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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday July 30 2008 - (813)

Wednesday July 30 2008 edition
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7-Square-Mile Ice Sheet Breaks Loose In Canada
2008-07-29 20:01:39
A chunk of ice spreading across seven square miles has broken off a Canadian ice shelf in the Arctic, scientists said Tuesday.

Derek Mueller, a research at Trent University, was careful not to blame global warming, but said it the event was consistent with the theory that the current Arctic climate isn't rebuilding ice sheets.

"We're in a different climate now," he said. "It's not conducive to regrowing them. It's a one-way process."

Mueller said the sheet broke away last week from the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf off the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada's far north. He said a crack in the shelf was first spotted in 2002 and a survey this spring found a network of fissures.

The sheet is the biggest piece shed by one of Canada's six ice shelves since the Ayles shelf broke loose in 2005 from the coast of Ellesmere, about 500 miles from the North Pole.

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U.S. Federal Judge: EPA Turned A Blind Eye To Everglades
2008-07-29 20:01:16
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has turned a "blind eye" to Florida's Everglades cleanup efforts, while the state is violating its own commitment to restore the vast ecosystem, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

In a stinging ruling from Miami, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold put to rest a 2004 lawsuit filed against the EPA, ordering the agency to review water pollution standards and timelines set by Florida for the Everglades.

Gold repeatedly accused EPA of acting "arbitrarily and capriciously" in its failure to adhere to the mandates of the Clean Water Act.

"Plaintiffs are correct," Gold wrote, "that EPA has once again avoided its duty to protect the Everglades."

The Miccosukee Indians, who live in the Everglades, and Friends of the Everglades sued the EPA in 2004. They claimed the agency violated the Clean Water Act by allowing Florida to change its water pollution requirements for the Everglades and delay its pollution compliance deadlines.

Gold agreed, adding that the Florida Legislature "violated its fundamental commitment and promise to protect the Everglades."

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5.4 Earthquake Rattles Los Angeles, 27 Aftershocks, Minor Injuries, Damage Reported
2008-07-29 19:09:07
A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 shook large parts of Southern California late this morning, shaking a wide swath from Ventura County to San Diego.

The quake shook downtown L.A. buildings and was felt as far east as Palm Springs.

It was centered near Chino Hills, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, said the U.S. Geological Survey.

"It felt like something had exploded underneath us," said Vanessa Rojas, 21, a hair salon employee at Blondie's Clip Shop in nearby Chino. "The ground lifted, then it began to shake. It was a big ripple."

There were reports of minor damage and a few injuries. A spokesperson for the St. Jude medical groups confirmed that there were minor injuries and minor structural damage at the St. Jude Centers for Rehabilitation and Wellness in Brea, an outpatient medical facility. There was flooding at the Macy's in Topanga Plaza, and five people suffered minor injuries at a building in the 3600 block of Wilshire Boulevard in the rush to exit.

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U.S. Firms Owe Billions In Unpaid Payroll Taxes
2008-07-29 13:16:27
More than 1.6 million U.S. businesses owe the Internal Revenue Service more than $58 billion in unpaid taxes for Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance, a government watchdog agency said on Tuesday.

In a report to the Senate Homeland Security investigations subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)  said the IRS fails to take full advantage of tools available to collect unpaid taxes and to prevent further cheating on payroll taxes.

"When businesses do not remit payroll taxes, they are using employees' money to fund business operations or the personal lifestyle of the businesses' owners," GAO Director of Financial Management and Assurance Steven Sebastian said in testimony to the committee.

This problem is a fraction of the estimated $300 billion or so in unpaid taxes each year that some members of Congress believe can be collected through tougher enforcement.

Payroll taxes are withheld from workers' wages by employers to fund the Social Security and Medicare retirement and health programs. Additional payroll taxes are collected to finance unemployment insurance. When the money is not passed on to the government, general revenues have to be tapped to make up for the loss to the programs' trust funds.

"Many of these businesses repeatedly failed to remit amounts withheld from employees' salaries," the GAO found.

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Editorial: There Was Smoke - And Fire
2008-07-29 13:16:03
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, July 29, 2008.

It was hardly news that President Bush’s Justice Department has been illegally politicized, but it was important that the Justice Department finally owned up to that sorry state of affairs. An internal investigation released on Monday found that the department’s top staff routinely took politics and ideology into account in filling nonpolitical positions - and lied about it.

The details of what the investigators found were appalling, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s response was disgracefully lukewarm. If he hopes to leave office with any sort of reputation for integrity, he needs to get serious about punishing this sort of wrongdoing.

The report, prepared by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General, does not delve deep enough. There is much more work to be done. But even this dip into the murky waters of the Justice Department found that senior officials took into account applicants’ political views in hiring United States attorneys and other nonpolitical positions. This, the report said, “violated federal law and department policy, and also constituted misconduct.”

The department was so determined to hire only reliable, conservative Republicans for what are supposed to be apolitical jobs that Monica Goodling, then the White House liaison for the Justice Department, rejected an experienced career terrorism prosecutor to work on counterterrorism because of his wife’s politics. Instead, the department hired a junior attorney without counterterrorism experience who was considered unqualified by department officials.

Ms. Goodling “provided inaccurate information,” the report found, to a department attorney defending a lawsuit from a rejected applicant. Another official, still employed at the department, prepared a statement for a reporter - who was asking questions about politicized hiring - that “he knew to be inaccurate.”

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BP 2nd Quarter Profits Soar 28 Percent
2008-07-29 13:15:22
BP PLC reported a 28 percent rise in second quarter net profit Tuesday on surging energy prices and vowed to fight for its troubled Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.

BP, Europe's second biggest oil producer, posted net profit of $9.47 billion for the three months ending June 30, up from $7.38 billion in the same period a year ago.

Revenues jumped 49 percent to $110.98 billion as the price for a barrel of oil rose by around 35 percent over the quarter.

The strong year for BP has been overshadowed by an ongoing fight with Russian shareholders for control of the TNK-BP joint venture. The company's American chief executive Robert Dudley left Russia last week when his work permit was not renewed.

"We will vigorously defend our rights using all legal means possible," said BP chief executive Tony Hayward. "We will not be intimidated by strong-arm tactics."

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Australia Changes Asylum Policy
2008-07-29 13:14:25
Australia is ending its controversial policy of automatic detention for asylum seekers who arrive in the country without visas, the government announced Tuesday.

Detention in immigration centers is only to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said, as he announced the major policy change in a speech at the Australian National University in the capital, Canberra.

Children, and those adults who are not considered a security risk, will no longer be held in detention centers, he said. The presumption will be that these persons will remain in the community while their immigration status is resolved, he said. In addition, those adults who are detained in centers will have their cases reviewed every three months.

Previously, illegal immigrants who managed to make it to the Australian mainland were immediately sent to detention centers while the bureaucracy sifted through their claims for asylum, a process that could take years.

Evans is a member of the Labor Party government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who took office last year after the 11-year administration of his conservative predecessor, John Howard.

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British Airways In Merger Talks With Spain's Iberia Airlines
2008-07-29 13:13:13
British Airways and Iberia of Spain said Tuesday that they were discussing a merger amid record prices for jet fuel and an economic slowdown.

The discussions are the latest between the two airlines, which already own shares in each other, operate under a marketing alliance and have discussed a merger in the past.

“The aviation landscape is changing and airline consolidation is long overdue,” the chief executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, said in a statement. “The combined balance sheet, anticipated synergies and network fit between the airlines make a merger an attractive proposition, particularly in the current economic environment.”

Similar pronouncements were made by airline executives in the United States over the last several years but led to only one deal. Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines said in April they would merge to become the biggest domestic carrier, ahead of American Airlines. Their merger is expected to be finalized before the end of the year.

British Airways and Iberia said the discussions had the support of their respective boards. The British carrier owns 13.15 percent of Iberia, while the Spanish company holds 2.99 percent of British Airways.

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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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Merrill Lynch In New $8.5 Billion Cash Call
2008-07-29 20:01:28
Merrill Lynch shocked the market Monday night when it moved to raise $8.5 billion (£4.3 billion) through a public share offering to shore up its balance sheet, sold $11.1 billion of toxic mortgage securities and took a fresh $5.7 billion write-down.

The move came only days after the Wall Street bank unveiled a $4.6 billion second-quarter loss and write-downs of $9.4 billion related to sub-prime mortgages and risky debts.The latest write-down brings Merrill's total to $46 billion, making it one of the biggest casualties of the credit crunch so far, along with rivals Citi and UBS.

Total write-downs announced by major banks around the world since the start of the crisis a year ago have hit $274 billion, and some estimates suggest the figure could reach $1 trillion.

Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Mayo said Citi could post another $8bn write-downs from its CDO exposure, based on Merrill's figures.

Merrill's announcement came after Wall Street closed Monday. Shares in Merrill had ended the day down 11.6% at $24.33, suggesting some traders knew what was coming. The shares rose 34 cents to $24.67 in early trading Tuesday, a rise of 1.4%.

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4 Senate Democrats Call For EPA Chief To Resign
2008-07-29 20:01:03
Four Democratic senators called Tuesday for Stephen Johnson to resign as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to begin an investigation into whether he lied in testimony to a Senate committee.

The senators, all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Johnson - the first career scientist to head the agency - had repeatedly succumbed to political pressure on decisions vital to protecting health and the environment.

In a letter the senators sent to Mukasey on Tuesday, they also allege that Johnson made false statements before the committee in January when he said that he alone had decided California should not regulate the gases blamed for global warming from motor vehicles.

A former top EPA official told the committee earlier this month that the administrator initially decided to grant a partial waiver to the state, but later changed his mind under pressure from the White House.

"We have lost all confidence in Stephen Johnson's ability to carry out EPA's mission under the law," Environment Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-California, told reporters.

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U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens Indicted On 7 Criminal Charges
2008-07-29 14:25:30
U.S. Senator Ted F. Stevens (R-Alaska) was charged with seven counts of making false statements on his financial disclosure forms in an indictment unsealed in federal court in the District this afternoon.

The indictment accuses Stevens, former chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, of concealing payments of more than $250,000 in goods and services he allegedly received from an oil company. The items include home improvements, autos and household items.

The Alaska oil firm, Veco, and its onetime leader Bill Allen, asked for help in return, which Stevens allegedly provided. Allen and a former Veco lobbyist pleaded guilty in May 2007 in connection with their role in the scheme, said Justice Department officials.

The indictment charges Stevens with violating the Ethics in Government Act between 2001 and 2006 by hiding payments from Allen, Veco and two other people. The law requires elected officials to disclose gifts and debts that exceed $10,000 during any point in the year.

Brendan Sullivan, a defense lawyer for Stevens, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

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U.S. Home Prices Drop By 15.8 Percent In May
2008-07-29 13:16:16
Home prices tumbled by the steepest rate ever in May, according to a closely watched housing index released Tuesday, as the housing slump deepened nationwide.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index dropped by 15.8 percent in May compared with a year ago, a record decline since its inception in 2000. The 10-city index plunged 16.9 percent, its biggest decline in its 21-year history.

No city in the Case-Shiller 20-city index saw price gains in May, the second straight month that's happened. The monthly indices have not recorded an overall home price increase in any month since August 2006.

Home values have fallen 18.4 percent since the 20-city index's peak in July 2006.

Nine metropolitan cities - Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Tampa, Florida - posted record lows in May and the value of housing in Detroit is now lower than it was in 2000.

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Oil Prices Fall More Than $3, Continuing Slide
2008-07-29 13:15:51
Oil fell more than $3 a barrel on Tuesday, to slightly more than $121, as signs of weakening demand outweighed a disruption to Nigerian oil output. It was the lowest price since mid-May.

The drop also coincided with a firmer dollar, which may have reduced the appeal of commodities to some investors, and comments from OPEC's president that oil could fall to $70 or $80 in the long term.

“We still believe that crude’s rallies are vulnerable and we would advise not buying into them,” said Edward Meir, analyst at MF Globalwho earlier on Tuesday said he expected an “eventual retreat” to $121 to $122.

United States crude was down $3.30 at $121.43 a barrel and traded as low as $121.10, the lowest since May 15. Brent crude was off $3.36 at $122.48.

The president of OPEC, Chakib Khelil, on Tuesday called the current price “abnormal” and said he did not think the producer group should consider cutting output should prices continue to fall as markets were now balanced.

Khelil, who is also Algeria’s oil minister, said oil could fall to $70 to $80 in the long term, if the U.S. dollar continued to strengthen and geopolitical concerns eased.

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Commentary: Unidentified Flying Threats
2008-07-29 13:14:42
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Nick Pope, author of "Open Skies, Closed Mines", and formerly in charge of U.F.O. investigations for the British Ministry of Defense from 1991 to 1994. Mr. Pope's commentary, which appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, July 29, 2008, follows:

On the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2006, pilots and airport employees at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago saw a disc-like object hovering over the tarmac for several minutes. Because nothing was tracked on radar, the Federal Aviation Administration did not investigate. Yet radar is not a reliable detector of all aircraft. Stealth planes are designed to be invisible to radar, and many radar systems filter out signals not matching the normal characteristics of aircraft. Did it really make sense to entirely ignore the observations of several witnesses?

A healthy skepticism about extraterrestrial space travelers leads people to disregard U.F.O. sightings without a moment’s thought. But in the United States, this translates into over dependence on radar data and indifference to all kinds of unidentified aircraft - a weakness that could be exploited by terrorists or anyone seeking to engage in espionage against the United States.

The American government has not investigated U.F.O. sightings since 1969, when the Air Force ended Project Blue Book, an effort to scientifically analyze all sightings to see if any posed a threat to national security. Britain and France, in contrast, continue to investigate U.F.O. sightings, because of concerns that some sightings might be attributable to foreign military aircraft breaching their airspace, or to foreign space-based systems of interest to the intelligence community.

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Global Trade Talks Said To Collapse
2008-07-29 13:13:25
Trade officials said Tuesday that a high-level summit to salvage a global trade pact collapsed, after the United States, China and India failed to compromise on farm import rules.

Trade officials from two developed and one emerging country told the Associated Press that a meeting of seven commercial powers broke up without agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Tuesday.

The officials said a United States dispute with China and India over farm import safeguards had effectively ended any hope of a breakthrough.

The United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared downcast as she began to brief reporters. She said negotiators were “so close on Friday,” but then stopped speaking. Asked if the round was over, she said: “I didn’t say that” and walked away.

Two officials said the director-general of the W.T.O., Pascal Lamy, had informed ministers that convergence could not be reached after nine days of talks.

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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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