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Friday, December 07, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday December 7 2007 - (813)

Friday December 7 2007 edition
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Fiji Prepares For Category 4 Cyclone
2007-12-07 03:28:54

Cyclone Daman was due to hit Fiji's northern Vanua Levu island Thursday night and on over Taveuni and the islands of the Lau Group.

In the last two hours Cyclone Daman has changed course away from the tourist heavy areas of western Viti Levu.

Neighboring Tonga has been put on alert.

"It has undergone some very erratic behavior and its path is changing all the time," Fiji Meteorology Service head Dr. Rajendra Prasad told Fairfax Media a short time ago.

It was heading for the Vanua Levu town of Labasa which on January 14, 2003, was devastated by Cyclone Ami, killing nine people.

Daman is a now a category four hurricane on a five point scale and is stronger than Ami.

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Future Combat: U.S. Army's $200 Billion Makeover
2007-12-07 00:57:33
Developers of new weapons systems think wars of the future will be wireless combat by mouse clicks.

A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly.

For soldiers in an experimental Army brigade at the sprawling Fort Bliss base, it's the first day of field training on a new weapon called the Non-Line of Sight Launch System, or NLOS-LS, a box of rockets that can automatically change direction in midair and hit a moving target about 24 miles away. The Army says it has never had a weapon like it. "It's not the Spartans with the swords anymore," said Emmett Schaill, the brigade commander, peering into the desert-scape.

In the Army's vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It's as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.

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Serbian Official Threatens To Go To War Over Kosovo
2007-12-07 00:56:20
Simic claims country has a right to defend its territory; European Union envoy says Serb government must retract its statement.

The European Union special envoy on Kosovo Thursday demanded the retraction of a threat by a senior Serbian official that his country could resort to war if the mostly ethnic Albanian province declares independence.

Aleksandar Simic, an advisor to Serbia's prime minister, was quoted in the Belgrade media as saying that Serbia had the legal right to use war as a means of defending its territory, if Kosovo, a United Nations protectorate for the past eight years, declares independence in the coming weeks as expected.

"Serbia has had negative experiences from certain armed clashes during the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, and this is why we are more prudent and cautious now, but, of course, state interests are defended by war as well," said Simic.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the European member of a troika of international negotiators who have spent the past four months trying in vain to find a negotiated settlement on Kosovo's future, reacted angrily to Simic's remarks.

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Senate Committee Approves Bill To Cut Greenhouse Gases
2007-12-06 13:48:31

Democrats turned back repeated efforts by Republican senators to soften the economic impact of a global warming bill before advancing it out of a Senate committee Wednesday.

It was the first bill calling for mandatory U.S. limits on greenhouse gases to be taken up in Congress since global warming emerged as an environmental issue more than two decades ago. The bill was approved 11 to 8 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Republican critics of the bill argued that limiting greenhouse gas emissions could become a hardship because of higher energy costs.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Virginia), whose co-sponsorship gave the bill legitimacy among many moderate republican  senators, called it "a chance to give America our opportunity ... to be counted on this very, very important issue."

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Ford Recalls 1.1 Million Vehicles
2007-12-06 13:48:09
Ford Motor Co. said Thursday it is recalling 1.17 million trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans to fix an engine sensor that could lead to engine stalling.

The recalled vehicles are all from the 1997-2003 model years with 7.3 liter diesel engines, including the Ford E-Series van, Excursion full-size sport utility vehicle, and F-450 Super Duty and F-550 Super Duty trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a posting on its Web site that the camshaft position sensor located on the engine could function intermittently and lead to an engine stall and potential crash.

The sensor is an electrical component that helps regulate the fuel going into the engine.

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Japan's Bloggers: Humble Giants Of The Web
2007-12-06 13:46:53
Compared to the English-speaking world, the Japanese have gone blog wild. They write Web logs at per capita rates that are off the global charts.

Although English speakers outnumber Japanese speakers by more than 5-1, slightly more blog postings are written in Japanese than in English, according to Technorati, the Internet search engine that monitors the blogosphere.

By some estimates, as much as 40 percent of Japanese blogging is done on mobile phones, often by commuters staring cross-eyed at tiny screens for hours as they ride the world's most extensive network of subways and commuter trains.

Blogging in Japan, though, is a far tamer beast than in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. Japan's conformist culture has embraced a technology that Americans often use for abrasive self-promotion and refashioned it as a soothingly nonconfrontational medium for getting along.

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Forest Loss In Sumatra Becomes A Global Issue
2007-12-06 01:44:49
Here on the island of Sumatra, about 1,200 miles from the global climate talks under way on Bali, are some of the world’s fastest-disappearing forests.

A look at this vast wasteland of charred stumps and dried-out peat makes the fight to save Indonesia’s forests seem nearly impossible.

“What can we possibly do to stop this?” said Pak Helman, 28, a villager here in Riau Province, surveying the scene from his leaking wooden longboat. “I feel lost. I feel abandoned.”

In recent years, dozens of pulp and paper companies have descended on Riau, which is roughly the size of Switzerland, snatching up generous government concessions to log and establish palm oil plantations. The results have caused villagers to feel panic.

Only five years ago, said Helman, he earned nearly $100 a week catching shrimp. Now, he said, logging has poisoned the rivers snaking through the heart of Riau, and he is lucky to find enough shrimp to earn $5 a month.

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Editorial: The President's Cynical Budget War
2007-12-06 01:43:31
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Thursday, December 6, 2007.

President Bush’s lame-duck attempt to repair the Republican Party’s threadbare fiscal reputation is an increasingly reckless game. In the latest exercise of irresponsibility for political gain, Mr. Bush reportedly wants to slash counterterrorism funding for front-line police and firefighters.

The administration’s own Homeland Security agency requested $3.2 billion for this first responder aid to high-risk cities and states in the 2009 budget - the one that Mr. Bush’s successor will inherit. The White House is considering cutting that request by more than half to $1.4 billion by eliminating grants for port and public transit security, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

While Mr. Bush wrestles with more responsible members of his own administration, his larger and more immediate game is to portray the narrow Democratic majority in Congress as feckless overspenders.

In October, he vetoed a sensible bill that would have provided health insurance for millions of uninsured children. In the name of faux fiscal discipline, he is threatening to veto budget measures that the nation needs for effective government.

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Update: 19-Year-Old Man Kills 8 And Himself At Omaha's Westroad's Mall
2007-12-06 01:41:42
A man dressed in camouflage and armed with a rifle opened fire among holiday shoppers in an Omaha department store Wednesday, killing eight people, wounding at least five others and sending hundreds into terrified panic.

The 19-year-old shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was found on the third floor of the Von Maur at Westroads Mall.

It was the deadliest shooting spree in Nebraska since Charles Starkweather's 1958 rampage.

Witnesses described the carefree sounds of holiday music suddenly punctuated by rapid gunfire shortly before 2 p.m.

They related horrific scenes: multiple people gunned down in the store's customer service department, others on a floor below shot as they were looking up an escalator toward the chaos.
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CIA Destoryed Tapes Of Harsh Interrogations, Including Waterboarding
2007-12-07 00:58:03
Disclosures come on the same day that House and Senate negotiators reach an agreement to prohibit use of waterboarding and similar CIA tactics.

The CIA made videotapes in 2002 of its officers administering harsh interrogation techniques to two al-Qaeda suspects but destroyed the tapes three years later, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Thursday.

Captured on tape were interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and a second high-level al-Qaeda member who was not identified, according to two intelligence officials. Zubaydah has been identified by U.S. officials familiar with the interrogations as one of three al-Qaeda suspects who were subjected to "waterboarding," a technique that simulates drowning, while in CIA custody.

The tapes were made to document any confessions the two men might make and to serve as an internal check on how the interrogations were conducted, said senior intelligence officials.

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News Analysis: On Mortgage Relief Who Gains The Most?
2007-12-07 00:57:01
At least one thing is clear about President Bush’s plan to help people trapped by the mortgage meltdown: it is an industry-led plan, not a government bailout.

Although Bush unveiled the plan at the White House on Thursday, its terms were set by the mortgage industry and Wall Street firms. The effort is voluntary and it leaves plenty of wiggle room for lenders. Moreover, it would affect only a small number of subprime borrowers.

The plan was the target of criticism from consumer advocates who said its scope was too narrow, and from investment firms, who said it went too far. Others warned that the plan, by letting some stretched homeowners off the hook, could encourage more reckless borrowing in the future.

“The approach announced today is not a silver bullet,” said Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., who hammered out the agreement. “We face a difficult problem for which there is no perfect solution.”

The heart of Bush’s plan is a cautious attempt to help troubled homeowners by persuading financiers to freeze mortgages at low introductory rates for five years, but without actually forcing the hands of lenders and investors who hold the mortgages.

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Vessel Leaks 15,000 Tons Of Crude Oil Off South Korea Coast
2007-12-07 00:56:00
A Hong Kong-registered oil tanker collided with another vessel in seas off South Korea's west coast Friday and leaked about 15,000 tons of crude oil, said an official with the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry.

It was believed to be South Korea's largest offshore oil leak, according to the official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity citing office policy.

The collision left three holes in the 146,000-ton tanker Hebbei Spirit. The leaked oil amounts to 110,000 barrels, the official said.

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Parcel Bomb Kills 1 In Paris Law Firm
2007-12-06 13:48:21
A parcel bomb exploded at a lawyer's office in central Paris on Thursday, killing a secretary and seriously injuring an attorney, officials said.

Officials said the motive for the attack remained unclear. Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said anti-terrorist agents were investigating. She said there were two homemade explosive devices in the package and that both blew up.

Alliot-Marie said the injured attorney's life was not in danger despite "very serious" wounds. Ten people were being treated for shock, said prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin.

An official close to the investigation said the bombing did not bear hallmarks of Islamic or Corsican terrorists, who often use bigger bombs and different methods. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, stressed that the investigation was in its early stages.

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Russia Says U.S. Disingenuous On Missile Defense Proposal
2007-12-06 13:47:53
The United States has backed away from proposals it made orally in October to allay Russian fears about the deployment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, alleged Wednesday.

Lavrov said an oral proposal to permanently station Russian officers at sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to ensure that the system's radar would not be used to peer into Russian airspace was withdrawn when the United States submitted its proposals to Moscow in writing last month.

"We received the document, and unfortunately a serious rollback from what we agreed upon was evident," Lavrov said at a news conference Wednesday in his first detailed comments on the U.S. written proposals. "The issue no longer concerns the permanent presence of Russian officers at possible facilities ... in the Czech Republic and Poland."

Responding to Lavrov's statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in an e-mail: "There is no change in our view that I'm aware of. What we gave to the Russian government was a serious proposal that was based on earlier discussions of this issue. We will continue to discuss this issue with Russian officials."

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U.S.: Military Notes Led To Shift On Iran
2007-12-06 01:45:12
American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran's nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday.

The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles.

The newly obtained notes contradicted public assertions by American intelligence officials that the nuclear weapons design effort was still active but, according to the intelligence and government officials, they give no hint of why Iran’s leadership decided to halt the covert effort.

Ultimately, the notes and deliberations were corroborated by other intelligence, the officials said, including intercepted conversations among Iranian officials, collected in recent months. It is not clear if those conversations involved the same officers and others whose deliberations were recounted in the notes, or if they included their superiors.

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Lenders Agree To Freeze Rates On Some Loans
2007-12-06 01:44:18
The Bush administration reached an agreement with the mortgage industry on Wednesday on a plan to freeze interest rates for up to five years for a portion of the two million homeowners who bought houses in the last few years with subprime loans.

The plan, hammered out after weeks of talks among Treasury Department officials, mortgage lenders and Wall Street firms, would allow distressed borrowers who are current on their payments to keep their low introductory rates and escape an increase of 30 percent or more in their monthly payments when the rates expire.

Democratic lawmakers and presidential contenders quickly criticized the plan as being too timid and promoted more ambitious proposals of their own.

The agreement, to be formally announced Thursday by President Bush, is expected to contain numerous limitations that would exclude many - if not most - subprime borrowers, according to industry executives who have seen it. It would exclude those who are delinquent on their payments - about 22 percent of all subprime borrowers, according to First American LoanPerformance, an industry research firm.

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Wary Of Risk, Bankers Sold Shaky Mortgage Debt
2007-12-06 01:42:53

As the subprime loan crisis deepens, Wall Street firms are increasingly coming under scrutiny for their role in selling risky mortgage-related securities to investors.

Many of the home loans tied to these investments quickly defaulted, resulting in billions of dollars of losses for investors. At the same time, many of the companies that sold these securities, concerned about a looming meltdown in the housing market, protected themselves from losses.

One big bank that saw the trouble coming, Goldman Sachs, began reducing its inventory of mortgages and mortgage securities late last year. Even so, Goldman went on to package and sell more than $6 billion of new securities backed by subprime mortgages during the first nine months of this year.

Of the loans backing the Goldman deals for which data is available, nearly 15 percent are already delinquent by more than 60 days, are in foreclosure or have resulted in the repossession of a home, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average default rate for subprime loans packaged in 2007 is 11 percent.

“There is a maxim that comes to mind: ‘If you work in the kitchen, you don’t eat the food’,” said Josh Rosner, a managing director of Graham Fisher, an independent consulting firm in New York.

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