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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday November 20 2007 - (813)

Tuesday November 20 2007 edition
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Fallout From Credit Crunch Creates Another One
2007-11-20 02:45:48

The credit crunch is back.

After improving in September and early October, markets in a wide variety of debt - including for home mortgages, consumer loans, and corporate buyouts - have sharply deteriorated in recent weeks. Investors view much of this debt as riskier than they did even at the height of the August credit crisis and are requiring higher interest rates as compensation.

While markets are behaving in a more orderly fashion than they were in August, many on Wall Street fear that the situation will get worse before it gets better. "This is just dragging on longer," said Axel Merk, a portfolio manager for Merk Hard Currency Fund. "We're very early in this."

Economists increasingly worry that banks are suffering such massive losses that they will be forced to cut back their lending to consumers and businesses. That would slow the economy, much as the savings and loan crisis did in the early 1990s. Monday, an analyst predicted that Citigroup, the world's biggest financial services company, would suffer another $15 billion in losses in the coming six months from its exposure to exotic types of debt.

That prediction, along with fresh negative data about the housing market, drove the Dow Jones industrial average down 218 points, or 1.7 percent. Financial markets are pointing to a strong possibility of even more bad news.

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Commentary: Iran Isn't Starting A Middle East Atomic Arms Race, It's Joining One
2007-11-20 02:45:03
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Prof. George Monbiot and appears in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, November 20, 2007. In his commentary, Prof. Monbiot, whose columns regularly appear in the Guardian, writes: "When will the U.S. and U.K. tell the truth about Israeli weapons? Iran isn't starting an arms race, it's joining one. Prof. Monbiot's commentary follows:

George Bush and Gordon Brown are right: there should be no nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The risk of a nuclear conflagration could be greater there than anywhere else. Any nation developing them should expect a firm diplomatic response. So when will they impose sanctions on Israel?

Like them, I believe that Iran is trying to acquire the bomb. I also believe it should be discouraged, by a combination of economic pressure and bribery, from doing so (a military response would, of course, be disastrous). I believe that Bush and Brown - who maintain their nuclear arsenals in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty - are in no position to lecture anyone else. But if, as Bush claims, the proliferation of such weapons "would be a dangerous threat to world peace", why does neither man mention the fact that Israel, according to a secret briefing by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), possesses between 60 and 80 of them?

Officially, the Israeli government maintains a position of "nuclear ambiguity": neither confirming nor denying its possession of nuclear weapons. But everyone who has studied the issue knows that this is a formula with a simple purpose: to give the United States an excuse to keep breaking its own laws, which forbid it to grant aid to a country with unauthorized weapons of mass destruction. The fiction of ambiguity is fiercely guarded. In 1986, when the nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu handed photographs of Israel's bomb factory to the (London) Sunday Times, he was lured from Britain to Rome, drugged and kidnapped by Mossad agents, tried in secret, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He served 12 of them in solitary confinement and was banged up again - for six months - soon after he was released.

However, in December last year, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, accidentally let slip that Israel, like "America, France and Russia", had nuclear weapons. Opposition politicians were furious. They attacked Olmert for "a lack of caution bordering on irresponsibility". But U.S. aid continues to flow without impediment.

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U.K. Doctors To Shun National Medical Data Base
2007-11-20 02:44:16
Nearly two-thirds of U.K. family doctors are poised to boycott the British government's scheme to put the medical records of 50 million National Health Service (NHS) patients on a national electronic database, a Guardian poll revealed Tuesday.

With suspicion rife across the profession that sensitive personal data could be stolen by hackers and blackmailers, the poll found 59% of General Practitioners (GPs) in England are unwilling to upload any record without the patient's specific consent.

Three-quarters of family doctors said medical records would become less secure when they are put on a database that will eventually be used by NHS and social services staff throughout England. Half thought the records would be vulnerable to hackers and unauthorized access by officials outside the NHS. A quarter feared bribery or blackmail of people with access to the records and 21% suspected that social services staff would not adhere to the confidentiality rules.

The poll of more than 1,000 doctors was conducted by Medix, a healthcare online research organization previously used by the Department of Health to test medical opinion. It found GPs are increasingly concerned about the department's plan to automatically upload the records of everyone who does not register an objection.

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Striking Civil Servants Turn Heat Up On French President Sarkozy
2007-11-20 02:43:38
French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces a crucial test of his nerve Tuesday as a transport strike continues into its seventh day of commuter chaos, and civil servants stage a walkout that could see up to half of France's schools closed and disrupt air traffic control, the postal service and even weather forecasts.

France's rail and bus strike is continuing despite trade union leaders agreeing to begin talks with the government and state employers Wednesday. They are protesting plans to change special pensions deals which allow certain workers to retire as young as 50 on favorable terms.

The strike has been prolonged to overlap with Sarkozy's latest industrial headache: an unrelated 24-hour stoppage by public sector workers, including teachers, hospital staff and postal workers. State employees from defense ministry secretaries to weather office staff will stop work to protest low salaries and public sector job cuts.

The president is said to be standing firm on his "modernizing" agenda, in the face of a "black November" of protests against his reforms.
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White House Terrorism Adviser Resigns
2007-11-19 12:34:56
Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House adviser on terrorism and homeland security, whose tough and aggressive approach had made her one of President George W. Bush's most trusted aides, has resigned.

In a statement issued by the White House this morning, the president said that Townsend “has played an integral role in the formation of the key strategies and policies my administration has used to combat terror and protect Americans.”

“We are safer today because of her leadership,” he said.

The statement gave no reason for Townsend’s departure.

Townsend, 45, a street-wise onetime mob prosecutor in Manhattan whose hard-driving style led coworkers to call her “The Hurricane,” has been the homeland security adviser since May 28, 2004, serving during a time of bitter debate over the Iraq war and its impact on the fight against terrorism, and the remaking of American intelligence agencies.

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Climate Change Threatens Farms
2007-11-19 02:47:20
Analyses conclude that global warming will affect agriculture disproportionately in lower latitudes.

Climate change may be global in its sweep, but not all of the globe's citizens will share equally in its woes. And nowhere is that truth more evident, or more worrisome, than in its projected effects on agriculture.

Several recent analyses have concluded that the higher temperatures expected in coming years - along with salt seepage into groundwater as sea levels rise and anticipated increases in flooding and droughts - will disproportionately affect agriculture in the planet's lower latitudes, where most of the world's poor live.

India, on track to be the world's most populous country, could see a 40 percent decline in agricultural productivity by the 2080s as record heat waves bake its wheat-growing region, placing hundreds of millions of people at the brink of chronic hunger.

Africa - where four out of five people make their living directly from the land - could see agricultural downturns of 30 percent, forcing farmers to abandon traditional crops in favor of more heat-resistant and flood-tolerant ones such as rice. Worse, some African countries, including Senegal and war-torn Sudan, are on track to suffer what amounts to complete agricultural collapse, with productivity declines of more than 50 percent.

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Chavez, Ahmadinejad Assail Weak Dollar At OPEC Event
2007-11-19 02:46:21
A rare meeting of the heads of state of the OPEC countries ended in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday on a political note, with two leaders - Venezuela President Hugo Chavez  and Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - blaming the weakness of the United States dollar for high oil prices.

Despite the best efforts of the host country, Saudi Arabia, to steer the meeting away from politics and promote OPEC’s environmental concerns, the leaders of Venezuela and Iran let loose some show-stealing statements.

“The dollar is in free fall, everyone should be worried about it,” Chavez told reporters here. “The fall of the dollar is not the fall of the dollar - it’s the fall of the American empire.”

During a news conference after the meeting, Ahmadinejad added: “The U.S. dollar has no economic value.”

Ahmadinejad said that oil, which was hovering last week at close to $100 a barrel, was being sold currently for a “paltry sum.” And Chavez predicted that prices would rise to $200 a barrel if the United States were “crazy enough” to strike at Iran, or even at his own country.

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Bangladesh Storm Deaths Hit 3,000 - Fears For Thousands More Dead In Remote Areas
2007-11-19 02:45:42
Worst cyclone in a decade leaves vast trail of havoc.

The death toll from the cyclone that obliterated parts of coastal Bangladesh soared above 3,000 late Sunday, amid warnings from relief workers that the body count could ultimately rise to more than 10,000 once remote regions have been accessed.

The government rapidly deployed naval and military helicopters as rescue workers made their way to outlying areas where entire villages are believed to have been flattened in the worst cyclone to have hit the country in a decade.

The ministry of food and disaster management confirmed Sunday that more than 3,000 people had died since the storm struck last Thursday. However, a government "early warning program" saved a vast number of lives, said the United Nations resident coordinator Renata Dessallien. About 1.5 million people on the coast were able to flee to shelters.

The U.N. said it is making available $7 million from its central emergency fund, and the World Food Program is rushing in aid. Britain announced a £2.5 million ($5 million) relief package Sunday night, while Washington, D.C., said two ships would deliver 35 tons of non-food aid. During his Sunday blessing from the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called for "every possible effort to help our brothers who have been so sorely tested".

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Editorial: The Scientists Speak
2007-11-20 02:45:31
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, November 20, 2007.

The world’s scientists have done their job. Now it’s time for world leaders, starting with President Bush, to do theirs. That is the urgent message at the core of the latest - and the most powerful - report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 2,500 scientists who collectively constitute the world’s most authoritative voice on global warming.

Released in Spain over the weekend, the report leaves no doubt that man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels (and, to a lesser extent, deforestation) have been responsible for the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures.

If these emissions are not brought under control, the report predicts, the consequences could be disastrous: further melting at the poles, sea levels rising high enough to submerge island nations, the elimination of one-quarter or more of the world’s species, widespread famine in places like Africa, more violent hurricanes.

And it warns that time is running out. To avoid the worst of these disasters, it says, the world must stabilize emissions of greenhouse gases by 2015, begin to reduce them shortly thereafter and largely free itself of carbon-emitting technologies by midcentury.

As Rajendra Pachauri, a scientist and economist who leads the I.P.C.C., noted: “ What we do in the next two or three years will define our future.”

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U.S. Homeland Security Delays Radiation Detectors For Borders - Again!
2007-11-20 02:44:43

A $1.2 billion plan by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to buy a new kind of radiation-detection machine for the nation's borders has been put on hold again, a blow to one of the Bush administration's top security goals. At the same time, federal authorities are investigating whether Homeland Security officials urged an analyst to destroy information about the performance of the machines during testing, according to interviews and a document.

For more than a year, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and others have told Congress that the costly next-generation machines would sharply improve the screening of trucks, cars and cargo containers for radiological material. In announcing contracts in July 2006 to buy as many as 1,400 of the devices, Chertoff said they were ready to be deployed in the field for research. He recently called their acquisition a "vital priority."

Yet, in the face of growing questions by government auditors, Congress and border officials about the machines' performance, Chertoff has decided that they don't operate well enough and need more work. It could be another year before they are ready, said officials.

In a statement, Laura Keehner, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said field tests of the advanced spectroscopic portal radiation monitors, or ASPs, at several locations by Customs and Border Protection officials turned up shortcomings that "led to the determination that additional functional capability is needed to meet the operational requirements".

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Genetically Altered Virus Helps Parkinson's Sufferers
2007-11-20 02:44:01

The first gene-based therapy for Parkinson's disease has been found to be effective following brain scans of patients who received the treatment as part of an on-going trial. The success marks an important landmark for gene therapy, which has never before been used to treat a degenerative brain disease in humans.

In the study, patients' brains were injected with a harmless virus, genetically modified to carry a human gene which dampens down nerve cells that become overactive in Parkinson's patients, interfering with movement control.

Doctors noted a significant improvement, and the scans confirmed the treatment worked by highlighting brain circuits involved in movement that had recovered. Eleven men and one woman received injections directly into part of the brain most affected by the disease. The scans later showed that some brain circuits that act abnormally in Parkinson's patients were working healthily again.

The patients showed signs of recovery one month after treatment, and three to six months later showed on average a 30% improvement in their movement. One patient's recovery astounded doctors, after tests showed his movement had improved 65%.

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U.S., Russia Agree On Plutonium Disposal
2007-11-19 12:35:24
U.S. and Russian officials announced agreement Monday on how to safely dispose of 34 metric tons of Russian weapons-grade plutonium, overcoming a major hurdle in a joint nuclear nonproliferation effort that at times has been close to falling apart.

The two countries, in a joint statement, outlined a plan where Russia agrees to modify its fast-neutron reactors so that they can burn the plutonium, yet ensure that additional plutonium will not be produced.

In turn, the United States, which also will dispose of 34 tons of excess plutonium from its weapons program, will continue to help Russia pay for construction of a plant in Russia to turn the plutonium into a mixed oxide fuel for the reactors and in research of a more advanced reactor that could speed up the disposal process.

The two countries tentatively agreed to the plutonium disposal program seven years ago when it was hailed as a breakthrough in safeguarding some of Russia's nuclear material, but progress stalled because of a variety of disagreements, most recently over how Russia would destroy the plutonium.

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U.S. Envoy To Musharraf Returns Home With Nothing
2007-11-19 02:47:36
A special U.S. mission to the embattled Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf ended in failure Sunday, and the Bush administration is increasingly alarmed about the possible collapse of the government. There are also fears that its nuclear weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist extremists.

John Negroponte, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, flew out of Islamabad after Musharraf, a close ally of the U.S., rejected his call to end emergency rule, to free political prisoners, resign from his post as army commander and hold free and fair elections in January.

Negroponte, at a press conference in Islamabad Sunday morning, issued a warning that the U.S. will not recognize elections held under emergency rule.

He refused to answer directly a question about whether the U.S. will cut off aid if emergency rule is not lifted. The U.S.  has provided Pakistan with $10 billion (£5 billion) in aid since 9/11, mainly to help in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

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Commentary: Our Science Fiction Fate
2007-11-19 02:46:37
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by author Brian Aldiss and appears in the Guardian edition for Monday, November 19, 2007. Mr. Aldiss' writes: "The planet's dire state makes the imaginative leaps of dystopian science fiction writers redundant." His commentary follows:

If only we had called it "climate climax". Climate climax sounds like something worth worrying about when Ban Ki-moon and the U.N.'s latest report call for urgent action. Alas, global warming sounds all too soothing, especially for those living in Skegness.

We have been slow to take up the challenge presented by global warming. This country has its problems: turkeys looking forward to Christmas have been prematurely slaughtered. But there's a wonderful crop of apples, some still on the trees, nestling among the leaves in November. As a nation, the British have always had a problem with how to get agitated. It was one reason for inventing cricket. Imagine if a game of football lasted for five days.

Science fiction writers find difficulty in dealing with the global threat, never mind recycling. There has always been a journalistic flavor to science fiction. If an SF catastrophe happens, it happens right now, and L.A. goes promptly up in smoke. If aliens from Alpha Centauri invade us five centuries from today - well, that's philosophy, isn't it? They will come to teach us to behave or maybe to wipe us out entirely. To serve us right. We have been so self-indulgent, so foolish, we of the self-promoting homo sapiens species.

We have multiplied beyond our means, just as SF always said. No one took much notice. Except, that is, for Gaia. As James Lovelock has said, Gaia stands for Earth with its rocks, seas and atmosphere, together with all living things: Mother Earth. And mothers won't stand for too much abuse. Mothers can get nasty.

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Spanish King's Outburst At Chavez Generates $2 Million Worth Of Ring-tones
2007-11-19 02:45:57
When the Spanish king Juan Carlos turned to Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and said to him, a touch irritably, "Why don't you shut up?", little did he know that his breach of diplomatic protocol would become a smash hit across the country.

Were the king to claim image rights over his less-than-diplomatic outburst, he could find himself a nice little earner, as those five famous words have become a multi-million euro business, selling ringtones, mugs, T-shirts and websites.

According to David Bravo, a lawyer specializing in I.T. law and intellectual property, "the use of the sentence 'why don't you shut up?' in ringtones ... is a violation of his image rights".

An estimated 500,000 people have already downloaded the ringtone, generating around €1.5 million (£1 million or $2 million), but many companies have circumvented any potential problems over rights by using an actor's voice instead of the king's.

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Commentary - Is It Too Late To Fix Global Warming?
2007-11-19 01:24:04

  We ran yet another warming story today.  Very few people are disputing the legitimacy of global warming, finally.  Now, it's no longer a matter of if it even exists, but will we survive?

  I'm not a tree hugging, survivalist, who is planning on doing green things.  Recycling your junk mail and water bottles isn't going to do it.  A few people driving your "green" cars isn't go to save us.

  Please click "Read More" to read this full commentary.
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