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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday July 9 2008 - (813)

Wednesday July 9 2008 edition
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U.S. Dominance In Space Slips As Other Nations Explore
2008-07-09 02:28:20

China plans to conduct its first spacewalk in October. The European Space Agency (ESA) is building a roving robot to land on Mars. India recently launched a record 10 satellites into space on a single rocket.

Space, like Earth below, is globalizing, and as it does, America's long-held superiority in exploring, exploiting and commercializing "the final frontier" is slipping away, many experts believe.

Although the United States remains dominant in most space-related fields - and owns half the military satellites currently orbiting Earth - experts say the nation's superiority is diminishing, and many other nations are expanding their civilian and commercial space capabilities at a far faster pace.

"We spent many tens of billions of dollars during the Apollo era to purchase a commanding lead in space over all nations on Earth," said NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin, who said his agency's budget is down by 20 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 1992.

"We've been living off the fruit of that purchase for 40 years and have not .. chosen to invest at a level that would preserve that commanding lead."

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Federal Reserve: Economic Woes To Spill Into 2009
2008-07-08 21:44:51
Federal policy makers have reached a consensus that the turmoil plaguing the housing and financial markets is likely to spill deep into 2009, becoming one of the most significant domestic problems to confront the next president when he steps into the Oval Office in January.

In a speech on Tuesday, Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave his strongest hint to date of an emerging consensus that problems will persist when he outlined a series of steps the Fed is considering taking in the coming months. One such step would extend into next year low-interest lending programs to Wall Street’s largest investment banks.

The programs, one of which was set to expire in September, can exist only if the Fed issues a finding that there are “unusual and exigent circumstances” that justify them.

Bernanke also recommended that Congress grant the Fed broader authority to monitor and supervise the financial markets to assure greater stability in the future. But with time running out on this session, lawmakers are unlikely to adopt such legislation before next year.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., also speaking Tuesday, said that the Bush administration was working to prevent as many home foreclosures as possible, but that “many of today’s unusually high number of foreclosures are not preventable.” Paulson said 1.5 million home foreclosures were started in 2007 and that an estimated 2.5 million more will take place this year.

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U.S. Exports To Iran Jumped Tenfold Under Bush Administration
2008-07-08 21:44:28

U.S. exports to Iran have jumped dramatically during president George Bush's years in office in spite of his tough rhetoric against the Tehran government and the imposition of fresh economic sanctions.

Analysis of U.S. government trade figures published Tuesday by the Associated Press revealed a near tenfold increase over the last seven years in sales to Iran.

Goods include cigarettes, aircraft spare parts, bras, musical instruments, films, sculptures, furs and golf carts and/or snowmobiles.

Although the sums are small, the disclosure is a political embarrassment for the U.S., coming at a time when it has been putting pressure on European governments, banks and companies to cut ties with Tehran.

John Rankin, a U.S. Treasury spokesman, Tuesday acknowledged there had been an increase but attributed this mainly to a change in legislation in 2000 that allowed the export of agricultural and medicinal goods. Before that, trade had been effectively zero. He played down the exports as "miniscule," a quarter of 1% of all Iran's imports.

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G-8 Agrees To New Mugabe Sanctions
2008-07-08 21:43:25
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown Tuesday shamed his fellow G-8 leaders into backing tough sanctions against Zimbabwe after showing them a photograph of the mutilated body of an opponent of Robert Mugabe. 

The prime minister said the unwillingness of the "whole international community to accept an illegitimate government" was demonstrated by the agreement to send a United Nations special envoy to the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, in addition to endorsing "financial and other measures against those responsible for violence".

The backing for Britain's tough stance came after Brown handed photographs of the charred body of a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Joshua Bakacheza, to G-8 and African leaders attending the three days of talks in Hokkaido, Japan.

A Downing Street source said: "Joshua is just one of the many innocent people murdered by Mugabe's thugs in recent weeks, but by highlighting the way he was brutally murdered while helping a widow and her children, the prime minister was telling other world leaders that this is a tragedy which is going on right now as they sit talking, and every day we wait to act more innocent people will suffer."

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Cheney's Office Sought To Change Testimony On Public Health Consequences Of Global Warming
2008-07-08 17:34:39
Vice President Dick Cheney's office pushed for major deletions in congressional testimony on the public health consequences of global warming,fearing the presentation by a leading health official might make it harder to avoid regulating greenhouse gases, a former EPA official maintains.

When six pages were cut from testimony on climate change and public health by the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionlast October, the White House insisted the changes were made because of reservations raised by White House advisers about the accuracy of the science.

Yet Jason K. Burnett, until last month the senior adviser on climate change to Environmental Protect Agency  Administrator Stephen Johnson, says that Cheney's office was deeply involved in getting nearly half of the CDC's original draft testimony removed.

''The Council on Environmental Quality and the office of the vice president were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony (concerning) ... any discussions of the human health consequences of climate change,'' Burnett has told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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Scientists: Flat TVs, Microchips Pose Global Warming Threat
2008-07-08 17:34:14
A synthetic chemical widely used in the manufacture of computers and flat-screen televisions is a potent greenhouse gas, with 17,000 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide, but its measure in the atmosphere has never been taken, nor is it regulated by international treaty.

The chemical, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), could be considered the "missing greenhouse gas," atmospheric chemists Michael J. Prather and Juno Hsu, of the University of California - Irvine, wrote in a paper released June 26 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "With the surge in flat-panel displays, the market for NF3 has exploded."

The rapid growth in production alarms some climate scientists. In the atmosphere it has a life of 550 years, according to calculations by Prather and Hsu.

When the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international global warming treaty, was negotiated to control the rapid rise of planet-warming gases, NF3 was a niche product used in modest amounts in the semiconductor industry.

At the time, computer chip manufacturers used perfluorocarbons to clean the vacuum chambers where integrated circuits were made, but about two-thirds of the PFCs escaped into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect, a warming of the Earth's surface.
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IndyMac Depositors Pull Cash As Mortgage Woe Soars
2008-07-08 17:33:47
IndyMac Bancorp Inc. said on Tuesday depositors were withdrawing cash at an "elevated" pace after a key U.S. senator questioned the big mortgage lender's ability to survive the U.S. housing crisis.

Shares of IndyMac, the largest independent, publicly traded U.S. mortgage lender, fell as much as 52 percent.

Paul Miller, a Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co analyst, said shareholders could be wiped out, citing IndyMac's decision to stop most mortgage lending and inability to raise capital. He cut his price target for IndyMac shares to zero from $1.00.

"It's hard to gauge how this situation will resolve itself," said Christopher Wolfe, managing director at Fitch Ratings, which downgraded IndyMac on Tuesday. "We see a high likelihood of some kind of regulatory intervention occurring, which could result in asset dispositions, or the thrift going into receivership."

In a regulatory filing, IndyMac said it still faces "elevated levels of deposit withdrawals" after Sen. Charles Schumer, who chairs Congress's Joint Economic Committee, late last month raised questions to regulators about a potential collapse.

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As Oil Prices Slide, Stocks End Sharply Higher
2008-07-08 17:30:47
Wall Street finished sharply higher Tuesday as oil prices dropped sharply for the second straight day and investors were encouraged by the possibility of more help for the ailing financial system. The Dow Jones industrials gained more than 150 points, and all the major indexes were up more than 1 percent.

Crude prices tumbled, falling $5.33 to settle at $136.04 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, bringing oil's two-day drop to more than $9. The average U.S. retail price of a gallon of gasoline remains at a record $4.108, according to AAA auto club, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

Speeches by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon gave the market some reassurance about the financial sector. Investors have been concerned this week about the health of government-backed lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the two companies' troubles helped send prices lower on Monday, but they also helped lead the rebound Tuesday.

The market was relieved to hear Bernanke say in a speech the central bank might extend its lending efforts to investment banks; the Fed began allowing the big companies to borrow after the near-collapse of Bear Stearns Cos. earlier this year. At the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s forum on mortgage lending, where Bernanke spoke, Dimon said ''the future is very, very bright,'' but that ''I do think we have some very serious issues to face.''

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Siemens To Cut 16,750 Jobs
2008-07-08 17:28:09
In a sign that the global economy is catching up with Germany, one of the country’s largest exporters, Siemens, said on Tuesday that it would eliminate 16,750 jobs across its far-flung operations as it struggles to bolster profits in a weakening business climate.

The job reductions - parceled out among Germany, the United States and other countries - represent about 4 percent of the Siemens work force and constitute a significant retrenchment for the company, which is also laboring to put a huge corruption scandal behind it.

The cuts are also a rare dose of bad economic news for Germany, which has proved to be remarkably resilient over the last year, both to the woes in the United States and to the strength of the euro.

Until this week, Germany witnessed a steady decline in unemployment, which is now at its lowest level since 1992. But Siemens, a conglomerate that makes products ranging from light bulbs to locomotives, has often struck a discordant note, lurching from problem to problem.

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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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Fast-Moving Fire Destroys 40 Homes In Northern California
2008-07-09 02:28:05
Firefighters on Tuesday continued to gain ground against the stubborn fires burning in Goleta and Big Sur, but a fast-moving fire in Northern California destroyed 40 homes.

The 38,000-acre blaze in Butte County jumped a fire line, forcing the evacuation of at least 1,000 residents in Paradise, 90 miles north of Sacramento. Officials said the greatest damage was in the rural town of Concow but that nearby communities were also threatened.

"There's just no predicting how things will go," said Wes Cochran, a spokesman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

By late afternoon, firefighters were working in triple-digit temperatures. Five separate, lightning-triggered blazes had joined to form the massive Camp fire. It had crossed a containment line overnight, burned homes in Concow and headed toward the Feather River, outside Paradise.

"We're hoping to make a stand at the river," said Cochran. "And we're expecting wind changes that could be favorable."
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Vatican Angry Over Women Bishops
2008-07-08 21:44:40

The Vatican Tuesday criticized the Church of England's decision to press ahead with the ordination of women bishops, saying it presented a "further obstacle" for reconciliation between Canterbury and Rome.  A statement released through the Vatican Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity said it had "regretfully" learned of the historic vote, which took place on Monday after a seven-hour debate.

It read: "Such a decision signifies a breaking away from the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the churches since the first millennium, and is a further obstacle for reconciliation between the Catholic church and the Church of England.

"This decision will have consequences on the future of dialogue, which had up until now born fruit."

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who heads the unity council, will reiterate the Catholic position at next week's Lambeth conference.

The condemnation came as a senior figure from the Catholic wing of the Church of England warned of a "bloodbath" at next week's once-a-decade summit, which will draw 700 bishops from around the world.

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Political Blog: Obama Addresses Critics On 'Centrist' Moves
2008-07-08 21:44:02
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by New York Times correspondent Michael Powell, blogging from Powder Springs, Georgia, and appeared in the Times edition for Tuesday, July 8, 2008.

Barack Obama had heard quite enough of the complaints that he is pirouetting, leaping, lurching even, toward the political center.

He is at heart, he told a crowd in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, a pretty progressive guy who just happens to pack along a complicated world view.

“Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center,” he said. “The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me.”

To this, he adds, parenthetically: “And I must say some of this is my friends on the left” and those in the media.

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Commentary: Should Bush Be Tried For War Crimes?
2008-07-08 21:43:08
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by veteran media critic Dan Kennedy, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and blogs at Media Nation. In his commentary, Mr. Kennedy writes: "The chorus demanding George Bush be prosecuted for torture and other constitutional abuses is getting louder." His commentary appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, July 8, 2008.

I had a good laugh when my friend Seth Gitell reported in the New York Sun on a campaign by the dean of the obscure  Massachusetts School of Law to put George Bush and other top White House officials on trial for war crimes.

Lawrence Velvel, Gitell notes, wrote last month that his model was the Nuremberg trials held after second world war. Velvel went so far as to say that "we must insist on appropriate punishments, including, if guilt is found, the hangings visited upon top Germans and Japanese." Oh, my.

Though I found Velvel's apparently earnest quest as ridiculous as Gitell did, the idea of holding our leaders accountable for the crimes and constitutional violations of the past seven and a half years isn't ridiculous in the least.

We are less than a decade removed from impeaching a president and nearly relieving him of office because of a lie in a civil deposition about blowjobs. Yet when congressman Dennis Kucinich recently attempted to impeach Bush over torture, extraordinary rendition and other grotesque constitutional abuses, Kucinich's embarrassed fellow Democrats couldn't kill the measure quickly enough.

Why? Top Democrats are so complicit in what has happened since 9/11 that my guess is they dare not travel down that road. From voting in favor of the war in Iraq to holding the telecommunications companies guiltless for their role in spying on Americans (Barack Obama infuriated much of his progressive base by voting for immunity), the Democrats have often acted more as enablers than as a true opposition party. From their point of view, no doubt it's best to move on.

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Fed Reserve To Curb Shady Home-Lending Practices
2008-07-08 17:34:29
The Federal Reserve will issue new rules next week aimed at protecting future home buyers from dubious lending practices, its most sweeping response to a housing crisis that has propelled foreclosures to record highs.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke of the much-awaited rules in a broader speech Tuesday about the challenges confronting policymakers in trying to stabilize a shaky U.S. financial system. To that end, Bernanke said the Fed may give squeezed Wall Street firms more time to tap the central bank's emergency loan program.

To prevent a repeat of the current mortgage mess, Bernanke said the Fed will adopt rules cracking down on a range of shady lending practices that has burned many of the nation's riskiest "subprime" borrowers - those with spotty credit or low incomes - who were hardest hit by the housing and credit debacles.

The plan, which will be voted on at a Fed board meeting on Monday, would apply to new loans made by thousands of lenders of all types, including banks and brokers.

Under the proposal unveiled last December, the rules would restrict lenders from penalizing risky borrowers who pay loans off early, require lenders to make sure these borrowers set aside money to pay for taxes and insurance and bar lenders from making loans without proof of a borrower's income. It also would prohibit lenders from engaging in a pattern or practice of lending without considering a borrower's ability to repay a home loan from sources other than the home's value.

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Russia Warns Missile Shield Pact Could Lead To Military Response
2008-07-08 17:33:59
The United States and the Czech Republic signed a landmark accord Tuesday to allow the Pentagon to deploy part of its widely debated anti-ballistic missile shield on territory once occupied by Soviet troops.

The accord, the first of its kind to be reached with a Central or East European country, was signed in Prague by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Czech counterpart, Karel Schwarzenberg, despite strong opposition from Russia. It must also be ratified by Czech lawmakers, many of whom oppose it.

Russia warned Tuesday that the accord could lead to a military response, which the Kremlin has previously threatened but never specified.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who is now the Russian prime minister, had told the United States that the Kremlin saw a missile shield in this part of Europe as a threat to Russian security. Putin said it could even lead to a new Cold War.

American and Czech officials said the system’s radar component, to be stationed south of Prague, would defend the NATO members in Europe and the United States against long-range weapons from the Middle East, particularly Iran.

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G-8 Leaders Pledge To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Half In 2050
2008-07-08 17:32:54
Pledging to “move toward a low-carbon society,” leaders of the world’s richest nations endorsed Tuesday the idea of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, but did not specify whether the starting point would be current levels or 1990 levels, and refused to set a short-term target for reducing the gases that scientists agree are warming the planet.

The declaration by the so-called Group of Eight - the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia - came under intense criticism from environmentalists, who called it a missed opportunity and said it ignores the urgent need to cut emissions more rapidly.

However, European leaders, who have long pressed President Bush to adopt a more aggressive stance on climate change, said they were pleased with the agreement, which is non-binding. They cast it as an important step toward laying the groundwork for a binding international treaty, to be negotiated in Copenhagen in 2009 under the auspices of the United Nations.

“This is a strong signal to citizens around the world,” the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso,  told reporters at a news conference near here. “The science is clear, the economic case for action is stronger than ever. Now we need to go the extra mile to secure an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen.”

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Obama, McCain Court Latino Group
2008-07-08 17:28:27
Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama will speak today at a convention of the nation's oldest Latino advocacy organization as each eyes a key voting group in the November general election.

The pair will speak at different times before the League of United Latino American Citizens in Washington, D.C. Both will speak about the need for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and the need for secure borders.

McCain angered many fellow Republicans by helping lead efforts to pass a bill that opponents derided as amnesty for as many as 12 million illegal immigrants. In recent weeks, McCain has stressed the need for secure borders, a nod to his hard-line critics on immigration issues.

According to an advance copy of his speech provided by the campaign, McCain plans to tell the Latino advocacy group that the nation must secure its borders "while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States."

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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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