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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday June 19 2008 - (813)

Thursday June 19 2008 edition
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Abramoff Used White House To Oust Foe
2008-06-19 03:52:25

If lobbyists find the path to their clients' riches obstructed by an implacably hostile federal official, they might achieve success by an end run or an appeal to more senior authorities; but a more extreme solution - if the foe has high-level support - is to pull strings at the White House and orchestrate the official's removal.

That option was chosen by Jack Abramoff and his colleagues at the Washington office of Greenberg Traurig in the Bush administration's early days, to oust Alan Stayman from a State Department negotiating job. Stayman had earned their ire by advocating labor reforms in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. protectorate where Abramoff's clients wanted to keep paying immigrants less than the federal minimum wage to work in textile factories.

Stayman was supported by James A. Kelly, who was a White House aide to President Ronald Reagan and served as the State Department's assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific from 2001 to 2005. Kelly, citing ongoing negotiations with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, told his department's personnel office on May 1, 2001, that he wanted Stayman to remain for two more years.

Abramoff's path to success in what an aide called "the Stayman project" is spelled out in a set of internal White House, State Department and Greenberg Traurig e-mails provided to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and made public last week.

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Experts: Iowa Flooding Could Be Result Of Human Activity
2008-06-19 03:51:40

As the Cedar River rose higher and higher, and as he stacked sandbags along the levee protecting downtown Cedar Falls, Kamyar Enshayan, a college professor and City Council member, kept asking himself the same question: "What is going on?"

The river would eventually rise six feet higher than any flood on record. Farther downstream, in Cedar Rapids, the river would break the record by more than 11 feet.

Enshayan, director of an environmental center at the University of Northern Iowa, suspects that this natural disaster wasn't really all that natural. He points out that the heavy rains fell on a landscape radically reengineered by humans. Plowed fields have replaced tallgrass prairies. Fields have been meticulously drained with underground pipes. Streams and creeks have been straightened. Most of the wetlands are gone. Flood plains have been filled and developed.

"We've done numerous things to the landscape that took away these water-absorbing functions," he said. "Agriculture must respect the limits of nature."

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Mercenary Accuses Mark Thatcher Of Key Involvement In Africa Coup Attempt
2008-06-19 03:51:01

In evidence to a court in Equatorial Guinea Wednesday, the British mercenary Simon Mann said Mark Thatcher, the son of the former prime minister, was a committed member of the group that organized the attempted coup in the oil-rich west African state in 2004.

Giving his first detailed account, he said Thatcher "was not just an investor, he came completely on board and became a part of the management team". Thatcher had provided $350,000 (£178,000).

Mann also claimed that Spain and South Africa, including President Thabo Mbeki, had supported the plot. By January 2004, two months before the action, he said "it was like an official operation. The governments of Spain and South Africa were giving the green light: 'You've got to do it'."

Spain, he said, was prepared to recognize the new government the day after the coup and send in lots of military police. Outside the court the Spanish ambassador, Javier Sangro, said he had no comment.

Senior members of the Equatorial Guinea army, police and cabinet were also implicated, said Mann.

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CDC Counts 383 Salmonella Cases From Tomatoes
2008-06-19 03:50:26
Federal health officials have learned of 106 more cases of salmonella linked to tainted tomatoes, putting the outbreak's toll at 383 on Wednesday and counting.

"We do not think the outbreak is over," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of this newest influx of cases were people who got sick weeks ago but hadn't been counted yet. Some states began doing a better job of checking for salmonella as the outbreak has dragged on, while part of the surge comes from test results that had been backlogged in jammed laboratories.

What hasn't changed is that the earliest known victim got sick on April 10, and the latest on June 5.

New Hampshire and Pennsylvania reported their first cases, bringing to 30 the number of states - plus Washington, D.C. - that have reported sick residents, although some may have been infected while traveling. At least 48 people have been hospitalized.

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Climate Change 'Could Wipe Out Whales'
2008-06-18 15:01:31
Global warming could help do to whale populations what commercial whaling has not - wipe out an entire species.

Humpback, southern right and minke whale populations could be damaged by a lack of food caused by a change in sea temperatures, according to researchers from Australia's Federal Environment Department.

Data from the department’s Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), published in the Marine and Freshwater Research  journal, claimed that if the availability of krill - the main diet for “baleen” whales which filter food from water  - deteriorated due to climate change, other species could be wiped out.

“In an era of climate change, the ecological effects of baleen whales, and the effects of physical changes on these key predators can no longer be ignored,” said the researchers.

“The abundance of their primary prey, krill, can vary dramatically over relatively short periods of time and baleen whales that feed on krill have adapted to this variability.

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Commentary: Can The Saudis Calm The Oil Price Rollercoaster?
2008-06-18 15:00:39
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Josh Ward and appeared in the Spiegel Online edition for Tuesday, June 17, 2008, in its column The World From Berlin.

You might think there's an echo in the room when you hear that oil prices high a new high Monday. Saudi Arabia is increasingly anxious to calm the market's volatility, but German commentators doubt whether it can.

Oil prices hit an all-time high on the New York Mercantile Exchange Monday, climbing to $139.89 (€90.14) a barrel before settling down to $134.61 (€86.91) at the end of the day. Many are now wondering if, when it comes to steering the global energy supply, there is anyone at the wheel.

In response to the jitteriness of the market and world leaders, Saudi Arabia's oil minister announced Monday that the country's king has called a meeting of oil-producing and oil-consuming countries to be held this weekend in Jiddah to discuss ways of anchoring skyrocketing energy prices.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia - the world's largest oil-exporting country - has announced that it will boost its oil output by 200,000 barrels a day in July, after having already boosted it by 300,000 barrels a day in May. The Saudi actions show how concerned the country is about the global impact of rising oil prices.

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Bush Vetoes Farm Bill - Again
2008-06-18 14:59:52
President Bush on Wednesday vetoed a $290 billion farm bill for a second time, sending it back to Congress after a printing error threatened the delivery of U.S. food aid abroad.

Most of the bill was enacted in May, when both the House and Senate easily overrode Bush's first veto of the legislation. But 34 pages of the bill that would extend foreign aid programs were mistakenly missing from the parchment copy Congress sent the White House, so that section has not yet become law.

To ensure the aid continues amid a global hunger crisis - and to prevent future legal challenges - Congress and Bush are again passing, vetoing and enacting the entire bill to provide farm subsidies, food stamps and other nutrition programs over the next five years.

The mistake has delayed shipments of food to Ethiopia, Myanmar and Somalia, said Stephen Driesler, the U.S. Agency for International Development's deputy assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs.

"We have orders ready to go," Driesler said Wednesday.

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Citing Slumping U.S. Economy, FedEx Reports Loss
2008-06-18 14:59:05
FedEx Corp. reported a fourth-quarter loss Wednesday and offered a gloomy outlook as it wrestles with a slumping U.S. economy beset by soaring fuel costs and falling prices for homes.

FedEx, considered a bellwether for the broader U.S. economy, predicted 2009 earnings of $4.75 to $5.25 per share, well below Wall Street expectations of $5.92 a share. The international package delivery company expects to earn 80 cents to $1 per share in the first-quarter of the current fiscal year. Analysts forecast $1.27 per share.

''Looking ahead to '09, we do expect conditions to remain extremely challenging and we anticipate in both the first quarter guidance and the yearly target the current economic weakness will continue and the current level of fuel costs will not mitigate,'' chief financial officer Alan Graf said in a conference call with market analysts.

FedEx posted a loss for the just-ended fourth period of 78 cents a share, or $241 million, compared with a profit of $610 million, or $1.96 per share, for the same quarter last year.

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Afghan, NATO Troops Move Against Taliban
2008-06-18 14:57:40
Hundreds of Afghan and Canadian troops launched a major attack Wednesday against Taliban fighters who have moved into several southern Afghanistan villages in recent days, according to Afghan and NATO military officials.

Troops with the Afghan army and the Canadian command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force initiated joint patrols around the district of Arghandab in the southern province of Kandahar early in the morning. Helicopter gunships flew overhead and armored vehicles rolled into the district as Taliban insurgents exchanged fire with NATO and Afghan forces. NATO spokesman Mark Laity said several Taliban insurgents had already been killed in the fighting but, so far, there were no reported Afghan or NATO casualties.

"The operation is on track and on schedule. So far, we've had only minor contact with insurgents," said Laity.

Laity said NATO troops who patrolled the area saw few signs of insurgent activity. He said Afghan and Canadian troops confirmed that there was a Taliban presence in Arghandab, but added that reports that hundreds of insurgents were active in the region have been "greatly exaggerated."

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Havoc As Mississippi Levee Breaks In Illinois
2008-06-18 14:57:01
Rising waters burst through an overstressed levee on the Mississippi River Wednesday, sending gushing torrents into an Illinois town as the U.S. midwest reels from days of flooding.

The levee break left Highway 34 at Gulfport, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, under water, prompting officials to close a bridge to the neighboring town of Burlington and causing havoc for commuters.

A flash flood warning was in effect Wednesday in Henderson County, Illinois, as a result of the surging waters from the break in the levee.

At least seven people have died in the flooding, which is the worst in a decade in some areas.

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Zimbabweans Told: Choose Mugabe Or You Face A Bullet
2008-06-18 02:39:47

The soldiers and ruling party militiamen herded the people of Rusape, Zimbabwe, to an open field at the back of the local sports club and made their point crystal clear.

"Your vote is your bullet," a soldier told the terrified crowd.

Everyone knew what he meant.

"They are saying we will die if we don't vote for Robert Mugabe, that there will be war if we don't vote for Robert Mugabe," said a wary young woman holding a small child. Mugabe says it, too, in speeches across the land ahead of next week's run-off presidential election against the man who beat him in the first round, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The woman was not waiting around to discuss that. Darkness had fallen in Rusape, a small town in bloodied Manicaland, and she grew alarmed as she realized she might not make it home before the unofficial curfew put in place by the ruling party militia.

Already the Mitsubishi pick-up trucks filled with young men carrying sticks, spears and knives were out on the streets preparing to move door-to-door, beating, and sometimes killing, anyone associated with the opposition.

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Afghan Villagers Flee Farms As Taliban Gear Up For Battle
2008-06-18 02:39:09
Thousands of frightened villagers fled a district in southern Afghanistan that was overrun by Taliban fighters, as Afghan and NATO forces on Tuesday flew in hundreds of reinforcements to confront the insurgents.

About 700 Afghan troops were airlifted to the main coalition base outside Kandahar after Taliban fighters moved into nearly a dozen villages in the strategic Arghandab district, a fertile swath of land 10 miles northwest of the southern city. Kandahar was once the spiritual home of the Taliban movement.

Canadian troops, who have main responsibility for securing Kandahar and its environs, also were being repositioned in response to the developments, said North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spokesman Mark Laity. He declined to give details about their deployment, citing operational security.

Local officials and villagers said the Taliban, who pushed into the area Sunday night, were laying mines, blocking roads and culverts and destroying footbridges, apparently preparing to do battle with arriving Afghan and Western troops.
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Donna Edwards Wins Election To U.S. House
2008-06-18 02:38:27

Democrat Donna F. Edwards was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties Tuesday, becoming the first black woman selected to serve Maryland in the U.S. Congress.

Edwards, 49, a lawyer and nonprofit executive from Fort Washington, defeated Republican Peter James and Libertarian Thibeaux Lincecum in a contest marked by exceptionally low turnout at the polls. Edwards will replace eight-term Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D), whom she defeated in a primary election in February.

"We're going to go in and just get to work," she told a crowd of about 100 supporters last night at a victory party in Lanham, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Maryland). "I'm going to move in quickly, as soon as they give me the keys."

She told the crowd she will be sworn in Thursday. The voter turnout appeared to be less than 5 percent, but Edwards'  most ardent supporters made sure she had their support.

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Rise In Food Prices Sends U.K. Inflation To 18-Year High
2008-06-18 02:37:41

Rising global food prices last month pushed the United Kingdom's inflation rate up to its highest for nearly 18 years, according to figures released Tuesday.

Milk, cheese and eggs have increased in price by nearly a fifth since May last year along with cooking oils and fats. Meat and bread were up by 9% with fish and vegetables rising by 7%, but fruit increased by a more modest 2.4%.

The jump in food prices of 9% on average from May last year pushed consumer price inflation to 3.3% last month from 3% in April, according to the Office for National Statistics. The cost of living is now the highest since 1990 with half of the increase accounted for by food prices.

The prices of most food products around the world have risen after basic commodities such as wheat, rice and corn hit record highs in recent months.

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New Study Forces British, European Officials To Review Global Warming Plan
2008-06-19 03:52:14

Britain and Europe will be forced to fundamentally rethink a central part of their environment strategy after a government report found that the rush to develop biofuels has played a "significant" role in the dramatic rise in global food prices, which has left 100 million more people without enough to eat.

The Gallagher report, due to be published next week, will trigger a review of British and E.U. targets for the use of plant-derived fuels in place of petrol and diesel, the Guardian newspaper reported. 

The study marks a dramatic reversal in the role of biofuels in the fight against global warming. As recently as last year, corn ethanol and biodiesel derived from vegetable oil were widely seen as important weapons in that fight - and a central plank of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's green strategy. Now even their environmental benefits are in question.

A panel of government experts, chaired by Professor Ed Gallagher, head of the Renewable Fuels Agency, has said that far more research is needed into the indirect impact of biofuels on land use and food production before the government sets targets for their use in transport.

The first such target is already in place. Since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to contain 2.5% of biofuels, a stepping stone towards a 2010 target of 5%. The European Union is contemplating a 10% target by 2010. The new report means all those goals will have to be reconsidered.

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Treasury Secretary Paulson To Urge New Fed Reserve Powers
2008-06-19 03:51:22

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., plans to call Thursday for the Federal Reserve to be given new, explicit powers to intervene in the workings of Wall Street firms to protect the financial system, adapting his vision of how the financial world should be regulated to reflect the lessons of the collapse of Bear Stearns.

"Our nation has come to expect the Federal Reserve to step in to avert events that pose unacceptable systemic risk," Paulson plans to say in a speech Thursday, according to prepared remarks obtained by the Washington Post; but the central bank "has neither the clear statutory authority nor the mandate to anticipate and deal with risks across our entire financial system."

"We should quickly consider how to appropriately give the Fed the authority to access necessary information from highly complex financial institutions and the responsibility to intervene in order to protect the system," Paulson plans to say, "so they can carry out the role our nation has come to expect."

Over the course of a few days in March, the central bank took unprecedented steps, with Paulson's support, to keep the rapid dissolution of Bear Stearns from causing an international financial catastrophe. The Fed provided financial backing for the acquisition of the investment bank by J.P. Morgan Chase and made emergency loans available to all major investment firms.

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U.N. Warns 5 Million Zimbabweans Will Face Hunger By Next Year
2008-06-19 03:50:46

The United Nations warned Wednesday that more than 5 million Zimbabweans are facing hunger as the country staggers towards next week's presidential elections under the burden of increasing violence and economic collapse.

At the same time, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "profound alarm" at the level of violence and intimidation, and the arrest of opposition leaders. "Should these conditions continue to prevail, the legitimacy of the election outcomes would be in question," Ban told an informal session of the U.N. General Assembly.

Two U.N. relief agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program, issued a joint report saying 2 million Zimbabweans would face hunger before September, and projected the figure would rise to 3.8 million by the end of the year, and 5.1 million by next March.

The report blamed a combination of plummeting food production and the world's highest rate of inflation.

"Poverty has increased for the 10th year in a row and there is an annual inflation estimated at 355,000%," said Kisan Gunjal, an FAO food emergency officer who worked on the report.

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Russia Charges 4 Men In Killing Of Journalist Anna Politkovskaya
2008-06-19 03:50:04

Russian investigators Wednesday charged four men in connection with the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, adding that the preliminary inquiry into her death was now over.

They said they had charged three men with involvement in the killing of Politkovskaya, who was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment in October 2006, and an officer from the Federal Security Service (FSB) - Russia's post-KGB spy agency - with extortion and abuse of office. All four have been in prison since August.

The investigators have apparently been unable to identify who ordered Politkovskaya's killing. Officials have publicly accused a Chechen, Rustam Makhmudov, 34, as being the hit man. He has eluded arrest, with investigators saying he may have fled abroad. Two of those charged Wednesday are Makhmudov's brothers - Dzhabrail and Ibragim, also from Chechnya. The third suspect, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, is a police officer.

The fourth man, Pavel Ryaguzov, a lieutenant colonel in the FSB, was charged in relation to other crimes. Officials have previously accused him of supplying the killers with Politkovskaya's address and other details. Wednesday Politkovskaya's colleagues at Novaya Gazeta, the small liberal newspaper where she worked, said they were skeptical that the investigation had got to the bottom of her murder.

"Only part of the case is over," the paper's chief editor, Sergei Sokolov, said. "We need to wait for a court case until we can judge anyone's guilt."

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Intelligence Agencies Undermine Nuclear Smuggling Trial
2008-06-18 15:01:08
An engineer is on trial in Germany for allegedly attempting to help Libya develop a nuclear bomb, but the network the man was allegedly part of was under surveillance by intelligence agencies, with the CIA getting involved early on. The Swiss government has gone so far as to eliminate evidence by secretly shredding thousands of documents.

The story should really begin in Stuttgart, the southern Germany city where the case has now been on trial for the past two weeks, where defendant Gotthard Lerch, 65, can be seen on Thursdays and Fridays in Courtroom 18, and where an international smuggling ring, which sought to sell the makings of a nuclear bomb to Libya between 1997 and 2003, is acquiring a face. It's the wrong face if you go by Lerch's defense lawyers, but the right one, according to the federal prosecutors. The face of the defendant, at any rate, is that of an elegant older man with grey hair and an occasional smirk. He stands accused of having been part of a ring of which U.S. President George W. Bush once said he would capture and eliminate, "each and every one."

But as large as Courtroom 18 is, it is unlikely the whole truth will ever be told here. What role, for example, did the intelligence services play after they managed to infiltrate the nuclear weapons mafia? It is possible to reconstruct what actually happened, but not in this court. The facts, twisted and concealed in other countries - for reasons of state security - are unlikely to be cleared up in Stuttgart. And in Courtroom 18, no one is likely to discover the exact content of a group of files found in the possession of a Swiss co-defendant. In November, the Swiss government quietly decided to shred 30,000 documents. They claim the decision was made to preserve world peace, not because they had anything to hide.

It is because of this lack of evidence that the truth will likely elude the participants in the Lerch case in the coming weeks, while Lerch himself will probably walk away a free man. The real story begins in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe, on a cold winter day in late December 2004.
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Documents Confirm U.S. Hid Detainees From Red Cross
2008-06-18 15:00:13
The U.S. military hid the locations of suspected terrorist detainees and concealed harsh treatment to avoid the scrutiny of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), according to documents that a U.S. Senate committee released Tuesday.

"We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques," Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a military lawyer who has since retired, said during an October 2002 meeting at the Guantanamo Bay prison to discuss employing interrogation techniques that some have equated with torture. Her comments were recorded in minutes of the meeting that were made public Tuesday. At that same meeting, Beaver also appeared to confirm that U.S. officials at another detention facility - Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan - were using sleep deprivation to "break" detainees well before then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved that technique. "True, but officially it is not happening," she is quoted as having said.

A third person at the meeting, Jonathan Fredman, the chief counsel for the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, disclosed that detainees were moved routinely to avoid the scrutiny of the ICRC, which keeps tabs on prisoners in conflicts around the world.

"In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD (Defense Department) has 'moved' them away from the attention of the ICRC," said Fredman, according to the minutes.

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Morgan Stanley Reports 58 Percent Decrease In Net Profits
2008-06-18 14:59:18

The investment bank Morgan Stanley, with its core securities trading business continuing to feel the tight credit market, reported a 58 percent decrease in net profit on Wednesday.

The results were broadly in line with analyst’s expectations, although disappointing to a firm that has traditionally held itself up to be a standard bearer on Wall Street, especially in light of the strong results reported Tuesday by its rival Goldman Sachs.

During a stretch of time that has seen the demise of one firm, Bear Stearns, and persistent speculation about another, Lehman Brothers, Morgan’s ability to generate a billion dollar profit, escape large write-downs and not have to raise capital represents a small step forward.

Profits were bolstered by a non-recurring $700 million gain from the sale of its wealth management arm in Spain. Without that gain, the pretax profit would have been significantly lower.

Net profit of $1 billion, or 95 cents a share, was down 58 percent, from $2.58 billion, or $2.45 a share, in the period a year ago and 34 percent from the first quarter.

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Senators Deny Knowing Of Home Loan Favoritism
2008-06-18 14:58:44

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd said Tuesday that he knew he was part of a "VIP" mortgage program offered by Countrywide Financial, but he said he was not aware that the privilege included waiving fees that regular customers must pay to obtain lower interest rates.

Dodd (D-Connecticut) - who reportedly received the special treatment as part of the company's "Friends of Angelo" program, named for chief executive Angelo Mozilo - said loan officers told him and his wife in 2003 that they would be part of an exclusive program, but the couple assumed the plan gave them unspecified courtesies and did not ask whether it included a waiver of the fees, known as points, or a reduced interest rate on their loans, said the senator.

"I don't know that we did anything wrong. I negotiated a mortgage at a prevailing rate, a competitive rate. ... I did what I was supposed to do," Dodd told reporters at a news conference called to discuss the matter and legislation to address the nation's housing crisis.

The Senate ethics committee has begun a preliminary investigation of the special treatment afforded Dodd and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), who received a one-point reduction on his Countrywide mortgage.

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U.S. Chopper Engines Go Missing
2008-06-18 14:57:18
Four U.S. helicopter engines worth $13.2 million have gone missing while being transported by a Pakistani truck company, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said.

The engines went missing before the 101st Airborne took command of the coalition in Afghanistan on April 11, said coalition spokesman Christian Patterson.

"They were being sent from Bagram to Fort Bragg, USA. The collective value of the engines is worth $US13.2 million," he said.

The announcement came after a Pakistani newspaper reported that Taliban militants had filmed what it said were stolen parts from U.S. helicopters including a Chinook and a Black Hawk.
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Campaigns In A Skirmish Over Terrorism And Law
2008-06-18 02:39:58
A sharp debate over terrorism, security and the rule of law broke out on Tuesday as the campaigns of Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama exchanged pointed salvos over who could best keep the nation safe.

The latest exchange began when McCain’s top foreign policy and national security adviser, Randy Scheunemann, said in a conference call with reporters that Obama was displaying a “Sept. 10 mindset” about how best to fight terrorism - a comment that echoed President Bush’s attacks on Senator John Kerry during the 2004 election.

Obama brushed off the criticism aboard his campaign plane, and questioned the McCain campaign’s standing to debate antiterrorism policy. “These are the same guys who helped to engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could’ve pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11,” he said.

It was the most heated back-and-forth yet in a debate that began last week when the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to challenge their detention in federal court. Obama praised the court’s decision as a return to the rule of law, while McCain excoriated it, saying that it could make the nation less safe, although the Republican candidate’s comments were a reminder of the complexities of his own past positioning on Guantanamo detainees.

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Editorial: Mr. Bush Vs. The Bill of Rights
2008-06-18 02:39:25
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, June 18, 2008.

In the waning months of his tenure, President Bush and his allies are once again trying to scare Congress into expanding the president’s powers to spy on Americans without a court order.

This week, the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill hope to announce a “compromise” on a domestic spying bill. If they do, it will be presented as an indispensable tool for protecting the nation’s security that still safeguards our civil liberties. The White House will paint opponents as weak-kneed liberals who do not understand and cannot stand up to the threat of terrorism.

The bill is not a compromise. The final details are being worked out, but all indications are that many of its provisions are both unnecessary and a threat to the Bill of Rights. The White House and the Congressional Republicans who support the bill have two real aims. They want to undermine the power of the courts to review the legality of domestic spying programs. And they want to give a legal shield to the telecommunications companies that broke the law by helping Mr. Bush carry out his warrantless wiretapping operation.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, requires the government to get a warrant to intercept communications between anyone in this country and anyone outside it. The 1978 law created a special court that has approved all but a handful of the government’s many thousands of warrant requests.

Still, after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush bypassed the FISA court and authorized the interception of international calls and e-mail messages without a warrant. Then, when the New York Times disclosed the operation in late 2005, Mr. Bush claimed that FISA did not allow the United States to act quickly enough to stop terrorists. That was nonsense. FISA always gave the government the power to start listening and then get a warrant - a grace period that has been extended since Sept. 11.

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China Rushes To Fix Dams, 9,000 Square Miles Flooded
2008-06-18 02:38:56
China has posted hundreds of rescue personnel to shore up dams threatening to burst in southern mountainous areas under torrential rain that has already flooded 9,000 square miles of crops and homes.

The rain and floods, concentrated in the south and the industrial hub of Guangdong, have killed at least 171 people and left 52 missing since the start of the annual flood season and forecasters have warned of more downpours in coming days.

More than 750 government officials and police had been sent to conduct rescue work for six reservoirs in "danger of bursting" in southern Guangxi region, said Xinhua news agency.

Some 3,000 people had already been evacuated downstream from a reservoir with a capacity of 1.8 million cubic meters, said the agency.

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Mexico Revises Its Justice System
2008-06-18 02:38:08
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday signed legislation designed to fundamentally change Mexico's  much-criticized justice system by allowing U.S.-style oral trials and establishing a presumption of innocence for criminal defendants.

The sweeping measures also require local and state police departments to "purify" their ranks of corrupt officers, and they grant those agencies power to investigate organized crime, an authority that had previously been the exclusive domain of federal authorities. Calderon has said the changes are crucial to his battle against the drug cartels blamed for thousands of deaths each year.

"What is at stake is not the liberty, security or integrity of the government, but above all the security and integrity of the governed," Calderon said in a ceremony at the presidential palace, Los Pinos, in Mexico City.

The reforms were approved by Mexico's Congress and a majority of its state legislatures, marking a huge victory for Calderon, whose two predecessors had tried and failed to push through similar legislation.

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