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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday October 24 2007 - (813)

Wednesday October 24 2007 edition
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Devastating California Fires Persist Through 3rd Day
2007-10-24 02:30:23
New blazes in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, more evacuations. As temperatures and winds again rise, officials say containment of major blazes is days away at the earliest. More than 1,200 homes have been lost; 4 evacuees die.

Fires raged in mountain communities around Lake Arrowhead Tuesday, adding to the devastation that has burned more than 1,200 Southern California homes and prompted authorities to order hundreds of thousands of people to get away. Authorities said four evacuees in San Diego County had died; but some residents were allowed to return to their homes in Scripps Ranch and other areas.

Fires sprang up today in San Diego and Los Angeles counties, and more evacuations were ordered in Orange and San Diego counties. As many as 10,000 people sought shelter at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, where food and blankets were available, and there was entertainment for children.

Weary firefighters fought major blazes that have burned since the weekend in seven counties, and officials said containment was days away at the earliest.

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Heavy White House Editing Alleged In Climate Change Testimony
2007-10-24 02:29:59

Testimony that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to give Tuesday to a Senate committee about the impact of climate change on health was significantly edited by the White House, according to two sources familiar with the documents.

Specific scientific references to potential health risks were removed after Julie L. Gerberding submitted a draft of her prepared remarks to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

Instead, Gerberding's prepared testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee included few details on what effects climate change could have on the spread of disease. Only during questioning did the director of the government's premier disease-monitoring agency describe any specific diseases likely to be affected, again without elaboration.

A CDC official familiar with both versions said Gerberding's draft "was eviscerated," cut from 14 pages to four. The version presented to the Senate committee consisted of six pages.

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Editorial: Tilting The Scales Of Justice
2007-10-24 02:29:36
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, October 24, 2007.

Every time we take a look at the United States attorney scandal, more evidence emerges that Alberto Gonzales politicized the Justice Department to the point where it sometimes seems like a branch of the Republican National Committee.

Tuesday, for example, Richard Thornburgh, a former Republican attorney general, told a Congressional hearing that his client, Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Democratic officeholder in Pennsylvania, was indicted on federal charges that should not be federal charges by a United States attorney who targeted Democrats.

At the same hearing, more evidence emerged that the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, the former Alabama governor, and Paul Minor, a prominent Mississippi Democrat, may have been political hits. And a University of Missouri professor testified that his statistical analysis showed that the Justice Department engaged in “political profiling.”

Dr. Wecht’s case has gotten little attention, but that may change. Mr. Thornburgh said prosecutors are using “unprecedented” legal theories to turn mostly “nickel and dime transgressions” into major federal felonies. He charged that while United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan went after Dr. Wecht and other Democrats, she ignored the offenses of Republican officials, including a congressman whose staff accused him of using government employees in his election campaign.

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Security Firms In Iraq Face New Rules
2007-10-24 02:28:42

Private security contractors will continue to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq but will operate under closer supervision by U.S. Embassy officials and with clearer accountability for their actions, according to new rules approved Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

Neither the U.S. military nor the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service is prepared to assume responsibility for guarding diplomats and other official U.S. civilians, according to a Rice-appointed review panel that recommended the changes. Instead, communications among the military, the embassy and the Iraqi government will be improved and a joint committee will investigate and judge all contractor incidents "involving the use of deadly force."

The panel, appointed by Rice after security contractors allegedly shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians last month, said that "shortcomings in coordination and oversight" of the security program risk undermining the U.S. mission in Iraq. Although it noted that contractors have been "highly effective" in keeping diplomats safe, it implicitly agreed with criticisms that the program is poorly conceived and supervised.

In ordering the new rules, Rice appeared to reject earlier suggestions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that security contractors be placed under military control. U.S. commanders and officers in Iraq have sharply criticized the contractors, and North Carolina-based Blackwater USA in particular, for behaving like "cowboys" and undermining U.S. objectives for bringing stability to Iraq. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Rice spoke to Gates Tuesday before the rules were announced.

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Global Warming Study: Carbon Output Rising Faster Than Forecast
2007-10-23 19:43:33
Global warming "will come sooner and harder"; Chinese growth and loss of natural "sinks" highlighted in study.

Scientists warned last night that global warming will be "stronger than expected and sooner than expected", after a new analysis showed carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere much faster than predicted.

Experts said that the rise is due to soaring economic development in China, and a reduction in the amount of carbon pollution soaked up by the world's land and oceans. It also means human emissions will have to be cut more sharply than predicted to avoid the likely effects.

Dr. Corinne Le Quere, a climate expert at the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey, who helped conduct the study, said: "It's bad news because the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide has accelerated since 2000 in a way we did not expect. My biggest worry is people are discouraged by this and do nothing. I hope political leaders will act on this, because we need to do something fast."

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Clinton Vows Review Of Bush Power Grab
2007-10-23 19:42:39
"Absolutely" conceivable she would give up executive powers, Democratic front runner tells Guardian America.

I have interviewed Hillary Clinton a handful of times since our initial meeting in 2000, during her first Senate race, when I must have seen her give 50 - 100 speeches en route to her thrashing of Republican opponent Rick Lazio.

She is a much more fluid politician today than she was in the fall of 1999, certainly. But she is still not known as an especially expansive interview subject. She has a reputation for avoiding actually answering the question, and reverting to a pre-ordained script, to a degree even greater than your average politician.

These qualities were on display at times in our chat. When I asked, for example, about the Democratic Congress' failure to cut off funding for the war, she went into a critique of Republican legislators' unwillingness to break with President Bush and said "the political reality is we don't have the votes".
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Mass Evacuations Ordered As Wildfires Spread In Southern California
2007-10-23 15:15:16
Massive brush fires continued to burn across Southern California Tuesday, a day after they destroyed homes from north of Los Angeles to south of San Diego, leaped freeways and sent hundreds of thousands of residents scrambling to flee - sometimes seconds ahead of advancing flames.

Fueled by gale-force desert winds and chaparral turned to tinder by the driest year on record, the conflagrations raged beyond the control of firefighters who rushed across the region from one fast-moving fire to another.

Officials in San Diego said Tuesday morning that well over 200,000 acres had been burned in San Diego County alone, and more than 300,000 county residents had been evacuated - making it the country's largest evacuation since hurricanes Katrina and Rita smashed into the Gulf Coast two years ago.

Across Southern California, 700 homes and 100 commercial buildings have been lost, and a total of 250,000 acres have burned, said officials.

Officials said the blazes are unlikely to be controlled until at least Wednesday, when unusually intense and prolonged Santa Ana winds in the area are expected to abate.

"We will get on the other side of this," San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said Tuesday morning, "but there isn't anything in sight this morning."

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Treasury Secretary Warns Congress On AMT
2007-10-23 15:14:46

Unless Congress acts soon to prevent a special "millionaires" tax from hitting middle-income families, as many as 50 million taxpayers, or 37 percent of the total, will face an unexpected tax increase, a delay in receiving refunds or a delay in having their tax return processed.

In a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., warned that Congress should move quickly to fix the so-called alternative minimum tax or face serious consequences. Unless Congress acts, he said, "25 million taxpayers will pay on average an additional $2,000 in Federal income tax," and for about 21 million of them, that increase would be unexpected.

What's more, he said, unless the change is enacted by mid-November, "as many as 25 million additional taxpayers could face delays in processing of their returns and payment of their refunds." The reason, he said, is that the AMT law dictates how much and in what order taxpayers can claim a variety of deductions and credits. Without that guidance soon, delays for non-AMT taxpayers might occur.

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Southern California Wildfires Blaze On Unchecked
2007-10-23 02:46:45
Half a million told to evacuate; 700 homes and businesses destroyed.

Wind-whipped firestorms destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses in Southern California on Monday, the second day of its onslaught, and more than half a million people in San Diego County were told to evacuate their homes.

The gale-force winds turned hillside canyons into giant blowtorches from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Although the worst damage was around San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, dangerous fires also threatened Malibu, parts of Orange and Ventura counties, and the Agua Dulce area near Santa Clarita. Monday evening, a new blaze was menacing homes near Valencia and Stevenson Ranch in northern Los Angeles County.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling it "a tragic time for California," declared a state of emergency in seven counties and redeployed California National Guard members from the border to support state and local firefighters. Schwarzenegger stressed how much California officials have learned since the devastating wildfires of October 2003, which raged over much of the same terrain.
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Many 'Red Flags' Preceded Hamburger E Coli Recall
2007-10-23 02:46:24
Over the summer, as Americans fired up their grills, the Topps Meat factory here scrambled to produce thousands of frozen hamburger patties for Wal-Mart and other customers, putting intense pressure on workers.

As output rose, federal regulators said in interviews, the company was neglecting critical safeguards meant to protect consumers. Three big batches of hamburger contaminated with a potentially deadly germ emerged from the plant, making at least 40 people sick and prompting the second-largest beef recall in history.

Topps is now out of business, but the case points up broader problems in the nation’s system for protecting consumers from food-borne illness.

Five years ago, the government demanded more stringent safeguards against contamination because of a deadly form of the germ E. coli, but federal regulators now acknowledge that the controls are not working in some meat plants. They are trying to figure out what went wrong and how to overcome the dangers.

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Climate Change 'Extinctions' Warning
2007-10-24 02:30:08

Predicted levels of global warming could trigger a "mass extinction event" like the one which wiped out the dinosaurs, new research suggests.

Such a disaster would not necessarily mean the end of humanity, but it could kill off more than half of all the animal and plant species on Earth.

British scientists have uncovered the first strong evidence of a close coupling between the Earth's climate and extinctions.

The researchers from the University of York analyzed the relationship between the two over the past 520 million years - almost the whole of the available fossil record.

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Commentary: Lawbreaker In Chief
2007-10-24 02:29:46
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Jeb Rubenfeld and appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, October 23, 2007. Mr. Rubenfeld is a professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School. His commentary follows:

At his confirmation hearings last week, Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, was asked whether the president is required to obey federal statutes. Judge Mukasey replied, “That would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country.”

I practiced before Judge Mukasey when I was an assistant United States attorney, and I saw his fairness, conscientiousness and legal acumen. But before voting to confirm him as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, the Senate should demand that he retract this statement. It is a dangerous confusion and distortion of the single most fundamental principle of the Constitution - that everyone, including the president, is subject to the rule of law.

It is true that a president may in rare cases disregard a federal statute - but only when Congress has acted outside its authority by passing a statute that is unconstitutional. (Who gets the last word on whether a statute is unconstitutional is something Americans have long debated and probably will always debate.)

But that is not what Judge Mukasey said. What he said, and what many members of the current administration have claimed, would radically transform this accepted point of law into a completely different and un-American concept of executive power.

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Commentary: The Presidency Is Taking Over The Courts And Congress
2007-10-24 02:29:19
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Jim Hightower, a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of "Thieves In High Places: They've Stolen Our Country and It's Time To Take It Back". Mr. Hightower and Phillip Frazer edit "The Hightower Lowdown" website, where this commentary first appeared. Mr. Hightower's commentary follows:

Where is Congress? It's way past time for members to stand up. Historic matters are at stake. The Constitution is being trampled, the very form of our government is being perverted, and nothing less than American democracy itself is endangered - a presidential coup is taking place. I think of Barbara Jordan, the late congresswoman from Houston. On July 25, 1974, this powerful thinker and member of the House Judiciary Committee took her turn to speak during the Nixon impeachment inquiry.

"My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total," she declared in her thundering voice. "And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution."

Where are the likes of Barbara Jordan in today's Congress? While the BushCheney regime continues to establish a supreme, arrogant, autocratic presidency in flagrant violation of the Constitution, members of Congress largely sit there as idle spectators - or worse, as abettors of Bush's usurpation of their own congressional authority.

Why It Matters

Separation of powers. Rule of law. Checks and balances. These may seem to us moderns to be little more than a set of dry, legal precepts that we had to memorize in high-school history class but need not concern us now. After all, the founders (bless their wigged heads!) established these principles for us back in 17-something-or-other, so we don't really have to worry about them in 2007. Think again. These are not merely arcane phrases of constitutional law, but the very keystones of our democracy, essential to sustaining our ideal of being a self-governing people, free of tyrants who would govern us on their own whim. The founders knew about tyranny. The monarch of the time, King George III, routinely denied colonists basic liberties, spied on them and entered their homes at will, seized their property, jailed anyone he wanted without charges, rounded up and killed dissidents, and generally ruled with an iron fist. He was both the law and above the law, operating on the twin doctrines of "the divine rule of kings" and "the king can do no wrong."

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Merrill Lynch To Report Additional $2.5 Billion Loss
2007-10-24 02:28:21
Merrill Lynch is expected to report Wednesday that it will add about $2.5 billion more to the $5 billion worth of write-downs it has already announced, according to a person briefed on the situation.

Merrill reports its third-quarter earnings this morning. The bank announced earlier this month that it expected to write down $5 billion because of losses in its fixed-income unit. Most of the losses, the bank said, were tied to the decline in value of complex debt instruments called collateralized debt obligations, whose value has diminished in recent months as credit markets have been hit by a collapse in the subprime mortgage market.

A Merrill spokesman declined to comment.

The additional write-down, coming so soon after the company’s $5 billion charge, may raise more questions about the leadership of E. Stanley O'Neal, Merrill’s chief executive, and the ability of his top executives to assess the firm’s risk exposure.

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Commentary: America's War Without End
2007-10-23 19:43:20
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Gaurdian assistant editor and foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall. In his commentary, Mr. Tisdall writes: "These days, terrorism seems to be whatever the Bush administration says it is." His commentary follows:

Planned U.S. spending on the "global war on terror" is set to rise sharply in the coming year, despite claims from the president, George Bush, that al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq.

A funding request sent to Congress this week seeks $196.4 billion (£96 billion) for counter-terrorism in 2007-8, $25  billion up on this year. The Pentagon's separate budget request amounts to an additional $481.4 billion.

Justifying these whopping increases, Bush repeats a favorite mantra, that "America is safer but not yet safe", implying that absolute safety is attainable at some point in the future. In a speech this week, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, was franker: he said the U.S. is engaged in an ideological struggle amounting to war without end.

Details of the spending request reveal how the war, by lumping together numerous disparate challenges, is steadily expanding in terms of aims and geography. Iraq and Afghanistan apart, counter-terror funds are earmarked for U.S.  allies in Pakistan and Palestine, for de-nuclearizing North Korea, and for fighting drug cartels in Mexico and Central America.

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China Cracks Down On Tibet
2007-10-23 19:42:28
Chinese police and soldiers have clashed with Buddhist monks in several towns in Tibet during a crackdown on celebrations to mark the award of a U.S. congressional gold medal to the Dalai Lama last week.

According to Tibetan activist groups and Hong Kong media, the security forces have attempted to suppress monasteries that tried to mark the prize-giving with special prayers or decorations.

Despite government efforts to remove satellite dishes, halt sales of celebratory fireworks and block websites such as YouTube, news has spread quickly about the accolade and the meeting last week between the Tibetan spiritual leader and U.S. president George Bush.

Beijing is furious about the award for the Dalai Lama, who it accuses of being a "splittist" intent upon challenging the territorial integrity of China. The Dalai Lama says he is not seeking independence, but wants autonomy for Tibetans inside China.
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Iraq Vows To Help Turkey Halt Rebel Attacks
2007-10-23 15:15:01

Iraqi officials said Tuesday that they would move to halt the activity of Kurdish rebels who have been striking across the border from northern Iraq, a promise delivered amid a flurry of international diplomatic efforts to prevent a widening conflict between the two countries.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement in Baghdad promising to close the offices of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, news services reported.

"The PKK is a terrorist organization and we have taken a decision to shut down their offices and not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil. We will also work on limiting its terrorist activities which are threatening Iraq and Turkey," said  the statement.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was in Baghdad Tuesday and made a joint appearance with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari before planned meetings with other Iraqi officials.

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Space Shuttle Discovery Heads To International Space Station
2007-10-23 15:14:34
Space shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven rocketed into orbit Tuesday in pursuit of the international space station, where a formidable construction job awaits them.

Discovery blasted off at 11:38 a.m., ducking through clouds. It carried a giant Tinkertoy-type link that must be installed at the space station before European and Japanese laboratories can arrive.

Despite a forecast calling for rain right at launch time, the weather ended up cooperating. And a chunk of ice on plumbing between the external fuel tank and Discovery - 4 inches by 1 1/2 inches - was deemed too small by NASA to pose a serious launch hazard. It appeared to be melting as the countdown entered its final minutes.

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Editorial: Even Closer To The Brink
2007-10-23 02:46:34
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, October 23, 2007.

The news out of Iraq just keeps getting worse. Now Turkey is threatening to send troops across the border to wipe out Kurdish rebel bases, after guerrillas killed at least a dozen Turkish soldiers. This latest crisis should have come as no surprise. But it is one more widely predicted problem the Bush administration failed to plan for before its misguided invasion - and one more problem it urgently needs to deal with as part of a swift and orderly exit from Iraq.

Turkey’s anger is understandable. Guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., have been striking from bases in Iraqi Kurdistan with growing impunity and effect, using plastic explosives, mines and arms that are far too readily accessible in Iraq. The death toll for Turkish military forces is mounting.

Turkey’s civilian leaders are feeling strong popular pressure to lash back. The leadership needs to realize that the conflict is providing a dangerous opening for Turkey’s generals. The military is determined to regain the upper hand over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom they detest for his party’s roots in Islamic politics.

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2 Reports Sharply Critical Of State Dept. Role In Iraq, Afghanistan Security Contracts
2007-10-23 02:46:04
A pair of new reports have delivered sharply critical judgments about the State Department’s performance in overseeing work done by the private companies that the government relies on increasingly in Iraq and Afghanistan to carry out delicate security work and other missions.

A State Department review of its own security practices in Iraq assails the department for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA, according to people who have been briefed on the report. In addition to Blackwater, the State Department’s two other security contractors in Iraq are DynCorp International and Triple Canopy.

At the same time, a government audit expected to be released Tuesday says that records documenting the work of DynCorp, the State Department’s largest contractor, are in such disarray that the department cannot say “specifically what it received” for most of the $1.2 billion it has paid the company since 2004 to train the police officers in Iraq.

The review of security practices was ordered last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and it did not address the Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater guards, which Iraqi investigators said killed 17 Iraqis. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading a separate inquiry into that episode.

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