations between Venezuela and the United States may be set to deteriorate further after Washington explicitly sided with Colombia in a dispute over a trove of computer files that tie Colombia’s largest guerrilla group to Venezuela’s government.

Gen. Gustavo Rangel, the Venezuelan defense minister, said the authorities on Saturday detected an S-3B Viking aircraft piloted by United States Navy personnel over La Orchila, a Caribbean island with a Venezuelan military base. An exchange of words ensued, said General Rangel, and the plane departed in the direction of Curacao, in the Dutch Antilles.

“We believe this action to be deliberate on the part of the North American Navy,” said General Rangel. “At this moment in time, it is nothing but another link in the chain of provocations in which they are trying to involve our country.”

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Pakistan Army Demolishes Village As Punishment For Harboring Taliban
2008-05-19 22:04:01

A fading photo tossed on an empty bed is all that remains of the interrupted lives in Spinkai, a desolate Pakistani village that has endured the wrath of the army's "collective punishment".

In the image a laughing young man in a jet-black turban brandishes his rifle like a trophy. Beside him stand two little girls in bright frocks, giggling with glee. Now they have fled, and so has everyone else.

An estimated 200,000 villagers have been displaced since the Pakistani army attacked the mountain redoubt of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban and a suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto four months ago.

The operation was called zalzala - Urdu for earthquake. One of the first villages they hit was Spinkai, nestled under a line of jagged hills at the gateway to the Mehsud stronghold in South Waziristan.

The army swept through with helicopter gunships, artillery and tanks that crunched across a parched riverbed. After four days of heavy fighting - 25 militants and six soldiers died, the army said - the militants retreated up the valley.

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China Faces Economic Aftershocks
2008-05-19 22:03:29
Statistically speaking, Zhang Zhengjie and his factory are fine.

Number of workers injured: zero. Number dead: zero. The factory's steel-reinforced walls shook but held during last week's massive earthquake. After it was over, the only evidence that something nightmarish had taken place in other parts of the city was the presence of minor fractures in pipes that were easily fixed.

Yet the fertilizer factory hasn't been operational since the quake struck last Monday. It isn't a problem with supplies or machinery. It's the employees.

"People have a sense of panic and dare not go into the factory to work," said Zhang, a salesman at Shifang Anda Chemical Co., which exports most of its products to the United States and Europe.

As the initial chaos of the disaster zones is being replaced by an eerily orderly rescue and cleanup effort by the military, China's leaders are turning their attention to the survivors and the economic consequences of fear.

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Commentary: How Could The New Child Porn Laws Backfire?
2008-05-19 18:03:34
  In our recent story , Justice Scalia  dismissed arguments that he called called "fanciful hypotheticals", that the law might make documentarians, movie reviewers and even unsuspecting grandparents subject to its pandering standards.

  Unfortunately, with the wording that I've seen such as  "advertises, promotes, presents, distributes or solicits . . . any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe" that it is child pornography.  This leaves everyone open to prosecution.

  Lets use a simple example.  A 21 year old guy sees a person on MySpace who claims to be 18.  He flirts with her.  She flirts with him.  He recognizes that she looks 18 or 19.  He then asks for pictures, possibly of a risque nature.

  As it turns out, it is common knowledge that underage girls frequently list themselves as 18 years old so they can post their profiles with the "big kids".   The profile pictures are actually of a 15 year old girl, and the person writing the messages is actually a 30 year old law enforcement officer.


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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Part Of Child Pornography Law
2008-05-19 14:43:59

The Supreme Court Monday upheld Congress's most recent attempt to prosecute those who would promote child pornography, ruling that the law did not violate free speech guarantees.

The court voted 7 to 2 that the law criminalizing "pandering" of real or purported child pornography over the Internet or through the mail met constitutional standards. The majority dismissed arguments Justice Antonin Scalia called "fanciful hypotheticals" that the law might make documentarians, movie reviewers and even unsuspecting grandparents subject to its pandering standards.

"Child pornography harms and debases the most defenseless of our citizens," Scalia wrote for the majority, adding that federal and state authorities have been frustrated to find it "proliferating through the new medium of the Internet."

Congress has responded to the court's decision that a previous law was unconstitutional with a "carefully crafted attempt to eliminate the First Amendment problems we identified.

"As far as the provision at issue in this case is concerned, that effort was successful."

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Editorial: Teeing Up The Next Mortgage Bust
2008-05-19 14:43:35
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Monday, May 19, 2008.

In responding to the subprime mortgage crisis, most Congressional Republicans and many Bush administration officials apparently believe they have time on their side. They are wrong.

The housing bust is feeding on itself: price declines provoke foreclosures, which provoke more price declines. And the problem is not limited to subprime mortgages. There is an entirely different category of risky loans whose impact has yet to be felt - loans made to creditworthy borrowers but with tricky terms and interest rates that will start climbing next year.

Yet the Senate Banking Committee goes on talking. It has failed as yet to produce a bill to aid borrowers at risk of foreclosure, with the panel’s ranking Republican, Richard Shelby of Alabama, raising objections. In the House, a foreclosure aid measure passed recently, but with the support of only 39 Republicans. The White House has yet to articulate a coherent way forward, sowing confusion and delay.

The fits and starts are harmful. The housing bust is in the downward spiral of price declines and foreclosures. Single-family-home prices dropped 7.6 percent from the first quarter of 2007 through the first quarter of 2008, the largest year-over-year decline since the National Association of Realtors began reporting prices in 1982. Conservatively estimated, 2.2 million homes will enter foreclosure this year. An additional nine million homeowners -  those with zero or negative equity - are considered at high risk of default because they have no cushion if recession or inflation, or both, make it impossible for them to keep current on their mortgages.

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France Admits Contact With Hamas
2008-05-19 14:42:52
France confirmed on Monday that it has been engaged in contacts with the leaders of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that is running Gaza, for several months to try to better understand its positions.

The Bush administration, which recently likened talks with Hamas to appeasement of the Nazis, quickly criticized the French for the contacts, calling them unhelpful. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who has said that he will not talk to Hamas, which he accuses of carrying out a bloody coup in Gaza last June.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner emphasized that there were no negotiations with Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and the European Union. 

“These are not relations, they are contacts,” Kouchner said on Europe1 radio. “We are not the only ones to have them,” he said. “We must be able to talk if we want to play a role.”

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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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