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Monday, June 16, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday June 16 2008 - (813)

Monday June 16 2008 edition
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Women Voters Lining Up Behind Obama
2008-06-16 03:02:52
Marilyn Authenreith, a mother of two in North Carolina, felt strongly about supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.

Once the former first lady quit the race, Authenreith switched allegiance to Barack Obama, mainly because she thinks that he - unlike Republican John McCain - will push for universal healthcare.

"I can't understand the thinking of how someone would jump from Hillary to McCain," she said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Now that the Democratic marathon is over, Clinton supporters like Authenreith are siding heavily with Obama over McCain, polls show. And Obama has taken a wide lead among female voters, belying months of political chatter and polls of primary voters suggesting that disappointment over Clinton's defeat might block the Illinois senator from enjoying his party's historic edge among women.

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U.S. Congress Pushes To Keep Land Untamed
2008-06-16 03:02:13
With little fanfare, Congress has embarked on a push to protect as many as a dozen pristine areas this year in places ranging from the glacier-fed streams of the Wild Sky Wilderness here in Index, Washington, to West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. By the end of the year, conservation experts predict, this drive could place as much as 2 million acres of unspoiled land under federal control, a total that rivals the wilderness acreage set aside by Congress over the previous five years.

A confluence of factors is driving this wilderness renaissance: the shift in Congress from Republican to Democratic control; environmentalists' decision to take a more pragmatic approach in which they enlist local support for their proposals by making concessions to opposing interests; and some communities' recognition that intact ecosystems can often offer a greater economic payoff than extractive industries.

"It may not seem like it on most issues, but in this one arena Congress is getting things across the goal line," said Mike Matz, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for America's Wilderness. "Nobody gets everything they want, but by coming together, talking with age-old adversaries and seeking common ground, wilderness protection is finding Main Street support and becoming motherhood-and-apple-pie."

Against the backdrop of Bush administration policies that have opened up millions of acres of public land to oil and gas exploration, logging and other commercial uses, environmental advocates and lawmakers argue that it makes sense to cordon off more of the country's most unspoiled places.

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TransCanada Courting Alaska Lawmakers For Gas Pipeline License
2008-06-16 03:01:08
TransCanada Corp. has 36,000 miles of pipeline moving natural gas throughout North America, enough pipe to circle the earth along the equator with about 11,000 miles to spare.

Now TransCanada wants to add another 1,715 miles by building a pipeline rooted in the Arctic oil fields on Alaska's North Slope that would deliver natural gas to markets in the Lower 48.

The pipeline would move 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily - or about 7 percent of the nation's daily demand - and potentially 6.5 billion cubic feet.

TransCanada Chief Executive Hal Kvisle has the support of Alaska's governor, but it must still win over the state legislature.

"We are the largest pipeline company in North America by any measure," said Kvisle. "We are the only company who has built gas transmission projects of this scale, this length, this magnitude before."

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Iran Rejects Six-Nation Proposal To Stop Uranium Enrichment
2008-06-15 16:02:19
Iran said Saturday that a package of incentives offered by six countries was "out of the question" because it includes a demand for the country to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, presented the proposal to Iranian authorities Saturday on behalf of the United States, China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia.He told reporters in Tehran, the Iranian capital, that the offer was "generous and comprehensive and a starting point for real negotiations" on the country's nuclear program.

Iranian officials said even before the offer was formally made that they would not consider any proposal that included halting its uranium enrichment as a condition to talks.

"If the package includes suspension, it is not debatable at all," Gholam Hossein Elham, Iran's government spokesman, told reporters at his weekly news conference, the Iranian press agency Farsnews reported. "The stance of the Islamic Republic is clear. Any precondition regarding suspension would be out of the question."

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Captive Pandas Bouncing Back After Earthquake
2008-06-15 16:01:43
The man traces the panda's paw with his finger as she laps milky formula from a metal bowl. He strokes her head and tries to wipe her snout when she finishes, but she bats his hand away and curls into a forward roll, hiding her face. Then she turns to nip his boots, beginning a favorite game of tug of war.

Watching Qing Qing play with her keeper, Li Guo, in the Wolong Nature Reserve, it's easy to forget the massive earthquake whose epicenter was a few miles from this panda research center in a remote area of Sichuan province. Just a month ago, the 16-month-old cub had clung in panic to Li's chest after another keeper plucked her from the roof of her enclosure, which was shaking from being smashed by boulders the size of trucks.

One glance up the mountain slopes is sufficient reminder. Small rockslides continue to rain down on the panda enclosures sandwiched in the narrow valley, as aftershocks and heavy rains shake loose layer after layer of raw earth, exposed in wide gashes on the mountain face by the initial 7.9-magnitude quake.

While geologists survey the valley to pinpoint a more stable site on which to rebuild the world's best-known panda tourist and research center, the keepers are focused on protecting the animals and easing their trauma. The keepers use a kind of touch therapy to comfort the bears, which are seen as national treasures in China and a symbol of Chinese goodwill abroad.

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Hamid Karzai Threatens To Send Afghan Forces Into Pakistan
2008-06-15 16:01:15
Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened Sunday to send Afghan troops after notorious Taliban leaders inside Pakistan in an angry warning to his eastern neighbor that he will no longer tolerate cross-border attacks.

The threat - the first time Karzai has said he would send forces into Pakistan - comes only days after a sophisticated Taliban assault on Kandahar's prison freed 870 prisoners, and six weeks after Karzai survived his fourth assassination attempt.

Karzai has long pleaded with Pakistan and the international community to confront tribal area safe havens, and U.S. officials have increased their warnings in recent weeks that the sanctuaries in Pakistan must be dealt with.

Last week, U.S. aircraft dropped bombs along the Afghan-Pakistan border, an incident the Pakistan army said killed 11 of its paramilitary forces. The exchange ratcheted up increasingly touchy relations among the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Tim Russert: Warmly Remembered On 'Meet The Press'
2008-06-15 14:45:03
Tim Russert's chair was empty on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, two days after his unexpected death.

Yet Russert was very much present on the full-hour tribute to this giant of political journalism who hosted NBC's public-affairs program for more than 16 years.

"His voice has been stilled," began Tom Brokaw, who led the conversation, "and our issue this sad Sunday morning is remembering and honoring our colleague and our friend ...."

Brokaw and a half-dozen others were seated in front of the "Meet the Press" set and its angular table, left vacant, where Russert had presided as recently as last week.

Brokaw noted that Russert had a large wooden sign in his office that read: "Thou Shalt Not Whine," which Brokaw then supplemented with "Thou shalt not weep or cry this morning. This is a celebration."
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Drought Worsens In New South Wales, Australia
2008-06-15 04:45:48
Major agricultural regions of the Australian state of New South Wales are in "urgent need" of rain as a greater portion of the state slips into drought, the New South Wales (NSW) government warned.

The latest drought figures show 62.7 per cent of the state was in drought during May, up from 48.4 per cent in April.

"These figures speak for themselves - unfortunately this month has seen a dramatic increase in the area affected by drought,'' Primary Industries Minister Ian MacDonald said in a statement.

"The northwest of the state from Broken Hill to Tibooburra received no rain last month, while the rest of the western half of the state and the southern part ... received very little.

"As a result, seasonal conditions are continuing to deteriorate, and all cropping areas are in urgent need of good rainfall to consolidate crops that have been sown and enable remaining seed to be planted.''

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Japan Earthquake Toll Rises As Rescuers Continue Searching For The Missing
2008-06-15 04:45:19
More than 1,000 rescue workers, including troops, searched on Sunday for 13 people missing after a powerful earthquake rocked northern Japan, killing at least 9 and injuring over 200.

The 7.2 magnitude quake struck on Saturday morning in the prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate, a sparsely populated, scenic region around 300 kilometers  north of Tokyo, where buildings also shook.

Mountains were carved away by the force of the quake, trees crashed into newly slashed ravines, roads were cut off by landslides, and bridges buckled and broke.

More than 260 aftershocks had jolted the area by this morning, and officials warned there could be strong quakes to come.

Efforts to find seven people believed trapped in a hot spring resort swamped by a massive landslide resumed early Sunday morning.

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Evangelical Flock Strays From The Republican Fold
2008-06-15 01:50:09

Standing in a cavernous hall in the headquarters of the evangelical group Focus on the Family, Lisa Anderson has some bad news for John McCain. "This is going to be an interesting election," she said with a smile.

The phrase conveys a stark warning to the Republican candidate. Focus on the Family, where Anderson is a director, is one of the most powerful evangelical groups in America. Many of its supporters - and millions of other U.S.  evangelicals - helped elect George W Bush twice, giving him their votes and volunteering for his campaign. McCain, who desperately needs their votes, would like them to support him, too, but many evangelicals neither trust nor like McCain.

Nowhere illustrates McCain's problem with evangelical voters better than Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Dubbed "the Vatican of the evangelical movement", the city is headquarters for more than 100 Christian organizations, ranging from mega-churches with 10,000-strong congregations to Focus on the Family, whose radio broadcasts reach 200 million listeners around the world each day.

Many evangelicals visit Focus's huge headquarters on holiday, inspired by its message of being against abortion, gay marriage and the morality of Hollywood; but one person who has not yet made the pilgrimage is McCain, for Focus's founder, James Dobson, has pointedly not endorsed him, despite backing Bush in 2004. That position is not likely to change. "I don't think we will see the trend in that direction," said Anderson.

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Smugglers Had Design For Advanced Nuclear Weapon
2008-06-15 01:49:40

An international smuggling ring that sold bomb-related parts to Libya, Iran and North Korea also managed to acquire blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon, according to a draft report by a former top U.N. arms inspector that suggests the plans could have been shared secretly with any number of countries or rogue groups.

The drawings, discovered in 2006 on computers owned by Swiss businessmen, included essential details for building a compact nuclear device that could be fitted on a type of ballistic missile used by Iran and more than a dozen developing countries, the report states.

The computer contents - among more than 1,000 gigabytes of data seized - were recently destroyed by Swiss authorities under the supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which is investigating the now-defunct smuggling ring previously led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. 

U.N. officials cannot rule out the possibility that the blueprints were shared with others before their discovery, said the report's author, David Albright, a prominent nuclear weapons expert who spent four years researching the smuggling network.

"These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world," Albright wrote in a draft report about the blueprint's discovery. A copy of the report, expected to be published later this week, was provided to the Washington Post. 

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MailScanner has detected a possible fraud attempt from "" claiming to be Outgoing U.S. Commander Gives Sober Assessment Of Afghanistan
2008-06-15 01:48:54

The outgoing top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Friday that attacks increased 50 percent in April in the country's eastern region, where U.S. troops primarily operate, as a spreading Taliban insurgency across the border in Pakistan fueled a surge in violence.

In a sober assessment, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who departed June 3 after 16 months commanding NATO's International Security Assisstance Force, or ISAF, said that although record levels of foreign and Afghan troops have constrained repeated Taliban offensives, stabilizing Afghanistan will be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgent havens in Pakistan.

The Taliban is "resurgent in the region," particularly in sanctuaries in Pakistan, and as a result "it's going to be difficult to take on this insurgent group ... in the broader sort of way," McNeill said at a Pentagon news conference.

Clashes in the east pushed U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan in May to 15, and total foreign troop deaths there to 23, the highest monthly figure since last August.

Indeed, comprehensive data released by the NATO-led command show a steady escalation in violence since NATO took charge of the Afghanistan mission in 2006, spurred in part by more aggressive operations by the alliance and most recently by U.S. Marine battalions in the heavily contested southern province of Helmand. ISAF troops in Afghanistan increased from 36,000 in early 2007 to 52,000 now, while the Afghan army grew from 20,000 to 58,000 soldiers.

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More British Secret Anti-Terror Files Found On Train
2008-06-15 01:48:09

A further batch of British secret government files have been found on a train, it was reported Saturday night.

The Independent on Sunday newspaper said that the papers, which were handed in to it, covered the U.K.'s policies on fighting global terrorist funding, drugs trafficking and money laundering.

The paper said that they were discovered on a train bound for London's Waterloo station on Wednesday.

The documents apparently include briefing notes for a meeting of the international Financial Action Task Force to be held in 11 Downing Street next week.

They contained details of how trade and banking systems could be manipulated to finance illicit weapons of mass destruction in Iran.

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DOH! G-8 Says Rising Oil, Food Prices Pose Threat To World Economy
2008-06-15 01:47:33
Finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations urged oil producers Saturday to boost output to help stabilize record-high oil and food prices, calling the situation a serious threat to global economic growth.

The world economy faces "headwinds" because of the recent rise in prices, the G-8 ministers said in a joint statement at the conclusion of two days of talks here.

"Elevated commodity prices, especially of oil and food, pose a serious challenge to stable growth worldwide, have serious implications for the most vulnerable and may increase global inflationary pressure," said the statement.

The fundamental factor driving oil prices is the imbalance between rising global demand and supply constraints, the ministers said. They added that geopolitical and financial factors also play a role - a reflection of some ministers' opinions that speculative trading in oil markets is pushing up prices.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., insisted that the problem stems primarily from tight supplies and warned against embracing "short-term solutions."

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How Missed Mortgage Payments Set Off Widespread Problems
2008-06-16 03:02:33
The mortgage executives who gathered in a blond-wood conference room in Southern California studied their internal reports with growing alarm.

More and more borrowers were falling behind on their monthly payments almost as soon as they moved into their new homes, indicating that some of them never really had the money to begin with. "Nobody had models for that," said David E. Zimmer, then one of the executives at People's Choice, a subprime lender based in Irvine. "Nobody had predicted people going into default in their first three mortgage payments."

The housing boom had powered the U.S. economy for five years. Now, in early 2006, signs of weakness within the subprime industry were harder to ignore. People with less-than-stellar credit who had bought homes with adjustable-rate mortgages saw sharp spikes in their monthly payments as their low initial teaser rates expired. As a result, more lost their homes; data showed that 70 percent more people faced foreclosure in 2005 than the year before. Housing developers who had raced to build with subprime borrowers in mind now had fewer takers, leaving tens of thousands of homes unsold.

People's Choice was feeling the slowdown, too. It had been generating about $500 million in loans each month, but profit fell by half in the first quarter of 2006, according to documents filed for an initial public offering that was later abandoned.

Zimmer saw the mounting problems as head of the department that worked with Wall Street to package mortgage loans into securities to be sold to investors. Such securities had fueled the housing boom by pumping trillions of dollars into the mortgage market.

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With Shares Battered, A.I.G. Ousts Leader
2008-06-16 03:01:29

For the second time in three years, the board at American International Group, the giant insurance company, replaced its chief executive Sunday in the wake of its falling stock price and regulatory concerns about its accounting.

Martin J. Sullivan, who was named chief executive in 2005 after an accounting scandal claimed his predecessor, was removed by the board at a closed-door meeting.

Robert B. Willumstad, chairman of the company’s board and a former top executive at Citigroup, was named as Sullivan’s successor, A.I.G. said in a statement.

The board also named Stephen F. Bollenbach, a member of the A.I.G. board and a former chief executive of Hilton Hotels, as its lead director.

The change at the top comes as pressure has mounted on the company to respond to a steady stream of bad news, including record losses, that has pounded down the stock price more than 40 percent since December. A.I.G.’s shares closed at $34.18 on Friday, down from $57.05 in December.

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3 Likely Vice President Candidates Express Little Interest In Job
2008-06-15 16:02:31
Two former senators and one sitting governor thought to be possible candidates for vice president on Sunday expressed minimal interest in the job but didn't remove themselves from consideration.

Been there, done that, said one.

Another is focused on being Louisiana's governor.

The third said it was presumptuous to reject something not yet offered.

That was in contrast to former Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner's statement Saturday removing himself from consideration as a possible running mate for Democrat Barack Obama.

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Pentagon Flip-Flops, Denies Evidence To Detainees In Military Commission Trials
2008-06-15 16:02:04
When Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged co-conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks seek to represent themselves in military commissions trials in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they may be barred from reviewing highly classified evidence and might not have access to the intelligence agents who interrogated them, according to the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions.

The Justice Department has argued that the Supreme Court's decision last week granting the Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts should not affect the military trials process. The department contends that the government plans to go ahead with military commissions for those who are facing war crimes charges.

Though the top legal adviser for the commissions process, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, has said that the trials would be "fair, just and transparent" and that detainees would have full access to the evidence against them, Pentagon officials have now backed off of those claims. The Office of Military Commissions said last week that defendants representing themselves might not get access to information about their interrogators and that secret information might have to be redacted in order to be shared with them.

"If classified information is presented to the jury, the accused will see it, no exceptions," according to the Office of Military Commissions' written responses to Washington Post questions about how the military commissions will deal with classified evidence in the Sept. 11 case. Yet a further explanation reveals that classified contents of certain materials could be replaced by summaries and blacked-out documents. "It is possible that an accused representing himself will not be able to directly review some evidence; in such circumstances, his standby defense counsel might be involved."

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Bush Visits Queen Elizabeth II On European Tour
2008-06-15 16:01:28
Twenty-six years after Ronald Reagan rode horses here with Queen Elizabeth II, President Bush flew to Windsor Castle on Sunday for a quick visit with the reigning monarch.

Bush and first lady Laura Bush had sandwiches, cake and, of course, afternoon tea with the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, marking only the second time that Elizabeth has invited a U.S. leader to her favorite official residence.

The short stop at Windsor was part of an week-long farewell swing through the capitals of Europe and Britain, where discussions have been dominated by debates over whether to pursue sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium. Bush was scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown later Sunday and again Monday before jetting to Northern Ireland on his way home.

At Windsor, the two couples strode briefly in front of the cameras in St. George's Hall, an ornate, restored room lined with suits of armor and oil paintings of royal ancestors. Elizabeth, looking petite next to her guests and husband, wore a summery pink flowered dress and white shoes, white handbag and pearls.

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As Iowa's Waters Rise, A Town Tries To Save Itself
2008-06-15 14:45:17
The National Guard reinforcements were sent elsewhere and, on Saturday morning, the mayor tearfully delivered the news: There was no hope of holding back the flood.

But residents in this town of nearly 2,000 on the Iowa River couldn't give up. Their bodies streaked with dirt and sweat, scores of them lined the edges of their man-made levee - a wall of stone and sand and mud, nearly 12 feet high in places, and all that stood between them and destruction.

They flung sandbag after sandbag onto the ground, trying to block the trickles of water that were seeping through the barrier.

Suddenly, in late afternoon, the trickle turned into a torrent. Beneath their feet, the dirt road was still dry, but far from solid. It rippled with each step, like a water bed.

"Get out!" yelled Linda Pierce, 46, a landscaper who has lived in this southeastern corner of the state for nearly a quarter-century. "The ground's giving way!"
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U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens Owes $50,000 To Lawyers Over Federal Investigation
2008-06-15 04:46:00
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens owes the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly as much as $50,000 for legal work connected to the federal investigation into renovations at his home in Girdwood, Alaska, that were overseen by a company whose executives have pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers.

The debt shows up in Stevens' annual financial disclosure form, where it's listed as ranging between $15,000 and $50,000. Stevens wouldn't disclose the exact amount he owes the law firm, which hasn't been paid yet. It's considered a personal debt, like a mortgage or a credit card bill.

"I work hard for Alaskans in Washington, D.C.," Stevens said in a statement Friday. "That is my focus. My attorneys handle legal matters arising from the investigation."

Stevens' home in Girdwood was raided last summer by FBI and IRS agents investigating his ties to Bill Allen, who headed the oil field services company Veco Corp., which Allen since has sold. The company managed and paid some employees who worked on renovations that doubled the size of Stevens' house in 2000.

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World's Amphibians Under Assault
2008-06-15 04:45:37
The first images that come to mind may be unassuming brown newts or garden-variety green frogs, but amphibians cover a much grander spectrum.

Among about 6,000 species of frogs, salamanders and caecilians (legless animals, pronounced like "Sicilians") are some of the world's most bizarre animals: Giant Chinese salamanders, two meters (6 feet) in length; the "hairy frog" of Cameroon, which not only looks like it sports hair, but also can break its own bones to grow claws (an ability discovered just last month); the Surinam toad, which carries its eggs embedded in its back; and, even more macabre, the Sagalla caecilian, which feeds its own skin to its young.

Amphibians are also among the most colorful animals: The tiny, bright-yellow poison frog (with the spectacular scientific name Phyllobates terriblis) from Colombia, which is, gram for gram, the most poisonous vertebrate in the world; the black-dotted yellow frogs of Panama, which communicate with adorable hand waves; and the charismatic red-eyed tree frogs, aptly nicknamed "swimsuit calendar frogs."

These make up just a small sample of the amazingly diverse amphibians, which have the longest history on earth. They predate all other terrestrial vertebrates.

Yet the first group of animals to colonize the land is also the first that humans are driving off it. Amphibians are disappearing faster than any other animals since the dinosaurs: 32 per cent of all species are threatened with extinction, compared with 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds. Almost half are in decline.

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U.N. Chief, Saudi King Discuss Key Issues
2008-06-15 04:44:53
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah held talks here yesterday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on major regional and international issues, including rising oil prices and the Middle East peace process.

“The talks focused on the latest regional and international developments, most importantly those relating to the Palestinian issue and the Middle East peace process, as well as the situation in Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan,” said the Saudi Press Agency.

Ban, who is on his second visit to the Kingdom since March 2007, also briefed the king on the United Nations’ efforts to find solutions to regional conflicts and crises.

He thanked King Abdullah for his contributions to U.N. aid projects, including a $500 million donation to the U.N.  World Food Program to battle global food price problems. He also lauded the king for striving to help settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Lebanon crisis, and for an initiative to foster dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews.

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In U.S., Wave Of Easy Money Reveals Rough Consequences
2008-06-15 01:49:58
Part 1 - Boom

The black-tie party at Washington, D.C.'s swank Mayflower Hotel seemed a fitting celebration of the biggest American housing boom since the 1950s: filet mignon and lobster, a champagne room and hundreds of mortgage brokers, real estate agents and their customers gyrating to a Latin band.

On that winter night in 2005, the company hosting the gala honored itself with an ice sculpture of its logo. Pinnacle Financial had grown from a single office to a national behemoth generating $6.5 billion in mortgages that year. The $100,000-plus party celebrated the booming division that made loans largely to Hispanic immigrants with little savings. The company even booked rooms for those who imbibed too much.

Keven Connelly, a loan officer who attended the affair, now marvels at those gilded times. At his Pinnacle office in Virginia, colleagues were filling the parking lot with BMWs and at least one Lotus sports car. In its hiring frenzy, the mortgage company turned a busboy into a loan officer whose income zoomed to six figures in a matter of months.

"It was the peak. It was the embodiment of business success," said Connelly. "We underestimated the bubble, even though deep down, we knew it couldn't last forever."

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Editorial: Foreclosures And The Election
2008-06-15 01:49:15
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Sunday, June 15, 2008.

There is much still uncertain about the future course of the home mortgage debacle, but one thing is now clear: Congress and President Bush have done so little for so long that they will never manage an effective response. Like so many other problems, the foreclosure crisis will be dumped on the next president and the next Congress.

The bad lending of the bubble years continues to wreak havoc. Foreclosures were up sharply again in May, and the continuing surge in defaults shows that more are in the pipeline. The pain goes beyond the ruin of individual families. Foreclosures are causing house values to plummet, local tax revenues to decline and credit to remain tight.

That, in turn, is prolonging the housing slump and deepening the broader economic slowdown, threatening the well-being not only of lenders and borrowers whose greed and misjudgment provoked the crisis, but of everyone. And, still, there has been no cogent response from Congress or the Bush administration.

The current Congress may manage to pass a foreclosure aid bill before July 4, which, at best, would prevent up to 500,000 foreclosures over the next few years. That would be an accomplishment. But even if the bill passes - and if President Bush signs it - the potential relief will not prevent or confine the damage from what is shaping up to be millions of foreclosures continuing well into the next administration.

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Bush Cautions Britain's Prime Minister On Plan To Cut Iraq Force
2008-06-15 01:48:34

George Bush flies into London Sunday with a warning for Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown not to announce a timetable for a British pull-out from Iraq, and expressing deep skepticism about the Prime Minister's high-profile strategy for bringing down world oil prices.

The stern message to the Prime Minister was delivered during an exclusive interview with The Observer, and contrasted with praise for Tony Blair whom Bush is scheduled to meet for breakfast tomorrow ahead of talks in Downing Street. Bush said Blair had never been his "poodle", but a leader who shared his view that the world is in an "ideological struggle" and that "ultimately freedom has to defeat the ideology of hate".

The President's comments on Brown's Iraq troop plans followed a report last week that a final British pull-out could be announced by the end of the year.

The President revealed that he had already had "discussions" with Brown on the troops issue and was "appreciative"  that Brown was in frequent touch with the Americans about "what he and his military are thinking". Yet, while he said both allies obviously wanted to bring their troops home, this could only be "based upon success".

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U.S. Senator Conrad Says Loan Favortism Possible
2008-06-15 01:47:54

U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said Saturday that he would donate $10,500 to charity and refinance a property loan after suggestions that he and other prominent Washington figures received preferential treatment from Countrywide Financial Corporation.

Though Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, said he was not aware of any favoritism shown by the lender that has come under scrutiny in the mortgage crisis, he said a review of e-mail traffic suggested that the loan fee for a beach house may have been reduced because of his status, while a second loan called for an exception by the company.

“Although I did not ask for or know that I was receiving a discount, and even though I was offered a competitive loan from another lender, I do not want to have received preferential treatment,” said Conrad, adding that he is giving $10,500 to Habitat for Humanity. The amount was equivalent to estimates of what Conrad saved through a reduction of one point on a $1.07 million mortgage.

The dealings of Countrywide with Washington officials have come to light in the past week after James A. Johnson, a former head of Fannie Mae, was forced to give up an influential advisory role with the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama following suggestions that Johnson got special treatment from Countrywide. Johnson was leading the search for a vice-presidential candidate.

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Mugabe: If I Lose The Election We Will Wage War
2008-06-15 01:45:29

A defiant President Robert Mugabe yesterday vowed he would "go to war" if he lost the presidential run-off due to take place in less than two weeks.

Describing the opposition as "traitors", he claimed Zimbabwe would never "be lost" again. Speaking at the burial of a veteran of the independence war, Mugabe said he would never accept the Movement for Democratic Change taking over. "It shall never happen ... as long as I am alive and those who fought for the country are alive,' he said. 'We are prepared to fight for our country and to go to war for it."

The threat was seen as an angry response to the pressure mounting on the government from other African leaders over the regime's harassment of the MDC leadership and supporters in the run up to the 27 June election.

Saturday, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested again and held for three hours as he tried to campaign in the countryside. There was also a stand-off between lawyers and police in Harare's high court before Tsvangirai's deputy, Tendai Biti, finally appeared before a judge.

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