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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday November 1 2007 - (813)

Thursday November 1 2007 edition
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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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Noel's Death Toll Rises To 81
2007-10-31 22:39:33
Tropical Storm Noel triggered mudslides and floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, pushing the death toll to 81 on Wednesday and forcing some parents to choose which of their children to save from the surging waters.

The storm was slowly moving away from the north coast of Cuba and was projected to skirt Florida and batter the Bahamas, said the Miami, Florida-based U.S. National Hurricane Center. A tropical storm watch was issued for parts of southeast Florida.

With rain still falling two days after the storm hit, rescuers were struggling to reach communities cut off by flooding on the island of Hispaniola. As they did, they found a rising toll of death and damage - at least 56 dead in the Dominican Republic, 24 in Haiti and one in Jamaica.

A swollen river overflowed its banks Monday night and swept away the hamlet of Piedra Blanca in the central Dominican Republic, forcing Charo Vidal to climb a tree. She watched her neighbor struggle to do the same nearby, clutching infant twins while water swept an older daughter away.

"She couldn't take care of all three," Vidal said Wednesday. "That is something very significant, to have a child snatched from your hands and you cannot do anything for them."

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Sex Sting Operation At Ohio Statehouse
2007-10-31 22:38:44
A former children's services lawyer was arrested in an Internet child-sex sting Wednesday in the basement of the Ohio Statehouse, minutes after the investigator who lured him there testified two floors above in favor of a bill that would increase penalties for such crimes.

Barry Mentser, 48, of nearby Gahanna, Ohio, thought he had been communicating online with a 15-year-old girl, said Lt. Jeff Braley, a detective from Hamilton Township in Warren County in southwest Ohio. Braley said he posed as the girl to set up a Statehouse meeting with Mentser.

Braley, who said he had been communicating with the man for about a year, testified before the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee in favor of a bill that would set mandatory sentences of one to five years for importuning by telecommunications, a statute aimed at sexual offenders who seek out children through the Internet.

Braley said later that he didn't arrange the sting at the Statehouse to draw attention to the bill or his testimony, but that he knew Mentser was in the Columbus area and that police were aware of his identity.

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Bush Adviser Karen Hughes To Resign From State Dept.
2007-10-31 12:49:40
One of the last remaining members of president's Texan inner circle leaving State Dept. post.

Karen P. Hughes, a longtime confidant of President Bush and one of the last remaining members of his Texan inner circle, announced her resignation today as the State Department's public diplomacy chief.

Hughes, 50, informed her staff today that she is leaving at the end of the year, concluding a two-year tenure that has failed to reverse a decline in U.S. popularity abroad under the Bush administration. She plans to return to Texas, news agencies reported.

The Republican media specialist, a former television reporter, was tapped by Bush in March 2005 to become undersecretary of state for public diplomacy with the rank of ambassador, taking on the tough job of changing unfavorable perceptions of the United States around the globe, particularly in the Arab world. She was confirmed by the Senate in July 2005 and took office two months later.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Hughes described her task as "a long-term challenge" that will continue after she leaves office. "This will take a number of years," she said.

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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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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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Religious Leaders Act On Climate Change
2007-10-31 22:39:48
A coalition of religious leaders urged Congress on Wednesday to ensure that the poor and most vulnerable are protected from the effects of climate change.

The appeals comes as lawmakers in the coming months plan to consider legislation that would combat global warming.

The representatives from groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches and the Union for Reform Judaism said Congress should require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A compromise bill proposed by Sens. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and John Warner, R-Virginia, is expected to advance from a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Thursday.

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Anger As Putin Blocks Election Observers
2007-10-31 22:39:12
Russia was accused Wednesday of imposing unprecedented restrictions on foreign observers visiting the country to monitor parliamentary elections in early December, amid growing concern that the Kremlin might manipulate the vote.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reacted angrily to a letter from Russia's central election commission saying that the monitoring body's observer mission "could comprise up to 70 people". Four hundred and fifty OSCE observers were allowed to monitor Russia's last elections to the state duma, or lower house of parliament, in 2003.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir, speaking for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told the Guardian that the curbs would "seriously limit our possibilities to do what we see as a meaningful observation".

"We have never received an invitation with restrictions before," she said. "This is completely unprecedented in the history of the organization, and we have observed over 150 elections. The OSCE procedure has always been an open invitation."

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Chemicals Flow Unchecked From China To Pharmaceutical Market
2007-10-31 12:49:57
In January, Honor International Pharmtech was accused of shipping counterfeit drugs into the United States. Even so, the Chinese chemical company - whose motto is “Thinking Much of Honor” - was openly marketing its products in October to thousands of buyers here in Milan, Italy, at the world’s biggest trade show for pharmaceutical ingredients.

Other Chinese chemical companies made the journey to the annual show as well, including one manufacturer recently accused by American authorities of supplying steroids to illegal underground labs and another whose representative was arrested at the 2006 trade show for patent violations. Also attending were two exporters owned by China’s government that had sold poison mislabeled as a drug ingredient, which killed nearly 200 people and injured countless others in Haiti and in Panama.

Yet another chemical company, Orient Pacific International, reserved an exhibition booth in Milan, but its owner, Kevin Xu, could not attend. He was in a Houston, Texas, jail on charges of selling counterfeit medicine for schizophrenia, prostate cancer, blood clots and Alzheimer’s disease, among other maladies.

While these companies hardly represent all of the nearly 500 Chinese exhibitors, more than from any other country, they do point to a deeper problem: Pharmaceutical ingredients exported from China are often made by chemical companies that are neither certified nor inspected by Chinese drug regulators, the New York Times has found.

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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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