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July 28, 2008

UPDATE: Obama’s Prayer Returned To Wailing Wall

 The yeshiva student who pried Barack Obama’s prayer note from the Western Wall has apologized.

Identified only by the first initial of his name, Aleph, and with his face obscured, the student went on television on Sunday to confess that he took Senator Obama’s note last week and passed it to the press.

The resulting coverage of Obama’s private, handwritten musings on hope and sin added to the mystique of his campaign visit to Israel but drew international criticism, including from leading rabbis who said Jewish morality had been compromised by the publication.

Obama has not commented on the incident.

Olympics — Extreme Pollution Dangerous For Athletes And Spectators

 The Olympics is less than two weeks away and despite the fact that the Chinese government has stopped traffic for the past two weeks and released rain clouds in hopes of ‘clearing the air’, pollution in Beijing remains extremely high. Visibility was down to half a mile in some parts, including the National Stadium, while the Athletes’ Village complex could not be seen from the nearby Olympic Green.

 Doctors have warned that the heavily polluted air in Beijing is dangerous not only for the athletes taking part, but also for spectators.

According to US doctors, people in certain risk groups who breathe high levels of pollution may be at an increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke within 24 hours of exposure. They also risk suffering blood clots in their legs on the plane home.

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July 27, 2008

McCain: Chief Of The Surge — Schizophrenic. Unfit To Be President

To dismiss Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

He never would have been treated as a president-in-waiting by heads of state or network talking heads if all he offered were charisma, slick rhetoric and stunning visuals. What drew them instead was the raw power Mr. Obama has amassed: the power to start shaping events and the power to move markets, including TV ratings. (Even “Access Hollywood” mustered a 20 percent audience jump by hosting the Obama family.) Power begets more power, absolutely.

The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”

Never mind. This election remains about the present and the future, where Iraq’s $10 billion a month drain on American pocketbooks and military readiness is just one moving part in a matrix of national crises stretching from the gas pump to Pakistan. That’s the high-rolling political casino where Mr. Obama amassed the chips he cashed in last week.

The “change” that he can at times wield like a glib marketing gimmick is increasingly becoming a substantive reality — sometimes through Mr. Obama’s instigation, sometimes by luck. Obama-branded change is snowballing, whether it’s change you happen to believe in or not.

Looking back now, we can see that the fortnight preceding the candidate’s flight to Kuwait was like a sequence in an old movie where wind blows away calendar pages to announce an epochal plot turn. First, on July 7, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, dissed Bush dogma by raising the prospect of a withdrawal timetable for our troops. Then, on July 15, Mr. McCain suddenly noticed that more Americans are dying in Afghanistan than Iraq and called for more American forces to be sent there. It was a long-overdue recognition of the obvious that he could no longer avoid: both Robert Gates, the defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had already called for more American troops to battle the resurgent Taliban, echoing the policy proposed by Mr. Obama a year ago.

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July 26, 2008

Economy – Saturday: Senate Passes Housing Assistance Bill For Struggling Homeowners

 In a rare Saturday session the Senate passed a housing rescue legislation aimed at helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and providing financial support to troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the vote passed 72 to 13.

The bill, which cleared the House Wednesday by a 272-152 vote after months of political power struggle and negotiations between the House and Senate, Treasury Department, and other federal regulators, now goes to President Bush. The White House said Bush will sign it quickly, even though he has expressed concern about $4 billion in the bill aimed at helping communities buy and restore foreclosed homes.

Included in the bill is a $300 billion program to refinance loans for struggling borrowers and an ambitious rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill would give the Treasury Department authority to provide support as needed to government-sponsored agencies Fannie and Freddie, which guarantee or own nearly half the nation’s mortgages. It would also raise the size of mortgages that can be purchased by Fannie and Freddie and insured by the FHA, the report added. Concerns about the companies’ financial stability have dented their shares and sparked fears that a failure of one or both could have catastrophic consequences for the already depressed U.S. housing market.

The legislation would also help some 400,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure by refinancing into affordable loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.

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Saturday: Obama Meets With PM Gordon Brown At Downing Street

 Senator Barack Obama has arrived at 10 Downing Street – the historic office and home of the British Prime Minister – for a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

  The two sat and talked in the beautiful back garden of Downing Street. The conversation between Mr. Brown and Mr. Obama is expected to build on a meeting the two had in Washington in April 2008 – at the time the meeting was described as ‘warm and wide-ranging’.

Last weekend both men were in Iraq – Brown on Saturday and Obama on Sunday – so they didn’t bump into each other.

Since they’ve both made recent trips to the Middle East they have plenty to discuss – including troop withdrawal from Iraq.

After Obama’s successful tour of the Middle East and Europe, Britain’s political elite will be hoping to get great photo ops with him – if his trip had not been successful some of the British leaders would have been conveniently ‘not available’. Senator Obama will also meet with several MPs while at Downing Street.

  Before the meeting with Prime Minister Brown, Obama had a breakfast meeting with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a Middle East envoy.

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July 25, 2008

$5,000 REWARD For Condoleezza Rice’s Arrest In New Zealand!

 New Zealand university students offered a reward on Friday for anyone making a citizens’ arrest of visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as an alleged war criminal.

Rice was due to arrive in Auckland late Friday ahead of talks set for Saturday with Prime Minister Helen Clark and Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

Auckland University Student Association (AUSA) president David Do said the reward of $5,000 NZ ($3,725 US) was being offered for Rice’s arrest for her role in “overseeing the illegal invasion and continued occupation” of Iraq.

“We thought we’d give our students a chance to make a dent in their student loans and work for global justice at the same time,” Do said.

Police said any attempt to make a citizen’s arrest could lead to “very serious consequences”.

“I would strongly advise the association representatives who’ve put this challenge out, to withdraw it immediately so as to avoid being caught up in something much bigger than they may have anticipated,” said Auckland district commander, Superintendent Brett England.

Rice is due to leave New Zealand on Sunday for Samoa, where she will hold talks with foreign ministers from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum.

Friday: Obama, An American In Paris ‘Bonjour’

 Only one venue was on Obama’s Paris schedule early Friday – the presidential Élysée Palace. President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the steps of the palace to greet Mr. Obama as he stepped from his car.
“Bonjour,” said Obama, after he was urged by journalists to say something in French and to pose for pictures with the French rightwing leader.  After a few pictures the two disappeared inside the building.  A joint news conference took place after their meeting. Mr. Sarkozy, a conservative, had rushed back from a meeting in south western France to host Mr. Obama.
 Although the two are on different sides of the political fence, the French leader seems to have a soft spot for the U.S. senator.

“Obama? He’s my buddy,” Le Figaro newspaper quoted President Sarkozy as saying before Obama’s arrival. “I am the only Frenchman who knows him.”

“In France, we’re watching with great interest what you’re doing,” Sarkozy told Obama, noting how he himself, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, doesn’t fit the stereotypical mould of a French leader.

“Barack Obama’s adventure is an adventure that rings true in the hearts and minds of the French and of Europeans,” Sarkozy gushed.

“Of course, it’s not up to the French to choose the next President of the United States of America,” he said, adding that he’d happily work with whichever candidate wins.

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