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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday June 17 2008 - (813)

Tuesday June 17 2008 edition
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Senate Report Questions Pentagon Accounts Of Interrogations
2008-06-17 03:48:57

A U.S. Senate investigation has concluded that top Pentagon officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos from field commanders to suggest that the proposals originated far down the chain of command, according to congressional sources briefed on the findings.

The sources said that memos and other evidence obtained during the inquiry show that officials in the office of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld started to research the use of waterboarding, stress positions, sensory deprivation and other practices in July 2002, months before memos from commanders at the detention facility in Cuba requested permission to use those measures on suspected terrorists.

The reported evidence - some of which is expected to be made public at a Senate hearing Tuesday - also shows that military lawyers raised strong concerns about the legality of the practices as early as November 2002, a month before Rumsfeld approved them. The findings contradict previous accounts by top Bush administration appointees, setting the stage for new clashes between the White Houseand Congress over the origins of interrogation methods that many lawmakers regard as torture and possibly illegal.

"Some have suggested that detainee abuses committed by U.S. personnel at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Guantanamo were the result of a 'few bad apples' acting on their own. It would be a lot easier to accept if that were true," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in a statement for delivery at a committee hearing Tuesday morning. "Senior officials in the United States government sought out information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

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U.S. Army Overseer Tells Of Ouster Over KBR Stir
2008-06-17 03:48:21
The Army official who managed the Pentagon’s largest contract in Iraq says he was ousted from his job when he refused to approve paying more than $1 billion in questionable charges to KBR, the Houston, Texas-based company that has provided food, housing and other services to American troops.

The official, Charles M. Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. Speaking out for the first time, Smith said that he was forced from his job in 2004 after informing KBR officials that the Army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to improve their chaotic Iraqi operations.

Army auditors had determined that KBR lacked credible data or records for more than $1 billion in spending, so Smith refused to sign off on the payments to the company. “They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn’t justify,” he said in an interview. “Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

He was suddenly replaced, he said, and his successors - after taking the unusual step of hiring an outside contractor to consider KBR’s claims - approved most of the payments he had tried to block.

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Editorial: The Genocide Continues
2008-06-17 03:47:13
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, June 17, 2008.

Despite the dispatch of United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur and the issuing of international arrest warrants for leaders of the genocide, the killing goes on. So does the burning of villages, the bombing of schools and the systematic rape of women and girls. And it will continue until the Security Council shows the will to stop it.

The Council needs to get more peacekeepers, helicopters and reconnaissance planes in the field, enforce the arrest warrants and increase diplomatic and financial pressure to get Sudan to stop obstructing the work of the peacekeepers. But the Council has shown little urgency in doing any of that.

Thwarted by Sudan and the United Nations’ own bureaucratic rules, far less than half of an anticipated force of 26,000 international soldiers and police officers is now in Darfur. That is too small to protect the population, or even the peacekeepers themselves. An additional 100,000 people have been forced from their homes since the peacekeepers began arriving in January.

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Hundreds Of Taliban Seize Seven Afghan Villages
2008-06-17 03:46:39
Hundreds of Taliban fighters took control of seven villages in southern Afghanistan on Monday in what appeared to be a major offensive near the country's second-largest city, according to Afghan officials.

An estimated 500 Taliban fighters swept into several villages in the Arghandab district, about 15 miles northwest of Kandahar, said officials. Agha Lalai Wali, an official with the government-sponsored Peace and Reconciliation Commission in Kandahar, said the fighters surged into the area Sunday evening, setting up several checkpoints in the district. Wali said local residents had reported seeing dozens of fighters believed to be of Pakistani and Arab origin traveling in the area in pickup trucks shortly before the incursion.

The Taliban's seizure of the villages comes three days after an audacious prison break at a Kandahar jail, in which an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 prisoners, many of them Taliban fighters, escaped.

A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Brig. Gen. M. Zaher Azimi, said Monday evening that hundreds of Afghan army troops were being deployed to the south from the capital, Kabul, and elsewhere around the country to mount a counteroffensive following the attacks in Arghandab.

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McCain Seeks To End Offshore Drilling Plan
2008-06-17 03:45:58
Sen. John McCain called Monday for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, offering an aggressive response to high gasoline prices and immediately drawing the ire of environmental groups that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has courted for months.

The move is aimed at easing voter anger over rising energy prices by freeing states to open vast stretches of the country's coastline to oil exploration. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly 80 percent said soaring prices at the pump are causing them financial hardship, the highest in surveys this decade.

"We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil," McCain told reporters yesterday. In a speech today, he plans to add that "we have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United States. But a broad federal moratorium stands in the way of energy exploration and production. ... It is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions."

McCain's announcement is a reversal of the position he took in his 2000 presidential campaign and a break with environmental activists, even as he attempts to win the support of independents and moderate Democrats. Since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee in March, McCain has presented himself as a friend of the environment by touting his plans to combat global warming and his opposition to drilling in Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and in the Everglades.

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Israeli Ministers Mull Plan For Military Strike Against Iran
2008-06-16 21:09:35
The Israeli government no longer believes that sanctions can prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. A broad consensus in favor of a military strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities - without the Americans, if necessary - is beginning to take shape.

Dani Yatom, a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, was invited to attend a NATO conference in Brussels, Belgium, last year. While reviewing the agenda, Yatom, a retired major general, was surprised to see that the meeting was titled "The Iranian Challenge" and not "The Iranian Threat".

When a speaker with a French accent mentioned that a U.S. military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be the most dangerous scenario of all, Yatom said, politely but firmly: "Sir, you are wrong. The worst scenario would be if Iran acquired an atom bomb."

Yatom, 63, has spent most of his life in the military. He was a military adviser to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and, in the mid-1990s, was named head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Nevertheless, Yatom, a member of the Labor Party, is not some reckless hawk. Unlike most Knesset members, he flatly rejects, for example, a major Israeli offensive against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

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Oil Hits All-Time High - Almost $140 A Barrel
2008-06-16 20:01:58

The oil price spiraled to an all-time high Monday of almost $140 a barrel, leading Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown to declare it is "the most worrying situation in the world".

The spiral upwards continued on the back of a weaker dollar and a fire on a North Sea oil platform with traders, dismissing as too little, too late a weekend promise by Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to increase supplies.

A barrel of U.S. crude for delivery in July hit $139.89 in U.S. trading, breaking through the previous high of $139.12 set last week. North Sea Brent crude also hit a record high Monday, touching $139.32 a barrel.

The upward moves put further pressure on companies to raise petrol prices in Britain, which are already under pressure because of shortages due to a strike by tanker drivers working for Shell garages.

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Gore Endorses Obama
2008-06-16 20:01:37

Al Gore, the presidential nominee turned anti-climate change crusader, threw his support behind Barack Obama Monday and vowed "to do whatever I can to make sure he is elected".

Gore previewed the endorsement on his blog before appearing alongside Obama at a rally in Detroit, the U.S.  automobile mecca that has come to symbolize the hardships wrought by rising fuel prices.

"Over the next four years, we are going to face many difficult challenges - including bringing our troops home from Iraq, fixing our economy and solving the climate crisis," Gore wrote.

"Barack Obama is clearly the candidate best able to solve these problems and bring change to America."

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House Prices In U.K. Could Take Years To Recover
2008-06-16 20:00:41

House prices in the U.K. will take more than four years to rise above their 2007 peak, a wide-ranging survey of experts warned Monday.

The prediction was made by more than 60% of 225 members of the Society of Business Economists (SBE) surveyed for the latest edition of ITV1's Tonight program.

House prices could fall by up to 20% from the top of the market, according to 56% of respondents, although 20% took an even more pessimistic view, forecasting that property values could slump by as much as 30%.

More than half the experts from banks, building societies and industry said house prices would fall by between 6% and 10% this year.

The market will hit rock bottom in 2009, according to 44% of those surveyed.

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News Blog: Gore To Appear With Obama In Michigan
2008-06-16 15:51:41
Former Vice President Al Gore will appear in Detroit Monday night for his debut campaign appearance with Senator Barack Obama, extending an endorsement and urging all Democrats to rally behind the party’s fall ticket.

“A few hours from now I will step on stage in Detroit, Michigan, to announce my support for Senator Barack Obama,” Gore said in an e-mail sent to his supporters. “From now through Election Day, I intend to do whatever I can to make sure he is elected President of the United States.”

Throughout the long Democratic primary, Gore talked frequently to Obama. But tonight’s rally at the Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit marks the first time they will appear together on the same stage. The endorsement was announced -  on Gore’s terms - to supporters on his vast e-mail list.

“I’ve never asked members of to contribute to a political campaign before, but this moment and this election are too important to let pass without taking action,” said Gore. He added, “Over the past 18 months, Barack Obama has united a movement. He knows change does not come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Hill. It begins when people stand up and take action.”

The decision to stage the appearance in Michigan underscores the importance of the state for Obama. It was also in Michigan where former Senator John Edwards unveiled his endorsement of Obama in a surprise setting.

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Brazil Biofuels Take Human Toll
2008-06-16 15:51:18
For as far as the eye can see, stalks of sugar cane march across the hillsides here in Bocaina, Brazil, like giant praying mantises. This is ground zero for ethanol production in Brazil - "the Saudi Arabia of biofuels," as some have already labeled this vast South American country.

Yet, even as Brazil's booming economy is powered by fuel processed from the cane, labor officials are confronting what some call the country's dirty little ethanol secret: the mostly primitive conditions endured by the multitudes of workers who cut the cane.

Biofuels may help reduce humanity's carbon footprint, but the social footprint is substantial.

"These workers should have a break, a place to eat and access to a proper restroom," Marcus Vinicius Goncalves, a government labor cop in suit and tie, declared in the midst of a snarl of felled stalks and bedraggled cane cutters here. "This is degrading treatment."
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Judge Backs White House On Missing E-Mails
2008-06-16 15:50:40

A federal judge Monday dismissed a watchdog group's lawsuit seeking records on missing White House e-mails, ruling that the agency holding the records - the White House's Office of Administration - is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

In a 39-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said she reached that conclusion even though the office had previously considered itself an agency subject to FOIA and had provided records requested under the law from 1980 until August 2007. She sided with the office's argument that it does not meet a key requirement for a federal agency to be subject to FOIA, writing that the Office of Administration (OA) does not exercise "the type of substantial independent authority that the D.C. Circuit has found sufficient to make an EOP [Executive Office of the President] component an agency under the FOIA."

The group that filed the lawsuit, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said it is appealing the decision.

"We are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. "The Bush administration is using the legal system to prevent the American people from discovering the truth about the millions of missing White House e-mails. The fact is, until CREW asked for documents pertaining to this problem, the Office of Administration routinely processed FOIA requests. Only because the administration has so much to hide here, has the White House taken the unprecedented position that OA is not subject to the FOIA."

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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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The Aftermath Of The Credit Crisis
2008-06-17 03:48:44

Jackie Pons, the affable superintendent of the Leon County school district in Tallahassee, Florida, was worried about his $30 million.

One Wednesday last November, he got on a conference call with Florida officials and financial advisers representing cities, towns and school boards throughout the state. The officials hoped to calm nerves. Localities had started to pull huge sums of money - billions of dollars - out of their accounts in a state-run investment pool, panicking that the fund was vulnerable to the financial alarm sweeping the nation over the collapse of the housing market.

After years of giving out mortgages to millions of people with less-than-stellar credit histories, lenders were imploding as subprime borrowers defaulted on their loans. The contagion spread quickly to Wall Street, which had packaged those risky loans and sold the securities to big investors in the United States and around the world.

Investors, in turn, wondered whether the problems in the financial system would extend beyond subprime-backed securities to investments backed by conventional mortgages - or even other assets.

In Florida, the crisis was about to filter down to the lives of people who had no obvious connection to the financial world. Officials in charge of the state-run investment pool had for months maintained that the money was safe. "I want you to know I have no serious concerns at this time about any of our exposures," the then-head of the fund wrote in an e-mail to the office of Florida's chief financial officer.

Now state officials were trying to stave off a run on the fund by officials like Pons. His district was considering withdrawing the approximately $30 million it kept in the pool, which served as a kind of money-market account for localities to cover their payrolls and other operating costs. On the conference call, state officials assured the gathering that the fund had lost only a fraction in value and that everything was fine. "I believed them," said Pons. "I took them for their word."

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Poll: Independent Voters Split Between Obama, McCain
2008-06-17 03:47:45

Buoyed by a public mood favoring Democrats, Sen. Barack Obama begins the general-election campaign holding a narrow advantage over Sen. John McCain, with independent voters emerging as a constituency critical to the Republican's hopes of winning the presidency in November.

In the first Washington Post-ABC News poll since the Democratic nomination contest ended, Obama and McCain are even among political independents, a shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee over the past month. On the issues, independents see McCain as more credible on fighting terrorism and are split evenly on who is the stronger leader and better on the Iraq war. But on other key attributes and issues - including the economy - Obama has advantages among independents.

The presumptive Democratic nominee emerged from his primary-season battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton  with improved personal ratings overall, but with no appreciable gain in the head-to-head competition with McCain. Majorities view both men favorably, but about twice as many said they have a "strongly favorable" impression of Obama as said so of McCain.

Obama still has some work to do to unite the Democratic Party. Almost nine in 10 Republicans now support McCain, while not quite eight in 10 Democrats said they support Obama. Nearly a quarter of those who said they favored Clinton over Obama for the nomination currently prefer McCain for the general election, virtually unchanged from polls taken before Clinton suspended her campaign.

As Obama considers possible vice presidential running mates, Clinton remains atop the list: Unprompted, 46 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents pick her as their top choice, and no other Democrat breaks out of single digits. But it is unclear from the poll whether Clinton would help or hurt Obama's chances. About two in 10 said her placement on the ticket would make them more apt to support the Democrats, but about the same proportion said it would push them toward the Republican. Most said it would not make much of a difference either way.

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American Red Cross Disaster Fund Is Depleted
2008-06-17 03:47:01

The American Red Cross said Monday that it has depleted its national disaster relief fund and is taking out loans to pay for shelters, food and other relief services across seven Midwestern states battered by floods.

Officials at the charity estimated that efforts in the Midwest will cost more than $15 million and warned that the total could surpass $40 million if the Mississippi River creates floods in St. Louis, Missouri, later this week.

On the cusp of hurricane season, Red Cross executives said the charity has raised just $3.2 million for the Midwest floods and painted a dire picture of its overall disaster relief finances. They said many donors are giving less because of rising gasoline and food prices and the collapse of the housing market. Also, the absence of a major U.S. catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has made it difficult to galvanize donors.

"The disaster relief fund today is completely depleted. The balance is zero," Jeffrey Towers, chief development officer, said in a conference call with reporters.

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China Faults U.S. Policy On The Economy
2008-06-17 03:46:16
Not long ago, Chinese officials sat across conference tables from American officials and got an earful.

The Americans scolded the Chinese on mismanaging their economy, from state subsidies to foreign investment regulations to the valuation of their currency. Your economic system, the Americans strongly implied, should look a lot more like ours.

In recent weeks, the fingers have been wagging in the other direction. Senior Chinese officials are publicly and loudly rebuking the Americans on their handling of the economy and defending their own more assertive style of regulation.

Chinese officials seem to be galled by the apparent hypocrisy of Americans telling them what to do while the American economy is at best stagnant. China, on the other hand, has maintained its feverish growth.

Some officials are promoting a Chinese style of economic management that they suggest serves developing countries better than the American model, in much the same way they argue that they are in no hurry to copy American-style multiparty democracy.

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How Speculators Are Causing The Cost Of Living To Skyrocket
2008-06-16 21:10:05
After investing in high-tech stocks and real estate loans for years, legions of speculators have now discovered commodities like oil and gas, wheat and rice. Their billions are pushing prices up to astronomical levels - with serious consequences for ordinary people's quality of live and the global economy.

Daniel Jaeggi is sitting at a conference table in an office building on Place du Molard in Geneva, Switzerland, only a few steps away from the lake. It is 1:45 p.m. on Friday of last week, and the price of a barrel of the benchmark Brent Crude oil is at $129.50 (€82).

Jaeggi, a 47-year-old Swiss citizen, is a petroleum trader. He and his partner, Marco Dunand, own a company called Mercuria. It is one of the world's 10 largest trading companies. At its offices in Geneva, approximately 110 employees analyze markets, handle contracts and track tanker routes. Last year Mercuria traded in petroleum products worth a total of almost $30 billion (€19 billion). That included millions of barrels of oil destined for China.

At 3:15 p.m., the price of a barrel of Brent Crude is at $131 (€83). During the course of the day, traders at Mercuria in Geneva trade up to 4 million barrels of "real" oil and about 10 times as much in so-called swaps - in other words, oil which only exists on paper - to hedge against risk.

"The oil price has gone up by about $10 in the last two days," says Jaeggi, adding that in the past it would have taken the market years to achieve the same price increase. Later on Friday, U.S. crude would hit a record price of over $139, up $11 in the largest-ever single day increase.

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Taliban Threaten New Wave Of Prison Raids
2008-06-16 21:08:57
Western forces in Afghanistan are worried about last Friday's well-organized prison raid that freed 1,000 inmates - including around 400 Taliban fighters - will further embolden the militant group. It has already vowed to mount further attacks to free its members from Afghan jails.

On Saturday, Qari Yousef Ahmadi was beside himself with joy. "We planned it for a long time, we observed very closely and we won," he told Spiegel Online by telephone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. "Our brothers are now in safety." Ahmadi added confidently that so far the commanders have reintegrated 400 former Taliban prisoners into their ranks and that the others will soon rejoin the Islamist fighters.

Ahmadi is the Taliban's spokesman in Afghanistan and is known to have often exaggerated his side's accomplishments in the past. Regarding Friday night's actions, however, Ahmadi did not have to add much embellishment. In Western military circles, the raid on the prison in Kandahar, the provincial capital in southern Afghanistan, has been labeled a "nightmare". A commando raid freed nearly 1,000 prisoners, including 400 fighters and some low-level commanders of the Taliban.

Ahmadi was only too happy to report on the Taliban's mission. Approximately 80 fighters participated in the raid, which they initiated by blowing up the prison's main gate with a truck bomb. Following the blast, dozens of fighters drove into the prison's main yard on motorcycles, shot the guards and freed the prisoners. Eyewitnesses have even reported that the freed prisoners were shuttled away in minibuses.
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As Oil Prices Soar, Solar Energy Future Brightens
2008-06-16 20:01:48

Soaring oil prices have led to such a boom for solar power that the industry could operate without subsidies in just a few years, according to industry leaders. At the solar industry trade fair in Munich, Germany, over the weekend, there was growing confidence that the holy grail known as "grid parity" - whereby electricity from the sun can be produced as cheaply as it can be bought from the grid - is now just a few years away.

Solar photovoltaics (P.V.), which convert sunlight into electrical power, have long been dismissed as too expensive to make a meaningful contribution to the battle against climate change. But costs are falling as P.V. production booms, and with electricity prices rising rapidly in line with soaring oil and gas prices, demand for solar panels is increasing sharply.

Germany, the world leader in P.V. thanks to its "feed-in tariff" support, installed 1.1 gigawatts of capacity last year - the equivalent of a large power station. It now has nearly half a million houses fitted with P.V. panels. The feed-in tariff pays people with solar panels above-market rates for selling power back to the grid.

"High oil prices have boosted demand even more. The market will probably expand another 40% this year," said Carsten Kornig, of the German solar industry association, referring to both P.V. and solar thermal systems, which produce hot water. He said his previous assumption - that grid parity would be reached in Germany in five to seven years - now looked very conservative since it allowed for only a 3% rise in electricity prices each year. In many countries increases of 20% a year are becoming the norm.

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BP's Russian Partnership Sours
2008-06-16 20:01:26

BP's reputation in Russia came under withering attack Sunday when the billionaire oligarch at the center of a dispute  over the company's troubled Russian joint venture accused BP of "arrogance" and Nazi-style behavior.

Mikhail Fridman said the oil venture TNK-BP had performed "dismally" since BP took a 50% stake in the company in 2003. Fridman owns half of the venture with three other oligarchs.

He also implicitly compared BP's chairman Peter Sutherland to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief. Sutherland last week suggested that Fridman and the other Russian shareholders were trying to grab control of TNK-BP, in a 1990s style corporate raid. Asked whether he planned to usurp BP, Fridman told the business daily Vedomosti: "That's in the best tradition of Goebbels propaganda." Fridman insisted he was not a "typical cash-grabbing oligarch".

During a press conference in Moscow Sunday, Fridman continued his assault on BP's reputation, suggesting the joint venture in Russia had underperformed because of BP's managerial incompetence. Fridman again demanded that Robert Dudley, TNK-BP's embattled chief executive, resign. "Any other board would have dismissed its CEO long ago," he said, adding that Dudley had ignored his demands for "parity" on TNK-BP's board and broken Russian law.

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China Floods Displace 1 Million People
2008-06-16 20:00:17

More than a million people have been forced to flee their homes in southern China by major flooding that has cost 57 lives and added to the misery of last month's earthquake.

Around 70,000 survivors from the Sichuan quake were among the evacuees to higher ground as thunderstorms dumped huge volumes of water into already swollen rivers.

The manufacturing hub of Guangdong province has been worst hit. The Pearl river delta is suffering what officials described as the worst flooding in 50 years.

In the past week, the average daily rainfall in the province has hit 415 millimeters - double that of previous years - causing rivers to burst their banks, forcing the suspension of over 10,000 businesses and causing economic losses estimated at 3.8 billion yuan (£250 million or $500 million).

The worst may be yet to come. The China Meteorological Administration forecasts more thunderstorms in Guangdong and the neighboring provinces of Fujian and Guanxi this week.

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Southern California Housing Market Still Under Seige, Prices Drop 27 Per Cent
2008-06-16 15:51:31
Southern California's housing market took another beating last month as median prices fell an average of 27% from a year ago - the sharpest drop in at least 20 years. The median home sale price in six Southern California counties was $370,000, down from $505,000 a year earlier, according to DataQuick Information Systems. DataQuick said that was the biggest annual decline it has recorded since it began tracking prices in 1988.

The last time the median was lower was in March 2004, when it was $364,000.

The dramatic price drop was attributed largely to sluggish high-end sales, more sellers dropping their asking prices and lenders selling off more of their aggressively priced, repossessed homes, according to real estate data provider DataQuick Information Systems.

People shopping for homes are also doing their best to beat down prices, even if it means delaying the purchase of homes they truly want, said agents.

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U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Lawsuit Against Former FBI Chief, Attorney General
2008-06-16 15:51:00
The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller must face a lawsuit that claims prisoners detained after Sept. 11 were abused because of their religion and ethnicity.

The case, to be argued around the end of the year, will help determine when Cabinet officers and other high-ranking officials can be sued when lower-level government workers violate people's civil rights.

The lawsuit was filed by Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim who spent nearly six months in solitary confinement in New York in 2002. Iqbal, since deported from the United States, says Ashcroft, Mueller and others implemented a policy of confining detainees in highly restrictive conditions because of their religious beliefs and race.

A federal appeals court said the lawsuit could proceed, but the Bush administration said the high-ranking officials should not have to answer for the allegedly discriminatory acts of subordinates, absent a glimmer of evidence that they intended or condoned the harsh treatment.

The New York-based 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Ashcroft, Mueller and 32 other former and current government employees named in the lawsuit may eventually be dismissed as defendants if evidence shows they were not sufficiently involved in the activities to support a finding of personal liability.

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Bernanke: Rising Health Costs Strain Family Budgets
2008-06-16 15:50:08
Bolstering the performance of the health care system is one of the biggest challenges facing the country, the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke,said Monday.

New medical technologies and treatments are allowing people to live healthier, longer and more productive lives. However, the aging of millions of baby boomers coupled with rapidly rising heath care costs are accounting for an ever-growing share of both personal and government budgets - strains that will become increasingly burdensome unless changes are made, said the Fed chief.

Challenges, he said, fall into three major areas: improving access to health care for the 47 million Americans - or about 16 percent of the population - who lack health insurance; bolstering the quality of care; and controlling costs.

“Improving the performance of our health care system is without a doubt one of the most important challenges our nation faces,” Bernanke said in remarks on health care changes organized by a Senate panel on Capitol Hill.

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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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