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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday January 16 2008 - (813)

Wednesday January 16 2008 edition
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Citigroup Loss Raises Anxiety Over Economy
2008-01-16 03:43:09
Citigroup, the nation’s largest bank, reported a staggering fourth-quarter loss of $9.83 billion on Tuesday and issued a sobering forecast that the housing market and the broader economy still had not bottomed out.

To shore up their financial condition, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, which has also been rocked by the subprime mortgage debacle, both were forced again to go hat in hand for cash infusions from investors in the United States, Asia and the Middle East, for a combined total of nearly $19.1 billion.

Citigroup’s gloomy news will most likely amplify the anxiety of consumers and workers already concerned that the mortgage crisis could plunge the economy into a recession. Adding to worries, the government reported that retail sales in December declined for the first time since 2002.

Growing pessimism led to another sharp sell-off in stocks, which fell about 2 percent for the day and are now down about 6 percent since the beginning of 2008, the third worst start for a year since 1926.

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Scientists Complain To Congress About Bush Administration Interference In Environmental Science
2008-01-16 03:42:37

Two dozen scientists swarmed over Capitol Hill this week mad as vespinae ( hornets) at what they say is Bush administration meddling in environmental science.

Organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Endangered Species Coalition, the rumpled researchers won time in the offices of more than 20 lawmakers. They are protesting what Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C., calls "the systematic dismantling of the Endangered Species Act through the manipulation and suppression of science."

On a dash from the House to the Senate, Grifo said the group wants hearings and better congressional oversight of the U.S. Interior Department,where Bush appointees control the fate of threatened and endangered species.

The scientists say political appointees at Interior, or those who report to them, have been altering their reports recommending "critical habitat" preservation to favor industries whose interests conflict with the findings.

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Britain Experiencing Worse Housing Slump In 15 Years
2008-01-16 03:41:40

House prices across the U.K. tumbled in December at the fastest pace in more than 15 years as tighter mortgage lending and higher interest rates pushed the property market closer to the biggest crash since the early 1990s, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said Wednesday.

Surveyors are urging the Bank of England to cut interest rates without delay to attract buyers and help stabilize the market. The latest monthly snapshot of the housing market by the RICS compares the proportion of surveyors reporting a drop in prices with those who saw the market climb. The study shows 49.1% more surveyors reported a fall than a rise. November's level was 40.6%.

The survey offers the bleakest picture since November 1992, when the U.K. last saw a severe slump in the housing market as properties shed almost 30% in value against a backdrop of soaring interest rates.

Price falls were seen across the country, with East Anglia and the West Midlands showing the heaviest decreases. Only surveyors in Scotland reported some subdued price rises.

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Romney Wins Michigan Republican Primary, McCain Second
2008-01-16 03:40:20
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney resoundingly won the Michigan Republican presidential primary Tuesday, seizing his first big victory in the competition and blunting the momentum of his chief rival, Sen. John McCain (Arizona). 

Romney's triumph in the state where he was born and where his father served as governor further scrambles a Republican field in which no candidate has been able to win more than one major contest. McCain captured first place in the New Hampshire primary, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee topped the Iowa field five days earlier.

The race now shifts to South Carolina, where a tough three-way contest is expected in the first Southern state to vote this primary season. McCain and Huckabee flew to the Palmetto State before the voting in Michigan ended, and Romney will head there Wednesday for a bus tour through the state.

With 89 percent counted, Romney had won 39 percent of the vote to McCain's 30 percent. Huckabee trailed with 16 percent.

The surprisingly easy win in Michigan by a candidate whom many had written off vaults Romney back into contention and reaffirms the sharpened campaign message that he debuted several days ago: an attack on Washington and an emphasis on the need for dramatic change in the way politics is practiced.

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Citigroup Posts $10 Billion Quarterly Loss
2008-01-15 16:33:43
Citigroup Inc. Tuesday said it suffered losses of nearly $10 billion in the last three months of 2007 as problems with risky sub-prime loans continued to rattle the country's major financial companies.

At the same time, new government data showed that retail sales fell 0.4 percent in December while wholesale prices spiked in 2007 - results that could bedevil policymakers with the combination of a slowing economy and rising inflation.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped on the news, losing around 100 points in the first minutes of trading, and more than 200 points by 11 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., Citigroup had fallen by almost 5.5 percent, to $27.47.

The Citigroup losses, the company's first since the former Citibank was redesigned a decade ago as a global "financial supermarket," included more than $18.1 billion in costs associated with sub-prime mortgages and an  additional $4.1 billion in losses on U.S. consumer loans.

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Pakistan Loses Control Of Militants - Duh!
2008-01-15 16:32:11
Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for al-Qaeda's global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so. 

The unusual disclosures regarding Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency - Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI  - emerged in interviews last month with former senior Pakistani intelligence officials. The disclosures confirm some of the worst fears, and suspicions, of American and Western military officials and diplomats.

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Iraq Defense Minister: Need For U.S. Security Help For Another 10 Years
2008-01-15 03:29:14
The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq's borders from external threat until at least 2018.

Those comments from the minister, Abdul Qadir, were among the most specific public projections of a timeline for the American commitment in Iraq by officials in either Washington or Baghdad. And they suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated.

Pentagon officials expressed no surprise at Qadir’s projections, which were even less optimistic than those he made last year.

President Bush has never given a date for a military withdrawal from Iraq but has repeatedly said that American forces would stand down as Iraqi forces stand up. Given Qadir’s assessment of Iraq’s military capabilities on Monday, such a withdrawal appeared to be quite distant, and further away than any American officials have previously stated in public.

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Texans Report Seeing UFO
2008-01-15 03:28:43
In the farming community of Stephenville, Texas, where nightfall usually brings clear, starry skies, residents are abuzz over reported sightings of what many believe is a UFO.

Several dozen people - including a pilot, county constable and business owners - say they have seen a large silent object with bright lights flying low and fast. Some reported seeing fighter jets chasing it.

"People wonder what in the world it is because this is the Bible Belt, and everyone is afraid it's the end of times," said Steve Allen, a freight company owner and pilot who said the object he saw last week was a mile long and half a mile wide. "It was positively, absolutely nothing from these parts."

While federal officials say there's a logical explanation, locals swear that it was larger, quieter, faster and lower to the ground than an airplane. They also said the object's lights changed configuration, unlike those of a plane. People in several towns who reported seeing it over several weeks have offered similar descriptions of the object.

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Allies Feel Strain Of Afghan War
2008-01-15 03:28:13

The U.S. plan to send an additional 3,200 Marines to troubled southern Afghanistan this spring reflects the Pentagon's  belief that if it can't bully its recalcitrant NATO allies into sending more troops to the Afghan front, perhaps it can shame them into doing so, said U.S. officials.

Yet the immediate reaction to the proposed deployment from NATO partners fighting alongside U.S. forces was that it was about time the United States stepped up its own effort.

After more than six years of coalition warfare in Afghanistan, NATO is a bundle of frayed nerves and tension over nearly every aspect of the conflict, including troop levels and missions, reconstruction, anti-narcotics efforts, and even counterinsurgency strategy. Stress has grown along with casualties, domestic pressures and a sense that the war is not improving, according to a wide range of senior U.S. and NATO-member officials who agreed to discuss sensitive alliance issues on the condition of anonymity.

While Washington has long called for allies to send more forces, NATO countries involved in some of the fiercest fighting have complained that they are suffering the heaviest losses. The United States supplies about half of the 54,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, they say, but the British, Canadians and Dutch are engaged in regular combat in the volatile south.

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Lawyer Says Top CIA Official Had Implicit Approval To Destroy CIA Tapes
2008-01-16 03:42:53

In late 2005, the retiring CIA station chief in Bangkok, Thailand, sent a classified cable to his superiors in Langley asking if he could destroy videotapes recorded at a secret CIA prison in Thailand that in part portrayed intelligence officers using simulated drowning to extract information from suspected al-Qaeda members.

The tapes had been sitting in the station chief's safe, in the U.S. Embassy compound, for nearly three years. Although those involved in the interrogations had pushed for the tapes' destruction in those years and a secret debate about it had twice reached the White House, CIA officials had not acted on those requests. This time was different.

The CIA had a new director and an acting general counsel, neither of whom sought to block the destruction of the tapes, according to agency officials. The station chief was insistent because he was retiring and wanted to resolve the matter before he left, said the officials. In November 2005, a published report that detailed a secret CIA prison system provoked an international outcry.

Those three circumstances pushed the CIA's then-director of clandestine operations, Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., to act against the earlier advice of at least five senior CIA and White House officials, who had counseled the agency since 2003 that the tapes should be preserved. Rodriguez consulted CIA lawyers and officials, who told him that he had the legal right to order the destruction. In his view, he received their implicit support to do so, according to his attorney, Robert S. Bennett.

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U.S. Supreme Court Limits Lawsuits By Shareholders
2008-01-16 03:42:18
Ruling in its most important securities fraud case in years, the Supreme Court on Tuesday placed a towering obstacle in the path of shareholders looking for someone to sue when a stock purchase turns sour.

The decision in the case, Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc., was a major and ardently sought victory for investment banks, accountants and vendors - the deep pockets that have become nearly automatic targets of class-action lawsuits that accuse them of having engaged in a fraudulent scheme with the company that actually issued the stock.

The notion of “scheme liability,” as the theory behind such lawsuits is known, now appears to be dead.

The 5-to-3 decision held that in order to proceed with such a lawsuit, plaintiffs must be able to show that they had relied, in making their decision to acquire or hold stock, on the deceptive behind-the-scenes behavior of these financial institutions, often called secondary actors. Yet behavior that was never communicated to the marketplace cannot be said to have induced reliance, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.

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Britain's Defense Ministry Reveals Scale Of Troops' Brain Injuries From Iraq, Afghanistan
2008-01-16 03:41:06
Hundreds of troops returning to the U.K. from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering brain injuries caused by exposure to high-powered explosions or minor blows to the head, it emerged Tuesday.

Britain's Ministry of Defense (MOD) said that since 2003 about 500 servicemen and women had suffered "mild traumatic brain injury" (mTBI) - which can lead to memory loss, depression and anxiety. The Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Louis Lillywhite, said that more troops could come forward as awareness of the condition increased. "We have put a significant amount of effort and resources into this area in order to get ahead of the game," he said.

One option was to put sensors in soldiers' helmets to measure blast waves as they traveled through the brain, he said. "The U.S. are introducing sensors and we are considering doing that as well, although we are awaiting their results."

The U.S. army says up to 20% of its soldiers and marines have suffered mTBI and the condition has been designated as one of four "signature injuries" of the Iraq war by the U.S. Defense Department. According to U.S. neurologists, mild brain injuries can occur when a soldier gets a blow on the head or is close to an explosion. The use of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has put troops at risk, and experts say that even the most advanced helmets cannot protect the brain from shock waves.

The Guardian revealed last year that an official inquiry had been launched into how many U.K. troops could be affected.

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France To Establish Military Base In Persian Gulf
2008-01-16 03:37:42
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Tuesday that France will establish a military base in the United Arab Emirates, making it the only Western power other than the United States to have a permanent defense installation in the strategic Persian Gulf region.

Sarkozy signed the deal in Abu Dhabi with Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, president of the U.A.E., describing it as "a sign to all that France is participating in the stability of this region of the world."

The base, announced at the end of a three-day visit by Sarkozy to Persian Gulf countries, is part of his effort to raise France's international and diplomatic profile.

Though small in size - at least 400 navy, army and air force personnel - the installation would be an important symbol for both countries.

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News Analysis: A Supreme Court Reversal Abandons The Rights Of Voters
2008-01-15 16:32:55
The Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a hugely important case about voter I.D. laws. Asking for identification at the polls may sound reasonable, but an Indiana law disenfranchises large numbers of people without driver’s licenses, especially poor and minority voters. If the court upholds the law, as appears likely, it will be a sad new chapter in its abandonment of voters, a group whose rights it once defended vigorously.

As long as there have been elections, there have been attempts to keep eligible people from voting. States and localities adopted poll taxes, literacy tests, “white primaries,” “malapportionment” - drawing district lines to give a small number of rural voters the same representation as a large number of urban voters - and restrictions on student voting. In recent decades, the Supreme Court has rejected all of them.

The court understood that the Constitution guaranteed a robust form of democracy and saw its clear value for the nation. During the tumultuous late-1960s, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that most of the country’s problems could be solved through the political process if everyone “has the opportunity to participate on equal terms with everyone else and can share in electing representatives who will be representative of the entire community and not of some special interest.”

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Newsblog: Michigan Voters Could Make History Today
2008-01-15 16:30:45
A brokered convention? Consider the possibilities.

As voters in Michigan head-to-head polls Tuesday, they have the chance to make history. Not because Republicans there may hand a victory to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who would be the nation's oldest president ever, or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who would be the first Mormon in the Oval Office, because they may help propel the Republican race toward the first brokered convention in more than a half-century.

Yes, yes, we know. Every four years, the political class, including wise-acre journalists, gets all caught up in breathless speculation about the prospect of a brokered convention. After all, no presidential nomination has required more than a single ballot since 1952 and the prospect of actual drama seems like such a refreshing thought at conventions that in recent times have been sucked dry of any suspense whatsoever. And then every four years, the notion evaporates as modern political reality takes hold again.

In fact, there's still every reason to think the same will happen this year, that both parties will shuffle through their choices and effectively coalesce around a nominee by the time spring arrives. And yet, and yet - it's hard not to ponder the possibilities, particularly on the Republican side, where the race is as unsettled as any in decades. If Romney wins his home state today, then the first three major contests will have produced three winners after former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's victory in Iowa and McCain's triumph in New Hampshire. Even if McCain wins today in Michigan and manages to keep the momentum rolling into South Carolina on Saturday, Rudy Giuliani waits in Florida and if the former New York mayor wins there on Jan. 29, the Republicans could head into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 with no clear front-runner.

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FBI Wants Instant Access To British Identity Data
2008-01-15 03:28:56
Americans seek international data base that will contain iris, palm and finger prints.

Senior British police officials are talking to the FBI about an international database to hunt for major criminals and terrorists.

The U.S.-initiated program, "Server in the Sky", would take cooperation between the police forces way beyond the current faxing of fingerprints across the Atlantic. Allies in the "war against terror" - the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand - have formed a working group, the International Information Consortium (IIC), to plan their strategy.

Biometric measurements, irises or palm prints as well as fingerprints, and other personal information are likely to be exchanged across the network. One section will feature the world's most wanted suspects. The database could hold details of millions of criminals and suspects.

The FBI is keen for the police forces of American allies to sign up to improve international security. Britain's Home Office Monday confirmed it was aware of Server in the Sky, as did the Metropolitan police.

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FDA Says Food From Cloned Animals Is Safe
2008-01-15 03:28:30

A long-awaited final report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concludes that foods from healthy cloned animals and their offspring are as safe as those from ordinary animals, effectively removing the last U.S. regulatory barrier to the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats.

The 968-page "final risk assessment," not yet released but obtained by the Washington Post, finds no evidence to support opponents' concerns that food from clones may harbor hidden risks.

Recognizing that a majority of consumers are wary of food from clones - and that cloning could undermine the wholesome image of American milk and meat - the agency report includes hundreds of pages of raw data so that others can see how it came to its conclusions.

The report also acknowledges that human health concerns are not the only issues raised by the emergence of cloned farm animals.

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European Union Reviews Biofuels As Environmental Doubts Grow
2008-01-15 03:27:56

A European drive to run vehicles on biofuels instead of petrol and diesel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to be reviewed after concerns about its environmental impact.

Stavros Dimas, the European Union (E.U.) environment commissioner, said a European target to boost biofuel production risked causing more damage than Brussels realized, but he insisted that biofuels still had benefits, and their impact on food supplies and biodiversity could be limited by the introduction of strict sustainability standards.

Europe has pledged that biofuels, such as bio-ethanol and bio-diesel, will make up 10% of transport fuel by 2020; Britain has a separate target of 5% biofuels in petrol and diesel by 2010.

Supporters argue that biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because the plants they are made from absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Yet a number of studies have raised doubts about the green credentials of many of the leading candidates, such as palm oil and ethanol made from corn. Critics say biofuels compete for land with staple food crops, and vast areas of rainforest are cleared to grow them.

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