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Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday December 10 2007 - (813)

Monday December 10 2007 edition
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The Top 100 Contractors In Iraq And Afghanistan
2007-12-09 21:13:40
Intellpuke: The following report was prepared by The Center For Public Integrity. The report, written by the center's executive director Bill Buzenberg and titled "The Windfalls of War II" follows:

KBR, Inc., the global engineering and construction giant, won more than $16 billion in U.S. government contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2006 - far more than any other company, according to a new analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. In fact, the total dollar value of contracts that went to KBR - which used to be known as Kellogg, Brown, and Root and until April 2007 was a subsidiary of Halliburton - was nearly nine times greater than those awarded to DynCorp International, a private security firm that is No. 2 on the Center's list of the top 100 recipients of Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction funds.

Another private security company, Blackwater USA, whose employees recently killed as many as 17 Iraqi civilians in what the Iraqi government alleges was an unprovoked attack, is 12th on the list of companies and joint ventures, with $485 million in contracts. (On November 14, the New York Times reported that FBI investigators have concluded that 14 of the 17 shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, and that Justice Department prosecutors are weighing whether to seek indictments.) First Kuwaiti General Trading &  Contracting, which immediately precedes Blackwater on the Top 100, came under fire in July after a pair of whistleblowers told a U.S. House committee that the company essentially "kidnapped" low-paid foreign laborers brought in to help build the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad. First Kuwaiti and the U.S. State Department denied the charges.

Other key findings from the Center's analysis:

-- Over the three years studied, more than $20 billion in contracts went to foreign companies whose identities - at least so far - are impossible to determine.

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Microbes May Threaten Lengthy Space Flights
2007-12-09 17:04:43

With NASA now actively planning for the day when astronauts will live for months on the moon or make the years-long flight to Mars and back, a potentially troublesome question is being raised with increasing urgency: Is the human body - even a well-protected human body - capable of living in space for long periods without suffering serious damage?

That question has focused for some time on concerns about exposures to cosmic and solar radiation, as well as the loss of bone strength and muscle tone in weightlessness; but researchers are also coming up against another more surprising physical risk for future long-haul space travelers - their immune systems appear to become less capable in space, leaving them more susceptible to stowaway bacteria and viruses.

At the same time, researchers studying the microbes that could infect astronauts recently found that at least one, salmonella, becomes significantly more virulent in weightlessness.

"The question of immunity is a potentially big problem for astronauts on long trips and those who may be living on the moon in the future," said Millie Hughes-Fulford, a former astronaut who is researching the effects of "microgravity" on immunity. Her NASA-supported research has led her to conclude that weightlessness itself is a major cause of the problem.

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Editorial: Show Us The Mortgage Relief
2007-12-09 17:03:40
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Sunday, December 9, 2007.

When he announced a new plan to try to stanch the foreclosure crisis, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr., said that the officials, lenders and investors involved had been working toward it since August. That start date is a useful benchmark for measuring the plan’s inadequacy.

Only an estimated 250,000 borrowers, at best, are likely to benefit from the plan’s main relief measure - a five-year freeze on certain adjustable loans’ introductory rates. Yet, from mid-2007 to now, some 800,000 homeowners have entered foreclosure. From 2008 through mid-2010, when the last of the potentially eligible loans would otherwise reset to sharply higher payments, there will be an estimated 3.5 million loan defaults.

The plan is too little, too late and too voluntary. Mr. Paulson and his boss, President Bush, have left it to the private sector - the mortgage industry - to protect the public interest, without any negative consequences if it does not. That is not the way the private sector works. And it is not how government is supposed to work at a time when Americans are facing mass foreclosures that threaten entire communities, financial markets and the wider economy.

Many mortgage servicers - lenders and private companies that collect mortgage payments on behalf of investors -  have been reluctant to modify at-risk loans, even though the alternative is to foreclose on thousands of homeowners. That is because they fear being sued by mortgage investors. For some investors, letting a troubled borrower default would actually be better business, for others not. It all depends on how their particular security is set to pay out.

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Justice Dept., CIA Announce 'Preliminary' Inquiry Into Destruction Of Interrogation Tapes
2007-12-09 01:57:32
The U.S. Justice Department and the CIA announced Saturday that they have started a preliminary inquiry into the CIA's 2005 destruction of videotapes that depicted harsh interrogation of two terrorist suspects.

The announcement follows congressional demands Friday for an investigation into the CIA's action despite warnings from the White Houseand congressional leaders to preserve the tapes.

CIA Director Michael V. Hayden disclosed the destruction of the tapes Thursday in a letter to his staff, telling them that the identities of the interrogators in the 2002 sessions needed to be protected. Some lawmakers have rejected that explanation.

In a letter sent Saturday, Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's national security division, wrote to CIA General Counsel John A. Rizzo to confirm the inquiry and asked the CIA to preserve evidence and documents.

Wainstein indicated in the letter that he will be working with the CIA inspector general's office to determine "whether a further investigation is warranted."

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Preserving Tropical Forests Is Key Issue At Global Warming Conference
2007-12-09 01:56:51

As 12,000 people gathered in Bali this week to begin framing a global response to Earth's warming climate, efforts to close a deal that would slow destruction of tropical forests appear to be the best prospect for a concrete achievement from the historic assemblage.

The deforestation issue is also Exhibit A for the disputes that have made climate negotiations lengthy and divisive despite widening agreement that global warming is real and largely man-made. While scientific dispute over what causes global warming has ended, the debate over how to address it has just begun.

Deforestation is one of the biggest drivers of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Each year, tropical forests covering an area at least equal to the size of New York state are destroyed; the carbon dioxide that those trees would have absorbed amounts to 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, about the same as total U.S. emissions.

The bargain is being championed by a dozen of the world's developing countries at the conference, whose ultimate goal is to map out a two-year path aimed at forging a global system for imposing and enforcing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

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Iran Aims 'To Foment Instability', Says U.S. Defense Secretary
2007-12-09 01:56:09
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates argued forcefully at a Persian Gulf security conference in Manama, Bahrain, Saturday that U.S. intelligence indicates Iran could restart its secret nuclear weapons program "at any time" and remains a major threat to the region.

Tough and at times sarcastic, Gates said the Iranian government also is supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, backing the radical Islamic movements Hezbollah and Hamas, and developing medium-range ballistic missiles.

"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents," Gates said in a speech to defense leaders from 23 countries attending the Manama Dialogue, a security conference organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Gates acknowledged that the recent release of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which determined that the country halted its secret nuclear weapons program in 2003, was awkward and frustrating for the Bush administration. He explained that the CIA director decides on the content and release, without influence from Congress or the executive branch.

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Oprah Stumps For Obama In Iowa
2007-12-09 01:55:34
Oprah Winfrey put her star power behind Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday, telling a rapt audience of thousands that she is joining the fight for the White House because she is "so tired" of the status quo in Washington, D.C.

"You know I've never done this before and it feels like I'm out of my pew," Winfrey told the crowd. "I'm nervous."

Without mentioning Obama's chief rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York), by name, Winfrey made a vigorous case against her. Winfrey said she is concerned that "if we continued to do the same things over and over and over again, I know that you get the same results."

The popular talk-show host's dramatic appearance at a packed arena overlooking the state Capitol - her first on behalf of a presidential candidate - helped underscore the high stakes in the nation's first caucuses, scheduled for Jan. 3. Running neck-and-neck in the polls here and unable to predict how voters will react to sharp clashes close to the holidays, Clinton and Obama (D-Illinois) are campaigning furiously, with an emphasis on female voters.

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World Global Warming Protests Get Underway
2007-12-09 01:54:43
Skiers, fire-eaters and an ice sculptor joined in worldwide demonstrations Saturday to draw attention to climate change and push their governments to take stronger action to fight global warming.

From costume parades in the Philippines to a bicyclists' protest in London, marches were held in more than 50 cities around the world to coincide with the two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference, which runs through Friday in Bali, Indonesia.

Hundreds of people rallied in the Philippine capital, Manila, wearing miniature windmills atop hats, or framing their faces in cardboard cutouts of the sun.

"We are trying to send a message that we are going to have to use renewable energy sometime, because the environment, we need to really preserve it," said high school student Samantha Gonzales. "We have to act now."

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Congress Members Briefed On Waterboarding In 2002
2007-12-09 17:04:57

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that a few years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill but, on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, said two U.S. officials.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

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Secret CIA Effort Lures Top Iranians To Defect
2007-12-09 17:04:08
The CIA launched a secret program in 2005 designed to degrade Iran's nuclear weapons program by persuading key officials to defect, an effort that has prompted a "handful" of significant departures, current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation say.

The previously undisclosed program, which CIA officials dubbed "the Brain Drain," is part of a major intelligence push against Iran ordered by the White House two years ago.

Intelligence gathered as part of that campaign provided much of the basis for a U.S. report released last week that concluded the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003. Officials declined to say how much of that intelligence could be attributed to the CIA program to recruit defectors.

Although the CIA effort on defections has been aimed in part at gaining information about Tehran's nuclear capabilities, its goal has been to undermine Iran's emerging capabilities by plucking key scientists, military officers and other personnel from its nuclear roster.
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Gunman Kills 2 At Denver Missionary Center
2007-12-09 17:02:40
A gunman opened fire in a training center dormitory for young Christian missionaries early Sunday after being told he couldn't spend the night, killing two of the center's staff members and wounding two others.

No arrests had been made by Sunday afternoon.

The shooting happened at about 12:30 a.m. at the Youth With a Mission center in the Denver suburb of Arvada, said police spokeswoman Susan Medina.

A man and a woman were killed and two men were wounded, said Medina. All four were staff members, said Paul Filidis, a Colorado Springs-based spokesman with Youth With a Mission.

The gunman came to the door of the dormitory seeking shelter, asking if he could spend the night, said Peter Warren, director of Youth With a Mission Denver.

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Oil-Rich Nations Using More Energy, Cutting Oil Exports
2007-12-09 01:57:10

The economies of many big oil-exporting countries are growing so fast that their need for energy within their borders is crimping how much they can sell abroad, adding new strains to the global oil market.

Experts say the sharp growth, if it continues, means several of the world’s most important suppliers may need to start importing oil within a decade to power all the new cars, houses and businesses they are buying and creating with their oil wealth.

Indonesia has already made this flip. By some projections, the same thing could happen within five years to Mexico, the No. 2 source of foreign oil for the United States, and soon after that to Iran, the world’s fourth-largest exporter. In some cases, the governments of these countries subsidize gasoline heavily for their citizens, selling it for as little as 7 cents a gallon, a practice that industry experts say fosters wasteful habits.

“It is a very serious threat that a lot of major exporters that we count on today for international oil supply are no longer going to be net exporters any more in 5 to 10 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an oil analyst at Rice University. 

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Kurds Become Pawns As Iraqis Vie For Kirkuk's Oil
2007-12-09 01:56:28
Even by the skewed standards of a country where millions are homeless or in exile, the squalor of the Kirkuk soccer stadium is a startling sight.

On the outskirts of a city adjoining some of Iraq’s most lucrative oil reserves, a rivulet of urine flows past the entrance to the barren playing field.

There are no spectators, only 2,200 Kurdish squatters who have converted the dugouts, stands and parking lot into a refugee city of cinder-block hovels covered in Kurdish political graffiti, some for President Jala Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

These homeless Kurds are here not for soccer but for politics. They are reluctant players in a future referendum to decide whether oil-rich Tamim Province in the north and its capital, Kirkuk, will become part of the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government or remain under administration by Baghdad.

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Clinton Proudly Talks Of Scars While Keeping Her Guard Up
2007-12-09 01:55:50
In July 2000, Hillary Clinton stood on a stage at the University of Arkansas and struggled to keep her composure. Her voice was unusually soft that day, her words seemingly unfiltered.

“Diane, you were the awesomest,” Mrs. Clinton said, referring to Diane Blair, a political science professor whose eulogy she was giving. “You were the best person that one could have as a friend.”

Mrs. Blair, who died at 61, was described as the sister Mrs. Clinton had always wanted. She practically moved into the White House in 1993 to ease Mrs. Clinton’s transition to Washington, and returned at the end, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She sent Mrs. Clinton recipes (though the first lady did not cook), bird-watching manuals (though she cared little for birds), vitamins ( with a note signed “Nurse Diane Fuzzy Wuzzy”) and cards.

“Whenever you have trouble coping, just think of Snow White,” one note said. “She had to live with seven men.”

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Huckabee Draws More Scrutiny
2007-12-09 01:55:20
Republican candidates criticized for comments on AIDS, foreign policy and his role in an Arkansas pardon.

Rising in the polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Mike Huckabee is coming under intense scrutiny from both his 2008 Republican rivals and critics of his tenure as governor of Arkansas, who have seized in recent days on comments he had made about AIDS, on his role in a controversial pardon and on his foreign policy credentials.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that, as a Senate candidate in 1992, Huckabee suggested quarantining people with AIDS, opposed additional federal funding for seeking a cure and said homosexuality was "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk."

Huckabee is also facing scathing criticism from the mother of a woman who was killed by a convicted rapist whose release from prison was advocated by Huckabee when he was governor of Arkansas.

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