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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday May 28 2008 - (813)

Wednesday May 28 2008 edition
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Former White House Spokesman Writes That Bush Misled Public On Iraq
2008-05-28 01:27:12

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war".

McClellan includes the charges in a 341-page book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," that delivers a harsh look at the White House and the man he served for close to a decade. He describes Bush as demonstrating a "lack of inquisitiveness," says the White House operated in "permanent campaign" mode, and admits to having been deceived by some in the president's inner circle about the leak of a CIA covert operative's name.

The book, coming from a man who was a tight-lipped defender of administration aides and policy, is certain to give fuel to critics of the administration, and McClellan has harsh words for many of his past colleagues. He accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.

McClellan stops short of saying that Bush purposely lied about his reasons for invading Iraq, writing that he and his subordinates were not "employing out-and-out deception" to make their case for war in 2002.

In a chapter titled "Selling the War," he alleges that the administration repeatedly shaded the truth and that Bush "managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option."

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Commentary: The Fading Of The Mirage Economy
2008-05-28 01:26:43
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Washington Post Business Columnist Steven Pearlstein, writing from Washington, D.C. Mr. Pearlstein's commentary follows:

Suddenly, it seems, we're getting hit from all directions.

Energy and food prices are soaring. The housing market continues to collapse. Government revenue is falling, and taxes are rising. Airlines are jacking up fares and fees while reducing service. Banks are pulling credit lines. Auto companies are cutting production once again. Even investment bankers are losing their jobs.

The tendency is to see these as separate developments, each with its own causes and dynamic. Fundamentally, however, they are all part of the same story - the story of the global economy purging itself of large and unsustainable imbalances that for a time allowed many Americans to think they were richer than they really were.

Most of us understand that an overabundance of cheap, easy credit created a housing bubble that artificially inflated the price of land and housing, produced too many homes and homeowners, and persuaded too many Americans to dip into their home equity to support a lifestyle their income could not sustain. Now that the bubble has burst, we are coming to accept the reality of lower prices, reduced production, declining homeownership rates and the wisdom that a house is not an ATM or a substitute for a retirement fund.

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U.S. Home-Buying Season Could Be Even Worse Than Expected
2008-05-27 22:15:02

America’s home-buying season, when for-sale signs sprout like dandelions, is shaping up to be even worse than expected this year, with prices falling, sales slowing and few signs of a turnaround emerging.

Two reports released on Tuesday captured the bleak picture. One showed that home prices nationally fell 14.1 percent in March from a year earlier. The other showed sales of new homes, although up slightly in April, remained mired near their lowest levels since 1991.

While Wall Street is growing hopeful that the economy may dodge a recession, many economists warn that the pain in the housing market may last for several years.

Even markets that once seemed immune to the slump, like Seattle, Washington, are weakening. Prices nationwide might fall as much as 10 percent more before a recovery takes hold, said economists.

As the home-buying season enters what is traditionally its busiest period, there are simply too many homes in many parts of the country, and too few people with the means to buy them.

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Obamamania Infects Germany
2008-05-27 22:14:26
Berlin political circles - both liberal and conservative - are fawning over U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama. Many in Germany see him as a cross between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., but expectations may be exaggerated.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier had hoped to meet personally, but Barack Obama has a lot on his plate at the moment and Germany's foreign minister had to make do with a telephone conversation with the presidential candidate during his recent visit to Washington, D.C. Still, that's all it took to stir Steinmeier's enthusiasm for the candidate.

The American may be deep in the midst of a campaign, but members of Steinmeier's entourage told Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine that Obama's foreign policy questions were very engaged, and he peppered his conversation with questions about the German foreign minister's views on Russia, Iran and Afghanistan.

The conversation lasted about 15 minutes and was very focused. Obama's rhetorical "cruising altitude," was apparently quite high, said an advisor to Steinmeier. At the end of the conversation, the Democratic presidential candidate promised to come to Germany as soon as possible.

The few minutes spent on the telephone gave Steinmeier the impression that Obama is prepared to fundamentally reconsider the course of US foreign policy. Steinmeier was impressed, and only a day later he publicly outed himself as the senator's latest fan. "Yes we can," the minister, not known for his emotional outbursts, chanted, evoking Obama's campaign slogan during a speech at Harvard University. Steinmeier used the term to express his desire for a renewal of trans-Atlantic relations.

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Blackwater Grand Jury Hears From Iraqi Witnesses
2008-05-27 22:13:49
Three Iraqis, including the father of a slain 9-year-old boy, appeared Tuesday before a federal grand jury investigating a deadly Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad involving Blackwater Worldwide contractors.

The Iraqis were escorted to the closed-door session by federal prosecutors who are overseeing the U.S. investigation into whether Blackwater security guards illegally fired into a crowded Baghdad intersection, resulting in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians.

An Iraqi police major told The Associated Press in Baghdad that two of his officers were flown to the United States several days ago to testify. The major, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said they were expected to remain in the United States for two weeks.

It was not known whether the officers, one of whom was identified as Serhan Dhiab, were among the three men meeting Tuesday with grand jurors at the federal courthouse in Washington.

One of the three Iraqis was Mohammed Abdul-Razzaq, whose son Ali, 9, was killed in the shooting. He left court holding what appeared to be a child's plush toy and a family portrait.

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Exposure To Lead As Children Leads To Violent Crime
2008-05-27 22:12:56
The first study to follow lead-exposed children from before birth into adulthood has shown that even relatively low levels of lead permanently damage the brain and are linked to higher numbers of arrests, particularly for violent crime.

Previous studies linking lead to such problems have used indirect measures of both lead and criminality, and critics have argued that socioeconomic and other factors may be responsible for the observed effects.

By measuring blood levels of lead before birth and during the first seven years of life, then correlating the levels with arrest records and brain size, Cincinnati researchers have produced the strongest evidence yet that lead plays a major role in crime.

The researchers also found that lead exposure is a continuing problem despite the efforts of the federal government and cities to minimize exposure.

The average lead levels in the study "unfortunately are still seen in many thousands of children throughout the United States," said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
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E.U. Trade War With U.S. Looms Over Biofuel
2008-05-27 22:12:16

Peter Mandelson, the European commissioner, has fired the first salvo in a potential transatlantic trade war by agreeing to challenge the U.S. over its biofuel subsidies, which are chasing British and continental firms out of business.

Confidential documents seen by the Guardian show that Mandelson and the European commission have put their signatures to anti-dumping complaints lodged by the European Biodiesel Board.

Washington will be asked this week to answer allegations that subsidies amounting to 11 pence a litre on B99 exports from the U.S., plus "splash-and-dash" operations being conducted through the U.S., represent unfair competition.

Industry figures who asked not to be named said they were "delighted" that their allegations that U.S. biodiesel is being dumped on the European market were being taken up by the European Union commission in Brussels, Belgium. "This is a huge step forward for us," said a producer. "It opens the way for us to finally put to an end practices that are contrary to the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO.)"

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Report: Child Abuse Widespread In War Zones
2008-05-27 15:04:24
Save the Children UK said in a report released Tuesday that it has uncovered evidence of widespread sexual abuse of children at the hands of peacekeepers and international aid workers in war zones and disaster areas.

The report said more than half the children interviewed knew of cases of coerced sex and improper sexual touching, and that in many instances children knew of 10 or more such incidents carried out by aid workers or peacekeepers.

In some cases, children as young as 6 years old were abused, said the report.

The study is based on research, confidential interviews and focus groups conducted last year in three places with a substantial international aid presence: southern Sudan, Haiti, and Ivory Coast. The group said it did not produce comprehensive statistics about the scale of abuse but did gather enough information to prove that the problem is severe.

"The report shows sexual abuse has been widely underreported because children are afraid to come forward," Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK, told Associated Press Television News. "A tiny proportion of peacekeepers and aid workers are abusing the children they were sent to protect. It ranges from sex for food to coerced sex. It's despicable."

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules For Older Federal Workers
2008-05-27 15:03:48
The Supreme Court said Tuesday that a major anti-age bias law protects federal employees who faced retaliation after complaining about discrimination.

The court ruled 6-3 that a U.S. Postal Service employee may pursue her lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The law does specifically bar reprisals against private sector employees who complain about discrimination. But it is silent as to federal workers. Justice Samuel Alito said the law indeed does apply to both categories of employees.

The case involves Myrna Gomez-Perez, a postal worker in Puerto Rico who alleged she was being discriminated against because of her age. Gomez-Perez, who was then 45, said that after she filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, she suffered a "series of reprisals" from her supervisors.

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Agribusiness Best Source Of Cash For Central California Congressmen
2008-05-27 15:03:03
San Joaquin Valley congressmen know how to harvest serious cash from the region's agribusiness leaders.

It comes with the territory, so to speak.

While none of the Valley's House members face a serious challenge, all have been diligently stockpiling their campaign war chests. For all four Valley incumbents, agribusiness remains the leading and most reliable source of funds.

"You don't contribute to get something back," said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, a prominent association of California and Arizona farmers. "You contribute because you have a common interest in a subject."

Roughly one out of every four dollars raised by the Valley's House members can be attributed to agribusiness, records compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics show. For instance, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, has raised $534,564 in 2007 and 2008. Of this, agribusiness accounts for $157,122.

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New York Businessman Says He Gave Israeli Leader Thousands In Cash
2008-05-27 15:02:25
A New York businessman Tuesday said that he gave Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert $150,000 in cash, checks and loans to finance overseas trips, posh New York hotel rooms and struggling political campaigns.

In a rare public deposition before a three-judge panel, Morris Talansky said he got nothing in return from Olmert, but told Israeli prosecutors that he was "very, very uneasy" about the large amounts of cash he gave to Olmert over the years, but trusted a politician he revered.

"Cash disturbed me," said Talansky. "I couldn't understand it, and I accepted the answer simply because I saw something bigger, hopefully, out there."

Talansky, 75, is a key figure in the unfolding political corruption investigation into whether Olmert accepted bribes before he became prime minister in 2006, and his unusual testimony in open court exposed the depth of the Israeli leader's political troubles.

Olmert has denied the allegations but said he'll step down if he's indicted. His departure under a cloud would be a blow to the Bush administration's efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and it also could interfere with Israel's indirect negotiations with longtime enemy Syria.

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Bin Laden's Brother Wants To Build Bridge Across Red Sea
2008-05-28 01:26:58
Nobody has walked across the Red Sea since Moses parted the waters, but it could happen again under an audacious plan to build the world's longest suspension bridge between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

If built, the bridge would cross the Red Sea at an 18-mile-wide strait known as the Bab al-Mandeb, or Gate of Tears, connecting the southern tip of Yemen with the tiny East African country of Djibouti. Estimated price tag: $10 billion to $20 billion.

The proposal is turning heads in the Middle East, and not just because it would make engineering history. The developer of the project is a Dubai-based firm headed by Tarek bin Laden, an elder brother of the world's most famous terrorist.

The bin Laden family, from Saudi Arabia, has operated a construction empire for decades. In the mid-1990s, the clan cut its financial ties with Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, around the time he declared war on the United States and called for the overthrow of the Saudi ruling family.

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New Global Warming Report Foresees Big Changes
2008-05-27 22:15:13
The rise in concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities is influencing climate patterns and vegetation across the United States and will significantly disrupt water supplies, agriculture, forestry and ecosystems for decades, a new federal report says.

The changes are unfolding in ways that are likely to produce an uneven national map of harms and benefits, according to the report, released Tuesday and posted online at . 

The authors of the report and some independent experts said the main value of its projections was the level of detail and the high confidence in some conclusions. That confidence comes in part from the report’s emphasis on the next 25 to 50 years, when shifts in emissions are unlikely to make much of a difference in climate trends.

The report also reflects a recent, significant shift by the Bush administration on climate science. During Bush’s first term, administration officials worked to play down a national assessment of climate effects conducted mainly during the Clinton administration, but released in 2000.

The new report, which includes some findings that are more sobering and definitive than those in the 2000 climate report, holds the signatures of three cabinet secretaries.

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Bush Wants $600 Million For Iraqi Police, But Cuts Aid To U.S. Police
2008-05-27 22:14:41
At the same time the Bush administration has been pushing for deep cuts in a popular crime-fighting program for states and cities, the White House has been fighting for approval of $603 million for the Iraqi police.

The White House earlier this year proposed slashing the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which helps local law enforcement officials deal with violent crime and serious offenders, to $200 million in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

In 2002, the year before the Iraq war, the program received $900 million.

The administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress are headed for a showdown over the domestic money, probably next month. When the Senate last week passed the emergency Iraq war funding bill, it allotted an immediate $490 million for the domestic grants while keeping the Iraqi police funds intact.

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More Aftershocks Destroy Hundreds Of Thousands Of Homes In China Region
2008-05-27 22:14:12
More than two weeks after a catastrophic earthquake, a pair of powerful aftershocks collapsed hundreds of thousands of homes in central China on Tuesday, as soldiers and engineers worked feverishly to prevent a swelling lake from inundating nearby towns.

No deaths were immediately reported in the aftershocks. Many of the more than 400,000 homes that collapsed, according to the official New China News Agency, were already badly damaged by a 5.9-magnitude quake that rocked the area shortly after the initial, May 12 earthquake.

Still, the tremors in Qingchuan county, in Sichuan province, and Ningqiang county, in neighboring Shaanxi province, were a further reminder that the crisis in this region, and the attendant anxieties of its people, are unlikely to dissipate any time soon. More than 67,000 people have been reported dead, and about 21,000 are missing.

The homes of as many as 14 million people were destroyed or severely damaged by the 7.9-magnitude quake, and the Chinese government is scrambling to establish shelters. Many survivors, after having been kept in tents, are now expected to be moved into semi-permanent, prefabricated homes. Others are not yet out of immediate danger.

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Iowa Town Left Devastated By Tornado
2008-05-27 22:13:36
Half of this small town lay in ruins or showed heavy damage Monday, a day after a deadly tornado ripped through a stretch of northern Iowa.

The tornado killed four in Parkersburg and two others in nearby New Hartford. In neighboring Minnesota, a child was killed by violent weather in a suburb of St. Paul.

"You really are overwhelmed when you see it," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) said at a news conference Monday after touring the Parkersburg area. "You can't imagine this kind of devastation, homes completely gone. And to see people trying to sort through their belongings is very difficult."

Rescuers continued picking through the wreckage in search of possible victims, although officials said they were hopeful that no one else remained to be found.

In addition to those killed, about 70 people were injured. Two of them were in critical condition Monday.

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Broken Toilet Poses New Challenge For Space Station Crew
2008-05-27 22:12:30

Four words you do not want to hear in space:

“The toilet is broken.”

The crew aboard the International Space Station is working on a problem with the system for collecting solid and liquid waste, which is a trickier proposition without gravity than it is on the Earth. Space toilets use jets of fan-propelled air to guide waste into the proper container.

A NASA status report noted that last week, while using the toilet system in the Russian-built service module, “the crew heard a loud noise and the fan stopped working.” The solid waste collector is functioning properly, but the system for collecting liquid waste was not.

The crew tried replacing one device, an air/water separator, and then a filter, but nothing seemed to bring the toilet back to full operation. Russian mission control told the crew - Russian Cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, and Garrett Reisman, a NASA astronaut, to use the toilet on the Soyuz capsule that is attached to the station as a lifeboat, but that system has very limited capacity, and so repairing the system has become an increasingly urgent issue.

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In May, U.S. Consumer Confidence Hits 16-Year Low
2008-05-27 15:04:37
Soaring gas prices and weakening job prospects left shoppers gloomier about the economy in May, sending a key barometer of consumer sentiment to its lowest level in almost 16 years.

The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 57.2, down from a revised 62.8 in April. Economists surveyed by Thomson Financial/IFR had expected a reading of 60.

The May reading marks the fifth straight month of decline and is the lowest since the index registered 54.6 in October 1992 when the economy was coming out of a recession.

Economists closely watch sentiment readings since consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

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Amid Food Crisis And Wheat Worries, Research Budgets Are Cut
2008-05-27 15:04:13
Dr. Yue Jin, a kind-faced man in a blue lab coat, is the nation's bulwark against a devastating new plant disease. He's the only federal scientist whose main mission is protecting the $17 billion U.S. wheat crop from annihilation.

His budget's being cut - in part because money has been drained off by Congress' pet projects.

Jin and other plant scientists have watched in alarm as mutant spores carried by the wind have spread a new strain of fungus from Africa across the Red Sea to infect wheat fields in Yemen and Iran, following a path predicted to lead to the rich wheat-growing areas of South Asia.

Most of the wheat varieties grown worldwide - including the vast bulk of those planted in the United States - are vulnerable. The threat of an epidemic only adds to a global food crisis brought on by drought, floods, high food and fuel prices and a surge in demand.

Despite the emergency, Associated Press interviews and a review of budget and research documents show that spending for Jin's laboratory and others where breeders develop disease-resistant wheat plants are being reduced this year, their money diverted to other programs and earmarked for special causes of members of Congress.

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As Feds Crack Down On Illegal Migrants, Jail Growth Explodes
2008-05-27 15:03:29
Many in Congress are counting on border walls to discourage illegal immigration and dope smuggling from Mexico. Here in Del Rio, Texas, authorities are using prison walls instead.

The ever-expanding Val Verde County jail is filled with would-be yardmen and maids, immigrants awaiting deportation. They've been caught in a law enforcement dragnet known as "Operation Streamline,'' a zero tolerance program that began here and has since spread both east and west along the Mexican border.

Critics of the lock-'em-up approach question the skyrocketing costs, complain of poor conditions inside the detention facilities, and predict that ultimately the efforts won't stop immigrants and drugs from making their way north.

Supporters say the approach is reducing crime and discouraging immigrants from trying to cross into the United States. The number of illegal immigrants caught in the Border Patrol's Del Rio Sector is at its lowest level since the early 1970s.

"Enforcement works,'' said Val Verde County Sheriff D'Wayne Jernigan. "We're definitely seeing a reduction in crime throughout the border area and a reduction in the number of aliens running loose in our community.''

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Pentagon: At Least 40,000 Soldiers Have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
2008-05-27 15:02:49
Pentagon figures show 40,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since 2003. But officials believe many more are keeping their illness secret.

Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker says officials have no reliable figures on how many troops have PTSD or how many have sought treatment for it after serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That's because officials are encouraging troops to get help - even if they go to civilian therapists and don't report it to the military. The 40,000 cases are only those the military knows of.

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Poll Finds Low Opinion Of Military Medical Care
2008-05-27 15:02:10
A majority of Americans believe that wounded troops don't receive high quality medical care in military and Veteran's Administration hospitals, according to a new Harvard School of Public Health poll.

Military families share that view, the poll found, and are slightly more pessimistic than non-military civilians when it comes to rehabilitation and mental health care. A reality check: Those polled didn't think care at major U.S. civilian hospitals was any better.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the Defense Department's military health system, said other recent polls show the same pessimism but, Kilpatrick added, they "do not respond to the reality of the situation and they certainly do not correspond to what the service members themselves think."

A March 2008 Zogby poll, he said, found that 77 percent of a sample of 435 soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan were satisfied with the military health system.

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