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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday December 27 2007 - (813)

Thursday December 27 2007 edition
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Mortgage Ivestigations Face Large Legal Hurdles
2007-12-27 02:56:26
Tangled system of bank regulation and the task of proving that executives intended to break the law could pose significant challenges for investigators.

The nation's largest banks are losing billions of dollars from the mortgage debacle, but will pain from bad housing bets be compounded by government investigations?

As credit woes sparked by the troubled housing market threaten the broader economy, investigators are trying to determine whether Wall Street investment banks bundled risky loans with good ones without properly disclosing such risk to investors.

Law enforcement officials including those at the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York attorney general's office are scrutinizing whether banks and mortgage lenders helped fuel the crisis by misleading investors about dicey housing assets and then covered up losses when the markets turned sour. Government subpoenas are flying, investor lawsuits are mounting, and in the nastiest cases, businesses are pointing the finger of blame at one another.

The tangled system of bank regulation and the challenge of proving that executives intended to break the law when they unloaded bum assets could pose significant hurdles for investigators, current and former government officials say. Many of the assets that tumbled were explicitly marketed as involving borrowers with troubled credit histories, alerting investors that they were high-risk bets.

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Debate Ignites Over New Armored Vehicles In Iraq
2007-12-27 02:55:57
It was just what American soldiers had been longing for - a patrol vehicle designed to withstand the powerful roadside bomb blasts that have killed more service members than any other insurgent weapon in the Iraq war; but just as the Defense Department hits its year-end goal of delivering 1,500 heavily armored, V-hulled "mine resistant ambush protected" trucks to Iraq, the feeling in the Pentagon is far from elation. Instead, an intense debate has broken out over whether the vehicle that is saving lives also could undermine one of the most important lessons of the whole war: How to counter an insurgency.

While offering needed armor, the MRAPs lack the agility vital to urban warfare. "It's very heavy; it's relatively large; it's not maneuverable as you'd like it to be," Gen. William S. Wallace, the officer in charge of Army doctrine and training, said recently. "All of those things should be of concern."

With nearly 12,000 of the trucks on order in a program that has a projected cost of more than $17 billion, the MRAP -  the most expensive new Army weapons systems acquired since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - is likely to influence how the Army fights future wars.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said MRAPs are an important part of the military's response to the needs of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
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Poor Americans Infected With Worms
2007-12-27 02:55:03
Roundworms may infect close to a quarter of inner city black children, tapeworms are the leading cause of seizures among U.S. Hispanics and other parasitic diseases associated with poor countries are also affecting Americans, said a U.S. expert.

Recent studies show many of the poorest Americans living in the United States carry some of the same parasitic infections that affect the poor in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a tropical disease expert at George Washington University and editor-in-chief of the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Writing in the journal, Hotez said these parasitic infections had been ignored by most health experts in the United States.

"I feel strongly that this is such an important health issue and yet because it only affects the poor it has been ignored," Hotez said via e-mail.

He said the United States spent hundreds of millions of dollars to defend against bio-terrorism threats like anthrax or smallpox or avian flu, which were more a theoretical concern than a real threat at present.

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2 Arrested In Deaths Of 6 In Rural Washington
2007-12-27 02:54:13
Six people, likely three generations of a family, were found dead Wednesday at a rural property east of Seattle, Washington, and a law enforcement official said police arrested the property owners' daughter and her boyfriend.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the names, identified the pair as Michele Anderson, 29, and her boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe. Both were booked into the King County Jail late Wednesday for investigation of six counts of homicide.

A message left at a telephone listing for a Michele Anderson in the Carnation area was not immediately returned.

The victims included a boy about age 3, a girl about age 6, a man and woman in their 30s, and a man and woman in their 50s. Their names were not released, but they were "likely three generations" of one family, said King County sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart.

Autopsies have not been performed on the bodies, but the cause of death was apparently gunshots, Urquhart said. They were likely killed late afternoon or early evening on Christmas Eve, he said.

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Eight Years Hard Labor In Chad For Charity Group In Bogus Orphans Scam
2007-12-27 02:53:26
Six French charity workers were sentenced Wednesday to eight years' hard labor for trying to fly more than 100 children out of Chad to France by claiming they were Darfur war orphans.

The members of Zoe's Ark, a charity set up by a former firefighter, were found guilty of attempted child kidnap and fraud by a court in Chad capital, N'Djamena.

In October, the group, one of them a doctor and another a nurse, illegally attempted to fly out 103 children aged from one to 10 to live with European families who had each paid thousands of euros.

The operation had not been approved by any government. Its discovery created a scandal which threatened diplomatic relations between France and Chad, its former colony and complicated the work of bona fide aid workers in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.
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U.S. Home Prices Post Largest Monthly Drop In A Decade
2007-12-26 15:38:14
U.S. home prices fell in October for the 10th consecutive month, posting their largest monthly drop since early 1991, a widely watched index showed Wednesday.

The record 6.7 percent drop in the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index also marked the 23rd consecutive month prices either grew more slowly or declined.

"No matter how you look at these data, it is obvious that the current state of the single-family housing market remains grim," said Robert Shiller, who helped create the index, in a statement.

The previous record decline was 6.3 percent, recorded in April 1991. The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index tracks prices of existing single-family homes in 10 metropolitan areas compared to a year earlier. The index is considered a strong measure of home prices because it examines price changes of the same property over time, instead of calculating a median price of homes sold during the month.
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Editorial: The Work Remaining
2007-12-26 15:37:46
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, December 26, 2007.

It has been nearly a year since the United States attorneys scandal broke, and much has changed. Many people at the center of the scandal have fled Washington, and new laws and rules have been put in place making it harder to use prosecutors’ offices to win elections. Much, however, remains to be done, starting with a full investigation into the misconduct that may have occurred - something the American people have been denied.

The primary responsibility for giving the public the final answers about what happened, and assurances that it will not happen again, lies with Attorney General Michael Mukasey, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Over the course of the year, considerable evidence emerged that the Bush administration did what seemed unthinkable: it used federal prosecutors, who are supposed to be scrupulously nonpartisan, to help the Republican Party win elections. As many as nine United States attorneys were fired, apparently because they brought cases against powerful Republicans or refused to bring cases that would hurt Democrats.

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San Francisco Zoo Tiger Kills 1, Mauls 2
2007-12-26 15:37:17
The San Francisco Zoo was closed to visitors Wednesday as investigators returned to the scene to determine how a tiger escaped from its enclosure and attacked three visitors, killing one of the men and mauling two others.

Police said they did not expect to find any other victims, but wanted to conduct a thorough sweep of the grounds because it was unclear how long the tiger had been loose on Christmas Day before she was killed by officers.

"There's no better light than daylight," said police Sgt. Neville Gittens. "The idea was to come back and quadruple check to make sure nobody's out there. We just want to know."

The tiger, a female named Tatiana, was the same animal that ripped the flesh off a zookeeper's arm just before Christmas 2006. An investigation of that incident by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health faulted the zoo, which beefed up the pen where big cats are kept.

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12-Year-Old U.S. Girl Survives Panama Plane Crash
2007-12-26 15:36:42
A 12-year-old U.S. girl who was the sole survivor of a weekend plane crash was airlifted Wednesday to a Panamanian hospital after rescue workers trekked for several hours through remote mountains to deliver her to safety and reunite her with anxious relatives.

Francesca Lewis, wearing a neck brace and with one arm bandaged, met her family at a hospital in the town of David, capital of the province of Chiriqui, 30 miles east of the crash site.

"She apparently has some fractures, but she is stable and talking," said Dr. Manuel de la Cruz.

Francesca's mother, father, uncle and sister came down from the United States. The girl had been on vacation with a friend's family when the plane crashed Sunday.

Earlier Wednesday, Francesca's mother, Valerie Lewis, told the Associated Press her daughter could walk, but had apparently suffered a broken arm and hypothermia.
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Russia Will Supply New Anti-Aircraft Missiles To Iran
2007-12-27 02:56:09
Russia is to supply Iran with a new and lethal anti-aircraft system capable of shooting down American or Israeli fighter jets in the event of any strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Iran Wednesday confirmed that Russia had agreed to deliver the S-300 air defense system, a move that is likely to irk the Bush administration and gives further proof of Russia and Iran's deepening strategic partnership.

Iran's defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, told Iranian TV that the deal had been agreed under a previous "contract". He did not say when the system would be shipped to Iran.

Russian defense experts Wednesday acknowledged that the missile system, originally designed in the 1970s, would significantly enhance Iran's ability to shoot down enemy aircraft.
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Wars Cost U.S. $15 Billion A Month Says U.S. Sen. Stevens
2007-12-27 02:55:40

The latest estimate of the growing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worldwide battle against terrorism -  nearly $15 billion a month - came last week from one of the Senate's leading proponents of a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq.

"This cost of this war is approaching $15 billion a month, with the Army spending $4.2 billion of that every month," Sen. Ted Stevens(Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, said in a little-noticed floor speech Dec. 18. His remarks came in support of adding $70 billion to the omnibus fiscal 2008 spending legislation to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as well as counterterrorism activities, for the six months from Oct. 1, 2007, through March 31 of next year.

While most of the public focus has been on the political fight over troop levels, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported this month that the Bush administration's request for the 2008 fiscal year of $189.3 billion for Defense Department operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and worldwide counterterrorism activities was 20 percent higher than for fiscal 2007 and 60 percent higher than for fiscal 2006.

Pentagon spokesmen would not comment last week on Stevens's figure but said their latest estimate for monthly spending for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism was $11.7 billion as of Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2007.

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Commentary: Could You Vote For A Man Who Abides By Moronish Wisdom?
2007-12-27 02:54:30
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Timothy Garton Ash and appears in the Guardian edition for Thursday, December 27, 2007. Mr. Ash writes: "The recent contortions of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney show why faith should not trump reason in the public square." His commentary follows:

In this season of goodwill, I have been trying to think of a kinder adjective to describe "of or pertaining to the revelation of the angel Moroni". Moronish? Moronical? The angel Moroni allegedly appeared in the 1820s to a young American treasure hunter called Joseph Smith, and led him to some golden plates buried on a hillside near his home in western New York. Allegedly written in an otherwise unknown language called Reformed Egyptian, and deciphered with the aid of two stones called Urim and Thummim, these texts became the Book of Mormon, regarded by Mormons as divine revelation alongside the Bible. "Mormon", Smith explained in a letter to a newspaper, derives from the Reformed Egyptian word mon, meaning good, "hence with the addition of more, or the contraction mor, we have the word Mormon; which means, literally, more good".

In this holy book, North America was described as "a land which is choice above all other lands" (II Nephi 1:5), and 19th-century Americans were assured, in a kind of retrospective prophecy, that "it shall be a land of liberty" (II Nephi 1:7). What is more, if the Native Americans converted to the true faith, they would have the chance to become again "a white and a delightsome people" (II Nephi 30:6). (The official online version has corrected this to "a pure and a delightsome people".) Adherents of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can, by their own strenuous efforts and good works, themselves aspire to become gods. Failing that, they can aspire to become the next best thing - president of the United States.

The only reason we are recalling this Moronish wisdom is, of course, that one leading Republican contender for the presidency, Mitt Romney, professes to be a devout Mormon, and his religion has become an election issue. According to a profile in the New York Times, Romney's father, George, was born in Mexico "in a colony of Mormons who had fled a crackdown on polygamy ... As a Mormon missionary, he was assigned to proselytize in London from a soapbox in Hyde Park, where he developed a gift for salesmanship that became the hallmark of his career". Mitt Romney did his own Mormon missionary work in France. Romney's Mormonism is a problem for many evangelical Christians from the religious right, who would otherwise be his natural constituency. Instead, they might prefer the Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee, who merely takes the book of Genesis literally.

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Afghanistan Expels U.N., E.U. Diplomats
2007-12-27 02:53:55
United Nations officials were working Wednesday night to prevent the expulsion from Afghanistan of two senior western diplomats who have been accused of holding illegal talks with Taliban leaders in the British theatre of operations in the southern province of Helmand.

The intervention on behalf of a Briton working for the U.N. and an Irishman working as the European Union's acting mission - both due to be deported Thursday - comes amid renewed questioning of military tactics in the region.

Both organizations insisted Wednesday that the row was the result of a "misunderstanding", but there was pressure on the UK government from opposition parties to answer separate claims that talks had been held with Taliban leaders on a number of occasions in the summer.

President Hamid Karzai and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have publicly insisted that there can be no negotiations with the Taliban, while at the same time offering reconciliation to fighters who turn away from the Islamist militants.

The diplomats were ordered to leave by the Afghan president's office, which said they had engaged in activities "that were not their jobs". One western official told the Guardian that the initial complaint had come from the governor of Helmand province, Asadullah Wafa.

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Venezuela's Chavez Says Columbian Hostages Could Be Freed Thursday
2007-12-27 02:53:02
Venezuela had planes and helicopters ready on standby Wednesday night to pick up three hostages from inside Colombia as president Hugo Chavez expressed hope they would be freed by rebels by the end of Thursday.

"The only thing we need is the authorization of the Colombian government," Chavez said at a news conference in the presidential palace. "We are ready to activate the humanitarian operation."

He said the hostages could be freed by the end of Thursday once the Colombians give approval for Venezuelan aircraft to cross the border.

The hostages are former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara Rojas, an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and Rojas' young son, Emmanuel, reportedly born of a relationship with a guerrilla fighter.
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Stocks Slip Following Weak Holiday Sales
2007-12-26 15:38:02
Stocks pulled back moderately Wednesday as investors returned from the Christmas holiday to news of weaker-than-expected retail sales. A jump in oil prices also raised concerns among investors.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said its index of retail chain store sales rose 2.8 percent last week, rounding out a sluggish December performance that puts retailers on track for a smaller sales gain than the trade group originally expected. Still, there is some hope sales will rebound as shoppers start spending with holiday gift cards.

Other reports released alongside Christmas proved disappointing. Target Corp. indicated its sales may have fallen in December, while MasterCard Inc. said holiday spending - including credit, cash and checks - climbed a modest 3.6 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas, weighed by a slowdown in sales of women's apparel. That compares with a rise of 6.6 percent over the same period last year.

The news could raise concerns about the strength of consumer spending and, in turn, the economy. However, it has been widely expected that holiday sales would be slower than in years past.

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U.S. Manufacturers Seek More Sales Overseas
2007-12-26 15:37:34
Once blamed for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, global business is shaping up as a bulwark against what some fear is a looming recession.

Challenged by a troubled U.S. economy and the steeply falling dollar, a growing number of U.S. manufacturers are making up for slowing domestic sales by expanding them overseas, often with sophisticated products.

Once fingered as a prime culprit in the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, global business is shaping up as a bulwark against what some analysts fear is a looming recession. Some forecasters predict that the export boom will allow the United States to cut its huge trade deficit.

An expanding foreign appetite for capital goods such as tractors, medical equipment and electrical machinery is driving much of the boom. Much of that growth is in China, the fourth-largest export market for U.S. goods, where U.S. sales are growing 17 percent this year, according to federal officials. In the first nine months of this year, sales of U.S. aircraft to China are up 30 percent and plastics are up 37 percent.

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Turkish Jets Strike Kurdish Rebel Bases In Iraq
2007-12-26 15:37:02
Turkey pressed an intensifying offensive against Kurdish guerrillas in neighboring Iraq on Wednesday, sending warplanes across the border to bomb suspected winter hideouts of the rebels, said the Turkish military.

The warplanes hit eight caves or other hideouts in the Zap valley, in northern Iraq, Turkey's military general staff said in a statement on its Web site. Turkish armed forces had been watching the sites for some time and believed that rebels had been preparing the hideouts as winter bases, the statement said.

Turkey's military called the bombing "a pinpoint operation."

It gave no casualty estimates, but Kurdish officials in the area said later that no one was killed.

The strike was the latest in a series of attacks Turkey has launched in northern Iraq since forging an agreement with the United States to share intelligence on the activity of the rebels, whom both the Turkish and U.S. governments have accused of terrorist activity.

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78 Feared Dead In Indonesian Landslides
2007-12-26 15:36:26
Rescuers dug through mountains of mud Wednesday in search of survivors from landslides in western Indonesia, some using their bare hands because blocked roads delayed the arrival of heavy-lifting equipment.

At least 78 people were feared dead - most of them killed in a single landslide in the Karanganyar district that buried a late-night dinner party, said a rescue official. The victims had just cleaned up a mud-covered home.

"They were having dinner together when they were hit by another landslide," said search and rescue chief Eko Prayitno.  "At least 61 people were buried."

In nearby Wonogiri district, 17 people were feared dead when landslides hit their homes following a half-day of nonstop rain.

Hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers struggled to get heavy-lifting equipment to villages on the main island of Java, but roads blocked by the mud and flooding were hampering the rescue efforts, said Prayitno.
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