World and Nation

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Iran Accuses 3 American Hikers Of Espionage

Three American hikers who were arrested in Iran this summer after straying across its border with Iraq have been accused of spying, an Iranian state news agency reported Monday.

The Tehran prosecutor told the IRNA news agency that the authorities were pursuing espionage charges against the Americans, who were detained in late July after trekking through the Kurdistan region of Iraq and toward the Iranian border.

News of the accusations drew a quick rebuke from the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Each called on the Iranians to release the hikers: Shane M. Bauer, 27, of Emeryville, Calif.; Joshua F. Fattal, 27, of Cottage Grove, Ore.; and Sarah E. Shourd, 31, of Oakland, Calif.

“We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever,” Clinton told reporters in Berlin. “And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home.”

She said the United States would press its case for their release through the Swiss government, which represents American interests in Tehran. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the 1979 takeover of its embassy in Tehran.

Months after Election, Lebanon Forms a Government

More than five months after this country’s parliamentary elections, Lebanon formed a new Cabinet on Monday, ending a gridlock that illustrated once again the myriad dysfunctions of its bitterly divided political system.

The June elections yielded a clear victory for the Western-aligned bloc led by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and a loss for the alliance led by Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement. But shifting regional realities, local power struggles and the imperative of a coalition government prevented the parties from agreeing on a Cabinet until now.

“I want a government that is true to Lebanon, and not to the image of political and sectarian discord that some see in us,” Hariri said as he announced the accord at the presidential palace on Monday night. He spoke of the need to focus on issues like fighting corruption and administrative reform, where there is widespread agreement.

Yet for all the relief surrounding the new Cabinet lineup, the government will continue to face deep rifts that go to the heart of Lebanon’s still-unresolved identity, with one camp defining itself through resistance to Israel and the West, and the other aspiring to a more commercial and cosmopolitan role.

Justices Question Patent for Abstract Business Innovations

Supreme Court justices on Monday took up a case that could reshape the realm of what can be patented, and expressed skepticism about giving protection to abstract business innovations.

The justices, including the court’s newest member, Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to disagree with arguments advocating a patent for a method of hedging.

The case, Bilski and Warsaw v. Kappos, concerned a business method patent that had been denied to Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw, who in 1997 applied for a process that could help institutions like utilities or factories have more predictable energy bills.

The justices peppered J. Michael Jakes, a lawyer for Bilski and Warsaw, with hypothetical patents that they clearly found ludicrous. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that under Jakes’ argument, a patent for “somebody who writes a book on how to win friends and influence people” might be allowed, while Sotomayor suggested a “method of speed dating.”

Jakes argued that some of the examples were potentially patentable, though other considerations would be brought to bear by examiners, including the question of whether the method was obvious.

Banks Put Squeeze on Customers Ahead of New Credit Rules

Banks are struggling to make money in the credit card business these days, and consumers are paying the price. Interest rates are going up, credit lines are being cut and new fees are being imposed on even the best cardholders.

One recipient of new terms is Anita Holaday, a 91-year-old in Florida, who received a letter last month from Citibank announcing that her new interest rate was 29.99 percent, an increase of 10 percentage points.

The higher rates and fees reflect the new realities of the credit card industry — the percentage of uncollectible balances has hit a record even as a new law may further limit cards’ profitability.

Banks began raising interest rates and pulling back credit lines about a year ago as delinquencies crept upward and regulators discussed reforms. As banks have become more aggressive in making changes, lawmakers have accused them of trying to impose rate increases before many of the new rules take effect in February.

On Monday, the Federal Reserve provided new evidence of the banks’ actions. About 50 percent of the banks responding to the Fed’s survey said they were increasing interest rates and reducing credit lines on borrowers with good credit scores. About 40 percent said they were imposing higher fees. The banks also said they were demanding higher minimum credit scores and tightening other requirements.