Wednesday, May 7, 2008

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Peace activist Cindy Sheehan running for Congress to unseat Speaker Pelosi (video)

Commentary: How much more relevant is Jeremiah Wright than John Hagee?


Go to Buzzflash original
The Republicans and the MSM tell us the Rev. Wright story deserves huge amounts of attention because Rev. Wright was Obama's pastor.

But let's state a few facts: Obama never solicited Wright's endorsement, McCain worked hard to get Hagee's endorsement.

Obama has been asked over and over and over about Rev. Wright. Only one major MSM reporter, George Stephanopoulos, has asked McCain about Hagee, and even then, McCain never singled out Hagee's anti-Semitic remarks (only his anti-Catholic remarks).

When confronted with their lack of concern for Hagee, the Republicans and the MSM tell us Rev. Wright is important, but they never tell us about the importance of Hagee. Even if you agree that Rev. Wright is more relevant than Rev. Hagee, how much more relevant?

Twice as much? Four times as much? 8? 16?

Since McCain has had one major question on the issue, we can establish a ratio (still can't divide by 0). But the ratio itself stands at about 100,000 to 1. Is that a fair ratio?

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Jeff Cohen: Military Propaganda Pushed Me Off TV

The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld or the Pentagon. It's the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism

Go to Huffington Post original
In the fall of 2002, week after week, I argued vigorously against invading Iraq in debates televised on MSNBC. I used every possible argument that might sway mainstream viewers -- no real threat, cost, instability. But as the war neared, my debates were terminated.

In my 2006 book Cable News Confidential, I explained why I lost my airtime:

There was no room for me after MSNBC launched Countdown: Iraq -- a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating it. Countdown: Iraq featured retired colonels and generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion scenarios. They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation were served up unchallenged.

It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that these ex-generals -- many working for military corporations -- were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an anchor. (I wasn't allowed on MSNBC unless balanced by at least one truculent right-winger.)

Except for the brazenness and scope of the Pentagon spin program, I wasn't shocked by the recent New York Times report exposing how the Pentagon junketed and coached the retired military brass into being "message-force multipliers" and "surrogates" for Donald Rumsfeld's lethal propaganda.

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U.S. report says al-Qaida gaining strength

Go to AP original
WASHINGTON - Al-Qaida has rebuilt some of its pre-Sept. 11 capabilities from remote hiding places in Pakistan, leading to a jump in attacks last year in that country and neighboring Afghanistan, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Attacks in Pakistan doubled between 2006 and 2007 and the number of fatalities quadrupled, the State Department said in its annual terrorism report. In Afghanistan, the number of attacks rose 16 percent, to 1,127 incidents last year.

The report says attacks in Iraq dipped slightly between 2006 and 2007, but they still accounted for 60 percent of worldwide terrorism fatalities, including 17 of the 19 Americans who were killed in attacks last year. The other two were killed in Afghanistan.

More than 22,000 people were killed by terrorists around the world in 2007, 8 percent more than in 2006, although the overall number of attacks fell, the report says.

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The McCain Health Plan: Millions Lose Coverage

Health Costs Worsen, And Insurance And Drug Industries Win


Go to Campaign for America's Future original
Today Arizona Sen. John McCain will deliver what his handlers are hyping as a major address on health care. McCain’s plan is a dangerous fraud.

He wants voters to think he is going after health care cost inflation. In reality, he wants to dismantle the employer-provided system that now covers over 60 percent (or about 158 million) of non-elderly Americans, forcing millions of us who now get fairly decent health insurance on the job to instead buy whatever they can find on the individual market controlled by unregulated and predatory insurance companies. And he would drive health care costs upward, not downward.

This is truly amazing: McCain and his handlers knew they had to say something about health care. So they turned to their friends (and financial supporters) in the health care industry and the conservative think tanks. And they have adopted the most extreme right-wing ideological approach, premised on the idea that the big problem in health care is that Americans have too much insurance – in their words, we don’t have enough “skin in the game” – and that only when we have to buy health care with money that comes directly out of our own pockets will consumers force doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to become more efficient.

So that’s the theory. But it is contradicted by the facts. Most of us already pay part of our premiums out of our own pockets, and we increasingly have to shell out for co-pays in order to get to see a doctor. The result—in practice—is that most people, even those with good insurance, now think twice or three times about even getting regular preventive health checkups. Having lots of “skin in the game” has meant that millions of Americans don’t get health care they need—and that’s one of the big problems in U.S. health care driving costs up, not down.

But McCain, like George Bush, pays more attention to ultra-conservative theory than he does to the facts. So McCain wants to tax workers’ health care premiums that are paid for by employers. Ask any expert, conservative or liberal, and they will tell you the result will be companies will stop providing health care as an employee benefit. Fortune Magazine quotes one of their experts on the impact of McCain's plan: “I predict that most companies would stop paying for health care in three to four years,” says Robert Laszewski, a consultant who works with corporate benefits managers.

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7% of Americans marry for health insurance


Go to Los Angeles Times original
WASHINGTON — Some people marry for love, some for companionship and others for status or money. Now comes another reason to get hitched: health insurance.

In a poll released Tuesday, 7 percent of Americans said they or someone in their household decided to marry in the past year so they could obtain health care benefits via their spouse.

"It's a small number, but a powerful result, because it shows how paying for health care is reflected not only in family budgets, but in life decisions," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which commissioned the survey as part of its regular polling on health care.

The survey found that the costs of health care outranked housing expenses, rising food prices and credit card bills as a source of concern.

Of those surveyed, 28 percent said they had experienced serious problems because of the cost of health care, nearly tied with 29 percent who had problems getting a job or a raise.

Gasoline prices were the top economic worry, with 44 percent saying they had serious problems keeping up with increases at the pump.

Health care inflation has been rising at about twice the rate of economic growth.

Therefore, it may be no surprise that nearly one-fourth of Americans decided to keep or change jobs in the past year because of health insurance.

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GM losses widen as US market flags

Go to Financial Times original
General Motors on Wednesday reported a wider net loss of $3.3bn for the first quarter as the flagging US car market and problems at GMAC, its financing arm, and Delphi, its biggest supplier, took their toll.

Revenue for the quarter was $42.7bn, down slightly from $43.4bn a year ago, as the problems facing its US business failed to offset strong growth of its business in China, Brazil, Russia and India.

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Keith Olbermann covers Bush's Tuesday Press Conference (video)

New U.S. carrier in Gulf a "reminder" to Iran: Gates

Go to Reuters original
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy has temporarily added a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf as a "reminder" to Iran, but this was not an escalation of American forces in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Mexico, Gates flatly denied a suggestion that the presence of two U.S. carriers in the Gulf could be a precursor to military action against Tehran.

"This deployment has been planned for a long time," Gates said. "I don't think we'll have two carriers there for a protracted period of time. So I don't see it as an escalation. I think it could be seen, though, as a reminder."

He declined to elaborate on his remarks and provided no details about the deployment.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the second carrier arrived in the Gulf on Tuesday to replace one on duty that was expected to depart the region in two days.

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Jesse Jackson urges Haiti debt relief



Go to Reuters original
PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 29 (Reuters) - U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called for urgent debt relief for Haiti on Tuesday to ease the burden of a food crisis that sparked violent protests in the impoverished Caribbean nation earlier this month.

Jackson said Haiti owed the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank about $1.5 billion, with debt service payments reaching some $70 million a year.

"We want this debt canceled and the people relieved of its burden," Jackson told a news conference at the presidential palace following a meeting with President Rene Preval.

"That money can be used and invested in roads, schools, bridges, health, houses and education," Jackson said.

He also vowed to help mobilize food assistance for poor Haitians, stung by rising prices and already low living standards in a country where most people survive on less than $2 per day.

Jackson spoke as he wound up a three-day fact-finding visit to Haiti. The visit was prompted by a recent week of riots and looting over food prices in which at least six people were killed.

Prices of Haitian staples such as rice, beans, wheat, flour, corn and cooking oil have at least doubled during the past six months.

The outspoken civil rights leader, who has made several trips to Haiti in the past, said U.S. lawmakers needed to declare "an emergency alert" on behalf of their Caribbean neighbor.

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White House undermines EPA on cancer risks, GAO says


Go to AP original
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is undermining the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to determine health dangers of toxic chemicals by letting nonscientists have a bigger - often secret - role, congressional investigators say in a report obtained by The Associated Press.

The administration's decision to give the Defense Department and other agencies an early role in the process adds to years of delay in acting on harmful chemicals and jeopardizes the program's credibility, the Government Accountability Office concluded.

At issue is the EPA's screening of chemicals used in everything from household products to rocket fuel to determine if they pose serious risk of cancer or other illnesses.

A new review process begun by the White House in 2004 is adding more speed bumps for EPA scientists, the GAO said in its report, which will be the subject of a Senate Environment Committee hearing Tuesday. A formal policy effectively doubling the number of steps was adopted two weeks ago.

Cancer risk assessments for nearly a dozen major chemicals are now years overdue, the GAO said, blaming the new multiagency reviews for some of the delay. The EPA, for example, had promised to prepare assessments on 10 major toxic chemicals for external peer review by the end of 2007, but only two reached that stage.

GAO investigators said extensive involvement by EPA managers, White House budget officials and other agencies has eroded the independence of EPA scientists charged with determining the health risks posed by chemicals.

The Pentagon, the Energy Department, NASA and other agencies - all of which could be severely affected by EPA risk findings - are being allowed to participate "at almost every step in the assessment process," said the GAO.

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US watchdog presses for mortgage rescues

Go to Financial Times original
The US should fight the housing crisis by using low-cost government loans to help borrowers pay down unaffordable mortgages, Sheila Bair, one of the country’s top banking regulators, proposes.

Writing in the Financial Times on Wednesday, Ms Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, says the new government loans should cover up to 20 per cent of the value of the existing mortgages.

These loans, which would be interest-free for the first five years, would be used to pay down part of the existing mortgage. In return for the cash, lenders would reduce payments on the remaining part of the mortgage to affordable levels, defined as a proportion of income. They would also pay a fee to cover the government’s funding costs over the initial five-year period.

“Voluntary loan modifications have helped but it is not enough,” Ms Bair told the FT in an interview.

She said her plan allows the government “to leverage its lower borrowing costs to significantly reduce foreclosures with no expansion of contingent liabilities and very little net cost”.

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Powering Down the Patriot Act

In the wake of another damaging report detailing the bureau's abuse of its data-gathering power, Congress is seeking to limit the use of national security letters

Go to Mother Jones original
There's a move afoot on Capitol Hill to rein in some of the vast powers conferred upon government investigators by the Patriot Act, the infamous, hastily crafted law written in response to the 9/11 attacks. New legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress intended to curb the FBI's ability to collect private data on virtually anybody using a tool called a national security letter (NSL). The bills come in the wake of yet another damaging FBI inspector general report on the bureau's abuse of its expanded authorities.

"The privacy of American citizens is a core value in our society," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former federal prosecutor and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at an April 23 hearing on the FBI's use of NSLs. "I think this is our next really big civil liberties issue."

And addressing that issue may start with a bill, sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), which would both drastically limit the circumstances under which these secretive orders are issued and strictly regulate how the information obtained is handled by the FBI.

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Time Warner to spin off cable arm

Go to Financial Times original
Time Warner on Wednesday confirmed plans to spin off its 84 per cent stake in Time Warner Cable, as the US media group delivered first-quarter earnings that narrowly missed Wall Street expectations because of falling sales at its AOL internet division.

Jeff Bewkes, chief executive since January, said however that “underlying operating strength” in its cable, networks and film businesses during the quarter “gave us the confidence to reaffirm our full-year business outlook.”

The group continues to expect 2008 full-year growth in adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortisation to be between 7 and 9 per cent.

Although expected tax benefits from the Economic Stimulus Act will boost free cash flow to “at or above” $4.5bn, Time Warner maintained its target for earnings from continuing operations, which it expects to fall in the range of $1.07 to $1.11 per share.

“We’ve decided that a complete structural separation of Time Warner Cable, under the right circumstances, is in the best interests of both companies’ shareholders,” Mr Bewkes said.

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Albert Hofmann, father of drug LSD, dies in Switzerland

Go to AP original
GENEVA - Albert Hofmann, the father of the mind-altering drug LSD whose medical discovery inspired — and arguably corrupted — millions in the 1960s hippie generation, has died. He was 102.

Hofmann died Tuesday at his home in Burg im Leimental, said Doris Stuker, a municipal clerk in the village near Basel where Hofmann moved following his retirement in 1971.

For decades after LSD was banned in the late 1960s, Hofmann defended his invention.

"I produced the substance as a medicine. ... It's not my fault if people abused it," he once said.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama strongly denounces former pastor (video & full story)



Go to Reuters original
WINSTON SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama denounced his former pastor in his strongest language to date on Tuesday, saying he was outraged by Rev. Jeremiah Wright's assertions about the U.S. government and race.

"His comments were not only divisive ... but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate," Obama told reporters.

"Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this," Obama said.

Obama was forced to address the issue again after another appearance on Monday by Wright to combat criticism of his controversial sermons that have, among other things, suggested the United States deserved some blame for the September 11 attacks and had had a hand in spreading AIDS to blacks.

"At a certain point if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally and then he questions whether or not you believe it -- in front of the National Press Club -- then that's enough," Obama said, referring to Wright's suggestion that Obama's denouncement was what a politician had to say.

"That's a show of disrespect to me. It is also, I think, an insult to what we've been trying to do" on the campaign, he said.

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Virginia tornadoes injure hundreds (video)

Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north

Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai


Go to Christian Science Monitor original
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - The attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai Sunday came as the latest sign of a trend worrying Western officials: that the insurgency is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country.

The militant attack, the biggest in Kabul since mid-March, came during a public ceremony. Despite a massive security presence, militants managed to fire bullets and rockets at the president, killing two nearby lawmakers and a boy.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has not been "contained," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified before a Senate subcommittee in February. "It's been sustained in the south, it's grown a bit in the east, and what we've seen are elements of it spread to the west and the north."

A recent study by Sami Kovanen, an analyst with the security firm Vigilant Strategic Services of Afghanistan, echoed this assessment. He reported 465 insurgent attacks in areas outside the restive southern regions during the first three months of 2008, a 35 percent increase compared with the same period last year. In the central region around Kabul there have been 80 insurgent attacks from January through March of this year, a 70 percent jump compared to the first three months of last year.

The numbers are part of a nationwide trend of rising violence. In the southern and southeastern provinces, including the insurgent hotbeds of Kandahar and Helmand, guerrilla attacks spiked by 40 percent, according to Mr. Kovanen's research.

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Families tell lawmakers of heparin deaths


Go to AP original
WASHINGTON (AP) — The widow of a man who died after receiving contaminated heparin told a congressional subcommittee Tuesday "we have a false sense of security" in a land where people expect to be protected and safe.

Brushing away tears, Johanna Marie Staples of Toledo, Ohio, said her husband, Dennis, was looking forward to his 60th birthday party on the last day of his life.

Contaminated heparin, a blood thinner used in dialysis and other treatments, has been connected to 81 deaths and 785 severe allergic reactions, said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

The heparin, made from ingredients imported from China, has been recalled by Baxter International and the Food and Drug Administration has blocked imports from the Chinese company.

The FDA found the drug was contaminated with oversulfated condroitin sulfate, which mimics heparin and thus was not detected in routine testing, Stupak noted.

When it was introduced into the product has not yet been determined.

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Cheney lawyer claims Congress has no authority over vice-president

Go to UK Guardian original
The lawyer for US vice-president Dick Cheney claimed today that the Congress lacks any authority to examine his behaviour on the job.

The exception claimed by Cheney's counsel came in response to requests from congressional Democrats that David Addington, the vice-president's chief of staff, testify about his involvement in the approval of interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo Bay.

Ruling out voluntary cooperation by Addington, Cheney lawyer Kathryn Wheelbarger said Cheney's conduct is "not within the [congressional] committee's power of inquiry".

"Congress lacks the constitutional power to regulate by law what a vice-president communicates in the performance of the vice president's official duties, or what a vice president recommends that a president communicate," Wheelbarger wrote to senior aides on Capitol Hill.

The exception claimed by Cheney's office recalls his attempt last year to evade rules for classified documents by deeming the vice-president's office a hybrid branch of government - both executive and legislative.

The Democratic congressman who is investigating the legal framework for the violent interrogation of terrorist suspects, John Conyers, has asked Addington and several other top Bush administration lawyers to testify. Thus far all have claimed their deliberations are privileged.

However, Philippe Sands QC, law professor at University College, London, has agreed to appear in Washington and discuss the revelations in Torture Team, his new book on the consequences of the brutal tactics used at Guantanamo.

Excerpts from Torture Team were previewed exclusively by the Guardian earlier this month.

Two witnesses sought by Conyers, former US attorney general John Ashcroft and former US justice department lawyer John Yoo, claimed that their involvement in civil lawsuits related to harsh interrogations allows them to avoid appearing before Congress.

In letters to attorneys representing Ashcroft and Yoo, Conyers shot down their arguments and indicated he would pursue subpoenas if their clients did not testify at his May 6 hearing.

"I am aware of no basis for the remarkable claim that pending civil litigation somehow immunises an individual from testifying before Congress," Conyers wrote.

Conyers, who chairs the House of Representatives judiciary committee, also questioned the reasoning of Cheney's lawyer in a letter to Addington.

"It is hard to know what aspect of the invitation [to you] has given rise to concern that the committee might seek to regulate the vice president's recommendations to the president," Conyers wrote.

"Especially since far more obvious potential subjects of legislation are plentiful," he added, mentioning several: US laws on the use of torture on terrorist suspects, the 15-year-old War Crimes Act, and the rules that allowed the Bush White House to receive legal advice from a specialised office within the justice department.

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Shell and BP profits soar to $14bn


Go to Financial Times original
Shares in BP and Royal Dutch Shell leapt on Tuesday as Europe’s two biggest oil companies reported profits well ahead of analysts’ expectations in the first quarter because of strong operational performance and the soaring price of oil.

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also:
OPEC says oil could hit $200

Go to Business Standard original
Opec's president on Monday warned that oil prices could hit $200 a barrel and there would be little the cartel could do to help.

The comments made by Chakib Khelil, Algeria's energy minister, came as oil prices continued to hover near $120 a barrel, putting pressure on the already struggling US economy.

His comments suggest Algeria wants the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to continue to resist calls by US and European leaders for the cartel to pump more oil.

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Iraq jumps into U.S.-Iran tussle

Baghdad says it agrees that Iran has supplied militants with weapons, but the Iraqi government seems to want the U.S. to back off threats of military action and let it pursue diplomatic solutions

Go to Los Angeles Times original
BAGHDAD -- In echoing the Pentagon's latest accusations of Iranian meddling, the Iraqi government has placed itself firmly where it has long said it does not want to be: caught in the middle between Washington and its neighbor to the east.

Baghdad says it agrees with the United States that Iran has continued to supply weapons to anti-government militants in southern Iraq, including arms with markings indicating they were produced this year. On the other hand, the Iraqi government seems eager to send a message to the Bush administration to back off threats of military action and allow Baghdad to pursue diplomatic solutions more quietly with Tehran.

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Witness: Fundraiser spoke of plan to fire US attorney

Go to AP original
CHICAGO (AP) -- A government witness testified Monday that a prominent political fundraiser for the governor told him three years ago that Chicago's chief federal prosecutor would be fired and replaced by someone chosen by then-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Restaurant owner Elie Maloof testified that Antoin "Tony" Rezko told him that the person picked to replace Patrick J. Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney in Chicago would end a federal investigation into corruption under Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"The federal prosecutor would no longer be the federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald would be eliminated," Maloof said at Rezko's fraud trial.

Prosecutors said last week that former Illinois Finance Authority executive director Ali Ata, who is set to take the witness stand as early as Thursday, will testify Rezko told him of a plan to replace Fitzgerald.

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve that Ata would say he talked with Rezko about such efforts on the part of Springfield lobbyist Robert Kjellander and former presidential adviser Karl Rove.

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Fannie Mae chief sees no mortgage recovery until 2010

Go to Reuters original
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The chief executive of Fannie Mae (FNM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Tuesday that he expects no real recovery for the U.S. housing market before 2010.

"We are going to have a period where we move through the trough," Daniel Mudd, Fannie Mae's chief executive officer, told a meeting of business reporters.

This year "is going to be tough" and next year "will be similar," Mudd told the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

"You will start to see some recovery in (2010)," he said.

Fannie Mae is the largest U.S. source of mortgage finance. While the company has made relatively conservative mortgage bets, it has faced multibillion-dollar losses in recent quarters as the number of home foreclosures has soared.

The company is due to announce first-quarter results on May 6.

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Some War Veterans Find GI Bill Falls Short


Go to Washington Post original
Two years after a rocket-propelled grenade hit Nathan Toews during an ambush in southern Afghanistan, sending shrapnel shooting into his skull and spiderwebbing through his brain, he has recovered enough to ask: What now?

Like so many leaving the military, after years of taking orders, he's facing an almost infinite number of choices about his future.

Even now that he's picked a school he'd like to go to, there are plenty of unknowns: His admissions interview included questions about whether the 24-year-old veteran could share a dorm room with a teenager, whether his head injury might keep him from completing the foreign language requirement, and just what, exactly, the government would pay for.

Decades after the GI Bill transformed American society after World War II, another generation of veterans is returning home -- more than 800,000 as of last summer. What they find is quite different from the comprehensive benefits that once covered all the costs of an education, from undergraduate straight through Harvard Law. The current GI benefit covers just half the national average cost for tuition, room and board, veterans' advocates say. "It falls dramatically short," said Eric Hilleman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

For those who, like Toews, were badly wounded, there are more benefits, so he expects his college costs to be covered. But it's not just the money -- there are physical and emotional roadblocks, too. A recent survey found that nearly half of recent veterans are un- or underemployed, and advocates say education can be key to a successful reentry. So a patchwork of efforts, public and private, have sprung up.

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Merck hit hard by cholesterol drug rejection

Go to Reuters original
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Confidence in Merck & Co's (MRK.N: Quote, Profile, Research) earnings prospects withered on Tuesday, along with its stock price, after U.S. regulators surprisingly rejected the drugmaker's treatment to raise levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.

Shares of Merck, already battered by a failed trial earlier this year of its blockbuster Vytorin cholesterol drug, were swept as much as 10.8 percent lower in morning trading on Tuesday. They are down 36 percent for the year.

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Blackwater: Shadow Army (video)

NBC, CBS seen bidding for Weather Channel

Go to Reuters original
NEW YORK (Reuters) - CBS Corp and GE's NBC Universal plan to bid for the Weather Channel in the second round, with bids expected to range between $3.5 billion and $4 billion, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Privately held Landmark Communications, which has put the channel up for sale along with other businesses, had originally sought $5 billion for the asset, sources have said. The sources asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential.

The bids for the channel, due May 8 from less than five strategic bidders, come after Landmark earlier this year hired JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers to study its options. The first round of bids was in March.

Landmark could not be immediately reached for comment. Both CBS and NBC declined comment.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

GOP objects to bill allowing recounts


Go to Politico original
Voting rights activists who hoped the federal government would help local governments pay for paper trails and audits for electronic voting machines have gone from elation to frustration as they watched Republicans who supported such a proposal in committee vote against bringing it to the House floor.

The result: The elections in November will likely be marred by the same accusations of fraud and error involving voting machines that arose in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential race.

When New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt’s Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act came up for a vote in the House Administration Committee on April 2, the Republicans on the committee gave it their unanimous support. But two weeks later, those same Republican members voted against moving the bill to the House floor. It would have taken a two-thirds vote to push the bill to the floor; with most House Republicans opposed, the bill didn’t make it that far.

Larry Norden, director of the voting technology project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, called the vote “a sad statement on how little Congress has done on the issue of making sure elections are as secure and reliable as possible.”

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Warring factions to gather in Iraq

UMass scholar sets new round of talks

Go to Boston Globe original
WASHINGTON - After a weekend of closed-door negotiations in Helsinki, a group of rival members of Iraq's parliament and tribal leaders are set to announce today that they will gather in Baghdad for the first time for a further round of talks that they hope will lay the foundation for peace in their troubled country.

"Progress has been made," Padraig O'Malley, the UMass-Boston professor and veteran peace activist who organized the meeting, said in a phone interview from the Finnish capital.

O'Malley said the participants agreed upon all but three of 16 broad principles, which he hopes the Iraqi Parliament will eventually endorse, laying the framework for negotiations to reconcile Iraq's warring parties and militias. He said the participants hoped that that their talks would lead to a detailed agreement on core issues that have plagued Iraq, including disarming militias associated with political parties, protecting the rights of minorities, and reducing corruption in government.

So far, the participants have declined to make details of their discussions public to avoid creating too much debate and acrimony in Iraq, O'Malley said. They are planning to announce their progress at a press conference at the Helsinki airport today before returning to Iraq.

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Lawyers Fear Monitoring in Cases on Terrorism


Go to New York Times original
PORTLAND, Ore. — Thomas Nelson, an Oregon lawyer, has lived in a state of perpetual jet lag for the last two years. Every few weeks, he boards a plane in Portland and flies to the Middle East to meet with a high-profile Saudi client who cannot enter the United States because he faces charges here of financing terrorism.

Mr. Nelson says he does not dare to phone this client or send him e-mail messages because of what many prominent criminal defense lawyers say is a well-founded fear that all of their contacts are being monitored by the United States government.

Because he is constantly shifting time zones to see his client face to face, “I just don’t sleep normally anymore,” Mr. Nelson said. “But I don’t have a choice. It’s very clear to me that anything I say to my client or to other lawyers in this case is being recorded.”

Across the country, and especially here in Oregon, it seems, lawyers who represent suspects in terrorism-related investigations complain that their ability to do their jobs is being hindered by the suspicion that the government is listening in, using the eavesdropping authority it obtained — or granted itself — after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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Exercise-heart study casts doubt on 'fit but fat' theory

Go to AP original
CHICAGO - New research challenges the notion that you can be fat and fit, finding that being active can lower but not eliminate heart risks faced by heavy women. "It doesn't take away the risk entirely. Weight still matters," said Dr. Martha Gulati, a heart specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Previous research has gone back and forth on whether exercise or weight has a greater influence on heart disease risks.

The new study involving nearly 39,000 women helps sort out the combined effects of physical activity and body mass on women's chances of developing heart disease, said Gulati, who wasn't involved in the research.

The study by Harvard-affiliated researchers appears in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine.

Participants were women aged 54 on average who filled out a questionnaire at the study's start detailing their height, weight and amount of weekly physical activity in the past year, including walking, jogging, bicycling and swimming. They were then tracked for about 11 years. Overall 948 women developed heart disease.

Women were considered active if they followed government-recommended guidelines and got at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, including brisk walking or jogging. Women who got less exercise than that were considered inactive.

Weight was evaluated by body mass index: A BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, while obese is 30 and higher.

Compared with normal-weight active women, the risk for developing heart disease was 54 percent higher in overweight active women and 87 percent higher in obese active women. By contrast, it was 88 percent higher in overweight inactive women; and 2 1/2 times greater in obese inactive women.

About two in five U.S. women at age 50 will eventually develop heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems. Excess weight can raise those odds in many ways, including by increasing blood pressure and risks for diabetes, and by worsening cholesterol. Exercise counteracts all three.

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Delta raises domestic fares around $10 to $40 per roundtrip


Go to AP original
ATLANTA - Travelers aren't just feeling the pinch at the gas pump, but also in the air as carriers continue to hike fares to deal with high jet fuel prices.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the nation's third-largest carrier, said Monday it raised domestic fares in most cases $10 to $40 per roundtrip, in the form of a fuel surcharge.

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OMFG! Kids are using text language in written schoolwork

Study reveals US school kids are increasingly using text language in written work

Go to Tech Herald original
A new study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project has revealed that around two-thirds of middle school and high school pupils in the United States are guilty of incorporating lazy instant messaging (IM) and phone text language into their written work.

According to the survey results, around one in four respondents admitted to dropping emoticon symbols directly into their school work, which include the likes of drawn and text-based winks and smiley faces -- i.e. ;) and :).

Similarly half of those polled said they used informal punctuation and grammar, while forty percent said they have cut corners in terms of expression, with the likes of LOL, a text speak response meaning to laugh out loud, being one such application.

Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at Pew Internet, said that the incorporation of such relaxed and casual written language into school work is nothing to be especially worried about and is merely a text-based form of slang for this particular generation.

Lenhart notes that conversational slang is something that always crops up from generation to generation; although, before today’s technological advances, it has usually evolved from spoken words.

Yet finding an educational balance between formal and informal writing in the classroom might be somewhat of a concern for teachers, not least when students admit to lapsing into the convenience of IM and text-based language.

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Buffett says recession may be worse than feared


Go to Reuters original
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, the world's richest person, said on Monday the U.S. economy is in a recession that will be more severe than most people expect.

Buffett made his comments on CNBC television after his Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N: Quote, Profile, Research) (BRKb.N: Quote, Profile, Research) agreed to invest $6.5 billion in the takeover of chewing gum maker Wm Wrigley Jr Co (WWY.N: Quote, Profile, Research) by Mars Inc in a $23 billion transaction.

"This is not a field of specialty for me, but my general feeling is that the recession will be longer and deeper than most people think," Buffett said. "This will not be short and shallow.

"I think consumers are feeling gas and food prices," he added, "and not feeling they've got a lot of money for other things."

He was not immediately available for further comment. Known for his frugality, the 77-year-old Buffett has lived in the same 10-room Omaha, Nebraska, house for a half-century, despite being worth an estimated $62 billion.

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Rising fuel cost pushing small car prices


Go to U.S. News & World Report original
Rising gas prices are increasingly pushing consumers into smaller cars, and with demand for small cars near all-time highs, they may now be growing more expensive.

The AP reports, "Small cars are now the largest segment of the U.S. auto market, accounting for 18 percent of new car sales. Last year U.S. consumers bought a record 2.8 million of them, and with sales up 4 percent in the first quarter this year, the record almost surely will be shattered." The auto industry has been slow to react, and is only now ramping up production of the hottest-selling small cars. Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst for the Waltham, Mass.-based consulting firm Global Insight, said the spike in small car demand "happened too rapidly for the American automakers to take sufficient action."

Bankrate.com comments that "consumers, who may have become accustomed to seeing thousands knocked out of the window sticker, may have to adjust their expectations" when they shop for smaller cars. "Part of that tough negotiating stance comes from dealers recognizing that small, economical sedans are hot items. But another factor is that these sedans have far less profit built into them when compared to SUVs and bigger, luxury sedans." As a result, dealers often don't have the flexibility to discount the cost of smaller cars as much as they did with the SUVs that many bought in recent years. For instance, "a Toyota Corolla LE has a base list price of $16,650 and an invoice price of $15,067, leaving less than $1,600 haggle room for most consumers." In contrast, "a Toyota Sequoia SUV, which lists for $35,275, has about $4,000 in negotiating room before hitting the dealer invoice."

A few bargains can still be found. Kicking Tires rounds up cash-back offers on the market this week, and finds this surprising gem: $1,500 cash back on the Hyundai Elantra nationwide, except in certain Northeastern states. "It’s not the most exciting to drive, but it comes well-equipped and has a much improved interior and exterior look. $1,500 is a huge amount of money to be taking off an economy car in today’s climate," KT comments. "Thrifty shoppers should definitely take advantage."

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America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree

Go to Chronicle original
Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

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FACTBOX-US presidential candidates on gas prices


Go to Reuters UK original
April 28 (Reuters) - The White House said on Monday there are no quick fixes for U.S. gasoline prices that now average a record $3.60 per gallon, but those aiming to succeed President George W. Bush have proposed several solutions.

Following is a summary of their proposals:

DEMOCRATIC NEW YORK SEN. HILLARY CLINTON


- Suspend the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax through the peak summer driving months. A windfall tax on energy companies would cover the revenue shortfall.

- Suspend filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for one year, freeing up more oil for the open market.

- Devote $150 billion to developing alternative energy.

- Raise royalties for oil companies that drill on public land.

- Increase fuel economy standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030.

- Investigate market manipulation of oil prices.


DEMOCRATIC ILLINOIS SEN. BARACK OBAMA


- Double fuel economy standards to 50 miles per gallon by 2026.

- Devote $150 billion over 10 years to developing alternative energy.

- Does not support suspending the gas tax, saying oil companies would simply raise prices to make up the difference.

- Investigate market manipulation of oil prices.


REPUBLICAN ARIZONA SEN. JOHN MCCAIN


- Suspend the gas tax through the summer months.

- Suspend filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

- Has NOT proposed targets for increased automobile efficiency, and voted against a 2003 measure that would have boosted standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2015.

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Study: Blacks exceed whites in amputations


Go to United Press International original
CHICAGO, April 27 (UPI) -- Black Chicago-area residents have a significantly higher chance than whites of going through an amputation, experts say.

A study by Chicago's Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine indicates racial statistics for amputations have not evened out, despite the total number of amputations in northern Illinois dropping in the past 20 years, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday.

"It's very troubling. Medical advances make leaps and bounds, but it doesn't always get translated to everybody," said Dr. William Pearce, an author of the study published Saturday in the Journal of Vascular Surgery.

Pearce and fellow researcher Joseph Feinglass learned that people residing in mostly black areas of Chicago are five times more prone to having a leg or foot removed than people living in mostly white areas.

It is reported that increased health problems and low-quality healthcare are partially to blame for higher amputations among blacks.

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Cadbury eyes Hershey as Mars chews up Wrigley


Go to Reuters original
LONDON (Reuters) - Mars' bumper $23 billion agreed takeover of Wrigley (WWY.N: Quote, Profile, Research) is set to reignite Cadbury Schweppes' (CBRY.L: Quote, Profile, Research) effort to sweet talk Hershey (HSY.N: Quote, Profile, Research) into a merger as the world's confectionery market becomes ever more competitive, analysts said on Monday.

The deal between the world's biggest chocolate maker, family owned M&M's maker Mars, and the globe's biggest gum maker, Wm Wrigley Jr Co, will push Cadbury off the world's top spot in confectionery just as the London-based group is planning a demerger of its soft drinks business.

The Mars-Wrigley deal will prompt Cadbury to re-start talks with the U.S.'s biggest chocolate maker Hershey Co, and the British group will hope the surprise linkup will push Hershey's controlling trust into talks, analysts added.

"Cadbury will have to look at its options and the most obvious is to re-open talks with Hershey over a merger," said Investec Securities analyst Martin Deboo.

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U.S. among most Bible-literate nations

Go to Reuters original
Americans are among the world's most 'Bible-literate' people and Spaniards, French and Italians are among the most ignorant about what the "good book" says, according to a new study released on Monday.

A poll carried out in nine countries -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Spain and Poland.

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also:
Only one-third of American students 'Proficient' in writing skills
“American students’ writing skills are deteriorating”

Go to New York Times original
About a third of the nation’s eighth-grade students, and roughly a quarter of its high school seniors, are proficient writers, according to nationwide test results released Thursday.

That proportion of students demonstrating writing proficiency is about the same as in 2002, when a similar exam was last given.

But the results of the latest test, administered last year, also found modest increases in the skills of lower-performing students. Nearly 9 students in 10 can now demonstrate at least a basic achievement in writing, defined as partial mastery of the skills needed for proficient work.

As in the past, girls outperformed boys by far, most decisively at the eighth-grade level, where 41 percent of them achieved proficiency, compared with 20 percent of boys. The racial achievement gap narrowed slightly, with black and Hispanic students’ writing improving a bit more than did whites’.

The results for eighth graders, though not for seniors, were broken down by states, the top performers of which were New Jersey, where 56 percent of students scored at or above proficiency levels, and Connecticut, where the number was 53 percent. Nineteen states ranked above New York, where it was 31 percent.

That a third of the nation’s eighth graders can write with proficiency may not sound like much, but it is the best performance by eighth-grade students in any subject tested in the national assessment in the last three years. Only 17 percent of eighth graders were proficient on the 2006 history exam, for example.

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Homeowner vacancies hit record high

Go to Reuters original
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The share of vacant U.S. homes rose to a record level in the first quarter, the government reported on Monday, with homeowners finding it increasingly difficult to find buyers in a collapsed market and more homes in foreclosure.

The percentage of owner-occupied homes now sitting empty rose to 2.9 percent in the January-to-March period, the third quarter in a row in which the vacancy rate increased, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Poll: Clinton has better chance than Obama of beating McCain


Go to AP original
WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton has a better chance than Barack Obama of beating Republican John McCain, according to a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll that bolsters her argument that she is more electable in the fall than her rival for the Democratic nomination.

The survey released Monday gives Clinton a fresh talking point as she works to convince pivotal undecided superdelegates to side with her in the drawn-out Democratic primary fight.

Clinton, who won the Pennsylvania primary last week, has gained ground this month in a hypothetical head-to-head match up with the GOP nominee-in-waiting; she now leads McCain, 50 percent to 41 percent, while Obama remains virtually tied with McCain, 46 percent to 44 percent.

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House Democrats work on huge Iraq money bill


Go to San Francisco Chronicle original
House Democratic leaders are putting together the largest Iraq war spending bill yet, a measure that is expected to fund the war through the end of the Bush presidency and for nearly six months into the next president's term.
The bill, which could be unveiled as early as this week, signals that Democrats are resigned to the fact they can't change course in Iraq in the final months of President Bush's term. Instead, the party is pinning its hopes of ending the war on winning the White House in November.

Bay Area lawmakers, who represent perhaps the most anti-war part of the country, acknowledge the bill will anger many voters back home.

"It's going to be a tough sell to convince people in my district that funding the war for six months into the new president's term is the way to end the war," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, a leader of the Out of Iraq Caucus who plans to oppose the funding. "It sounds like we are paying for something we don't want."

The bill is expected to provide $108 billion that the White House has requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawmakers who are drafting it say it also will include a so-called bridge fund of $70 billion to give the new president several months of breathing room before having to ask Congress for more money.

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Supreme Court Upholds Ind. Voter ID Law

Go to Washington Post original
The Supreme Court ruled today that states may require voters to present photo identification before casting ballots, upholding a Republican-backed measure that proponents say combats voter fraud and opponents believe discourages voter participation.

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Scalia: Does Torture Violate ‘Cruel And Unusual Punishment’ Provision? ‘No.’

Go to Think Progress original
Last night, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia granted his first broad-based television interview, to Lesley Stahl on CBS’s 60 Minutes. There he explained that the torture of detainees does not violate the 8th Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” because, according to Scalia, torture is not used as punishment:

STAHL: If someone’s in custody, as in Abu Ghraib, and they are brutalized, by a law enforcement person — if you listen to the expression “cruel and unusual punishment,” doesn’t that apply?

SCALIA: No. To the contrary. You think — Has anybody ever referred to torture as punishment? I don’t think so.

STAHL: Well I think if you’re in custody, and you have a policeman who’s taken you into custody–

SCALIA: And you say he’s punishing you? What’s he punishing you for? … When he’s hurting you in order to get information from you, you wouldn’t say he’s punishing you. What is he punishing you for?

Watch it:



Scalia’s parsing of the 8th Amendment blindly ignores reports showing that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was about humiliation and punishment, not information-gathering. In 2004, the Washington Post reported MPs involved in the abuse “said detainees were beaten and sexually humiliated as punishment or for fun.” A recent New Yorker profile of one of the soldiers there confirmed that “mostly what interrogators wanted when they asked for ’special treatment’ was punishment: take away his mattress, keep him awake, take away his clothes.”

What’s more, as Human Rights First points out, torture raises other constitutional questions besides 8th Amendment violations:

[I]t seems Justice Scalia has forgotten about the 5th Amendment’s guarantee of due process. Furthermore, a court holding a witness in contempt for refusing to cooperate with a judicial proceeding is, in fact, quite different than an interrogator resorting to physical abuse when a prisoner refuses to talk.

Scalia has repeatedly latched on to the “red herring” idea of a ticking time-bomb scenario to justify torture. He approvingly cites torture-happy Jack Bauer, the fictional star of “24,” and recently he declared it would be “absurd to say that you can’t stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face.”

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Pentagon Admits Planning Potential Military Action Against Iran

from DemocracyNow.org:
The Washington Post reports the nation’s top military officer has said that the Pentagon is planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran. Adm. Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said military action is one of several options against Iran. Mullen accused Iran of having a “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates claimed Iran is “hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.” Despite the rhetoric from Washington, a spokesperson from Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran is not concerned about a US attack.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini: “Mr. Gates and Mr. Cheney made some comments about military choice. According to the problems that the Americans face and their disastrous situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and their interior problems, we think it would be unlikely the Americans would take the decision to get themselves into a new fiasco, the consequences of which they themselves have acknowledged would be painful for the region and the world.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a cargo ship contracted by the US Navy fired shots at small Iranian speedboats off the Iranian coast. The cargo ship, the Westward Venture, was transporting US military hardware.

Vietnam to end adoption program with US after report


Go to AP original
HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam is ending a child adoption agreement with the United States after being accused of allowing baby-selling and corruption, officials said Monday.

The agreement was being considered for renewal but the two sides remained far apart over revisions, said Vu Duc Long, director of Vietnam's International Adoption Agency. The agreement is due to expire on Sept. 1.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi on Friday, Vietnam said it will stop taking adoption applications from American families after July 1 but will continue to process applications of families who are matched with babies before July 1.

The decision was made following a report from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi that was first obtained by The Associated Press, alleging pervasive corruption and baby-selling in Vietnam's adoption system.

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Oil strikes new record near $120 on supply fears


Go to Reuters original
PERTH (Reuters) - Oil struck a record high at $119.93 a barrel on Monday, extending the previous session's rally, as a strike closed a major British oil pipeline and as new violence in Nigeria reignited supply fears.

Simmering tensions between the United States and Iran also helped boost oil prices.

U.S. light crude for June delivery rose 88 cents to $119.40 by 2324 GMT, after striking a lifetime high of $119.93 a barrel shortly after electronic trading resumed after the weekend.

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Obama's ex-pastor confronts media in Washington


Go to Reuters original
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, blasted news media he said had sensationalized his remarks in an often confrontational appearance at a reporters' club on Monday.

But the Chicago preacher stood by the fiery sermons that have dogged Obama's Democratic presidential campaign since they gained public attention in March.

"You cannot do terrorism on other people and not expect it to come back to you," Wright said at the National Press Club when asked about a speech in which he asserted the September 11 attacks were retaliation for U.S. foreign policy.

Asked about another sermon in which he suggested the U.S. government created the AIDS virus to kill black people, Wright also did not retreat.

"Based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything," he said.

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Investigators: Millions in Iraq contracts never finished

Go to AP original
WASHINGTON - Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say.

The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.

The special IG's review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors' actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children's hospital in Basra, only to "essentially terminate" the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

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Making a killing from the food crisis

Go to Grain.org original
The world food crisis is hurting a lot of people, but global agribusiness firms, traders and speculators are raking in huge profits.

Much of the news coverage of the world food crisis has focussed on riots in low-income countries, where workers and others cannot cope with skyrocketing costs of staple foods. But there is another side to the story: the big profits that are being made by huge food corporations and investors. Cargill, the world’s biggest grain trader, achieved an 86% increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of this year. Bunge, another huge food trader, had a 77% increase in profits during the last quarter of last year. ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, registered a 67% per cent increase in profits in 2007.

Nor are retail giants taking the strain: profits at Tesco, the UK supermarket giant, rose by a record 11.8% last year. Other major retailers, such as France’s Carrefour and Wal-Mart of the US, say that food sales are the main sector sustaining their profit increases. Investment funds, running away from sliding stock markets and the credit crunch, are having a heyday on the commodity markets, driving prices out of reach for food importers like Bangladesh and the Philippines.

These profits are no freak windfalls. Over the last 30 years, the IMF and the World Bank have pushed so-called developing countries to dismantle all forms of protection for their local farmers and to open up their markets to global agribusiness, speculators and subsidised food from rich countries. This has transformed most developing countries from being exporters of food into importers. Today about 70 per cent of developing countries are net importers of food. On top of this, finance liberalisation has made it easier for investors to take control of markets for their own private benefit.

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Commentary: Interrogation or torture?

Go to Atlanta Journal-Constitution
On March 8, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have barred the CIA from using so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" to extract information from terrorist suspects. This unleashed a new storm of criticism from those who equate techniques such as waterboarding with torture.

It also put the president at odds with prospective Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, who has rejected the use of such techniques, saying that if the U.S. resorts to what he describes as "torture," it will put our troops and other American citizens abroad at risk.

But is this true? Moreover, is waterboarding really torture, and should the U.S. renounce any tool that could potentially save American lives, especially in extraordinary situations where dozens, hundreds, even thousands face imminent death from a weapon of mass destruction?

To begin with, the United States rightly rejects the use of torture, defined as the infliction of intense pain from burning, whipping, crushing, the administration of electric shocks and similar abuses. By contrast, the six enhanced interrogation techniques instituted by the CIA in March 2002 are the following: the attention grab, the attention slap, the belly slap, longtime standing, the cold cell and the controversial practice of waterboarding.

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Mars and Buffett agree $23bn Wrigley purchase


Go to Financial Times original
Privately-held Mars on Monday moved to create the world’s biggest confectionery company as it announced the agreed all-cash acquisition of gum group Wrigley for around $23bn (£11.5bn, €14.7bn).

Mars is offering $80 a share for Wrigley, a 28 per cent premium to the gum maker’s closing share price on Friday of $62.45 and a 34 per cent premium to the three-month weighted average price of $59.88. The deal is pitched at a multiple of 4.3 times 2007 sales and more than 35 times earnings per share.

The merged company would have around 14.4 per cent of the global confectionery market, according to Bernstein Research, annual sales of more than $27bn and more than 64,000 employees worldwide.

Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, is helping to finance the transaction through his Berkshire Hathaway investment company, which is contributing $4.4bn of subordinated debt. Further financing is being provided by Goldman Sachs, which is putting up $5.7bn of senior debt, and JP Morgan Chase.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Leave Taliban alone, Afghan president tells West

Karzai says US and British troops are undermining his authority and stopping insurgents from laying down their arms

Go to UK Guardian original
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has called on British and American troops to stop arresting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, saying that their operations undermined his government's authority and were counter-productive.

The stinging attack, made in an interview with the New York Times published yesterday, is the latest in a series of rows between Western governments with troops in Afghanistan and the elected leader of the country. Western diplomats expressed surprise at the Afghan leader's criticism and the Foreign Office played down the row yesterday.

'We fully support the Afghan government and continue to work with it, President Karzai and the international community in the interests of the Afghan people and the long-term peace and stability of Afghanistan,' said a spokesman.

Karzai is facing re-election next year and may be hoping to bolster flagging support with a populist stance. However, in recent months relations have deteriorated seriously, with Western officials openly doubting the ability of the Afghan president, who was heavily backed by the US and the UK in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime, to manage rampant corruption and combat drug trafficking in the war-wracked southwest Asian state.

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In the Rezko Trial, A New Name Surfaces: Karl Rove


Go to Newsweek original
The trial of Chicago developer and political fixer Antoin "Tony" Rezko has been closely watched for any mention of the defendant's onetime friend, Barack Obama. But last week, prosecutors threw a curveball, telling the judge that one of their witnesses is prepared to raise the name of another prominent Washington hand: Karl Rove. Former Illinois state official Ali Ata is expected to testify about a conversation he had with Rezko in which the developer alleged Rove was "working with" a top Illinois Republican to remove the Chicago U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.

The allegation, which Rove denies, quickly reverberated in Washington. Democrats in Congress now want to question Ata. They believe he can help buttress their theory that Rove played a key role in discussions that led to the firings of U.S. attorneys at the Justice Department in 2006. The House Judiciary Committee "intends to investigate the facts and circumstances alleged in this testimony," panel chairman Rep. John Conyers of Michigan said in a statement to NEWSWEEK.

Investigators are intrigued by the timing of the alleged conversation about Fitzgerald. According to the Rezko prosecutors, it took place in November 2004—weeks after Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Rove to testify for the third time in another matter he was aggressively investigating, the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. A source familiar with Ata's testimony (who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters) said that Ata was meeting regularly with Rezko that fall. The two men shared a concern about Fitzgerald's ongoing probe of Illinois public officials. In one of those conversations, the developer allegedly told Ata that Bob Kjellander, a prominent GOP state lobbyist, was talking to Rove about getting rid of Fitzgerald. The reason: to "get a new U.S. attorney" who would not pursue the Illinois corruption probe, the source said. Ata, who has pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and is now cooperating with the Feds, has no evidence that the conversation took place other than what Rezko allegedly told him, the source says.


Kjellander denies that he told Rezko anything of the kind. "I never had a discussion with Karl Rove or any other person on the White House staff" about firing Fitzgerald, said Kjellander, now a top GOP official in charge of this summer's convention. Rove's lawyer, Bob Luskin, told NEWSWEEK that Rove "does not recall" a conversation with Kjellander about Fitzgerald. He added that Rove "never talked to anybody in the White House about removing Fitzgerald."

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US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for first time in years

Go to ABC News original
U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

Some of the 2,300 Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq.

The Marines are working alongside British forces in Helmand province — the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest Taliban resistance over the last two years. The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan — much of that in Helmand.

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Medical marijuana patients face transplant hurdles


Go to AP original
SEATTLE - Timothy Garon's face and arms are hauntingly skeletal, but the fluid building up in his abdomen makes the 56-year-old musician look eight months pregnant.

His liver, ravaged by hepatitis C, is failing. Without a new one, his doctors tell him, he will be dead in days.

But Garon's been refused a spot on the transplant list, largely because he has used marijuana, even though it was legally approved for medical reasons.

"I'm not angry, I'm not mad, I'm just confused," said Garon, lying in his hospital bed a few minutes after a doctor told him the hospital transplant committee's decision Thursday.

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Hundreds flee wildfire burning in foothills near Los Angeles


Go to AP original
SIERRA MADRE, Calif. - An early season wildfire slowly chewed its way through dense brush near Los Angeles on Sunday, forcing more than 1,000 people from homes in the foothills.

More than 400 firefighters attacked the 350-acre fire, aided by two helicopters and water-dropping air tankers, said Elisa Weaver of the Arcadia Fire Department. Residents evacuated at least 550 homes Saturday night and Sunday, but none had burned.

"This is pretty serious," Weaver said. "Some of these areas have not burned in over 40 years."

Smoke and fire billowed near neighborhoods on the outskirts of Sierra Madre near Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park. The fire moved slowly as it fed on brush and was estimated to be 5 to 10 percent contained. It is expected to continue burning for another two or three days.

Winds were calm early Sunday, boosting firefighter efforts, Weaver said.

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Facility Israel bombed not nuclear: paper

Go to Reuters original
DUBAI (Reuters) - The Syrian site Israel bombed in September was not part of a nuclear weapons program, but was a military facility under construction, President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published on Sunday.

Last week, Washington released intelligence alleging Syria had built a nuclear reactor with North Korean help before an Israeli air strike destroyed the facility on September 6.

"Is it logical? A nuclear site did not have protection with surface to air defenses? A nuclear site within the footprint of satellites in the middle of Syria in an open area in the desert?" Assad told Qatar's al-Watan newspaper in an interview conducted before the U.S. accusations were made.

At that stage, he was commenting on media reports that said the target was a nuclear site. "The truth is that the raid was at a military site under construction," Assad said in the interview. "We are against mass destruction weapons for Israel, Iran or others."

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Bell’s Family and Friends, With Rising Anger, Say Fight Is ‘Far From Over’


Go to New York Times original
Nicole Paultre Bell, the woman who was to marry Sean Bell the day he was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets, vowed on Saturday to continue demanding accountability for his death, delivering her remarks in a tone that was a departure from her more familiar gentle demeanor.

Joseph Guzman, who was shot more than a dozen times while sitting next to Mr. Bell, followed her to the microphone and spoke in somber tones of the emotional whiplash of the previous 24 hours.

Ms. Paultre Bell and Mr. Guzman spoke publicly on Saturday for the first time since a judge on Friday acquitted three detectives charged in the shooting of Mr. Bell in November 2006 outside a strip club in Jamaica, Queens, where he had celebrated his bachelor party.

They were among more than 100 people — including Mr. Bell’s parents, William and Valerie Bell — who packed into the Harlem headquarters of the National Action Network, the organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, to denounce the verdict and the judge who handed it down.

“April 25, 2008, they killed Sean all over again,” Ms. Paultre Bell told the audience. “I’m still praying for justice, because this is far from over. Every march, every protest, every rally, I’m going to be right up front.”

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