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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday July 22 2008 - (813)

Tuesday July 22 2008 edition
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Bush Prods Congress As Inspectors Look At Fannie's and Freddie's Books
2008-07-22 02:12:29

Bank examiners from the Federal Reserve and the Comptroller of the Currency are inspecting the books of the nation’s two largest mortgage finance companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as the Bush administration prods Congress to approve a plan that would enable it to inject billions of dollars into the companies.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., in a meeting on Monday with reporters and editors of the New York Times, said the Fed and the comptroller’s office began combing the books of the two companies after their declining stock prices caused widespread anxiety in the market. The two companies guarantee or own almost half of the home mortgages in the United States. The Bush administration is hoping they can be the engine that pulls the housing market out of its yearlong slide.

Paulson emphasized that he still believed that the companies have an adequate cash cushion to withstand further declines in the housing market, and that he has no plans to use the new authority he seeks in the near term.

The financial condition of Fannie and Freddie is of keen interest to members of Congress, some of whom have expressed concern about approving a plan without a clearer understanding of the value of the possible losses from mortgage-related securities owned or guaranteed by the two companies.

Some lawmakers and critics are concerned that a further sharp erosion in housing prices could lead to more foreclosures than Fannie and Freddie could absorb without a large investment or loan from the government, which would involve committing taxpayer funds.

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Hurricane Warning Issued For Texas, Mexico Coasts
2008-07-22 02:12:01
Residents along the Texas-Mexico border kept a watchful eye on Tropical Storm Dolly on Monday, stocking up on plywood, generators and flashlights as forecasters predicted the storm would strengthen into a hurricane later this week and make landfall.

Hurricane warnings were issued late Monday for parts of the Texas and Mexico coasts, meaning hurricane conditions were expected in those areas by the end of Tuesday.

The storm was expected to bring high winds and dump 10 to 20 inches of rain in coastal areas near the U.S.-Mexican border. Emergency officials feared major flooding problems and urged coastal residents to prepare.

Shell Oil said it was evacuating workers from oil rigs in the western Gulf Of Mexico, and the federal government was trying to decide whether they could begin construction on a new border fence, which was to be combined with levee improvements along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a hurricane warning from Brownsville north to Port O'Connor. Meanwhile, a tropical storm warning was issued from Port O'Connor to the San Luis Pass, a strait south of Galveston.

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War Crimes Fugitive Radovan Karadzic Arrested
2008-07-22 02:11:16

One of the world's most wanted men, the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was arrested last night in Serbia after 12 years on the run from charges of genocide and war crimes.

The man indicted for the Srebrenica massacre and the Sarajevo siege, among other war crimes, was arrested by Serbian security officers and taken before a war crimes court in Belgrade, according to a statement from the office of the Serbian president, Boris Tadic.

Karadzic was said to have been under surveillance for weeks after a tip-off from an unnamed foreign intelligence agency, and had been picked up in Belgrade. The prosecutor's office at The Hague war crimes tribunal said it expected Karadzic to be handed over "in due course".

Last night he was undergoing formal identification, including DNA testing, and was scheduled to meet investigators. Heavily armed security forces took up position around the court, a precaution against a backlash from ultra-nationalists.

The arrest came on the eve of a European foreign ministers' meeting about Serbia's ties with the European Union, which has made action against Karadzic and his former military commander, Ratko Mladic, a condition of membership. It also came days after the formation of a pro-western coalition government pledged to pursue E.U. accession.

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Top Economist: Hundreds Of Thousands Face Job Loss In U.K.
2008-07-21 03:45:46

Britain's economy is tipping headlong into a recession that could last more than a year and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, warns Professor David Blanchflower, a member of the Bank of England's interest rate committee, in an interview with the Guardian Monday.

Blanchflower says the Bank must cut interest rates rapidly to prevent the downturn being too painful, and thinks the U.K.  could be in for a worse time than even the United States, where interest rates have already been slashed and taxes cut to stimulate the economy.

The economist said the recent rises in unemployment are "the tip of the iceberg". The number of people out of work and claiming benefit is 840,000 but the broader measure of unemployment is 1.6 million, 5.2% of the workforce. Blanchflower said it could climb to more than 7% - a figure that would mean several hundred thousand people losing their jobs.

His warning comes days after the chancellor acknowledged that the slowdown could be "profound" and hinted he would change the Treasury's fiscal rules as the slowing economy looks set to bust them.

Today a leading thinktank, the Ernst & Young Item Club, says the economic outlook for Britain is like a "horror movie" as a result of the credit crunch and tumbling house prices.

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Following Leaks, France To Test Groundwater At All Nuclear Plants
2008-07-21 03:43:42
In response to calls by activist groups and the discovery that leaks found last week might have happened years ago, France has agreed to examine the groundwater near all of its nuclear plants. Though the anti-nuclear groups see this as a positive step, they say it still doesn't go far enough.

After tests following a uranium leak in France revealed that the radiation came from another earlier source, France's environment minister has ordered tests of the groundwater in areas surrounding all of France's nuclear power plants.

The leak was first reported last Tuesday at the Tricastin plant in southwestern France. A tank containing a solution with traces of non-enriched uranium was reportedly being cleaned the evening of July 7, and the reservoir collecting it overflowed, allowing 30,000 liters (7,925 gallons) of solution to seep into the ground and two nearby rivers. Local authorities immediately banned using ground or river water for drinking or irrigation as well as swimming or fishing in the waters.

At the time, France's nuclear safety agency (ASN) claimed that the "risk was slight." On Friday, however, while conducting tests on the extent of radioactive exposure resulting from the leak, the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) - which is responsible for safety inspections of France's nuclear facilities - announced that it had discovered traces of uranium in the water that pre-dated the recent leak.

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For 'Surge' Troops Leaving Iraq, Pride Mingles With Doubt
2008-07-21 03:41:49
This time last year, Capt. Wes Wilhite's men were getting ready to move into an abandoned house in western Baghdad wedged between cells of Sunni insurgents to the south and strongholds of Shiite militias to the north.

Violence in the Iraqi capital seemed unstoppable. U.S. military vehicles were getting attacked with armor-piercing roadside bombs almost daily, and a raging sectarian war was Balkanizing once-mixed neighborhoods.

"A slaughterhouse," is how Steve Murrani, an interpreter working with Wilhite's men, described it.

The soldiers, who came to Iraq as part of President Bush's troop increase, began returning home last week. They leave with sunburned faces, calloused hands, tattered boots. On their wrists they wear black metal bracelets inscribed with the names of five soldiers killed on a clear afternoon in March, just as progress was starting to seem irreversible.

They leave buoyed by a sense of pride over dramatic security improvements they helped bring about. Violence in Iraq is at its lowest level in years, the rate of U.S. casualties has dropped since the United States began implementing a new counterinsurgency strategy last year, and Iraqi politicians have made some strides in bringing about political reconciliation. Yet the departing soldiers are also burdened by their losses, still unable to determine whether history will call their tour a turning point or a waste of time.

"Could this all fall apart?" Wilhite, 28, a tall, lean redhead from Milwaukee, asked in an interview in early July. He sighed. "Possibly."

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Spiegel Interview With Iraqi Leader Nouri Al-Maliki
2008-07-21 03:41:01
'The Tenure Of Coalition Troops In Iraq Should Be Limited'

The situation in Iraq seems to be improving, Spiegel spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki about his approval of Brack Obama's withdrawal plans and what he hope from U.S. President George Bush in his last months in office.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the war and its consequences have cost more than 100,000 lives and caused great suffering in your country. Saddam Hussein and his regime are now part of the past. Was all of this worth the price?

Maliki: The casualties have been and continue to be enormous. But anyone who was familiar with the dictator's nature and his intentions knows what could have been in store for us instead of this war. Saddam waged wars against Iran and Kuwait, and against Iraqis in the north and south of his own country, wars in which hundreds of thousands died. And he was capable of instigating even more wars. Yes, the casualties are great, but I see our struggle as an enormous effort to avoid other such wars in the future.

SPIEGEL: Germany was opposed to the war. German Economics Minister Michael Glos was in Baghdad the week before last, Daimler AG plans to build trucks in Iraq, and you will travel to Berlin this week. Has everything been smoothed out between Germany and Iraq?

Maliki: We want closer relations, and it is my impression that the Germans - the government, the people and German companies - want the same thing. Our task is to rebuild a country, and the Germans are famous for effective and efficient work. We have great confidence in them and want to involve them in the development of our country.

SPIEGEL: And there is truly no resentment against a country that opposed the war in 2003?

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Real Estate Crisis Threatens Spain's Economy
2008-07-21 03:39:57
Spain's economy is in trouble. Rising property values earlier this decade lured many Spaniards in the market. Now that the bubble has burst, the crisis is quickly spreading through the country's economy.

"I'll give you a good price," the man, who introduces himself on the phone as Jose, promises potential buyers. Jose has a flat in Sesena, a small town of 12,000 around 40 minutes by car from Madrid. Now, he wants to get rid of it -  regardless of the financial hit he might take. The real estate agent who sold him the property insisted it was a safe investment for the future. But those promises dissolved into thin air not long after Jose had signed the contract.

In total, 13,500 flats were supposed to be built in the new housing development where Jose's apartment is located -  homes for 50,000 people. Yet, only halfway through the building project, the plug was pulled. Several unfinished apartment blocks now blight the landscape. In the end, only 5,000 apartments were completed and a mere 750 people moved in.

And those who did move here now want to leave - Jose's isn't the only balcony boasting a "For Sale" sign. He had hoped to be able to rent out the apartment to pay of his mortgage. Despite advertising his apartment for months in various publications, no one showed any interest.

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League Of Conservation Voters To Endorse Obama
2008-07-21 03:37:21
In an election all about change, environmental groups are doing the usual - endorsing the Democratic presidential candidate.

The League of Conservation Voters will become the latest green group to back Democrat Barack Obama in five separate events across the country Monday. Its pick shouldn't be a surprise. Its scorecard of votes on environmental issues for the first session of the current Congress gave Obama a score of 67 and Republican John McCain a zero. The Arizona senator did not show up for any of the votes the group scored.

"When you look specifically at the twin challenges of cutting global warming pollution and moving toward a clean energy future, on those issues Barack Obama has the most comprehensive plan we have ever seen for a presidential nominee,"  said league president Gene Karpinsky. The league has endorsed presidential candidates since the early 1980s, but not once has it selected a Republican.

Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club announced their support for Obama earlier this year, citing McCain's support for more offshore drilling, expanding nuclear power and a gas tax holiday. Neither group has ever backed a Republican presidential candidate, although in 1988 Sierra Club made no choice because both Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis would have been good stewards of the environment, said spokesman Josh Dorner.

Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which has yet to announce its endorsement, said McCain's renegade image as a Republican crusader on global warming doesn't square with his record.

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Analysis: Obama Makes War Gains
2008-07-22 02:12:14
When Sen. Barack Obama left Washington last week, he was under pressure to defend what Republican critics called an arbitrary deadline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq. By Monday, the White House and rival Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign were at pains to explain why the Iraqi prime minister had seemingly all but endorsed Obama's relatively rapid timeline for getting out.

Obama has certainly not won the argument over Iraq policy. Far from it. His proposal to withdraw U.S. combat forces over a 16-month period still faces serious questions, including from some of the commanders who might be asked to implement it if he is elected.

The curious turn of events made for an unexpected opening act for the Democrat's week-long tour of seven countries, demonstrating anew the combination of agility and good fortune that has marked his campaign.

Whether Obama can count on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the days ahead is another matter. The Iraqi government does not speak with one voice on this matter, and it is not yet clear how current negotiations with the administration will conclude and how much emphasis will be placed on making a withdrawal timetable or "time horizon" conditions-based.

Beyond that, Obama's opposition to the troop "surge" that has helped quell violence and U.S. casualties - and that McCain vociferously supported - leaves plenty of room for further questions about his judgment at that moment. McCain's advisers were quick to suggest Monday that it was only because of the success of the increase that Obama can project the drawdown of troops over a 16-month period.

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Salmonella-Tainted Jalapeno Found In Texas
2008-07-22 02:11:35

Federal officials investigating a three-month-old salmonella outbreak have isolated the bacteria in a jalapeño pepper from a small distribution facility in McAllen, Texas, and Monday warned consumers nationwide to avoid eating raw jalapeños or products that contain them until more is known.

Investigators found the contaminated jalapeño at Agricola Zaragosa in McAllen, after tracing back jalapeños eaten by restaurant patrons who got sick. The company has stopped distributing jalapeño peppers and is recalling jalapeños sold since June 30 to customers in Georgia and Texas. The tainted pepper was grown in Mexico, but investigators don't know where the contamination occurred.

"All we know is a pepper in this facility is positive with this strain. We don't know if it became contaminated in this distribution facility or at some point leading up to this facility," said David Acheson, a top official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

None of the other samples taken at the facility tested positive for the outbreak strain Salmonella saintpaul, and officials said the finding has not cleared the initial suspect - raw tomatoes - as a cause.

Agricola Zaragosa also handles tomatillas, FDA officials said. A voice mail message left at the company last night was not returned. According to business information firm Dun and Bradstreet, Agricola Zaragosa had sales of $600,000 in 2007 and has fewer than 10 employees.

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Commentary: This Muddled Terror Law Limits Free Speech And Wrecks Lives
2008-07-22 02:10:54
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by British playwright and Writers' Guild president David Edgar and appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, July 22, 2008. Mr. Edgar writes: "The glorification clause of the Terrorism Act has created a climate where artists and academics must watch their words." His commentary follows:

A student downloads an al-Qaeda document from a U.S. government website and is held in custody for six days. A shop assistant writes poems about cutting people's heads off and is tried for being a terrorist. An opera composer is accused of promoting terrorism, objects, and is bankrupted by a national newspaper.

What do these cases have in common? First, none of these people was successfully convicted of any crime. Second, none of them faced charges under the glorification clause of the Terrorism Act 2006. Third, they would not have been arrested and/or tried and/or bankrupted had it not been a climate of opinion created by that clause.

During the long battle between the Lords and Commons over its wording, ministers pooh-poohed critics' concerns that works of fact or fiction might be vulnerable to prosecution, assuring them that the good sense of British juries would prevent prosecutions of histories of the Stern gang, biographies of Nelson Mandela or novels, plays or poems about terrorists today.

Those of us who expressed such concerns pointed out that we had been here before. No one was prosecuted under the Conservative government's criminalization of the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. But that kneejerk legislation undoubtedly had results: it contributed to growing homophobia, it created a climate in which teachers were nervous about combating it, and it made local authorities jumpy about (for example) allowing theater shows with gay themes or characters into schools .

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Mideast Facing Choice Between Crops And Water
2008-07-21 03:45:37
Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.

For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom, but those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.

Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.

The population of the region has more than quadrupled since 1950, to 364 million, and is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2050. By that time, the amount of fresh water available for each person, already scarce, will be cut in half, and declining resources could inflame political tensions further.

“The countries of the region are caught between the hammer of rising food prices and the anvil of steadily declining water availability per capita,” Alan R. Richards, a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via e-mail. “There is no simple solution.”

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U.N. Warns 5 Million Face Threat Of Mass Starvation In Zimbabwe
2008-07-21 03:43:26

Millions of Zimbabweans are threatened with starvation after the widespread failure of the latest harvest brought on by the government's disastrous mishandling of land redistribution, and food shortages in the shops caused by hyperinflation.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people require food aid immediately because they have harvested little or nothing in recent weeks. It has warned that up to 5 million will need assistance in the coming months. A third of the population is chronically malnourished.

Yet attempts to assist them are blocked by a ban on foreign aid agencies working in rural areas after President Robert Mugabe said they were fronts for "regime change" by Britain and the U.S.

Aid workers say the first signs of looming famine are evident, with significant population movements and children arriving at hospitals suffering from kwashiorkor (a form of malnutrition). Many families are reduced to one meal a day, with some living on fruit berries.

The U.N. says that it has seen a significant rise in the number of entire families fleeing to South Africa.

Food availability has also been hit by hyperinflation, which economists say runs above 10 million%. The central bank is issuing a $100 billion note Monday, the highest denomination to date but worth less than 10 pounds ($20).

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Iraqi Leader's Support For Obama's Troop Withdrawal Plan Stirs Up U.S. Campaign
2008-07-21 03:41:21
Intellpuke: This commentary appeared on the Spiegel Online Web site edition for Sunday, July, 20, 2008.

Obama is pleased, but McCain certainly is not. In an interview with German news magazine Spiegel, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki expressed support for Obama's troop withdrawal plans. Despite a half-hearted retraction, the comments have stirred up the U.S. presidential campaign. Spiegel stands by its version of the conversation.

Comments made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in an interview with Spiegel (Intellpuke: You can read the Spiegel interview with al-Maliki elsewhere on today's Free Internet Press mainpage.) published on Saturday have stirred up the campaign teams of both Barack Obama and John McCain this weekend. And late on Saturday, Maliki tried to distance himself from the statements, saying his comments were misunderstood.

In the interview, Maliki expressed support of Obama's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months. "That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of changes."

Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." He then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."

A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that Spiegel had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any U.S. presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the U.S.-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

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Obama: War On Taliban 'Urgent And Precarious'
2008-07-21 03:40:33

Barack Obama flew out of Afghanistan Sunday at the end of a two-day visit with a warning that the country's position in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda was "precarious" and "urgent".

Obama has promised that, if elected president in November, he will send 10,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 36,000 already there and intends to press European countries to become more engaged in the fighting.

The trip to Afghanistan marked the start of a week-long tour that takes in Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Europe.

Amid tighter than usual security, especially for a politician only seeking office, he was scheduled to arrive in Baghdad from Kabul last night.

The whole trip is critical to his chances of being elected. Any gaffes would be amplified by the huge media interest while a successful trip could help counter criticism from his Republican rival, John McCain, that he lacks foreign policy experience.

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Another British Defense Ministry Laptop Stolen - That Makes 659 Stolen In Past 4 Years
2008-07-21 03:38:20

Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) Sunday night confirmed another laptop with "sensitive information" on it has been stolen while one of their officials checked out of a hotel.

An MoD spokesman said the theft from the Britannia Adelphi hotel in Liverpool city center on Thursday brought the total of laptops stolen to 659. On Friday the MoD admitted that 658 of its laptops had been stolen over the past four years - nearly double the figure previously claimed.

The department also said 26 portable memory sticks containing classified information had been either stolen or misplaced since January.

However, the MoD insisted its policies were "generally fit for purpose", and said all data losses were fully investigated.

The embarrassing new details were disclosed by ministers in response to questions tabled in parliament.

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