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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday October 22 2008 - (813)

Wednesday October 22 2008 edition
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U.S. Banks Weighing Other Uses For Taxpayers' Dollars (a.k.a. The Bailout)
2008-10-22 01:09:49

Several major U.S. banks are leaning toward spending a portion of their federal rescue money on acquiring other financial firms rather than for issuing new loans, the primary purpose of the government's $250 billion initiative to invest in banks.

J.P. Morgan Chase, BB&T, and Zions Bancorporation have all said in recent days that they are considering using some of their federal money to buy other banks.

About 10 financial institutions belonging to the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 of the nation's largest financial services firms, are also considering making acquisitions with the money, said Scott Talbott, the group's senior vice president.

There is a growing consensus among Treasury and other federal officials that allowing healthy banks to use the money to acquire banks in jeopardy of failing could stabilize the economy and bolster confidence in banks. This could also save money for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., confirmed Tuesday that some banks may use the capital they receive through the Treasury program to buy weaker banks and that this could benefit the financial system.

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E.U. Climate Stalemate Could End Global Deal
2008-10-22 01:09:23
Time is running out. If the European Union is unable to resolve internal differences over its ambitious emissions reductions plan, then global climate talks could suffer, say experts. The world needs European leadership.

The vision is an admirable one. Last spring, the European Union announced ambitious new goals to radically cut CO2 emissions across the entire 27-nation bloc. Once the details of the reductions were agreed on, the European Union  would be in pole position going into the global climate discussions which kick off this December. An ambitious and exemplary Europe, so the concept went, would be able to use the moral high-ground to urge other major polluters in the world to mend their ways.

That vision, though, may now be in danger. With just six weeks to go before representatives from around the globe gather in Poznan, Poland to work towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol - a process known as the Copenhagen process after the location chosen for the 2009 climate summit - the European Union is having trouble passing a final version of its emissions reduction package. A number of E.U. members are demanding changes, exceptions or opt outs, meaning the bloc's role as a global climate protection leader could be compromised.

"If the European Union does not get its act together on a clear climate agreement and it does not continue pressing ahead globally, that would relax a lot of pressure on the U.S.," Christian Egenhofer, a climate change expert who is a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies, told Spiegel Online. "And that could very well lead to Copenhagen being a non-event."

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German Economy Minister Urges Bankers To Give Up Bonuses
2008-10-22 01:08:54
German Economics Minister Michael Glos urged investment bankers on Tuesday to follow the example of Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Josef Ackermann and forego any bonus payments they may be due.

"It would be fitting for the bankers who are responsible for this crisis to show more humility," Glos told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. "A sign of remorse and transformation would perhaps restore some of the lost faith in the banks and their managers," said Glos.

He said it would be a good signal "if many other investment bankers were to join Herr Ackermann and donate their bonuses to a good cause."

Deutsche Bank, Germany's biggest bank, said last week its top executives will forego 2008 bonuses in response to the crisis, making it the first complete management board to take such a stance.

The money given up by Ackermann and others will be used to prop up wages of other bank employees whose salaries are hit harder by the effects of the finance crisis, the bank said. Executives at other banks have also declined bonuses, including Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, who passed up his 2007 bonus.

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Sagging Profits Weigh On Investor Confidence
2008-10-21 22:05:57

Sagging corporate profits weighed on investor confidence Tuesday, sending stocks down.

The sell-off wiped away half of Monday's rally, which included a more than 400-point gain by the Dow Jones industrial average. It is not unusual for investors to lock in some profits after such a rally, but stocks were largely negative today, reflecting concerns about the degree to which the financial crisis is weighing on corporate balance sheets, said analysts.

The Dow fell 2.5 percent, or 231 points, to close at 9,033.66, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell 3 percent, or 30 points, to 955.05.

The Nasdaq took the biggest hit today, falling 4.4 percent, or 73 points, to close at 1,696.68. Texas Instruments, the semiconductor giant, reported a 26 percent drop in third-quarter net profits and said revenue would "decline  substantially" during the fourth quarter. Its stock was down 6 percent Tuesday.

Sun Microsystems was down 17.5 percent Tuesday after it said it expects a drop in revenue and a profit loss during the first quarter of 2009. "Sun and its customers are seeing the impact of a slowing economy," Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's chief executive, said in a statement.

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Yahoo Announces 64 Percent Drop In Income, Plans To Cut 1,500 Jobs
2008-10-21 22:05:37

Technology giants Yahoo and Apple Tuesday reported sharply contrasting quarterly results, with Yahoo announcing a 64 percent drop in income and plans to cut 1,500 jobs.

Yahoo's disappointing results, particularly after Google last week reported a 26 percent jump in income to $1.35 billion in the previous quarter, signaling that the company is falling further behind in the search market, according to analysts.

The results will likely roil investors who have seen Yahoo's stock price plummet to about one-third its value when Microsoft made its takeover bid at $33 a share last spring, said analysts.

"Yahoo's got some stormy days ahead because hubris can only take you so far," said Allen Weiner, a research director at Gartner Group. "Not taking the Microsoft offer is going to haunt them significantly moving forward, and they are not going to receive an offer like that forthcoming."

The job cuts at the Sunnyvale, California-firm represent 10 percent of its workforce and will be part of a plan to reduce costs by $400 million this year, according to Yahoo chief executive Jerry Yang.

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U.S., Russian Generals Hold Fence-Mending Military Talks
2008-10-21 22:05:12
The top U.S. military officer held "businesslike" talks on Georgia, Afghanistan and missile defense with his Russian counterpart Tuesday, a signal of thawing relations between the two powers.

Held at an isolated manor house in Finland, it was the highest-level military meeting between the two countries since  Russia's war with U.S. ally Georgia in August. The conflict strained already tense ties between Washington, D.C., and Moscow.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Russian Gen. Nikolai Makarov "discussed a wide range of issues, including the future of NATO and the current status of missile defense systems in Europe," said Kim Hargan, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Finland.

Mullen later called U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, saying they had a "productive, businesslike conversation," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in Washington, adding that Gates was pleased with the outcome.

A U.S. defense official said Makarov, who became Russia's top military officer in June, suggested the meeting and that the two military leaders covered a range of topics including Georgia, Black Sea operations, and Afghanistan as it related to NATO involvement.

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New G.I. Bill Is Too Late For Some
2008-10-21 03:29:06

The new G.I. Bill passed by Congress over the summer, which dramatically expands veterans benefits, was lauded as a sign that the country was looking after this generation of warriors; but don't extol its virtues to Grey Adkins, who served two tours with the Navy off the coast of Iraq, is $10,000 in debt and won't see a dime of the new benefits.

Even though it is called the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the new legislation won't take effect until Aug. 1, 2009 - eight years after jets felled the twin towers and other planes crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. By then, Adkins will have graduated from Towson University. And because the bill is not retroactive, it won't help him at all.

The difference it would make is stark. Currently, he receives $1,600 a month during the school year, or about $15,000. Under the new bill, he would be eligible for up to twice that amount each school year.

So far, more than 410,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have used the current G.I. bill, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs - and many, like Adkins, will finish school before the new benefits start.

Many advocates for veterans say that it took too long to update a G.I. Bill that has not kept pace with the escalating price of college tuition. But now there is also concern that the V.A. won't be able to meet the August deadline after it abruptly abandoned its plan to hire a private contractor this month and instead will implement the new program itself.

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3 Agencies Vie For Oversight Of Credit-Default Swaps Market
2008-10-21 03:28:40

The government is moving forward with its first significant effort to bring oversight to a vast, unregulated corner of Wall Street that has severely exacerbated the financial crisis.

But a turf war is brewing among three leading federal agencies that have contrasting visions for how the $55 trillion market for speculative financial instruments known as credit-default swaps should be regulated.

While the credit crisis has upended global financial markets and given a lift to advocates of heightened regulation, it has not resolved traditional disputes in Washington over how deeply the government should be involved in free markets.

Some regulators say the market can operate largely on its own but simply needs more transparency. Others say that the credit crisis has exposed wide gaps in oversight that require a much more direct role by the government.

The battle has mobilized the financial industry and lawmakers who are holding a hearing today on market regulation. Some industry players are lobbying sympathetic members of Congress for light oversight. Powerful financial firms, eying new fees, are campaigning to play a major role in running the market for swaps, which originated as a form of insurance against bond defaults but grew into a wildly popular vehicle for speculation.

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Surprise! - NOT! Bush Decides To Keep Guantanamo Open
2008-10-21 03:27:15
Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials.

Bush’s top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantanamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, said the officials.

The administration is proceeding on the assumption that Guantanamo will remain open not only for the rest of Bush’s presidency but also well beyond, the officials said, as the site for military tribunals of those facing terrorism-related charges and for the long prison sentences that could follow convictions.

The effect of Bush’s stance is to leave in place a prison that has become a reviled symbol of the administration’s fight against terrorism, and to leave another contentious foreign policy decision for the next president.

Both presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, have called for closing Guantanamo and could reverse Bush’s policy, though probably not quickly since neither has spelled out precisely how to deal with some of the thorniest legal consequences of shutting the prison.

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Lloyds TSB Chief To Staff: You'll Still Get Bonuses
2008-10-21 03:26:14
Bank boss says Britain's bailout imposes "very, very few restrictions".

The chief executive of Lloyds TSB, one of the banks participating in the British government's £37 billion ($70 billion) bank bailout, has promised staff they will receive bonuses this year despite Prime Minister Gordon Brown's promise of a crackdown on bankers' pay following the investment by taxpayers.

Eric Daniels has told employees that the historic government intervention will not change the behavior of Lloyds, which is in the throes of the rescue takeover of HBOS brokered by the prime minister.

In a recorded message to employees, Daniels stressed that the bank faced "very, very few restrictions" in its behavior despite the injection of up to £5.5 billion ($10 billion) of taxpayers' funds. "If you think about it, the first restriction was not to pay bonuses. Well Lloyds TSB is in fact going to pay bonuses. I think our staff have done a terrific job this year. There is no reason why we shouldn't," said Daniels.

The emergence of these assurances adds to the pressure on Brown over the banking bail-out as a Guardian/ICM poll reveals he is winning praise but not votes for his handling of the financial crisis.

The poll shows the Conservatives maintaining a double-digit lead, enough for a Commons majority, despite the transformation of the prime minister's reputation at Westminster.

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Commentary: God Bother In Wasilla
2008-10-21 03:25:05
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Geoffrey Wheatcroft and appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, October 21, 2008.

The resurgence of religion now marks the widest divide between U.S. and European politics.

Of all the dramatic changes history has witnessed since 1945 - the economic miracle in postwar western Europe, the collapse of Communism and now the latest boom and bust - none was more unforeseen than the resurgence of religion. A new "revolt of Islam" was quite unexpected 50 years ago, when secular Arab nationalism seemed the rising force, and when, for that matter, secular Israelis didn't guess that "religious Zionists" would one day make the running in their country.

And yet what may be the most striking and important development is the renewed role of religion in the U.S., and its political implications. John McCain has tried to negatively associate Barack Obama with Jeremiah Wright, his fire-eating radical pastor (or former pastor), but much less attention has been paid to Sarah Palin's membership of the Assembly Church of God in Wasilla and to her own pastor, Ed Kalnins. When Colin Powell endorsed Obama on Sunday, he said Palin was not yet ready to be president. He might have added that her religious opinions also raised questions about her fitness for high office.

Religion may now be the largest gulf between Europe and the U.S. Mitt Romney, the Mormon who ran for the Republican nomination, spoke of the empty cathedrals of Europe, and Tony Blair was the oddity among European politicians in his public protestations of faith.

Maybe Blair would be more at home in the U.S., if not quite at Saddleback, the "evangelical megachurch" in California, where McCain and Obama bared their sinful souls. Obama blamed his early "experiments" with alcohol and drugs on "a certain selfishness", and McCain confessed to his "greatest moral failing" with the end of his first marriage.

Yet, weird and embarrassing as this sounded to Europeans, it would have done so to Americans also not long ago. For Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to have taken part in any such event during the 1932 presidential campaign would have seemed quite absurd, or Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey in 1948. Four years later, Dwight Eisenhower had so little religious upbringing that he needed to be discreetly baptized before he reached the White House.

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U.S. Erred In Contracts For Small Businesses
2008-10-22 01:09:40

U.S. government agencies made at least $5 billion in mistakes in their recent reports of contracts awarded to small businesses, with many claiming credit for awards to companies that long ago outgrew the designation or never qualified in the first place, a Washington Post analysis shows.

The Post examined a sampling of the $89 billion in contracts the agencies classified as small-business awards, which help them satisfy a congressional mandate to award nearly a fourth of all government work to small firms.

In the data the Post analyzed, federal agencies counted Lockheed Martin and its subsidiaries as "small" on 207 contracts worth $143 million. Dell Computer, a Fortune 500 company, was listed as a small business on $89 million in contracts.

The Navy claimed that $60 million in work it gave to Digital System Resources, a division of General Dynamics, went to a small firm - a year after agencies were warned that DSR did not qualify. The Defense Department, which for a century has used Electric Boat to build submarines, labeled the firm as a small business for $1 million in supplies and services. The Department of Veterans Affairs said a computer glitch caused it to claim a $29 million payment to defense security giant CACI as a small-business award.

Government officials questioned by the Washington Post acknowledged that mistakes are a long-standing problem, leading to exaggerated claims about the amount of federal work directed to a growing sector of the economy. The Small Business Administration, which annually reports on how agencies performed, said it thinks that many agency mistakes, including some the Post identified, have been corrected in a long-delayed report it plans to release Wednesday. The SBA has worked with agencies in the past several weeks to scrub errors from the data.

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Sarkozy Calls For Partial Nationalization Of Key Industries
2008-10-22 01:09:08
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has used France's position as hold of the rotating European Union presidency to call for a massive expansion of the political bloc's economic coordination.

In a speech before the European Parliament on Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that European countries establish their own sovereign wealth funds to take ownership stakes in key industries. He went on to suggest that European states should coordinate their industrial policies with each other.

As the financial crisis morphs into a wider economic crisis, Sarkozy stressed the need for European states to sustain their coordinated approach. "The economic crisis is here," said the French president. Although Sarkozy argued strongly for a unified response to the problem, he stressed that this didn't mean that every country needed to pursue the same policy. "We don't all need to do the same thing, but we do need to coordinate amongst ourselves and come to an agreement on certain issues." Sarkozy underlined that it would require concerted action among E.U. countries to ensure that Europe is a place that continues to build "ships, planes and cars."

In his speech Sarkozy called upon European states to set up sovereign wealth funds to help prop up companies listed on European stock exchanges. Otherwise, he said, there is a danger that tanking stock prices will result in a massive sell-off of European assets to foreigners. "I don't want European citizens to wake up in a few months and discover that European businesses are now owned in capitals outside of Europe." He added that the state funds could later sell their stakes at a profit.

Sarkozy's use of the term "sovereign wealth funds" to describe his proposal was deliberate. Most sovereign wealth funds are controlled by petro-cash rich nations, like Russia and the Gulf states, and there are concerns in many European nations that with their amassed wealth, they could go on a shopping spree and snap up Europe's tradition-steeped companies.

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Wells Fargo CEO Happy With Government Investment
2008-10-22 01:08:29
Wells Fargo & Co. Chairman Richard Kovacevich may not have initially wanted the U.S. government's $25 billion investment in his bank, but he dropped his resistance after realizing the infusion will provide the ailing economy with a vital shot in the arm.

''I have always believed that the system is more important than any individual company,'' said Kovacevich Tuesday night during a question-and-answer session at the Commonwealth Club. ''If that means a company has to sacrifice along the way, so be it.''

Wells Fargo is among first batch of banks being required to sell stakes to the U.S. government, which will invest up to $250 billion in the banking industry in hopes of ending the worst financial crisis since the stock market crash of 1929.

When U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson laid out his plan to invest in Wells Fargo at a meeting last week, Kovacevich protested because he didn't think his San Francisco-based bank should be forced to sell stock that might dilute other shareholders, according to published reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Wells Fargo so far has been able to avoid the staggering losses that have hit other major banks stemming from risky home loans made to borrowers with shoddy credit records or inadequate income to repay the debts after real estate prices began to plunge last year.

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Prosecutor Says Sen. Stevens' Explanation Was 'Nonsense'
2008-10-21 22:05:46

A federal jury Tuesday will begin deliberating two conflicting views of Sen. Ted Stevens, the powerful Alaska Republican charged with lying on financial disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to the Alaska house he affectionately calls his "chalet."

Defense lawyers, backed by a string of character witnesses, have portrayed Stevens, 84, as an honest public servant who conscientiously paid his bills, never lied on the forms and is the victim of overzealous authorities.

Prosecutors have argued that the senator is a miser who went to extraordinary efforts to hide free remodeling work financed by Veco, a now-defunct Alaska oil services company, and its top executive.

"This trial has exposed the truth about one of the longest-serving senators, the gifts he received and what he tried to conceal and the lengths he would go to keep his secrets hidden," said prosecutor Brenda Morris of the Justice Department's public integrity section.

"He didn't want to be known as the senator with the house that Veco built," she told jurors in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

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OPEC Ponders Choices As Oil Prices Plummet
2008-10-21 22:05:28

At the beginning of the year, OPEC producers felt confident that strong economic growth and tight supplies would keep oil prices high. When oil crossed the $100-a-barrel threshold in February, the cartel’s president blamed speculators and said there was not much OPEC could do.

Now, panic is gripping producers as prices drop. Oil is down by half since July, and the speed of the decline has stunned oil-rich governments that have become dependent on high prices.

As the global economy continues to weaken, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) faces its toughest test in years.

The problem for the oil exporters, who meet for an emergency session in Vienna, Austria, on Friday, is to find a way to stop the price drop at a time when oil consumption is falling markedly in industrialized countries. Even the Chinese economy, long the biggest engine of growth for oil demand, seems to be cooling.

Most analysts expect the group to announce a production cut of at least a million barrels a day, which would be more than 1 percent of the world oil supply. Chakib Khelil, OPEC’s president, said last week that an output cut was “obvious” and suggested the group might meet often in coming months for further adjustments.

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U.S. Said To Be Urging New Mergers In Banking
2008-10-21 03:29:17
In a step that could accelerate a shakeout of the nation’s banks, the Treasury Department hopes to spur a new round of mergers by steering some of the money in its $250 billion rescue package to banks that are willing to buy weaker rivals, according to government officials.

As the Treasury embarks on its unprecedented recapitalization, it is becoming clear that the government wants not only to stabilize the industry, but also to reshape it. Two senior officials said the selection criteria would include banks that need more capital to finance acquisitions.

“Treasury doesn’t want to prop up weak banks,” said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the matter. “One purpose of this plan is to drive consolidation.”

With bankers traumatized by the credit crisis and the loss of investor confidence, officials said, there are plenty of banks open to selling themselves. The hurdle is a lack of well-capitalized buyers.

Stable national players like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo are already digesting acquisitions. A second group of so-called super-regional banks are well positioned to take over their competitors, officials said, but have been reluctant to undertake or unable to complete deals.

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India's Unmanned Moon Mission May Launch Race For Lunar Land Grab
2008-10-21 03:28:53
Satellite hopes to map lunar surface for rare helium 3.

It will be a small step for mankind, but a giant leap forward for India. In a boost to national prestige, the country will launch its first unmanned moon mission Wednesday - blasting its Chandrayaan satellite into space from an island off the Bay of Bengal, using a domestically produced rocket system. In doing so, it will match China, which last year became the first Asian nation to send a satellite to orbit the moon, signaling the possibility of a race for mineral wealth on the lunar surface.

If all goes to plan, India's tricolor flag should be drifting down towards the freezing, airless lunar surface as dawn breaks over the subcontinent on November 11.

The 239,000-mile journey is not straightforward - it took the Americans and Russians almost two decades to master it, from the moment space exploration was born. Once above the Earth's atmosphere the launch vehicle's thrusters will have to maneuver and fire the Chandrayaan I rocket with precision.

If all goes to plan, the satellite, weighing half a tonne, will enter a lunar orbit some 62 miles above the moon's surface on November 8 and begin its two-year mission to map the moon in 3-D, survey its surface for mineral wealth and start its 11 hi-tech probes, including five from the US, Sweden, Japan, Germany and Bulgaria.

One of India's aims in reaching the moon is the possibility of harvesting helium 3, a key fuel for nuclear fusion. Although fusion is not commercially viable today, scientists say it one day will be, and that once it is a fuel supply will become a problem, as the Earth is believed to have only 15 tons of helium 3. The moon is thought to contain up to 5 million tons.

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McCain Stresses He's Not Bush
2008-10-21 03:27:54
Battling George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, John McCain lashed out at the Texas governor, denouncing his proposed tax cuts as a giveaway to the rich.

Eight years later, this time running as the Republican presidential nominee, the senator from Arizona is again criticizing Bush and his financial policies, as he renews his efforts to demonstrate that he would represent a departure from the current administration.

At virtually every campaign stop, McCain is reprising a line he used last Wednesday in his final debate with Sen. Barack Obama: "I am not George Bush." And in a television ad introduced last week, McCain looks into the camera and says, "The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?"

As he struggles to pull his campaign out from beneath the shadow of a president whose approval ratings have reached historic lows, McCain is offering some of his toughest criticism of the Bush White House. In recent weeks, he has focused his message on the administration's handling of the nation's financial crisis, suggesting that the Treasury Department has been more interested in "bailing out the banks" than helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

"I am so disturbed that this administration has not done what we have to do, and that is to go out and buy up these bad mortgages," McCain told Jewish leaders in a conference call Sunday morning.

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Laws Allow Donors To Surpass Campaign Contribution Limits
2008-10-21 03:26:40

Much of the attention on the record amounts of money coursing through the presidential race this year, including in Senator Barack Obama's announcement on Sunday of his $150 million fund-raising haul in September, has focused on the explosion of small donors.

There has been another proliferation on the national fund-raising landscape that was not fully apparent until the latest campaign finance reports were filed last week: people who have given tens of thousands of dollars at a time to help the candidates.

Enabled by the fine print in campaign finance laws, they have written checks that far exceed normal individual contribution limits to candidates, to joint fund-raising committees that benefit the candidates as well as their respective parties.

Many of these large donors come from industries with interests in Washington. A New York Times analysis of donors who wrote checks of $25,000 or more to the candidates’ main joint fund-raising committees found, for example, the biggest portion of money for both candidates came from the securities and investments industry, including executives at various firms embroiled in the recent financial crisis like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG.

The joint fund-raising committees have been utilized far more heavily this presidential election than in the past.  Obama’s campaign has leaned on wealthy benefactors to contribute up to $33,100 at a time to complement his army of small donors over the Internet as he bypassed public financing for the general election. More than 600 donors contributed $25,000 or more to him in September alone, roughly three times the number who did the same for Senator John McCain. 

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British Aid Worker Shot In Kabul
2008-10-21 03:25:38
Taliban say aid worker killed for "spreading Chistianity".

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility Monday for the murder of a British aid worker in Kabul, accusing her of spreading Christianity. Gayle Williams, 34, was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as she walked to the office of the Christian charity Serve.

Aid organizations in Afghanistan were Monday night assessing the security risks for their staff in response to the murder. So far this year, 29 aid workers, either foreign or Afghans employed by one of the 100-plus agencies in the country, have been killed.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the shooting. "This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people of Afghanistan," he said. "Our [leaders] issued a decree to kill this woman. This morning our people killed her in Kabul."

The street where the killing took place is wide and dusty, with few shops and many villas surrounded by high walls. The area is popular with NGOs (non-government organizations) and foreign companies.

"After I heard the shots I came and she was lying there," said a police officer, Dei Agha, pointing at the pavement. "She was covered with blood, we put her in a police pick up truck and took her to the morgue."

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