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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday June 21 2008 - (813)

Saturday June 21 2008 edition
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White House Refuses To Release Air-Quality Documents
2008-06-21 03:24:32

The Bush administration Friday invoked executive privilege and refused to turn over key documents sought by a House investigative committee, escalating a fight over the White House role in U.S. policy on greenhouse-gas emissions and ozone air quality standards.

Rep. Henry L. Waxman (D-California), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called off a threatened contempt of Congress vote against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and a White House budget official while congressional Democrats decide how to respond.

Lawmakers say the two Bush administration officials refused to respond to subpoenas for documents about communications between the White House and EPA. The papers concern White House intervention in Johnson's December decision to overrule EPA officials who were in favor of granting California and 17 other states permission to mandate a reduction of vehicle emissions by 30 percent by 2016.

In March, the EPA also issued tougher health standards for smog, but they were not as strict as levels recommended by an EPA science advisory board after President Bush sided with the White House Office of Management and Budget in opposition.

"Administrator Johnson has repeatedly insisted he reached his decisions on California's petition and the new ozone standard on his own, relying on his best judgment," said Waxman. "Today's assertion of executive privilege raises serious questions about administrator Johnson's credibility and the involvement of the president."

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New York City Mayor Blasts Rumor About Obama
2008-06-21 03:23:59
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, injecting himself directly into the presidential campaign, forcefully denounced on Friday what he called a “whisper campaign” linking Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, to Islam.

Speaking before a crucial constituency in the coming election, Jewish voters, in the pivotal state of Florida, Bloomberg said that rumors of Obama secretly being a Muslim represent “wedge politics at its worst, and we have to reject it -  loudly, clearly and unequivocally.”

“Let’s call those rumors what they are: lies,” said Bloomberg, who has been mentioned as a potential running mate for both Obama and Senator John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

Residents of South Florida, home to the second-largest population of Jews in the United States after New York City, have received e-mail messages claiming that Obama sympathizes with radical Islam and does not support Israel.  Obama, a Christian, has repeatedly rejected both claims.

Bloomberg’s blunt denunciation of the rumors is likely to ingratiate the mayor with Obama’s campaign before the Democratic convention in August.

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Physicists: Earth Will Survive LHC After All
2008-06-21 03:23:23
That black hole that was going to eat the Earth? Forget about it, and keep making the mortgage payments - those of you who still have them.

A new particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) scheduled to go into operation this fall outside Geneva, is no threat to the Earth or the universe, according to a new safety review approved Friday by the governing council of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN or Cern, which is building the collider.

“There is no basis for any concerns about the consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be produced by the LHC,” four physicists who comprised the safety assessment group wrote in their report. Whatever the collider will do, they said, Nature has already done many times over.

The report is available at . 

The physicists, who labored anonymously for the last year and a half, are John Ellis, Michelangelo Mangano and Urs Wiedemann, of CERN, and Igor Tkachev, of the Institute for Nuclear Research in Moscow, Russia. In a press release, CERN’s director general Robert Aymar said, “With this report, the Laboratory has fulfilled every safety and environmental evaluation necessary to ensure safe operation of this exciting new research facility.”

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As Fuel Costs Pinch Cities' Budgets, Mayors Push Mass Transit
2008-06-21 03:22:29
Higher fuel prices are forcing cities across the country to cut public services, limit driving by employees and expand public transportation in what has become a sprawling movement to conserve energy.

A survey of 132 cities, released Friday here at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami, Florida, found that 90 percent were altering operations because of fuel costs. Republicans and Democrats from New Jersey to Hawaii are essentially becoming energy-pinching nags.

They are pushing City Council members, whether they get along or not, to car-pool. They are telling housing inspectors to arrange site visits in clusters so they stop criss-crossing neighborhoods. And, even as many of them still use S.U.V.’s, the mayors are asking nearly everyone to do a little more walking.

“It’s costing us millions of dollars a year,” said Mayor Manuel A. Diaz, of Miami, the incoming president of the mayors’ group. “We can’t deal with a deficit, so everyone has to drive less.”

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At The Gas Pump And Past The Limit
2008-06-21 03:21:17

The pump slowed and cut off Brendan Baker's gasoline purchase at $74. He returned the nozzle to the pump, swiped his credit card a second time, then put the nozzle back in his 2000 Dodge Ram 1500 and continued fueling. He finished pumping and looked at his two receipts, which totaled $95.23.

"Normally I don't keep them because they remind me how much money I wasted," said Baker, a computer technician refueling at his local Sunoco station in Centreville.

With skyrocketing gas prices, many customers are bumping up against pay-at-the-pump credit card limits - often $75. Rules limiting these transactions are nothing new, but with gas prices exceeding $4 per gallon, it's increasingly easy to exceed the limit, leaving many customers to face the hassle of dealing with two-transaction purchases.

At the station where Baker was filling up, 30 to 50 cars out of a total of about 900 hit the limit each day, according to the station owner. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the station bustled with Toyota 4Runners, Tacomas and other fuel-thirsty vehicles.

Back in 2003, when Jeff Urban bought his Hummer, paying $75 to fill up would have been unthinkable, but now, Urban joked, his goliath SUV will soon be a three-transaction vehicle.

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Saudi Oil Minister Blames Oil Price Rises On Speculators
2008-06-20 16:08:04
The supply and demand of oil around the world is "normal," a key adviser to Saudi Arabia's oil minister said Friday, pointing to a number of factors, including speculators and currency fluctuations, for the spurt in oil prices.

Dr. Ibrahim al Muhanna, adviser to Saudi oil minister, said speculators were having "some impact" and that investors were looking for investments "outside normal channels" in the hope of making money.

He said there were other factors, including "fluctuating currencies," a reference to the steep fall of the U.S. dollar, and fears that world economies might be in trouble.

Saudi Arabia is increasing its oil output by 200,000 barrels per day, and the kingdom will convene an international meeting of oil producing and consuming nations to deal with the problem of rising oil prices this weekend, the kingdom has announced.

Muhanna said not only is oil going up, trading around $135 a barrel Friday, but that oil prices had also fluctuated "in a big way" in recent months.

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Commentary: All Eyes Set On Saudi Oil Summit In Jeddah
2008-06-20 16:07:28
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Syed Rashid Husain, a journalist with the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News, and appeared in that newspaper's edition for Friday, June 20, 2008. Mr. Husain's commentary follows:

No more talk shop, nobody needs it!

The energy fraternity is more than convinced the Jeddah energy summit needs to deliver. Hopes are high, with some saying that the summit may scare at least some speculators away from the markets. Yet it would be naive to underestimate the grim complexity of the issue. Prices are in no one’s control and concerted efforts are needed to move ahead and get out of the logjam. With consumers and producers getting together, the world needs to move beyond the blame game, most agree and underline.

Saudi Arabia, the global gas station, too has high hopes from the upcoming summit. “The meeting in Jeddah will discuss the increase in oil prices, which are unjustified by market fundamentals, and suggest appropriate solutions,” Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Ali Al-Naimi emphatically said. “This meeting is expected, God willing, to produce positive results that will contribute to stabilizing the international oil market,” he hoped. Energy market woes remained the focal point of a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity the entire week. As prices continued to play hide-and-seek with the $140 mark, and all eyes remained glued to the Kingdom, Riyadh announced convening the summit to discuss the emerging scenario - showing its concern and readiness to do ‘whatever it could’ to dampen the market sentiments.

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Number Of New Houses Being Built In U.K. Plummets 60 Percent
2008-06-20 16:06:48

The number of new houses being built in the U.K. has plummeted by nearly 60% since this time last year as tighter mortgage lending conditions put off potential home buyers.

The National House Building Council, which has 20,000 registered house builders on its books, said there were 6,890 new starts in the private sector in May, compared with 15,713 this time last year. This represents a drop of 56%.

The number of new public sector houses being built is also decreasing with 2,699 houses being built this year, compared with 4,306 in May 2007. Sixty percent of social housing is built by private developers.

This news came on the same day as Halifax, the U.K.'s biggest mortgage lender, announced that it would be raising its fixed rates on loans by half a percentage-point beginning Friday - the twentieth time Halifax has changed its rates since the start of the year.

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As Oil Prices Rise, Stocks Go Down
2008-06-20 15:10:57

Who cast a dark spell on Wall Street?

Stock markets were sharply lower on Friday morning as a host of options and futures contracts reached their expiration date, a financial ritual known to investors as “quadruple witching”.

The expirations meant that many investors were scrambling to take profits and hedge their bets, setting off a round of selling that sent the Dow Jones industrials down more than 150 points before they recovered slightly.

The Dow dropped below 12,000 to its lowest point since March, when it hit its low for the year. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down about 1.1 percent in early trading, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq lost about 2 percent.

Shares of financial firms, such as investment banks and regional banks, were particularly hard hit. Merrill Lynch lost more than 4 percent on speculation that the bank may issue a profit warning, although the company has declined to comment.

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McClellan Testifies On Leak Of Plame's Name As CIA Agent
2008-06-20 15:10:18
Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee today, said he was suspicious of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's story that he had not leaked the name of a CIA agent but had no choice but to go along with it.

Fresh from his author's tour for "What Happened," the memoir that created a stir in Washington when it was published last month, McClellan said that former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. asked him to publicly exonerate Libby from involvement in the case, as he had White House political guru Karl Rove. Libby was then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I was reluctant to do it," said McClellan. "I got on the phone with Scooter Libby and asked him point-blank, 'Were you involved in this is any way?' And he assured me in unequivocal terms that he was not."

Libby was later convicted of lying to investigators about his role in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in an effort to discredit her husband Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration's reasons for invading Iraq. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison but his sentence was commuted by President Bush.

In opening remarks before the committee, McClellan repeated the charge in his book that the White House had tilted the evidence to convince the public of the need for war in Iraq. "It's public record that they were ignoring caveats and ignoring contradictory intelligence," he said.
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Ford Delays Pickup, Says Probably Lose Money For 4th Consecutive Year
2008-06-20 15:09:22
The Ford Motor Company said on Friday that it would delay introducing its new pickup truck and that it will probably lose money for a fourth consecutive year in 2009 because of the slowdown in demand for large vehicles.

Ford said it would begin selling the highly anticipated 2009 version of the F-150 pickup in late fall, two months later than intended, so that dealers would have more time to clear out the current model. In addition to the delay, the company said it would build 90,000 fewer trucks in the second half of the year than it had previously planned, while increasing production of cars and crossovers that are more fuel-efficient.

“As gasoline prices average more than $4 a gallon and consumers worry about the weak U.S. economy, we see June industry-wide auto sales slowing further and demand for large trucks and S.U.V.’s at one of the lowest levels in decades,” Ford’s chief executive, Alan R. Mulally, said in a statement. “Ford has taken decisive action to respond to this accelerating shift in customer demand away from large trucks and S.U.V.’s to smaller cars and crossovers, and we will continue to act swiftly moving forward.”

For the second time in a month, Ford issued a warning about next year’s financial results. “Unless the economy improves, it will be difficult for Ford to break even companywide on a pretax basis in 2009, excluding special items,” said the statement. In May, executives had abandoned Ford’s long-held goal of becoming profitable in 2009, predicting a break-even performance.

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Big Oil Ready To Sign Agreements With Iraq
2008-06-20 03:52:54
Iraq is preparing to award contracts to several Western energy companies to help develop its vast oil resources, allowing them to consolidate their positions in a country that has seemed less threatening in recent months as security has improved.

The two-year, no-bid contracts will be awarded to companies that have been advising the Iraqi Oil Ministry in recent years, said Asim Jihad, a spokesman for the ministry. He said officials expect that U.S.-based Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total and British oil company BP will secure the biggest contracts.

"We have had discussions since last year" regarding deals that would formalize the advisory role some of them are already playing, said Jihad. "The discussions have now ended."

The contracts will be presented to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet for approval in coming days and could be announced by the end of the month, said Jihad, adding that more than 30 contracts will be signed but declined to describe their scope or provide other details.

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In Darfur: A Free-For-All Battle For Power
2008-06-20 03:50:07
Five years after the Darfur conflict began, the nature of violence across this vast desert region has changed dramatically, from a mostly one-sided government campaign against civilians to a complex free-for-all that is jeopardizing an effective relief mission to more than 2.5 million displaced and vulnerable people.

While the government and militia attacks on straw-hut villages that defined the earlier years of the conflict continue, Darfur is now home to semi-organized crime and warlordism, with marijuana-smoking rebels, disaffected government militias and anyone else with an AK-47 taking part, according to United Nations officials.

The situation is a symptom of how fragmented the conflict has become. There were two rebel groups, but now there are dozens, some of which include Arab militiamen who once sided with the government. The founding father of the rebellion lives in Paris. And the struggle in the desert these days is less about liberating oppressed Darfurians than about acquiring the means to power: money, land, trucks.

Though there are some swaths of calm in Darfur, fighting among rebels and among Arab tribes has uprooted more than 70,000 people this year, compared with about 60,000 displaced by government attacks on villages, according to U.N. figures.

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Bush Administration Ignored Legal Advice On Detainees
2008-06-21 03:24:20

Senior lawyers inside and outside the Bush administration repeatedly warned the White House that it was risking judicial scrutiny of its detention policies in Guantanamo Bay if it did not pursue a more pragmatic legal strategy that considered the likely reaction of the Supreme Court. Yet such advice, issued periodically over the past six years, was ignored or discounted, according to current and former administration officials familiar with the debates.

In August 2006, for example, the top lawyer at the State Department told senior officials at the White House that unless they won a congressional mandate that broadly supported their system of detaining terrorism suspects, their goal of keeping the detainees locked up was in jeopardy. "I can virtually guarantee you, without a legislative basis, federal courts are not going to be willing to uphold the indefinite detention of unlawful combatants," John B. Bellinger III warned in an e-mail.

The e-mail, disclosed by former White House officials familiar with the intense internal debates over detainee policy, was one of several red flags for the White House in its fierce battle to keep the detention facility in Cuba free of judicial oversight.

The result, they said, has been a series of losses at the Supreme Court, including last week's 5 to 4 ruling that detainees at Guantanamo have a constitutional right to a review of their detention in federal courts - a ruling that holds out the prospect of heavy litigation and close judicial scrutiny of decision-making that the administration has long argued is best left to the president.

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McCain Defends NAFTA While In Canada
2008-06-21 03:23:44
Sen. John McCain traveled to Canada on Friday to offer a vigorous defense of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as his campaign sought to portray rival Sen. Barack Obama as inconsistent on free trade.

"For all the successes of NAFTA, we have to defend it without equivocation in political debate because it is critical to the future of so many Canadian and American workers and businesses," McCain told a crowd of several hundred at the Economic Club of Canada. "Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls."

McCain said his visit to Canada was "not a political campaign trip," and his remarks centered on keeping relations between the United States and Canada strong. The Republican from Arizona did not refer to Obama by name and refused to take questions on political matters at a news conference after his speech, though he was accompanied by top political adviser Charles R. Black, Jr. McCain spent much of his trip in closed-door meetings with Canadian officials.

Nonetheless, his comments on NAFTA invoked Obama's criticism of the agreement, and McCain's campaign attacked the senator from Illinois on the issue throughout the day, accusing him of changing his position after becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee.

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Big Campaign Promises Bump Into Economic Reality
2008-06-21 03:22:46

On the presidential campaign trail, Democrat Barack Obama promises to "completely eliminate" income taxes for millions of Americans, from low-income working families to senior citizens who earn less than $50,000 a year.

Republican John McCain vows to double the exemption for dependents and slash the corporate income tax.

To which the folks who monitor the nation's financial situation can only say: Good luck. Because, back in Washington, D.C., tax collections are slowing, the budget deficit is rising, and the national debt is approaching $10 trillion. Whoever wins the White House this fall, fiscal experts say, is likely to have a tough time enacting expensive new initiatives, be they tax cuts or health care reform.

Economists expect the deficit to top $400 billion when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, rivaling the all-time high of $413 billion set in 2004. Meanwhile, Congress recently adopted a spending plan that projects a $340 billion deficit in 2009 - a number likely to grow, lawmakers say, as the cost of the Iraq war rises, the economy weakens and the flow of revenue slows.

Against that dour financial backdrop, the next president will have to decide what to do with President Bush's signature tax cuts, which are due to expire at the end of 2010. Obama and McCain have both promised to keep at least some of them, but that would increase the deficit by $150 billion a year or more. Preventing the alternative minimum tax, or AMT, from expanding to the middle class would add billions more.

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In U.S., Travelers Shift To Rail As Fuel Prices Rise
2008-06-21 03:22:16
Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.

They are good news, up to a point.

Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues - all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month. Yet the railroad, and its suppliers, have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand.

Many of the long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer. Want to take Amtrak’s daily Crescent train from New York to New Orleans? It is sold out on July 5, 6, 7 and 8. Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 5? The train is sold out, but Amtrak will sell you a bus ticket.

“We’re starting to bump up against our own capacity constraints,” said R. Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak.

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Abu Hamza Loses Legal Fight Against Extradition To U.S.
2008-06-20 16:08:15

The radical U.K. Muslim cleric Abu Hamza Friday lost his high court battle against extradition to the U.S., where he faces terrorism charges.

Two judges ruled that the decision to extradite Egyptian-born Hamza, who lives in west London, was "unassailable".

The 51-year-old cleric is serving a seven-year jail sentence for stirring up racial hatred and inciting followers to murder non-Muslims.

The U.S. wants him to stand trial for allegedly attempting to set up a training camp for "violent jihad" in Bly, Oregon, in 1999. It accuses him of sending one of his followers to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

U.S. authorities claim he aided the taking hostage of 16 western tourists in Yemen in December 1998, which resulted in the deaths of three Britons and an Australian.

Hamza could face up to 100 years in prison for a total of 11 terrorism charges, including sending money and recruits to assist the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

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OPEC Chief Dismisses Calls To Boost Production As 'Irrational'
2008-06-20 16:07:50

Crude oil prices rose sharply on the world's commodity markets Friday night after the head of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) dismissed as "irrational and illogical" a call by Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the cartel to pump more oil.

Chakib Khelil said the near doubling of oil prices over the past year was due to geopolitical tension, speculation and a shortage of refining capacity rather than a failure by producers to supply enough crude.

His comments came as the prime minister flew to Saudi Arabia for a summit meeting on Sunday of oil producers and consumers in Jeddah at which he will press for OPEC to help contain rising inflation in the West by pumping more oil. Rising petrol and domestic energy costs are blamed by the government for pushing the cost of living in Britain to a 16-year-high of 3.3%.

Khelil told the Algerian official news agency APS: "Asking OPEC member countries to increase their offer is illogical and irrational." Khelil, Algeria's energy and mining minister, ruled out a quota increase by OPEC and said Saudi Arabia's uniltateral decision to raise production would have no impact on world crude prices. He suggested there would be no decision by OPEC as a cartel at the meeting in Saudi Arabia.

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Commentary: Obama's Battle Against The Lobbyists
2008-06-20 16:07:07
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Maura Kelly, a columnist from New York who has written for a number of publications, including Slate, Salon, the New York Observer and Washington Post, among others. In her commentary, which appeared in the Guardian edition for Friday, June 20, 2008, Ms. Kelly writes: "By opting out of America's broken system of public funding for presidential elections, the Obama campaign is striking another blow for reform." Her commentary follows:

How many people would turn down a gift of $85 million from the U.S. government? Barack Obama has done just that, by announcing that he wouldn't be accepting public financing for his bid for the White House. Rather than accept the $84 million directly from the U.S. taxpayer - the maximum amount allocated by campaign finance laws for this year's presidential candidates - he'll continue to raise his own funds without limits. That decision makes Obama the first candidate of a major party to decline federal money since the election financing system was established in 1976, following the Watergate scandal.

Ideally, the financing of campaigns by the government should level the playing ground for presidential candidates, giving them each equal amounts of money to spend on their campaigns. As we all know, however, U.S. political races are anything but fair, largely because there is no limit on the spending that the national committees of both major parties and special interest groups can do to get their candidates elected.

Democrats have long been trying to reform the current finance system, arguing that it's broken and unfair because it allows outside groups and wealthy donors to wield so much money and influence. Indeed, that's why Obama is opting out. He knows he'll need all the money he can get to defend himself against the inevitable attacks from John McCain and his backers. And the Republican National Committee has traditionally trounced the Democratic National Committee when it comes to fundraising - which is done outside presidential financing. The RNC reported a cache of $785 million  to the Federal Election Committee during the 2004 election cycle, while the Democrats garnered just $683 million. (The numbers might sound similar, but a difference of more than $100 million is substantial.) By declining to participate in the usual machinations, Obama is simply trying to achieve what the 1976 campaign finance reform initiative was supposed to ensure: a contest between candidates with similar funds at their disposal.

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U.S. House Passes Wiretap Bill Protecting Telecoms
2008-06-20 15:11:13

The U.S. House Friday overwhelmingly approved a sweeping new surveillance law that effectively would shield telecommunications companies from privacy lawsuits for cooperating with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

Ending a year-long battle with President Bush, the House approved, 293 to 129, a re-write of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that extends the government's ability to eavesdrop on espionage and terrorism suspects while providing a legal escape hatch for AT&T, Verizon Communications and other telecommunication firms. The companies face more than 40 lawsuits that allege they violated customers' privacy rights by helping the government conduct a warrantless spying program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Before the vote, President Bush Friday lauded Congress for reaching agreement on the legislation, saying it was vital to help thwart new terrorist attacks.

In a brief statement in the White House Rose Garden, Bush also hailed House passage yesterday of a bipartisan bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into 2009 and would allow veterans of those wars to receive increased education benefits. He had previously opposed the veterans' education provision and new domestic spending included in the war-funding package, threatening a veto.

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Commentary: On Energy - Same-Old, Same-Old
2008-06-20 15:10:42
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein and appeared in the Washington Post edition for Friday, June 20, 2008. Mr. Pearlstein's commentary follows:

Listening to the back and forth this week about oil drilling and energy prices, you have to wonder whether there's anyone in Washington who understands what leadership is about.

This is about more than our immediate discomfort with $4 gasoline. Embedded in the energy debate are questions about global warming, the competitiveness of the U.S. economy and the apparent decline in middle-class living standards.

So far, the responses have been colossally disappointing, with the president, the presidential candidates and party leaders in Congress all retreating back to the same hardened and hackneyed positions that have created a stalemate in energy policy for the past 20 years.

The frustrating thing about this standoff is that both sides have it half-right. Republicans are right that we need more oil and gas drilling, more refineries and a revival of nuclear power. And Democrats are right in demanding that we finally get serious about conservation, crack down on speculation and market manipulation, and recycle windfall profits into alternative energy sources.

Unfortunately, they're both so thoroughly captured by their interest groups, and so determined to defeat the other's policies, that they haven't noticed we're now so deep in the hole that we have no choice but to do it all: Gas drilling off the coast of Florida and wind farms off the coast of New England. Curbs on speculation and curbs on CO2 emissions. Tax hikes for oil companies and tax breaks for solar.

The challenge here is to finally get real about the politics as well as the policy.

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Iraq Still Lacks Formal Rules To Share Power And Revenues
2008-06-20 15:09:58
What’s going right? And can it last?

Violence in all of Iraq is the lowest since March 2004. Its two largest cities, Baghdad and Basra, are calmer than they have been for years. The third largest, Mosul, is in the midst of a major security operation. On Thursday, Iraqi forces swept unopposed through the southern city of Amara, which has been controlled by Shia militias. There is a sense that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government has more political traction than any of its predecessors.

Consider the latest caricatures of Maliki put up on posters by the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery cleric who commands deep loyalty among poor Shiites. They show the prime minister’s face split in two - half his own, half Saddam Hussein's. The comparison is, of course, intended as a searing criticism, but only three months ago the same Sadr City pamphleteers were lampooning Maliki as half-man, half-parrot, merely echoing the words of his more powerful Shiite and American backers. It is a notable swing from mocking an opponent perceived to be weak, to denouncing one feared to be strong.

For Hatem al-Bachary, a Basra businessman, the turnabout has been “a miracle,” the first tentative signs of normal life returning.

“I don’t think the militias have disappeared, and maybe there are sleeper cells which will try to revive themselves again,” he said. “But the first time they try to come back they will have to show themselves, and the government, army and police are doing very well.”

While the increase in American troops and their continuing support behind the scenes in the recent operations has helped tamp down the violence, there are signs that both the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government are making strides. There are simply more Iraqi troops for the government to deploy, partly because fewer are needed to fight the Sunni insurgents who have defected to the Sunni Awakening movement. They are now paid to keep the peace.

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U.S.: Military Exercise By Israel Seemed Aimed At Iran
2008-06-20 03:53:12
Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program.

More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, said American officials.

The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, said American officials.

Israeli officials declined to discuss the details of the exercise. A spokesman for the Israeli military would say only that the country’s air force “regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel.”

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Scientists: White Patches Found In Mars Trench Are Ice
2008-06-20 03:50:37

After a decade of shouting, “Follow the water!” in its exploration of Mars, NASA can finally say that one of its spacecraft has reached out, touched water ice and scooped it up.

Now, scientists will be able to tackle the main question they hope to answer: Did the ice ever melt and turn Mars into a habitable place?

In a photograph released Thursday evening of a trench that the Phoenix Mars lander has dug into the Martian soil, some white patches that were seen earlier in the week have shrunk, and eight small chunks have disappeared. Until now, scientists were not sure if the white material was ice or some kind of salt.

When exposed to air, water ice can change into water vapor, a process known as sublimation. Salt, on the other hand, is not capable of such a vanishing act.

“It must be ice,” said Dr. Peter H. Smith of the University of Arizona, the mission’s principal investigator. “The whole science team thinks this. I think we feel this is definite proof that these are little chunks of icy material.”
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