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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday July 24 2008 - (813)

Thursday July 24 2008 edition
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Oil Spill Could Close Parts Of Mississippi River For Days
2008-07-23 21:00:38
The U.S. Coast Guard closed nearly 60 miles of the Mississippi River from New Orleans southward after a fuel barge and a tanker collided early Wednesday, spilling more than 400,000 gallons of fuel oil.

The closure - on what is a major shipping route between the Midwest and the Gulf of Mexico - could last days and the cleanup could take weeks, said Capt. Lincoln Stroh, the Coast Guard chief in New Orleans.

The collision between the Liberian-flagged chemical tanker Tintomara and the barge pushed by the tug Mel Oliver happened about 1:30 a.m. CT Wednesday, splitting the barge nearly in half and dumping more than 419,000 gallons of oil into the river, said the Coast Guard.

The accident happened just north of the massive bridges connecting downtown New Orleans to the west bank of the Mississippi, said the Coast Guard. The tanker was undamaged.

The Coast Guard said Wednesday evening that the tug had no properly licensed crew on board at the time of the collision. No injuries were reported, and the National Transportation Safety Board said it has dispatched investigators to probe the cause of the accident. 

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Hurricane Dolly Slams South Texas, But Levees Hold
2008-07-23 21:00:18
Hurricane Dolly barreled into South Texas on Wednesday, lashing the coast with winds up to 100 mph and dumping heavy rain that threatened to flood low-lying areas but spared levees along the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley.

Authorities had feared the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since last September could produce up to 20 inches of rain in some areas, possibly breaching levees in the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley. But shortly before coming ashore, the Category 2 storm meandered 35 miles north of the border, veering away from the flood walls.

"The levees are holding up just fine," said Johnny Cavazos, emergency coordinator for Cameron County. "There is no indication right now that they are going to crest."

Although the system weakened after striking land on the resort area of South Padre Island, one official cautioned that the danger had not passed.

"It's still very early in the storm," said Sally Spener, a spokeswoman with the International Boundary and Water Commission.

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Hurricane Dolly Lashes Texas With 120 m.p.h. Winds
2008-07-23 16:21:09
Hurricane Dolly churned into a Category 2 storm as its eye neared the Texas-Mexico border Wednesday, bringing fierce winds of up to 120 m.p.h. and heavy rains that blew down signs, damaged an apartment complex and knocked out electricity to thousands.

Forecasters warned of up to 15 inches of rain that could produce flooding and breach levees in the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley. Thunderstorms were attributed to Dolly as far away as Houston, 400 miles up the Texas coastline.

In Mexico, fields were filling with water, palm trees were bent over in the wind and beaches were closed to the public.

Maria Miguel, 102, and seven family members fled their wooden shack in the Mexican fishing community of Higuerilla and spent the night at a convention center-turned-shelter in Matamoros. "I don't know if my poor house will withstand the rain and wind," said Miguel.

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Ex-EPA Official: Bush Administration Ordered California Emissions Plan Quashed
2008-07-23 16:19:49

A former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Tuesday contradicted EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson's congressional testimony on one of the administration's key global warming decisions, saying the White House  ordered Johnson to block California's bid to regulate vehicles' tailpipe emissions.

On Jan. 24, Johnson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under oath that he had made the decision on his own after determining there was no compelling evidence to justify California's plans. "The responsibility for making the decision for California rests with me and solely with me," Johnson said at the time. "I made the decision. It was my decision. It was the right decision."

Tuesday, however, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett - who resigned last month and has since divulged key details about how President Bush and his deputies have influenced the agency's decisions on climate policy -- testified before the committee that Johnson had concluded that California's request was legally justified - until White House officials ordered him to reverse the decision.

California had sought a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement rules aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. Johnson announced in late December that he would not grant the waiver, effectively blocking 17 other states that had either adopted or pledged to implement California's proposed rules.

Burnett told the panel that Johnson had concluded that California had met the legal requirement for a waiver by showing it faced "compelling and extraordinary circumstances" in light of the threat that climate change poses to the state.

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Obama Meets Israeli, Palestinian Leaders, Vows Focus On Mideast Peace
2008-07-23 16:18:32
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) stood before a backdrop of spent rocket shells in this southern Israeli town on Wednesday and proclaimed his "unshakable commitment" to the protection of the Jewish state, emphasizing at the same time the importance of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that includes a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem.

On the sixth day of his international trip, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank and visited Israel's iconic Holocaust msueum. He then boarded a helicopter for the short ride to Sderot, which borders the Gaza Strip and has been the frequent target of Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian militants there.

After meeting with local officials and hearing about the damage caused by the rockets, Obama told assembled reporters it is in "Israel's strong national interest to have a lasting peace with the Palestinians."

"The threats to Israel's security begin in Sderot, but they don't end there," Obama said, citing Tuesday's tractor attack in downtown Jerusalemand the ongoing possibility of nuclear weapons in Iran. "A nuclear Iran would be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East but around the world."

Obama reiterated his willingness to both pressure and negotiate with Iran, using what he called a series of "big sticks and big carrots." That stance worries Israeli leaders across the political spectrum at a time when Iran's nuclear ambitions are viewed here as an existential threat. But Israeli opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu told Israel Radio that he and Obama found common ground when they met Wednesday morning.

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San Diego Sues Bank Of America Over Home Foreclosures
2008-07-23 16:17:59
San Diego, California, City Attorney Michael Aguirre said on Wednesday he had filed a lawsuit against Bank of America Corp. and its Countrywide unit to prevent the mortgage lenders from foreclosing on homes in his city, which he aims to make a "foreclosure sanctuary."

Aguirre said he plans to file similar lawsuits against Washington Mutual Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Wachovia Corp. in an effort to make the lenders negotiate with mortgage borrowers facing foreclosure.

"We would like to see San Diego become a foreclosure sanctuary," said Aguirre.

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At Least 91 Injured As Strong Earthquake Jolts Northern Japan
2008-07-23 21:00:28
A strong earthquake jolted northern Japan early on Thursday, injuring at least 91 people, trapping hundreds in halted trains and temporarily cutting off electric power to thousands of homes.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said there was no threat of a tsunami from the quake, which struck at 00:26 (10:26 a.m. EDT Wednesday) and had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 and could be felt as far away as Tokyo.

A National Police Agency official said that 91 people were confirmed injured, 15 of whom were seriously hurt. Many were injured in falls or suffered cuts from broken glass.

The focus of the quake was 108 kilometers (67 miles) below the surface of the earth in Iwate prefecture, a mountainous, sparsely populated region.

The JMA initially put the focus at a depth of 120 kilometers.

"I woke up immediately. It felt like it was shaking for a long time. Books and other things that were piled up fell on the floor. All the doors were open and things were shattered," Sho Koseki, a city official in Hachinohe, about 550 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, told Reuters by telephone.

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Pentagon Pressured Auditors To Skew Reports On Contractor's Work
2008-07-23 16:21:19

Auditors at an oversight agency of the Pentagon were pressured by supervisors to skew their reports on a major defense contractor's work, hiding wrongdoing and charges of over billing, according to an 80-page report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Defense Contract Audit Agency, which is charged with overseeing contractors for the Defense Department, made an upfront agreement with "a major aerospace company" to limit the scope of work and basis for an audit, the report said.

When the contractor, who is not named in the report, objected to the draft findings of the DCAA audit, managers at the audit agency assigned a new supervisor to the case and threatened the senior auditor with personnel action if "he did not delete findings from the report and change the draft audit opinion to adequate," according to the GAO report.

Supervisors at DCAA attempted to intimidate auditors, prevented them from speaking with GAO investigators and created a "generally abusive work environment," said the report.

GAO said it launched the investigation on its own after receiving complaints on a hotline about 14 DCAA audits. It conducted more than 100 interviews of more than 50 people involved in the audits at two DCAA locations in California. The report details three of the audits the GAO looked into but does not name any of the contractors.

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Slower Growth, Rising Prices Slam U.S. Economy
2008-07-23 16:20:58
The country slogged through slower economic growth and rising prices during the summer, packing a double whammy to people and businesses alike.

The Fed's new snapshot of business conditions, released Wednesday, also underscored the challenges confronting Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues as they try to get the economy back on track.

For now, many economists predict the Federal Reserve will probably leave a key interest rate alone when it meets next on Aug. 5 -  given all the economic crosscurrents. Boosting rates to fend off inflation would hurt the fragile economy and the already crippled housing market. On the other hand, the Federal Reserve isn't inclined to lower rates because that would aggravate inflation.

Growth and inflation barometers turned worse in the summer, according to the Federal Reserve report. Some worry that the country may be headed for a bout of stagflation, that toxic combination of stagnant growth and stubborn inflation last seen in the 1970s.

Bernanke has said, however, that he doesn't believe the economy will suffer from stagflation.

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Bush Drops Opposition To Housing Bill
2008-07-23 16:19:34
Congress is moving quickly to pass a housing package that aims to help 400,000 strapped homeowners avoid foreclosures and prevent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from collapsing.

Momentum for passage picked up mightily after President Bush earlier Wednesday dropped his opposition to the bill just hours before a scheduled vote in the House. That put the legislation on track toward enactment as early as the end of the week. Bush's decision to sign the election-year bill came despite his strong resistance to including $3.9 billion in the measure for neighborhoods hit hardest by foreclosures.

The administration and lawmakers in both parties teamed to negotiate the election-year measure, which pairs Democrats' top priorities - federal help for homeowners facing foreclosure and $3.9 billion for devastated neighborhoods - with Republicans' goal of reining in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while reassuring financial markets of their stability.

In a policy statement on the bill, the White House said that parts of it "are too important to the stability of our nation's housing market, financial system, and the broader economy not to be enacted immediately."

Bush had objected to the neighborhood grants, which would be for buying and fixing up foreclosed properties, saying that they would help bankers and lenders, not homeowners who are in trouble; but Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, told reporters in a conference call that a showdown with Congress over the funds would be ill-timed.
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Columnist Bob Novak Hits Pedestrian In Washington, D.C.
2008-07-23 16:18:09
Syndicated columnist and TV political pundit Robert D. Novak said he was issued a $50 citation by D.C. police this morning after he hit a pedestrian while driving his sports car in downtown Washington.

Witnesses said the collision occurred in slow-moving traffic about 10 a.m. as Novak, 77, was headed north on 18th Street NW near K Street in his black 2004 Chevrolet Corvette. Washington, D.C., fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the victim is a man in his 60s who was taken to George Washington University Medical Center with "very minor injuries."

"He's complaining about some pain in his arm, but there are no visible injuries," said Etter.
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