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Friday, January 04, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 4 2008 - (813)

Friday January 4 2008 edition
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Wake-Up For Nuclear Security
2008-01-04 03:04:52
As superiors ignore him, whistleblower tapes nuclear security guards literally asleep on the job.

Kerry Beal was taken aback when he discovered last March that many of his fellow security guards at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania were taking regular naps in what they called "the ready room".

When he spoke to supervisors at his company, Wackenhut Corp., they told Beal to be a team player. When he alerted the regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, regulators let the matter drop after the plant's owner, Exelon,  said it found no evidence of guards asleep on the job.

So Beal videotaped the sleeping guards. The tape, eventually given to WCBS, a CBS television affiliate in New York City, showed the armed workers snoozing against walls, slumped on tabletops or with eyes closed and heads bobbing.

The fallout of the broadcast is still being felt. Last month, Exelon, the country's largest provider of nuclear power, fired Wackenhut, which had guarded each of its 10 nuclear plants. The NRC is reviewing its own oversight procedures, having failed to heed Beal's warning. Wackenhut says that the entire nuclear industry needs to rethink security if it hopes to meet the tougher standards the NRC has tried to impose since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

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Bush Administration Curtailing States' Ability To Expand Medicaid Rolls
2008-01-04 03:04:12
The Bush administration is imposing restrictions on the ability of states to expand eligibility for Medicaid, in an effort to prevent them from offering coverage to families of modest incomes who, the administration argues, may have access to private health insurance. 

The restrictions mirror those the administration placed on the State Children's Health Insurance Program in August after states tried to broaden eligibility for it as well.

Until now, states had generally been free to set their own Medicaid eligibility criteria, and the Bush administration had not openly declared that it would apply the August directive to Medicaid. State officials in Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma said they had discovered the administration’s intent in negotiations with the federal government over the last few weeks.

The federal government has leverage over states, because it pays a large share of the costs for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and states have to comply with federal standards to get federal money. The insurance program was created for children whose families have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance.

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Iowa Democrats Pick Obama - Clinton, Edwards Battle For Second
2008-01-04 03:02:55
Sen. Barack Obama, riding a message of hope and change and buoyed by extraordinary turnout, decisively won the Iowa Democratic caucuses Thursday night, dealing a significant setback to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the battle for the party's 2008 presidential nomination.

With almost all of the state's 1,781 precincts reporting, Obama (Illinois) was winning 38 percent of the delegates being awarded in the competition. Clinton (New York) took 29 percent to run third behind former senator John Edwards (North Carolina), who garnered 30 percent.

Obama's victory came after the longest, costliest and most intensely fought campaign in the history of the Iowa caucuses. The year-long competition produced a huge turnout that temporarily swamped some precincts and reflected the energy and enthusiasm among Democratic voters determined to recapture the White House in November.

Party officials said turnout exceeded 236,000, far above the 124,000 who participated four years ago and eclipsing even the campaigns' most optimistic forecasts.

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Bank Of England: Credit Has Tightened, Likely To Get Worse
2008-01-03 19:56:18

The supply and price of credit to both businesses and households has already tightened and the situation is likely to get worse in the early months of this year, the Bank of England warned Thursday.

As it released its quarterly credit conditions survey, DSG International, owner of Currys and PC World, said it had suffered bad Christmas sales and warned that its profits would fall sharply during 2008 while Next warned that it was "extremely cautious" about the year ahead.

The Bank's survey showed that lenders had said that the amount of secured credit they had made available to consumers in the fourth quarter had "reduced materially" as a result of the global credit crunch which did for Northern Rock in September.

Crucially, banks said they expected the situation to continue or worsen in the first three months of 2008.

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Stomach Bug Outbreak Hits U.K.
2008-01-03 19:55:51
Two million people struck down with winter vomiting virus in worst outbreak for five years.

Thousands of people struck down by a severe stomach bug sweeping the U.K. have been advised to stay at home in an attempt to halt the outbreak.

More than 100,000 people a week are catching norovirus - also known as the "winter vomiting virus" - which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, but the figure could double this month, said experts.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA), which monitors infectious diseases, said the outbreak is the worst since 2002, with around two million people infected so far.

An HPA spokeswoman said: "This season we have seen an increase in reports of norovirus cases, almost double the number reported for the same period last year."

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5 Killed, 68 Wounded By Car Bomb In Turkey
2008-01-03 19:54:57
Suspected Kurdish rebels detonated a car bomb Thursday near a bus carrying soldiers in a Kurdish-dominated city in southeastern Turkey, killing five people and wounding 68.

Thirty soldiers were among the wounded in the attack, the deadliest against Turkish troops since an Oct. 21 ambush that left 13 soldiers dead and prompted Turkey to mass tens of thousands of troops on the border with Iraq, where Kurdish rebels have hideouts.

The attack appeared to be in retaliation for three airstrikes by Turkish warplanes against shelters of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq last month. The pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported that PKK leaders in Iraq have declared big cities in Turkey targets.

The bus was passing a five-star hotel in Diyarbakir when suspected rebels detonated a remote-controlled car bomb, authorities said. Five civilians were killed, including two high school students who were leaving a building where they were taking courses for university entrance exams.

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Commentary: Bhutto's Elimination A Big Boost For Al-Qaeda
2008-01-03 15:54:30
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Nathan Gardels, editor of Global Viewpoint, and appears in The Australian edition for Friday, January 4, 2008. Mr. Gardels' commentary follows:

Benazir Bhutto's assassination is a great victory for al-Qaeda, whether it carried out the attack directly, through rogue agents in Pakistan's intelligence services or, as Bhutto herself feared before her death, in conspiracy with  them.

Bhutto's murder is the closest it's come to killing a Western leader; it is al-Qaeda's most sensational attack since downing the twin towers on 9/11. And it confirms that Pakistan, not Iraq, is the front line in the fight against Islamic jihadists.

The day after 9/11, Bhutto told me she had already received intelligence that she would be al-Qaeda's next target after the assassination of the Afghan Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the attacks on New York and Washington. In order to protect al-Qaeda's position in Afghanistan, he needed to be eliminated.

Once he was gone, the terrorist group feared she was the one popular leader who could rally Pakistanis against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, even from exile, and spoil Pakistan's support and indulgence of the Taliban's protective rule.

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Oil Price Could Hit $200 Says German Institute
2008-01-03 15:51:55
Wednesday's record oil price of $100 per barrel of crude marks a long-term upward trend which could see oil prices reach $150 in five years and $200 in 10 years, says one of Germany's leading economic institutes.

"Oil supplies are becoming increasingly scarce and that will continue to drive up prices," Claudia Kemfert, the energy expert of the DIW German Institute for Economic Research, told Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

She said the most recent surge in oil prices which drove the price ber barrel to over $100 on Wednesday was due to speculative buying. "The share of the oil price attributable to speculation is likely to be around 20 percent," she said, adding that the price was likely to reach $105 in the coming weeks.

The surge in crude oil to a record of $100 in trading on Wednesday shocked Wall Street on the first day of trading in 2008. In 2007 the price of oil jumped 57 percent due to the weak dollar, worries about oil reserves and world political turbulence, said Kemfert.

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Pakistan Election Postponed Until Feb. 18
2008-01-03 15:51:12
The unrest that followed the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has prompted Pakistan's electoral commission to delay elections until Feb. 18. Opposition parties had demanded the poll go ahead on Jan. 8 and now warn that there could be more riots.

The official line is that the delay was necessary following the unrest that erupted after opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last Thursday. However, the government's opponents suspect it is desperate to avoid a trouncing at the polls.

Pakistan's electoral commission announced its decision at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon despite demands from opposition parties that the poll go ahead as scheduled on Jan. 8.

The opposition accused the authorities of using delaying tactics to avoid a defeat for the ruling party, which is closely allied to President Pervez Musharraf. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had been hoping to reap a strong sympathy vote in the wake of her murder. "We reject the delay outright," Sen. Babar Awan of the PPP said after the election commission made its announcement. "Musharraf fears outright defeat. If this election process is jeopardized, they (PPP supporters) may protest again and there is a chance of riots."

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CIA Planned Destruction Of Interrogations Tapes In 2003
2008-01-04 03:04:34
A key member of Congress disclosed Thursday that the CIA said in February 2003 that it planned to destroy videotapes of harsh interrogations after the agency's inspector general finished probing the episodes, an account that adds detail to recent CIA statements about the circumstances surrounding the tapes' destruction.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-California) released a declassified copy of a letter she secretly wrote to the CIA in February 2003, in which she quoted then-CIA General Counsel Scott W. Muller as telling her a tape of the agency's interrogation of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, "will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry". The CIA Thursday confirmed Harman's account of Muller's statement.

Harman at that time had recently become the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, and in her letter she urged Muller to "reconsider" that plan and predicted that the tapes' destruction "would reflect badly on the agency".  Agency officials nonetheless destroyed the tapes in 2005, and on Wednesday, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey  ordered a formal criminal probe into the destruction.

In recent public accounts about the tapes, CIA officials have said that no definitive decision was made about destroying the tapes until 2005. Beginning in early 2003, senior officials expressed an "intention to dispose" of the videos, according to a Dec. 6 statement by CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, but an internal debate over the tapes' disposition continued for two more years, with senior CIA lawyers advising against their destruction.

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User Data Stolen From Pornographic Websites
2008-01-04 03:03:10
Hackers apparently were after e-mail addresses for spam, not credit card information.

Consumers of Internet pornography who secretly signed up for memberships on adult-oriented Web sites in the past few months may be in for a shock - some of their personal information, including e-mail addresses, may have been compromised by a security breach.

Though the breach, which potentially could affect tens of thousands of customers, reportedly did not involve the theft of credit card information, it could nonetheless have a significant impact on the lucrative Internet pornography industry, according to those who monitor the market. These observers note that online porn relies, as much as anything else, on the promise that its customers can enjoy complete anonymity as they indulge their favorite niche pastimes from the privacy of their own computers.

"It's a huge concern," said Jason Tucker, whose Falcon Foto company boasts one of the world's largest erotic libraries. "The relationship we have with our customers is based on trust. The industry's concern is if that trust has been violated, we could see a drop-off in customers."

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Iowa Republicans Pick Huckabee - Evangelicals Fuel Win Over Romney
2008-01-04 03:02:40
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee rode a wave of evangelical fervor to victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa's  Republican caucus Thursday, an outcome that hardly seemed possible two months ago.

"Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics," Huckabee told supporters at the Embassy Suites here. "And tonight it starts in Iowa, but it doesn't end here. ... It goes to all the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." 

After spending nine months near the bottom of the pack, Huckabee surged to become the front-runner in Iowa in December and never relinquished the position, despite a barrage of negative ads from Romney's methodically built and well-financed operation.

Huckabee now heads to New Hampshire, where voting takes place Tuesday, with little support in the polls and only a ragtag organization to mount a second come-from-behind victory. To succeed, he will have to broaden his message, which has largely been designed to appeal to the social-conservative voters who helped him win Thursday night. New Hampshire voters tend to be less focused on social issues and more concerned with lowering taxes and reducing the size of government.

Sixty percent of Republican caucus-goers described themselves as evangelicals, according to entrance polls. Those voters went for Huckabee over Romney by more than 2 to 1.

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Study: Trees Absorbing Less CO2 As World Warms
2008-01-03 19:56:04
Data analysis reverses scientists' expectations.

The ability of forests to soak up man-made carbon dioxide is weakening, according to an analysis of two decades of data from more than 30 sites in the frozen north.

The finding published Thursday is crucial, because it means that more of the CO2 we release will end up affecting the climate in the atmosphere rather than being safely locked away in trees or soil.

The results may partly explain recent studies suggesting that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing faster than expected. If higher temperatures mean less carbon is soaked up by plants and microbes, global warming will accelerate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel peace prize with Al Gore, has concluded that humanity has eight years left to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

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Commentary: Selfish Capitalism Bad For Health
2008-01-03 19:55:24
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Oliver James and appeared in the Guardian edition for Thursday, January 3, 2008. Mr. James is discussing Selfish Capitalism with Will Self, Madeleine Bunting and Stewart Wallis in three London (England) seminars this month. In his commentary, Mr. James writes: "The growth in relative materialism over the past 20 years is taking a heavy toll on the wellbeing of English-speaking nations." His commentary follows:

By far the most significant consequence of "selfish capitalism" (Thatch/Blatcherism) has been a startling increase in the incidence of mental illness in both children and adults since the 1970s. As I report in my book, "The Selfish Capitalist - Origins of Affluenza", the World Health Organization (WHO) and nationally representative studies in the United States, Britain and Australia, reveal that it almost doubled between the early 80s and the turn of the century. These increases are very unlikely to be due to greater preparedness to acknowledge distress - the psychobabbling therapy culture was already established.

Add to this the astonishing fact that citizens of Selfish Capitalist, English-speaking nations (which tend to be one and the same) are twice as likely to suffer mental illness as those from mainland western Europe, which is largely Unselfish Capitalist in its political economy. An average 23% of Americans, Britons, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians suffered in the last 12 months, but only 11.5% of Germans, Italians, French, Belgians, Spaniards and Dutch. The message could not be clearer. Selfish Capitalism, much more than genes, is extremely bad for your mental health. But why is it so toxic?

Readers of this newspaper (the Guardian) will need little reminding that Selfish Capitalism has massively increased the wealth of the wealthy, robbing the average earner to give to the rich. There was no "trickle-down effect" after all.

The real wage of the average English-speaking person has remained the same - or, in the case of the U.S., decreased - since the 1970s. By more than halving the taxes of the richest and transferring the burden to the general population, Margaret Thatcher reinstated the rich's capital wealth after three postwar decades in which they had steadily become poorer.

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Australian Water Restrictions Failing To Keep Up With Global Warming
2008-01-03 15:54:55
Australians have made herculean efforts to save water since restrictions were ramped up in 2001 but they might not be keeping up with global warming as many dam levels continue to fall.

A national survey by The Australian news organization has found the billion-plus liters of water saved since restrictions started to be introduced nationwide in 2001 has in some cases not kept pace with reduced rainfall.

Had the restrictions not been imposed, the dams serving some capital cities would have dried up. The Sydney Catchment Authority reported inflow to its dams between 1990 and 2006 averaged just 614 billion liters, less than its pre-restriction annual usage. The inflow to Melbourne's dams between 1997 and 2006 averaged 387GL, less than its annual use. Inflows to Perth's dams have fallen to a quarter of their pre-1974 level, with an average of just 82GL a year from 2001 to 2006.

Since the introduction of water restrictions, households in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane have saved 1.1 trillion liters of water - as much as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane together used in 2006-07.

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Can New Cleanup Plan Save The Baltic Sea?
2008-01-03 15:53:40

The Baltic Sea is sick. From massive algae blooms to an invasion of dangerous jellyfish, the sea may soon be too polluted for both the fishing industry and for vacationers - unless a new pollution control plan is successful.

The news brought back to port by the Aranda was not good. First, the 59-meter (194-foot) research vessel happened across an invasive species of jellyfish in the eastern Gulf of Finland - the same creature already responsible for decimating fisheries in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Second - and more concerning - the Helsinki-based ship found rising levels of phosphorous in the waters off Poland and Russia. Phosphorous is a by-product of agricultural runoff and human waste - and it's a warning that massive, deadly algae blooms could be on the horizon.

The ship cruises the Baltic Sea on behalf of the Finnish Institute of Marine Research, monitoring the sea's vital signs. For years they have not been good, with fisheries suffering, pollution rampant and algae at times spreading out of control. Last month, though, the countries on the shores of the northern European sea got together to sign a treaty to do something about it. Called the Baltic Sea Action Plan, the accord follows years of efforts at bringing Baltic Sea pollution under control - including a similar effort launched in Russia to curtail untreated wastewater reaching the sea from the densely populated region around St. Petersburg.
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'Baby' Planet Sheds Light On Birth Of Solar Systems
2008-01-03 15:51:31
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg have discovered a hulking planet with 10 times the mass of Jupiter. But it's not just big. It's also the youngest planet ever found.

Just like that - far from the glitter of Hollywood - a star is born. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, report in the latest issue of the British journal Nature that they have discovered the youngest known planet outside our solar system. And more than that. The heavenly body, scientists hope, will shed more light on how planets - including those in our solar system - are created in the first place.

"This is one of the most exciting discoveries in the study of extrasolar planets," Thomas Henning, the director of the Planet and Star Formation Department at MPIA, said in a press release on the Max Planck Web site. "For the first time, we have directly proven that planets indeed form in circumstellar disks."

Those "disks" are vast clouds of matter that often surround young stars. The Max Planck research team went searching for a planet near the star TW Hydrae precisely because the young star - estimated to be just 8-10 million years old -- still has such a gas-and-dust ring. The new planet, given the plain title of TW Hydrae b, will allow scientists to test longstanding theories about planet formation and gestation periods.

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Toyota Overtakes Ford For No. 2 In U.S. Sales
2008-01-03 15:50:54
Toyota Motor Corp. overtook Ford Motor Co. to become the No. 2 automaker by U.S. sales in 2007, using new products and relentless strategy to break Ford's 75-year lock on the position.

Toyota sold 48,226 more cars and trucks than Ford, according to sales figures released Thursday. Toyota's sales were up 3 percent for the year, buoyed by new products like the Toyota Tundra pickup, which saw sales jump 57 percent.

Ford's sales fell 12 percent, ending with a whimper a year that is expected to be the worst for the auto industry since 1998 as consumers fretted over high gas prices and the economy.
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