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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday December 2 2007 - (813)

Sunday December 2 2007 edition
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Business Lobby Pushes For Agenda Before Bush Leaves Office
2007-12-02 02:44:02
Business lobbyists, nervously anticipating Democratic gains in next year’s elections, are racing to secure final approval for a wide range of health, safety, labor and economic rules, in the belief that they can get better deals from the Bush administration than from its successor.

Hoping to lock in policies backed by a pro-business administration, poultry farmers are seeking an exemption for the smelly fumes produced by tons of chicken manure. Businesses are lobbying the Bush administration to roll back rules that let employees take time off for family needs and medical problems. And electric power companies are pushing the government to relax pollution-control requirements.

“There’s a growing sense, a growing probability, that the next administration could be Democratic,” said Craig L. Fuller, executive vice president of Apco Worldwide, a lobbying and public relations firm, who was a White House official in the Reagan administration. “Corporate executives, trade associations and lobbying firms have begun to recalibrate their strategies.”

The Federal Register typically grows fat with regulations churned out in the final weeks of any administration, but the push for such rules has become unusually intense because of the possibility that Democrats in 2009 may consolidate control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time in 14 years.

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Millions Of U.S. Tax Refunds Could Be Delayed
2007-12-02 02:43:07
Silena Davis had counted on an early tax refund to pay for getting her teeth fixed. Now, because Congress has dawdled all year on a tax bill, she and millions of other early filers could have to wait extra weeks for refunds that last year averaged $2,291.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is looking hard at delaying the start of its filing season, set to kick off on Jan. 14, if Congress fails to pass legislation in the next two weeks. At issue is how to handle what could be a dramatic increase in the number of people facing a higher alternative minimum tax.

If there is a delay and it extends into mid-February, it would slow nearly 38 million refunds worth a total of about $87 billion, the IRS Oversight Board predicts.

"It would definitely make a big difference with me," said Davis, a George Washington University Law School administrator. "I'm going to have to get a crown and it's going to be really expensive."

The board, an independent advisory group, said in a report to lawmakers last week that it is "gravely concerned about the serious risks" to the filing season if Congress does not make timely changes to the tax. They include more mistakes by both taxpayers and the IRS and more people failing to pay taxes because of uncertainty about what they owe.

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A U.S. Army Patient Is Prosecuted
2007-12-02 02:42:10
Reservist's mental illness just an "excuse" for actions for which she is charged, superiors say.

In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq. 

Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.

Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone - but Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post. 

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Young Woman Doctor Who Fell Afoul Of Iran's 'Love Police' Was Stangled While In Custody
2007-12-02 02:41:13
General Practitioner dies in custody after arrest for sitting with her fiance in park - Iranian police say it was suicide.

Nothing about Zahra Baniyaghoub's life suggested she would have wanted to end it. With a flourishing career as a doctor and a stable relationship with a man she loved, she seemed to have everything to live for. Yet when she died suddenly in the custody of Iran's morals and virtues police - an organization empowered by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to enforce Islamic behavioral standards - officials reported it as suicide.

Now Baniyaghoub's family are insisting her death was suspicious and have engaged the country's most famous human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, in an effort to prove she was murdered.

Baniyaghoub's ordeal started on the morning of October 12 while sitting with her fiance, Hamid Chitsaz, in a park in the western city of Hamedan. Officers arrested the couple because they were not legally related and not entitled to be alone together under Islamic law.

Such treatment must have been galling for such a highly qualified couple. Baniyaghoub, 27, a graduate of Tehran University's elite medical school, was a General Practitioner in a remote village in one of Iran's poorest regions and had ambitions to qualify as a heart specialist or urologist. Her fiance worked as a radio host with the state broadcaster IRIB. Nevertheless, they were sent before an Islamic judge who ordered their detention.

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Cholera Crisis Hits Baghdad
2007-12-02 02:39:54
Iraqi capital fears an epidemic if stricken sewage system collapses as the rainy season arrives.

Baghdad is facing a "catastrophe" with cases of cholera rising sharply in the past three weeks to more than 100, strengthening fears that poor sanitation and the imminent rainy season could create an epidemic.

The disease - spread by bacteria in contaminated water, which can result in rapid dehydration and death - threatens to blunt growing optimism in the Iraqi capital after a recent downturn in violence. Two boys in an orphanage have died and six other children were diagnosed with the disease, according to the Iraqi government. "We have a catastrophe in Baghdad," said an official.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said 101 cases had been recorded in the city, making up 79 per cent of all new cases in Iraq. It added that no single source for the upsurge had been identified, but the main Shia enclave of Sadr City was among the areas hardest hit.

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Bali Climate Conference: 'We Have Very Little Time To Act'
2007-12-01 15:37:28
With the Kyoto Protocol ending in 2012, negotiators are gathering in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday to begin coming up with a new, and hopefully better, climate change agreement. Europe's wish list is long and ambitious.

A world with 30 percent fewer species. Huge water shortages caused by disappearing glaciers affecting hundreds of millions of people. Tropical rain forests dying out as ground water disappears. An accelerating overall rise in world temperatures. All this and more could be the world's fate in just a few short decades.

That, at least, is the ominous tale told by the report released this spring by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This month, though, the IPCC said it had made a mistake. Our future is actually much bleaker. The original predictions had been based on current emissions of greenhouse gases. As it happens, such emissions are still climbing by 3 percent each year.

"Scientists are telling us we have a very small window of time in which to act," Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told Spiegel Online. "We have 10 or 15 years to turn global emissions from their current upward trend to an extreme downward trend."

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25% Of Bird Species In U.S. Are Being Pushed Toward Extinction
2007-12-01 15:36:53
Relentless sprawl, invasive species and global warming are threatening an increasing number of bird species in the United States, pushing a quarter of them - including dozens in New York and New Jersey - toward extinction, according to a new study by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy.

The study, called WatchList 2007, categorized 178 species in the United States as being threatened, an increase of about 10 percent from 2002, when Audubon’s last study was conducted. Of the 178 species on the list, about 45 spend at least part of the year in the New York region.

Among the most threatened is the rare Bicknell’s thrush, a native of the Catskill and Adirondack highlands whose winter habitat in the Caribbean is disappearing. Although less at risk, the wood thrush - whose distinctive song was once emblematic of the Northeast’s rugged woodlands - is on the list because a combination of acid rain and sprawl has damaged its habitat and caused its numbers to decline precipitously over the last four decades.

The Audubon list, which was released Wednesday, overlaps the federal government’s official endangered species list in some cases. But it also includes a number of bird species that are not recognized as endangered by the federal government but that biologists fear are in danger of becoming extinct.

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3 Dead As Snow And Ice Hit U.S. Midwest
2007-12-02 02:43:22
Snow and ice plastered a wide area of the Midwest on Saturday, interrupting campaigning by presidential hopefuls, disrupting airport and highway traffic and killing at least three people.

The National Weather Service posted winter storm and ice warnings across parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, the eastern Dakotas, Illinois and northern Michigan, although some warnings were lifted later in the day. In Minnesota, Duluth received nearly 8 inches of snow.

Much of Iowa was hit by snow, sleet and freezing rain. Temperatures warmed to above freezing by evening, helping to melt away much of the ice and sleet that had accumulated, said Ken Podrazik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at airports in Des Moines, Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Officials decided to close Des Moines International Airport for several hours after a United Airlines plane slid off a taxiway as it was heading to a runway for a flight to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, said airport spokesman Roy Criss. He said none of the 44 passengers was injured and the airport reopened by mid-afternoon.

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Bush Handed Blueprint To Seize Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal
2007-12-02 02:42:44
Architect of Iraq surge draws up takeover options; U.S. fears Pakistan army's Islamists might grab nuclear weapons.

The man who devised the Bush administration's Iraq troop surge has urged the U.S. to consider sending elite troops to Pakistan to seize its nuclear weapons if the country descends into chaos. In a series of scenarios drawn up for Pakistan, Frederick Kagan, a former West Point military historian, has called for the White House to consider various options for an unstable Pakistan.

These include: sending elite British or U.S. troops to secure nuclear weapons capable of being transported out of the country and take them to a secret storage depot in New Mexico or a "remote redoubt" inside Pakistan; sending U.S.  troops to Pakistan's northwestern border to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda; and a U.S. military occupation of the capital Islamabad, and the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan if asked for assistance by a fractured Pakistan military, so that the U.S. could shore up President Pervez Musharraf and General Ashfaq Kayani, who became army chief this week.

"These are scenarios and solutions. They are designed to test our preparedness. The United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss," Kagan, who is with the American Enterprise Institute, a thinktank with strong ideological ties to the Bush administration, told the Guardian newspaper. "We need to think now about our options in Pakistan,"
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Climate Change: Cold Comfort In The Arctic
2007-12-02 02:41:34
In September of this year, novelist Vikram Seth traveled to the depths of the north polar region to see for himself the harmful effects of global warming. He was part of an expedition by Cape Farewell, a charity that brings artists and scientists face to face with the effects of climate change before sending them back into the world to raise awareness of the problem. In the following article, Seth describes what is was like to plunge headlong into the life of an arctic sailor, keeping watch for "bergy bits" - and to share a boat with scientists whose gloomy findings foretell the demise of the world's ecosystem. Mr. Seth's article, which appeared in the Guardian weekly editon for Thursday, November 29, 2007, follows:

Though I dislike the cold, I find myself surprisingly often in cold places. This autumn I found myself sailing across the Greenland Sea wondering what on earth I was doing there.

About a year ago David Buckland, who founded and runs Cape Farewell, asked me if I would travel to Greenland with an assorted bunch of artists and scientists. Intrigued by the idea, I accepted. David, by profession an artist, had founded the organization some years ago when, troubled by the damage that we were doing to the earth, he realized that hardly anyone (at that time) gave a damn or intended to do anything about it. It was not that the scientific evidence was not clear but that the message was not getting out into the world at large.

David had the idea of getting writers, artists, photographers, choreographers, musicians and other expressive creators involved. If they could see at first hand what was happening, what was due to be lost - most manifestly in the Arctic regions - they would almost certainly help to get the word out. And if they fell in love with the frozen north, that would add urgency to their argument.

In late September this year 25 of us flew from London to Svalbard (or Spitzbergen), deep in the Arctic Circle, 78 degrees north. (As a precautionary measure, I had packed a hot water bottle.) We spent a few hours in the small capital of this archipelago, then got on board the Noorderlicht, a 120-foot Dutch schooner that dated back to 1910.

That night we anchored in a bay; the next morning we set out in groups from ship to shore in inflatable Zodiac boats, all layered up against the cold and wet. Ko, our guide, carried a gun to scare off polar bears, who are a serious danger to careless humans in an unfamiliar environment. We got out where a glacier ended at the head of the bay. It was a stark and beautiful landscape - white, brown, black, grey, blue. Ko mentioned that the glacier had retreated several kilometers since he had first visited it 20 years ago.
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Declining U.S. Dollar Is A Drag For Europe
2007-12-02 02:40:37
The greenback's plunge is boosting the U.S. Economy, but pushing Europe into the danger zone.

Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), has called it "brutal"; Airbus boss Tom Enders says it is "life-threatening"; and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has even warned that it could provoke "economic war". The relentless decline in the dollar may appear to be a loss of prestige for a White House pledged to uphold a "strong dollar policy"; but the real pain is being felt thousands of miles away, in Europe.

From rapper Jay-Z flourishing 500 euro notes in his latest video, to OPEC mutterings about pricing oil in euros instead of depreciating dollars, there are a growing number of anecdotal signs that the greenback is going out of fashion.

For a country long unchallenged as the world's sole economic superpower, this might appear to be an alarming vote of no confidence. Treasury secretary Hank Paulson was provoked into stressing last month that "the dollar has been the world's reserve currency since World War II and it's been that for a reason. We are the biggest economy in the world, we are as open as any economy to investment, to trade, and we've had stable economic policies."

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States Enforce Child Support, But Keep Most Of The Money
2007-12-01 15:37:40
The collection of child support from absent fathers is failing to help many of the poorest families, in part because the government uses fathers’ payments largely to recoup welfare costs rather than passing on the money to mothers and children.

Close to half the states pass along none of collected child support to families on welfare, while most others pay only $50 a month to a custodial parent, usually the mother, even though the father may be paying hundreds of dollars each month.

Critics say using child support to repay welfare costs harms children instead of helping them, contradicting the national goal of strengthening families, and is a flaw in the generally lauded national campaign to increase collections.

Karla Hart, a struggling mother of four here, held out her monthly statement from the county child-support office.

Paid by the father: $229.40.

Amount deducted to repay federal costs of welfare: $132.18.

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'Frightening' U.N. Climate Report May Be Too Optimistic
2007-12-01 15:37:12
United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has called the latest climate report "as frightening as a science-fiction movie". However, the International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) report may already be out of date and the true situation could be even more serious than previously thought.

It was the scientific culmination of a year during which the IPCC has held a steady series of press conferences. The international group of global warming experts presented its 2007 World Climate Report to the world in four stages.

The first three courses were served up in February, March and May: it was heavy fare that caused widespread stomach ache because the reports made absolutely clear how much of a danger climate change poses. Earlier this month, in the Spanish city of Valencia, came a fourth course in the form of the Synthesis Report, but anyone who thought the fourth course would round off the opulent menu with gusto was greatly disappointed.

If one reads the 23-page "Summary for Policymakers" line for line, then it is clear that this report is merely summarizing what has already appeared in the first three reports.

Quite a few climate researchers had been hoping that Part IV would go beyond that and comprehensively demonstrate what can be deduced from the knowledge about climate change (Part I), its consequences for the ecosystems and human society (Part II) and the possible measures to be taken against it (Part III). But above all the IPCC has failed to point out in the conclusion of its publication marathon that the 4th World Climate Report is likely to have been overtaken on many points. And that the problem is even more serious than the 3,000 page main report indicates.

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Democratic Party Strips Michigan Of Its Delegates
2007-12-01 15:36:27
Democratic leaders voted Saturday to strip Michigan of all its delegates to the national convention next year as punishment for scheduling an early presidential primary in violation of party rules.

In spite of the vote, some party leaders and officials said they believed the delegates would eventually be seated at the convention.

Michigan, with 156 delegates, has scheduled a Jan. 15 primary. Democratic Party rules prohibit states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from holding nominating contests before Feb. 5. Florida was hit with a similar penalty in August for scheduling a Jan. 29 primary.

Michigan officials anticipated the action by the Democratic National Committee's rules panel, but Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said before the vote that he didn't think the delegates would be lost for good. He expects the nominee will insist the state's delegates be seated at the convention.

Saturday's vote further diminishes the significance of Michigan's Democratic primary. All the major Democratic candidates have already agreed not to campaign in either Michigan or Florida because the states violated party rules. And in Michigan, most of the major candidates won't even be on the ballot.

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