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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday August 6 2008 - (813)

Wednesday August 6 2008 edition
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McCain Security Kicks Out Black Reporter
2008-08-06 00:34:45
Tallahassee Democrat senior writer Stephen Price on Friday was singled out and asked to leave a media area at the Panama City rally of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

Price was among at least three other reporters, and the only black reporter, surrounding McCain's campaign bus -- Gov. Charlie Crist and his fiancee, Carole Rome, were already aboard -- when a member of the Arizona senator's security detail asked the reporter to identify himself. Price had shown his media credentials to enter the area.

Price showed his employee identification as well as his credentials for the Friday event.

"I explained I was with the state press, but the Secret Service man said that didn't matter and that I would have to go," Price said.

When another reporter asked why Price was being removed, she too was led out of the area. Other state reporters remained.

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The Fragmented Future Of World Trade
2008-08-05 20:32:29
The idea was to create a unified trading regime for the entire globe, but with World Trade Organization talks failing last week, the future of trade looks much more fragmented. Myriad bilateral agreements are on the horizon - and bitter trade wars are likely.

The day after the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks collapsed amid squabbling last Tuesday, with the limousines already lined up along Geneva's lakeside promenade, the participants to the conference suddenly appeared to have found agreement after all - at least when it came to their choice of words.

Indonesian Minister of Trade Mari Elka Pangestu said that she was "deeply disappointed." Kamal Nath, the Indian industry minister, also expressed his "deep disappointment." When U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab spoke of a "very disappointing turn of events," European Trade Commissioner and avowed cynic Peter Mandelson couldn't help but echo the general sense of official mourning over the conference. It was "heart-breaking," Mandelson said of the meeting's outcome.

This collective melancholy is certainly appropriate. For nine days, the senior representatives of 153 countries attempted in vain to agree on a new set of rules and regulations to govern international trade. The ultimate failure last week of this most recent effort, may mark the end of mankind's dream of a world without borders and customs barriers.

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Book Says White House Ordered Forgery
2008-08-05 20:31:59
A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in "The Way of the World," to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery - adamantly denied by the White House - was designed to portray a false link between Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.

The author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a top Iraqi intelligence official "that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion."

The letter's existence has been reported before, and it had been written about as if it were genuine. It was passed in Baghdad to a reporter for The (London) Sunday Telegraph who wrote about it on the front page of Dec. 14, 2003, under the headline, "Terrorist behind September 11 strike 'was trained by Saddam'."

The Telegraph story by Con Coughlin (which, coincidentally, ran the day Hussein was captured in his "spider hole") was touted in the U.S. media by supporters of the war, and he was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"Over the next few days, the Habbush letter continued to be featured prominently in the United States and across the globe," Suskind writes. "Fox's Bill O'Reilly trumpeted the story Sunday night on 'The O'Reilly Factor,' talking breathlessly about details of the story and exhorting, 'Now, if this is true, that blows the lid off al-Qaeda-Saddam.'"

According to Suskind, the administration had been in contact with the director of the Iraqi intelligence service in the last years of Hussein's regime, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti.

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11 Charged In Theft Of 40 Million Credit Card Numbers
2008-08-05 19:03:28
The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it had charged 11 people in the theft of tens of millions of credit and debit card numbers of customers shopping at major retailers, including TJX Companies.

The United States Attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, said those charged were involved in the theft of more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers. Prosecutors said they believe it was the largest identity-theft case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The charges focus on three people from the United States, three from the Ukraine, two from China, one from Estonia and one from Belarus.

The authorities said that the scheme was spearheaded by a Miami, Florida, man named Albert Gonzalez, who hacked into the computer systems of retailers including TJX, BJ's Wholesale Club, Office Max, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 and DSW Inc.

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Chinese Paramilitary Beat Two Japanese Journalists
2008-08-05 19:02:57
Chinese paramilitary police beat two Japanese journalists Monday night in the border city of Kashgar, where a deadly attack targeting police officers had occurred hours earlier, said journalist groups.

Paramilitary police detained Masami Kawakita, a photographer with the Chunichi newspaper, and Shinji Katsuta, a reporter with the Nippon Television Network, as they were covering the recent attack on police, said the Foreign Correspondents Club of China and Reporters Without Borders.

The police yanked them off the street, beat them and damaged their equipment, according to the two journalist groups - which cited the journalists' employers, several witnesses, and the national Kyodo news service of Japan.

On Tuesday the police apologized to the journalists, said the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

"It was unbelievable," Kawakita said, according to the correspondents club. "Imagine how I felt to be suddenly surrounded by paramilitaries."

The two were covering Monday's attack, which according to Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency killed 16 police officers and injured another 16.
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Stocks Rally As Oil Hits Three-Month Low
2008-08-05 19:02:23

Oil prices dropped to a three-month low on Tuesday, fanning optimism that the crisis in commodities has eased and sending stocks to a red-hot rally, shortly before the Federal Reserve weighs in on the nation’s economic outlook.

The Dow Jones industrials advanced more than 200 points, and the broader stock market rose 1.8 percent. The gains were led by stocks that have performed poorly this year: financial firms and companies dependent on free-spending consumers.

Investors were cheered by the steep drop in crude oil, which fell as low as $118 before climbing back slightly. Before noon, oil was trading at $119.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. 

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact causes for daily market moves, some analysts pointed to weather forecasts predicting that the tropical storm hitting the coast of Texas would bypass major drilling platforms and refineries. That would mean no serious disruptions to domestic oil supplies, which some had initially feared.

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6.1 Magnitude Earthquake Kills 1 In China's Sichuan Province
2008-08-05 19:01:31
A 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck China's Sichuan province on Tuesday, killing at least one person and seriously injuring five others, a local emergency official said.

The official told CNN another 18 people suffered minor injuries.

The Sichuan region is still recovering from the after-effects of a devastating 7.9-magnitude temblor in May.

The earthquake's epicenter was located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north-northwest of Guangyuan, near Sichuan's border with neighboring Gansu province.

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Smoke In Cockpit Force American Airline Emergency Landing At L.A. Airport
2008-08-05 19:00:48
Passengers were evacuated Tuesday morning from an American Airlines jet that made an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport when smoke was detected in the cockpit.

The Boeing 757 was bound for Honolulu but turned back for LAX after the pilot reported the smoke, said Paul Haney, deputy airport director. American Flight 31 landed safely about 9:30 a.m., said Ian Gregor, an Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

Passengers and crew exited the plane on emergency chutes. The crew in the cockpit donned oxygen masks when they saw the smoke, said Haney.

Firefighters were on the tarmac to assist with the exit.

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Numbers Of Registered Republicans Drop In Several States
2008-08-05 06:21:29

Well before Senators Barack Obama and John McCain rose to the top of their parties, a partisan shift was under way at the local and state level. For more than three years starting in 2005, there has been a reduction in the number of voters who register with the Republican Party and a rise among voters who affiliate with Democrats and, almost as often, with no party at all.

While the implications of the changing landscape for Obama and McCain are far from clear, voting experts say the registration numbers may signal the beginning of a move away from Republicans that could affect local, state and national politics over several election cycles. Already, there has been a sharp reversal for Republicans in many statehouses and governors’ mansions.

In several states, including the traditional battlegrounds of Nevada and Iowa, Democrats have surprised their own party officials with significant gains in registration. In both of those states, there are now more registered Democrats than Republicans, a flip from 2004. No states have switched to the Republicans over the same period, according to data from 26 of the 29 states in which voters register by party. (Three of the states did not have complete data.)

In six states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, the Democratic piece of the registration pie grew more than three percentage points, while the Republican share declined. In only three states - Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma - did Republican registration rise while Democratic registration fell, but the Republican increase was less than a percentage point in Kentucky and Oklahoma. Louisiana was the only state to register a gain of more than one percentage point for Republicans as Democratic numbers declined.

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Nearly Half The World's Primates At Risk Of Extinction
2008-08-05 06:20:52

Nearly half of all primate species are now threatened with extinction, according to an evaluation by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN).

The study, which drew on the work of hundreds of scientists and is the most comprehensive analysis for more than a decade, found that the conservation outlook for monkeys, apes and other primates has dramatically worsened.

In some regions, the thriving bushmeat trade means the animals are being "eaten to extinction".

The 2007 IUCN "red list" has 39% of primate species and sub-species in the three highest threat categories - vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered. In today's revised list, 303 of the 634 species and sub-species - 48% - are in these most threatened categories.

The two biggest threats faced by primates are habitat destruction through logging and hunting for bushmeat and the illegal wildlife trade.

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Alaska Sues U.S. Interior Dept. Over Listing Polar Bears As Threatened Species
2008-08-05 06:19:01
The state of Alaska sued Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Monday, seeking to reverse his decision to list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Gov. Sarah Palin and other state officials fear a listing will cripple offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in Alaska's northern waters, which provide prime habitat for the only polar bears under U.S. jurisdiction.

"We believe that the Service's decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available," Palin said in announcing the lawsuit.

Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead author of the petition that led to the listing, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists addressed skeptics' objections during the listing process. She called the lawsuit "completely ridiculous and a waste of the court's time."

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Turkey Appoints Anti-Islamist Military Chief
2008-08-05 06:18:23

Turkey's powerful military sent out an uncompromising message of support for the country's secular system Monday by appointing a new head of the army known for his staunch opposition to Islamism.

Announced at a meeting of the supreme military council, General Ilker Basbug, 65, replaces retiring incumbent General Yasar Buyukanit as army chief of staff and will hold the post until 2010.

Though Basbug is strong advocate of NATO and Turkey's relationship with Israel, his appointment is expected to herald an easing of tensions between the military and the Justice and Development party (AKP) government. Last week the AKP narrowly escaped being dissolved by the constitutional court for allegedly trying to create an Islamic state. That decision ended months of uncertainty after the chief prosecutor had sought the closure of the party, which has Islamist roots.

However, the court effectively put the AKP on probation by depriving the party of half its annual state funding after ruling that it had been a "focal point of anti-secularism", creating potential for continued secular-religious friction.

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Chicago's Wrigley Field Evacuated After Tornado Warning
2008-08-05 06:17:39
A powerful storm led to tornado warnings in downtown Chicago, Illinois, and the evacuation of fans from the stands at Chicago's Wrigley Field on Monday night.

The National Weather Service had not confirmed any tornado touchdowns. But it says trained spotters have reported high-rotation winds in DeKalb and Kane counties in northeastern Illinois, where widespread tree and power line damage was reported.

Fans at the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros game were evacuated from Wrigley Field's stands into the stadium concourse as tornado sirens blared throughout the city.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Bob Sejnoha, of Algonquin, who was at the Cubs game.

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Future Los Angeles Volcano?
2008-08-05 21:44:53
A patch of land in Ventura County's section of Los Padres National Forest where the ground recently heated up to 812 degrees F continues to puzzle firefighters and geologists after weeks of monitoring.

"It's a thermal anomaly," said Ron Oatman, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.  The 812-degree temperature was measured Friday about a foot below the surface, he said. No other temperature checks have been made since, according to Oatman.

Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, said he had not heard of hot spots in the oil field but was concerned about their potential effect on the nearby Sespe Condor Sanctuary and the forest's fire-prone nature.

"It's just a disaster waiting to happen . . . regardless of what the cause is," he said.

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'Major Discovery' From MIT Primed To Unleash Solar Revolution
2008-08-05 20:32:15
In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera,  the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity - whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source - runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

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Court: Brazil On The Brink Of Civil War
2008-08-05 20:31:45
Deep in the northernmost reaches of the Amazon jungle, a land conflict between rice farmers and a handful of Indian tribes has turned so violent that the country's Supreme Court warns it could escalate into civil war.

The court is expected to decide in August if the government can keep evicting rice farmers from a 4.2 million acre Indian reservation decreed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2005. The evictions were stopped in April when rice farmers started burning bridges and blockading roads, and justices said they feared a "veritable civil war."

The court's decision could help determine the future of the Amazon, whose remaining jungles provide a critical cushion against global warming. It could also redefine Brazil's policy toward its Indians at a time of frequent confrontations, as the country spends billions of dollars opening roads, building dams and promoting agribusiness across the world's largest remaining tropical wilderness.

Unlike in most other Latin American countries, where indigenous people are fighting for rights in mainstream society, most of Brazil's Indians continue to live in the jungle and maintain their languages and traditions. These Indians have fought for decades to keep or regain their ancestral lands.

Brazil's 1988 constitution declared that all Indian ancestral lands must be demarcated and turned over to tribes within five years. While that process has yet to be completed, today about 11 percent of Brazilian territory and nearly 22 percent of the Amazon is in Indian hands.
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Iraq Government Has $79 Billion In Unspent Cash
2008-08-05 19:03:12
The soaring price of oil will leave the Iraqi government with a cumulative budget surplus of as much as $79 billion by year’s end an American federal oversight agency has concluded in an analysis released on Tuesday.

The unspent windfall, which covers surpluses from oil sales from 2005 through 2008, appears likely to put an uncomfortable new focus on the approximately $48 billion in American taxpayer money devoted to rebuilding Iraq since the American-led invasion.

Over all, the report from the Government Accountability Officie (GAO) estimates, Iraqi oil revenue from 2005 through the end of this year will amount to at least $156 billion. And in an odd financial twist, large amounts of the surplus money is sitting in an American bank in New York - nearly $10 billion at the end of 2007, with more expected this year, when the accountability office estimates a skyrocketing surplus.

The report was requested by two senior senators, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and on Tuesday they were quick to express strong dissatisfaction over the contrast between American spending on reconstruction and the weak record of spending by Iraq itself, in spite of the colossal surpluses.

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Alleged Al-Qaeda Sleeper Agent In Custody
2008-08-05 19:02:42
One of the more elusive and mysterious figures linked to al-Qaeda - a Pakistani mother of three who studied biology at MIT and who authorities say spent years in the United States as a sleeper agent - was flown to New York on Monday night to face charges of attempting to kill U.S. military and FBI personnel in Afghanistan.

The Justice Department, FBI and U.S. military in Afghanistan said that Aafia Siddiqui, 36, was arrested in Ghazni province three weeks ago. She is accused of firing an automatic rifle at FBI agents and soldiers and is scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Manhattan Tuesday.

Authorities believe Siddiqui used the technical skills she acquired at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do what virtually no other woman has accomplished - work her way into the clubby inner circles of al-Qaeda's command and control operation, including its chemical and biological weapons program.

Questions swirled around her Monday evening, including whether she has been in Pakistani custody for at least part of the last five years and whether there is hard evidence that she was a trained, committed and hardened al-Qaeda operative, as former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials have contended.

"This doesn't pass the sniff test," Elaine W. Sharp, a Massachusetts defense lawyer representing Siddiqui, said of the circumstances surrounding her client's arrest. She said her client was not an al-Qaeda terrorist, but an innocent woman who had been held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan or elsewhere for the last several years and tortured by some combination of U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials.

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Gotti Arrested In Murder Conspiracy
2008-08-05 19:01:44
John A. Gotti has been charged with conspiracy for his role in a sprawling cocaine trafficking operation and in three mob-related killings in 1980s and ’90s, the United States attorney’s office in Tampa, Florida, announced on Tuesday.

Gotti, 44, who headed the Gambino crime family for a time, was arrested at his home in Oyster Bay, New York, early Tuesday morning on the federal racketeering and murder conspiracy charges, and is expected to be arraigned in Manhattan federal court.

Five others suspects were also charged in the wide-ranging racketeering indictments, Assistant United States Attorney Robert O’Neill said at a news conference in Tampa. He said all five - identified as John A. Burke, James V. Cadicamo, David D’Arpino, Michael D. Finnerty, and Guy T. Peden - were members of the Gambino organization.

O’Neill said the alleged criminal acts involved “the Gambino crime family reaching out to the Tampa Bay area,” and that the investigation had ranged widely, including work by federal investigators in New York, New Jersey, Miami and Philadelphia as well as Tampa.

If convicted, Gotti and the five others could be sentenced to life in prison.

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Edouard Hits Texas Coast With Rain, Winds, Then Weakens
2008-08-05 19:01:06
Tropical Storm Edouard hit the Texas Gulf coast east of Galveston on Tuesday with strong winds and heavy rain, but did little more than soak the travelers who came to relax on the tourist town's beaches.

The storm made landfall east of Galveston and west of the Louisiana border, between the small coastal town of High Island and Sabine Pass, and was weakening as it headed inland. Though forecasters had feared it could become a hurricane and both Texas and Louisiana had made emergency preparations, winds never reached hurricane strength of 74 mph. No major damage was reported.

In Galveston, a few surfers were in the water and some people were riding bikes at the beach as the rains approached.

"We are just out here enjoying it, trying to feel that good breeze that's coming in," said Robert Lemon, 45, of Sweeny, who said he was hoping the storm passed quickly so he could do some fishing.

On Bolivar Peninsula, a thin strip of land northeast of Galveston that separates Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, emergency workers were ready but had little to do. A few sat at the Gilchrist fire station amid emergency supplies, bottled water and air mattresses. But none of the 700 or so residents had called for help.

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High Gas Prices Put Brakes On Suburban Migration
2008-08-05 06:21:45

That 1958 brick rambler inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway is suddenly looking a lot better to Dawn and Jeff Schaefer, who are buying their first house in Northern Virginia.

Not too long ago, they were looking farther out - for a newer house, a bigger yard and all the amenities - but no more. "You get less house and property for the same price, but we're willing to make that sacrifice to save on gas prices and commuting costs," said Dawn Schaefer.

Cheap oil, which helped push the American Dream away from the city center, isn't so cheap anymore. As more and more families reconsider their dreams, land-use experts are beginning to ask whether $4-a-gallon gas is enough to change the way Americans have thought for half a century about where they live.

"We've passed that tipping point," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

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Freddie Mac Chief Discarded Warnings
2008-08-05 06:21:12

The chief executive of the mortgage giant Freddie Mac rejected internal warnings that could have protected the company from some of the financial crises now engulfing it, according to more than two dozen current and former high-ranking executives and others.

That chief executive, Richard F. Syron, in 2004 received a memo from Freddie Mac’s chief risk officer warning him that the firm was financing questionable loans that threatened its financial health.

Today, Freddie Mac and the nation’s other major mortgage finance company, Fannie Mae, are in such perilous condition that the federal government has readied a taxpayer-financed bailout that could cost billions. Though the current housing crisis would have undoubtedly caused problems at both companies, Freddie Mac insiders say Syron heightened those perils by ignoring repeated recommendations.

In an interview, Freddie Mac’s former chief risk officer, David A. Andrukonis, recalled telling Syron in mid-2004 that the company was buying bad loans that “would likely pose an enormous financial and reputational risk to the company and the country.”

Syron received a memo stating that the firm’s underwriting standards were becoming shoddier and that the company was becoming exposed to losses, according to Andrukonis and two others familiar with the document.

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Obama Urges Opening Up Oil Reserves
2008-08-05 06:20:35
Sen. Barack Obama called Monday for using oil from the nation's strategic reserves to lower gasoline prices, the second time in less than a week that he has modified a position on energy issues, as he and Sen. John McCain seek to find solutions to a topic that is increasingly dominating the presidential race.

In a speech here in Lansing, Michigan, Obama outlined a plan to reduce an addiction to foreign oil that he said is "one of the most dangerous and urgent threats this nation has ever faced." He repeated his call for a $1,000 "energy rebate" for low- and middle-income families that would be paid for by a windfall-profits tax on oil companies.

The Obama campaign did not predict how much releasing reserves would lower gas prices, but it said prices at the pump went down more than 19 percent within two weeks when President Bill Clinton made such a move in 2000.

His proposal comes a month after Obama said he would consider using oil from the reserves only in a "genuine emergency," such as "terrorist acts". Aides said the plan is not a reversal because he would replace light crude oil in the reserves with less-expensive heavy crude. They also noted that the senator from Illinois last week described the country's economic conditions as an "emergency."

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Toxin In Soil May Mean No Life On Mars
2008-08-05 06:18:42
NASA's Phoenix lander has discovered a toxic chemical in soil near Mars' north pole, dimming hopes for finding life on the Red Planet, the probe's operators said Monday.

The chemical, perchlorate, is an oxidant widely used in solid rocket fuel. Researchers are still puzzling over the results and checking to make sure the perchlorate wasn't carried to Mars from Earth, said the University of Arizona-based science team.

"While we have not completed our process on these soil samples, we have very interesting intermediate results," Peter Smith, the principal investigator for the project, said in a written statement.

Early readings from a device aboard Phoenix called the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, "suggested Earth-like soil," said Smith.

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Top Aide To Syrian President Assad Assassinated
2008-08-05 06:18:03

The mysterious assassination of a top Syrian army officer and right-hand man to President Bashar al-Assad has triggered intense speculation about a crisis inside the Damascus regime over its complex relations with Iran, Hezbollah and Israel.

According to one report, the seaside murder of Brigadier-General Muhammad Suleiman was perpetrated by a sniper firing from a yacht moored offshore.

Suleiman was described by Syrian officials as dealing with defense and security issues in Assad's private office. Israeli and Syrian opposition sources claimed he worked as "liaison" with the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, Israel's sworn enemy.

Suleiman, 49, was killed on a beach near the Syrian resort of Tartous on Friday.

Assad was in Iran when his trusted aide was buried on Sunday but senior figures, including Assad's brother Maher, the head of the presidential guard, were present at the funeral in the heartland of the Alawite sect that dominates the regime.

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