Today’s papers – July 29, 2009

Recovery Signs in Housing Market Stir Some Hope

The New York Times leads, while the Wall Street Journal and USA Today go high, with new data that suggest there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for the housing market. Eight cities saw increases in real estate prices in May, and an index that tracks home prices in 20 metropolitan areas increased 0.5 percent in May from April. When adjusted for seasonal factors, the index was “virtually flat,” rather than down. These surprisingly strong numbers joined a slew of other indicators that have also shown positive signs in recent months and raised hopes that the housing market has hit bottom.

The positive signs from the residential real estate market hardly mean that everything is great. The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index rose for the first time in 34 months, but home prices are still down around 17 percent from a year earlier. Prices are still plunging in some of the worst-hit cities, including Las Vegas and San Francisco, and pessimists insist it’s only a matter of time before the upward trend reverses itself, mostly due to rising unemployment. But most economists agree the new data show there has been a “significant change in direction,” as the WSJ puts it. The NYT says buyers are taking advantage of good deals and getting the opportunity to examine properties methodically before finalizing a purchase. But the WSJ says that those in the market for heavily discounted properties frequently find themselves in bidding wars.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/business/economy/29housing.html

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/housing/2009-07-28-home-prices_N.htm

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124878477560186517.html (subscriber content preview)

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Sotomayor Moves Closer to High Court

The WSJ leads its world-wide newsbox with the Senate judiciary committee voting 13-6 to send Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate. Only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted for the nomination.

No one doubts that the Senate will confirm Sotomayor, but, if yesterday’s committee vote is any indication, it won’t be with any help from Republicans. The LAT highlights that the partisan opposition to Sotomayor shows that any future Obama nominees are unlikely to get Republican support “even if they have solid legal credentials and moderate records” and illustrates how filling the high court’s seats has become “a test of party solidarity.”

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124879689597487171.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-sotomayor29-2009jul29,0,1878930.story

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Senators Close to Health Accord

The Washington Post leads with an overview of where health care legislation stands. The Senate finance committee is expected to finish negotiations in the next few days and vote on a plan before the recess that begins Aug. 7. Assuming the group of six bipartisan senators who are negotiating in the committee can agree on a plan, it will likely end up abandoning many of President Obama’s priorities. And while it may anger most Democrats, it could also make it more difficult for Republicans to resist.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/28/AR2009072803173.html

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Industry donates to drug plan foes

USAT leads with campaign-finance records showing that the lawmakers who are leading the fight against allowing generic drugs to compete sooner with expensive biotechnology drugs list pharmaceutical companies as one of their biggest contributors. President Obama has proposed that drug companies should have seven years of exclusive rights, but several lawmakers are pushing for 12 years. Cutting the period of exclusivity could save the government billions of dollars in health care costs.

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Full article: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/drugs/2009-07-28-biologics_N.htm

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Schwarzenegger cuts $500 million more as he signs budget

The Los Angeles Times leads with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally signing a budget to close California’s huge deficit, but not before using his line-item veto power to cut $500 million more that will affect children’s health care, AIDS treatment and prevention programs, and the elderly, to name a few programs. Democrats expressed anger over the move, but Schwarzenegger said he had no choice because lawmakers failed to completely close the budget deficit.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-california-budget29-2009jul29,0,7361988.story

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Iraq Raids Camp of Exiles From Iran

The WP is alone in fronting news that Iraqi forces stormed a camp of an Iranian dissident group that had long been protected by the U.S. military. The raid of the camp that housed more than 3,000 people is seen as a stark example of how U.S. influence in Iraq is on the way down while Iranian clout is growing. Analysts say the raid seemed to be a clear attempt by Iraqi officials to assert their independence. The Iranian government had been demanding action for a while, but the United States long protected the group, which has supplied information about Iran’s nuclear program. The raid was violent, and members of the group say Iraqi forces killed four residents. The raid took U.S. officials completely by surprise, particularly since it coincided with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/28/AR2009072803192.html

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Reports of Prison Abuse and Deaths Anger Iranians

The NYT fronts, and everyone else goes inside with, the Iranian government releasing 140 prisoners at a time when a growing number of accounts of abuse and torture in the country’s prisons have outraged many. Relatives of the imprisoned are speaking out, as are some of the protesters who have been released in the past few weeks. Independent human rights organizations say more than 1,000 people have been arrested and almost 100 killed in the postelection violence. More violence is expected Thursday as the government refused permission for the opposition to hold a ceremony in honor of those killed. But opposition supporters quickly began circulating plans to commemorate the symbolically important 40 days since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, among others who were killed in the June 20 demonstrations.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/world/middleeast/29iran.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124882798823088671.html

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Iran hard-liners warn Ahmadinejad he could be deposed

The LAT highlights more evidence of divisions within Iran’s conservative circles after a group of hard-liners warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he could be deposed.

The full article reads:

Iran hard-liners warn Ahmadinejad he could be deposed

The warning over the president’s defiance highlights the rift among Iran’s conservatives. Meanwhile, the government says Mousavi supporters can’t gather at a mosque Thursday to honor protest victims.

Political hard-liners warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday that he could be deposed like past Iranian leaders if he continued to defy the country’s supreme religious leader.

The implied threat was the latest evidence of the rift within Iran’s conservative camp and could serve to further sap the authority of a president already considered illegitimate by reformists.

The Islamic Society of Engineers, a political group close to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, warned in an open letter to Ahmadinejad that he could suffer the same fate as Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was deposed in 1953 in a CIA-backed coup with the acquiescence of the clergy.

The letter also cites the experience of President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was ousted in 1981 and fled the country after he fell out with the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Both leaders had been elected by huge margins.

“It seems you want to be the sole speaker and do not want to hear other voices,” the group’s letter says, noting that recent actions by Ahmadinejad have frustrated his own supporters. “Therefore it is our duty to convey to you the voice of the people.”

Meanwhile, Iranians braced for another round of clashes between protesters and security personnel after the Interior Ministry rejected a request to allow supporters of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi to gather at a large Tehran mosque on Thursday. The protest is meant to commemorate those slain in the unrest that followed Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection victory over Mousavi and two other challengers in June 12 balloting.

In response to the permit denial, Mousavi’s supporters began circulating routes for unauthorized marches and candlelight vigils to mark the religiously significant 40th day after the deaths of those killed at June 20 demonstrations, including Neda Agha-Soltan, whose slaying, captured on videotape, drew worldwide condemnation.

Dozens have been killed since the election and hundreds arrested, most recently including Ali Maqami, a campaigner for reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who was arrested at his home Monday and taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison, news websites reported.

Lawmaker Kazem Jalali said 140 prisoners arrested during the unrest had since been released and that only 200 remained in Evin, far below the number estimated by international observers.

“Those who were released had committed lighter offenses,” he said, according to the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency.

Human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr was freed Tuesday on $500,000 bail, according to reformist websites.

But other well-known Iranian political figures remained behind bars.

Officials said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday ordered the closure of the Kahrizak detention center, described by some as Iran’s Guantanamo because it was not under the control of the State Prisons Organization. According to a reformist website, it has been supervised by deputy national police chief and former Revolutionary Guard commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Radan. Witnesses told Mowjcamp.com that the facility lacked proper ventilation and that prisoners were beaten by ruthless interrogators.

“The closure of Kahrizak detention center had been decided before the election, but postelection events made it necessary to keep it open,” Iran’s prosecutor-general, Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, told local news media. “Finally, the supreme leader was informed of poor sanitation and other problems for detainees, and he ordered its closure.”

Amid the uproar, Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the judiciary demanding “maximum Muslim leniency” toward those detained, acknowledging that the “duration of the detentions has been more than normal,” a striking departure from the government’s insistence all along that detainees were well treated.

While Ahmadinejad’s reelection has angered supporters of the opposition, his postelection actions have also enraged fellow conservatives, in particular his attempts to buck Khamenei’s order to dump a controversial vice president and his firing of Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei. “His reckless actions indicate quite well that the president does not understand what security challenges we are grappling with,” lawmaker Parviz Sorouri told the Mehr news agency.

Conservatives are also bothered by Ahmadinejad’s push to broadcast the confessions of detainees, local media reported.

His supporters see airing the confessions as a way to discredit and silence reformists and protesters, a tactic used extensively by hard-liners in the early 1980s.

But conservatives say televised confessions could prove politically explosive and appear dangerously out of step with the national mood. Several local news outlets said Mohseni-Ejei, along with state television chief Ezatollah Zarghami, clergy and judiciary officials, has been locked in a backroom fight with Ahmadinejad over the airing of such confessions.

Over the weekend, one lawmaker sternly warned authorities not to broadcast confessions obtained in prison.

“Broadcasting confessions can only add to public awareness if they are made under normal conditions, not if they are extracted under irregular circumstances,” Ali Motahari told Press TV, according to an article on the website of the state-owned broadcaster. “The arrests may have been legal, but the important thing is how individuals were treated during interrogation, whether Islamic code was maintained, and whether they suffered any emotional, psychological or physical pressure or not.”

Human rights groups and former prisoners say authorities typically extract the videotaped confessions after holding detainees in solitary confinement or following grueling interrogations that sometimes include physical abuse. The prisoners are often told what to read. In recent years, many said during the interrogations that they were foreign dupes, only to disavow the remarks later.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iran29-2009jul29,0,484157.story

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How Firms Wooed a U.S. Agency With Billions to Invest

The NYT got a look at internal documents, including e-mails, that show how BlackRock and Goldman Sachs were so eager to get a piece of the action from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that they may have broken contracting rules. When Charles Millard became the head of the agency that oversees the retirement funds of bankrupt companies, Goldman and BlackRock began working their lobbying skills. Millard also used his position to set up meetings and interviews that could help him land a job once he left public service. The agency revoked the contracts last week due to questions surrounding the bidding process. The records reviewed by the paper “illustrate the clash between Washington’s by-the-letter rules on contracting and the culture of Wall Street, where deals are often struck over expensive meals,” notes the paper. “Both sides should have known better,” said a contracting expert. “What happened here is wrong, stupid and probably illegal.”

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Full article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/business/29pensions.html

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Microsoft, Yahoo Near Search Deal

At long last, Microsoft and Yahoo appear on the brink of joining forces on a major Internet search alliance, thinking two is better than one if they are to challenge the mighty Google. The business press is united in declaring Microsoft the clear victor in this deal. As the Wall Street Journal writes, “Microsoft, which last year made a failed $47.5 billion takeover bid for Yahoo, would finally win what it wanted most from the Internet pioneer—huge volumes of queries that run through Yahoo’s search engine.” Business Week puts it more bluntly, writing Yahoo “gives up on search” by falling into Microsoft’s arms. Giving a nod to the WSJ‘s scoop on the imminent deal, Business Week provides the following analysis (or is it an obituary?) on the once-dominant Yahoo’s long fall from the top: “In a deal that presages its departure from a market it once dominated, Yahoo will essentially scrap its own efforts to best Google in search and instead rely on Microsoft’s recently debuted Bing search engine,” the magazine writes. Meanwhile, Kara Swisher in the WSJ’s “All Things Digital” blog writes that the Microsoft-Yahoo deal will be announced as soon as today. She explains the division of labor as such: Microsoft’s search technology will be featured on its sites and on Yahoo’s, while Yahoo’s ad sales team will sell the space to advertisers.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124882112916088137.html (subscriber content preview)

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jul2009/tc20090728_826397.htm

http://kara.allthingsd.com/20090728/microsoft-yahoo-deal-struck-will-be-announced-within-next-24-hours/

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At Worlds, ‘It’s Not About the Swimmer’

German Paul Biedermann rocked the swimming world yesterday when he beat Michael Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle with a time of 1 minute 42 seconds, 0.89 under Phelps’ world record. He beat Phelps by 1.22 yesterday. But the big focus wasn’t on Biedermann, who had earlier broken a seven-year-old record by 0.01 of a second, but his swimsuit. Biedermann even acknowledged that he was helped by his speedsuit but said it wasn’t his problem because the sport’s governing body, FINA, had allowed it. FINA has been working on implementing guidelines but yesterday said they may not go into effect until next spring. Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, practically went ballistic and threw a diva-sized rant. “Well, then, they can probably expect Michael not to swim until they’ve implemented it,” he said. “The sport is in shambles right now, and they better do something or they’re going to lose their guy who fills these seats.”

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/28/AR2009072802880.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/sports/29swim.html

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Cheers: ‘True Blood,’ the Beverage

In terrible news for anyone who has trouble distinguishing between reality and a fantasy world where sexy vampires roam the streets of New Orleans, but potentially exciting news for anyone living who would want to consume a beverage intended for the undead, a carbonated drink based on the HBO series “True Blood” is to go on sale in September. In a news release on Monday, Omni Consumer Products said that it had struck a deal with HBO’s licensing division to produce Tru Blood, inspired by the drink that the program’s vampires consume for sustenance (when they’re not feeding on the living). In a statement, the company said that its Tru Blood drink would have “a crisp, slightly tart and lightly sweet tang,” and come in a bottle similar to the one featured on the HBO series.

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The full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/arts/television/29arts-TRUEBLOODTHE_BRF.html

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Full article: http://www.slate.com/id/2223828/

http://www.thebigmoney.com/features/todays-business-press/2009/07/29/micro-hoo

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