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Friday, December 14, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday December 14 2007 - (813)

Friday December 14 2007 edition
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U.S. House Passes Bill To Ban CIA From Waterboarding, Harsh Interrogation Techniques
2007-12-14 03:42:01

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday that would bar the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, drawing an immediate veto threat from the White House and setting up another political showdown over what constitutes torture.

The measure, approved by a largely party-line vote of 222 to 199, would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow Army rules adopted last year that explicitly forbid waterboarding. It also would require interrogators to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. The rules, required by Congress for all Defense Department personnel, also ban sexual humiliation, "mock" executions and the use of attack dogs, and prohibit the withholding of food and medical care.

The passage of the bill, which must still win Senate approval, fulfills a promise by House Democratic leaders to seek a ban on interrogation practices that have prompted the condemnation of human rights groups and many governments around the world. It comes amid a furor over the CIA's announcement a week ago that it destroyed in 2005 videotapes showing the use of harsh interrogation tactics on two terrorism suspects.

The White House vowed to veto the measure. Limiting the CIA to interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual "would prevent the United States from conducting lawful interrogations of senior al-Qaeda terrorists to obtain intelligence needed to protect Americans from attack," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

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Inspector General For Iraq Under Investigation
2007-12-14 03:41:28
FBI, Congress among those probing allegations of overspending, mismanagement.

Over the past four years, Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., and his staff have probed allegations of waste and fraud in the $22 billion U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Their work has led to arrests, indictments and millions of dollars in fines. It has earned Bowen, who had been a legal adviser to President Bush, many admirers among both parties on Capitol Hill for his efforts to identify overspending and mismanagement.

Yet Bowen's office has also been roiled by allegations of its own overspending and mismanagement. Current and former employees have complained about overtime policies that allowed 10 staff members to earn more than $250,000 each last year. They have questioned the oversight of a $3.5 million book project about Iraq's reconstruction modeled after the 9/11 Commission report. And they have alleged that Bowen and his deputy have improperly snooped into their staff's e-mail messages.

The employee allegations have prompted four government probes into the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), including an investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors into the agency's financial practices and claims of e-mail monitoring, according to law enforcement sources and SIGIR staff members. Federal prosecutors have presented evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a grand jury in Virginia, which has subpoenaed SIGIR for thousands of pages of financial documents, contracts, personnel records and correspondence, several sources familiar with the probe said.

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Britain Headed For Second Hottest Year On Record
2007-12-14 03:40:46

Britain is on course for its second warmest year since records began, according to climate scientists at the Met Office and University of East Anglia.

Preliminary temperature charts covering January to November show the year was 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term average temperature taken over the 30 years leading up to 2000. Only last year, when July temperatures peaked at a record 36.5 Celsius, was hotter with an average temperature of 1.15 C above the 30-year average.

Scientists at the Met Office's Hadley Center said global temperature charts put 2007 as the seventh warmest year on the planet, according to records that date back to 1850. The figures add to a trend of soaring temperatures, with 11 of the warmest years now recorded around the globe occurring in the past 13 years.

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California Accuses Blue Shield Of Illegal Policy Cancellations
2007-12-13 15:22:47
California's top insurance regulator has accused Blue Shield, one of the state's largest health plans, of 1,262 violations of claims-handling laws and regulations that resulted in more than 200 people losing their medical coverage.

Calling the allegations "serious violations that completely undermine the public's trust in our healthcare delivery system and are potentially devastating to patients," Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said he would announce today that he would seek a $12.6-million fine.

Blue Shield called the charges "grossly unfair" and vowed to vigorously contest them and the proposed fine.

In a statement issued to The Times on Wednesday, Duncan Ross, president of Blue Shield of California Life & Health Insurance Co., said "we are outraged by the excessive penalties for nonsubstantive issues," and called the actions "a radical departure from the [Department of Insurance's] widely accepted and long-standing interpretation of the law."

"The department's position penalizes practices that have previously been approved by the department and have been followed for years by all health insurers," said Ross.
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Russia, Iran Reach Nuclear Plant Deal
2007-12-13 15:22:12
Russia and Iran reached agreement Thursday on a schedule for finishing construction of a nuclear power plant that plays a central role in the international tensions over Iran's atomic program, Russian news agencies reported.

The reports cited the head of plant contractor Atomstroiexport, Sergei Shmatko, as saying details of the timetable for completing the facility in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr would be released later this month.

The United States and other critics have long protested construction of the $1 billion plant, saying it would give Iran cover for developing a nuclear weapons program.

Construction at the plant has been sporadically delayed amid disputes between Iran and Russia over payment, fuel delivery and other issues. But Russia has remained opposed to a U.S.-led push for international sanctions against Iran for allegedly seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

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As One Iraqi City Reels, Others Are Hit
2007-12-13 15:21:38
The death toll is lowered to 28 in Amarah. Blasts in Baghdad and the north claim more lives Thursday.

The wails of mourners reverberated Thursday across the southern Shiite Muslim city of Amarah, still reeling from three car bombs that ripped through its main market Wednesday.

The local health department lowered the death toll from 41 to 28, citing confusion in the immediate aftermath of the first major attack to hit the southern city during the U.S.-led Iraq war. At the same time, the estimate of the number of injured grew to at least 180.

Wednesday's blasts were a sharp reminder that insurgents remain a potent force in Iraq, despite the 60% decline in attacks reported since U.S. forces completed a buildup of 28,500 additional troops in June.
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Winter Storm Blows Into U.S. Northeast
2007-12-13 15:20:17

The Northeast United States braced for a major winter storm that began to arrive about midday on Thursday, bringing with it snow, sleet and rain, depending on location. Forecasters said as many as 10 inches of snow could fall in the Boston area while the accumulation in New York City was likely to be 2 to 4 inches.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the region that is to be in effect from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., saying that heavy snow was expected inland and a wintry mix for the coastal areas.

“A mixture of snow and sleet is expected to develop from southwest to northeast across New York City,” said the weather service. “A brief period of heavy snow and sleet will be possible at the onset before mixing with rain in the afternoon. The precipitation will end this evening as a light mixture of snow, sleet and possibly freezing drizzle.”

Although this storm is expected to end on Thursday, forecasters said a coastal storm was expected to hit the area late Saturday and it might “bring additional moderate to significant snow and sleet accumulations.” The snowfall was expected to continue through Sunday afternoon and “gusty winds could cause the blowing and drifting of snow as well,” said the weather service.

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Karl Rove, Joshua Bolten Found In Contempt Of Congress
2007-12-14 03:41:45
Senate committee cites top Bush advisers in probe of U.S. attorney firings.

A Senate panel found former presidential adviser Karl Rove and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten  in contempt of Congress Thursday for refusing to testify and to turn over documents in the investigation of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved contempt citations against Rove and Bolten on a 12 to 7 vote, rejecting the White House position that the work of two of President Bush's closest advisers is covered by executive privilege.

Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee cited Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers for contempt, but action by either chamber of Congress is still weeks or months away. Lawmakers and aides said neither house will take up the issue until late January at the earliest.

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Clinton Apologizes To Obama Over Aide's Drug Remark
2007-12-14 03:40:59
On a day when her campaign advisers had hoped the final debate before the Iowa caucuses would help Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reestablish herself as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton offered a formal apology to Sen. Barack Obamaand accepted the resignation of a prominent campaign organizer who had raised questions about her rival's use of drugs.

Bill Shaheen, Clinton's New Hampshire co-chair and the husband of former governor Jeanne Shaheen, said in a statement announcing his resignation that his remarks to the Washington Poston Wednesday were "in no way authorized" by the senator from New York or her campaign.

"I made a mistake," said Shaheen, adding that it was a "personal decision" to step aside as co-chairman of Clinton's New Hampshire operation.

Obama advisers were reluctant to let the issue drop, asserting that Shaheen, a close friend of the Clintons, had deliberately put the drug issue into play in the primary in an effort to stem Obama's rise in early-voting states. In his autobiography, the senator from Illinois acknowledged experimenting with marijuana and cocaine in his younger days.

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European Union Threatens To Boycott U.S.-Led Climate Talks
2007-12-13 15:23:04
Nobel laureate Al Gore accused the United States today of blocking progress at the United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, and European nations threatened to boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington compromises on emissions reductions.

The former U.S. vice president urged delegates to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, and told them that the next U.S. president will likely be more supportive of international caps on polluting gases.

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," said Gore, who flew to Bali from Oslo, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to the danger of climate change.

Asked for her response, Kristen Hellmer, a member of the American delegation in Bali, said "the U.S. is being open and working very constructively with the other countries that are here. We are rolling our sleeves up and really working to come up with a global post-2012 framework."
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Senate Republicans Block Energy Bill
2007-12-13 15:22:33

By a narrow margin, the U.S. Senate Friday failed again to block a Republican-led filibuster on an energy bill as GOP leaders made a stand against a $21.8 billion, 10-year tax package that would have extended incentives for wind and solar energy and reduced some tax breaks for oil companies.

The vote stalled a bill that includes tougher fuel and appliance efficiency standards and a requirement for a massive increase in biofuels.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said he would introduce another version of the energy bill, without the tax package, perhaps as soon as today. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)said the revised bill would get wide bipartisan support.

The bid to end debate failed even though Democratic presidential candidates - Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York), Barack Obama (Illinois, Christopher J. Dodd (Connecticut) and Joseph R. Biden, Jr., (Delaware) -returned from the campaign trail to lend their support to the energy bill. They were scheduled to rush back to Iowa in time for a debate this afternoon.

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Wild Salmon Under Threat Of Extinction
2007-12-13 15:21:54

Intensive farming of salmon for American dinner plates is threatening some wild salmon populations with imminent extinction, according to the most detailed study ever done of the contentious issue. The study comes as the federal government and aquaculture industry are pushing hard for a major expansion of fish farming in coastal areas.

The new research found a direct connection between the rapid growth of fish farming in the waters of the Broughton Archipelago off British Columbia and the abrupt decline in the region's wild pink salmon. What linked the two, the researchers found, was widespread infestations in the open-net salmon pens by sea lice - a parasite that older salmon can easily tolerate but that kills young wild salmon migrating through the same waters.

"These young salmon wouldn't be dying if it wasn't for the salmon farms and all those sea lice," said lead author Martin Krkosek, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Alberta. "The wild population is dropping so fast that there isn't much time left to act."

With Americans increasingly enamored of fresh salmon, and with the farmed variety making up almost three-quarters of all salmon served, the finding is an unwelcome guest at the feast. Salmon farms have been suspected in the decline of wild salmon for some time, but the study being published online today, in the journal Science, is seen by some as the strongest evidence so far of a significant connection.

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Dow Jones Shareholders Approve Murdoch's News Corp. Bid
2007-12-13 15:21:01
Shareholders of Dow Jones & Co. gave final approval Thursday to a $5 billion bid from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to acquire the financial publishing company, the final step needed before one of the world's most influential newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, changes hands.

The controlling shareholders of Dow Jones, the far-flung Bancroft family, had initially rebuffed Murdoch's approach this spring, but eventually enough of them agreed to accept his offer of $60 a share to ensure the bid would succeed.

Dow Jones held the shareholder vote in a hotel in the financial district of lower Manhattan, near its headquarters. The formal closing of the deal is expected to occur either later Thursday.

The Bancroft family was long seen as unified in opposition to selling, but Murdoch was able to win over enough family members to assure that his bid would be approved in a shareholder vote.

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