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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday October 7 2007 - (813)

Sunday October 7 2007 edition
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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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Fort Hunt's Men Break Silence
2007-10-06 03:28:34
WWII interrogators who fought "battle of wits" with Nazi prisoners, lament measures used today.

For six decades, they held their silence.

The group of World War II veterans kept a military code and the decorum of their generation, telling virtually no one of their top-secret work interrogating Nazi prisoners of war at Fort Hunt.

When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.

Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners' cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.

"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Henry Kolm, 90, an Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's  deputy, Rudolf Hess.

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Sam's Club Beef Recalled After E Coli Illnesses
2007-10-06 03:28:02
The Sam's Club warehouse chain pulled a brand of ground beef patties from its shelves nationwide after four children who ate the food, produced by Cargill Inc., developed E. coli illness, company and health officials said Friday.

Cargill has also asked customers to return any remaining patties purchased after Aug. 26 to the store or destroy them.

The children became ill between Sept. 10 and Sept. 20 after eating ground beef patties that were bought frozen under the name American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties from three Sam's Club stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, area.

Sam's Club voluntarily removed the product from its stores nationwide after the illnesses were reported, said the company.

"We can't be certain that meat from other stores is not involved, since the brand .. was likely sold at other Sam's Club locations," said Heidi Kassenborg, acting director of the dairy and food inspection division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

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$5 Billion Loss At Merrill Lynch Stirs Unease
2007-10-06 03:27:37

Since becoming chief executive of Merrill Lynch in 2002, E. Stanley O'Neal has been credited with making the investment bank leaner and more disciplined.

Yet analysts raised questions Friday about the extent of that discipline after Merrill announced that it would take its first loss since the end of the technology boom and would write down $5 billion primarily in its fixed-income sector: subprime loans, complex debt instruments and leveraged, or risky, loans.

Merrill said it expected to lose up to 50 cents a share for the quarter, compared with a profit of $3.17 a share, or $3 billion, for the quarter a year ago. The size of the write-down was second only to one for $5.9 billion taken by Citigroup, which is three and a half times the size of Merrill.

“While market conditions were extremely difficult and the degree of sustained dislocation unprecedented, we are disappointed in our performance in structured finance and mortgages,” O’Neal said in a statement. “We can do a better job of managing this risk, as we have done with other asset classes.”

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Pakistan Election Poses Challenges For U.S.
2007-10-06 03:27:10

For months, the United States quietly brokered secret talks between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and exiled former leader Benazir Bhutto to ease Pakistan's political crisis and keep allies in charge of a country on the front line of extremism.

Yet Washington is almost certain to find its central goal of reviving the faltering campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban more difficult after Pakistan holds its presidential election Saturday, say U.S. officials and analysts.

If all goes as precariously negotiated, Pakistan is likely to emerge from its political transition dominated by two politicians - Musharraf, an unpopular army chief under political siege since March, and Bhutto, a former prime minister twice ousted after corruption scandals. Both are widely seen as pro-Western and unrepresentative of the priorities of most Pakistanis.

"The United States has no choice but to rely on these two," said Marvin G. Weinbaum, a former State Department Pakistan analyst. "But Musharraf is today significantly weakened. Whatever his sincerity, whatever his willingness to help the United States against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, he doesn't have the capacity to do it. And Bhutto is badly out of touch."

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Incarcerated Prosecutor Commits Suicide
2007-10-06 03:26:32
A U.S. federal prosecutor from Florida accused of flying to Detroit, Michigan, last month to molest a 5-year-old girl committed suicide in his cell Friday in federal prison, said authorities.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John D.R. Atchison was found unresponsive, taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, said Felicia Ponce, spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C. A previous suicide attempt was foiled in September, according to authorities.

Atchison was being held in a special housing unit in the prison in Milan, about 36 miles southwest of Detroit.

The administrative detention area houses all levels of prisoners, and Atchison had a cell to himself, said Ponce. She declined to say how Atchison killed himself or whether he was on suicide watch, saying the death is being investigated.

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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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Musharraf Wins Parlimentary Election, But Pakistan's Supreme Court Must Rule On Election's Legitimacy
2007-10-06 13:49:10
Pakistan's lawmakers on Saturday overwhelmingly endorsed a new five-year term as president for Gen. Pervez Musharraf, according to unofficial results, but the vote's legitimacy has yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.

The lopsided but clouded ballot, held simultaneously by Pakistan's national parliament and four provincial assemblies, was denounced as a sham by Musharraf's opponents, while the government praised it as a show of orderly democracy.

The high court is to rule this month on whether Musharraf is eligible under the constitution to seek a new term while still serving as head of Pakistan's powerful military - a role he has promised to relinquish only once his victory is sealed. Opponents still hope to see the 64-year-old leader retroactively disqualified.

That left Musharraf and his allies celebrating an uneasy triumph. "It's the day of the general - apparently," said an anchor on the Dawn television news channel.
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Climate Change Disaster Is Upon Us, Warns U.N.
2007-10-06 03:28:14
Emergency chief calls for swift action; 12 out of 13 "flash" emergency aid appeals in 2007 related to weather.

A record number of floods, droughts and storms around the world this year amount to a climate change "mega disaster", the United Nation's emergency relief coordinator, Sir John Holmes, has warned.

Sir John, a British diplomat who is also known as the U.N.'s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said dire predictions about the impact of global warming on humanity are already coming true.

"We are seeing the effects of climate change. Any year can be a freak but the pattern looks pretty clear to be honest. That's why we're trying ... to say, of course you've got to deal with mitigation of emissions, but this is here and now, this is with us already," he said.

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Afghanistan: Militant Attacks Increase, Suicide Bomber Targeted U.S. Troops
2007-10-06 03:27:48
A suicide car bomber attacked an American military convoy Saturday on Kabul's most dangerous road, killing at least one civilian and wounding seven others, said an Afghan official.

Two U.S. and two civilian vehicles were damaged in the attack, said police. Dozens of shops were damaged by the blast.

Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi said one civilian was killed and seven others wounded, including one woman and one child.

Afghan TV reported that an American was also killed and showed footage of what appeared to be a dead body. An Associated Press reporter at the scene said he saw an injured U.S. soldier as well.

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Looking Past The Elephant In The Room
2007-10-06 03:27:24
GOP contenders face the same problem: how to break from President Bush without alienating party faithful.

In a campaign swing through Iowa this week, former senator Fred D. Thompson told voters that Republicans need to look to their past to determine the party's future.

"I think back to 1994," Thompson told a crowd here Tuesday, referring to the conservative "revolution" that swept the GOP to control of Congress. "We need to adhere to the principles that made this party great and that made this country the greatest."

Others in the crowded Republican presidential field have different prescriptions for what ails the party. Sen. John McCain (Arizona) is calling for a government that is more aggressive and effective in managing crises at home and abroad. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney contends that the GOP has drifted into an embrace of "big government" and must return to acting as "change-Washington Republicans."

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DOH! Sen. Craig Changes His Mind... Again, Won't Resign
2007-10-06 03:26:47
Though he loses his bid to withdraw his guilty pleas, Craig decides to stay in office, angering some Republican colleagues.

In the latest twist to the Larry E. Craig saga, the Republican senator from Idaho decided Thursday to stay in office for the rest of his term, even after losing a legal bid to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct in a men's restroom.

Craig said his return to the Capitol after he became entangled in a sex-sting operation had convinced him that he could represent his state's interests while also working to clear his name.

Earlier he had pledged to resign if he lost in court, and his decision to go back on that pledge has surprised and infuriated some of his GOP colleagues. It also complicates the party's struggle to move out from under the cloud of ethical lapses that contributed to the election losses last year, when Democrats gained control of Congress.
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