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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday January 24 2008 - (813)

Thursday January 24 2008 edition
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U.S. Voters Showing A Darker Mood Than In 2000 Race
2008-01-23 23:21:35
Candidates are confronting an electorate deeply unsettled about the United States’ ability to control its own destiny.

Whatever their ideological differences this election year, Americans seem able to agree on one thing: the political landscape being crisscrossed by the 2008 candidates is barely recognizable as the one traveled by George W. Bush and Al Gore a mere eight years ago.

Obviously, Sept. 11 and its aftermath have changed the country in countless and irretrievable ways but, even beyond the emergence of war and national security as pre-eminent concerns, there has been a profound reordering of domestic priorities, a darkening of the country’s mood and, in the eyes of many, a fraying of America’s very sense of itself.

While not universal, that tone pervaded dozens of interviews conducted over the last week with Americans of all political stripes in 8 of the 24 states that hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5, as well as with historians, elected officials, political strategists and poll takers. As the candidates fan out to New York and California and here to the heartland, they are confronting an electorate that is deeply unsettled about the United States’ place in the world and its ability to control its own destiny.

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E.U. Aims For Moral High Gound With Climate Change Package
2008-01-23 23:20:50

A blueprint for tackling global warming was put on the table yesterday by the E.U., which challenged the U.S. and other big polluters worldwide to join the battle against climate change. Setting out plans for the world's first significant low-carbon economy, the E.U. ordered swingeing cuts in greenhouse gas emissions which included challenging targets for Britain.

Under draft legislation unveiled by the European commission, 20% of Europe's energy mix is to come from renewable sources by 2020, while Europe's biggest polluting industries must slash their emissions by 21% against 2005 levels by the same deadline.

The climate change package, senior officials in Brussels said, would give the E.U. the moral high ground, letting it lead the drive for a new, post-Kyoto international bargain on global warming with the U.S., China and India.

While the overall aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the E.U. by 363 million tons, or 20%, by 2020, Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, said the scheme included "automatic triggers" to take the cuts to the level of 30% if the remainder of the world signed up for similar action.

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Hurricanes, Global Warming Devastate Caribbean Coral Reefs
2008-01-23 23:20:12

Warmer seas and a record hurricane season in 2005 have devastated more than half of the coral reefs in the Caribbean, according to scientists. In a report published Wednesday, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) warned that this severe damage to reefs would probably become a regular event given current predictions of rising global temperatures due to climate change.

According to the report, 2005 was the hottest year on average since records began and had the most hurricanes ever recorded in a season. Large hotspots in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico powered strong tropical hurricanes such as Katrina, which developed into the most devastating storm ever to hit the U.S.

In addition to the well-documented human cost, the storms damaged coral by increasing the physical strength of waves and covering the coast in muddy run-off water from the land. The higher sea temperature also caused bleaching, in which the coral lose the symbiotic algae they need to survive. The reefs then lose their color and become more susceptible to death from starvation or disease.

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Pennsylvania Governor Backs Clinton
2008-01-23 23:18:36
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who wished Clinton and her presidential rivals would drop the rancor.

"I don't like it," Rendell, the garrulous former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said at a news conference in an ornate room in Philadelphia City Hall.

"I have tremendous respect for Senator Obama and Senator Edwards and of course great respect and affection for Senator Clinton," he said. "I would love it if we could do it with less acrimony."

Rendell also blamed reporters for encouraging the political rough and tumble and said the candidates were expected to participate in too many televised debates. Rendell said that if he were still DNC chairman he would limit the number of debates to four or five, each on a specific topic.

Emotions spilled over in a televised debate Monday, where Clinton and Obama exchanged pointed and personal barbs over issues and character while Edwards battled for air time.

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GM, Toyota Sales Were Dead Heat In 2007
2008-01-23 23:16:52
General Motors sold 3,000 more vehicles in 2007 than Toyota did, continuing its reign as the world's biggest automaker for a 77th year - if barely.

GM said Wednesday that it sold 9,369,524 cars and trucks in 2007. Toyota originally put its 2007 global sales at 9.37 million but a spokesman in Tokyo later confirmed to the Associated Press that it sold 9.366 million vehicles. Toyota officials would not provide a more precise count, saying that level of reporting runs counter to company practices.

Much of the ground GM has lost has been on its own turf. Toyota has steadily expanded U.S. production and pounced on demand for small cars and hybrids, with such models as the Yaris and the Prius. Toyota has also challenged domestic automakers' lock on the pickup truck market with the Tundra, which is built in Texas. Last year, Toyota pushed aside Ford for second place in the U.S. market, a position Ford had held since the Great Depression.

The Japanese car maker has not appeared particularly eager to celebrate its growing dominance. A company spokesman said Toyota is focused on "staying No. 1 in quality and customer service".

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Afghan Journalist's Death Sentence Blamed On Warlords
2008-01-23 23:15:59
Real target is brother who revealed abuse scandals; 23-year-old reporter denies mocking Islam.

An Afghan reporter was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court Wednesday for allegedly questioning the prophet Muhammad's respect for women's rights.

The case has raised concerns over declining press freedom in Afghanistan and the growing power of militia commanders and ultra-conservative clerics.

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, a 23-year-old reporter for the Jahan-e-Now daily, was tried behind closed doors and without a lawyer in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif after allegations by university classmates that he had mocked Islam and circulated an article that argued the prophet Muhammad had ignored the rights of women. Kaambakhsh denied writing the article, saying his name was added after it was printed, but he was found guilty.

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U.S. Stocks Rebound After Day Of Volatility, Jitters
2008-01-23 17:14:46

U.S. stocks rebounded Wednesday afternoon in another day of wild fluctuations after a sharp opening drop threatened to undermine the effect of Tuesday's interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve. Reflecting concerns about corporate profits and fears that the U.S. economy is heading toward recession, stocks plunged in early trading and spent much of the day in negative territory before climbing in the afternoon.

Analysts attributed the rebound to bargain-hunting and to calculations that the Fed's interest rate cut may halt a drop in shares of U.S. banks. But they said continued volatility can be expected as investors take the measure of the economy's weaknesses.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 200 points, or roughly 2percent, on the opening bell, while the Nasdaq composite index suffered an even larger proportionate loss. With corporate reports from Apple and Motorola both disappointing investors, the tech-heavy index initially lost more than 55 points, roughly 2.5 percent of its value. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down nearly 2 percent.

At one point in early trading, the Dow was down more than 320 points. But it surged in the afternoon, climbing more than 270 points into positive territory less than an hour before the close. The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 were each up about 25 points.

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Sallie Mae Reports 4th Quarter Loss Of $1.6 Billion
2008-01-23 17:14:19
Struggling student loan giant Sallie Mae reported Wednesday that it lost $1.6 billion during the fourth quarter of 2007, a sharp reversal from its $18 million profit during the corresponding period a year earlier.

That fourth-quarter result brought Sallie Mae's annual loss for 2007 to $896 million, compared with a profit of $1.2 billion for 2006.

The Reston-based company said it booked a loan-loss provision of $575 million during the fourth quarter to cover actual and expected losses on student loans that it holds.

"While there were some bright spots, we are obviously disappointed by our fourth-quarter results overall," chief executive Albert L. Lord said in a news release. 

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Judge Sentences Padilla To 17 Years In Prison
2008-01-23 17:13:53
Jose Padilla, the former Chicago gang member originally accused of plotting with al-Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" on U.S. soil, was sentenced on Tuesday to 17 years in prison on less dramatic charges.

The sentencing brought an end to years of high-profile legal battles that tested the limits of presidential power and the government's ability to hold American terrorism suspects indefinitely without charging them. In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke also implicitly criticized the government's treatment of Padilla during the time it held him without charges.

The ruling marks a major setback in a terrorism prosecution for the Justice Department, which had urged Cooke to sentence Padilla to life in prison.

Prosecutors already had been forced to drop the "dirty bomb" allegation and pressed ahead with a case involving less specific charges of support for terrorism and conspiracy. They won convictions against Padilla, 37, and two co-defendants in August, but Cooke's sentence means that he could be freed in his early 50s.

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Governments Try To Calm Markets
2008-01-23 03:13:26

Britain was pushing Tuesday night for an emergency meeting to calm financial markets as governments around the world tried to reassure nervous investors. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown has convened Downing Street talks with his German, French and Italian counterparts to discuss banking regulation and ways to disclose banks' bad debts more quickly.

In an attempt to avoid a repetition of the current credit crisis, the prime minister will call for measures to improve transparency in the banking system, to coordinate national regulators, to review the role of credit rating agencies, and to strengthen the management of liquidity risks.

The move came after another frantic day of trading in global markets which prompted the U.S. Federal Reserve to make an emergency cut in interest rates.

It also led Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, to warn Tuesday night that Britain faces its biggest economic challenges in more than a decade in the coming year and predict that economic activity could slow "quite sharply" in the short term.

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U.S. Gets Poor Marks On The Environment
2008-01-23 03:12:23
A new international ranking of environmental performance puts the United States at the bottom of the Group of 8  industrialized nations and 39th among the 149 countries on the list. European nations dominate the top places in the ranking, which evaluates sanitation, greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural policies, air pollution and 20 other measures to formulate an overall score, with 100 the best possible.

The top 10 countries, with scores of 87 or better, were led by Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The others at the top were Austria, France, Latvia, Costa Rica, Colombia and New Zealand, the leader in the 2006 version of the analysis, which is conducted by researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities.

“We are putting more weight on climate change," said Daniel Esty, the report’s lead author, who is the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “Switzerland is the most greenhouse gas efficient economy in the developed world,” he said, in part because of its use of hydroelectric power and its transportation system, which relies more on trains than individual cars or trucks.

The United States, with a score of 81.0, he noted, “is slipping down,” both because of low scores on three different analyses of greenhouse gas emissions and a pervasive problem with smog. The country’s performance on a new indicator that measures regional smog, he said, “is at the bottom of the world right now.”

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Reports: Thousands Cross Gaza Wall Into Egypt
2008-01-23 03:11:16
Masked gunmen blew holes in the wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt early Wednesday and thousands of Palestinians poured across the border to buy supplies made scarce by an Israeli blockade of the impoverished territory.

Egyptian guards and police from the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, stood by without taking action.

Israel transferred fuel to restart Gaza's only electricity plant Tuesday, easing its five-day blockade of the Palestinian territory amid growing international concern about a humanitarian crisis.

Before dawn the next day, Palestinian gunmen began breaching the border wall dividing the town of Rafah, which has a Gazan and an Egyptian side.

The identity of the gunmen who breached the border was not immediately clear. But Hamas expressed support for the move, saying, "Blowing up the border wall with Egypt is a reflection of the ... catastrophic situation which the Palestinian people in Gaza are living through due to the blockade."

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Next On Wall Street's Worry List: Shaky Insurers Of Bonds
2008-01-23 23:21:10

Even as stocks ended five days of losses with a surprising recovery on Wednesday, officials began moving to defuse another potential time bomb in the markets: the weakened condition of two large insurance companies that have guaranteed buyers against losses on more than $1 trillion of bonds.

Regulators fear a possible chain of events in which the troubled bond insurers, MBIA and Ambac, might be unable to keep their promise to pay investors if borrowers default on their debt.

That could leave the buyers of the bonds - including many banks and pension funds - on the hook for untold billions of dollars in losses, shaking confidence in the financial system.

To avoid a possible crisis, insurance regulators met with representatives of about a dozen banks on Wednesday to discuss ways to shore up the insurers by injecting fresh capital, much as Wall Street firms have turned to outside investors recently after suffering steep losses related to subprime mortgages.

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Soros: U.K. Cannot Escape U.S. Recession
2008-01-23 23:20:31
U.K. vulnerable to reliance on financial services.

George Soros, who famously bet against the Bank of England on Black Wednesday in 1992, Wednesday warned that Britain could follow the United States into recession.

As he did so, the head of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the Bank of England and European Central Bank (ECB) should cut interest rates to prevent their economies suffering the same sort of slowdown that on Tuesday prompted the Federal Reserve to make the biggest cut in U.S. interest rates for a quarter of a century.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos as stock markets resumed their downward march, Soros said it would be "very difficult" to avoid recession in both the U.S. and the U.K. The Fed had cut rates in a bid to prevent the U.S. tumbling into a major depression.

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Fossilized Skull May End Debate Over Origin Of 1.3 Billion Chinese
2008-01-23 23:19:32
Chinese archaeologists hail biggest find since Peking Man.

Chinese archaeologists are hailing their biggest discovery in almost 80 years after unearthing a skull that could provide a clue to the origins of a fifth of the world's population. The fossilized skull, named Xuchang Man after the city where it was found, is thought to date back 80,000 to 100,000 years, to a period that has long been a mystery to scientists.

It contains a rare fossilized membrane that archaeologists hope will reveal important details about the nervous system of the ancients and settle a contentious academic debate about whether most of China's 1.3 billion people are mainly indigenous, descended from African migrants or intermixed.

The almost complete skull, which comprises 16 fragments, was found in the central province of Henan last month. It has protruding eyebrows and a small forehead.

Government officials said the importance of the find was second only to that of Peking Man in 1929, when archaeologists discovered five almost complete skulls and other bones believed to date back 250,000 to 500,000 years.

"It is the greatest discovery in China after the Peking Man and Upper Cave Man skull fossils that were found in Beijing early last century and will shed light on a critical period of human evolution," Shan Jixiang, director of China's cultural heritage administration, was quoted as saying by the China Daily.

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Commentary: One Practical Way To Improve The State Of The World - Turn The G8 Into The G14
2008-01-23 23:17:57
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Timoth Garton Ash and appears in the Guardian edition for Thursday, January 24, 2008. Mr. Ash writes: "As power shifts from the old west, it is absurd that the world's economic top table has a seat for Italy but no place for China." His commentary follows:

Wherever you turn in Davos, you see the World Economic Forum's modest motto: "Committed to improving the state of the world." Well, it needs it. So here's one practical step: the G8 should be expanded to G14, adding China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Indonesia. Arbitrary? To be sure. Tactless? You bet. Deeply offensive to some important countries not on that list? Obviously - and they will cry havoc, foul and blue murder. But sometimes, if you're committed to improving the state of the world, you have to be a little brutal.

The dangers of climate change, nuclear proliferation, disease and poverty - not to mention the fragile state of globalized capitalism - demand a more credible and representative cast at the annual intergovernmental summit. As Asia rises, it is ever more absurd that the world's unofficial top table has a seat for Italy but not for China. The current lineup at the world's official top table, the U.N. Security Council, is not very satisfactory either, but it's also more difficult to change. The G8, by contrast, is a club that can simply decide to invite new members to join. That's how the G7 came to add Russia in the 1990s. No U.N. General Assembly debate or ratification procedure is required. In principle, there's no reason why this decision could not be taken at the next annual summit, this summer in Japan. Like Nike, the G8 can just do it.

One objection to expanding the group is that it will lose intimacy, or "collegiality". But the fireside chats of the original "library group" of the early 1970s are already a thing of the distant past. Today's G8 summits are massive intergovernmental events, their every artful informality planned like a military operation. I'm told the American delegation to the last one, in Germany, had some 800 people. The qualitative difference between a lunchtime conversation of eight leaders and of 14 is not so great. The key deals will be made in smaller side-conversations anyway. The gain in representativeness, and therefore the global reach of commitments made on issues such as climate change, trade and aid, will more than compensate for the loss of pretended intimacy.

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Ahmadinejad To Challenge U.S. Influence With A Visit To Iraq
2008-01-23 23:16:16
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to become the first Iranian leader since the revolution to visit Baghdad after the Iraqi foreign ministry announced he had accepted an invitation, at a time of high tension in the Gulf.

The visit was confirmed by the Iranian president's office, but no firm date has been agreed. The visit would mark a breakthrough in relations between Iran and Iraq, which fought an eight-year war in the 1980s that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It would also represent a challenge to American influence in Iraq, at a time when the U.S. and Iran are vying for regional supremacy. U.S. warships in the Gulf have fired across the bows of Iranian patrol boats once and come close another two times over the past two months.

Adding to the tension, there will be a security council debate next month on a new sanctions package aimed at forcing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. A draft resolution, agreed by the council's five permanent members and Germany at a meeting in Berlin on Tuesday, marginally increases sanctions imposed last year. It adds a few names to a list of Iranian officials subject to a travel ban because of their links to the nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said Wednesday.

The threat of new sanctions was shrugged off Wednesday by the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who insisted that Iran had the right to develop a nuclear industry. "We need 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity and for this we have to build 20 nuclear power plants," said Jalili.

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German State Railway Confronts Its Holocaust Role
2008-01-23 23:15:32
Germany's state railway company admitted on Wednesday the central role its Nazi-era predecessor played in the Holocaust, saying that without the cooperation of the network the systematic murder of millions of people would never have been possible.

Launching its first touring exhibition about the Holocaust, Deutsche Bahn (DB) said the tracks and freight of the Reichsbahn were integral to the Nazis' extermination plan. "Without the Reichsbahn the industrial murder of millions of people would not have been possible," said DB's in-house historian, Susanne Kill.

At least 3 million Jews and Roma - including 1.5 million children - were gathered from across Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe and transported on the Reichsbahn to extermination camps. Adult prisoners and children over four were even charged a fare, earning the railways millions of Reichsmarks. Trainloads of 400 or more, which amounted to massive overcrowding, received a 50% discount.

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Cheney Wants Wiretap Powers Extended, Immunity For Telecoms
2008-01-23 17:14:33

Vice President Cheney called on Congress Wednesday to permanently extend the Protect America Act as the White House launched a drive to secure the tools it says are needed to fight a continuing terrorist threat beyond the law's Feb. 1 expiration.

In a speech to a sympathetic audience at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, Cheney also said the law must include immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that assisted the U.S. government's electronic surveillance efforts after Sept. 11, 2001.

"There is no sound reason to pass critical legislation like the Protect America Act and slap an expiration date on it," said Cheney. "The challenge to the country has not expired over the last six months. It won't expire any time soon, and we should not write laws that pretend otherwise."

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Motorola Profit Plunges 84%
2008-01-23 17:14:06
Motorola said Wednesday its net profit fell 84 percent in the fourth quarter and warned that the recovery in its struggling cell phone unit will take longer than expected. Its shares fell more than 8 percent in premarket trading.

Motorola reported a net profit of $100 million, or 4 cents a share, down from a year-earlier profit of $623 million, or 25 cents a share. Sales fell to $9.65 billion from $11.79 billion a year earlier.

On a continuing operations basis, Motorola reported a profit of 5 cents a share. That figure includes charges of 9 cents a share for asset write-downs, layoffs and a legal settlement.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial, on average, expected earnings per share of 13 cents on revenue of $9.6 billion for the quarter.

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Following Losses, Asian Markets Ease Higher
2008-01-23 03:13:42
The calm seemed to return to markets across Asian on Wednesday morning.

After two brutal days in which some Asian stock indexes fell more than 12 percent, most of the exchanges across the region rebounded, albeit only modestly.

At mid-day, most markets had recouped some losses, with Japanese shares up less than one percent and the Australian stock market, which tumbled 7.1 percent on Tuesday, its worst single-day loss in nearly two decades, ahead 4 percent. The battered Hang Seng index advanced 4.5 percent. Chinese equity indexes rose, then fell back.

In Japan, the Nikkei average traded up more than 3 percent early in the session, but traders pared gains more amid concerns of more problems in the United States.

Yutaka Miura, senior technical analyst at Shinko Securities, told Reuters that investors were worried that New York shares might continue to fall in trade Wednesday, which was making them reluctant to hold on to positions.

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Clinton Looking Beyond South Carolina
2008-01-23 03:13:03
The next Democratic presidential nominating contest will take place in South Carolina on Saturday, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has already turned her full attention to places such as this: delegate-rich pockets of states that will vote in a tidal wave of primaries two weeks from now.

Clinton has been focused on California, New York, New Jersey and Arkansas since her defeat in the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, betting that she can sweep states where her name recognition and popularity are strong.

The logic seems simple: She represents New York in the Senate, and New Jersey is next door; she was the first lady of Arkansas for a decade; and California will be the biggest prize when 22 states vote on Feb. 5. But in a system that awards delegates by congressional district, with some worth more than others, the calculation is far from straightforward, and Clinton backers fear that the setup could boost Sen. Barack Obama if he fares well in populous corners of key states.

Her strategists call it a "game of chess," part of the byzantine path to the Democratic nomination in a campaign that has pitted two strong front-runners and a determined third candidate, former senator John Edwards, in a tight battle from one contest to the next.

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Missing U.S. Marine Spotted In Mexico
2008-01-23 03:11:43
Missing U.S. Marine Cesar Laurean, wanted in the slaying of a pregnant colleague, visited relatives in Mexico last week but left without saying where he was headed, a man identified as his cousin said Tuesday.

Juan Antonio Ramos Ramirez told the Associated Press that Laurean walked into his liquor store on Jan. 14 or Jan. 15, and the two cousins chatted for 10 minutes about their families. Laurean then told Ramos Ramirez that he had to get back to two friends outside, but he might return. He never came back.

CNN first reported Tuesday that Laurean had briefly stopped by Ramos Ramirez's liquor store in Zapopan, just outside Guadalajara.

Days later, Ramos Ramirez saw a television report that Laurean was wanted in the United States for killing 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach.

"We were completely shocked," he said.

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