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Monday, June 02, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday June 2 2008 - (813)

Monday June 2 2008 edition
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U.N. Secretary General To Prod Nations On Food Crisis
2008-06-02 02:51:59
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will issue an urgent plea to world leaders at a food summit in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday to immediately suspend trade restrictions, agricultural taxes and other price controls that have helped fuel the highest food prices in 30 years, according to U.N. officials.

Ban is seeking to prod more than two dozen nations that have imposed such measures in the current crisis to reverse course, saying their actions have driven prices higher. The United Nations will also urge the United States and other nations to consider phasing out subsidies for food-based biofuels - such as ethanol - and to hammer out a pact with poor countries that would reduce agricultural tariffs and subsidies that have harmed poor farmers.

The immediate goal of the June 3-5 summit will be to secure a massive flow of assistance to the world's hungriest people and to ensure that subsistence farmers across the globe will have the seeds and fertilizers they need to plant their crops this season. World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick on Thursday announced the lending agency would issue $1.2 billion in financing for agricultural support, including $200 million in grants to help the world's poorest countries, starting with Djibouti, Haiti and Liberia.

The meeting - which is expected to draw more than 40 heads of state - is aimed at forging a common international response to the food crisis. While there is agreement on the need to increase food production, negotiations over a summit statement explaining how to do so have triggered debate over the role of genetically modified crops, biofuels, subsidies, trade policy and financing.

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U.S. Treasury Secretary: No 'Quick Fix' On Oil
2008-06-02 02:51:11
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Sunday that there was no quick fix to high oil prices, which he called an issue of supply and demand.

Paulson said inflation in the Gulf is "significant" but suggested that Gulf countries pegging their currencies to the weak dollar was not the only reason for it. He said it was a "sovereign decision" by each country whether it wants to de-peg its currency from the dollar.

Speaking to reporters in the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar, Paulson also acknowledged the U.S. economy was experiencing a "downturn" and reiterated that a strong dollar was in the U.S. interest.

The Treasury chief was in the Mideast to deliver a message to officials of Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations that soaring oil prices are putting a burden on the global economy. He is urging the countries to open up their oil markets to investment that can boost yields, exploration and production.

With oil at record-high prices, Paulson said there is "no quick fix" because it is an issue of supply and demand. Global demand remains strong while "production capacity has not seen new development," Paulson said.

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Taliban Leader Flaunts Power Inside Pakistan
2008-06-02 02:50:35
With great fanfare, the Pakistani Army flew journalists to a rugged corner of the nation’s lawless tribal areas in May to show how decisively it had destroyed the lairs of the Taliban, including a school for suicide bombers, in fighting early this year.

Then, just days later, the usually reclusive leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, held a news conference of his own, in the same region, to show just who was in charge.

He rolled up in an expensive-looking Toyota pickup packed with heavily armed Taliban fighters, according to the Pakistani journalists invited to attend. Squatting on the floor of a government school, Mehsud, clasping a new Kalashnikov, announced he would press his fight against the American military across the border in Afghanistan.

“Islam does not recognize boundaries,” he told the journalists, in accounts published in Pakistani newspapers and reported by the BBC. “There can be no deal with the United States."

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Book: Bhutto Gave Nunclear Enrichment Data To North Korea
2008-06-01 16:07:46
Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, on a state visit to North Korea in 1993, smuggled in critical data on uranium enrichment - a route to making a nuclear weapon - to help facilitate a missile deal with Pyongyang, according to a new book by a journalist who knew the slain politician well.

The assertion is based on conversations that the author, Shyam Bhatia, had with Bhutto in 2003, in which she said she would tell him a secret "so significant that I had to promise never to reveal it, at least not during her lifetime," Bhatia writes in "Goodbye, Shahzadi," which was published in India last month.

Bhutto was slain in December while campaigning to win back the prime minister's post.

The account, if verified, could advance the timeline for North Korea's interest in uranium enrichment. David Albright,  president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a research organization on nuclear weapons programs, said the assertion "makes sense," because there were signs of "funny procurements" in the late 1980s by North Korea that suggested a nascent effort to assemble a uranium enrichment project.

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Democratic National Committee Give Florida, Michigan Delegates Half A Vote Each
2008-06-01 01:47:08

After hours of emotional testimony and sometimes contentious debate, Democratic Party officials agreed Saturday on a pair of compromises to seat Florida's and Michigan's delegations to their national convention; but a part of the deal drew an angry reaction and the threat of a subsequent challenge from the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

The compromises by the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) Rules and Bylaws Committee called for both delegations, originally barred from the convention for violating party rules, to be seated in full in Denver but with each delegate casting only half a vote.

The actions by the committee were aimed at bringing the long and sometimes-bitter Democratic nomination battle between Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois)and Clinton (New York) to a close and to ensure party unity as the Democrats head into the general election. But the decisions prompted bitter and sometimes-tearful reactions from some members of the audience, who repeatedly shouted over the committee members as they voted.

Obama remains the heavy favorite to win the nomination, with his campaign hoping that he can secure enough delegates over the next week to do so. Puerto Rico's primary will be held today, and the last two states, Montana and South Dakota, will vote Tuesday. The committee's decisions represented a significant setback to Clinton, who had passionately called for seating both delegations with full votes.

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French Threat To North Sea Oil Reserves
2008-06-01 01:46:46

A consortium of foreign oil companies led by French giant Total is threatening to block government plans to fully develop the North Sea's last frontier, which contains over a fifth of Britain's flagging oil and gas reserves.

In a surprise visit to the Oil & Gas U.K. conference in Aberdeen last week, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown met senior executives from the consortium - which includes U.S. heavyweight Chevron, Italy's ENI and Denmark's Dong Energy - and some of their rivals to try to broker a deal.

The two sides are represented on an industry task force set up by the government to work out how best to develop the estimated 4 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent lying beneath deep water west of the Shetland Islands.

Total, which owns the largest fields in the region, is resisting demands that it build a pipeline large enough to transport the gas stranded in fields owned by the consortium's rivals. It says to do so without tax incentives would not be economic. It has instead proposed building a smaller pipeline, costing a third less, which would connect with its existing infrastructure elsewhere in the North Sea to bring the consortium's gas to the British mainland.

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British Troops Put Taliban On The Run In Helmand Province
2008-06-01 01:46:12

The Taliban have been tactically routed in southern Afghanistan, with enemy forces "licking their wounds" after a series of emphatic defeats, say senior British military commanders.

In one of the most bullish assessments yet of the conflict in Helmand province, Brigadier Gordon Messenger said the Taliban's command structure had been "fractured" and its fighters forced on to the back foot.

As British forces continue to consolidate positions throughout the Helmand valley, Messenger said latest intelligence indicated that the ferocious fighting that had defined Helmand for the past two summers was unlikely to be repeated. "It's become apparent that the Taliban are very much on the back foot. Their leadership both south of the border [Pakistan] and also their local leadership has been severely dislocated and fractured.

"We are not complacent and suggesting that they do not have the capacity to regenerate, but they are very much off the front foot and licking their wounds."

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Australia Ends Combat Operations In Iraq
2008-06-02 02:51:44
Australia, a staunch U.S. ally and one of the first countries to commit troops to the war in Iraq five years ago, ended combat operations there Sunday.

Soldiers lowered the Australian flag that had flown over Camp Terendak in the southern Iraqi city of Talil. The combat troops were expected to return to Australia over the next few weeks, with the first of them arriving home Sunday.

The move fulfills a campaign promise by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was swept into office in November largely on the promise that he would bring home the country's 550 combat troops by the middle of 2008. Rudd has said the Iraq deployment made Australia more of a target for terrorism.

Rudd's predecessor, former Prime Minister John Howard, said he was "baffled" by the decision to withdraw the troops.

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New Contracts Reflect Continued U.S. Presence In Iraq
2008-06-02 02:50:55

The depth of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the difficulty the next president will face in pulling personnel out of the country are illustrated by a handful of new contract proposals made public in May.

The contracts call for new spending, from supplying mentors to officials with Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries to establishing a U.S.-marshal-type system to protect Iraqi courts. Contractors would provide more than 100 linguists with secret clearances and deliver food to Iraqi detainees at a new, U.S.-run prison.

The proposals reflect multiyear commitments. The mentor contract notes that the U.S. military "desires for both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense to become mostly self-sufficient within two years," a time outside some proposals for U.S. combat troop withdrawal. The mentors sought would "advise, train [and] assist ... particular Iraqi officials" who work in the Ministry of Defense, which runs the Iraqi army, or the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police and other security units.

The mentors will assist an U.S. military group that previously began to implement what are described as "core processes and systems," such as procurement, contracting, force development, management and budgeting, and public affairs.

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Clinton Wins Puerto Rico Primary
2008-06-01 16:08:01

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York) claimed a convincing win over Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) in Sunday's Puerto Rico primary, a victory that may well be her last in her fading bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Polls closed in Puerto Rico at 3 p.m. Eastern time and the race was called for Clinton almost immediately by the major television networks and the Associated Press.

For Clinton, the win provides a quick bounce-back from her campaign's resounding setback on Saturday at the hands of the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) Rules and Bylaws Committee, which ruled in Obama's favor in a dispute over the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegations, but does little to change the overarching dynamic of the primary fight.

While Clinton will win a clear majority of Puerto Rico's 55 delegates, she will still stand well behind Obama in the overall count. Coming into Sunday's vote, Obama had 2,052 delegates, 66 short of clinching the nomination. Clinton had a total of 1,877 delegates.

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Fire Erupts On Universal Studios Backlot
2008-06-01 16:07:34
A huge fire the length of two city blocks broke out on the backlot of Universal Studios in Universal City Sunday, destroying a soundstage and several sets, including New York, New England and King Kong streetscapes.

At least 300 firefighters - as well as water-dropping helicopters - were battling the blaze, which was expected to burn for several more hours.

At 9:30 a.m., the fire was burning in a cavernous video vault containing television video and copies of television film, some dating to the 1920s. At one point this morning, firefighters were hastily removing canisters from the building by hand, but Universal officials said that the archives were copies.

The fire started just before dawn, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Three firefightes were injured and the cause had not been determined. Officials believe it started at a film set.
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Negative Equity Hits More Than 250,000 Homes In Britain, Worse To Come
2008-06-01 01:46:58

After months of gloomy forecasts, analysts have finally confirmed the news that homeowners had been dreading for months: that large numbers of British homeowners have slipped into negative equity.

According to the investment bank Citigroup, a quarter of a million of them now owe more than their properties are worth since house prices started to drop at the end of last year.

Citigroup said prices had dipped by 7 per cent since the autumn and the bank's chief UK economist, Michael Saunders, yesterday warned that house prices could fall by 15 per cent or more by the end of 2009. Such a drop would leave at least a million homeowners in negative equity.

"The signs are that the economy's slowing very sharply, but with inflation shifting up the Bank of England cannot cut rates", said Saunders. "The economy's being hit by these two big shocks: you've got the credit crunch and the housing crash; and you've got this shock from oil prices."

The Bank has so far cut borrowing costs three times in the past few months to cushion the blow of the financial crisis, but its nine-member Monetary Policy Committee is widely expected to leave rates on hold at 5 per cent after its monthly meeting on Thursday.

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Shuttle Discovery Loses Debris On Launch - NASA: No Problem
2008-06-01 01:46:28
Space shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven blasted into orbit Saturday, carrying a giant Japanese lab addition to the international space stationalong with something more mundane - a toilet pump.

Discovery roared into a brilliantly blue sky dotted with a few clouds at 5:02 p.m., right on time.

About five pieces of debris - what appeared to be thin pieces of insulating foam - could be seen falling from the fuel tank during liftoff, but it did not occur during the crucial first two minutes and should be of no concern, said NASA's  space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier. This was the first tank to have all safety changes prompted by the 2003 Columbia disaster built in from the start.

The shuttle's trip to the space station should take two days. Once there, the crew will unload and install the $1 billion lab and hand-deliver a specially made pump for the outpost's finicky toilet.

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