- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

POLITICS

Obama phones

Treasury secretary

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. on Tuesday discussed the mortgage crisis and steps the government is taking to shore up the faltering economy, his campaign said.

Mr. Obama also discussed the economy with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, part of his latest effort to shift his campaign’s attention to domestic issues after a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe.

The Illinois senator met with Mr. Bernanke for an hour, and issued a statement describing it as “informative.”

Spokesman Michael Ortiz said they discussed the outlook for consumers and businesses, and the effect of rising home foreclosures on families nationwide. They also talked about the “strengths of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other financial institutions,” he said.

Mr. Obama phoned Mr. Paulson as he rode to a meeting with Pakistan’s new prime minister, the campaign said.

POLITICS

Tax foes fear

McCain backsliding

Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s signal that he may be open to a higher payroll tax for Social Security, despite previous vows not to raise taxes of any kind, is drawing sharp rebukes from conservatives.

Mr. McCain’s shift has come in stages, catching some Republicans by surprise. Speaking with reporters on his campaign bus on July 9, he cited a need to shore up Social Security. “I cannot tell you what I would do, except to put everything on the table,” he said.

He went a step further Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” in response to a question about payroll tax increases.

“There is nothing that’s off the table. I have my positions, and I’ll articulate them. But nothing’s off the table,” Mr. McCain said. “I don’t want tax increases. But that doesn’t mean that anything is off the table.”

That comment drew a strong response this week from the Club for Growth, a Washington anti-tax group. Mr. McCain’s comments, the group said in a letter to the Arizona senator, are “shocking because you have been adamant in your opposition to raising taxes under any circumstances.”

FOREST SERVICE

Smokey Bear to quit

anti-ATV message

The Forest Service said Tuesday it has canceled a public service ad in which Smokey Bear warned that sparks from off-road vehicles could start a wildfire.

Off-road groups had complained that the ad sent the wrong message that riders operating ATVs in a legal manner can start forest fires.

“The mutual goal of the Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council is to spread Smokey’s enduring message of preventing wildfires to all forest users,” the Forest Service said in a statement Tuesday.

Because the ATV ad was interpreted as unfairly targeting off-road riders, the Forest Service has requested that TV stations and other media outlets that had broadcast the ad discontinue it, the Forest Service said.

MEDIA

Newhouse News

Service to close

Newhouse News Service, which has provided Washington and national news to newspapers for nearly half a century, will close on Nov. 7, after the election.

The news service, founded in 1961, is also the Washington bureau of Advance Publications Inc. of New York, which owns 26 daily newspapers, including the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.; the Oregonian in Portland, Ore.; the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

“The decision to close followed the direction of our clients, the editors of our papers,” said Linda Fibich, editor and Washington bureau chief. “They felt they could not afford to pay for a central Washington bureau at a time when they were steering all available resources to local coverage back at home.”

The news service has 24 employees. Of those, 11 are reporters who write for specific newspapers and “are being offered opportunities to join the staffs of those newspapers,” the editor said. “Whether the individual papers maintain a presence in Washington is up to each individual paper.”

CIVIL RIGHTS

Sharpton defends

Jackson to activists

KENNER, La. | The Rev. Al Sharpton on Tuesday defended the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has come under fire for his recent crude off-air criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“We have all made mistakes. We have all erred, and we ought not try to sugarcoat when we err,” Mr. Sharpton told a gathering of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in this New Orleans suburb.

“But we should not throw away everything when we err, and to say that Reverend Jackson made a mistake is correct, but to act like Reverend Jesse Jackson is not pivotal to our movement, our history … is wrong.”

“Jesse Jackson,” he added, “is somebody.”

Mr. Jackson had been scheduled to address the SCLC’s 50th anniversary convention Tuesday morning, but his press office said he was on vacation and a representative was sent in his place.

SENATE

Executive blames

company for disaster

An executive at a sugar company faulted for a deadly refinery accident in February said he found such “shocking” and “disgraceful” conditions at the Georgia plant last year that he warned his superiors that a fatal disaster was likely.

But Imperial Sugar Co. executives responded that he was being overzealous and told him to back off, he said. A month later, an explosion ripped through the plant in Port Wentworth, Ga., killing 13 workers and injuring dozens more.

“It was without a doubt the dirtiest and most dangerous manufacturing plant I had ever come to,” said Graham H. Graham, who toured the facility shortly after being hired in November as Imperial’s vice president of operations. “I stated that I believed a fatal disaster would befall the refinery if a fundamental change in the way the plant was operated did not take place.”

Mr. Graham’s comments came at a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee on workplace safety, which is reviewing the accident to determine whether tighter regulations are needed to protect workers from combustible dust hazards.

SENATE

4 Democrats call

for EPA chief’s job

Four Democratic senators called Tuesday for Stephen L. Johnson to resign as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and asked Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to begin an investigation into whether he lied in testimony to a Senate committee.

A spokesman for Mr. Johnson dismissed the Democrats’ actions as Washington politics as usual.

The senators, all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Mr. Johnson - the first career scientist to head the agency - had repeatedly succumbed to political pressure on decisions vital to protecting health and the environment.

In a letter the senators sent to Mr. Mukasey on Tuesday, they also charge that Mr. Johnson made false statements before the committee in January when he said that he alone had decided California should not regulate the gases blamed for global warming from motor vehicles.

The four Democrats were Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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