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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday November 21 2007 - (813)

Wednesday November 21 2007 edition
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U.S. Justice Dept.: Apellate Court Ruling Will Cripple Corruption Probes Of Lawmakers
2007-11-21 02:18:50

A little-noticed aspect of an appellate court decision could sharply limit investigations of members of Congress and hamper ongoing corruption probes, the Justice Department said this week in a motion seeking an emergency stay of the ruling.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was handed down in August in the case of U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-Louisiana), but its effects complicate other investigations, including those stemming from the Jack Abramhoff lobbying scandal.

Justice Department lawyers said in their motion that the appellate ruling represents an "unprecedented expansion" of the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution, which was intended to protect legislators from intimidation under civil or criminal law. They said the decision calls into question the legality of investigative tools such as wiretapping, searches of home offices and voluntary interviews of congressional staffers.

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Ouch! Oil Prices Hit New High Of $99 A Barrel In Asia Trading
2007-11-21 02:18:01
Crude oil prices rose to a record above $99 a barrel in Asian trading Wednesday, lifted by worries about inadequate supplies as the Northern Hemisphere enters winter and on news of refinery problems.

The declining U.S. dollar and speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve will again cut interest rates also boosted prices. Some investors put their money into oil contracts, betting that gains in their price will offset dollar weakness.

''The market is now really looking at $100 a barrel as the next target to hit,'' said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore. ''The fact that we are having this surge in pricing in this short trading week underscores the strength of this bull run for oil.''

Light, sweet crude for January delivery rose as high as $99.29 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange,breaking the previous intraday record of $98.62 set last week. Midday in Singapore, oil was trading at $99.04 a barrel.

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Pentagon Plays Budget Brinksmanship With Congress
2007-11-21 02:17:23

The Defense Department warned Tuesday that as many as 200,000 contractors and civilian employees will begin receiving layoff warnings by Christmas unless Congress acts on President Bush's $196 billion war request, but senior Democrats said no war funds will be approved until Bush accepts a shift in his Iraq policy.

Skirmishing over war funding has continued for nearly a year, but the White House and Congress appear ready to push toward a showdown in the coming weeks. Democratic leaders are convinced that Congress's abysmal approval ratings stem in large part from its inability to force Bush to change his approach in Iraq. But with violence declining in Iraq, Republicans believe they are in an even stronger position to stay the course.

White House and Pentagon officials stress that further delays are already slowing the development of countermeasures for roadside bombs and raising the imminent prospect of idle military maintenance depots, canceled training exercises and shuttered facilities at military bases.

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390 Million Year Old Sea Scorpion Was 8-Feet Long
2007-11-21 02:16:43
Claws were a foot-and-a-half long.

It is enough to give people with arachnophobia a large dose of the heebie-jeebies. Scientists have discovered the fossilized claw of a sea scorpion that suggests the giant scorpions, spiders and crabs that once crawled around the world were even bigger than previously thought.

Found in a German quarry, the claw is 46 centimeters (18 inches) long, suggesting the sea scorpion was 2.5 meters (8 feet) long - almost two feet longer that previously thought. Because land-based scorpions and spiders are believed to have descended from the sea scorpion, scientist believe the discovery means that they also may have been even bigger than had been believed.

Dr. Simon Braddy from the department of earth sciences at the University of Bristol, co-author of an article about the find, said: "This is an amazing discovery. We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo dragonflies, but we never realized, until now, just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawlies were. I think the claws on this creature would have been powerful enough to rip someone to shreds."

Fortunately for mankind, humans were not on the scene until millions of years later.

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Freddie Mac Posts $2 Billion Loss
2007-11-20 14:17:19
Freddie Mac said Tuesday it lost $2 billion in the third quarter, further evidence that declining housing and mortgage markets are taking their toll on companies that were once thought to be bastions of stability. Freddie Mac officials said they expect losses from mortgages to reach $10 billion or more and last through 2009 before any upturn.

"This is a very, very difficult climate," Freddie Mac Chairman Richard F. Syron said on a conference call with analysts this morning. "This is not happy news. We will work through this."

To bolster its financial reserves to meet regulatory requirements, Freddie Mac said it is seriously considering cutting its dividend in half. The McLean, Virginia-based company also retained Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs to help it raise money that will tide it over until the housing market improves.

Should the company not be able to raise the money it needs, it may have to rein in the size of its portfolio, which could put further pressure on the credit markets.

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Oil Prices Pass $97 A Barrel Mark - Again
2007-11-20 14:16:12

Oil prices rose sharply Tuesday, once again approaching $100 a barrel as futures drew strength from a declining dollar and news of refinery problems. Gasoline prices, meanwhile, extended their decline at the pump.

Oil futures, which offer a hedge against a weak dollar, picked up momentum as the greenback fell to a new low against the euro. Light, sweet crude for January delivery rose $2.68 to $97.32 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. 

Gasoline fell 0.5 cent overnight, retreating further from their most recent spike above $3. At a national average of $3.09 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service, gasoline prices have fallen 2.2 cents in a little less than a week. Last week, many analysts predicted prices would instead rise another 10 to 15 cents a gallon to catch up with surging oil prices.

Prices will “probably hold steady through the end of the year,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service. “But that doesn’t mean you’re going to see relief in terms of lower prices.”

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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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Bush Says Musharraf 'Truly Is Somebody Who Believes In Democracy'
2007-11-21 02:18:35
President Bush Tuesday offered his strongest support of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying the general "hasn't crossed the line" and "truly is somebody who believes in democracy."

Bush spoke nearly three weeks after Musharraf declared emergency rule, sacked members of the Supreme Court and began a roundup of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Musharraf's government Tuesday released about 3,000 political prisoners, although 2,000 remain in custody, according to the Interior Ministry.

The comments, delivered in an interview with ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, contrasted with previous administration statements - including by Bush himself - expressing grave concern over Musharraf's actions. In his first public comments on the crisis two weeks ago, Bush said his aides bluntly warned Musharraf that his emergency measures "would undermine democracy."

The shift yesterday appeared part of a broader strategy to ease the crisis in Pakistan. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte carried a terse message to Musharraf during talks last weekend, urging the general to step down as chief of the army. Now, after this strong personal show of support from the president, the Bush administration expects the general to shed his military uniform before the end of the month, said an administration official.

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Suppose They Held A Peace Conference And Nobody Came?
2007-11-21 02:17:42
The Bush administration finally acknowledged publicly on Tuesday that it had issued formal invitations to 40 countries and organizations that it hopes will attend a heavily anticipated Middle East peace conference scheduled for next week in Annapolis, Maryland; but the long, drawn-out route that State Department officials followed before making the acknowledgment reflected the high-stakes gamble that the administration is taking, as well as the unsettled nature of the outcome.

Even late Tuesday afternoon, administration officials were still in negotiations with their Arab counterparts over whether Saudi Arabia and Syria would send their foreign ministers to the conference, or make do with lower-level envoys.

President Bush telephoned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to enlist his support for the conference, and in particular to try to get an agreement from him that the Saud family would be represented at the conference by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, said administration officials.

The presence of Prince Saud is seen as critical to assure a certain level of Arab commitment to the peace process, but the Saudi royal family has been unwilling to give the Annapolis conference a high-level endorsement without assurances that the negotiations will be substantive, with real concessions from Israel, including a freeze on settlements that would lead to Israeli withdrawal from land that it seized in 1967.

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Huckabee Moves Toward Head Of Republican Pack In Iowa
2007-11-21 02:17:07

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, buoyed by strong support from Christian conservatives, has surged past three of his better-known presidential rivals and is now challenging former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the lead in the Iowa Republican caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. 

Huckabee has tripled his support in Iowa since late July, eclipsing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani,  former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tennessee) and Sen. John McCain (Arizona). Huckabee now runs nearly evenly with Romney, the longtime Iowa front-runner.

Huckabee's rise from dark horse to contender in Iowa is one more unexpected twist in a race that has remained fluid throughout the year and adds another unpredictable element to the competition for the GOP nomination. His support in Iowa appears stronger and more enthusiastic than that of his rivals.

Still, there are other signs in the poll suggesting that Romney remains the candidate to beat in the state and that gains for Huckabee may be harder to achieve in the next 43 days than they were over the past four months.

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Researchers Report Stem Cell Breakthrough
2007-11-20 14:17:33

Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women's eggs - the two hitherto essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a long political and ethical debate.

The unencumbered ability to turn adult cells into embryonic ones capable of morphing into virtually every kind of cell or tissue, described in two scientific journal articles released Tuesday, has been the ultimate goal of researchers for years. In theory, it would allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for their bodies from a few of their own skin cells, while giving researchers a uniquely powerful means of understanding and treating diseases.

Until now, only human egg cells and embryos, both difficult to obtain and laden with legal and ethical issues, had the mysterious power to turn ordinary cells into stem cells. And until this summer, the challenge of mimicking that process in the lab seemed almost insurmountable, leading many to wonder if stem cell research would ever wrest free of its political baggage.

As news of the success by two research teams spread by e-mail, scientists seemed almost giddy at the likelihood that their field, which for its entire life has been at the center of so much debate, may suddenly become like other areas of biomedical science: appreciated, eligible for federal funding and wide open for new waves of discovery.

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U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Washington, D.C., Gun-Ban Case
2007-11-20 14:17:04

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will decide whether the District of Columbia's ban on handguns violates the Constitution, a choice that will put the justices at the center of the controversy over the meaning of the Second Amendment for the first time in nearly 70 years.

The court's decision could have broad implications for gun-control measures locally and across the country, and will raise a hotly contested political issue just in time for the 2008 elections.

The court will hear the case after the first of the year. A decision likely would come before it adjourns at the end of June.

For years, legal scholars, historians and grammarians have debated the meaning of the amendment because of its enigmatic wording and odd punctuation:

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Pakistan Frees Jailed Opposition Supporters
2007-11-20 14:15:53
More than 3,000 people jailed under Pakistan's emergency rule have been released, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday, the latest sign that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was rolling back some of the harsher measures taken against his opponents.

Musharraf, who left for a visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, has been under immense pressure from Washington to free opposition leaders, end media restrictions and step down as head of the armed forces.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema put the exact figure of those freed in recent days at 3,416 - including lawyers and political activists - and said more than 2,000 people remained jailed.

"The process has started. More are being released today," said Cheema, adding that those still in detention "would be freed soon" though he said the cases of some facing criminal charges could take longer.

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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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