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EPA Declines to Reduce Quota for Ethanol in Cars

The Environmental Protection Agency rejected on Thursday a request to cut the federal government’s quota for the use of ethanol in cars, concluding, at least for now, that the national goal of reducing oil use trumps any effect on food prices from making fuel from corn.

The agency’s administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said the mandate was “strengthening our nation’s energy security and supporting American farming communities,” and that the mandate was not causing “severe harm to the economy or the environment.”

The effect of the decision on fuel and food markets is hard to predict. Farmers argued that the jump in corn prices was driven not so much by the demand for ethanol as by growing demand for grain-fed meat around the world and by their own higher costs for diesel fuel.

Recently, high oil prices have led to even more ethanol production than the quota required. On the other hand, rising corn prices made some ethanol operations unprofitable, especially as oil prices started to fall.

McCain to Give Back $50,000 Under Scrutiny

Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign said Thursday that it would return all the contributions solicited for it by the Jordanian business partner of a prominent Florida fundraiser for McCain.

For the McCain camp, the decision caps a queasy two days in which news accounts scrutinized a cluster of more than $50,000 in unusual contributions from a single extended family of Californians, the Abdullahs, and several of their friends.

The bundling of the donations was initially credited by the campaign to Harry Sargeant III, finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party and part-owner of a major oil trading company. But they were actually solicited by Mustafa Abu Naba’a, a longtime business partner of Sargeant.

The donations came under scrutiny because of their large size and the fact that for the most part, the Abdullahs do not appear wealthy. In addition, several of them interviewed expressed indifference or even hostility to McCain’s candidacy.

Bush Criticizes China and Myanmar in Thailand Visit

President Bush toured Bangkok’s fetid slums, lunched with Burmese dissidents and delivered a speech critical of China to a carefully screened crowd here on Thursday, using them as backdrops for his message on human rights and democracy during his final tour of Asia.

With the first lady, Laura Bush, visiting a Burmese refugee camp packed with thousands of anxious families, the president railed against what he called the tyranny in Myanmar, chided China for its lack of religious freedom and praised Thailand as “the land of the free.”

“The passion for liberty transcends culture and faith,” Bush told a handpicked, polite group of Thai politicians, university students and other dignitaries.

The selection of Thailand for what the administration billed as a major policy speech partly reflected the country’s longstanding ties with the United States, cemented by the Vietnam War, when American soldiers used Thailand as a staging ground.

But Bangkok was also an awkward location for a speech about human rights and democracy given Thailand’s military coup two years ago and its continuing political instability.