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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday October 31 2007 - (813)

Wednesday October 31 2007 edition
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Clinton's Rivals Go On The Attack
2007-10-31 03:07:23
With just over two months until the first primary contest, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Democratic rivals aggressively challenged their party's front-runner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday night, accusing her of being dishonest and of emboldening President Bush to declare war against Iran. 

Former senator John Edwards (North Carolina), lingering in third place in most polls, took the lead in attacking Clinton as Democrats gathered for the fourth of their six official debates. He mocked Clinton for voting to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group, and he all but accused her of being corrupt.

Voters, Edwards said, "deserve a president of the United States that they know will tell them the truth, and won't say one thing one time and something different at a different time."

Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) - under pressure to take sharp aim at Clinton - criticized her directly for not releasing her correspondence as first lady. But he kept his cool demeanor, describing her tendency toward secrecy as simply "a problem."

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Iraq Moves To Repeal Immunity For Security Contractors
2007-10-31 03:06:12
The Iraqi cabinet approved draft legislation Tuesday that would repeal a law granting immunity to foreign security firms working in Iraq. 

The draft, which still requires the approval of parliament, is part of the Iraqi government's response to a shooting last month involving guards from Blackwater Worldwide, a North Carolina-based private security firm, that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and 27 wounded.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said the cabinet unanimously approved the draft. Several important pieces of legislation have been stalled in parliament for months, but Dabbagh said he was certain legislators would approve a tough law on foreign security guards.

"There has been a lot of anger because of this Blackwater incident," he said. "There was a bit of a sense of urgency."

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Official Government Report Blames Aliens For Mysterious Fires
2007-10-31 03:05:25

An Italian investigation into a series of unexplained fires in fridges, televisions and mobile phone is blaming aliens.

It concluded that the responsibility for the fires in Canneto di Caronia on Sicily may lie with "aliens testing secret weapons".

The village was the center of world attention three years ago after residents reported everyday household objects mysteriously bursting into flames.

Dozens of experts, including scientists, electrical engineers and military experts, arrived in the village to investigate. One scientist reported seeing an unplugged electrical cable burst into flames.

Arson was ruled out while locals blamed supernatural forces and the Vatican's chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth,  suggested it was Satan's work.

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White House Under Fire For Giving Blackwater Immunity
2007-10-30 20:17:50
The Bush administration faced intense criticism Tuesday after it emerged that the State Department had offered immunity to Blackwater security guards allegedly involved in a shooting spree in Baghdad that left 17 dead.

The immunity offer was made by state department investigators in return for information about the September 16 killings.

The offer does not mean a trial cannot be mounted but it would compromise any prosecution case and practically ensure there would be no convictions.

Blackwater, a North Carolina-based company employed by the State Department, was guarding a diplomatic convoy outside the relative safety of Baghdad's green zone when it said it came under fire from insurgents. The Iraqi government says the security guards opened fire without provocation.

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With U.S. Help, North Korean Ship Crew Defeats Pirates
2007-10-30 20:17:26
A U.S. Navy destroyer helped sailors who retook control of their vessel Tuesday in a deadly battle with pirates after the North Korean-flagged ship was hijacked in the piracy-plagued waters off Somalia, said the American military.

The Navy also confirmed that other American warships sank two pirate skiffs late Sunday after answering a distress call from a hijacked Japanese chemical tanker and said U.S. ships are still monitoring that vessel.

In Tuesday's incident, a helicopter flew from the destroyer USS James E. Williams to investigate a phoned-in tip of a hijacked ship and demanded by radio that the pirates give up their weapons, the military said in a statement.

The crew of the Dai Hong Dan then overwhelmed the hijackers, leaving two pirates dead, according to preliminary reports, and five captured, said the military. Three seriously injured crew members were taken aboard the Williams, said the statement. The captured pirates remained on the Dai Hong Dan, which the crew is returning to the port of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital.

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Strengthening Of Consumer Agency Opposed By It's Boss
2007-10-30 13:38:01
The top official for consumer product safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation that would strengthen the agency that polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools.

On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC),has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.

Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.

The measure is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured both domestically and abroad. In the last two months alone, more than 13 million toys have been recalled after tests indicated lead levels of almost 200 times the safety ceiling.

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Commentary: Bush's Legacy Of Cynicism
2007-10-30 13:37:37
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Richard Cohen and appears in the Washington Post edition for Tuesday, October 30, 2007. Mr. Cohen is an op-ed columnist for the Post.

When George W. Bush surveys his presidency, he will see two wars commenced and none concluded, Osama bin Laden still on the loose, American prestige at record lows throughout the world, a military both broken and abused, and a country that in large part thinks its government is a liar. Guinness World Records will need a chapter for Bush alone.

It is, though, that bit about lack of trust in government that may be the most important and intractable. The others are correctable. For Iraq, there is a solution - or at least an ending. For the military, there is the cure of more money and the fading of memories. For bin Laden, there is mortality itself. As for Afghanistan, who knows what will happen, since that country is where Western expectations go to die.

But this business about the people's trust in its government is destructive stuff. We see it played out now with the Senate resolution labeling the al-Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. The resolution itself is a pretty straightforward affair, stating a compelling case that the al-Quds Force has interfered in Iraq and caused the deaths of Americans. Whatever you may feel about the war in Iraq, no one gets to kill Americans with impunity.

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U.S. Justice Dept. Official Apologizes For Minority Remarks
2007-10-30 13:37:05
Head of the Justice Department's voting section made controversial comments about minorities.

The head of the Justice Department's voting section apologized today for saying that racial minorities are more likely to die before becoming elderly and therefore are not hurt as much as whites by voter identification laws.

In prepared testimony for an appearance in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee this morning, John K. Tanner said his remarks earlier this month at the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles, California, "do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion" to upholding federal voting rights laws.

"I want to apologize for the comments," Tanner said in his testimony. " .. I understand that my explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way, which I deeply regret."

The apology follows a series of remarks by Tanner this month that have caused a political uproar and led to calls from some Democrats, including presidential hopeful Barack Obama, that Tanner resign or be fired.

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FEMA Spokesman Denied Position After Phony 'News Conference'
2007-10-30 13:36:07
Official tied to "fake" news conference was slated for job with Director of National Intelligence.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's director of external communications was denied a post as senior spokesman for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell Monday, becoming the highest-ranking casualty of a fake news conference staged by FEMA last week to publicize its response to California's devastating wildfires.

The flap is not the first time FEMA or its parent Department of Homeland Security has been on the wrong end of a public relations move that backfired. Rather, it fits a pattern in which domestic security officials have mismanaged the public presentation of their efforts, whether those efforts are going well or poorly.

Public relations is an obsession of senior department leaders, who say that public safety and counterterrorism efforts depend on their credibility. But DHS has repeatedly stumbled, most devastatingly when its leaders' reassuring words clashed with chaotic television images of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

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Blackwater Given Immunity For Statements Made To U.S. State Dept.
2007-10-30 03:23:12
FBI cannot use information gleaned from State Department bureau's interviews with guards who were involved in the Sept. 16 civilian shootings.

Potential prosecution of Blackwater guards allegedly involved in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians last month may have been compromised because the guards received immunity for statements they made to State Department officials investigating the incident, federal law enforcement officials said Monday.

FBI agents called in to take over the State Department's investigation two weeks after the Sept. 16 shootings cannot use any information gleaned during questioning of the guards by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is charged with supervising security contractors.

Some of the Blackwater guards have subsequently refused to be interviewed by the FBI, citing promises of immunity from the State Department, said one law enforcement official. The restrictions on the FBI's use of their initial statements do not preclude prosecution by the Justice Department using other evidence, the official said, but "they make things a lot more complicated and difficult."

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U.S. Intelligence Budget Said To Be $50 Billion
2007-10-30 03:22:45

The director of U.S. national intelligence will disclose Tuesday that national intelligence activities amounting to roughly 80 percent of all U.S. intelligence spending for the year cost more than $40 billion, according to sources on Capitol Hill and inside the administration.

The disclosure means that when military spending is added, aggregate U.S. intelligence spending for fiscal 2007 exceeded $50 billion, according to these sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the total remains classified.

Adm. Mike McConnell will announce that the fiscal 2007 national intelligence program figure, classified up to now, is being made public at the urging of the Sept. 11 commission and the insistence of Congress, which turned the commission's recommendation into law. The commission's plan was to have the president make the figure public each year.

While the budget figure released by McConnell excludes intelligence programs for the separate military services, it includes the budgets of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI's intelligence programs, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the major Defense Department intelligence collection agencies.

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Senior Democrats Want Blackwater Case Details
2007-10-31 03:06:21

The U.S. State Department said Tuesdday that it had provided "limited protections" to Blackwater Worldwide security guards under investigation in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians but insisted that its actions would not preclude successful prosecution of the contractors.

Signed statements the guards provided to State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 16 shooting deaths included what law enforcement officials said was a standard disclaimer used in "official administrative inquiries" involving government employees. It said that the statements were being offered with the understanding that nothing in them could be used "in a criminal proceeding."

New details about the "protections" given Blackwater contractors allegedly involved in the shootings sparked outrage from congressional Democrats Tuesday, along with a flood of letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from committee chairmen demanding more information.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as the appropriations subcommittee overseeing State's budget, called the contractor issue the latest example of the Bush administration's refusal to hold anyone from "their team" accountable for misconduct or incompetence. "If you get caught," Leahy said in a statement, "they will get you immunity. If you get convicted, they will commute your sentence."

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Huge Black Holes May Hold Clues To Galaxy Formation
2007-10-31 03:05:46

For years, astronomers speculated that a giant, mysterious force lay at the center of the Milky Way, but it wasn't until four years ago that UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez definitively showed what it was.

Using new techniques for peering into the dusty heart of the galaxy, Ghez's observations proved that scores of stars were rapidly orbiting what could only be a black hole. But it wasn't the kind of garden-variety black hole created when a star explodes and dies; it was hundreds of thousands of times as powerful - a "supermassive" black hole, as they are now known.

Her discoveries, along with the work of scientists studying other galaxies, have in a short time led researchers to the surprising conclusion that most, if not all, of the universe's hundreds of billions of galaxies have supermassive black holes at their core. Even more striking, the astronomers have found that the black holes' mass and nature are closely related to the size and makeup of the surrounding galaxies.

It also appears that these cosmic monsters - which can "eat" stars whole - are key to understanding how galaxies were formed and are still being formed today.

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In Letter To Democrats, Mukasey Refuses To Offer Waterboarding Opinion
2007-10-30 20:18:01
Attorney general nominee calls the interrogation tactic "repugnant," but continues to resist invitations to declare it illegal.

Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey told Senate Democrats today that a kind of simulated drowning known as waterboarding is "repugnant," but he does not know whether the interrogation technique violates U.S. laws against torture.

Mukasey, whose nomination to replace Alberto R. Gonzales has become less certain because of his refusal to offer an opinion on waterboarding, also wrote in a letter to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not know if U.S. interrogators had used waterboarding because he is not cleared to receive classified information.

In reiterating earlier promises to the committee, Mukasey pledged to study the issue if confirmed and to reverse any legal opinions by the Justice Department that violate the Constitution or U.S. law.
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Tropical Storm Noel Hits Cuba, Headed For Florida
2007-10-30 20:17:36
Tropical Storm Noel brought heavy rain to the western Caribbean Tuesday as it pushed through Cuba and edged closer to Florida. Floods and mudslides across the region have killed at least 22 people.

Forecasters projected the storm would emerge over water Wednesday near Cuba's Cayo Coco resort area and head northeast toward the Bahamas. They also said a tropical storm watch might be issued for parts of southeastern Florida Tuesday.

The storm cut a destructive path across the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

At least six people died in Haiti, including two women who were washed away by flood waters near the city of Gantier and a child found dead in a slum in the capital, said U.N. officials.

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Singer Robert Goulet Dies At 73
2007-10-30 20:17:10
Robert Goulet, the handsome, big-voiced baritone whose Broadway debut in "Camelot" launched an award-winning stage and recording career, has died. He was 73.

The singer died Tuesday morning in a Los Angeles hospital while awaiting a lung transplant, said Goulet spokesman Norm Johnson.

He had been awaiting a lung transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after being found last month to have a rare form of pulmonary fibrosis.

Goulet had remained in good spirits even as he waited for the transplant, said Vera Goulet, his wife of 25 years.

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News Analysis: Herd's Head Trampled
2007-10-30 13:37:48
Merrill Lynch Boss Stan O'Neal is the biggest casualty of the mortgage crisis - so far.

Talk about feast to famine. In July, Merrill Lynch posted a record second-quarter net profit of $2.1 billion, prompting Stan O'Neal, its chief executive, to boast of the “earnings power of our franchise”. Three months later a whopping writedown of the value of mortgage-linked securities tipped the Wall Street giant into a loss of $2.3 billion. Merrill’s shares tanked, its credit rating was cut and a deeply disgruntled board met to hammer out a response to the crisis.

On Tuesday October 30th, it reached a decision that for days had seemed inevitable: O'Neal was shown the door of the firm he had run since 2002, though the departure was dressed up as a resignation. He has the dubious honor of being the first Wall Street boss to be forced out over losses stemming from the global credit crunch. He is unlikely to be the last.

O'Neal presided over an ill-timed rush into businesses that are now causing no end of trouble. The root of Merrill’s problems are collateralized-debt obligations (CDOs), tranched pools of debt linked to subprime mortgages and other assets. Seen as safe only a few months ago, these are now tumbling in value as mortgage delinquencies rise. Under  O'Neal, Merrill overtook rivals to become the top CDO underwriter, a position cemented by acquisitions of mortgage originators, such as First Franklin. But little thought was given to the pain Merrill might face if boom turned to bust.
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Commentary: Fearing Fear Itself
2007-10-30 13:37:23
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Paul Krugman and appeared in the New York Times edition for Monday, October 29, 2007. Mr. Krugman is an op-ed columnist for the Times.

In America’s darkest hour, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged the nation not to succumb to “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” But that was then.

Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president - including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination - have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.

Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

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Bush To Nominate Lt. Gen. Peake To Head Veterans Administration
2007-10-30 13:36:32

President Bush Tuesday plans to nominate retired Army Lt. Gen. James B. Peake to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is being forced into wrenching change as it attempts to meet the challenges posed by the large number of wounded troops returning home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A senior administration official said Bush would announce Peake's appointment this afternoon at the White House. Peake, 63, who spent four years as Army surgeon general, worked for decades in military medicine before retiring in 2004.

Peake, currently works as chief medical director and chief operating officer of California-based QTC Management Inc., which calls itself the largest private provider of government-outsourced occupational health and disability examination services in the nation.

Peake's nomination comes as the administration and Congress struggle to address the problems facing troops returning home with physical and mental wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office pointed to staff shortages as well as uncertainty in how to tackle some of the complicated issues surrounding veteran care.

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Oil And Trade Gains Turn Developing Nations Into Major Investors
2007-10-30 03:23:22

The government of Libya, flush with oil, has amassed $40 billion and is ready to put it in play on Wall Street. China  recently acquired a huge stake in one of the biggest names in U.S. finance. Tiny Qatar is adding $1 billion a week to its investment coffers and is trying to buy the leading grocer in Britain.

Developing nations, especially in Asia and the Middle East, are aggressively stockpiling some of the largest concentrations of investment money in history. The cash hoards, called sovereign wealth funds, are controlled not by state-run companies or private investors but by governments.

These investment pools are equal to or even bigger than the largest pension and private-equity funds in the United States, and many are highly secretive about their activities. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has an estimated $875 billion to invest, while China's first stab at a sovereign wealth fund, which started last month, has $200 billion. The largest private-equity firm has about $90 billion under management.

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Officials Fear Collapse Of Iraq Dam Could Cause Up To 500,000 Iraqi Civilian Deaths
2007-10-30 03:23:00
The largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water, possibly killing thousands of people and flooding two of the largest cities in the country, according to new assessments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. officials.

Even in a country gripped by daily bloodshed, the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam has alarmed American officials, who have concluded that it could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths by drowning Mosul under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet, said Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager. "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability," in the dry wording of an Army Corps of Engineers draft report.

At the same time, a U.S. reconstruction project to help shore up the dam in northern Iraq has been marred by incompetence and mismanagement, according to Iraqi officials and a report by a U.S. oversight agency to be released Tuesday. The reconstruction project, worth at least $27 million, was not intended to be a permanent solution to the dam's deficiencies.

"In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world," the Army Corps concluded in September 2006, according to the report to be released Tuesday. "If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely."

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