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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday October 19 2008 - (813)

Sunday October 19 2008 edition
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In U.S., States Face New Budget Shortfalls
2008-10-19 02:58:21
Economists worry that shriveling tax revenues may signal the onset of a history fiscal crisis for state governments. Pared down spending plans just months ago may have been just the start.

The moribund economy is drying up tax revenues more dramatically than expected, forcing 22 states, including California, to confront growing budget gaps. Some states have already eliminated jobs and services - and more cuts are likely.

The new shortfalls - totaling at least $11.2 billion - come just months after numerous states enacted belt-tightening measures while writing their yearly budgets. Officials also adjusted their revenue projections downward to account for the slowing economy. In many cases, the actual revenue for the first quarter of the fiscal year, which began July 1, has proven to be even lower.

The gaps "will almost certainly widen" as tax revenues continue to disappoint, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank that compiled the state data in a report this month.

Economists and other observers fear the numbers may signal the onset of a historic fiscal crisis for state governments.

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Muqtada al-Sadr Urges Iraq Lawmakers To Reject U.S. Troop Deal
2008-10-19 02:57:57
Thousands of supporters rally in Baghdad. A statement from the Shiite cleric calls on parliament: "Do not betray your people."

Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr warned Iraqi lawmakers that approving a U.S. troop agreement would be tantamount to a betrayal of the Iraqi people, as his supporters rallied Saturday against the deal.

As many as 20,000 protesters shouted, "No, no, America!" in a visceral display of the deep apprehension among Iraqis over the security pact that would extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires in December.

Iraqi officials, even those close to the Americans, have been reluctant to back a deal that could effectively label them a puppet of foreign powers. The government's close relationship with the Americans has enhanced the stature of Sadr, who has refused to cooperate with U.S. officials.

"They have portrayed this agreement in a manner as if it would end the presence of the occupation on our land, but the occupiers will remain with their bases, and anyone who tells you that this agreement will make us sovereign is a liar," Sadr said in a statement that was read by Sheik Abdul Hadi Mohamedawi to a sea of people waving red, white and black Iraqi flags.

"I know for a fact, my brothers in parliament, that you will favor the opinion of your people over the opinion of the occupier. Do not betray your people."

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Candidates Agree On Need To Address Global Warming
2008-10-18 15:46:55
Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama part company on many issues, but they agree that the Bush administration’s policies on global warming were far too weak.

Both candidates say that human-caused climate change is real and urgent, and that they would sharply divert from President Bush’s course by proposing legislation requiring sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

Such rare agreement has both industry and environmental groups expecting a big shift, no matter who is elected, on three fronts where the United States has been largely static for eight years: climate legislation, expansion of nonpolluting energy sources and leadership in global talks on fashioning a new climate treaty.

Quick progress could be held hostage to the financial crisis and the prospect of a worldwide recession. The economic turmoil could force the next president to delay legislation that imposes major new costs on struggling businesses or raises energy prices for consumers.

McCain has repeatedly pointed to his longtime focus on global warming, including a fact-finding trip with other lawmakers to the thawing Arctic and his co-authorship, in 2003, of the first comprehensive legislation seeking mandatory greenhouse-gas limits.

In recent weeks he has taken heat from some environmental activists for statements on the stump implying that he might not seek mandatory emission cuts. His campaign has not said how the ailing economy would affect his climate agenda.

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Spending Surge Pushing U.S. Deficit Toward $1 Trillion
2008-10-18 15:46:29

Congressional leaders and both presidential candidates are proposing billions of dollars in tax breaks and other measures to stoke economic growth, a surge in spending that could send the federal deficit soaring toward $1 trillion this year, creating the deepest well of red ink since the end of World War II.

The government already has embarked on an unprecedented spending spree to halt the implosion of the U.S. financial system and is borrowing money at levels that some economists fear could undermine the nation's economic security for years to come. Congress could consider additional spending as soon as next month, potentially digging the nation's hole even deeper.

"We're going to make Ronald Reagan look like a piker in terms of deficit creation, I think," said Rudolph Penner, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office during the Reagan administration.

The numbers are adding up fast. Since President Bush signed an economic stimulus package in February, authorizing billions of dollars in rebates for American taxpayers, the government has pledged as much as $1.5 trillion to prop up the teetering economy. It has approved new mortgages for struggling homeowners, salvage operations for faltering financial institutions and a historic $700 billion bailout plan to pump money into banks paralyzed by the financial crisis.

The Treasury Department so far has borrowed nearly $500 billion from pension plans, foreign governments and other investors to replenish the coffers of the Federal Reserve. Since the end of August, the national debt has jumped from $9.6 trillion to $10.3 trillion, with borrowing for the bank bailout yet to come.

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U.S. Rep. Fossella Convicted In Virginia Of Drunk Driving
2008-10-18 15:45:45
U.S. Representative Vito J. Fossella, a Staten Island Republican, was found guilty on Friday of a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of alcohol after being stopped on an Alexandria road early one morning last spring.

The decision, by a judge in Alexandria District Court, was the latest chapter in a scandal that began with his arrest in May, led to an admission that he had fathered a child in an extramarital affair, and eventually forced him to abandon his re-election bid. That decision gave New York Democrats a prime opportunity to pick up a Congressional seat that has been safely in Republican hands for decades.

Fossella, 43, who has a wife and three children in Staten Island, sat expressionless as Judge Becky J. Moore handed down her verdict. Under Virginia law, Fossella can appeal to have his case heard by a jury.

The prosecution is seeking a five-day jail sentence, the penalty for drivers who register a blood alcohol content of at least 0.15 percent. According to his arrest report, Fossella registered 0.133 percent during a roadside breath analysis test. After his arrest, prosecutors have said, he registered 0.17 percent on another machine. The legal limit in Virginia, as in most states, is 0.08 percent.

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Pakistan, Rebuffed By China, May Seek Aid From I.M.F.
2008-10-18 15:45:21
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardar returned from China late Friday without a commitment for cash needed to shore up Pakistan’s crumbling economy, leaving him with the politically unpopular prospect of having to ask the International Monetary Fund for help.

Pakistan was seeking the aid from China, an important ally, as it faces the possibility of defaulting on its current account payments.

With the United States and other nations preoccupied by a financial crisis, and Saudi Arabia, another traditional ally, refusing to offer concessions on oil, China was seen as the last port of call before the I.M.F.

Accepting a rescue package from the fund would be seen as humiliating for Zardari’s government, which took office this year.

An I.M.F.-backed plan would require Pakistan’s government to cut spending and raise taxes, among other measures, which could hurt the poor, said officials.

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Sen. Stevens Spars With Prosecutor
2008-10-18 00:47:09

A feisty Sen. Ted Stevens sparred with a federal prosecutor Friday, testifying at his corruption trial that he always paid his bills and that an oil services company played no role in remodeling his Alaska house.

Stevens (Alaska), one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, took the witness stand in his own defense to counter charges that he lied on financial disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his Girdwood house provided by a close friend, Bill Allen, who headed the now-defunct oil services company Veco.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that Stevens turned to Allen and Veco for the work because Stevens knew the labor would be free.

The 84-year-old lawmaker, who is running for reelection to a seventh full term, lived up to the combative reputation he has earned in Congress. A former prosecutor himself, Stevens repeatedly critiqued the way he was questioned by Justice Department attorney Brenda Morris. 

"I am not going to get in a numbers game with you," he said at one point. "You are not listening to me," he said, criticizing another of her questions as "tautological."

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Editorial: Barack Obama For President
2008-10-18 00:46:49
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the Washington Post edition for Friday, October 17, 2008.

The nominating process this year produced two unusually talented and qualified presidential candidates. There are few public figures we have respected more over the years than Sen. John McCain. Yet it is without ambivalence that we endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The choice is made easy in part by Mr. McCain's disappointing campaign, above all his irresponsible selection of a running mate who is not ready to be president. It is made easy in larger part, though, because of our admiration for Mr. Obama and the impressive qualities he has shown during this long race. Yes, we have reservations and concerns, almost inevitably, given Mr. Obama's relatively brief experience in national politics. But we also have enormous hopes.

Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic crisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.

The first question, in fact, might be why either man wants the job. Start with two ongoing wars, both far from being won; an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan; a resurgent Russia menacing its neighbors; a terrorist-supporting Iran racing toward nuclear status; a roiling Middle East; a rising China seeking its place in the world. Stir in the threat of nuclear or biological terrorism, the burdens of global poverty and disease, and accelerating climate change. Domestically, wages have stagnated while public education is failing a generation of urban, mostly minority children. Now add the possibility of the deepest economic trough since the Great Depression.

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Analysis: An Arduous Transition Awaits Next President
2008-10-19 02:58:11
If Sen. Barack Obama wakes up as the president-elect on Nov. 5, he will immediately assume responsibility for fixing a shredded economy while the Bush administration is still in office. If Sen. John McCain wins the election, he will face an imminent confrontation over spending with a Democratic Congress called back into special session with the goal of passing a new economic stimulus package.

Either way, the 77-day period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, traditionally known simply as the transition, is sure to present difficult challenges to a new president buffeted by intense forces, political and economic, without any chance to recover from the long and bruising campaign.

The challenge of putting the country back on a sound financial track has altered what under the best of circumstances would have been a frenzied period spent forming a new government. Instead, Obama or McCain will be forced to assemble a new administration even as he helps shape policies to ward off further declines in the economy.

Whoever is the new president will be under intense pressure from his own allies to live up to his campaign promises. Antiwar groups would press Obama to start the process of ending the war in Iraq, and conservatives would demand tax cuts from McCain. Either side would want to know that its candidate has an agenda to enact on his first day in the White House. With the outcome of the election still in doubt, neither campaign is eager to discuss plans for that day or the transition that precedes it, other than to acknowledge the urgent circumstances the 44th president will confront.

"I don't think he's thinking about [Inauguration Day on] January 20," said one top Republican involved in the McCain campaign. "He's thinking about November 5."

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Migrating Alaska Pollock Create Potential For New Dispute With Russia
2008-10-19 02:57:46
America's biggest catch lands here in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and at nearby ports every year: more than 2 billion pounds of Alaskan pollock to feed a global appetite for fish sticks, fast-food sandwiches and imitation crabmeat.

The tightly managed Alaskan pollock fishery has been a rare success story in the U.S., which has seen the collapse of species such as New England cod and now imports 80% of its seafood.

Yet the careful management that helped make Alaskan pollock a billion-dollar industry could unravel as the planet warms. Pollock and other fish in the Bering Sea are moving to higher latitudes as winter ice retreats and water temperatures rise.

Alaskan pollock are becoming Russian pollock, swimming across an international boundary in search of food and setting off what could become a geopolitical dispute.

Andrew Rosenberg, former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, expects the pollock to be a test case in an emerging pattern of fish driven by climate change across jurisdictional boundaries.

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Voters Say They Were Duped Into Registering As Republicans
2008-10-18 15:46:41
YPM, a group hired by the Republican Party, allegedly deceived Californians who thought they were signing a petition. YPM denies any wrongdoing. Similar accusations have been leveled against the company in other states.

Dozens of newly minted Republican voters say they were duped into joining the party by a Republican contractor with a trail of fraud complaints stretching across the country.

Voters contacted by the Los Anglees Times said they were tricked into switching parties while signing what they believed were petitions for tougher penalties against child molesters. Some said they were told that they had to become Republicans to sign the petition, contrary to California initiative law. Others had no idea their registration was being changed.

"I am not a Republican," insisted Karen Ashcraft, 47, a pet-clinic manager and former Democrat from Ventura who said she was duped by a signature gatherer into joining the Republican Party. "I certainly ... won't sign anything in front of a grocery store ever again."

It is a bait-and-switch scheme familiar to election experts. The firm hired by the California Republican Party - a small company called Young Political Majors, or YPM, which operates in several states - has been accused of using the tactic across the country.

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Corporations Contribute To Lawmakers' Pet Charities
2008-10-18 15:46:16

They do not seem the most likely classical music patrons: Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Yet, together, these defense contractors are donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the symphony orchestra in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, underwriting performances of Mozart and Wagner in this struggling former steel town. A defense lobbying firm, the PMA Group, even sprang for a champagne reception at the symphony’s opera festival last month.

The companies say they are being generous corporate citizens. The orchestra is also a beloved charity of Representative John Murtha,whose Congressional committee hands out lucrative defense contracts, and whose wife, Joyce, is a major booster of the symphony.

“She just loves knowing that we have an orchestra that is the quality of a larger city orchestra,” the symphony executive director, Patricia Hofscher, said of Mrs. Murtha. “Her friends have come here and been impressed by the quality of the orchestra in a geographic and economic region that, let’s face it, are not on the beaten path.”

For the first time, corporations and their lobbyists are being required to disclose donations they make to the favorite causes of House and Senate members, and a review of thousands of pages of records shows the extent - and lavishness - of this once hidden practice.

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Bush Aides Say Religious Hiring Doesn't Bar Aid
2008-10-18 15:45:33
In a newly disclosed legal memorandum, the Bush administration says it can bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that hire only staff members who share their faith.

The administration, which has sought to lower barriers between church and state through its religion-based initiative offices, made the claim in a 2007 Justice Department memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel. It was quietly posted on the department’s Web site this week.

The statutes for some grant programs do not impose anti-discrimination conditions on their financing, and the administration had previously allowed such programs to give taxpayer money to groups that hire only people of a particular religion.

Yet the memorandum goes further, drawing a sweeping conclusion that even federal programs subject to anti-discrimination laws can give money to groups that discriminate.

The document signed off on a $1.5 million grant to World Vision, a group that hires only Christians, for salaries of staff members running a program that helps “at-risk youth” avoid gangs. The grant was from a Justice Department program created by a statute that forbids discriminatory hiring for the positions it is financing.

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Government's Leap Into Banking Has Its Perils
2008-10-18 00:47:24

Now that the big five investment banks of America have been shut down, sold off or turned into more staid bank holding companies, there is one big risk-taking banker left: the federal government.

The decision this week to put $250 billion in banks in return for shares will make the government a major investor, and owner, in the banking industry. The bold move is one of many that is redefining and enlarging Washington’s role in the country’s banking system. Especially if conditions worsen, further government actions may be deemed necessary to shelter banks, businesses and consumers from the financial turmoil.

This fundamental shift at least raises long-term questions about government’s appropriate role in financing and the economy. Will the government inevitably be tempted to guide lending decisions, steering loans to some and not to others? History shows that government intervention in banking systems can carry its own dangers, with money funneled to political favorites instead of an economy’s innovators.

The federal government’s initiatives are all carefully cast as emergency measures that will be phased out in months or years. “It’s explicitly temporary, but we don’t really know where this crisis ends yet,” said Robert E. Litan, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “The logic of intervention is that the more ownership the government has, the greater the regulation and management control.”

There is a cautionary example, economists say, in today’s troubles. The nation’s two largest mortgage finance companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are quasi-governmental institutions. Fannie was created during the depths of the Great Depression, and Freddie in 1970, to help make mortgages more affordable for homeowners.

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Editorial: The Acorn Story
2008-10-18 00:46:59
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, October 17, 2008.

In Wednesday night’s debate, John McCain warned that a group called Acorn is “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history” and “may be destroying the fabric of democracy.” Viewers may have been wondering what Mr. McCain was talking about. So were we.

Acorn is a nonprofit group that advocates for low- and moderate-income people and has mounted a major voter-registration drive this year. Acorn says that it has paid more than 8,000 canvassers who have registered about 1.3 million new voters, many of them poor people and members of racial minorities.

In recent weeks, the McCain campaign has accused the group of perpetrating voter fraud by intentionally submitting invalid registration forms, including some with fictional names like Mickey Mouse and others for voters who are already registered.

Based on the information that has come to light so far, the charges appear to be wildly overblown - and intended to hobble Acorn’s efforts.

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U.S., Iraqi Officials Question Terms Of Draft Security Deal
2008-10-18 00:46:31
A number of senior Iraqi and U.S. politicians expressed strong reservations Friday about the terms of a draft agreement that gives Iraq  the "primary right" - subject to U.S. acquiescence - to try American soldiers accused of serious crimes committed during off-duty hours outside U.S. military bases in Iraq.

Some political leaders in Baghdad, who got their first look at the controversial agreement to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond 2008, said it did not go far enough in guaranteeing Iraqi sovereignty. The bilateral accord was presented Friday to the Political Council for National Security, an advisory body including political, legislative and judicial leaders, whose support is necessary before it can be submitted to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet and then to parliament for final approval. After an initial review, the council said it would continue discussions next week.

In Washington, congressional Democrats questioned ceding any authority over U.S. troops to Iraq. "I am very concerned about reports that U.S. service personnel may not have full immunity under Iraqi law," said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Missouri), the House Armed Services Committee chairman. The Bush administration allowed a small group of senior congressional aides to read the document at a White House briefing Friday morning but did not allow copies to be made.

A provision in the draft would give the United States "primary" jurisdiction over military personnel and Defense Department employees who are on bases or engaged in authorized military operations.

Iraq, it says, would have the "primary right to exercise judicial jurisdiction" over "premeditated and gross felonies ... committed outside the agreed facilities and areas and when not on a mission." Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Friday that any disagreement would be resolved by a joint committee. "If the crime is very grave or serious, the U.S. may waive its jurisdiction," he said.

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