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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday January 19 2008 - (813)

Saturday January 19 2008 edition
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Economists Debate Effectiveness Of Measures To Stimulate Economy
2008-01-19 03:51:43
In trying to assemble a bipartisan package to jolt the slumping economy, the White House and Congress have turned to familiar tools that experts say have worked in the past; but there is also a lively debate among economists about which measures will best accomplish the goal.

The favorite template for addressing recession fears is a set of tax measures and spending initiatives passed in 2001 and 2002, including a personal income tax rebate in the summer of 2001 that amounted to $300 to $600 per household and a tax incentive the following year aimed at encouraging businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

President Bush highlighted both those basic approaches on Friday in setting out his principles for a deal with Congress to address the current downturn. Democrats are also likely to seek increased spending for programs like unemployment insurance or to funnel more money to states, an approach that Bush signaled he would oppose.

“The research I’ve seen indicates that the programs in 2001 clearly worked,” Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., said in an interview, referring to the tax measures. “They worked quickly, and people spent the money they got. The thing we should be looking at now is how to make them even more effective.”

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CIA Analyst: Hackers Have Attacked Foreign Utilities
2008-01-19 03:50:59

In a rare public warning to the power and utility industry, a CIA analyst this week said cyber attackers have hacked into the computer systems of utility companies outside the United States and made demands, in at least one case causing a power outage that affected multiple cities.

"We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet," Tom Donahue, the CIA's top cybersecurity analyst, said Wednesday at a trade conference in New Orleans. 

Donahue's comments were "designed to highlight to the audience the challenges posed by potential cyber intrusions," CIA spokesman George Little said. The audience was made up of 300 U.S. and international security officials from the government and from electric, water, oil and gas companies, including BP, Chevron and the Southern Co. 

"We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of the attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge," said Donahue. He did not specify where or when the attacks took place, their duration or the amount of money demanded. Little said the agency would not comment further.

The remarks come as cyber attackers have made increasingly sophisticated intrusions into corporate computer systems, costing companies worldwide more than $20 billion each year, according to some estimates.

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Bush Urges Up To $150 Billion To Stimulate Economy
2008-01-18 17:00:37
Saying the nation's flagging economy urgently needs "a shot in the arm," President Bush called today for an economic stimulus package centered on tax rebates and incentives, but he declined to specify how large the rebate checks should be, leaving the matter up for negotiation with Congress.

Laying out "certain principles" that he wants to see guide the package, Bush said the plan "must be big enough to make a difference in an economy as large and dynamic as ours, which means it should be about 1 percent of GDP." Bush did not elaborate, but Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., later told a news briefing that the White House envisions a stimulus package totaling between $140 billion and $150 billion.

Democratic congressional leaders welcomed Bush's statement and said they would work with the administration on a plan to boost the economy and provide some relief to millions of financially strapped Americans.

With Vice President Cheney and some of his leading economic advisers standing behind him, Bush said the stimulus package must be temporary and must "take effect right away" to help avert a feared economic downturn.

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Israel Seals Gaza Border Crossings
2008-01-18 16:59:23
Israel sealed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip on Friday, cutting the flow of vital supplies in an attempt to stop Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli border towns, but the rockets kept flying and Israel hit back with airstrikes against a rocket squad, a Hamas government building and a Hamas militia base, killing one militant and two civilians, Hamas said.

U.N. officials warned that the Israeli closure of the Gaza crossings would increase hardship in the impoverished territory of 1.4 million Palestinians.

The Gaza quagmire could complicate President Bush's efforts to prod the sides toward a final peace deal by year's end and sour newly revived talks between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' West Bank government.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeineh said Friday that Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank "will negatively impact the negotiations, and we warn against the continuation of this policy".

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U.S. Diplomat Nicholas Burns Resigns
2008-01-18 16:57:47
R. Nicholas Burns, the country’s third-ranking diplomat and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's right-hand man, is retiring for personal reasons.

Rice is expected to recommend William J. Burns, the United States ambassador to Russia, to replace him as under secretary of state for political affairs, said administration officials.

“This is a very bittersweet time for us because Nick Burns has decided that it is time for him to retire,” Rice said in announcing Burns’s resignation in the State Department’s ornate Treaty Room. “He has decided that it’s the right moment to go back to family concerns.”

Burns, 51, has led the administration’s efforts on Iran, serving as the United States negotiator with the five other countries - Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - that have been seeking to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. A career foreign service official, Burns has thrived under a succession of administrations, both Republican and Democratic.

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The Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Food
2008-01-19 03:51:21
Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.

The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.

In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

According to the F.A.O., food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

“The urban poor, the rural landless and small and marginal farmers stand to lose,” said He Changchui, the agency’s chief representative for Asia and the Pacific.

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Native Hawaiians Reach Land Agreement
2008-01-19 03:50:30
More than 200 acres of land that belonged to the Kingdom of Hawaii before the United States took control a century ago will be returned to Native Hawaiians, according to terms of a $200 million tentative settlement announced Friday.

The agreement, which still has to be approved by the Legislature, is intended to end a long-running dispute over ceded lands.

The land to be turned over includes about 80 acres of the Big Island resort area on Banyon Drive in Hilo, which is currently occupied by several hotels and a golf course.

Under the deal, three commercial and industrial properties on Oahu and the Big Island worth $187 million would be transferred to the state agency created to look out for Native Hawaiians.

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The Mystery Of Morgellons Disease
2008-01-18 17:00:00
Thousands of people around the world say they have a disease that causes mysterious fibers to sprout painfully through the skin, and they've given it a name. The spread of "Morgellons disease" could be Internet hysteria, or it could be an emerging illness demanding our attention.

Sue Laws remembers the night it began. It was October 2004, and she'd been working in the basement home office of her Gaithersburg brick rambler where she helps her husband run their tree business. She was sitting at her computer getting the payroll out, when all of a sudden she felt as if she were being attacked by bees. The itching and stinging on her back was so intense that she screamed for her husband, Tom. He bounded downstairs and lifted her shirt, but he couldn't see anything biting her. She insisted something must be. To prove there was nothing there, he stuck strips of thick packing tape to her back and ripped them off. Then they took the magnifying eyepiece that Tom, an arborist, uses to examine leaves for fungus and blight and peered at the tape. "That's when we saw them. It was covered with these little red fibers," Sue recalls. She'd never seen anything like them. And she had no idea where they came from. "You automatically think clothing. But I wasn't wearing anything red."

Over the next month, Sue's itching intensified. Every night, she says, it felt as if thousands of tiny bugs were crawling under her skin, stinging and biting. She became unable to sleep at night. She left the lights on, because the crawling seemed to be worse in the dark. Thinking it might have been a flea infestation, Sue and Tom pulled up all the carpets in the house. Thinking perhaps it was mold, they tore off the wallpaper. They sanded and stained the bare floors, and then Tom called an exterminator.

Every morning, Sue says, she found little black specks all over her side of the bed. Then she discovered droplets of blood where the specks appeared to be coming out of her skin. "I looked like I had paper cuts all over," she says. She began washing the sheets in ammonia every day. Next, her chest, neck, face, back, arms and legs broke out in painful, red gelatinous lesions that never seemed to heal. To get some relief, she stayed in the shower for hours. She bathed in vinegar and sea salt and doused her body with baby powder. Nothing really helped.

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CIA Says Tribal Leader Behind Bhutto's Assassination
2008-01-18 16:58:11
The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the assassins who last month killed former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto were directed by Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant leader, and that some of them had ties to al-Qaeda. 

The CIA’s judgment is the first formal assessment by the American government about who was responsible for  Bhutto’s assassination, which took place during a political rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

“There are powerful reasons to believe that terror networks around Baitullah Mehsud were responsible,” said one American intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The official said that “different pieces of information” have pointed toward Mehsud’s responsibility, but he would not provide any details about the information that led to the CIA’s conclusion.

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