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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday December 23 2007 - (813)

Sunday December 23 2007 edition
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How Queen Elizabeth Became Very Well Connected
2007-12-23 01:19:48
In a bid to appeal to the internet generation, Britain's royals launch their own YouTube channel.

The Queen has taken a bold stride into cyberspace by launching her own channel on the video-sharing website YouTube. The Royal Channel launches Sunday as Buckingham Palace seeks to promote Britain's monarch to a youthful global audience.

While aides were utterly convinced it was the way forward, the 81-year-old Queen - who only recently mastered emailing and had never used a personal computer until two years ago - was not immediately acquainted with the YouTube phenomenon. But after the concept was explained to her by, among others, her granddaughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie - both avid Facebook fans - she personally approved the channel's go-ahead after viewing its contents.

It is launched with rarely-seen silent newsreel footage of the 1923 wedding of the future George VI to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and historic, albeit grainy, footage from 1917 of Queen Alexandra visiting rose sellers in London's West End.

Three films made by the late Lord Wakehurst, a former governor of New South Wales and Northern Ireland, which have never before been publicly released, also feature, showing public reaction to the death of George VI, the Queen's accession and her coronation.

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Camel 'Plague' Puzzles Scientists
2007-12-23 01:19:20

An unprecedented number of camels across North Africa and the Middle East died last year, researchers have discovered. The several thousand deaths have baffled scientists who are probing toxins, antibiotic pollution, viruses and even climate change as possible causes.

In Saudi Arabia alone, between 2,000 and 5,000 perished inexplicably, it was revealed in the journal Science last week. The ships of the desert are being sunk in unusual, and worrying, numbers, the journal warned.

"The numbers of deaths we are seeing at present are unprecedented," said camel researcher Bernard Faye, who is based at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD). "A great many animals are dying and it is not at all obvious what is the cause. The problem is that there is a real lack of good epidemiological evidence, and until we can get that we will struggle to find the causes of these deaths and to find ways of stopping them."

There were several outbreaks of sudden deaths among camels - which are exploited for their milk and meat and as beasts of burden in North Africa and Asia - in many countries last year. However, the worst occurred in Saudi Arabia. At least 2,000 dromedaries perished in a region south of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Unofficial estimates put the death toll as closer to 5,000.

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FBI Prepares Biometric Database On Americans
2007-12-22 15:57:03
The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.

Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law.

"Bigger. Faster. Better. That's the bottom line," said Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which operates the database from its headquarters in the Appalachian foothills.

The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Critics say that such government initiatives should not proceed without proof that the technology really can pick a criminal out of a crowd.

The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government. For the past two years, the Defense Department has been storing in a database images of fingerprints, irises and faces of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Afghan detainees, Iraqi citizens and foreigners who need access to U.S. military bases. The Pentagon also collects DNA samples from some Iraqi detainees, which are stored separately.

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9/11 Panel Finds That CIA Withheld Tapes
2007-12-22 15:56:20
A review of classified documents by former members of the Sept. 11 commission shows that the panel made repeated and detailed requests to the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 and 2004 for documents and other information about the interrogation of operatives of al-Qaeda, and were told by a top CIA official that the agency had “produced or made available for review” everything that had been requested.

The review was conducted earlier this month after the disclosure that in November 2005, the CIA destroyed videotapes documenting the interrogations of two al-Qaeda operatives.

A seven-page memorandum prepared by Philip D. Zelikow, the panel’s former executive director, concluded that “further investigation is needed” to determine whether the CIA’s withholding of the tapes from the commission violated federal law.

In interviews this week, the two chairmen of the commission, Lee H. Hamilton and Thomas H. Kean, said their reading of the report had convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.

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Structural Flaws May Ground U.S. Air Force's Older F-15s
2007-12-22 15:54:52

Air Force inspectors have discovered major structural flaws in eight older-model F-15 fighters, sparking a new round of examinations that could ground all of the older jets into January or beyond, said senior Air Force and defense officials.

The Air Force's 442 F-15A through F-15D planes, the mainstay of the nation's air-to-air combat force for 30 years, have been grounded since November, shortly after one of the airplanes broke into large chunks and crashed in rural Missouri. Since then, Air Force officials have found cracks in the main support beams behind the cockpits of eight other F-15s, and they fear that similar problems could exist in others.

Current and former Air Force officials said that the grounding of the F-15s - on average 25 years old - is the longest that U.S. fighter jets have ever been kept out of the air. Even if the jets are cleared for flight, they add, it could take six months to get the pilots and aircraft back to their normal status.

The grounded fighter jets do not include 224 F-15Es, which have been inspected and cleared. The E models, used to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are about 10 years younger and have a more robust frame.

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Tony Blair Converts To Catholocism
2007-12-22 15:52:45
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism, the faith of his wife and children.

Blair converted during a Mass Friday night at the private London chapel of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the church.

"I'm very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church," said Murphy-O'Connor.

The church said Blair had been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months had been following a program leading to his reception into the church.

Although he was an Anglican, Blair attended Catholic Masses at Westminster Cathedral, while on holiday in Italy, and with his wife Cherie at the prime ministers residence at 10 Downing St.

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New Crisis To Hit Banks In 2008
2007-12-23 01:19:34
Banks may be forced to seek huge injections of fresh capital as the credit crunch shows no sign of abating, experts warned Saturday night.

Analysts are talking about the possibility of rights issues, which would involve banks asking shareholders to subscribe to new equity in order to provide cash to bolster balance sheets that have been crippled by the U.S. sub-prime debacle.

Rumors were circulating in New York and London on Friday that western banks face intense pain in the new year, with bad-debt provisions set to soar from $59 billion to more than $250 billion. "That would knock the banks' balance sheets for six," said one analyst.

Several brokers fear Merrill Lynch, in particular, could be hit further in 2008. Last week, it emerged that Merrill was seeking a $5 billion investment from Temasek, an arm of the Singaporean state. Citigroup has already secured cash from Abu Dhabi, the Gulf state.

Gerard Lyons, chief economist and head of global research at Standard Chartered, said: "Next year, we shall find out whether the crisis moves from being a liquidity squeeze to one about funding, with questions raised about whether banks are adequately capitalized."

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Commentary: Five Bright Ideas That Illuminated 2007
2007-12-23 01:19:01
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Will Hutton for The Observer. Mr. Hutton is a columnist for The Observer and chief executive of the Work Foundation, an independent, not for dividend research-based consultancy that is one of the most influential voices on work, workplace and employment issues in Britain. In his commentary he writes, "There's much to celebrate in the moves toward greater tolerance of others and understanding of ourselves and the world around us." His commentary follows:

It is a little embarrassing how late I saw the potential for environmental catastrophe. I recognized that sustainability would be helpful, and did my bit because it was a good cause, but it has only been over the last few years that I have begun to see it as a global imperative. Campaigners, scientists and intellectuals shifted my opinions and millions with me.

Ideas start deep below public consciousness. So what have been the ideas that have incubated in 2007? Here are my five ideas - not, I am the first to concede, the only five - that I believe will surely have an impact and, in the round, for the better.

Don't Trash Our Gods

If 2006 was the year of the rampant secularists, Richard Dawkins assailing religion as the source of much evil, 2007 has seen the case for faith begin to make a comeback. A life well lived for many is helped by a sense of higher moral purpose. Human beings still require a sense of the sacred.

The controversies over Islam should not blind us to the advantage of a belief in a God who rewards good and punishes bad. A master work by Professor Charles Taylor, "A Secular Age", argues that while faith today may be harder to achieve when so much is explicable by science, that does not mean that it is not worth the effort or that those who make the attempt should be mocked by the rationalist secularists.

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Global Warming Brings Tropical Virus To Italy
2007-12-22 15:56:42
Panic was spreading this August through the tidy village of Castiglione di Cervia's 2,000 residents as one person after another fell ill with weeks of high fever, exhaustion and excruciating bone pain, just as most of Italy was enjoying Ferragosto, its most important summer holiday.

“At one point, I simply couldn’t stand up to get out of the car,” said Antonio Ciano, 62, an elegant retiree in a pashmina scarf and trendy blue glasses. “I fell. I thought, O.K., my time is up. I’m going to die. It was really that dramatic.”

By midmonth, more than 100 people had come down with the same malady. Although the worst symptoms dissipated after a couple of weeks, no doctor could figure out what was wrong.

People blamed pollution in the river. They denounced the government but, most of all, they blamed recent immigrants from tropical Africa for bringing the pestilence to their sleepy settlement of pastel stucco homes.

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Barack Obama Crowds Among Largest In Iowa Caucus History
2007-12-22 15:55:51
Message, method paying off for Obama, who is drawing among the largest crowds in Iowa history.

Steve Hildebrand, the veteran political operative selected to plot a victory for Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa, drew a deep breath and began his pitch.

At the other end of the phone line was a 27-year-old schoolteacher from a town northeast of Des Moines. The man had attended at least four Obama events, and his wife was an Obama precinct captain, but he still was not ready to commit.

"Give me a sense of where your head is at," Hildebrand said calmly.

"Today, I've probably gone from Edwards to Obama to Richardson back to Edwards to Obama," the man responded. When Hildebrand hung up 22 minutes later, he had scribbled a list of position papers to send to the potential supporter to review, on topics including nuclear power, new coal technology and school testing.

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In 1950s, J. Edgar Hoover Wanted To Arrest 12,000 Citizens, Suspend Due Process
2007-12-22 15:54:01
A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The FBI would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

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