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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday July 8 2008 - (813)

Tuesday July 8 2008 edition
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Mortgage Fears Depress Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Shares
2008-07-08 02:52:14
As home prices decline and Washington struggles to end the economic malaise, Wall Street is starting to send a sobering message: The worst is yet to come.

One of the strongest warning signs came Monday, when shares of the nation’s most important mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,plummeted. After falling almost continuously over the past month, in just one day Freddie Mac tumbled another 18 percent, and Fannie Mae lost 16 percent amid concerns that the companies would need to raise billions of dollars in fresh capital.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the nation’s largest buyers of home mortgages, and traditionally the government’s backstop for the housing economy but, with Monday’s plunge, each of these giants has now lost more than 60 percent of its market value this year. The declines, along with a falling stock market and growing unease about the possibility of more red ink at big banks, reflect a growing conviction consensus among investors that the current housing slump will last longer, and prove more severe, than initially feared.

As a result, investors are signaling that they are far from convinced that any enterprise - even ones with the strongest backing - can successfully navigate these choppy waters, and that those who do survive will pay dearly.

“Everything points to a lot more bad news to come,” said Paul Miller of the Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group in Arlington, Virginia. “If Fannie and Freddie are vulnerable, it means no one is absolutely safe.”

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Editorial: Compromising The Constitution
2008-07-08 02:51:51
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, July 8, 2008.

Congress has been far too compliant as President Bush undermined the Bill of Rights and the balance of powers. It now has a chance to undo some of that damage - if it has the courage and good sense to stand up to the White House and for the Constitution.

The Senate should reject a bill this week that would needlessly expand the government’s ability to spy on Americans and ensure that the country never learns the full extent of President Bush’s unlawful wiretapping.

The bill dangerously weakens the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Adopted after the abuses of the Watergate and Vietnam eras, the law requires the government to get a warrant to intercept communications between anyone in this country and anyone outside it - and show that it is investigating a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, that plans to harm America.

The FISA law created a court to issue those warrants quickly, and over 30 years, the court has approved nearly 20,000 while rejecting perhaps a half-dozen. In any case, the government can wiretap first and get permission later in moments of crisis.

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Pakistan's Deal With The Devil
2008-07-08 02:51:23
Beheadings, martial law, kidnappings: The Taliban is making its presence felt at the gates of Peshawar. The Pakistani army is trying to fight back, but is doing so only half-heartedly against a committed enemy.

The situation changed overnight in Peshawar. The villas in the posh suburb of Hayatabad, hidden behind acacias, palms and oleander bushes, are now directly on the front line. The Pakistani security forces have declared war on the Muslim fundamentalists who are said to have taken up positions in the immediate vicinity.

Eight armored vehicles belonging to the Pakistani Frontier Corps stand ready to move out in the courtyard of Peshawar's Beaconhouse School. Riflemen are positioned behind sandbagged emplacements at strategically important intersections. Pakistani anti-terror units and paramilitary forces in black uniforms are on patrol in the area, their submachine guns at the ready.

But where is the enemy? Outside the city, in the direction of the Khyber Pass, the sound of exploding heavy artillery rounds can be heard every few seconds.

Roger Sarfaraz listens as the monotonous recurrence of muffled detonations keeps breaking the silence of an oppressively hot summer day. He is standing on the edge of Hayatabad and looks like someone who could tell you right down to the last decimal point what this war is costing him. This smart-looking, athletically-built man wearing a Playboy t-shirt is a real estate agent.

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To Be Or Not To Be? Turkey's Ruling Party Awaits Its Fate
2008-07-08 02:50:11

The prospect of successful careers in medicine should have brightened the mood of the four newly qualified doctors. Yet the glow of achievement was overshadowed by foreboding about the future. They feared the strictly secular Turkey they had grown up in was giving way to an Islamist new order where men and women were segregated, alcohol was banned and people were told how to dress.

A litany of anecdotes supported their concerns: religious female student doctors refusing to treat male patients, and vice-versa; more women students wearing the turban, or headscarf, despite it being banned from campuses and government workplaces as an Islamist political symbol; secular women shying away from wearing revealing clothes for fear of being harassed or reprimanded as immodest.

The students had no doubt about who to blame - the socially conservative Justice and Development party (AKP) government, which has upset secularists by demanding a more prominent place for Islam in the country's life.

"Religious people feel that with the AKP in government there is an organization there to support this kind of behavior," said Ferhat Korkmas, 26, as he prepared to graduate from Erciyes University in Kayseri, a city in central Anatolia seen as the AKP's electoral and spiritual heartland. "The head of the bureaucracy will turn a blind eye to the female doctor wearing a headscarf or refusing to treat a male patient."

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Obama To Visit Berlin On July 24
2008-07-08 02:49:11
United States presidential candidate Barack Obama is planning to visit Berlin in two weeks. "The date appears to be set for July 24," a German government source told Spiegel Online. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, of the Social Democrats (SPD), are expected to hold talks in the German capital with Obama.

"They want to get better acquainted with him," said the source.

However, the source, who asked not to be named, was reserved about the prospects of Obama holding a speech before the Brandenburg Gate.

"The Brandenburg Gate is the most famous and history-rich site in Germany," the Chancellery source said. In the past, the location has only been used on very special occasions for political speeches by world leaders. And it has been reserved for use only by elected American presidents, not candidates. The decision on whether the Democrat can speak at the location ultimately lies with the Berlin state government. Chancellery officials are concerned that the Brandenburg Gate could be turned into an "arbitrary stage" that other campaigns could also seek to use in the future.

It's a traditional practice for U.S. presidential candidates to visit Germany before the election. However, the source pointed out that agreements can only be made with elected presidents. The source also noted that a the German federal government would also be equally pleased to play host to a visit by Republican candidate John McCain. The door is just as open for him, said the source.

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Iraq's Prime Minister Suggests Timetable For U.S. Troop Withdrawal
2008-07-07 14:02:31
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has for the first time suggested establishing a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a step that the Bush administration has long opposed.

Maliki floated the idea on Monday during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he spoke with Arab ambassadors about a security pact being negotiated to determine the future role of U.S. troops in Iraq. The agreement would replace a U.N. mandate authorizing the presence of the troops, which is set to expire Dec. 31.

Maliki said that Iraq has proposed a short-term memorandum of understanding with the United States instead of trying to forge a longer term pact on an issue that has spawned opposition across Iraq's political divides.

"The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal," said Maliki, according to a statement released Monday by his office that did not specify how long a period a memorandum would cover. "In all cases, the basis for any agreement will be respect for the full sovereignty of Iraq."

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Update: Suicide Car Blast Kills 41 In Kabul, Afghanistan
2008-07-07 14:01:58
A huge blast from a suicide car bomb at the gates of the Indian Embassy on Monday killed 41 people in the deadliest suicide car bombing since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban. 

Among the victims of the attack, the first in seven years on a regional diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, were at least four Indian citizens: the Indian defense attache, a political counselor and two other Indian officials. Six Afghan police officers were also killed. Many of the rest appeared to be civilians.

The fact that the Indian Embassy was attacked raised suspicions among Afghan officials that Pakistani operatives allied with the Taliban had used the bombing to pursue Pakistan’s decades-long power struggle with India. 

India said it would send a delegation to Pakistan to investigate what the Indian Foreign Ministry called “this cowardly terrorist attack.”

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Bertha Becomes 1st Hurricane Of Atlantic Season
2008-07-07 14:01:30
Hurricane Bertha continues to strengthen as it moves over the central Atlantic Ocean.

As of 11 a.m. EDT Monday, the Atlantic season's first hurricane was centered about 775 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands. National Hurricane Center forecasters say Bertha is expected to turn in the general direction of Bermuda.

It's still to early to tell whether Bertha will hit the island, but forecasters urged residents to monitor the storm's progress.

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German Chancellor Merkel Warns Food Crisis Could 'Destabilize Nations'
2008-07-07 02:28:29
The G-8 summit in Tokyo, which opens Monday, faces a number of alarming problems, and Germany's chancellor has sent a letter to other leaders of the world's industrialized nations arguing that the sudden rise in the price of food needs urgent attention.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has set a tone ahead of this week's G-8 summit in Japan by sending a starkly-worded warning to her colleagues about the consequences of rising food prices. The crisis, she wrote in a six-page letter to other G-8 leaders last Monday, might "endanger democracy, destabilize nations and lead to international security problems."

Merkel organized a working group last April to analyze the recent rise in world food prices and to recommend solutions. Her government experts have found that "speculative trading in futures markets … have a significant influence on the level and volatility of staple food prices." To answer the "dramatic nature" of the crisis, the commission recommends "heightened agricultural productivity" in developing nations, a "quick supply of seeds, fertilizer and farm equipment to selected regions" as well as "the instant abolition of export restrictions."

These measures should guarantee that financial and food help will reach the people most affected by the crisis, according to the commission.

The chancellor also mentioned that Germany has made available $750 million (477 million euros) to ease the food shortage in poor nations. Her commission found that 30 of the world's poorest countries needed about $20 billion to import needed food. At the G-8 meeting in Tokyo, Merkel wants to organize a U.N. task force to address the problem, and help plan the way ahead.
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Australia: Welcome To A Drought-Stricken Future
2008-07-07 02:27:57
Australia's agricultural regions face a hotter, drier, more drought-stricken future as a result of climate change, with major implications for both the price and supply of food.

The prediction has been delivered in a major report by the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), described Sunday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as "very disturbing" and "a serious revision of the impact of climate change on drought".

Agriculture Minister Tony Burke warned the cycle of drought would be "more regular and deeper than ever". He described the higher-level projections in the assessment as "more like a disaster novel than a scientific report". He said the report found extreme temperatures that used to occur once every 20 to 25 years "are now likely to occur one in every one to two years as we move towards the year 2030". The area experiencing exceptionally low rainfall is forecast to double, as is the likelihood of drought.

The findings may have major implications for the cost of food and food security.

"Food prices will probably go up," warned Australian Dairy Farmers president Allan Burgess. "Food pricing is already on a new plane and the sorts of things in the report add to that.

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NBC Universal To Buy Weather Channel For $3.5 Billion
2008-07-07 02:26:43
NBC Universal and two partners said Sunday they have reached a deal to buy The Weather Channel from Landmark Communications Inc., ending a drawn-out process that had attracted interest from several major media companies.

Financial terms weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity said the purchase price was $3.5 billion in cash. NBC was joined in the deal by the private equity firms The Blackstone Group LP and Bain Capital LLC.

In addition to The Weather Channel, which can be seen by 97 percent of U.S. cable subscribers, the deal also includes several related assets such as weather services for newspapers and radio stations and the widely used Web site

NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., became the sole bidder for The Weather Channel last month after Time Warner Inc. dropped out. CBS Corp. and cable industry leader Comcast Corp. had also expressed interest earlier.

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Britain Teeters On Brink Of Recession
2008-07-08 02:52:03

The United Kingdom is in serious danger of heading into recession as the credit crunch tightens its hold on the economy, according to a survey of businesses across the country published Tuesday. An increase in the number of firms reporting fewer orders, more job cuts and less investment is the latest indication that the British economy is suffering from the effects of the global credit crunch and the steep rise in the price of fuel, food and other raw materials.

Firms in the service sector have seen "alarming" declines in the past three months, with those reporting lower orders outnumbering those recording rises for the first time since 1990, the British Chambers of Commerce's latest quarterly economic survey of 5,000 companies says.

It adds that if these trends continue, the business sector is only three months away from technical recession.

Government figures Tuesday showed that manufacturing production in May dropped unexpectedly by 0.5% from the previous month, and was down by 0.8% on this time last year. The wider measure of industrial production, which includes output from utilities and mining, also posted a decline of 0.8% in May.

David Frost, head of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "These results show a real risk of recession in the coming months. This is deeply worrying, not just for business, but for the consumer too, with both manufacturing and services reporting negative results. The temptation for the government will be to raise business taxes in the next pre-budget report because the exchequer is running out of money. This would be a catastrophe."

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EPA Enforcement Official Cites Narrow Reading Of Clean Water Act
2008-07-08 02:51:42

An official administration guidance document on wetlands policy is undermining enforcement of the Clean Water Act, said a March 4 memo written by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's chief enforcement officer.

The memo by Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, was obtained by the advocacy group Greenpeace and released Monday by two House Democratic committee chairmen. It highlights the confusion that has afflicted federal wetlands protections since a 2006 Supreme Court decision.

That 5 to 4 decision, known as Rapanos v. United States, held that the Army Corps of Engineers had exceeded its authority when it denied two Michigan developers permits to build on wetlands, but the court split on where the Corps should have drawn the line on what areas deserve protection.

A plurality made of up Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justice Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., proposed an across-the-board reduction in the Corps' regulatory role, but Justice Anthony M. Kennedy -  who cast the deciding vote - called for a case-by-case approach in deciding how the government should proceed. That left the ruling open to interpretation.

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Church Of England General Synod Approves Women As Bishops
2008-07-08 02:50:26

The Church of England was thrown into turmoil last night over the issue of women bishops, as it rejected proposals that would have accommodated clergy strongly opposed to the historic change.

In an emotional, sometimes bitter debate lasting more than seven hours, the General Synod voted against introducing separate structures and "superbishops", to oversee parishes opposed to women bishops, because they were seen as amounting to institutionalized discrimination.

Instead, the 468 members narrowly agreed to the idea of introducing a national statutory code of practice, throwing out all compromises that would have appeased opponents of women bishops.

A code of practice has yet to be fully explored, but will not satisfy the demands of traditionalists and conservative evangelicals, who had formed an alliance to block consideration of any such code.

The Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, condemned the final vote, taken after amendments had been tabled and rejected, as "mean-spirited and short-sighted". "The manifest majority was profoundly short-sighted. At every point it could have offered reassurances, and it did not do that," he said.

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Commentary: G-8 Is A 'Western Club' Incapable Of Solving World's Problems
2008-07-08 02:49:33
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by David Crossland and appeared in the Spiegel Online edition for Monday, July 7, 2008.

As the G-8 convenes in Japan for its annual summit, German media commentators have dismissed as a Western talking shop incapable of tackling the problems of the globalized world. The world urgently needs a forum that includes emerging economies, they say.

Leaders of the eight leading industrialized economies gathered in Hokkaido, Japan, on Monday for the start of this year's G-8 summit. One of the items on the agenda will be a European Union proposal to create a food reserve system to stabilize grain prices.

On Monday, many German newspaper commentators criticized the idea, arguing it will only have a short term impact on markets at best and is merely a symbolic step that highlights the powerlessness of the G-8 in its current form to tackle the world's problems.

The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations made up of the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Russia, has a range of pressing global problems to tackle: climate change, surging oil and food prices, the financial crisis, a looming world recession.

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Exhausted Firefighters Continue To Attack California Wildfires
2008-07-07 14:02:42
Weary firefighters were extending fire lines Monday morning as they battled wildfires in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties, exploiting a lull in winds before rising temperatures and possible lightning storms later this week.

After two weeks of little gain, fire officials in Monterey County were extending fire lines to create a barrier between flames and homes near Big Sur and a Boy Scout camp farther north. As of 6 a.m., the 77,000-acre blaze was 18% contained, up from 11% Sunday, said fire officials.

About 2,300 firefighters were attempting to finish 14 miles of fire lines this morning after constructing 22 on Sunday, said Jeremy Hamilton, a spokesman for the incident management team. The fire lines are a necessary defense as winds pick up and temperatures climb, worsening already dry conditions, he said.

"The focus is trying to make sure we get some good solid control lines in so that when the weather does shift on us, we can hold those lines with extreme confidence," said Hamilton.
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Decades After Disaster, Toxic Sludge Torments Bhopal
2008-07-07 14:02:12
Hundreds of tons of waste still languish inside a tin-roofed warehouse in a corner of the old grounds of the Union Carbide pesticide factory here, nearly a quarter-century after a poison gas leak killed thousands and turned this ancient city into a notorious symbol of industrial disaster.

The toxic remains have yet to be carted away. No one has examined to what extent, over more than two decades, they have seeped into the soil and water, except in desultory checks by a state environmental agency, which turned up pesticide residues in the neighborhood wells far exceeding permissible levels.

Nor has anyone bothered to address the concerns of those who have drunk that water and tended kitchen gardens on this soil and who now present a wide range of ailments, including cleft palates and mental retardation, among their children as evidence of a second generation of Bhopal victims, though it is impossible to say with any certainty what is the source of the afflictions.

Why it has taken so long to deal with the disaster is an epic tale of the ineffectiveness and seeming apathy of India’s bureaucracy and of the government’s failure to make the factory owners do anything about the mess they left. But the question of who will pay for the cleanup of the 11-acre site has assumed new urgency in a country that today is increasingly keen to attract foreign investment.

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InBev Seeks To Oust Anheuser-Busch Board
2008-07-07 14:01:44
Brewer InBev turned up the heat in its hostile, $46 billion bid for Anheuser-Busch, announcing Monday that it will attempt to remove the company's entire board.

An alternate board, which would include Adolphus Busch IV, the uncle of Anheuser CEO August Busch IV, will give shareholders "a direct voice" in the takeover, said InBev.

InBev plans to file a preliminary consent solicitation with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Monday, asking Anheuser's board to consult shareholders over the firing of 13 current board members.

Shareholders have the right to sue Anheuser's board if they feel the directors are not acting in their best interest. A majority of shareholders would need to back InBev's plan.

The Belgian-based maker of Stella Artois wants Anheuser to respond within 10 days.

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Conservatives To Battle McCain On Republican Convention Platform
2008-07-07 02:28:41

Conservative activists are preparing to do battle with allies of Sen. John McCain in advance of September's Republican National Convention, hoping to prevent his views on global warming, immigration, stem cell research and campaign finance from becoming enshrined in the party's official declaration of principles.

McCain has not yet signaled the changes he plans to make in the Republican platform, but many conservatives say they fear wholesale revisions could emerge as candidate McCain seeks to put his stamp on a document that currently reflects the policies and principles of President Bush.

"There is just no way that you can avoid anticipating what is going to come. Everyone is aware that McCain is different on these issues," said Jessica Echard, executive director of the conservative Eagle Forum. "We're all kind of waiting with anticipation because we just don't know how he's going to thread this needle."

McCain has spent the past year and a half trying to straddle the philosophical schism in the modern Republican Party. In primaries, he stressed his conservative credentials, but since clinching the nomination he has often reminded voters of his more moderate stances while professing his fealty to conservative positions.

A platform fight at the convention could disrupt that carefully choreographed effort by highlighting the stark differences in vision for the party separating McCain from some of the Republican Party's most dedicated activists.

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When Alaska's Rep. Young Needed Help, Lobbyists Ponied Up
2008-07-07 02:28:14

Facing bad publicity and a dwindling campaign account, U.S. Rep. Don Young last year turned to the "AK Wolfpack," a group of more than 20 lobbyists, including former Young staffers and retired former congressmen, with close ties to the Alaska Republican.

Young's chief of staff, Mike Anderson, sent the Wolfpack an e-mail to tell them that national Democrats planned aggressive fundraising and claims of misconduct by Young to topple the 35-year incumbent congressman and his fellow Alaska Republican, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

If they succeed, Anderson warned, "you and your clients will be impacted."

Anderson e-mailed the fundraising appeal on June 8, 2007. Since then, according to federal reports, Young has received more than $90,000 from the e-mail recipients, their lobbying firms or clients of their firms. That is nearly a quarter of the roughly $400,000 raised by Young and his Midnight Sun Political Action Committee over the same period through the first quarter of this year.

Of the 27 individuals to whom the e-mail was addressed, 23 are registered federal lobbyists, and some of them are prominent figures whose firms have long lists of well-heeled clients. Many of their clients have ties to Alaska or businesses elsewhere that operate under the jurisdiction of congressional committees that Young has chaired or on which he has been an influential member.

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At Least 7 Killed In Embassy Suicide Blast In Kabul
2008-07-07 02:27:42
A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-filled car into the gates of the Indian embassy in Kabul Monday, killing at least seven people.

The blast destroyed about four cars outside the embassy in the heart of the city, and flesh and broken limbs were scattered at the scene, an Afghan witness told Agence France-Presse.

The bomber hit the thick embassy gate, he said.

"It was a suicide car bomb in front of the Indian embassy,'' said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary.

"There are casualties but at this time I don't have a figure.''

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