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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday January 26 2008 - (813)

Saturday January 26 2008 edition
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Bush Order Expands Computer Network Surveillance
2008-01-25 23:39:53
President Bush signed a directive this month that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems.

The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency (NSA),to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies - including ones they have not previously monitored.

Until now, the government's efforts to protect itself from cyber-attacks - which run the gamut from hackers to foreign governments trying to steal sensitive data - have been piecemeal. Under the new initiative, a task force headed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will coordinate efforts to identify the source of cyber-attacks against government computer systems. As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security will work to protect the systems and the Pentagon will devise strategies for counterattacks against the intruders.

There has been a string of attacks on networks at the State, Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security departments in the past year and a half. U.S. officials and cyber-security experts have said Chinese Web sites were involved in several of the biggest attacks back to 2005, including some at the country's nuclear-energy labs and large defense contractors.

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U.S. Senators Push To Expand Economic Stimulus Package
2008-01-25 23:38:48

Shrugging off a personal plea from President Bush, senators from both parties said Friday that they will push for significant additions to the $150 billion stimulus package hammered out Thursday by House leaders and the administration.

Bush, appearing at a retreat for House Republicans in West Virginia, warned Congress not to load the deal with spending projects or delay sending it to his desk for a signature. Although it may not be everything Republicans want, he said, the package of payments to workers and incentives for business investment puts money in the hands of everyday Americans and does not raise taxes.

"Congress should move it quickly," Bush told the lawmakers. "I understand the desire to add provisions from both the right and the left. I strongly believe it would be a mistake to delay or derail this bill."

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), one of the deal's chief negotiators, put a partisan slant on that warning, cautioning: "It would be irresponsible for Senate Democrats to load this bill up with pork and other spending. Families and small businesses need help now, and this agreement shouldn't be derailed because of partisan politics."

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To Bio Or Not To Bio - Are 'Green Fuels' Really Good For The Earth?
2008-01-25 23:36:28

From the top of the Greenergy refinery in Immingham, England, you can see across the Humber estuary to Hull. A hum of equipment fills the air, along with a curious smell. Popcorn.

Greenergy processes vegetable oil. It takes the gloopy juice squeezed from inside rape seeds harvested on surrounding Lincolnshire fields, strips out the waste and chemically tweaks the leftovers to make it easier to burn. Greenergy pipes almost 100,000 tons a year of its veggie option to ConocoPhillips and Texaco, just across the road, which mix it with their diesel fuel.

Until recently, the operation was viewed as a good thing. Because the oilseed rape plants absorb carbon dioxide, the company says the carbon emissions of the mixed fuel are lower, which helps the fight against global warming. And because oil companies that supply the blend pay less tax, everybody wins. Greenergy is expanding and similar facilities are going up elsewhere.

Now a chill wind is blowing through this emerging industry. Fuels from vegetable oil, sugar, corn and a number of other crops and plants, collectively known as biofuels, are taking flak. There are doubts about their carbon savings, and concern over their impact on food supplies, prices and the land needed to grow them. This week, a parliamentary committee called for a moratorium on efforts to increase their use. Yet on Wednesday, the European Union (E.U.)  confirmed it will force oil companies to mix biofuel into petrol and diesel, while separate U.K. action on climate change will make all suppliers use biofuels by April.

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Scottish Nationalists Jailed Over Poison Plot
2008-01-25 23:35:29
Two men who sent poisoned vodka bottles through the post as part of a campaign for Scottish independence were each jailed for six years Friday.

Wayne Cook, 45, and Steven Robinson, 42, sent two miniature vodka bottles containing lethal concentrations of caustic soda to public figures as part of a campaign by the Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA) to force the U.K. government out of Scotland.

The pair, who were neighbors in Robert Street, Tyldesley, in Greater Manchester, were sentenced at Manchester crown court.

Passing sentence, Judge Robert Atherton said: "What you did was very dangerous indeed. There can be in my view - and it is accepted by you both - no sentence other than a substantial period in prison."

One of the bottles was accompanied by a note that threatened to kill English people "at random and with no discrimination or compunction" and to poison England's water supply.

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HUD Approves Diverting Katrina Housing Funds To Port Improvement
2008-01-25 17:18:54
The federal government on Friday approved Mississippi's plan to divert $600 million in hurricane housing funds to a port improvement project, angering critics who say tens of thousands of people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina  still need help.

In his letter to Gov. Haley Barbour, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said that although he's concerned about using the housing money for the port project, congressional language associated with the use of block grant funds ''allows me little discretion.''

''I'm sure that you share my concern that there may still be significant unmet needs for affordable housing, and I strongly encourage you to prioritize Gulf Coast housing as you move forward,'' Jackson wrote.

Mississippi plans to restore public infrastructure and publicly owned facilities at the State Port at Gulfport that were destroyed during Katrina, and to improve the port's operating capacity.

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Update: Monte Carlo Fire Under Control In Vegas
2008-01-25 17:18:28
A large fire raced across the top of the 32-story Monte Carlo Resort & Casino this morning, sending thick plumes of smoke across the Vegas Strip.

Clark County firefighters had contained most of the blaze about an hour after it was first reported shortly before 11 a.m., according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. Most of the 3,000-room hotel was evacuated and no injuries were reported in the three-alarm blaze.

The cause of the fire that scorched the top of two wings of the high-rise structure has not been determined but welders were seen on the roof, the Review-Journal said.

Guests, some wearing bathrobes and towels, waited in a parking lot after being evacuated from the tower. There was no sense of panic as they were taken to nearby hotels, including New York New York and the Bellagio.
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Breaking News: Fire Engulfs Upper Floors Of Monte Carlo Hotel In Las Vegas
2008-01-25 15:36:49
A large fire broke out this morning at the top of the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Flames and thick black smoke were rising from the roof of the 3,000-room hotel, according to television newscasts. The hotel was evacuated and no injuries had been reported in the three-alarm blaze, which broke out shortly before 11 a.m.

Television pictures showed firefighters on the roof of the 32-story hotel and casino shooting streams of water into the building as the flames spread across two wings.

The most serious fire at a Las Vegas hotel took place on the morning of Nov. 21, 1980, at the former MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Eighty-seven people died from the blaze and almost 800 were injured. It was the deadliest fire in Nevada history and the second deadliest fire in U.S. history.
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Egyptian Forces Move To Restore Breached Border With Gaza
2008-01-25 15:07:47
Egyptian security forces deployed Friday with barbed wire, water cannons and other weapons seeking to regain control of their country's breached border with the Gaza Strip, but Palestinians fought back, forcing a full reopening of the crossing here at the Rafah crossing.

The Egyptian officials had been trying to shut down a two-day Palestinian exodus from Gaza after Palestinian fighters blew up the wall on the Egyptian border to allow residents to cross. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for a week and supplies reportedly were scarce.

The attempt to shut the border brought clashes with Palestinians at the Rafah crossing, forcing a full reopening of the main gate into Gaza from Egypt. Crowds began again passing freely, and for the first time, vehicles crossed into Gaza unrestrained.

Several Palestinian witnesses said the Egyptian forces fired tear gas and unleashed their police dogs late in the afternoon, trying to force the full closing of the gate.

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The Choice Between Food And Fuel
2008-01-25 23:39:25
Food prices are skyrocketing. Arable land is becoming scarce. And forests continue to disappear across the globe. The world must decide between affordable food and biofuels.

All it takes for Hans Dietrich Driftmann, a businessman from Germany's northern Holstein region, to explain the way the world works is a package of muesli - or at least to explain the way his world, the world of agricultural markets, works.

Driftmann picks up a packet of "Kollns kernige Multikorn-Flocken" ("Kolln's Crunchy Multigrain Flakes") and reads out the list of ingredients: oats, wheat, barley and rye. Then he slips a set of price tables out of a plastic sleeve and does a couple of calculations to illustrate how the prices of the muesli's ingredients have changed: rye has gone up by 55 percent, barley by 70 percent and wheat 90 percent. The price of oats has also skyrocketed - by 80 percent - since the last harvest a year ago. This final figure is what really hits home for Driftmann.

For the last two decades he has been the CEO of Kolln-Werke, Germany's top producer of oats and a major player in the muesli market. It's an old family-owned company, founded in 1795 and headquartered in the town of Elmshorn, a place with a skyline dominated by enormous grain silos painted sky-blue. The silos are beacons for truck drivers approaching Elmshorn to unload their grain - if they come at all these days.

Today Driftmann is grateful for every truck that shows up at his silos. This year's oats harvest, he says, was "miserable." His buyers search the whole world for grain, even in places like Finland and Australia. Price is almost secondary. "The problem is availability," says Driftmann.

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A New Look Into The Center Of The Earth
2008-01-25 23:37:48
For years, scientists have known that continents float around on the Earth's surface like ice bergs on the ocean. But what happens deep beneath our feet? A new theory envisions graveyards for continents and a life cycle not unlike the weather.

He dispenses with the usual Japanese greeting ritual. Business cards presented with both hands, bowing, drinking tea - there's no time for such formalities. He has to explain the history of the planet, nearly five billion years, in just one hour.

"Hi, I'm Shige," he says, waving his hands in the air. Then he dashes into his office, a researcher's warren on the campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, jam-packed with piles of paper, hiking boots, posters, rock samples and a couch with a sleeping bag. Shige is an unbridled enthusiast, a pioneer and a brilliant polymath.

Shige's full name is Maruyama Shigenori. In Japan, it's customary to refer to one's family name first. Maruyama is a passionate collector who has gathered 160,000 minerals and exhibited them in a museum. He is also one of the world's leading geophysicists. His academic articles rank among the most cited in his field, and his works are found in many geological reference libraries.

Yet despite this widespread recognition, this Japanese researcher in his late 50s continuously provokes controversy in the academic world with his bold hypotheses. Currently, he is stirring things up with a new fascinating theory on the lifecycle of the Earth's crust.

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Palestinians In Gaza Fight Back As Egypt Tries To Close Border
2008-01-25 23:36:11
Throngs of Palestinians fought off Egyptian security forces trying to drive them back behind the breached border walls of the Gaza Strip on Friday, thwarting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak'sefforts to end the Palestinian exodus from Gaza as protests on their behalf grew across the Arab world.

The standoff threatened to bring the armed Hamas movement that governs Gaza into open confrontation with Mubarak's administration. Hamas officials supported the Palestinians' refusal to be forced back into Gaza, a cramped slice of coast inhabited by 1.5 million people.

By some witness accounts, Hamas members used a bulldozer to break a new hole late Friday in the walls separating Egypt and Gaza. Other witnesses described the drivers only as masked men.

Even as they defied the Egyptian government, Palestinian civilians and Hamas officials also appealed to it, saying that pushing Palestinans back into Gaza would subject them to an Israeli siege. Israel has virtually sealed the crossings into and out of Gaza since June, when Hamas, which the Jewish state considers a terrorist organization, took control of the strip by force.

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Foreclose Me ... I'll Save Money!
2008-01-25 22:56:39
A homeowner who can’t sell his house tells the L.A.Times, “Foreclose me. … I’ll live in the house for free for 12 months, and I’ll save my money and I’ll move on.”

Banks and lenders fear this kind of thinking - that walking away from a house could be the smart economic move - appears to be on the rise. Wachovia, in a conference call yesterday, warned investors that increasing numbers of homeowners are walking away from their homes by choice: "… people that have otherwise had the capacity to pay, but have basically just decided not to because they feel like they’ve lost equity, value in their properties…"

Calculated Risk notes this is “one of the greatest fears for lenders … that it will become socially acceptable for upside down middle class Americans to walk away from their homes.”

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People Around The World Are Keenly Interested In U.S. Presidential Campaign
2008-01-25 17:18:44
To look at the reams of coverage in newspapers outside the United States or to follow the hours of television news broadcasts you might conclude that foreigners had a vote in selecting an American presidential candidate - or, at least, deserved one, so great is America’s influence on their lives.

From Berlin to London to Jakarta, the destinies of Democratic and Republican contenders in Iowa or New Hampshire, or Nevada or South Carolina, have become home-town news in a way that most political commentators cannot recall. It is as if outsiders are pining for change in America as much as some American would-be presidential candidates are promising it.

The personalities of the Democratic contest in particular - the potential harbinger of America’s first African-American or female president - have fascinated outsiders as much as, if not more than, the candidates’ policies on Iraq, immigration or global financial woes.

There is a palpable sense that, while democratic systems seem clunky and uninspiring to voters in many parts of the Western world, America offers a potential model for reinvigoration.

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Bush Administration To Allow Logging In Alaska's Tongass National Forest
2008-01-25 17:18:14
More than 3 million acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest would be open to logging under a federal plan that supporters believe will revive the state's timber industry.

Environmentalists, however, fear that the proposal will devastate the forest.

The Bush administration released Friday a management plan for the forest, the largest in the country at nearly 17 million acres. The plan would leave about 3.4 million acres open to logging, road building and other development, including about 2.4 million acres that are now remote and roadless. About 663,000 acres are in areas considered most valuable for timber production.

Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor, who approved the Tongass management plan, said its goals are to sustain the diversity and health of the forest, provide livelihoods and subsistence for Alaska residents and ensure a source of recreation and solitude for forest visitors.

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Editorial: N.Y. Times Editorial Board Endorses Clinton, McCain In Primary Contests
2008-01-25 15:26:18
Intellpuke: There are two editorials by the New York Times editorial board here. The first editorial deals with the N.Y. Times' endorsement of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) in the Democratic primaries contest. The second editorial deals with the endorsement of John McCain in the Repbublican primaries. The following editorials appear in the New York Times edition for Friday, Jan. 25, 2008.

This generally is the stage of a campaign when Democrats have to work hard to get excited about whichever candidate seems most likely to outlast an uninspiring pack. That is not remotely the case this year.

The early primaries produced two powerful main contenders: Hillary Clinton, the brilliant if at times harsh-sounding senator from New York; and Barack Obama, the incandescent if still undefined senator from Illinois. The remaining long shot, John Edwards, has enlivened the race with his own brand of raw populism.

As Democrats look ahead to the primaries in the biggest states on Feb. 5, The Times’s editorial board strongly recommends that they select Hillary Clinton as their nominee for the 2008 presidential election.

We have enjoyed hearing Mr. Edwards’s fiery oratory, but we cannot support his candidacy. The former senator from North Carolina has repudiated so many of his earlier positions, so many of his Senate votes, that we’re not sure where he stands. We certainly don’t buy the notion that he can hold back the tide of globalization.

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Lack Of Trained Personnel Means U.S. Cannot Manage Contractors In Wars
2008-01-25 15:07:34

With even more U.S. contractors now in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military personnel, government officials told Congress Thursday that the Bush administration is not prepared to manage the contractors' critical involvement in the American war effort.

At the end of last September, there were "over 196,000 contractor personnel working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness.

Contractors "have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD [the Defense Department] must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces," he also said in prepared testimony for a hearing yesterday of the Senate homeland security subcommittee. "Frankly," he continued, "we were not adequately prepared to address" what he termed "this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors."

Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William M. Solis, director of defense capabilities and management for the Government Accountability Office, testified that not enough trained service personnel are available to handle outsourcing to contractors in the wars.

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