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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday December 6 2007 - (813)

Thursday December 6 2007 edition
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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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Poll: Clinton Has Slim Lead In New Hampshire
2007-12-05 20:18:43
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton holds only a single-digit lead over Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, a state her campaign has viewed as a potential firewall should she stumble in the Iowa caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. 

Clinton is widely seen as the party's best experienced and most electable presidential candidate, but with most Democratic voters in the state looking for a fresh approach to governing, the first-in-the-nation primary has become fiercely competitive.

With voters set to go to the polls Jan. 8, Clinton gets 35 percent in the new poll, with Obama close behind at 29 percent.

Former North Carolina senator John Edwards runs third with 17 percent; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson fourth at 10 percent. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden and Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd each registered at 3 percent or under.

With Iowa shaping up as a competitive three-way contest among Clinton, Obama and Edwards, Clinton now also faces a pitched battle in a state with a history of disappointing national front-runners. In the early fall, Clinton led Obama and the rest of the Democratic field by more than 20 points in a University of New Hampshire/CNN/WMUR poll.

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Parliament Committee Deals Blow To British Plan To Extend Detention Period
2007-12-05 20:18:20
The British government's case for extending the length of time that terror suspects can be held without charge was dealt a blow today as it emerged that a group of Parliament members has concluded there is "no evidence" to support increasing the detention limit.

The Home Affairs Select Committee, with a majority of Labor Party members, is to present a report on the government's counter-terrorism proposals later this month and met to discuss a draft version Tuesday.

"It's not going to be supportive of the suggestion of an extension of 28 days," a source close to the confidential report told Guardian Unlimited. "The general gist is that there is no evidence suggesting we can go beyond 28 days."

The government has insisted it is committed to achieving a consensus on extension but is believed to favor a 30-day increase to 58 days.

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Commentary: An Open Letter To The Home Depot
2007-12-05 14:21:31
This commentary is in response to this story.  It is publically addressed to Mr. Frank Blake, CEO of Home Depot, with Cc: to Tony Zarvou, director of National Services.

Dear Frank Blake,

We all understand how corporations operate. I don’t speak for any of my fellow contact center employees, except myself, but I do know that most associates understand the current market conditions and your goal to move certain operations back to the store.  Nobody blames you for trying to cut costs.

It is the way this lay off has been handled which is the reason you should be embarrassed.

(please click "Continue Reading Story" to read the full commentary)

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Bush Says Iran Must Explain Past Nuclear Work
2007-12-05 13:19:37
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed the American intelligence assessment concluding that his country was no longer developing nuclear weapons as a big victory today, but President Bush said Iran still had many questions to answer about its past nuclear work.

The new intelligence report, published Monday, concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, seeming to undercut the whole thrust of the Bush administration’s policy on Iran. On Tuesday, Bush warned that Iran was still a danger. In further tough-sounding remarks today, he said bluntly that Iran had to come clean on the work it had done on its nuclear program prior to 2003 or risk international isolation.

Emerging from Air Force One at Eppley Airfield near Omaha, Bush said it was clear from the intelligence assessment “that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.”

Bush said the Iranians had a “strategic choice” to make - to fully acknowledge past nuclear activities and suspend their uranium enrichment work, or to “continue on a path of isolation that is not in the best interests of the Iranian people.” He added, “The choice is up to the Iranian regime.”

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Supreme Court Justices Grill Detainee's Lawyer
2007-12-05 13:19:02
A lawyer for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay underwent a barrage of questions Wednesday from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, with the attorney portraying the case as a fundamental test of the U.S. system of justice.

The court plunged into the controversy over the military prison facility, where 305 prisoners are detained indefinitely in the Bush administration's war on terror.

Many of the prisoners "have been held ... for six years," attorney Seth Waxman told the justices.

Under the current system, "they have no prospect" of being able to challenge their detention in any meaningful way, said Waxman, arguing on the detainees' behalf.

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Canadian Passport Applicant Finds Massive Privacy Breach
2007-12-05 06:16:12

A security flaw in Passport Canada's website has allowed easy access to the personal information - including social insurance numbers, dates of birth and driver's licence numbers - of people applying for new passports.

The breach was discovered last week by an Ontario man completing his own passport application. He found he could easily view the applications of others by altering one character in the Internet address displayed by his Web browser.

"I was expecting the site to tell me that I couldn't do that," said Jamie Laning of Huntsville. "I'm just curious about these things so I tried it, and boom, there was somebody else's name and somebody else's data."

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150 Million To Face Flood Risk By 2070
2007-12-05 03:22:25
As many as 150 million people in the world's big coastal cities are likely to be at risk from flooding by the 2070s, more than three times as many as now, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Climate change, population growth and urban development will mean the number at risk will rise from the current 40 million while total property and infrastructure exposure is forecast to rise to $35 trillion - 9 percent of projected global GDP.

The report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, put together by disaster modeling firm Risk Management Solutions and leading scientists, is the first part of the largest ever study on urban coastal flood exposure.

The report analyzed the vulnerability now and in the future of 130 port cities to a major flood, on a scale likely to occur once in 100 years.

Miami, Florida, will remain the city with the highest value of property and infrastructure assets exposed to coastal flooding caused by storm surge and damage from high winds, according to the report.

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Israel Frees 429 Palestinian Prisoners
2007-12-05 03:21:45
The largest single release in nearly three years is a goodwill gesture in advance of upcoming peace talks.

Jubilant relatives greeted 429 Palestinian prisoners with firecrackers, blaring horns and tearful embraces Monday after Israel freed them in a peace gesture to moderate Palestinian leaders.

Although it was the largest number of prisoners released by Israel in a single batch in nearly three years, Palestinian officials said they were far from satisfied and would keep insisting on a broader amnesty during peace talks set to begin next week.

Israel's prison service says it now holds about 8,800 Palestinians accused or convicted of security-related offenses; Palestinian officials put the number at 11,500. Many of those freed had just a few months remaining in their sentences.

Among the short-timers was Basel abu Hmaid, who was jailed in 2003 for his role in the last Palestinian uprising. He had been scheduled to be released in May. At Israel's Ofer military camp, he and others were loaded onto four Palestinian buses and driven to freedom, followed by carloads of family members who had been waiting in the West Bank a few yards away.

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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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British Spy Station Played Role In U.S. Intelligence Report On Iran
2007-12-05 20:18:32
The U.S. intelligence U-turn on Iran was partly based on telephone conversations in Iran intercepted by the British intelligence listening station GCHQ, according to a source in Washington, D.C., speaking on a basis of anonymity.

In an updated assessment of Iran published on Monday, the U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the country had ceased work on a nuclear weapons program four years ago, in contrast with its assessment in 2005 that the country was pushing ahead with its weapons program.

President George Bush said Tuesday that the decision to change the assessment was based on "a great discovery". Diplomatic and official sources in the U.S. said this was mainly based on human intelligence, almost certainly a major defector, but that intercepts were also a factor.

According to the source, there was a lengthy time lag between the conversations being intercepted by GCHQ and the U.S. intelligence agencies checking out whether they were genuine or whether those involved knew they were being listened to and put out false information.

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Breaking News: Gunman Kills 8 People, Himself At Mall In Omaha
2007-12-05 19:44:30

A gunman killed eight people at a mall in Omaha this afternoon and then killed himself, setting off bedlam and panic among holiday shoppers, said police.

“The person who we believe to be the shooter has died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds,” Sgt. Teresa Negron of the Omaha Police Department said at a televised news briefing late this afternoon after the police had secured the area.

“We have been able to clear the mall,” she said. “We don’t believe we have any other shooters.”

The police said that at least five other people had been injured in the shootings.

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USDA Loses Millions On Loans
2007-12-05 13:20:05

Under a program to create jobs in rural America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guaranteed $1.6 million in loans to Aztec Environmental Inc., an asbestos-removal company in Panama City, Florida. 

Aztec did create jobs - for hundreds of workers from Guatemala. "Locals didn't want the work," said Debbie Livingston, one of the owners.

Three years later, in February, Aztec went out of business after a federal investigation into allegations of environmental abuses and the hiring of illegal immigrants. Now, the USDA could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars on the loan.

The Aztec case is one graphic example of the scores of troubled loans that the USDA has backed in a little-known part of the agency's vast system of farm subsidies. Since the 1970s, the loan program has endured nearly $1.5 billion in losses while backing almost $14 billion in guarantees to private banks, a Washington Post investigation found.

Actual losses are almost surely higher, according to a Post analysis of thousands of USDA loans and grants. USDA officials refuse to disclose losses on loans to individual companies, even after they go out of business, arguing that it "could substantially harm" the companies' competitive positions.

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Wall Street Firms Subpoenaed In Subprime Inquiry
2007-12-05 13:19:19
New York state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has subpoenaed major Wall Street firms including Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, seeking information about the business of packaging and selling subprime mortgages, according to people briefed on the subpoenas.

The subpoenas, sent out in late summer, are part of a wide review of the mortgage industry by Cuomo’s office into the mortgage business. The subpoenas were reported Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street has played a major role in the boom in lending to buyers with weak credit records. It has extended credit to mortgage originators to allow them to offer more mortgages, bought companies that originate and service mortgages, and perhaps most importantly, packaged the mortgages into securities to sell to investors.

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U.S. Rep. Waxman Asks Attorney General For Libby Papers
2007-12-05 13:18:46

U.S. House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-California) is asking new U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to release transcripts of interviews of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other senior officials from the now-completed CIA leak investigation.

Waxman, who has been investigating the nature of the revelation of former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson's identity in the summer of 2003, asked Mukasey in a letter released on Monday to intervene in his dispute with the White House,saying that Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has already turned over notes and transcripts of non-grand-jury interviews with CIA and State Department officials.

Waxman said Fitzgerald has been blocked by the White House from releasing the documents.
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Non-Profit Groups Become A Force In Primaries
2007-12-05 03:22:39
Use of donations is under scrutiny.

Nonprofit groups created to educate the public and lobby on issues have started inserting themselves into the presidential primaries, adding an unexpected wild card to wide-open elections in both parties.

The groups provide a new avenue for routing millions of dollars into an election cycle already awash with spending by traditional political organizations. The nonprofits are competing with the campaigns for voter attention, especially in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and their advertising, phone calls and mailings could help diffuse the candidates' own messages.

The nonprofits enjoy advantages over traditional political groups because there is no limit to who can give or the size of the donations, and no requirement to publicly disclose the contributors.

After months of quiet planning, the groups' activities are starting to surface in the primary states:

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Evidence Of Detainee's Innocence Rejected At Guantanamo
2007-12-05 03:22:12

Just months after U.S. Army troops whisked a German man from Pakistan to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002, his American captors concluded that he was not a terrorist.

"USA considers Murat Kurnaz's innocence to be proven," a German intelligence officer wrote that year in a memo to his colleagues. "He is to be released in approximately six to eight weeks."

Yet the 19-year-old student was not freed. Instead, over the next four years, two U.S. military tribunals that were responsible for determining whether Guantanamo Bay detainees were enemy fighters declared him a dangerous al-Qaedaally who should remain in prison.

The disparity between the tribunal's judgments and the intelligence community's consensus view that Kurnaz is innocent is detailed in newly released military and court documents that track his fate. His attorneys, who sued the Pentagon to gain access to the documents, say that they reflect policies that result in mistreatment of the hundreds of foreigners who have been locked up for years at the controversial prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court intends to weigh the legitimacy of the military tribunals at a hearing Wednesday morning. Lawyers for Kurnaz and other detainees plan to argue that the panels violate the U.S. Constitution and international law. They say that the proceedings have not provided Guantanamo Bay detainees with a fair and impartial hearing.

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Bulgaria To Build Nuclear Plant Near Active Fault
2007-12-05 03:21:32
Bulgaria is poised to build the first Russian-designed nuclear power plant in the European Union. However, the site was rejected in the 1980s because it was prone to earthquakes.

The proposed site, at Belene, is near an active fault, according to Gueorgui Kastchiev, the former head of Bulgaria's nuclear plant at Kozloduy - where four of the six Russian reactors have been deemed unsafe and shut down.

Last week, Kastchiev argued that the site was rejected in the 1980s by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Soviet experts. In 1977, an earthquake killed 120 people in a village 15 kilometers (7 miles) away. Also, Kastchiev says, the design is untested, and Bulgaria has a poor safety culture.

Bulgaria's National Electricity Company denies that the region is prone to serious earthquakes.
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