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Friday, August 01, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday August 1 2008 - (813)

Friday August 1 2008 edition
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Editorial: 'The Jungle,' Again
2008-08-01 04:00:58
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, August 1, 2008.

A story from the upside-down world of immigration and labor:

A slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, develops an ugly reputation for abusing animals and workers. Reports of dirty, dangerous conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant accumulate for years, told by workers, union organizers, immigrant advocates and government investigators. A videotape by an animal-rights group shows workers pulling the windpipes out of living cows. A woman with a deformed hand tells a reporter of cutting meat for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for wages that labor experts call the lowest in the industry. This year, federal investigators amass evidence of rampant illegal hiring at the plant, which has been called “a kosher ‘Jungle.’ ”

The conditions at the Agriprocessors plant cry out for the cautious and deliberative application of justice.

In May, the government swoops in and arrests ... the workers, hundreds of them, for having false identity papers. The raid’s catch is so huge that the detainees are bused from little Postville to the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo. The defendants, mostly immigrants from Guatemala, are not charged with the usual administrative violations, but with “aggravated identity theft,” a serious crime.

They are offered a deal: They can admit their guilt to lesser charges, waive their rights, including the right to a hearing before an immigration judge, spend five months in prison, then be deported. Or, they can spend six months or more in jail without bail while awaiting a trial date, face a minimum two-year prison sentence and be deported anyway.

Nearly 300 people agree to the five months, after being hustled through mass hearings, with one lawyer for 17 people, each having about 30 minutes of consultation per client. The plea deal is a brutal legal vise, but the immigrants accept it as the quickest way back to their spouses and children, hundreds of whom are cowering in a Catholic church, afraid to leave and not knowing how they will survive. The workers are scattered to federal lockups around the country. Many families still do not know where they are. The plant’s owners walk freely.

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More Indicators Point To U.S. Recession
2008-08-01 04:00:39
The American economy expanded more slowly than expected from April to June, the government reported Thursday, while numbers for the last three months of 2007 were revised downward to show a contraction - the first official slide backward since the last recession in 2001.

Economists construed the tepid growth in the second quarter, combined with a surge in claims for unemployment benefits, as a clear indication that the economy remains mired in the weeds of a downturn. Many said the data increased the likelihood that a recession began late last year.

The next major piece of data comes Friday, when the government is to release its monthly snapshot of the job market. Analysts expect the report to show a loss of 75,000 jobs, signifying the seventh straight month of declines.

“We already knew the economy was weak, and now you have both a negative growth number coupled with job losses,” said Dean Baker, a director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. “There’s a lot of real bad times to come.”

President Bush zeroed in on the positive growth in the second quarter - a 1.9 percent annual rate of expansion, compared with an anticipated 2.3 percent rate. That follows growth of 0.9 percent in the first quarter. He claimed success for the $100 billion in tax rebates sent out by the government this year in a bid to spur spending, along with $52 billion in tax cuts for businesses.

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Phoenix Sends Message To NASA: Water On Mars, I've Tasted It
2008-08-01 04:00:19

NASA scientists Thursday night confirmed that there is water on Mars. The space agency's Phoenix lander has identified ice in a soil sample analyzed by its on-board laboratory.

Previous orbiting missions had beamed data such as the view of the planet's surface, above. Others indicated there was ice on the red planet - but Phoenix's discovery is the first direct evidence. "I can now say I'm the first mission to Mars to touch and then taste the water," came the message from Phoenix's Twitter feed Thursday. 

NASA has extended the mission until September 30, adding five weeks to the scheduled 90 days of operations on the surface.

"Phoenix is healthy and the projections for solar power look good, so we want to take full advantage of having this resource in one of the most interesting locations on Mars," said Michael Meyer, chief scientist for the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The soil sample was scraped out of the roughly five-centimeter deep "Snow White" trench on Wednesday. Two previous attempts to deliver fresh material to the lander's on-board oven failed when the soil became stuck in the scoop. This time the scientists exposed most of the material in the sample to the air for two days, so some water vaporized, thus making the soil easier to handle. The find fulfills one of the Phoenix lander's two main objectives - to "study the history of water in the Martian arctic". The other is to study the potential for life in the ice-soil boundary.

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U.S. Officials: Pakistani Agents Helped Plan Kabul Bombing
2008-08-01 04:00:01

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that elements of Pakistan's military intelligence service provided logistical support to militants who staged last month's deadly car bombing at the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, U.S. officials familiar with the evidence said Thursday.

The finding, based partly on communication intercepts, has dramatically heightened U.S. concerns about long-standing ties between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, and Taliban-allied groups that are battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan, according to two U.S. government officials briefed on the matter.

The July 7 bombing at the Kabul embassy has been linked to fighters loyal to Jalaluddin Haqqani, an ethnic Pashtun militant who has led pro-Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and has been associated with numerous suicide bombings in the region. More than 40 people were killed in one of the deadliest attacks on Afghan civilians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

"There continues to be evidence of Taliban and Haqqani network involvement in the Indian Embassy bombing as well as the attempted assassination of [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the reports. He said there was "significant" evidence suggesting that individual ISI members provided logistical support to the embassy bombers. He declined to elaborate further.

CIA officials raised the issue of possible ISI support for the embassy bombers during a meeting last month between the newly elected Pakistani government and a delegation led by Stephen Kappes, the agency's director of clandestine operations, two officials said. The conclusion by U.S. intelligence and the visit were first reported by the New York Times.

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Homeland Security Says Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At Border
2008-08-01 03:59:36

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

"The policies ... are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he intends to introduce legislation soon that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion or national origin.

DHS officials said the newly disclosed policies - which apply to anyone entering the country, including U.S. citizens - are reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism. Officials said such procedures have long been in place but were disclosed last month because of public interest in the matter.

Civil liberties and business travel groups have pressed the government to disclose its procedures as an increasing number of international travelers have reported that their laptops, cellphones and other digital devices had been taken - for months, in at least one case - and their contents examined.

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Federal Judge Rules White House Aides Can Be Subpoenaed
2008-07-31 14:27:39
President Bush's top advisers are not immune from congressional subpoenas, a federal judge ruled Thursday in an unprecedented dispute between the two political branches.

House Democrats called the ruling a ringing endorsement of the principle that nobody is above the law. They swiftly announced that the Bush officials who have defied their subpoenas, including Bush's former top adviser Karl Rove, must appear as part of a probe of whether the White House directed the firings of nine federal prosecutors. Democrats announced plans to open hearings at the height of election season.

The Bush administration was expected to appeal.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Bates said there's no legal basis for Bush's argument and that his former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, must appear before Congress. If she wants to refuse to testify, he said, she must do so in person. The committee also has sought to force testimony from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.

''Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena,'' Bates wrote. He said that both Bolten and Miers must give Congress all non-privileged documents related to the firings.

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Sen. Stevens Pleads Not Guilty In Corruption Case
2008-07-31 14:27:15
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has pleaded not guilty to charges he lied about accepting more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of gifts from a powerful oilfield contractor.

In the midst of his re-election bid, lawyers for the Senate's longest-serving Republican maintained Stevens' innocence at his afternoon arraignment in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Stevens, wearing a cream colored suit, did not speak when U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan asked for his plea. Stevens' attorney, Brendan Sullivan, answered for him.

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NASA Finds Liquid On Saturn's Moon Titan
2008-07-31 14:26:48
At least one of many large, lake-like features on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, making it the only body in the solar system besides Earth known to have liquid on its surface, NASA said Wednesday.

Scientists positively identified the presence of ethane, according to a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which manages the international Cassini spacecraft mission exploring Saturn, its rings and moons.

Liquid ethane is a component of crude oil.

Cassini has made more than 40 close flybys of Titan, a giant planet-sized satellite of the ringed world.

Scientists had theorized that Titan might have oceans of methane, ethane and other hydrocarbons, but Cassini found hundreds of dark, lake-like features instead, and it wasn't known at first whether they were liquid or dark, solid material, said JPL's statement.
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U.S. GDP Grows At Tepid 1.9 Percent Despite Stimulus
2008-07-31 14:26:22

The U.S. economy grew less than expected from April to June despite a huge booster shot of tax rebates, the government reported on Thursday, dimming the outlook for a quick recovery.

And more bad news may lie ahead: new claims for unemployment benefits jumped to a five-year high last week, an ominous sign for the ailing labor market that could signal a further decrease in spending in the months ahead.

Gross domestic product (G.D.P.) expanded at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said, primarily because of a surge in export sales powered by the weak dollar. The government’s tax stimulus package,  which put billions of dollars into consumers’ pockets, led to only a modest rise in consumer spending, and many businesses were caught off-guard by the slowdown in sales.

The government also revised down its G.D.P. estimates for the past three years, effectively removing the sheen from what was once considered a time of robust growth. The economy actually shrank in the last three months of 2007, the first contraction since the recession of 2001. The government had originally reported growth of 0.6 percent for that quarter.

Stocks around the world initially dropped on the news, with European markets turning negative and shares in New York falling sharply at the opening bell. While foreign stocks largely rebounded, the Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 100 points at midday.

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7 Killed As Small Jet Crashes In Minnesota
2008-07-31 14:25:38
A small jet flying from New Jersey to Minnesota crashed in poor weather Thursday, killing seven business travelers.

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said the plane went down at or near a regional airport about 60 miles south of the Twin Cities. A line of storm thunderstorms was moving across southern Minnesota at the time.

Cory said authorities believe the aircraft took off from Atlantic City, New Jersey, but cautioned that the information was preliminary.

The flight-tracking Web site showed a Raytheon Hawker 800 business jet was due to arrive in Owatonna from Atlantic City at 9:42 a.m. Thursday. The plane was scheduled to leave an hour later for Crossville, Tennessee.

The plane was operated by a charter firm called East Coast Jets Inc. A person who answered the phone at the company declined to comment.

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'Dead Zone' In The Gulf Of Mexico Is Near Record Size
2008-07-31 01:35:32

The "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, an area on the seabed with too little oxygen to support fish, shrimp, crabs and other forms of marine life, is nearly the largest on record this year, about 8,000 square miles, researchers said this week.

Only the churning effects of Hurricane Dolly last week, they said, prevented the dead zone from being the largest ever.

The problem of hypoxia - very low levels of dissolved oxygen - is a downstream effect of fertilizers used for agriculture in the Mississippi River watershed. Nitrogen is the major culprit, flowing into the Gulf and spurring the growth of algae. Animals called zooplankton eat the algae, excreting pellets that sink to the bottom like tiny stones. This organic matter decays in a process that depletes the water of oxygen.

Researchers expected the dead zone to set a record - even more than the 8,500 square miles observed in 2002 - after the Mississippi, swollen with floodwaters, carried an extraordinary amount of nitrates into the Gulf, about 37 percent more than last year and the most since measuring these factors was begun in 1970.

The researchers set out July 20 aboard the Pelican, a 115-foot academic research vessel, and braved 12-foot waves and 35-mph winds from the outer bands of Dolly to take samples. The hypoxia began to appear about halfway to the bottom in waters ranging from 10 to 130 feet deep, said Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, which conducted the study. Some water samples from the bottom of the water column showed no oxygen at all, and instead bore the signature odor of hydrogen sulfide emerging from underlying sediments.

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Canada's Defense Minister: Not In Afghanistan To Guard Pipelines
2008-07-31 01:34:53
Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay insisted Wednesday that Canadian troops are not in Afghanistan to guard a new natural gas pipeline being built through the southern part of the country.

MacKay told a Halifax radio talk show that Canada has to let Afghanistan map its own future.

He said fears that Canadian troops may end up paying a hefty price to protect the U.S.-backed project from insurgents are unfounded.

“We have to decide what role, if any, we'll play,” said MacKay. “We are not there specifically to protect a pipeline across Afghanistan.”

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Arthur C. Clarke's Last Vision
2008-07-31 01:33:36
Arthur C. Clarke's health was failing fast, but he still had a story to tell. So he turned to fellow science fiction writer Frederik Pohl, and together the longtime friends wrote what turned out to be Clarke's last novel.

"The Last Theorem," which grew from 100 pages of notes scribbled by Clarke, is more than a futuristic tale about a mathematician who discovers a proof to a centuries-old mathematical puzzle.

The novel, due in bookstores August 5, represents a historic collaboration between two of the genre's most influential writers in the twilight of their careers. Clarke, best known for his 1968 work, "2001: A Space Odyssey," died in March at age 90; Pohl is 89.

"As much as anything, it'll be a historic artifact," says Robin Wayne Bailey, a former president of Science Fiction Writers of America and a writer. "This is a book between two of the last remaining giants in the field."

Clarke originally intended "The Last Theorem" to be his last solo project, and he began writing it in 2002.

Progress was slow because of his poor health, and he missed the book's original 2005 publication deadline. Worried the book wouldn't be published at all, he began to search for a co-author.

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Judge Orders Former White House Counsel Miers To Testify
2008-08-01 04:00:50

A federal judge Thursday ordered a former White House counsel to testify before a U.S. House committee, rejecting the Bush administration's broad claims of executive privilege in its fight with Congress over the role politics played in the firing of nine federal prosecutors.

Wading into a landmark legal battle between Congress and President Bush, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates sided firmly with lawmakers. Bates ordered former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which had filed suit after being rebuffed by the administration, to answer questions about the dismissals.

He also ruled that White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten must turn over documents to the committee or explain in detail why records are being withheld.

The Bush administration has increasingly invoked executive privilege in its battles with Congress over documents and testimony related to issues as diverse as greenhouse gas emissions and FBI interviews of Vice President Cheney about the controversial leak of a CIA officer's identity.

Bates, who was appointed by Bush, seemed particularly concerned with White House assertions that Miers and other close presidential advisers had immunity from ever appearing before congressional committees.

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Commentary: Harvesting Money In A Hungry World
2008-08-01 04:00:28
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Victor Davis Hanson, a former raisin farmer and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and author of "Fields Without Dreams" and "The Land Was Everything". It appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, August 1, 2008. Mr. Hanson's commentary follows:

The latest round of global agricultural trade negotiations that began seven years ago in Doha, Qatar, collapsed in acrimony this week in Geneva. While India and China are getting the blame for refusing to reduce import tariffs and farm subsidies, you can assume that trade officials in Europe and the United States are breathing a sigh of relief that they aren’t going to have to limit their own protectionism.

Nothing new here. Nor is it a staggering blow to world trade: the aggregate loss caused by the trade barriers in question is probably no more than $70 billion in a global imported food market of more than a trillion dollars. But what is different this time is a backdrop of soaring food prices that makes all past assumptions seem ossified. It also makes the world’s poorest people even more vulnerable when trade bureaucrats in both the wealthy West and rising East make vapid arguments.

Usually trade in agricultural produce involves governments’ efforts to prop up farmers who claim they will go broke without subsidies and tariffs. Constant improvements in technology, mechanization, plant breeding and farm chemicals have steadily increased food production per acre, and for the last 30 years led to a world that we assumed would be awash in cheap food.

Yet world prices for wheat, corn, rice, soy, coffee, cotton, dairy products, meats, fruits and vegetables have suddenly reached record levels. Why now?

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Report: Anthrax Scientist Kills Himself As FBI Closes In
2008-08-01 04:00:12
A top U.S. biodefense researcher apparently committed suicide just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him in the anthrax mailings that traumatized the nation in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a published report.

The scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who worked for the past 18 years at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland, had been told about the impending prosecution, the Los Angeles Times reported for Friday editions. The laboratory has been at the center of the FBI's investigation of the anthrax attacks, which killed five people.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland. The Los Angeles Times, quoting an unidentified colleague, said the scientist had taken a massive dose of a prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine.

Tom Ivins, a brother of the scientist, told the Associated Press that another of his brothers, Charles, told him Bruce had committed suicide.

A woman who answered the phone at Charles Ivins' home in Etowah, North Carolina, refused to wake him and declined to comment on his death. "This is a grieving time," she said.

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Commentary: Time Running Out To Stop Irreversible Climate Change
2008-08-01 03:59:51
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Andrew Simms, policy director of Britain's New Economics Foundation (NEF) and head of the foundation's Climate Change Program. His commentary appeared in the Guardian edition for Friday, August 1, 2008, and explains why humans must act now to mitigate global warming.

If you shout "fire" in a crowded theater, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behavior and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don't want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.

Because in just 100 months' time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change. That said, among people working on global warming, there are countless models, scenarios, and different iterations of all those models and scenarios. So, let us be clear from the outset about exactly what we mean.

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, approximately 1,000 tons of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.

Faced with circumstances that clearly threaten human civilization, scientists at least have the sense of humor to term what drives this process as "positive feedback". But if translated into an office workplace environment, it's the sort of "positive feedback" from a manager that would run along the lines of: "You're fired, you were rubbish anyway, you have no future, your home has been demolished and I've killed your dog."

In climate change, a number of feedback loops amplify warming through physical processes that are either triggered by the initial warming itself, or the increase in greenhouse gases. One example is the melting of ice sheets. The loss of ice cover reduces the ability of the Earth's surface to reflect heat and, by revealing darker surfaces, increases the amount of heat absorbed. Other dynamics include the decreasing ability of oceans to absorb CO2 due to higher wind strengths linked to climate change. This has already been observed in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and adding to climate change.

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British Airways Posts 88 Percent Drop In 1st-Quarter Profits
2008-08-01 03:59:21
British Airways posted a fall of 88 percent in first quarter profit and said the trading environment was the worst the industry has ever faced as high oil prices, the economic slowdown and weak consumer confidence hit.

The British carrier reduced its annual revenue target to 3 percent from 4 percent previously and said it would raise ticket prices during the year to recoup losses from a planned 3 percent reduction in winter capacity.

"This is the worst trading environment the industry has ever faced and fares are likely to go up as we reduce some winter capacity and cope with unprecedented oil prices but we won't be grounding any aircraft," CEO Willie Walsh told reporters on a conference call.

Profit before tax for the three months to end-June fell to 37 million pounds ($74 million) from 298 million pounds ($596 million) in the 1st quarter last year, missing an average forecast of 49 million pounds ($98 million) supplied by British Airways.

Analysts' forecasts for pretax profit ranged from 16 million pounds to 87 million.

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Bush Administration Proposal Pits Patients' Rights Against Religious Freedom
2008-07-31 14:27:29

A Bush administration proposal aimed at protecting health-care workers who object to abortion, and to birth-control methods they consider tantamount to abortion, has escalated a bitter debate over the balance between religious freedom and patients' rights.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) is reviewing a draft regulation that would deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that does not accommodate employees who want to opt out of participating in care that runs counter to their personal convictions, including providing birth-control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive.

Conservative groups, abortion opponents and some members of Congress are welcoming the initiative as necessary to safeguard doctors, nurses and other health workers who, they say, are increasingly facing discrimination because of their beliefs or are being coerced into delivering services they find repugnant.

The draft proposal has sparked intense criticism by family planning advocates, women's health activists, and members of Congress who say the regulation would create overwhelming obstacles for women seeking abortions and birth control.

There is also deep concern that the rule could have far-reaching, but less obvious, implications. Because of its wide scope and because it would - apparently for the first time - define abortion in a federal regulation as anything that affects a fertilized egg, the regulation could raise questions about a broad spectrum of scientific research and care, critics say.

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Editorial: A Senate Lion Brought Down
2008-07-31 14:27:05
Intellpuke:  This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, July 31, 2008.

Any member of Congress should be able to see the larger lesson in the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaskan patriarch accused of concealing more than $250,000 in home improvements and furnishings allegedly bestowed by the state’s chief power broker.

Unfortunately, that lesson - beware of favor-seekers bearing gifts - strikes so directly to the heart of the back-scratching political culture of Washington that time and again lawmakers become inured to the risks and put their careers in jeopardy.

Mr. Stevens denies any corrupt behavior and insists that he paid for everything he received from William Allen, one of his state’s dominant oil magnates until last year, when he admitted to bribing a half-dozen state politicians to get government favors. That will be up to a jury to decide. But Mr. Stevens’ constituents have a right to wonder why their revered senator, a Republican who has served them fiercely for four decades, ever agreed to have his home richly upgraded by someone so obviously hunting for the inside track to politicians.

No bribery charge or quid pro quo is specified, which is always a difficult case for prosecutors to prove. Rather, Senate ethics violations are the core of the case, and this is as it should be. The senator is accused of concealing the alleged gifts from required disclosure to the public. At the same time, prosecutors say that Mr. Stevens “did use his official position and his office” to help Mr. Allen with oil deals ranging from Russia and Pakistan to special grants and contracts in Alaska.

In the money-driven context of American politics, the perks of incumbency can transform into a sense of personal entitlement as V.I.P. back-slappers relentlessly donate and entreat their way into a grateful politician’s inner circle.

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Exxon Mobil Sets Record $11.68 Billion Profit In 2nd Quarter
2008-07-31 14:26:37
Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, reported on Thursday its best quarterly profit in history, but investors sold off shares in morning trading after expecting even higher earnings because of soaring oil and natural gas prices.

Record earnings for the world’s largest publicly traded oil company have become almost as predictable as the surge of gasoline prices at the pump in recent years, and for the second quarter income rose 14 percent, to $11.68 billion.

It is the highest quarterly profit ever for any American company, as Exxon made nearly $90,000 a minute.

Such profits have made Exxon Mobil a target of politicians in recent years, propelling calls for windfall profits taxes to finance research and development for renewable fuels to replace oil.

The principal reason for the company’s banquet of riches is rising fuel prices. Crude oil prices in the second quarter averaged more than $124 a barrel, 91 percent higher than the same quarter in 2007, according to Oppenheimer & Company. Natural gas prices averaged $10.80 per thousand cubic feet, up 43 percent from the quarter a year ago.

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Bus Passenger Stabs, Beheads Another Passenger
2008-07-31 14:25:48
As horrified travelers watched, a Greyhound Canada bus passenger repeatedly stabbed and then decapitated the young man sitting beside him, who was sleeping with his head leaning against the window, a witness said Thursday.

"There was a blood-curdling scream. I was just reading my book, and all of a sudden I heard it," said Garnet Caton, who was sitting in front of the two men.

"It was like something between a dog howling and a baby crying, I guess you could say. I don't think it will leave me for a while."

Caton said he shouted at the other passengers, many of whom also were sleeping, to leave.

"Everybody got off the bus. Me and a trucker that stopped and the Greyhound driver ran up to the door to maybe see if the guy was still alive or we could help or something like that," Caton told CNN.

"And when we all got up, we saw that the guy was cutting off the guy's head. ... When he saw us, he came back to the front of the bus, told the driver to shut the door. He pressed the button and the door shut, but it didn't shut in time, and the guy was able to get his knife out and take a swipe at us," said Caton.

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Republicans Giving Money They Got From Stevens To Charity
2008-07-31 01:35:45
Republican senators facing reelection challenges sought to insulate themselves from indicted Sen. Ted Stevens Wednesday by promising to donate to charity tens of thousands of dollars they received from the veteran Alaska lawmaker's political action committee (PAC).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the Republican Conference, led the way, with each disclosing that he'd relinquish $10,000 in campaign donations from Stevens' Northern Lights PAC.

Minnesota freshman Sen. Norm Coleman, who's fighting to win reelection against comedian-turned-politician Al Franken, decided to give away $20,000 that his campaign and his own leadership PAC got from Stevens' PAC.

The Republican senators acted a day after Stevens was indicted on charges of lying to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts from VECO Corp., a former Alaska oil services company at the center of a public corruption scandal that already has netted seven criminal convictions.

North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole acted quickly on Tuesday, announcing that she'd give $10,000 from Stevens' PAC to a campaign to fight hunger, as did Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts.

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Trade Collapse A Blow For Tackling Global Warming
2008-07-31 01:35:21
Prospects for global co-operation to tackle climate change weakened Wednesday as the collapse of trade liberalization talks cast doubt on the international community's capacity to act in concert for a common good.

A downbeat Kevin Rudd, Australia's Prime Minister - who had personally stayed up to 2 a.m. calling world leaders - was Wednesday "deeply, deeply disappointed" that World Trade Organization talks, which would have reduced barriers to international trade, had been abandoned in the Swiss city of Geneva.

The Prime Minister suggested the failure of the talks augured poorly for the completion of international negotiations aimed at crafting a global agreement for carbon emissions reductions to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012.

The climate talks, due to be finalized at a U.N. meeting late next year in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, are seen as crucial to creating a global approach to climate change by creating co-operation between developed and developing nations.

Rudd said the climate talks, which hope to include the big emitters who spurned the Kyoto pact, such as the U.S. and China, would be extremely difficult. The finalization of the talks is important to Rudd, whose proposal to begin an emissions trading scheme in 2010 will be attacked as meaningless without commitments by big carbon emitters.

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IOC Press Chief Says News Media Not Told Of Censorship Plan
2008-07-31 01:33:52
The international media should have been told they would not have completely free access to the internet before they arrived to report the Beijing Olympics, IOC press chief Kevan Gosper told Reuters on Thursday.

As the row over censorship continued to rumble, Gosper said that both he and the international media had been taken by surprise that some sensitive websites had been blocked despite many assurances from Beijing organizers that they would be able to work normally during the Games, which start on August 8.

Gosper said: "It's clear that I have been providing, on behalf of the IOC, incomplete information."

Gosper said he had never been told that some IOC officials had held discussions with local organizers BOCOG that some websites not directly connected to the Games could be blocked.

"Had I and the international media been informed earlier of this understanding that certain websites would be inaccessible, we would not now find ourselves in the position where they, as well as myself, have been taken by surprise," he said.

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