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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday December 19 2007 - (813)

Wednesday December 19 2007 edition
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At Least 4 White House Lawyers Met With CIA On Interrogation Tapes
2007-12-19 03:22:54
At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from al-Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged.

Those who took part, the officials said, included Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Gonzales as White House counsel.

It was previously reported that some administration officials had advised against destroying the tapes, but the emerging picture of White House involvement is more complex. In interviews, several administration and intelligence officials provided conflicting accounts as to whether anyone at the White House expressed support for the idea that the tapes should be destroyed.

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Editorial: A Crisis Long Foretold
2007-12-19 03:22:11
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Wednesday, December 19, 2007.

A truism of crisis management is that most seemingly out-of-the-blue disasters could have been prevented if someone had paid attention.

An article in The [New York] Times on Tuesday by Edmund L. Andrews leaves no doubt that the twin crises of the subprime lending mess - mass foreclosures at one end of the economic scale and a credit squeeze afflicting the financial system - are rooted in the willful failure of federal regulators to heed numerous warnings.

The Federal Reserve is especially blameworthy. Starting as early as 2000, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan brushed aside warnings from another Fed governor, Edward M. Gramlich, about subprime lenders who were luring borrowers into risky loans. Mr. Greenspan’s insistence, to this day, that the Fed did not have the power to rein in such lending is nonsense.

In 1994, Congress passed a law requiring the Fed to regulate all mortgage lending. The language is crystal clear: the Fed “by regulation or order, shall prohibit acts or practices in connection with A) mortgage loans that the board finds to be unfair, deceptive, or designed to evade the provisions of this section; and B) refinancing of mortgage loans that the board finds to be associated with abusive lending practices, or that are otherwise not in the interest of the borrower.”

Yet, the Fed did nothing as junk lending proliferated - including loans that were unsustainable unless house prices rose in perpetuity, riddled with hidden fees and made to borrowers who could not repay. Mr. Greenspan has said that the law was too vague about the meaning of “unfair” and “deceptive” to warrant action.

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Bank Of England: Banks' Lending Phobia Risks World Recession
2007-12-18 22:26:31
Bank of England Governor says new year response to sub-prime losses may tip balance.

The banking industry could push the world economy further into recession if it continues to sit on its hands and refuses to release funds, the governor of the Bank of England said Tuesday.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, said the credit squeeze that had brought international money markets to a standstill was starting to ease, but major banks could easily put the brakes on again and push western economies into recession if they were still putting a freeze on lending in the new year.

King made his comments to the British Parliament's Treasury Select Committee where he was questioned over his role in the Northern Rock Bank affair. He also faced accusations that his handling of the credit crisis in the summer had made the situation worse. Several Parliament members accused him of misjudging the extent of the credit crunch and blamed him for his reluctance to prop up the banking system with extra liquidity.

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Divided FCC Splits On Rules Governing Media Ownership
2007-12-18 22:25:30

The Federal Communications Commission relaxed one media-ownership rule Tuesday and held the line on another. Both decisions are likely to be challenged in federal court.

By a 3 to 2, party-line vote, the commission partially lifted a 32-year-old ban that prevents a newspaper owner from also owning a radio or television station in the same city.

In a separate, 3 to 2, split-party vote, the FCC reestablished a national cable television ownership ceiling at 30 percent, meaning one company cannot have more than 30 percent of all cable subscribers.

The meeting lasted more than three hours and included some heated language among commissioners. One, Michael J. Copps, called the newspaper-broadcast ruling "today's terrible decision".

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Canada Confirms Case Of Mad Cow Disease
2007-12-18 22:24:56
Canada confirmed a new case of mad cow disease on Tuesday, the country's 11th case since the disease was first discovered there in 2003.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said no part of the cow's carcass entered the human food or animal feed chains.

The animal was identified as a 13-year-old cow from Alberta by the national monitoring program, which targets cattle most at risk for the disease also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and has tested about 190,000 animals since 2003.

The animal, from an unidentified farm, was born before the implementation of Canada's feed ban in 1997.

They expect to detect a small number of cases over the next 10 years as Canada progresses toward its goal of eliminating the disease from the national cattle herd.

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U.S. Helps Turkey Strike Rebel Kurds In Iraq
2007-12-18 15:38:47
Intelligence role could complicate diplomacy.

The United States is providing Turkey with real-time intelligence that has helped the Turkish military target a series of attacks this month against Kurdish separatists holed up in northern Iraq, including a large airstrike on Sunday, according to Pentagon officials.

U.S. military personnel have set up a center for sharing intelligence in Ankara, the Turkish capital, providing imagery and other immediate information gathered from U.S. aircraft and unmanned drones flying over the separatists' mountain redoubts, the officials said. A senior administration official said the goal of the U.S. program is to identify the movements and activities of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which is fighting to create an autonomous enclave in Turkey.

The United States is "essentially handing them their targets," one U.S. military official said. The Turkish military then decides whether to act on the information and notifies the United States, said the official.

"They said, 'We want to do something.' We said, 'Okay, it's your decision'," the official said Monday, although he denied that the United States had explicitly approved the strikes.

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U.S. House Approves $517.7 Billion Domestic Spending Bill
2007-12-18 15:38:07
Measure challenges president on his budget demands for war funds.

The House last night approved a $515.7 billion domestic spending measure that shaves billions from spending levels desired by Democrats and uses emergency spending and other tactics to challenge President Bush on his budget demands.

The legislation, which passed 253 to 154, funds every agency of government but the Defense Department for fiscal 2008. The House then voted 206 to 201 to approve an amendment that includes $31 billion for fighting in Afghanistan but none for the war in Iraq.

Today, the Senate is likely to take up resolutions tying Iraq war funding to the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. If those fall victim to Republican filibusters, as expected, senators are likely to vote to increase the House's war funding to $70 billion and make it available for Iraq fighting as well. Without such war funds, the president will veto the entire spending bill, the White House said Monday.

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FCC To Vote On Media Consolidation
2007-12-18 15:37:09

The Federal Communications Commission is pushing ahead to pass a rule Tuesday that would allow more consolidation of local media ownership in the nation's largest cities, despite the fresh threat of a legislative rebuke and continued protests from advocacy groups.

The rule, proposed by Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican, has been assailed by members of his own commission, denounced by a unanimous vote of the Senate Commerce Committee and called harmful to media diversity by a number of groups who say Martin is rushing it through without adequate public comment.

However, Martin's action is backed by the White House, which over the weekend successfully headed off a House Democratic attempt to deny the FCC money to implement the new rule, according to a number of sources.

Approval of the media-ownership plan would partially lift a 32-year-old ban that prevents one company from owning a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city. Under Martin's plan, a newspaper could own one television or radio station in the nation's 20 largest media markets, assuming certain conditions are met. A newspaper could not own one of the top-four rated television stations, for instance. Companies such as Tribune and Richmond's Media General have argued for the rule change.

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Fed Reserve Shrugged As Subprime Crisis Spread
2007-12-18 02:52:42
Until the boom in subprime mortgages turned into a national nightmare this summer, the few people who tried to warn federal banking officials might as well have been talking to themselves.

Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor who died in September, warned nearly seven years ago that a fast-growing new breed of lenders was luring many people into risky mortgages they could not afford, but when Gramlich privately urged Fed examiners to investigate mortgage lenders affiliated with national banks, he was rebuffed by Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman.

In 2001, a senior Treasury official, Sheila C. Bair, tried to persuade subprime lenders to adopt a code of “best practices” and to let outside monitors verify their compliance. None of the lenders would agree to the monitors, and many rejected the code itself. Even those who did adopt those practices, Bair recalled recently, soon let them slip.

Leaders of a housing advocacy group in California, meeting with Greenspan in 2004, warned that deception was increasing and unscrupulous practices were spreading.

John C. Gamboa and Robert L. Gnaizda of the Greenlining Institute implored Greenspan to use his bully pulpit and press for a voluntary code of conduct.

“He never gave us a good reason, but he didn’t want to do it,” Gnaizda said last week. “He just wasn’t interested.”

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$7.4 Billion Pledged For Palestinians
2007-12-18 02:51:13
Eighty-seven countries and international organizations pledged $7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians on Monday, in the most ambitious fund-raising effort in more than a decade to help Palestinians create a viable, peaceful and secure state of their own.

The total is set to cover the next three years. The Palestinians had hoped to secure $5.6 billion in budgetary and development support over the next three years, but the amount pledged exceeded that figure.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represented the United States at the one-day conference here.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said at the conference that a “moment of truth” had arrived, urging the world to increase its aid for Palestinians - or risk disaster.

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U.S. House Sends Energy Bill To White House
2007-12-19 03:22:29

A year of rhetoric, lobbying, veto threats and negotiations ended Tuesday as the U.S. House of Representatives voted 314 to 100 to pass an energy bill that President Bush is to sign Wednesday morning. The bill will raise fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, order a massive increase in the use of biofuels and phase out sales of the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb popularized by Thomas Edison more than a century ago.

Lawmakers said the energy bill will reduce America's heavy reliance on imported oil and take a modest step toward slowing climate change by cutting about a quarter of the greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists say the United States must eliminate by 2030 to do its share to avert the most dire effects of global warming.

"It is a national security issue, it is an economic issue, it is an environmental issue, and therefore a health issue," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-California). "It is an energy issue, and it is a moral issue."

White House press secretary Dana Perino gave credit to Bush, saying he "pushed Congress to pass this legislation all year," but congressional Democrats said they had withstood veto threats by the White House as well as heavy lobbying by automakers and coal companies before ultimately preserving much of what they wanted in the legislation.

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Snapshot Of Secret Detentions Emerges In Pakistan
2007-12-19 03:21:56
Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, apparently trying to avoid acknowledging an elaborate secret detention system, have quietly set free nearly 100 men suspected of links to terrorism, few of whom were charged, human rights groups and lawyers here say.

Those released, they say, are some of the nearly 500 Pakistanis presumed to have disappeared into the hands of the Pakistani intelligence agencies cooperating with Washington’s fight against terrorism since 2001.

No official reason has been given for the releases, but as pressure has mounted to bring the cases into the courts, the government has decided to jettison some suspects and spare itself the embarrassment of having to reveal that people have been held on flimsy evidence in the secret system, its opponents say.

Interviews with lawyers and human rights officials here, a review of cases by the New York Times and court records made available by the lawyers show how scraps of information have accumulated over recent months into a body of evidence of the detention system.

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Customs Official Faces Prosecution Over Nuclear Revelations
2007-12-18 22:26:14
A senior British customs investigator could face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act over suspicions that he exposed how U.S. and British intelligence agencies interfered in his attempts to halt an international nuclear smuggling ring.

Police and officials from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) have searched the home of Atif Amin for evidence that he passed classified information to the American authors of a book about the worldwide nuclear proliferation network.

Amin was in charge of Operation Akin, an investigation into links between British companies and the illegal network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist who helped build that country's nuclear arsenal.

The investigation is the subject of a book recently published in the U.S., "America and the Islamic Bomb: The Deadly Compromise". Its authors, David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, contend that, in 2000, Amin uncovered evidence in Dubai of the Khan network's involvement in establishing Libya's nuclear program but was ordered to drop his inquiries and return home, at the request of the CIA and MI6.

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New Jersey Sues Pennsylvania Power Plant Over Pollution
2007-12-18 22:25:13
New Jersey has filed suit against a coal-fired power plant in neighboring Pennsylvania, claiming the plant's pollutants blow across the Delaware River and harm New Jersey residents.

The state claims sulfur dioxide and other pollutants from the plant, owned by Reliant Energy Mid-Atlantic Power Holdings, are carried downwind across New Jersey's western boundary, less than a mile away.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania, alleges that the Portland Generating Station has been modified in ways that increase air pollution. It also alleges that the owners did not obtain proper permits before modifying the Northhampton County plant and that they are violating the federal Clean Air Act by not using the best pollution control technology available.

Patricia Hammond, a spokeswoman for Reliant, said the Portland facility has a valid air permit and is operating in compliance with the requirements of that permit.

"We disagree with New Jersey's contentions," she said.

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Magna Carta Sells For $21.3 Million In New York Auction
2007-12-18 22:24:41
A 710-year-old copy of the declaration of human rights known as the Magna Carta - the version that became part of English law - was auctioned Tuesday for $21.3 million, said a Sotheby's spokeswoman.

The document, which had been expected to draw bids of $30 million or higher, was bought by David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, said the spokeswoman.

Sotheby's vice chairman David Redden called the old but durable parchment "the most important document in the world, the birth certificate of freedom".

The document was owned by the Perot Foundation, created by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, since the early 1980s. It had been on exhibit at the auction house for the past 11 days.

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FBI Probes Virginia Mortgage Scam
2007-12-18 15:38:29
Townhouses were bought and sold for big profits even as market was cooling.

The sidewalks are still scrubbed and most lawns are neatly trimmed, but now the subdivision of townhouses off Route 1 in Woodbridge is pocked with empty windows and foreclosures. Federal investigators are poking around.

Sources with knowledge of the probe at the Villages at Rippon Landing said investigators are examining why a number of townhouses in a five-block area were bought and resold quickly, for a large profit, even as the real estate market was cooling and unsold homes dotted the neighborhood. The new buyers sometimes failed to pay the mortgages, sending homes into foreclosure and hurting lenders. Renters found themselves unexpectedly forced to move.

The FBI this month launched a mortgage fraud task force, gathering federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials from Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties to map out a strategy to tackle the issue region-wide. One of the federal investigations is centered on Rippon Landing, according to Steve Durst, a U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman for the Washington, D.C., division, whose agency investigates mortgage fraud because it involves use of the mail. Durst declined to elaborate.

The FBI is also involved in the probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Adam Lee, a supervisor for the FBI squad that oversees mortgage fraud investigations locally, declined to comment on the Woodbridge probe but said of mortgage fraud in general, "Right now we have a full plate of those type of cases." An FBI report pegged the amount of fraud in 2006 at $4.2 billion nationally. Those cases often involved the use of bogus appraisals to obtain inflated loans, sometimes with the buyers and sellers working together to defraud the lender.

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Federal Judge Schedules Hearing On CIA Interrogation Tapes
2007-12-18 15:37:25

A federal judge in Washington today scheduled a hearing on whether the CIA violated a court order by destroying videotapes showing harsh interrogation methods, rebuffing pleas from the Justice Department to stay out of the dispute.

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy set the hearing for Friday morning. His one-sentence notice did not provide any further comment.

The order from Kennedy is the first rejection of attempts by the Bush administration to stop Congress and the courts from investigating the destruction of the tapes by the CIA. That move is the subject of a joint preliminary inquiry by the Justice Department's National Security Division and the CIA inspector general's office.

The Justice Department asked lawmakers last week to delay their own investigation while it pursued its probe. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey told them that he could not provide any details about the probe or the Justice Department's role in the tapes' destruction, leading to loud objections from lawmakers of both parties.

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Food And Fuel Compete For Land
2007-12-18 02:52:59

Shopping at a Whole Foods Market in suburban Chicago, Illinois, Meredith Estes said food prices have jumped so much she has resorted to coupons. Charles T. Rodgers, Jr., an Arkansas cattle rancher, said normal feed rations so expensive and scarce he is scrambling for alternatives. In Oregon, Jack Joyce, the owner of Rogue Ales, said the cost of barley malt has soared 88 percent this year.

For years, cheap food and feed were taken for granted in the United States.

Now, the price of some foods is rising sharply, and from the corridors of Washington, D.C., to the aisles of neighborhood supermarkets, a blame alert is under way.

Among the favorite targets is ethanol, especially for food manufacturers and livestock farmers who seethe at government mandates for ethanol production. The ethanol boom, they contend, is raising corn prices, driving up the cost of producing dairy products and meat, and causing farmers to plant so much corn as to crowd out other crops.

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Laws Of Nature, Source Unknown
2007-12-18 02:52:21

“Gravity,” goes the slogan on posters and bumper stickers. “It isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.”

And what a law. Unlike, say, traffic or drug laws, you don’t have a choice about obeying gravity or any of the other laws of physics. Jump and you will come back down. Faith or good intentions have nothing to do with it.

Existence didn’t have to be that way, as Einstein reminded us when he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Against all the odds, we can send e-mail to Sri Lanka, thread spacecraft through the rings of Saturn, take a pill to chase the inky tendrils of depression, bake a turkey or a souffle and bury a jump shot from the corner.

Yes, it’s a lawful universe. But what kind of laws are these, anyway, that might be inscribed on a T-shirt but apparently not on any stone tablet that we have ever been able to find?

Are they merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don’t know and that most scientists don’t seem to know or care where they come from?

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