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Friday, January 11, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday January 11 2008 - (813)

Friday January 11 2008 edition
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Bush Calls For End To Israeli Occupation, Implies Largest Settlements Will Remain
2008-01-10 22:27:13
U.S. President George Bush made his most explicit call for an end to the Israeli occupation after making his first visit to the West Bank Thursday, where he witnessed Israel's military checkpoints, the vast West Bank barrier and the spread of Jewish settlements.

In a statement which came after meetings with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Bush laid down what appeared to be his guidelines for a future agreement to end the Middle East conflict and create a Palestinian state.

"The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realise this vision seems clear: there should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967," he said.

He insisted it would be possible to reach a peace agreement within a year. The future borders of a Palestinian state, he said, would "require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities".

The armistice lines mark where the boundary stood on the eve of the six-day war in 1967 before Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. His phrase "current realities" suggests he favors Israel keeping some of the settlement blocs in the West Bank, in line with a letter he sent to the former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon three years ago.

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Commentary: Secrets And Lies
2008-01-10 22:26:36
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Richard Norton-Taylor, security affairs editor for the Guardian newspapers, based in Manchester, England. His commentary appeared in the newspaper's edition for Friday, January 11, 2008. Referring to the British government, Mr. Norton-Taylor writes: "National security is being invoked not to protect us but to shield politicians from embarrassment." His commentary follows:

Years ago, when the Thatcher government reformed the Official Secrets Act after a jury's speedy acquittal of Clive Ponting - indicted for exposing lies about the sinking of the Argentine cruiser the Belgrano during the Falklands conflict - we were promised that, in future, prosecutions would be brought only when genuine issues of national security were at stake.

New Labour promised less secrecy. More recently, [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown promised even greater transparency. Wednesday's abrupt collapse of the case against Derek Pasquill, the Foreign Office (FO) civil servant charged under the act, shows the pitfalls facing governments when they break their promises. Pasquill's crime was leaking documents about secret CIA rendition flights and contact with Muslim groups. One document included a warning from the FO's top official that the Iraq war and U.K. foreign policy were fuelling Muslim extremism in Britain.

The prosecution should not have gone ahead in the first place. What is now clear is that FO officials admitted almost two years ago the leaks caused no damage within the meaning of the act. That this admission did not come to light until this week smells like an attempt to pervert the course of justice. It would not be the first time FO officials have been implicated in such practices.

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Chavez Wins Freedom For Columbian Hostages
2008-01-10 22:24:50
Rebels release pair in deal with Venezuelan president.

Venezuelan Red Cross helicopters plucked two high-profile Colombian hostages from the jungle Thursday, ending their six-year kidnap ordeal and raising hopes for other hostages. A day of drama ended in breakthrough after Clara Rojas, a former Colombian vice-presidential candidate, and Consuelo Gonzalez, a former member of the country's congress, were retrieved from a remote region in eastern Colombia, in a deal brokered by Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez.

The freed captives were being flown to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, last night. An earlier deal to release them in December broke down.

"I told them 'Welcome to life, welcome to life'," Chavez told journalists shortly after speaking to the former hostages by telephone. They were emotional and in good health, he said.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Farc, agreed to the handover after months of mediation by Chavez, a process which verged on fiasco and triggered furious rows between Venezuela's leader and Colombia's government.

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Florida Company Aims To Properly Recycle Electronic Waste
2008-01-10 19:05:53
A Tampa, Florida, company called Creative Recycling Systems has already begun turning around the tide of improper recycling and hazardous waste disposal.  

The key to the company's business model rumbles away at one end of a warehouse - a building-size machine operating not unlike an assembly line in reverse. "David" was what company president Jon Yob called the more than three-million-dollar investment in machines and processes when they were installed in 2006; Goliath is the towering stockpile of U.S. e-scrap. Today the machine's steel teeth are chomping up audio and video components. Vacuum pressure and filters capture dust from the process. "The air that comes out is cleaner than the ambient air in the building," vice president Joe Yob (Jon's brother) bellows over the roar.
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Newsblog: John Kerry Endorses Barack Obama For President
2008-01-10 18:01:15
Intellpuke: The following was written by staff writer Chris Cillizza in his newsblog "The Fix", which appeared in the Washington Post edition for Thursday, January 10, 2008. Mr. Cillizza's newsblog follows:

Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) endorsed the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) Thursday in Charleston, S.C., touting the Illinois senator as uniquely prepared to serve as the nation's chief executive.

Obama "brings the lessons of the neighborhood, the lessons of the legislature and the lessons of his own life" to the "awesome challenge" of running for president, Kerry told a crowd gathered at the College of Charleston. "Those lessons made him a candidate to bring change to our country and they are the same lessons he'll take to the Oval Office every day to fight for you as president of the United States," he added.

Kerry brushed aside concerns of Obama detractors who assert the Illinois senator lacks the experience to be president. And in an obvious jab at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York), he declared: "Some have suggested in this campaign that Barack is guilty of raising 'false hopes'. ... My friends, the only charge that rings false is the one that tells you not to hope for a better tomorrow."

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Bernanke Signals Further Rate Cut
2008-01-10 18:00:46
Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, sent a strong signal on Thursday that the central bank will lower interest rates again this month as it tries to stave off a recession.

Bernanke said the downturn in the credit and housing markets posed substantial risks to economic health. He predicted that consumer spending and overall growth would slow in 2008.

“We stand ready to take substantive additional action as needed to support growth and to provide adequate insurance against downside risks,” Bernanke said in a speech in Washington on Thursday.

Calling monetary policy the “Fed’s best tool” for regulating the economy, Bernanke said that “additional policy easing may well be necessary” to maintain growth levels as consumer spending and home values face a steep decline next year.

His remarks lifted the expectations of investors that Fed officials will lower the overnight lending rate by as much as half a point at their next policy meeting on Jan. 29 and 30.

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U.S. Launches Massive Air Attack South Of Baghdad
2008-01-10 18:00:12
U.S. warplanes unleashed one of the most intense air strikes of the Iraq war Thursday, dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives in a thunderous 10-minute onslaught on suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq safe havens in Sunni farmlands south of Baghdad.

The mighty barrage - recalling the Pentagon's "shock and awe" raids during the 2003 invasion - appeared to mark a significant escalation in a countrywide offensive launched this week to try to cripple remaining insurgent strongholds.

It also fits into the endgame strategy of last year's U.S. troop buildup, which seeks to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas as a buffer zone for the capital. U.S. commanders are now attempting to subdue the last insurgent footholds around Baghdad before the Pentagon faces a possible reduction in troop strength.

Some of the additional 30,000 troops have been pulled out and the remainder are expected to depart by June, military officials have told the Associated Press. With insurgents still holding pockets south of the capital in the north - including areas around the key northern city of Mosul - the military apparently wants to take the remaining four months or so to use the expanded military muscle against al-Qaeda.

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Questions Raised Over Blackwater's Use Of CS Gas In 2005
2008-01-10 03:42:09
The helicopter was hovering over a Baghdad checkpoint into the Green Zone, one typically crowded with cars, Iraqi civilians and United States military personnel.

Suddenly, on that May day in 2005, the copter dropped CS gas, a riot-control substance the American military in Iraq  can use only under the strictest conditions and with the approval of top military commanders. An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint.

“This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day. “It’s not a good thing to cause soldiers who are standing guard against car bombs, snipers and suicide bombers to cover their faces, choke, cough and otherwise degrade our awareness.”

Both the helicopter and the vehicle involved in the incident at the Assassins’ Gate checkpoint were not from the United States military, but were part of a convoy operated by Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor that is under scrutiny for its role in a series of violent episodes in Iraq, including a September shooting in downtown Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

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Ex-CIA Official May Refuse To Testify On Interrogation Tapes
2008-01-10 03:41:34

A former CIA official at the center of the controversy over destroyed interrogation videotapes has been blocked by Justice Department officials from gaining access to government records about the incident, according to sources familiar with the case.

The former official, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., has also told the House intelligence committee through a letter from his attorney that he will refuse to testify next week about the tapes unless he is granted immunity from prosecution for his statements, said the sources.

The panel has issued a subpoena for Rodriguez, the former chief of clandestine operations who issued the order to destroy the videotapes in 2005. He and other former CIA officials are also being blocked from gaining access to documents about the incident, said sources.

The fast-paced maneuvering comes as part of an escalating, three-way confrontation between Congress, the Justice Department and a group of former CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy the videotapes, which showed the use of harsh interrogation tactics on two suspected al-Qaeda operatives in 2002.

U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey announced last week that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into the tapes' destruction, even as lawmakers vowed to continue pursuing their own inquiries into the episode. Former CIA officials have begun seeking outside counsel and some, including former CIA director George J. Tenet, have hired attorneys to represent them, say sources.

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Gov. Bill Richardson Expected To Drop Out Of Primaries
2008-01-10 03:41:05
Gov. Bill Richardson, of New Mexico, is pulling out of the presidential race, after coming in fourth in both the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses, according to people with knowledge of his decision.

Richardson made the decision after returning to New Mexico Wednesday and meeting with his top advisers, they said. He is expected to make an announcement on Thursday.

His withdrawal removes a candidate who had a hard-edged message of immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq, but tempered it with humorous television advertisements that emphasized his wide-ranging resume in a clever way.

In New Hampshire on Tuesday, Richardson won less than 5 percent of the vote.

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U.S. Air Force Grounds Many F-15 Jets
2008-01-10 22:26:51
At least 40% of older model have defects.

The Air Force will keep more than 40 percent of its older model F-15 fighter jets grounded indefinitely after discovering that critical support beams have manufacturing flaws dating back nearly 30 years that could lead to catastrophic damage to the aircraft.

Air Force officials announced Thursday that the metal beams on 162 of the fighter jets have flaws - such as being too thin, too rough or improperly cut - adding that high-stress flight over the past three decades has exposed the problem in recent months. The discovery came after an F-15C ripped into two large chunks on a training mission over Missouri in November, leading investigators to pore over the wreckage and order inspections of the 450 other F-15 A-D models.

Air Force officials announced Thursday that they are investigating possible liability on the part of Boeing, which purchased the original manufacturer of the airplanes - McDonnell Douglas - in 1997. The planes that have been found to have defects were built from 1978 to 1985.

The Air Force's 224 newer F-15E fighter jets do not have the same flaws and have been returned to service. This week, the Air Force returned 261 F-15 A-Ds to service after they were cleared for flight.

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Suicide Bomber Kills 23 Near Pakistani Court
2008-01-10 22:26:23
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Lahore High Court in eastern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 23 people and wounding 47 others, said police and hospital officials. Many of the casualties were police officers, they said.

Officials said the bomber apparently targeted police who were forming a security cordon around the courthouse before the launch of a pro-democracy march by a group of lawyers. Lawyers are among President Pervez Musharraf's most vocal opponents and have accused him of interfering with the judiciary.

Lahore, considered the cultural capital of Pakistan, largely has been spared from the rash of suicide attacks that have plagued the country in the last year. Thursday's blast seemed to offer further evidence that Islamic extremists are branching out from the tribal areas near the Afghan border to strike ever deeper into Pakistan's heartland. The Bush administration considers Pakistan a key ally on counterterrorism.

Muhammad Fiaz, his white salwar-kameez splotched with blood but his injuries minor, said he was driving a minivan when the explosion occurred about 50 feet away.

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Mt. Everest Conquerer Sir Edmond Hillary Dies
2008-01-10 22:24:04
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, has died at the age of 88.

The New Zealander reached the summit of the Himalayan mountain on May 29, 1953, alongside the Tibetan-born Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

The prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, hailed the the explorer as a "colossus".

"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived," said  Clark. "But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi."

Hillary led the New Zealand section of the Trans-Antarctic expedition from 1955 to 1958. In 1958 he also participated in the first mechanized expedition to the South Pole.
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FBI Wiretap Cut Because FBI Didn't Pay Its Bill
2008-01-10 18:01:32

The FBI, which has had trouble keeping track of its guns and laptops, also has a chronic problem paying its phone bills on time, according to audit results released Thursday.

Telephone companies have repeatedly cut off FBI wiretaps of alleged terrorists and criminal suspects because of failures to pay telecommunication bills, including one invoice for $66,000 at one unidentified field office, the audit found.

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine also found that more than half of the nearly 1,000 telecommunications bills reviewed by investigators were not paid on time.

"Late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence," Fine wrote in a seven-page summary of the audit's findings.

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Bank Of America In Talks To Buy Troubled Countrywide
2008-01-10 18:01:00

The Countrywide Financial Corporation, the troubled lender that came to symbolize many of the excesses of the subprime mortgage crisis, is reportedly negotiating a sale to Bank of America, a move that would rescue Countrywide from an uncertain future.

A little-known California mortgage lender until a few years ago, Countrywide helped fuel the booming housing market nationwide by offering easy loans to high-risk borrowers but, as home prices began dropping and loan defaults soared, its stock price collapsed this year, and prompting speculation about bankruptcy.

Shares of Countrywide shot up more than 50 percent Thursday to close at $7.75, a gain of $2.63, their biggest one-day jump since October. Reports of the merger talks also sent the broader market sharply higher, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing up 117.78 points at 12,853.09, a gain of 0.9 percent.

Countrywide and Bank of America have held talks on a deal for at least a week and a half, people briefed on the situation said. An announcement could be made as soon as Thursday afternoon, but is more likely to be made Friday morning, they said. A price could not be learned, though as the market opened on Thursday, Countrywide’s capitalization was about $3 billion.

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WHO: Iraq Civilian Death Toll Higher Than Cited
2008-01-10 18:00:27
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday waded into the controversial subject of Iraqi civilian deaths, publishing a study that estimated that the number of deaths from the start of the war through June 2006 was at least twice as high as the oft-cited Iraq Body Count.

The study is the latest in a long series of attempts to come up with realistic numbers of civilian deaths. The numbers are politically fraught, and researchers’ work has been further complicated by problems in collecting data while working in a war zone.

The estimates have varied widely. The Iraq Body Count, a nongovernmental group based in Britain that bases its numbers on news media accounts, put the number of civilians dead at 47,668 during the same period of time as the World Health Organization study, said the WHO report. President Bush in the past used a number that was similar to one put forward at the time by the Iraq Body Count.

Another study, by Johns Hopkins, which has come under criticism for its methodology, cited an estimate of about 600,000 dead between the war’s start, in March 2003, and July 2006.

The World Health Organization said its study, based on interviews with families, indicated with a 95 percent degree of statistical certainty that between 104,000 and 223,000 civilians had died. It based its estimate of 151,000 deaths on that range.

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Ashcroft Deal Brings Scrutiny To Justice Dept.
2008-01-10 03:42:28
When the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey needed to find an outside lawyer to monitor a large corporation willing to settle criminal charges out of court last fall, he turned to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, his onetime boss. With no public notice and no bidding, the company awarded Ashcroft an 18-month contract worth $28 million to $52 million.

That contract, which Justice Department officials in Washington learned about only several weeks ago, has prompted an internal inquiry into the department’s procedures for selecting outside monitors to police settlements with large companies.

The contract between Ashcroft’s consulting firm, the Ashcroft Group, and Zimmer Holdings, a medical supply company in Indiana, has also drawn the attention of Congressional investigators.

The New Jersey prosecutor, United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie, directed similar monitoring contracts last year to two other former Justice Department colleagues from the Bush administration, as well as to a former Republican state attorney general in New Jersey.

Officials said that while there had been no accusations of wrongdoing on the part of Christie or Ashcroft, aides to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey were concerned about the appearance of favoritism.

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Countrywide: Foreclosures Jumped In December
2008-01-10 03:41:45
Countrywide Financial, the nation's largest home loan lender, reported yesterday that foreclosures and late payments on mortgages in December soared to their highest levels in five years.

The large number of the bad loans alarmed mortgage analysts who follow the company. Several said the Countrywide report showed that housing market conditions were unraveling at an unexpectedly rapid pace.

Lehman Brothers analyst Bruce W. Harting wrote in a report Wednesday that "the extent of the deterioration is a surprise." Steven Persky, chief executive of Dalton Investments, a Los Angeles, California, investment adviser, said: "People are recognizing that foreclosures are skyrocketing beyond expectations."

The turmoil in the housing market is prompting more talk of a recession by some of Wall Street's biggest names. Goldman Sachs, the world's largest brokerage, wrote in a note to investors Wednesday that it is expecting a recession this year and advised them to buy defensive investments, such as consumer staples and utilities. Investors were cautioned against buying the stocks of financial firms that are exposed to the mortgage crisis and have declined drastically.

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UPDATE: At Least 21 Killed In Pakistan Supreme Court Explosion
2008-01-10 03:41:14
A suicide bomber, apparently targeting police officers, detonated an explosive outside Pakistan's High Court in Lahore Thursday, killing at least 21 people and injuring 39 others, said police.

The casualty figures are expected to rise. Most of the victims were law enforcement officers, a senior police official told CNN.

The explosion occurred Thursday morning on GTO Mall Road, moments before lawyers were set to begin a rally outside the high court in the eastern Pakistani city to protest the rule of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

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BREAKING NEWS: Strong Explosion Hits Pakistan Supreme Court
2008-01-10 02:36:26
A powerful explosion went off at the high court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Thursday and many police officers were wounded, officials said.

An Associated Press photographer at the scene said several people were killed.

Police official Mohammed Afzal said the explosion was a ``powerful bomb blast'' and many officers were being taken to a hospital.

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