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Monday, October 08, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday October 8 2007 - (813)

Monday October 8 2007 edition
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Reconciliation Remains Unreconciled As Top Iraqis Pull Back From Key U.S. Goal
2007-10-08 02:33:38
Iraqi leaders argue that sectarian animosity is entrenched in the structure of their government and national reconciliation is not a realistic goal.

For much of this year, the U.S. military strategy in Iraq has sought to reduce violence so that politicians could bring about national reconciliation, but several top Iraqi leaders say they have lost faith in that broad goal.

Iraqi leaders argue that sectarian animosity is entrenched in the structure of their government. Instead of reconciliation, they now stress alternative and perhaps more attainable goals: streamlining the government bureaucracy, placing experienced technocrats in positions of authority and improving the dismal record of providing basic services.

"I don't think there is something called reconciliation, and there will be no reconciliation as such," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd. "To me, it is a very inaccurate term. This is a struggle about power."

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Editorial: The American Dream In Reverse
2007-10-08 02:32:58
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Monday, October 8, 2007.

For the first time since the Carter administration, homeownership in the United States is set to decline over a president’s tenure. When President Bush took office in 2001, homeownership stood at 67.6 percent. It rose as the mortgage bubble inflated but is projected to fall to 67 percent by early 2009, which would come to 700,000 fewer homeowners than when Mr. Bush started. The decline, calculated by Moody’s, is inexorable unless the government launches a heroic effort to help hundreds of thousands of defaulting borrowers stay in their homes.

These days, modest relief efforts are in short supply, let alone heroic ones. Some officials seem to think that assistance would violate the tenet of personal responsibility that borrowers should not take out loans they cannot afford. That is simplistic.

The foreclosure crisis is rooted in reckless - and shamefully underregulated - mortgage lending. Many homeowners -  mainly subprime borrowers with low incomes and poor credit - are now stuck in adjustable-rate loans that have become unaffordable as monthly payments have spiked upward. Their predicament is not entirely of their own making, and even if it were they would need to be bailed out because mass foreclosures would wreak unacceptable damage on the economic and social life of the nation.

The relief efforts so far have been too little, too late. In August, the White House established a program to allow an additional 80,000 borrowers to refinance their loans through the Federal Housing Administration - on top of 160,000 who were already eligible. That’s not enough. Foreclosure filings soared to nearly 244,000 in August alone.

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Six Teenagers Shot Dead By Off-Duty Officer At High School Party
2007-10-08 02:32:20
Gunman, 20, later killed by police sniper.

A police officer in a small town in northern Wisconsin shot dead at least six young people on Sunday, including a 14-year-old girl, at a house party before he was shot and killed by a police sniper.

News reports from Crandon, a close-knit town of 2,000 people, suggested the suspected shooter and his victims were part of the same circle of friends - high school students and recent graduates, who had gathered on Saturday night to celebrate a high school football victory.

Six people were reported killed at the party, in a white clapboard house in the center of town. A seventh was critically injured and in a hospital Sunday.

At least three of the dead were high school students, including a 17-year-old believed to have been a former girlfriend of the suspected shooter. Another of the victims, Lindsey Stahl, was 14. Her mother, Jenny Stahl, told reporters her daughter had called home to ask permission to sleep at a friend's house on Saturday night.

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Medicare Audits Show Problems In Private Plans
2007-10-07 02:53:01
Tens of thousands of Medicare recipients have been victims of deceptive sales tactics and had claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the system’s huge new drug benefit program and offer other private insurance options encouraged by the Bush administration, a review of scores of federal audits has found.

The problems, described in 91 audit reports reviewed by the New York Times, include the improper termination of coverage for people with H.I.V. and AIDS, huge backlogs of claims and complaints, and a failure to answer telephone calls from consumers, doctors and drugstores.

Medicare officials have required insurance companies of all sizes to fix the violations by adopting “corrective action plans.” Since March, Medicare has imposed fines of more than $770,000 on 11 companies for marketing violations and failure to provide timely notice to beneficiaries about changes in costs and benefits.

The companies include three of the largest participants in the Medicare market, UnitedHealth, Humana and WellPoint.

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Editorial: On Torture And American Values
2007-10-07 02:52:19
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Sunday, October 7, 1007.

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if not their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After the attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret. Some of their methods - simulated drownings, extreme ranges of heat and cold, prolonged stress positions and isolation - had been classified as torture for decades by civilized nations. The administration clearly knew this; the C.I.A. modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.

The White House could never acknowledge that. So its lawyers concocted documents that redefined “torture” to neatly exclude the things American jailers were doing and hid the papers from Congress and the American people. Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush’s loyal enabler, the Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

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Thou Salt Not Kill ... Except In A Game At Church
2007-10-07 02:51:48

First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace.

Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

The latest iteration of the immensely popular space epic, Halo 3, was released nearly two weeks ago by Microsoft  and has already passed $300 million in sales.

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences, but that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out.

The alliance of popular culture and evangelism is challenging churches much as bingo games did in the 1960s. And the question fits into a rich debate about how far churches should go to reach young people.

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Environmental Group Attacks ExxonMobil On Research
2007-10-07 02:51:15

An environmental group Sunday took aim at ExxonMobil with the launch of an online video attacking the oil giant's green credentials.

The "Exxon Files", from Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE Europe), sets out claims that the U.S.-based corporation funds climate change deniers in Europe and the U.S.

The animated video, which spoofs the X-Files TV series, features two fictional agents - Deny Fully and Rexx Tiller, of the Federal Bureau of Inconvenience - who are hired by ExxonMobil to hide the truth about the negative environmental impact of its business.

To achieve this they secretly fund scientists, thinktanks and lobbyists skeptical about climate change.

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Iraq Embassy Cost Rises $144 Million
2007-10-07 02:49:51
Shoddy workmanship, internal disputes and poor planning hinder construction in Baghdad.

The massive U.S. embassy under construction in Baghdad could cost $144 million more than projected and will open months behind schedule because of poor planning, shoddy workmanship, internal disputes and last-minute changes sought by State Department officials, according to U.S. officials and a department document provided to Congress.

The embassy, which will be the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world, was budgeted at $592 million. The core project was supposed to have been completed by last month, but the timetable has slipped so much that the State Department has sought and received permission from the Iraqi government to allow about 2,000 non-Iraqi construction employees to stay in the country until March.

Two key office buildings, including the new chancery, will not be finished until early 2009, according to the document.

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Foundry Explosion Rocks Tacoma, Washington
2007-10-07 02:48:59
An explosion heard miles away sent a ball of fire over a historic foundry Saturday afternoon, shutting down a major highway, cutting power to the city's industrial area and critically injuring a truck driver.

Four people were taken to a hospital - the driver of a propane truck and three employees of the Atlas Foundry - after two propane tanks exploded around 3 p.m., the News Tribune of Tacoma reported.

Firefighters had the blaze under control by Saturday evening, said Deputy Fire Marshal Kevin O'Donnal. The eastbound lanes of State Route 16 remained closed as state officials waited to send bridge inspectors to check a nearby overpass.

An electrical substation was damaged, knocking out power to about 13,000 Tacoma Power customers, said utility spokeswoman Chris Gleason.

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Demand, Federal Subsidies Prime Nuclear Power For U.S. Comeback
2007-10-08 02:33:21
Over the next two years, agency expects that as many as 32 new nuclear reactors will be built.

Two decades ago, after Duke Energy abandoned its partly built nuclear power reactors here, the site was sold and turned into a movie set. Director James Cameron used it to film "The Abyss," a 1989 movie about civilian divers who encounter aliens while trying to rescue a stricken nuclear submarine. Cameron filled the unused nuclear containment building with water and hauled a section of an oil rig, a tiny submarine and fiberglass rocks inside to make convincing underwater scenes.

Now there's a new twist in the plot: The nuclear power industry is trying to come back from its own abyss. With natural gas prices volatile and people anxious about climate change, the nuclear power industry is touting its technology as a way to meet the nation's growing energy needs without emitting more greenhouse gases. Over the next two years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects applications to build as many as 32 new nuclear reactors.

Duke Energy could be among them. It reacquired the Cherokee County site and has been tearing down old buildings so it can ask the NRC to let it start all over again. On a hot mid-September afternoon, a giant wrecking hammer was prying huge chunks of concrete from the walls of the old containment facility. They dangled from steel reinforcing rods like stones tottering from the ruins of an ancient coliseum. Inside, the props for "The Abyss" lay covered with dust.

Other utilities and independent power companies are also laying the groundwork for a new wave of U.S. nuclear plants. On Sept. 24, NRG Energy filed the first full application for a new nuclear unit since the partial meltdown of Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant in 1979. Then the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) approved plans to build two new reactors in northern Alabama, where it abandoned two mostly finished units in 1988 when electricity demand failed to meet forecasts. Earlier, Constellation Energy Groupfiled a partial license application to add a nuclear unit to its existing site in Calvert Cliffs, Maryland.

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Iraqi Investigation Faults Blackwater USA
2007-10-08 02:32:46
Iraqi officials conclude that 17 people were killed without provocation at Baghdad square.

An Iraqi government investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater USA has concluded that the security firm's guards fired without provocation into a Baghdad square, killing 17 and injuring 27, a government spokesman said Sunday.

The Blackwater convoy that entered Nisoor Square, in response to a bomb attack near a U.S. State Department convoy a mile away, was not attacked, "not even by a stone," Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesman, said in a statement.

The employees of the North Carolina-based company, he said, committed "an intentional murder that needed to be called to account according to the law." The casualty toll he gave was higher than the previous official tally of 14 dead and 18 injured based on hospital records.

The Iraqi government's inquiry echoed similar findings by the Interior Ministry as well as U.S. military reports from the scene. Blackwater insists that its guards were ambushed and that Iraqi policemen and civilians shot at their vehicles.

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Student Editor Keeps Job, Warned About Ethics
2007-10-08 02:32:04

A headline in Friday’s Rocky Mountain Collegian hit especially close to home for the writers and editors of the college newspaper at Colorado State University. 

“Collegian Editor Will Keep His Job,” it said, reporting that an independent review board that oversees The Collegian had decided to admonish, but not fire, the editor who had approved a vulgar, four-word editorial about President Bush in a space that would usually run to hundreds of words.

The unusual editorial, published on Sept. 21 in an extra-large font, contained a four-letter expletive in front of  Bush’s name. The Collegian, led by editor in chief J. David McSwane, said the message was an exercise of free speech; some students on the Fort Collins campus said it was immature and insulting.

Calls for McSwane’s removal were immediate, and the board responsible for the newspaper called a hearing to determine his fate.

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Short Of Farm Labor, Bush Administration Eases Immigration Laws
2007-10-07 02:52:43
The administration is letting in more planters and pickers, but some California growers say it's too little too late.

With a nationwide farmworker shortage threatening to leave unharvested fruits and vegetables rotting in fields, the Bush administration has begun quietly rewriting federal regulations to eliminate barriers that restrict how foreign laborers can legally be brought into the country.

The effort, urgently underway at the departments of Homeland Security, State and Labor, is meant to rescue farm owners caught in a vise between a complex process to hire legal guest workers and stepped-up enforcement that has reduced the number of illegal planters, pickers and middle managers crossing the border.

"It is important for the farm sector to have access to labor to stay competitive," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. "As the southern border has tightened, some producers have a more difficult time finding a workforce, and that is a factor of what is going on today."
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Melting Ice Pack Displaces Alaska Walrus
2007-10-07 02:52:03
Thousands of walrus have appeared on Alaska's northwest coast in what conservationists are calling a dramatic consequence of global warming melting the Arctic sea ice.

Alaska's walrus, especially breeding females, in summer and fall are usually found on the Arctic ice pack. But the lowest summer ice cap on record put sea ice far north of the outer continental shelf, the shallow, life-rich shelf of ocean bottom in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

Walrus feed on clams, snails and other bottom dwellers. Given the choice between an ice platform over water beyond their 630-foot diving range or gathering spots on shore, thousands of walrus picked Alaska's rocky beaches.

"It looks to me like animals are shifting their distribution to find prey," said Tim Ragen, executive director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission. "The big question is whether they will be able to find sufficient prey in areas where they are looking."

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Departing Bush Staffers Wonder About Legacy
2007-10-07 02:51:31
The cumulative exodus of so many key people at once has transformed the White House as it heads into the dwindling months of the Bush presidency.

It had been four days since Meghan O'Sullivan left her job at the White House. Just four days since she gave up her Secret Service pass, her classified hard drive and her entree to the president. Four days since she gave up any day-to-day responsibility for Iraq. 

Too soon, evidently, for the dreams to end. "In fact, I was dreaming about Iraq last night," she said. "And I woke up and thought, 'When do you think this will stop?' "

As President Bush's top Iraq adviser while the war sank into an abyss over the past few years, O'Sullivan lived it every waking hour - and many of the sleeping ones. The dreams came every night, often prosaic, sometimes straight out of a war movie, filled with violence and menace. It was, she said, "all consuming".

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Blackwater USA Was A Ticking Bomb
2007-10-07 02:50:47
The State Department overlooked horror stories about contractors putting Iraqis at risk.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday ordered all diplomatic convoys in Baghdad to travel under the supervision of U.S. government security officials, a drastic overhaul of operations after allegations that the department's private guards, Blackwater USA, had engaged in unnecessary violence in the Iraqi capital.

Under Rice's order, all convoys will be accompanied by official monitors from the department's Diplomatic Security Bureau, and video cameras will be mounted in vehicles. In addition, radio communication will be recorded and will be archived along with the video and electronic tracking data so diplomats can better review Blackwater's performance.

The order marks a sharp reversal for Rice and the State Department, which for weeks has maintained it has adequate controls in place to monitor Blackwater contractors, who accompany U.S. diplomatic officials as they travel in Iraq.

As recently as last week, John D. Negroponte, the department's second-highest official and the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, defended the embassy's oversight of Blackwater, saying the contractor operated under strict standards monitored with "close" supervision by State officials.
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In Wake Of Typhoon Lekima, Vietnam Provinces Fight Worse Floods In Decades
2007-10-07 02:49:14
A typhoon followed by floods and landslides killed up to 34 people in Vietnam, cut power and closed roads in some of the worst flooding in decades, officials said on Sunday.

The government storm prevention committee said that at least 19 people were missing in the aftermath of typhoon Lekima, which slammed several provinces on Wednesday night.

Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces in north-central Vietnam were hit hardest by torrential rains and strong winds blowing off roofs and then flooding submerged entire villages.

"This may be the worst flooding since 1945," said Phan Dang Khoa, a Communist Party official in Thach Thanh district of Thanh Hoa where a dike on the Buoi river broke, causing extensive flooding.

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