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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday October 3 2007 - (813)

Wednesday October 3 2007 edition
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Sen. Clinton Steals Obama's Fundraising Thunder
2007-10-03 01:33:10
A major dynamic behind the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination - fund-raising - shifted Tuesday as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign announced that it had beaten Senator Barack Obama in donations since July, stripping him at least temporarily of a crucial political advantage.

Perhaps most surprising was that the Clinton campaign reported attracting at least 7,000 more new donors than  Obama, depriving his campaign of the bragging rights that he was more popular with contributors despite Mrs. Clinton’s strong performance in opinion polls and televised debates.

Clinton’s fund-raising success came even as some Democratic elected officials continue to have concerns about her electability and the possibility that a Clinton candidacy next November would drag down fellow candidates for Congressional and state races.

The fund-raising also unfolded as her campaign was dealing with a scandal involving a top donor, Norman Hsu, who raised $850,000 for Clinton and turned out to be a fugitive from justice.

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From Family Errand To Fatal Shot To Hail Of Fire To 17 Deaths
2007-10-03 01:32:34
Details of Sept. 16 incident differ from Blackwater USA's initial descriptions.

It started out as a family errand: Ahmed Haithem Ahmed was driving his mother, Mohassin, to pick up his father from the hospital where he worked as a pathologist. As they approached Nisour Square at midday on Sept. 16, they did not know that a bomb had gone off nearby or that a convoy of four armored vehicles carrying Blackwater guards armed with automatic rifles was approaching.

Moments later a bullet tore through Ahmed’s head, he slumped, and the car rolled forward. Then Blackwater guards responded with a barrage of gunfire and explosive weapons, leaving 17 dead and 24 wounded - a higher toll than previously thought, according to Iraqi investigators.

Interviews with 12 Iraqi witnesses, several Iraqi investigators and an American official familiar with an American investigation of the shootings offer new insights into the gravity of the episode in Nisour Square. And they are difficult to square with the explanation offered initially by Blackwater officials that their guards were responding proportionately to an attack on the streets around the square.

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U.S. Sen. John Warner In Hospital With Heart Problem
2007-10-03 01:31:47
Senator, 80, expected to return to work next week.

U.S. Senator John W. Warner was admitted to Inova Fairfax Hospital Tuesday to correct an abnormal heartbeat, and he is expected to be home by the weekend and back at work next week, according to his Senate office.

Warner, 80, went to work Tuesday but checked in with the Capitol physician's office midmorning, according to a statement released by his office. He left for the hospital in the afternoon for a procedure to correct atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat. He is scheduled to undergo a second procedure Wednesday.

"I think he just noticed something and felt that it needed attention," Warner's chief of staff, Carter Cornick, said from the hospital. "He was not in any visible pain at all."

Hospital staff would not comment.

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Britain To Pull 1,000 Troops From Iraq By Year's End
2007-10-02 15:56:40
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Tuesday that his country would withdraw 1,000 troops from Iraq  by year's end, a nearly 20 percent decrease in forces and twice the number of troops previously expected to leave. Brown said he thought Iraqi security forces could assume full control of Basra, a major southern city, in the next two months.

Speaking to reporters outside a British military compound in Baghdad, Brown said the remaining 4,500 British soldiers in Iraq would transition from a combat role to one of "overwatch," where they would be responsible for training Iraqi security forces and remain ready to intervene if the violence in southern Iraq overwhelmed the 30,000 Iraqi troops based there.

In earlier announcements, British officials had said the size of their force in Iraq would shrink by 500 troops over the rest of this year.

"I believe that the 30,000 [Iraqi] security forces that have been trained up are capable of discharging these responsibilities for security," Brown said, while adding: "The final decisions will be taken based on what happens on the ground."

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Ford's U.S. Sales Plummet 21 Percent, Toyota Sales Fall
2007-10-02 15:55:53
Ford's U.S. sales plummeted 21 percent in September on deep cuts in sales to car rental agencies. Toyota sales slipped 4 percent, but General Motors and Honda fared better in a tough economic climate.

General Motors Corp. said sales were flat compared with last September. The nation's biggest automaker got a boost from its new lineup of pickups as well as the new Cadillac CTS, which posted a 73 percent sales increase.

Honda Motor Co. reported its U.S. sales rose more than 9 percent.

Ford Motor Co.'s car sales dropped 39 percent compared with last September, while its truck sales slipped 5 percent. Sales of Ford's F-150 pickup, long the best-selling vehicle in the United States, fell 21 percent as newer pickups from GM and Toyota Motor Corp. stole its thunder.

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Pakistani Opposition Quits Parliament, Musharraf Cuts Early Amnesty Deal With Bhutto
2007-10-02 15:54:40
Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pushed ahead Tuesday with plans for an expected re-election victory, naming a trusted ally to lead the military in his place and agreeing to amnesty for a former prime minister who could become a key ally against terrorism.

Musharraf has enraged opponents by simultaneously serving as head of the army and president, and has promised to doff his uniform if he wins Saturday's vote by national and provincial lawmakers. A bloc of opposition lawmakers resigned from parliament on Tuesday, hoping their departure would rob the election of legitimacy.

Musharraf will grant former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and others amnesty as early as Wednesday in corruption cases up to 1999 in which politicians had not been convicted, said Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim. The amnesty was one of Bhutto's key demands during power-sharing negotiations, which Azim said had resumed Tuesday.

Bhutto plans to return to Pakistan from London, England, on Oct. 18, eight years after she went into self-imposed exile to escape prosecution.

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In Burma, U.N. Getting Nowhere With Junta Generals
2007-10-02 15:54:10
Few foreigners are as qualified to talk about the mind and the manner of Burma's dictatorship as Razali Ismail, a Malaysian diplomat who served five years as special United Nations envoy charged with facilitating political reform in that military-ruled country.

"When you are talking to the military chief there it is not a dialogue that you indulge in. In fact, you cannot expect to have a dialogue with him," Razali, who has traded diplomacy for a career in business, told IPS during a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur.

Attempts by foreign envoys to discuss domestic politics with Senior Gen. Than Shwe, Burma's strongman, are treated with a measure of contempt, as if it is "an internal issue," he added. "In his mind, there is a sense of intrusiveness."

What is more, the years he spent engaged with the Burmese junta confirmed that progress marches at a retarded pace. "It is a very slow process dealing with an authoritarian government," he said, reflecting on what he achieved since he began his U.N. mission in 2000.

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Amazon Jungle Could Be Lost In 40 Years
2007-10-02 03:20:16
Development threatens world's oldest rainforest; conservationists attack plans for transportation routes.

The Amazonian wilderness is at risk of unprecedented damage from an ambitious plan to improve transport, communications and power generation in the region, conservationists warned Monday.

Development plans have been drawn up to boost trade links between 10 economic hubs on the continent, but threaten to bring "a perfect storm of environmental destruction" to the world's oldest rainforest, according to a report from Conservation International.

Projects to upgrade road and river transport, combined with work to create dams and lay down extensive power and communications cabling, will open up previously inaccessible parts of the rainforest, raising the risk of widespread deforestation that could see the loss of the entire Amazon jungle within 40 years, said the environmental group.

Dr. Tim Killeen, a scientist with Conservation International, examined the projects funded under the multinational government-backed Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA). He found that the environmental impact of individual projects had often been well assessed, but there had been a failure to look at their collective impact on the region.

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U.S. Airports Increase Security Over Remote-Controlled Toys
2007-10-02 03:19:34
Citing “credible specific information” about terror tactics, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers nationwide on Monday stepped up their scrutiny of passengers carrying remote-control toys aboard airplanes.

The move was not motivated by a specific terror plot, said Kip Hawley, the assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Securityin charge of aviation security, but there is concern both in the United States and internationally that common remote-control toys could be used to detonate a bomb as part of a terror plot.

The aviation authorities decided against banning the devices in carry-on bags, but people carrying remote-control toys - including children - could be subject to a more intense search, in which the passenger is patted down and the baggage is checked by hand, said officials.

The new policy comes just days after the federal authorities in South Carolina disclosed that a Florida college student arrested in August on explosive-related charges had made a video that he posted on YouTube showing how to use such a remote-control toy as a detonator.

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Congressional Democrats Want To Increase Legal Oversight Of War Contractors
2007-10-02 03:19:05
Emboldened by the Blackwater scandal, congressional Democrats are moving aggressively to tighten the reins on private contractors in Iraq.

The House will consider a bill this week by Rep. David Price that would make all contractors subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. This would close what he says is a dangerous loophole that leaves State Department contractors immune to prosecution.

In the Senate, lawmakers passed a $672 defense policy bill on Monday that would require detailed administration reports on the government's reliance of security contractors. The bill also would establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in wartime contracts.

The political developments come as the FBI announced it will investigate the role Blackwater USA played in the Sept. 16 shoot-out in Baghdad that killed 11 Iraqis.

The Blackwater allegations "have the potential to become a flashpoint in terms of Iraqi antagonism toward U.S. personnel, with wide-ranging implications for our mission and our troops," wrote Price, D-North Carolina, in a recent letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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Student Newspaper Headline Ignites Free Speech Debate In U.S.
2007-10-02 03:17:55
Intellpuke: By way of alerting our readers, the following article contains the F-word, twice.

Editor faces dismissal for "vulgar" anti-Bush protest; communications board to rule if ethics code violated.

University officials in Colorado are on Thursday to decide the fate of a student editor who published a huge "Taser This ... Fuck Bush" headline. David McSwane, 20, is facing the sack over an incident that has grown from a campus row into a national debate about free speech. The board of student communications will decide at the hearing whether he violated the paper's ethics code that states that "profane and vulgar words are not acceptable for opinion writing".

In the wake of the row, many advertisers have cancelled tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, which has been going since 1891 and which pays for itself. There have also been complaints from students, including a petition from the college Republicans calling for McSwane to resign.

Sympathizers, in emails to the university and at campus meetings, have expressed support on the basis that the constitution's first amendment protects freedom of expression. Others have called for leniency, saying the headline was part of the naivety that can happen in student journalism.

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Barred From Another Term As President, Putin Charts Way Back To Power As Prime Minister
2007-10-02 03:16:46
Vladimir Putin Monday gave the strongest hint yet that he will remain at the center of power in Russia for the forseeable future, saying the possibility of him becoming prime minister after the presidential election in March was "entirely realistic".

The president, who has stressed his wish to stay involved in high-level politics, cannot seek a third term under the constitution, but there is nothing to prevent him becoming prime minister. He could then return for a non-consecutive, and legal, third term as president in 2012.

Putin has so far been coy about his future, but he made a surprise announcement as he met members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and agreed to head the party's list for parliamentary elections in December. Popular figures often head party lists, elected according to proportional representation, but many drop out afterwards and do not become parliament members.

"Heading the government is a realistic idea," Putin told the party's congress when asked about his plans. He added that it was "early" to be discussing himself as a candidate, but he would be prepared to take the prime minister's post on two conditions: that United Russia won the parliamentary poll and that a "decent, competent and effective person with whom I could work" was elected as president in spring 2008.

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Budget Deal In Michigan Allows State Government Operations To Continue
2007-10-02 03:15:58
Michigan's government resumed full operations on Monday morning after lawmakers approved two tax increases and gave themselves an extra month to resolve a $1.75 billion budget deficit.

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, told the employees to report to work on Monday after the Republican-led Senate approved the tax increases by separate 20-to-19 votes. The second decision came about 4 a.m., and both required a tie-breaking vote from Lt. Gov. John D. Cherry, Jr.

“This budget agreement is the right solution for Michigan,” Governor Granholm said in a statement. “We prevented massive cuts to public education, health care and public safety while also making extensive government reforms and passing new revenue. With the state back on solid financial footing, we can turn our focus to the critical task of jump-starting our economy and creating new jobs.”

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Details Of Bush's Warrantless Surveillance Program Tightly Held
2007-10-03 01:32:51

No more than four Justice Department officials had access to details of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program when the department deemed portions of it illegal, following a pattern of poor consultation that helped create a "legal mess," a former Justice official told Congress Tuesday.

Jack L. Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the White House so tightly restricted access to the National Security Agency's program that even the attorney general and the NSA's general counsel were partly in the dark.

When the Justice Department began a formal review of the program's legal underpinnings in late 2003, the White House initially resisted allowing then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey to be briefed on it, Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith's testimony provided further details about the fierce legal debate and intense secrecy surrounding the NSA surveillance program within the Bush administration in early 2004. The fight culminated in a threat by Goldsmith, Comey and others to resign en masse if the program were allowed to continue without changes.

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Blackwater USA Denies Trigger-Happy Charge
2007-10-03 01:32:14
Firm's chairman tells Congress charges are unfair even as details emerge about Blackwater employee killing Iraq vice president's guard.

The U.S. company at the center of the scandal over the role of private security guards in Iraq Tuesday brushed aside accusations that it was a cowboy outfit, even as details emerged about a incident in which an allegedly drunken member was involved in a fatal shooting. Testifying before a congressional hearing Erik Prince, the normally secretive head of Blackwater, denied his company was overly aggressive.

The company is in the middle of a tug of war between the Iraqi government and the U.S. State Department following the alleged killing of 11 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad on September 16. Blackwater has been blamed.

The Iraqi government has called for the company to be expelled but the state department, which relies on Blackwater for protection of its diplomats, wants it to stay. The hearing offered the first opportunity to hear Blackwater's side of the story in detail, but the U.S. Justice Department unexpectedly stepped in at the last minute and asked that the congressional committee and Prince avoid specific questions about the September incident.

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U.S. Supreme Court Says No To New Rights For Church Groups
2007-10-02 15:56:54
Justices rebuff a quest for services in a library, along with a Catholic group's effort to avoid paying for employees' birth control.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to expand the rights of church groups, turning down appeals in a pair of cases.

In the first case, the justices declined to hear a free-speech claim from an evangelical minister in Northern California who wanted to hold worship services in a public library meeting room. In the second, they refused to hear a freedom-of-religion claim from Catholic Charities in New York, which objected to a state law requiring that employees' prescription drug coverage include contraceptives. The cases were on a long list dismissed on opening day of the court's term.

In the past, the high court has said public officials may not discriminate against "religious speech" by, for example, excluding a church group from meeting in the evening at a high school auditorium that is open to other community organizations.

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Commentary: Bush's Global 'Dirty War'
2007-10-02 15:56:12
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Robert Parry and posted at the Consortium News' website edition for Monday, Octobter 1, 2007. A journalist, Mr. Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, "Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush", was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. Mr. Parry's commentary follows:

George W. Bush has transformed elite units of the U.S. military - including Special Forces and highly trained sniper teams - into "death squads" with a license to kill unarmed targets on the suspicion that they are a threat to American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to evidence from recent court cases.

Though this reality has been the subject of whispers within the U.S. intelligence community for several years, it has now emerged into public view with two attempted prosecutions of American soldiers whose defense attorneys cited "rules of engagement" that permit the killing of suspected insurgents.

One case involved Army sniper Jorge G. Sandoval, Jr., who was acquitted by a U.S. military court in Baghdad on Sept. 28 in the murders of two unarmed Iraqi men - one on April 27 and the other on May 11 - because the jury accepted defense arguments that the killings were within the approved rules.

The Sandoval case also revealed a classified program in which the Pentagon's Asymmetric Warfare Group encouraged U.S. military snipers in Iraq to drop "bait" - such as electrical cords and ammunition - and then shoot Iraqis who pick up the items, according to evidence in the Sandoval case. [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2007]

(Sandoval was convicted of a lesser charge of planting a coil of copper wire on one of the slain Iraqis. He was sentenced to five months in prison and a reduction in rank but will be eligible to rejoin his unit in as few as 44 days.)

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Commentary: Bush, Oil - And Moral Bankruptcy
2007-10-02 15:55:05
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Ray McGovern and was posted at the Consortium News' website edition for Thursday, September 27, 2007. Mr. McGovern was an analyst for the CIA for 27 years and now works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. He is also on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Mr. McGovern's commentary follows:

It is an exceedingly dangerous time. Vice President Dick Cheney and his hard-core "neo-conservative" proteges in the administration and Congress are pushing harder and harder for President George W. Bush, isolated from reality, to honor the promise he made to Israel to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

On Sept. 23, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned pointedly:

"If we escalate tensions, if we succumb to hysteria, if we start making threats, we are likely to stampede ourselves into a war [with Iran], which most reasonable people agree would be a disaster for us...I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq."

So why the pressure for a wider war in which any victory will be Pyrrhic - for Israel and for the U.S.? The short answer is arrogant stupidity; the longer answer - what the Chinese used to call "great power chauvinism" - and oil.

The truth can slip out when erstwhile functionaries write their memoirs (the dense pages of George Tenet"s tome being the exception). Kudos to the still functioning reportorial side of the Washington Post, which on Sept. 15, was the first to ferret out the gem in former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan"s book that the Iraq war was "largely about oil."

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Huge Crowds In Costa Rica Protest Free Trade Agreement With U.S.
2007-10-02 15:54:22
More than 100,000 Costa Ricans, some dressed as skeletons, protested a U.S. trade pact on Sunday they say will flood their country with cheap farm goods and cause job losses.

Chanting "No to the free-trade pact!" and "Costa Rica is not for sale!" demonstrators filled one of San Jose's main boulevards to show their opposition against the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

"The trade deal is putting at risk our workers' rights. We need an accord with the United States, but not this way," said Juan Chacon, a 50-year-old computer technician.

In the searing heat, some protesters wore masks of U.S. President George W. Bush and handed out fake dollar bills, lampooning U.S. trade policies.

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Poll: Public Wants War Funding Cut
2007-10-02 03:20:33
Poll finds most in U.S. oppose Bush, congressional Republicans on upcoming policy battles.

Most Americans oppose fully funding President Bush's $190 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a sizable majority support an expansion of a children's health insurance bill he has promised to veto, putting Bush and many congressional Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion on upcoming foreign and domestic policy battles.

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll also shows deep dissatisfaction with the president and with Congress. Bush's approval rating stands at 33 percent, equal to his career low in Post-ABC polls. And just 29 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, its lowest approval rating in this poll since November 1995, when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. It also represents a 14-point drop since Democrats took control in January.

Despite discontent with Congress this year, the public rates congressional Republicans (29 percent approve) lower than congressional Democrats (38 percent approve). When the parties are pitted directly against each other, the public broadly favors Democrats on Iraq, health care, the federal budget and the economy. Only on the issue of terrorism are Republicans at parity with Democrats.

Part of the displeasure with Congress stems from the stalemate between Democrats and the White House over Iraq policy. Most Americans do not believe Congress has gone far enough in opposing the war, with liberal Democrats especially critical of their party's failure to force the president into a significant change in policy.

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Former U.S. Diplomats Warn Bush Administration That Mideast Peace Summit Faces Failure
2007-10-02 03:19:56
The Bush administration was warned Monday by former senior U.S. diplomats that it is setting itself up for the failure of its Middle East peace summit by neglecting to lay the groundwork for a successful meeting of American, Israeli and Arab leaders.

The conference represents the Bush administration's most serious attempt to engage in Middle East peacemaking after seven years of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The meeting as it stands now seems to be something of a gamble," the former diplomats warned Secretary of State  Condoleezza Rice in a letter which was obtained by the Guardian Monday. "The chances of a perceived failure, even without a breakup, are profound."

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Federal Judge Rules Former Presidents Can't Withhold Records
2007-10-02 03:19:17
Presidents don't have indefinite veto power over which records are made public after they've left office, a federal judge ruled Monday.

In a narrowly crafted ruling, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly invalidated part of President Bush's 2001 executive order, which allowed former presidents and vice presidents to review executive records before they are released under the Freedom of Information Act.

By law, the National Archives has the final say over the release of presidential records and Kollar-Kotelly ruled that Bush's executive order "effectively eliminates" that discretion. It allows former presidents to delay the release of records "presumably indefinitely," she said.

The judge ordered the National Archives not to withhold any more documents based on that section of the executive order.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by the American Historical Association and other organizations, which argued that Bush's Executive Order 13,233 was an "impermissible exercise of the executive power."

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Report Details Killings By Blackwater USA Staff In Iraq
2007-10-02 03:18:51
Security contractor has been involved in at least 195 "escalation of force" incidents in Iraq since 2005. State Department papers tell of coverup.

Blackwater security contractors in Iraq have been involved in at least 195 "escalation of force" incidents since early 2005, including several previously unreported killings of Iraqi civilians, according to a new congressional account of State Department and company documents.

In one of the killings, according to a State Department document, Blackwater personnel tried to cover up what had occurred and provided a false report. In another case, involving a Blackwater convoy's collision with 18 civilian vehicles, the firm accused its own personnel of lying about the event.

The State Department made little effort to hold Blackwater personnel accountable beyond pressing the company to pay financial compensation to the families of the dead, the documents indicate. In a case involving a drunken Blackwater employee who killed a security guard to one of Iraq's vice presidents last Christmas Eve, U.S. government personnel helped negotiate a financial settlement and allowed the employee to depart Iraq.

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Obama Has Strong Fundraising Quarter, Getting $20 Million In Campaign Donations
2007-10-02 03:17:14

Democratic presidential candidates continued to pile up record amounts of campaign cash over the past three months, newly released figures show, further distancing them from their Republican counterparts.

Aides to Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) reported raising more than $20 million during the past three months, bringing the total he has raked in this year to close to $75 million for his primary campaign. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York) Monday night had not yet reported her total for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, but her campaign predicted last week that the figure would be $17 million to $20 million.

Among them, the Democratic candidates have raised an estimated $225 million during the first nine months of the year. By the time Republicans reveal their latest numbers this week, they could be more than $80 million behind, according to preliminary reports from GOP campaign aides.

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Britney Spears Loses Sons' Custody To Kevin Federline
2007-10-02 03:16:11
Britney Spears has lost custody of her two sons after a Superior Court judge ruled Monday that her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, would take custody beginning Wednesday until further order of the court.

Spears, the 25-year-old pop star, and Federline, 29, had joint custody of sons Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, after their divorce last July. The same judge, Scott M. Gordon, ordered Spears last month to undergo random drug and alcohol testing twice a week, having found that she had engaged in “habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol.”

The latest order followed a motion by Federline’s lawyers and was handled in a closed-door hearing, the Associated Press reported. The judge’s order did not state the reason for the change in custody, the A.P. reported, and all transcripts of the proceedings were sealed.

Lawyers for Federline and Spears did not return calls.

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