Saturday, August 9, 2008

Clinton on Obama: ‘We’re on one journey now’

LAS VEGAS - Hillary Rodham Clinton told an exuberant crowd Friday she wants Barack Obama to win the White House, even though he dashed her own presidential dreams — and she wants her supporters to vote that way, too.

“Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Sen. Obama than Sen. McCain,” Clinton told her cheering audience in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. “Remember who we were fighting for in my campaign.”

Though she has endorsed her former rival, the speech was Clinton’s first appearance at a rally for Obama since the two appeared together in Unity, N.H., in June.

Easing bad feelings?
In another sign of growing detente between the House of Clinton and the House of Obama, Democrats said Bill Clinton would speak on the third night of this month’s national convention in Denver.

The Clintons’ efforts on Obama’s behalf may ease worries within the party that bad feelings from the long primary battle might erupt at the convention.

She said Friday that “we may have started on two separate paths, but we are on one journey now.” She said her long primary campaign against the Illinois senator showed her “his passion, his determination, his grace and his grit.”

The crowd let her know they still held her in high regard. They cheered Obama’s name and waved his campaign signs, but no mention of him won as loud a roar as Clinton’s introduction.

'Sen. Obama needs all of us'
Still, she kept her focus on making his case, mentioning key Democratic issues where Obama and McCain would differ — U.S. Supreme Court nominations and health care reform, for example.

She noted Democrats have had difficulty reaching the White House recently and said Obama would need a surge in turnout — and registration — to win in November.

“Which is why Sen. Obama needs all of us, he needs us working for him,” she said.

Some of her backers have complained loudly about the way the only female candidate was treated during the primaries. And Clinton supporters have succeeded in getting language into the draft of the Democratic Party platform that says, “We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.”

The platform committee will be reviewing the draft Saturday in Pittsburgh.

After weeks of private talks about exactly what the Clintons will do at the national convention, no decision has been reached on whether delegates will actually hold a roll call vote that includes her candidacy.

Such a move could disrupt or distract from the point of the convention — showing a unified party raring to return a Democrat to the White House.

Drug dealers buy Wash. vineyards to hide pot

WAPATO, Wash. - Across central Washington’s fruit bowl, farmers are buying vineyards, hoping to establish roots in the area and capitalize on the booming wine industry.

Authorities believe some of the buyers are living in Mexico and their vineyards are producing tens of thousands of illegal marijuana plants — a crop that could easily surpass grapes in value this year.

Law enforcement officials in the Yakima Valley already have converged on seven vineyards that had been converted to marijuana operations this summer. At least five had been recently purchased — the buyers are still being tracked — and one had been leased to pot growers by an unknowing owner.

Pot growers aren’t just hiding their crops in national forests and random cornfields any more, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Richard A. Beghtol.

“They are able to amass a huge amount of money and using that money to go out and buy land to do their marijuana cultivation,” Beghtol said. “It’s their big moneymaker.”

The valley, home to acres of fruit orchards and hop fields, has long been recognized as an important pipeline in the drug trade with easy interstate access to Seattle, Portland and points east.

Dealers establish U.S. growing operations
Crackdowns at the Canadian and Mexican borders have made it more difficult to ship marijuana into the United States, prompting dealers to establish U.S. growing operations.

A bust of more than 60,000 plants on the Yakama Indian Reservation in 2004, one of the biggest nationwide at the time, was traced to organized crime in Mexico and valued at more than $35 million.

By 2006, authorities were seizing more than 144,000 marijuana plants across Washington state. That number more than doubled the following year to 296,611 plants, reflecting a rise in both drug activity and enforcement efforts, said Rene Rivera, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s agent in charge in Yakima.

“This year, we’re probably going to surpass 2007 easily, just given the way we’re starting,” Rivera said.

Following the water
Water use is often a vital clue. Beghtol has noted that grape vines require much less water than marijuana, which needs daily irrigation.

Drug enforcement teams have confiscated approximately 110,000 marijuana plants valued at more than $100 million this spring and summer in the Yakima Valley alone, and they haven’t even begun their annual aerial surveillance.

In 2006, grapes ranked No. 11 among Washington state crops with a value of $144.2 million. Vineyards cover about 31,000 acres.

Finding farmers willing to sell their property isn’t difficult. Fewer farmers have children who want to take over the family business, and rising costs have driven many farmers off the land despite increasing prices for their crops.

But dealers aren’t just limiting their property buys to older sellers, Beghtol said.

In one case, drug operatives approached a farmer who didn’t have his farm listed for sale. He resisted until, asked to name a price. He threw out a figure: $263,000 for 27 acres and no building. The buyer showed up a few days later and bought the property in cash, Beghtol said.

‘A huge player’
The seller had no idea the farm would become a marijuana operation.

“The Yakima Valley is a huge player. These are big operations that are difficult to track down,” Beghtol said. “They use fictitious names, they put property in daughters’, wives’ names to conceal identity and try to thwart law enforcement from going forward with civil forfeiture.”

There have been 22 arrests this year. Authorities expect that number to rise as aerial surveillance begins later this summer.

As arrests mount, vineyard purchases by marijuana growers will likely decline, predicts Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

“I suspect after you’ve had numerous busts, somebody’s future plan for growing pot in vineyards is going to be thwarted,” she said.

Nebraska Beef recalls 1.2 million pounds of beef

OMAHA, Neb. - Nebraska Beef Ltd. is recalling 1.2 million pounds of beef because the products may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The recall comes a month after the Omaha-based company recalled 5.3 million pounds of meat that has been linked to at least 49 cases of E. coli.

Neither the company's spokesman nor Department of Agriculture officials immediately responded to calls about the recall after a news release was issued late Friday night.

Federal officials said at least 31 cases of E. coli poisoning in 12 states and Canada had been linked to the meat Nebraska Beef is now recalling, but officials did not name the states.

Some of Nebraska Beef's products were sold by Whole Foods Market, which also announced a recall Friday. Whole Foods is recalling fresh ground beef sold between June 2 through Aug. 6 because of worries about E. coli contamination.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman said it had received reports that seven people in Massachusetts and two people in Pennsylvania who shopped at Whole Foods Market became ill.

As in the earlier recall, all the beef being recalled now was sold to companies that planned to further process the meat. So product labels likely will not include the "EST 19336" code that identified Nebraska Beef.

Several lawsuits have already been filed against Nebraska Beef as a result of the earlier E. coli outbreak and recall.

Credit crisis triggers unprecedented response

Since the credit crisis erupted a year ago, the Bush administration has presided over one of the broadest expansions of the government into private lending in U.S. history, risking public money to prop up financial firms both large and small.

The administration has transformed federal agencies into dominant players in such diverse realms as student lending and mortgage finance while exposing itself to trillions of dollars in loans.

The scope of these commitments demonstrates the unprecedented nature of the challenge facing the nation. Not since the Great Depression have so many debt markets been in turmoil at the same time, financial historians say. During the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example, the financial upheaval was largely contained to banks and thrifts, though the real estate market also felt the impact.

Now, the contagion has rapidly spread from mortgages to bonds and exotic securities, student and corporate lending, credit cards and home equity loans, and residential and commercial real estate. The disruption has buffeted investment and commercial banks, mortgage finance agencies, and insurance firms of different stripes.

"We have a banking crisis and an agency crisis and a mortgage crisis and a coming credit card crisis. We've never seen anything like that before. And it all seems to be coming home to roost at the same time. That's never happened either," said Charles Geisst, professor of finance at Manhattan College. He said the Great Depression was the last time financial markets were hammered by such a variety of factors. "But we did not even have credit cards in the 1930s; there were no such thing as student loans," he added.

The breadth and speed of events have sent federal officials scrambling to plug leaks in the financial system. In the process, the government has bound taxpayers to the fate of a wide variety of banks and borrowers and could ultimately be responsible for losses in the tens of billions of dollars or more, according to estimates by congressional reports and interviews with regulators.

But the government may also end up paying nothing at all, largely because it received collateral in return for backing much of these debts and could recoup some money if borrowers stop making their interest payments. No one knows for sure because much of the government's response involved novel programs designed to contain an unpredictable crisis.

As the credit crisis worsened, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., a strong proponent of free markets and the architect of much of the administration's response, began to push initiatives that enlarged the government's involvement on Wall Street and in the housing industry.

"What I've said is that I'm playing the hand that was dealt and that my responsibility is to protect the U.S. economy and the American people," Paulson said in an interview.

The pace of these interventions accelerated as the credit crisis spread across the capital markets.

At first, the administration avoided programs that exposed taxpayers to potentially large losses. The Federal Housing Administration, for instance, offered struggling mortgage holders a chance to refinance into low-cost loans backed by the government with any losses borne by the agency's insurance fund. Last summer, Paulson also pressed private mortgage lenders to form an alliance called Hope Now to rework mortgages. The initiative did not require public funds, except to set up a hotline, and it may have prevented lawmakers at that time from pursuing more expensive initiatives, he said.

Angels pummel Yankees pitching

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Los Angeles Angels show no signs of slowing down or pacing themselves for the playoffs — not even with a season-high 13-game lead in the AL West.

Torii Hunter was 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs, Howie Kendrick tied a career high with four hits and the Angels kept on trucking with a 10-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

“There’s no way we’re going to get relaxed,” Hunter said. “We’re professional players. I mean, if you find somebody that says, ’Aw, we’re comfortable and these games right now don’t matter,’ I will slap them right now. Every day as a professional player, you try to win every day. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Vladimir Guerrero had three hits and scored three runs for the Angels. Everyone in the starting lineup contributed to the 17-hit attack except leadoff batter Chone Figgins, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

“That team is so good. I mean, they can grind you to death,” Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said. “They take pitches, they battle — and Figgins wasn’t even a part of this equation tonight. So we were fortunate that way.”

The Angels have 47 games remaining, 10 of them against second-place Texas. But no one in the organization is admitting that they have their fourth division title in five years wrapped up — least of all owner Arte Moreno.

“You’ve got to play them all out,” Moreno said. “We’re very comfortable with who we are and what we’re doing, but I think it was 1978 that Boston coughed up a 14-game lead to the Yankees and lost in a one-game playoff to a Bucky Dent home run. In ’95, the Angels spit up an 11-game lead in mid-August, and last year you saw what happened to the Mets down the stretch. So nothing’s a lock.”

Jered Weaver (10-9) allowed five runs and seven hits in six innings, including solo homers by Xavier Nady and Alex Rodriguez, who played in his 2,000th regular-season game.

The Yankees, who are trying to tie Atlanta’s major league record of 14 consecutive postseason appearances, remain three games behind Boston in the Wild Card race. They are 5-8 following their eight-game winning streak coming out of the All-Star break.

Trailing 6-3 entering the sixth, New York got a run closer on Nady’s 18th homer and fifth in 13 games since joining the Yankees in a trade with Pittsburgh. Robinson Cano followed with a triple off the right field wall and scored on Melky Cabrera’s groundout.

“No lead is safe with those guys. They could go off at any time,” Weaver said. “I left a couple of pitches out over the plate that I wish I could take back.”

But the Angels broke it open in the seventh. Hunter led off with his 19th homer, Jeff Mathis doubled home a run, pinch-runner Reggie Willits scored on Brian Bruney’s wild pitch and Mark Teixeira capped the rally with an RBI single. Willits left the game with a concussion following his collision at home plate with Jose Molina.

Ian Kennedy (0-4) retired only six of the 16 batters he faced, giving up five runs and nine hits in two-plus innings. The right-hander, beginning his third stint with the Yankees this season, was recalled from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre on Thursday when right-hander Joba Chamberlain went on the disabled list with tendinitis in his rotator cuff.