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Friday, November 02, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday November 2 2007 - (813)

Friday November 2 2007 edition
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Top U.S. Regulators Took Trips Paid For By Industries They Were Supposed To Regulate
2007-11-02 01:46:06

The chief of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and her predecessor have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate, according to internal records obtained by the Washington Post. Some of the trips were sponsored by lobbying groups and lawyers representing the makers of products linked to consumer hazards.

The records document nearly 30 trips since 2002 by the agency's acting chairman, Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, that were paid for in full or in part by trade associations or manufacturers of products ranging from space heaters to disinfectants. The airfares, hotels and meals totaled nearly $60,000, and the destinations included China, Spain, San Francisco, New Orleans and a golf resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Notable among the trips - commonly described by officials as "gift travel" - was an 11-day visit to China and Hong Kong in 2004 by Stratton, then chairman. The $11,000 trip was paid for by the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, an industry group based in an office suite in Bethesda, Maryland, whose only laboratories are in Asia. 

The CPSC says that at the time, the group had no pending regulatory requests. Since then the fireworks group has urged the commission to adopt its safety standards, an idea that is still pending, according to an organization newsletter.

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Commentary: The Calamity Of Iraq Has Not Even Won Us Cheap Oil
2007-11-02 01:45:40
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Geoffrey Wheatcroft and appears in the Guardian edition for Friday, Nov. 2, 2007. In his commentary, Mr. Wheatcroft writes, "We knew the war was built on lies - but to have increased petrol prices as well as terror will surely seal history's verdict." His commentary follows:

Although "the judgment of history" has a sonorous ring, it doesn't necessarily require the long gestation that phrase might imply: sometimes there's no need for the owl of Minerva to hang around waiting for the sun to go down. When one eminent historian, Sean Wilentz of Princeton, pronounces bluntly that George Bush the Younger is "the worst president in American history", and another, Tony Judt of New York University, calls the Iraq war "the worst foreign policy error in American history", not many of us will argue with them.

Yet history still doesn't know the half of it. It has long since ceased to be a matter for debate that the Iraq adventure began in mendacity and ended in calamity. Sir Richard Dearlove's public penitence this week merely confirmed what he had already said privately, and not only has every single one of the original official reasons for the invasion been falsified, they have all been stood on their heads. Now, even what many suspected was the ulterior motive - a war for oil - has gone awry

Speaking at the LSE on Wednesday, Dearlove said the government had put "too much emphasis on intelligence" as a justification for the war in order to win [British] parliamentary support. But even before the notorious specious dossiers were compiled - which is what he meant - he had already said with deadly candor in the July 2002 memo, written in greatest secrecy by Dearlove as head of MI6 for the eyes of Blair and his colleagues, that a decision for war had been taken, and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".

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Undecided, Sen. Schumer May Be Key To Mukasey's Confirmation Chances
2007-11-02 01:45:12
Judiciary Committee chairman endorsed attorney general nominee but says he, like other Democrats, is concerned about torture question.

As Democratic opposition builds over attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey, no Democratic lawmaker has found himself in a tighter spot than Sen. Charles E. Schumer (New York), who had eagerly recommended the former federal judge as a consensus candidate.

After Mukasey refused to say whether an interrogation technique called waterboarding amounts to illegal torture, Schumer has watched a growing number of his colleagues announce their opposition to the judge.

Schumer, who has remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the furor, said in an interview Thursday that he is now "wrestling" with whether to vote against a nomination that he was instrumental in bringing about. He compared the controversy to the 2005 nomination battle over Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

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Ex-Alaska Lawmaker Convicted Of Bribery
2007-11-02 01:44:04
A federal jury convicted a former Alaska lawmaker Thursday of corruption charges involving tax protections sought by oil companies as part of plans for a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline.

Vic Kohring, who served in the state House, was accused of demanding and accepting at least $2,600 from Veco Crop. executives for his support on legislation. Prosecutors also contend Kohring solicited a job for his nephew from Veco and sought $17,000 to pay off a credit card debt.

Veco was a major Alaska oil-field services company until it was sold in August.

During the trial, Veco founder and chief executive Bill Allen testified that he was blackmailed by an employee over renovations that Veco workers made at U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' home. The home improvement project is at the center of a Justice Department corruption investigation into the powerful Republican, who has denied wrongdoing and said he paid all the bills he was given for the work.

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Stocks Fall On Exxon Earnings And Citigroup Concerns
2007-11-01 23:23:20
A bad day on Wall Street got even rougher late in the session Thursday as the Dow Jones industrials closed down more than 360 points, a sell-off set in motion by a weak earnings report from the oil giant Exxon Mobil and concern that Citigroup's woes may be worsening.

The Dow, down 200 points through much of the day, finished at 13,567.87, a loss of 362.14, or 2.6 percent, erasing gains from yesterday’s decision by the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.

The Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index dipped 2.6 percent as well, or 40.94 points, to 1,508.44. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite was down 2.25 percent.

Profit-taking and uncertainty overtook the commodities markets as well. Crude oil, which had surged over 4 percent to record levels in the past week, fell $1.04 to $93.49. The dollar, which was expected to weaken further after the Fed’s rate cut, rebounded against the euro.

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Forced Duty In Iraq By U.S. Diplomats Is Challenged
2007-11-01 02:35:37
Envoys criticize State Dept. on order to take embassy assignments in Baghdad or risk jobs.

Uneasy U.S. diplomats Wednesday challenged senior State Department officials in unusually blunt terms over a decision to order some of them to serve at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or risk losing their jobs.

At a town hall meeting in the department's main auditorium attended by hundreds of Foreign Service officers, some of them criticized fundamental aspects of State's personnel policies in Iraq. They took issue with the size of the embassy - the biggest in U.S. history - and the inadequate training they received before being sent to serve in a war zone. One woman said she returned from a tour in Basra with post-traumatic stress disorder only to find that the State Department would not authorize medical treatment.

Wednesday's internal dissension came amid rising public doubts about diplomatic progress in Iraq and congressional inquiries into the department's spending on the embassy and its management of private security contractors. Some participants asked how diplomacy could be practiced when the embassy itself, inside the fortified Green Zone, is under frequent fire and officials can travel outside only under heavy guard.

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'Snowflake' Memos Reveal Rumsfeld's Plan
2007-11-01 02:35:10
Newly obtained documents show that former secretary of defense, in sometimes-brusque memos, told staff to "keep elevating the threat".

In a series of internal musings and memos to his staff, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld argued that Muslims avoid "physical labor" and wrote of the need to "keep elevating the threat," "link Iraq to Iran" and develop "bumper sticker statements" to rally public support for an increasingly unpopular war.

The memos, often referred to as "snowflakes," shed light on Rumsfeld's brusque management style and on his efforts to address key challenges during his tenure as Pentagon chief. Spanning from 2002 to shortly after his resignation following the 2006 congressional elections, a sampling of his trademark missives obtained yesterday reveals a defense secretary disdainful of media criticism and driven to reshape public opinion of the Iraq war.

Rumsfeld, whose sometimes abrasive approach often alienated other Cabinet members and White House staff members, produced 20 to 60 snowflakes a day and regularly poured out his thoughts in writing as the basis for developing policy, aides said. The memos are not classified but are marked "for official use only".

In a 2004 memo on the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld concluded that the challenges there are "not unusual." Pessimistic news reports - "our publics risk falling prey to the argument that all is lost" - simply result from the wrong standards being applied, he wrote in one of the memos obtained by the Washington Post. 

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Kurds Flee Turkish Bombings
2007-11-01 02:34:42
With nowhere left to turn, Kurds are caught in conflict that may open up a new front in Iraq war.

The last three women left the tiny hamlet of Deshtetek, Iraq, on Monday, carrying no more than their clothes and prayers. They joined 250 villagers who fled in the past two weeks, locking their homes and their yellow church and driving away on a desolate road scarred by war. Only 11 men remain, their lands separated from Turkey by a thin, emerald river winding through a fertile valley.

For several months now, Turkish forces have been shelling this rugged terrain from mountain bases, including a massive one perched above Deshtetek, in an effort to root out Kurdish guerrillas. An immense Turkish flag, its white crescent and star gleaming in the sun, is painted on the mountainside.

During the rule of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, Deshtetek's community of Chaldean Christians was driven from here, their ancestral homeland, to Mosul and Baghdad. Two years ago, they came back to this remote edge of northern Iraq  to escape religious persecution and sectarian violence. Now, as the shelling from Turkey intensifies, a familiar dread has returned to their lives.

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U.S. Official Faulted For Nuclear Weapons Claim
2007-11-01 02:34:07
Experts all "hair trigger" denial misleading, say much of arsenal is ready for launch in minutes.

The Bush administration has come under fire for stating before a United Nations conference that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not on "hair-trigger alert" - an assertion that arms-control experts criticized as "inaccurate" and "misleading".

The allegations follow efforts by Washington to assure the United Nations that it is meeting its obligation - under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty - to shrink its nuclear arsenal. They also come on the eve of a U.N. General Assembly  vote on a resolution calling on the world's nuclear powers to take their nuclear weapons off "high alert."

The nonbinding resolution calls on states to "decrease the operational readiness" of their nuclear weapons. "The maintenance of nuclear weapons systems at a high level of readiness increases the risk of the use of such weapons, including the unintentional or accidental use," the resolution warns.

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Blackwater HiresTop Talent From Washington, D.C.
2007-11-01 02:33:19
Blackwater Worldwide, its reputation in tatters and its lucrative government contracts in jeopardy, is mounting an aggressive legal, political and public relations counterstrike.

It has hired a bipartisan stable of big-name Washington lawyers, lobbyists and press advisers, including the public relations powerhouse Burson-Marsteller, which was brought in briefly, but at a critical moment, to help Blackwater’s chairman, Erik D. Prince, prepare for his first Congressional hearing.

Blackwater for a time retained Kenneth D. Starr, the former Whitewater independent counsel, and Fred F. Fielding, who is now the White House counsel, to help handle suits filed by the families of slain Blackwater employees.

Another outside public relations specialist, Mark Corallo, former chief spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft,  quit working for Blackwater late last year because he said he was uncomfortable with what he termed some executives’ cowboy mentality.

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Britain's Prime Minister Considers Saudi Plan To Give Iran Limited Supply Of Uranium
2007-11-02 01:45:52
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering a Saudi plan to limit the supply of uranium to potential nuclear weapons states and will call for new European Union sanctions against Iran in the next few weeks, most probably in the form of an end to export credit guarantees.

U.S.-allied Gulf states said Thursday they are planning a consortium to provide enough enriched uranium for Iran's civil nuclear program, which they believe could be a deterrent against the development of nuclear weapon.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who announced the plan, discussed it with his British counterpart, David Miliband, during the Saudi state visit this week. The prince also held talks with Brown.

The prime minister, who is concerned that the technological division between civilian and military nuclear use is starting to blur, has been struck by the potential of using supply quotas to limit weapons technology. The Bush Administration  believes that Iran's stated aim of developing a civilian program is a smokescreen for development of a nuclear weapon.

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Chrysler To Lay Off 12,000 Employees, Eliminate 4 New Models
2007-11-02 01:45:23
Chrysler ramped up its North American turnaround plan Thursday, announcing as many as 12,000 layoffs, fresh cuts in factory work shifts and the demise of four slow-selling models.

The moves came just days after the company won deep concessions from the United Auto Workers union in a new labor contract. Some UAW workers said they were shocked by Thursday's announcement. "Not having job guarantees put us in a very vulnerable state," said Brett Ward, a Chrysler worker at a plant near Detroit, Michigan. "We wouldn't have thought that a week later they'd already be announcing drastic cuts."

Analysts said the rapid changes showed how aggressively Cerberus Capital Management, Chrysler's new private-equity owner, was moving to remake the company.

"It is not all that surprising to see them moving aggressively," said Colin C. Blaydon, director of the Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College. "These are choices that are harder to make as a public company."

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Television And Movie Screen Writers Going On Strike Over Royalties
2007-11-02 01:44:51
Television and movie screen writers said Thursday they would go on strike for the first time in nearly 20 years in a dispute over royalties.

Four writers told the Associated Press that Writers Guild of America President Patric Verrone made the announcement in a closed-door session, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.

"There was a unified feeling in the room. I don't think anyone wants the strike, but people are behind the negotiation committee," said Dave Garrett, screen writer for the movie "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo."

Writers said the guild board would meet Friday to formally call a strike and decide when it would start. They said guild members would be told Friday afternoon.

Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said in a statement the alliance was not surprised by the action.

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Pakistan Militants Move Attacks From Frontier Into Settled Areas
2007-11-01 23:23:31
For much of the last century, the mountainous region of Swat was ruled as a princely kingdom where a benign autocrat, the wali, bestowed schools for girls, health care for everyone and the chance to get a degree abroad for the talented.

Now the region is the newest front line in the battle between Islamic militants, who are sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda,and Pakistan’s nervous security forces. For the first time, heavy fighting has moved beyond Pakistan’s tribal fringe and into more settled areas of the country.

On Thursday, government forces backed by helicopters attacked about 500 militants in the area, killing about 60 men, said Badshah Gul Wazir, the home secretary for the North-West Frontier Province. The militants said they had captured 44 members of the Frontier Corps and were holding them hostage.

The battles are part of what has become an expanding insurgency within Pakistan, aimed directly at the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president, rather than at the NATO and American forces across the Afghan border who have been the target for several years.

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London Police Cited For Carelessness In 2005 De Menezes Killing
2007-11-01 23:23:00
London’s police force on Thursday was found guilty of putting the public at risk during a counterterrorism operation in 2005 that led to the killing of an innocent Brazilian electrician on a subway train.

The Metropolitan Police force was fined $364,000 and $800,000 in legal costs for breaching health and safety laws as police officers pursued and killed the man, Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, who they thought was a suspect in a failed suicide bombing attempt.

It is the first time that health and safety legislation has been applied in connection with a counterterrorist police operation.

The verdict angered some human rights groups and opposition politicians and renewed calls for the resignation of Sir Ian Blair, London’s police commissioner.

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Editorial: Torture And The Attorney General
2007-11-01 02:35:23
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Thursday, November 1, 2007.

Consider how President Bush has degraded the office of attorney general.

His first choice, John Ashcroft, helped railroad undue restrictions of civil liberties through Congress after the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Ashcroft apparently had some red lines and later rebuffed the White House when it pushed him to endorse illegal wiretapping. Then came Alberto Gonzales who, while he was White House counsel, helped to redefine torture, repudiate the Geneva Conventions and create illegal detention camps. As attorney general, Mr. Gonzales helped cover up the administration’s lawless behavior in anti-terrorist operations, helped revoke fundamental human rights for foreigners and turned the Justice Department into a branch of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Gonzales resigned after his extraordinary incompetence became too much for even loyal Republicans. Now Mr. Bush wants the Senate to confirm Michael Mukasey, a well-respected trial judge in New York who has stunned us during the confirmation process by saying he believes the president has the power to negate laws and by not committing himself to enforcing Congressional subpoenas. He also has suggested that he will not uphold standards of decency during wartime recognized by the civilized world for generations.

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Independent Panel Faults U.S. Army's Wartime Contracting
2007-11-01 02:34:58
An independent panel has sharply criticized the Army for failing to train enough experienced contracting officers, deploy them quickly to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan and ensure that they properly manage billions of dollars in contracts to supply American troops in the field, according to officials briefed on its findings.

In a wide-ranging report to be made public on Thursday, the panel said these and other shortcomings had contributed to an environment in Iraq and Kuwait that allowed waste, fraud and other corruption to take hold and flourish.

The report does not address any suspected crimes by soldiers or civilian contractors; those are being pursued by investigators from the Army and the Justice Department. Nor does it single out individuals for blame.

The six-member panel, appointed in August by Army Secretary Pete Geren, levels a stinging indictment of how the Army oversees $4 billion a year in contracts for food, water, shelter and other supplies to sustain United States forces in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. The panel also blames senior Army leaders for not responding more swiftly to the problems, despite warning signs like severe shortages of contracting officers in the field. “The Iraq-Kuwait-Afghanistan contracting problems have created a crisis,” states the report. 

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Senators Raise Doubts About Immunity For Phone Carriers That Helped With Eavesdropping
2007-11-01 02:34:26
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that they had serious concerns about a plan for legal immunity to phone carriers that participated in the National Security Agency (NSA) domestic eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the panel, said at a hearing that the immunity proposal amounted to “an after the fact free pass” for utilities that might have violated customers’ privacy rights.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, said people now suing the carriers “ought to have their day in court”.

Their opposition to the immunity proposal, while not unexpected, complicates the Bush administration’s hopes for passage of a bill to insulate the carriers from legal liability for participating in the eavesdropping.

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Rep. Waxman Seeks White House's Abramoff Files
2007-11-01 02:33:44
U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House oversight committee, called on the White House Wednesday to turn over all documents in its files that relate to lobbying efforts by Jack Abramoff. 

Waxman (D-California) said in a letter to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding that unless the White House plans to assert executive privilege, it should produce 600 pages it has withheld from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's continuing investigation of the disgraced lobbyist's contacts with executive branch officials. Waxman asked for the documents by Nov. 6.

Waxman left room for negotiation, saying the White House could make the documents available to committee staff so they could assess whether they are needed for the panel's investigation. Fielding seized the opening in a letter back to Waxman, saying he was "pleased that such a concept is proposed in your letter" and pledging to "seek to accommodate our respective interests in the documents we have withheld."

The White House has produced 3,700 documents to the panel in recent months, withholding those it told the committee contain "internal deliberations among White House employees, or that otherwise implicate Executive Branch prerogatives."

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