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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday July 29 2008 - (813)

Tuesday July 29 2008 edition
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In The U.S., A Dwindling Supply Of Oil
2008-07-29 02:28:34

In May 1899, a pair of oil prospectors wielding picks and shovels dug into a bank of the Kern River where some gooey liquid had seeped to the surface. About 45 feet down, they hit oil, and when the local newspaper printed the news, it set off an oil rush that swept up hundreds of fortune seekers, oil companies, a big railroad and even some enterprising school districts that bought up tracts in hope of turning a profit.

Today, on an arid square of land the size of Manhattan, thousands upon thousands of black derricks crowd the landscape, bobbing gently up and down and sipping crude oil from the field discovered a century ago. The wells aren't gushers these days, but they still squeeze out a few barrels a day here, a few more there.

Chevron has injected steam into the reservoirs, coaxing the sedimentary rock into giving up millions of barrels of heavy oil that was too thick and sticky to retrieve using the technology of decades past.

Yet the Kern River field, like most U.S. oil fields, is in decline. After surging to new highs during the 1980s, Kern River production has dropped to just over 80,000 barrels a day, more than 40 percent below its peak. Enhanced recovery techniques will continue to prolong its profitable life, but its days are numbered.

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Bush Approves Execution Of First Soldier In 50 Years
2008-07-29 02:28:02
President Bush on Monday approved the execution of an Army soldier who terrorized Fayetteville, North Carolina, for months in the late 1980s and was eventually convicted of raping and killing four women, and raping and attempting to kill another.

Bush signed off on the death penalty for Ronald A. Gray, who grew up in the Liberty City area of Miami and was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time of the crimes. Eventually, he was convicted in connection with eight rapes and four murders that took place in in the area. Gray, who was 22 and held the rank of specialist at the time of his court martial, has been on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since 1988.

Bush's action was the first time in more than half a century that a president has approved the execution of a member of the Armed Services.

"While approving a sentence of death for a member of our Armed Services is a serious and difficult decision for a commander-in-chief, the president believes the facts of this case leave no doubt that the sentence is just and warranted," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. She called the crimes "brutal."

Gray will not be put to death for at least 60 days, and it may be much longer because further legal action on his case is possible, said Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman. Edgecombe noted that while the last military execution took place in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower had approved it in 1957.

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U.S. FTC: Kids Target Of $1.6 Billion In Food Ads
2008-07-29 02:27:22
The U.S.' largest food and beverage companies spent about $1.6 billion in 2006 marketing their products - especially carbonated drinks - to children, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.

The report, to be released Tuesday, stems from lawmakers' concern about growing obesity rates in children. It gives researchers new insight into how much companies are spending to attract youth to their products, and what venues the companies are using for their marketing. To come up with its estimate, the FTC used confidential financial data that it required the companies to turn over. An executive summary of the report was obtained by the Associated Press.

Overall, the spending was less than some previous estimates had indicated. Still, it represents a large pot of money that is being used to entice children to foods that are often unhealthy choices, said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who had sought the study.

"This study confirms what I have been saying for years. Industry needs to step up to the plate and use their innovation and creativity to market healthy foods to our kids," said Harkin. "That $1.6 billion could be used to attract our kids to healthy snacks, tasty cereals, fruits and vegetables."

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Chain Of French Nuclear Accidents Prompts Soul Searching
2008-07-28 19:07:37
France's confidence in atomic energy has been shaken by a recent series of mishaps at nuclear facilities. Although none of the incidents appears to be on a major scale, politicians and the population are starting to question industry practices.

After a series of blunders and leaks over the last few weeks, it appears that Europe's leading nuclear power nation is starting to take a new look at its usually strong support for the atomic energy sector. France, which depends on 59 nuclear reactors to provide almost 80 percent of its electricity and also to feed European power grids, has suffered nine nuclear mishaps in the last three weeks. The series of accidents started on July 7 when a solution containing non-eriched uranium leaked from the Tricastin nuclear facility in southern France into the ground and two nearby rivers.

The same facility faced another shock last Wednesday when 100 employees of French energy utility company Electricite de France (EDF) were "slightly contaminated" by radioactive particles spewing from a pipe.

"What concerns us," EDF spokeswoman Carline Muller told the Associated Press, "is less the level of the people contaminated than the number of people contaminated."

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Justice Dept. Report: Gonzales Aides Repeatedly Broke Law On Hiring
2008-07-28 15:23:44

Former Justice Department counselor Monica M. Goodling and former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson routinely broke the law by conducting political litmus tests on candidates for jobs as immigration judges and line prosecutors, according to an inspector general's report released Monday.

Goodling passed over hundreds of qualified applicants and squashed the promotions of others after deeming candidates insufficiently loyal to the Republican party, said investigators, who interviewed 85 people and received information from 300 other job seekers at Justice. Sampson developed a system to screen immigration judge candidates based on improper political considerations and routinely took recommendations from the White House Office of Political Affairs and Presidential Personnel, said the report.

Goodling regularly asked candidates for career jobs: "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?" said the report. One former Justice Department official told investigators she had complained that Goodling was asking interviewees for their views on abortion, according to the report.

Taking political or personal factors into account in employment decisions for career positions violates civil service laws and can run afoul of ethics rules. Investigators said Monday that both Goodling and Sampson had engaged in "misconduct."

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EPA Tells Staff Not To Talk To Congressional Investigators
2008-07-28 15:23:14
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is telling its pollution enforcement officials not to talk with congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail provided to the Associated Press.

The June 16 e-mail tells 11 managers in the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the branch of the agency charged with making sure environmental laws are followed, to remind staff to keep quiet.

"If you are contacted directly by the I.G.'s office or GAO requesting information of any kind...please do not respond to questions or make any statements," reads the e-mail sent by Robbi Farrell, the division's chief of staff. Instead, staff should forward inquires to a designated representative.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained the e-mail and provided it to the A.P. The group is a nonprofit alliance of local, state and federal professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values.

Jeff Ruch, its executive director, said Monday that the e-mail reinforces the "bunker mentality" within EPA under the Bush administration.

"The clear intention behind this move is to chill the cubicles by suppressing any uncontrolled information," said Ruch.

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Hatred Said To Motivate Tennessee Killer
2008-07-28 15:21:49
A man who the police say entered a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tennessee, during Sunday services and shot 8 people, killing two, was motivated by a hatred for liberals and homosexuals, Chief Sterling P. Owen IV of the Knoxville Police Department said Monday.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement," Chief Owen said of the suspect, Jim D. Adkisson, 58. "We have recovered a four-page letter in which he describes his feelings and the reason that he claims he committed these offenses."

Police officials said they had charged Adkisson, of Powell, Tennessee, with first-degree murder.

Amira Parkey, 16, had just uttered her first lines as Miss Hannigan in “Annie, Jr.” when the performance at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was interrupted by a loud pop, said witnesses.

“We were just, ‘Oh, my God, that’s not part of the play’,” said Amira, adding that she saw a man standing near the door of the sanctuary and firing into the room.

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UPDATE: 2 Killed In Gunman's Attack On Tennessee Church
2008-07-28 03:33:24
A gunman opened fire at a church youth performance Sunday and killed two people, including a man who witnesses called a hero for shielding others from a shotgun blast.

Seven adults were also injured but no children were harmed at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Church members said they dove under pews or ran from the building when the shooting started.

The gunman was tackled by congregants and eventually taken into police custody.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was charged with first-degree murder and was being held on $1 million bail, according to city spokesman Randy Kenner, who did not know if the suspect had retained an attorney. Authorities were searching Adkisson's home in the Knoxville bedroom community of Powell, said Kenner.

The man slain was identified as Greg McKendry, 60, a longtime church member and usher. Church member Barbara Kemper told the Associated Press that McKendry "stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us."

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U.S. Contractor Paid $142 Million For Iraq Projects Never Built Or Finished
2008-07-28 03:33:00

The U.S. government paid a California contractor $142 million to build prisons, fire stations and police facilities in Iraq  that it never built or finished, according to audits by a watchdog office.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said Parsons of Pasadena, California, received the money, part of a total of $333 million but only completed about one-third of the projects, which also included courthouses and border control stations. The inspector general's office is expected to release two detailed audits today, evaluating Parsons's work on the contract, which is worth up to $900 million.

"Far less was accomplished under this contract than originally planned," the inspector general wrote. "Millions of dollars in waste are likely associated with incomplete, terminated and abandoned projects under this contract." Auditors did not give a dollar figure of how much had potentially been wasted, but they said Parsons got about 10 percent - or $11.3 million -- of the $108 million of award fees it could have received.

Parsons said in a written statement Sunday that it had "some serious reservations about the conclusions" in the audits, saying the company was hindered by the violent and unstable security situation in Iraq. One of Parsons's subcontractors was shot and killed at close range while in his office, said the company.

Parsons' work is emblematic of other troubles in the $50 billion U.S. reconstruction effort, in which there have been widespread problems of contractors doing poor work, being late and overspending on projects. Those issues combined with bad record-keeping, lack of oversight by overworked government managers, and high personnel turnover for both the government and contractors in an unstable war zone have created millions of dollars in waste, according to the Iraq inspector general. SIGIR conceded that Parsons's "failure to complete some of the work was understandable because of its complex nature and unstable security environment."

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U.S. Congress Agrees To Ban Toxins In Children's Products
2008-07-29 02:28:20
Lawmakers plan to outlaw certain chemicals used in plastic production that cause reproductive problems. The White House opposes the ban.

Congressional negotiators agreed Monday to a ban on a family of toxins found in children's products, handing a major victory to parents and health experts who have been clamoring for the government to remove harmful chemicals from toys.

The ban, which would take effect in six months, would have significant implications for U.S. consumers, whose homes are filled with hundreds of plastic products designed for children that may be causing dangerous health effects.

The rare action by Congress reflects a growing body of scientific research showing that children ingest the toxins by acts as simple as chewing on a rubber duck. Used for decades in plastic production, the chemicals are now thought to act as hormones and cause reproductive problems, especially in boys.

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Warren Buffet Joins Obama Summit On Economic Crisis
2008-07-29 02:27:42

Barack Obama was joined by the world's wealthiest person, Warren Buffett, and a number of entrepreneurs, economists and union leaders for a summit in Washington, D.C., Monday to find ways out of America's economic crisis.

Obama, who returned to the U.S. from a 10-day overseas visit on Saturday, sought to switch Monday from foreign affairs to the U.S. economy, the issue that Americans tell pollsters will determine their choice of the next president. "People are worried about gas prices, they're worried about job security, they're worried about their retirement fund as the stockmarket goes down," Obama said before the summit.

"People are understandably concerned about the immediate effects of the economy, and that's what we will be talking about for the duration."

Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said the summit, which was attended by interested Republicans, discussed job losses, financial markets and the rising costs of oil, food and other commodities.

Buffett, who built his fortune through stock investments and is a leading philanthropist, was joined at the summit by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; Robert Rubin, former Treasury secretary; Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google; and John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest confederation of U.S. unions. Republicans included Paul O'Neill, former Treasury secretary in George Bush's administration. His attendance was not seen as an endorsement for Obama.

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Pakistani Leader Reproaches U.S. For Missile Strike
2008-07-29 02:27:04
A U.S. missile strike that's believed to have killed a senior al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan's tribal area roiled talks Monday between President Bush and Pakistan's Prime Minister Sayed Yousaf Gilani, who reproached Bush for acting unilaterally and failing to share intelligence with Pakistani authorities.

A U.S. official defended the missile strike as a message that Washington will no longer abide Pakistan's failure to deny al-Qaeda and the Taliban refuge at a time of surging cross-border attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

"If they (Pakistan) aren't doing anything, then we are," said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Pakistan, however, considers U.S. strikes on its territory violations of its sovereignty and interference in its internal affairs.

Gilani, appearing on CNN, said he told Bush, "This action should not be taken by the United States" and, "It's our job because we are fighting the war for ourselves."

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U.S. Brig. General Dies Of Gunshot On Elmendorf Air Force Base
2008-07-28 18:49:15
The commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base died of a gunshot wound in his on-base residence Sunday night, the Air Force said this morning. Few details are being released, but an Air Force spokesman said there was no indication of foul play.

Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley was declared dead around 10:30 p.m., according to a statement issued by the Air Force early this morning.

Elmendorf medical authorities responded, the statement says.

There was no indication of foul play, Lt. Col. Michael Paoli, an Air Force spokesman in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press. Locally, officials would not say if the gunshot was self-inflicted or accidental. An investigation is ongoing, they said.

Tinsley had served as the wing commander since May 2007, overseeing nearly 7,000 people. This morning his colleagues were shocked and sad, said Kelley Jeter, a public affairs officer who worked regularly with the general.

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Worried Banks Sharply Reduce Business Loans
2008-07-28 15:23:32

Banks struggling to recover from multibillion-dollar losses on real estate are curtailing loans to American businesses, depriving even healthy companies of money for expansion and hiring.

Two vital forms of credit used by companies - commercial and industrial loans from banks, and short-term “commercial paper” not backed by collateral - collectively dropped almost 3 percent over the last year, to $3.27 trillion from $3.36 trillion, according to Federal Reserve data. That is the largest annual decline since the credit tightening that began with the last recession, in 2001.

The scarcity of credit has intensified the strains on the economy by withholding capital from many companies, just as joblessness grows and consumers pull back from spending in the face of high gas prices, plummeting home values and mounting debt.

“The second half of the year is shot,” said Michael T. Darda, chief economist at the trading firm MKM Partners in Greenwich, Conn., who was until recently optimistic that the economy would continue expanding. “Access to capital and credit is essential to growth. If that access is restrained or blocked, the economic system takes a hit.”

Companies that rely on credit are now delaying and canceling expansion plans as they struggle to secure finance.

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U.S. Federal Deficit Headed For Record High
2008-07-28 15:22:50

The federal budget deficit will surge to nearly $490 billion next fiscal year, a record dollar amount, driven by continuing war costs and an economic slowdown that is not likely to turn around fast, according to the Office of Management and Budget. After three successive years of decline, this year's deficit will jump dramatically as well. That is likely to scramble the plans of the next president, regardless of which candidate prevails. Either Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama will enter the White House in a tide of red ink.

In February, President Bush had already projected a huge deficit increase, to $410 billion for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, anticipating passage of his war funding request and a generous package of tax rebates to stimulate the economy. But the White House had expected that increase to begin receding quickly. The deficit forecasted for 2009 was supposed to be $409 billion.

Now, the White House says the economic rebound is not likely to come that quickly. Instead, the deficit will be even higher, at nearly a half-trillion dollars, easily beating the record $413 billion deficit of fiscal 2004.

Measured against the size of the economy, that mark, at 3 percent of the gross domestic product, is still eclipsed by the deficits of Bush's first term, as well as the deficits of George H. W. Bush's administration and Ronald Reagan's.

Still, this year's jump and next year's increase are marked reversals from the last three years, when an improving economy pushed down the deficit to $318 billion in 2005, $248 billion in 2006 and $162 billion last year. Neither McCain nor Obama have been particularly mindful of the budget deficit. McCain has proposed to extend all of Bush's first-term tax cuts, which expire in 2011, and add hundreds of billions of additional tax cuts, mostly for business. Obama would allow only the tax cuts for most affluent to expire, leaving the lion's share in place and adding additional tax cuts for the working poor and middle class, plus hundreds of billions in more spending on health care, energy and education.

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Dozens Killed In Iraq Suicide Bombings
2008-07-28 15:21:36
Female suicide bombers attacked Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and Kurdish political demonstrators in the northern city of Kirkuk on Monday in one of the bloodiest days of violence in recent months. The bombings killed at least 39 people and injured scores of others, officials said, and clashes in Kirkuk prompted by the attack left another 12 people dead.

No evidence emerged to suggest the attacks in the two cities were coordinated, but the bombings underscored the political tensions that have potential to fuel regional conflicts across Iraq even as overall levels of violence have fallen.

In Kirkuk, a suicide bomber detonated her explosives in a crowd of Kurds protesting a provincial elections law, killing 15 people, according to Kurdish security officials. The attack triggered fighting among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, ethnic rivals who are locked in a struggle for land and resources in the oil-rich city. The bombing and the clashes injured 187, according to police and hospital officials in Kirkuk.

After the blast, Kurdish protesters attacked the offices of a Turkmen political party. Authorities placed a curfew on the city until 6 a.m. Tuesday in an attempt to diffuse tensions.

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China's Cars Accelerating Global Demand For Fuel
2008-07-28 03:33:14
Nodding his head to the disco music blaring out of his car's nine speakers, Zhang Linsen swings the shiny, black Hummer H2 out of his company's gates and on to the spacious four-lane road.

Running a hand over his closely shaved head, Zhang scans the expanse of high-end suburban offices and villas that a decade ago was just another patch of farmland outside of Shanghai. To his left is a royal blue sedan with a couple and a baby, in front of him a lone young woman being chauffeured in a van.

"In China, size matters," says Zhang, the 44-year-old founder of a media and graphic design company. "People want to have a car that shows off their status in society. No one wants to buy small."

Zhang grasps the wheels of his Hummer, called "hanma" or "fierce horse" in Chinese, and hits the accelerator.

Car ownership in China is exploding, and it's not only cars but also sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks and other gas-guzzling rides. Elsewhere in the world, the popularity of these vehicles has tumbled as the cost of oil has soared. But in China, the number of SUVs sold rose 43 percent in May compared with the previous year, and full-size sedans were up 15 percent. Indeed, China's demand for gas is much of the reason for the dramatic run-up in global oil prices.

China alone accounts for about 40 percent of the world's recent increase in demand for oil, burning through twice as much now as it did a decade ago. Fifteen years ago, there were almost no private cars in the country. By the end of last year, the number had reached 15.2 million.

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