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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday January 13 2008 - (813)

Sunday January 13 2008 edition
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Bush Say Troop Cutbacks Might Stop
2008-01-13 01:04:53
President Bush said Saturday he is open to the possibility of slowing or stopping plans to bring home more U.S. troops from Iraq, defying domestic demands to speed the withdrawals. Updated on war developments, Bush said the U.S. presence in Iraq will outlast his presidency.

Bush said any decision about troop levels "needs to be based upon success," but that there was no discussion about specific numbers when he was briefed by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad.

The president was cheered by news that Iraq's parliament had approved legislation reinstating thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein's dissolved Baath party to government jobs. Bush had prodded Iraqi leaders for more than a year to enact the law.

"It's an important step toward reconciliation," Bush said as he opened talks with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. "It's an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people."
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Pressure To Scrap Britain's Official Secrets Act
2008-01-13 01:04:21
Pressure to scrap the present Official Secrets Act is growing amid new revelations concerning the bungled attempts by the Foreign Office (FO) to prosecute civil servant Derek Pasquill for leaking documents to the media.

The case was abandoned after an internal FO email destroying the chances of securing a prosecution was disclosed 18 months after Pasquill's arrest. With senior individuals at the Foreign Office now facing the threat of a lawsuit for malicious prosecution from Pasquill's lawyers, calls were also mounting for an explanation why an Official Secrets prosecution was allowed to go ahead by then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, when senior officials in his department were insisting it was an inappropriately harsh response to Pasquill's leaks to The Observer and the New Statesman news organizations.

Among those calling for a review of secrecy laws is Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and a security adviser to David Cameron.

Neville-Jones was among a number of figures who had been expected to be called by Pasquill's defense team to rebuff claims that his actions had damaged the U.K.'s international relations.

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California Attorney General Asks Congress For Subpoena In EPA Emissions Ruling
2008-01-12 17:05:19
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of a Senate environment panel, says she might subpoena documents concerning possible White House interference.

Congressional critics launched an offensive against the Bush administration Thursday for denying California and other states the right to adopt strict curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she would consider issuing a subpoena for documents that might show White House interference in the Dec. 19 decision to deny California a waiver to enact its own rules under the Clean Air Act.

"This outrageous decision ... is completely contrary to the law and science," Boxer said in a briefing with state officials at Los Angeles City Hall. She held up an empty cardboard box as a symbol of the Environmental Protection Agency's refusal so far to provide the hefty technical and legal backup that normally accompanies air pollution waiver decisions and are usually published in the Federal Register.
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Appeals Court Decision: Guantanamo Detainees Are Not Persons
2008-01-12 17:04:45
A federal appeals court Friday threw out a suit by four British Muslims who allege that they were tortured and subjected to religious abuse in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a ruling that exonerated 11 present and former senior Pentagon officials.

It appeared to be the first time that a federal appellate court has ruled on the legality of the harsh interrogation tactics that U.S. intelligence officers and military personnel have used on suspected terrorists held outside the United States since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The detainees allege that they were held in stress positions, interrogated for sessions lasting 24 hours, intimidated with dogs and isolated in darkness and that their beards were shaved.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the detainees captured in Afghanistan aren't recognized as "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they were aliens held outside the United States. The Religious Freedom Act prohibits the government from "substantially burdening a person's religion."

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Commentary: Bush Visits His Odious Saudi Friend
2008-01-12 17:04:04
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Amitabh Pal and appeared in The Progressive's online edition for Thursday, January 10, 2008. Mr. Pal's commentary follows:

How do you punish the principal global purveyor of fundamentalist Islam, someone who backed the Taliban and continues to harshly suppress political freedoms, women and religious minorities?

If you’re President Bush, you reward him with a state visit, of course!

During his current Middle East trip, Bush is looking in on a rogues’ gallery of U.S. allies, from Bahrain and Egypt to the United Arab Emirates and Israel. But King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia occupies the pride of place.

“The government places strict limits on freedom of association, assembly, and expression,” writes Human Rights Watch in its roundup of conditions in the kingdom in 2006. “Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement, and lack of official accountability remain serious concerns. Saudi women continue to face serious obstacles to their participation in society.”

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80 Arrested As Protesters Demand Guantanamo Be Closed
2008-01-12 17:03:02
Eighty people were arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court Friday in a protest calling for the shutdown of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Demonstrators wearing orange jumpsuits intended to simulate prison garb were arrested inside and outside the building in the early afternoon. ''Shut it down,'' protesters chanted as others kneeled on the plaza in front of the court.

They were charged with violating an ordinance that prohibits demonstrations of any kind on court grounds. Those arrested inside the building also were charged under a provision that makes it a crime to give ''a harangue or oration'' in the Supreme Court building.

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New U.S. Embassy In Iraq Called Fire Risk
2008-01-12 03:48:09

The firefighting system in the massive $736 million embassy complex in Baghdad has potential safety problems that top U.S. officials dismissed in their rush to declare construction largely completed by the end of last year, according to internal State Department documents, e-mails and interviews.

Some officials assert that in the push to complete the long-delayed project, potentially life-threatening problems have been left untouched. "This is serious enough to get someone killed," said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation. "The fire systems are the tip of the iceberg. That is the most visible. But no one has ever inspected the electrical system, the power plant" and other parts of the embassy complex, which will house more than 1,000 people and is vulnerable to mortar attacks.

Other sources involved in the project, also requesting anonymity, insist that disputes involve technical paperwork issues, largely because the contractor had never built an embassy and did not realize that under State Department rules it needed approval for substituting certain materials. Now, much of that work needs to be reexamined and checked, they said, substantially delaying the project's completion.

The finger-pointing over fire safety is a microcosm of the suspicion that hangs over the troubled project, which is built on acreage almost four times the size of the Pentagon. Originally expected to be completed by July 1, 2007, at a cost of $592 million, the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world has been plagued by poor planning, shoddy workmanship and design changes that have added to the cost. The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of the contract and related subcontracts, said sources.

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News Analysis: Some Fear U.S. Economic Simulus Is Already Too Late
2008-01-13 01:04:40

As leaders in Washington, D.C., turn their attention to efforts to avert a looming downturn, many economists suggest that it may already be too late to change the course of the economy over the first half of the year, if not longer.

With a wave of negative signs gathering force, economists, policy makers and investors are debating just how much the economy could be damaged in 2008. Huge and complex, the American economy has in recent years been aided by a global web of finance so elaborate that no one seems capable of fully comprehending it. That makes it all but impossible to predict how much the economy can be expected to fall before it stabilizes.

The answer could be a defining factor in the outcome of the fiercely contested presidential election. Not long ago, the race centered on the war in Iraq.

Now, as candidates fan out across the country, visiting places as varied as the factory towns of Michigan and streets lined with unsold condominiums in Las Vegas, voters are increasingly demanding that they focus on the best way to keep the economy from slipping off the tracks.

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News Analysis: No Simple Fix For U.S. Economic Downturn
2008-01-13 01:03:58
The current downturn looks more unsettling than a simply swing in the financial cycle, and traditional remedies might not be up to the task.

As presidential candidates and government policymakers rush to offer prescriptions for the deteriorating U.S. economy, some are beginning to worry about a disturbing possibility: This may not be your traditional downturn. And the tools that helped restore prosperity in the past may prove less effective this time around.

Cyclical downturns, including recessions, have long been a feature of the nation's economic landscape after periods of sustained growth. So has one of the most popular antidotes: a fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts or higher government spending.

Today, public figures as diverse as Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential contender, and Martin Feldstein, a Reagan adminstration advisor and conservative Harvard economist, are proposing just that remedy for the current problem: stimulus packages of $50 billion to more than $100 billion.

Such proposals are designed for normal downturns, in which the fundamental problem is that the economy has stalled because consumers have run out of steam or because policymakers have made a mistake, stomping too hard on the economic brakes. Under such circumstances, pumping money into the economy gets it moving again.
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Judge Allows Suit Charging That V.A. Denies Some Vets Health Care
2008-01-12 17:05:08

Veterans' advocates can proceed with a lawsuit claiming that the federal government's health care system for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan illegally denies care and benefits, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, a conservative jurist and a World War II veteran, rejected Bush administration arguments that civil courts have no authority over the Department of Veterans Affairs' medical decisions or how it handles grievances and claims.

If the plaintiffs can prove their allegations, Conti said, they would show that "thousands of veterans, if not more, are suffering grievous injuries as the result of their inability to procure desperately needed and obviously deserved health care."

He said federal courts are competent to decide whether those injuries were caused by flaws in the health care system and the V.A.'s grievance procedures.

Conti did not rule on the adequacy of the treatment system, which will be addressed in future proceedings. But he decided one disputed issue, finding that veterans are legally entitled to two years of health care after leaving the service. The government had argued that it was required to provide only as much care as the V.A.'s budget allowed in a given year.

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Commentary: The Voter I.D. Fraud
2008-01-12 17:04:28
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Garrett Epps and appeared in The Nation's online edition for Wednesday, January 9, 2008. Mr. Epps' commentary follows:

There's a war on across the country over who will be allowed to vote in 2008. One of the key battles in the election was fought on January 9 before the Supreme Court.

The case is called Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. It tests an Indiana statute, passed in 2005, requiring voters to present a government-issued I.D. before they can cast a ballot. The law is aimed at alleged fraudulent voting by unregistered or noncitizen voters. Republicans insist that these voters pose a major problem, despite the fact that every systematic study of the question has concluded that this kind of fraud-called "voter impersonation"-is all but unknown in the United States right now. In fact, authorities in Indiana could not point to a single case of voter impersonation in the state's history.

Voter I.D. laws span a wide spectrum. The federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002, provides that all states must require I.D. from first-time voters who register by mail. But twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have gone beyond this. Eighteen require all voters to produce some form of ID, which may be a bank statement or utility bill sent to their address. Two require a photo I.D., which may include employee or other unofficial IDs. Arizona requires all voters to produce either one government-issued I.D. or two other identifications. Indiana stands alone in requiring that the I.D. have a  photo and be issued by the government-the most difficult forms of identification to obtain. Voters who don't have such I.D.s. are supposed to cast "provisional" ballots, which will be counted only if they show up at election headquarters with a proper I.D. within a few days of the voting.

The more restrictive the law, the greater the likelihood that it will tip a close election by turning away legal voters-mostly the poor, minorities and the elderly. It's not a coincidence that these voters tend to vote Democratic. In fact, the State of Indiana, in its filings with the Supreme Court, admits that the litigation represents "politics by other means." This flippant attitude toward the right to vote permeates the state's argument. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has shown signs that it shares the view that turning voters away from the polls is constitutionally unimportant.

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Pakistan Warns U.S. Against Attacking Al-Qaeda Within Pakistan
2008-01-12 17:03:26
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf  warned in an interview published Friday that any unilateral attacks by the United States against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in his country’s tribal areas would be treated as an invasion.

Musharraf also left open the possibility of American and Pakistani forces working together in broader combined operations to kill or capture senior al-Qaeda leaders believed to be hiding in the rugged border area near Afghanistan.

“You’re talking about Osama bin Laden; any action against him will be free, if we know where he is, if we have good intelligence,” Musharraf told the Straits Times of Singapore. “The methodology of getting him will be discussed together, and we’ll attack the target together.”

Asked in the interview about a proposal under review by President Bush’s senior national security advisers to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas, Musharraf said he would oppose the conduct of unilateral strikes by American forces without Pakistani approval.

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Fears About U.S. Economy Worsen
2008-01-12 03:48:26

Major banks and mortgage companies Friday sharply accelerated an industry consolidation that is set to change the landscape of American lending, while a convergence of events exposed fresh worries about the U.S. economy.

New indications emerged Friday that the spiraling subprime mortgage crisis is spreading from home loans to credit cards, potentially engulfing a far broader segment of Americans. At the same time, the U.S. trade deficit soared to a 14-month high, fueled by soaring oil prices.

And rising concern that U.S. investment houses, particularly Merrill Lynch, may yet suffer far greater losses, helped set up a wide market sell-off.

Echoing the heightened concern, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., said Friday that the U.S. economy had slowed "rather materially" at the end of 2007 and that "time is of the essence" in launching an economic stimulus package to stave off a recession.

Meanwhile, a broad shake-up of the U.S. lending industry is speeding up. Bank of America agreed Friday to buy the troubled Countrywide Financial $4 billion, a bargain-basement price for the nation's largest mortgage lender, which, analysts said, could have even more substantial mortgage-related losses ahead.

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A.P. Poll: Economy Ties War As Top U.S. Worry
2008-01-12 03:47:56
The faltering U.S. economy has caught the Iraq war as people's top worry, a national poll suggests, with the rapid turnabout already showing up on the presidential campaign trail and in maneuvering between President Bush and Congress.

Twenty percent named the economy as the foremost problem in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday, virtually tying the 21 percent who cited the war. In October, the last time the survey posed the open-ended question about the country's top issue, the war came out on top by a 2-1 majority.

About equal proportions of Republicans, Democrats and independents in the new poll said the economy was their major worry, suggesting the issue looms as a potent one in both parties' presidential contests. It was also cited evenly across all levels of income, underscoring the variety of economic problems the country faces.

Amid increasing trade, job, housing, stock market and gasoline price woes, candidates from each party have started talking about how they would bolster the economy. The issue looms as the dominant one in the next presidential contest: Tuesday's Republican primary in Michigan, which had a 7.4 percent unemployment rate in November that is the nation's worst.

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