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Friday, February 15, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday February 15 2008 - (813)

Friday February 15 2008 edition
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U.S. House Refuses To Budge On Wiretaps, Defies Bush
2008-02-15 03:53:03
The U.S. House of Representatives defied the White House Thursday by refusing to make an expiring surveillance law permanent, prompting a harsh exchange between Republicans and Democrats as they prepared for an extended, election-year battle over national security.

The episode was a rare uprising by Democrats against the White House on a terrorism issue, and it inspired caterwauling on both sides about the dire ramifications of the standoff.

Republicans said Democrats were putting the nation at risk, while President Bush offered to delay his scheduled departure for Africa Friday to reach a deal. Democrats responded with charges of administration recklessness and fear mongering.

The conflict erupted on the same day that House Democrats approved contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten andformer White House counsel Harriet E. Miers over their refusal to cooperate with an investigation into the mass firings of U.S. attorneys.

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Study Finds Humans' Effect On Oceans Comprehensive
2008-02-15 03:52:22

Human activities are impacting every square mile of the world's oceans, according to a study by a team of American, British and Canadian researchers who mapped the severity of the effects from pole to pole.

The analysis of 17 global data sets, led by Benjamin S. Halpern of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California,details how humans are reshaping the seas through overfishing, air and water pollution, commercial shipping and other activities. The study, published online Thursday by the journal Science, examines those effects on nearly two dozen marine ecosystems, including coral reefs and continental shelves.

"For the first time we can see where some of the most threatened marine ecosystems are and what might be degrading them," Elizabeth Selig, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a co-author, said in a statement. "This information enables us to tailor strategies and set priorities for ecosystem management. And it shows that while local efforts are important, we also need to be thinking about global solutions."

The team of scientists analyzed factors that included warming ocean temperatures because of greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient runoff and fishing. They found that the areas under the most stress are "the North and Norwegian seas, South and East China seas, Eastern Caribbean, North American eastern seaboard, Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Bering Sea, and the waters around Sri Lanka." 

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Physicians Group Urges Easing Of Federal Ban On Medical Marijuana
2008-02-15 03:50:18
A large and respected association of physicians is calling on the federal government to ease its strict ban on marijuana as medicine and hasten research into the drug's therapeutic uses.

The American College of Physicians, the nation's largest organization of doctors of internal medicine, with 124,000 members, contends that the long and rancorous debate over marijuana legalization has obscured good science that has demonstrated the benefits and medicinal promise of cannabis.

In a 13-page position paper approved by the college's governing board of regents and posted Thursday on the group's website,the group calls on the government to drop marijuana from Schedule I, a classification it shares with illegal drugs such as heroin and LSD that are considered to have no medicinal value and a high likelihood of abuse.

The declaration could put new pressure on Washington lawmakers and government regulators who for decades have rejected attempts to reclassify marijuana.

Bush administration officials have aggressively rebuffed all attempts in Congress, the courts and among law enforcement organizations to legitimize medical marijuana.
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UPDATE: Illinois Campus Shooting Leaves 6 Dead
2008-02-15 03:48:53
A gunman dressed in black stormed into an oceanography class at Northern Illinois University Thursday afternoon and opened fire with a shotgun and two handguns, killing five students and wounding 16 more in a matter of seconds.

Then, still on stage, he killed himself, authorities said.

The gunman was not a current student at the school of more than 25,000 that rises from cornfields and subdivisions 65 miles west of downtown Chicago, authorities said.

NIU President John G. Peters said the man had been enrolled as a sociology graduate student at NIU but left school last spring. Peters said the gunman had no police record.

Late Thursday, sources confirmed that they have tentatively identified the shooter as a 27-year-old graduate student in social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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UPDATE: 5 Shot Dead, Including Gunman, At Northern Illinois University
2008-02-14 19:58:04
A gunman killed four people at Northern Illinois University's DeKalb campus outside Chicago Thursday, and then fatally shot himself. Seventeen people were injured, authorities said, at least three gravely.

The shooter, dressed in black, walked out from behind a screen in a geology ocean sciences class in a 600-seat lecture hall and opened fire a little after 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), NIU president John Peters said.

There are about 162 registered students in the class, which meets from 2 to 3:15.

The gunman used a shotgun and two handguns, Police Chief Donald Grady said.

The police know the identity of the gunman but are not releasing it at this time. He was not a student at the DeKalb campus, but it appears he was a student elsewhere, said Grady.

Many victims were shot in the head, said Theresa Comitas, spokeswoman for Kishwaukee Community Hospital, about 10 minutes from the school.

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BREAKING NEWS: 'Several People Injured' In Northern Illinois University Shooting
2008-02-14 17:24:39
Several people were confirmed wounded Thursday afternoon in a shooting on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, according to authorities.

A statement posted at 3:50 p.m. on the university's Web site said "several people" had been taken away by ambulance.

Dominique Broxton, 22, a student from Oak Park, said she could see two wounded students from her dorm room.

"The ambulance took away two students on the ground right outside my dorm," she said. "I don't know them. They looked bloody. Where I am right now, there are a lot of police, at least a dozen. There are police cars and trucks everywhere."

Broxton said the scene was chaotic.
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Justice Dept. Official Tells Congress Waterboarding Is Not Legal
2008-02-14 15:27:33
A senior Justice Department official told Congress on Thursday that laws and other limits enacted since three terrorism suspects were waterboarded have eliminated the technique from what is now allowed.

''The program as it is authorized today does not include waterboarding,'' Steven G. Bradbury, acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told the House subcommittee on the Constitution.

''There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding under any circumstances would be lawful under current law,'' he added.

However, under questioning later, Bradbury added that the department also hasn't determined whether it would be unlawful. ''The department, as I've tried to indicate, has not had occasion to address the question since the enactment of these new laws.''

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CNN Producer Says He Was Fired For Blogging
2008-02-14 15:26:41

Should journalists be permitted to maintain personal - and highly opinionated - blogs on their own time? Chez Pazienza, a senior producer for CNN’s “American Morning,” says the network fired him on Tuesday on the grounds that he violated its standards for journalists through his blog, Deus Ex Malcontent.

Pazienza announced that he had been fired through - what else - a blog post on Wednesday. “What was the reason for my abrupt and untimely dismissal?” he wrote. “You’re reading it. More to come soon.”

In a phone interview this morning, Pazienza, 38, said he joined CNN as a senior producer in January 2004 and has consistently received positive performance evaluations of his work. He spent his first year at CNN at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta and then moved to New York to work on “CNN Daybreak,” which has since been canceled, and then “American Morning,” which airs Monday through Friday, from 6 to 9 a.m.

Pazienza said he started his blog in May 2006 as a way to keep his mind occupied while he was on a medical leave of several months following surgery to remove a brain tumor. He got noticed by blogs like Drew Curtis' FARK, a popular news-aggregation site, and Pajiba, a left-wing blog of movie and book reviews. “Slowly but surely people started reading me a little bit, and it was nice,” he said. “I was still relatively small but for a personal blog. I was doing very well. I had a few thousand hits a day.”

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Hezbollah Leader Threatens Attacks Against Israel For Mughniyah's Death
2008-02-14 15:26:15
Hezbollah's leader threatened Thursday to retaliate against Israel anywhere in the world after accusing it of assassinating one of the group's top commanders, Imad Mughniyah, a shadowy figure blamed by the United States and Israel for killing hundreds in bombings, kidnappings and hijackings over 25 years.

In a speech to thousands of mourners in the Shiite Muslim group's stronghold in southern Beirut, Hassan Nasrallah said Israel, by assassinating Mughniyah in the Syrian capital, outside what he called the traditional battlefield, risked a borderless war. Israel has denied involvement in the car bombing Tuesday that killed the 45-year-old Mughniyah in a tony neighborhood in Damascus.

"You have crossed the borders," he said in a speech that was especially vehement even by Nasrallah's fiery standards. "Zionists, if you want this type of open war, then let it be, and let the whole world hear: We, like all other people, have a sacred right to defend ourselves, and everything we can do to defend ourselves, we will do."

"At your service, Nasrallah!" the crowd shouted, fists in the air.

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Authorities Uncover Plot To Assassinate Philippine President
2008-02-14 15:25:29
Authorities have uncovered alleged plots by al-Qaeda-linked militants to assassinate the Philippine president and bomb foreign embassies, officials said Thursday.

Military chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said the assassination plot allegedly was hatched by the extremist Abu Sayyaf group and its Indonesia-based ally, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza, head of the Presidential Security Group said police uncovered the plot last week.

"It's not only the president who is the target, but also other people ... and embassies," he said without offering specifics.

The reports followed an announcement by security forces that they were going on high alert over an alleged communist rebel plan to infiltrate protests to demand Arroyo's resignation over corruption charges.

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FBI, SEC Investigate Dozens Of Companies In Connection With Mortgage Crisis
2008-02-14 00:55:54
The U.S. Congress approved an economic stimulus package. The Treasury Department pressed lenders to reset mortgage rates for millions of troubled homeowners. And New York's insurance regulator is attempting to bail out a critical sector of the industry.

Progressing more slowly is the work of investigators probing dozens of companies for fraud and insider trading in connection with the subprime mortgage crisis that set off the country's current economic woes.

FBI officials said Wednesday that they are conducting criminal investigations of 16 companies, while their partners at the Securities and Exchange Comission (SEC)are probing nearly two dozen more. Those federal investigations follow subpoenas from attorneys general in at least four states and class-action lawsuits that target home builders, lenders, credit-rating agencies and the banks that packaged groups of mortgages into securities.

"These are going to be complex investigations," FBI section chief Sharon E. Ormsby said in an interview. Policing mortgage and credit-related fraud is the "number one priority" of the FBI's financial crimes unit, she added.

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Bank Of England Governor: U.K. Might Be On Verge Of Recession
2008-02-14 00:55:27

Bank of England governor Mervyn King admitted Wednesday that the U.K. economy might grind to a halt this year - but warned that the continuing risk of inflation made further interest rate cuts unlikely.

Faced with stagnating growth and rising prices for food and energy, King said the bank was facing one of its trickiest periods since assuming control of interest rate policy more than 10 years ago.

When asked whether a recession was possible this year, he said the predictions for growth in Wednesday's inflation report were "not inconsistent" with two quarters of zero or negative growth - the technical definition of a recession.

He also warned that house prices could fall but said the committee's projection was for a few years of steady house prices, during which average earnings would catch up with house prices to some extent. "We are moving into territory where there is greater uncertainty than ever," he said.

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British Appeal Judges Clear 5 Muslims Of Terror Charges
2008-02-14 00:54:49

Five young British Muslim men had their terrorism convictions quashed Wednesday after judges concluded that reading Islamist material was not illegal unless there was "direct" proof it was to be used to inspire violent extremism.

The men had been jailed in July 2006 with the trial judge saying they had been "intoxicated" by extremism after Islamist ideological CDs and computer downloads were found in their possession. The prosecution at their trial claimed the men were preparing to train in Pakistan before fighting in Afghanistan.

They were prosecuted under section 57 of Britain's Terrorism act 2000, which makes it an offense to have books or items useful for a terrorist. Striking down the convictions, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips said: "[Section 57] must be interpreted in a way that requires a direct connection between the object possessed and the act of terrorism."

Directions given to the jury by the trial judge did not tell jurors "that they had to be satisfied that each appellant intended to use the relevant articles to incite his fellow planners to fight in Afghanistan".

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British Police Investigate Death Of Billionaire Who Warned Of Assassination
2008-02-14 00:54:03

Arkadi "Badri" Patarkatsishvili had predicted that he might be assassinated; he was certain that his political opponents wanted him dead. "I have 120 bodyguards, but I know that's not enough," said the 52-year old Georgian in December last year. "I believe they want to kill me."

Wednesday, after the exiled billionaire collapsed and died at his mansion in Surrey, police launched an investigation to discover if his prophecy had come true.

Weeks ago, the businessman said he knew that a plot had been hatched to get rid of him. He had been campaigning to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili and he claimed that an official from the Georgian government had tried to hire a hitman to kill him in a plane crash or assassinate him in London.

Patarkatsishvili had heard a covertly taped conversation apparently between two men which he said proved it.

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Interpreter Freed, CBS Journalist Still Held Hostage
2008-02-14 00:52:08
An Iraqi interpreter kidnapped in the southern city of Basra was freed Wednesday, but the CBS journalist seized with him this week is still being held.

Amid reports of a deal to free both men, however, the American military and Iraqi officials both said they hoped the journalist would be released shortly.

“We are hopeful they will be released in the coming days, if not hours,” a military spokesman, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, told reporters here in the capital shortly before the interpreter was released.

Earlier in the day, the head of the Basra office of Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, said his group had successfully negotiated the release of both men, though only the interpreter was freed.

“We will keep working and we hope this matter will be over in the next 24 hours,” said the official in Basra, Hareth al-Ethari.

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Defense Secretary Gates Slips On Ice, Breaks Arm
2008-02-14 00:51:31

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fell victim to the sheer ice that covered much of the Washington, D.C., area Tuesday night, fracturing his right arm after taking a hard spill outside his home.

Gates was returning from dinner about 9:30 p.m. when he slipped on the pathway leading to his house and landed on his right shoulder. Gates, who was with his personal security guards at the time, went inside and immediately called his doctor but chose not to be examined until early this morning, said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

"When he came to work this morning, he was examined by the Pentagon medical team, and X-rays revealed he suffered a fracture to the upper right humerus," said Morrell, referring to the arm bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow. "He was then taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital to be checked out by an orthopedic surgeon. Fortunately, it does not appear as though surgery will be required, and he is expected to recover soon."

Gates, 64, who is left-handed, returned to his Pentagon office late Wednesday morning with his right arm in a sling. The injury forced Gates to miss a scheduled House Appropriations subcommittee meeting that focused on the Defense Department budget. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England appeared in his place.

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Bernanke, Paulson See Bleaker Outlook For U.S. Economy
2008-02-15 03:52:48
With the credit markets once again deteriorating, the nation’s two top economic policy makers acknowledged Thursday that the outlook for the economy had worsened, as both came under criticism for being overtaken by events and failing to act boldly enough.

In testimony to Congress, Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, signaled that the Fed was ready to reduce interest rates yet again, pointing out that problems in housing and mortgage-related markets had spread more widely and proved more intractable than he predicted three months ago.

His sobering assessment was echoed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., who appeared with him. Both continued to avoid predicting a recession but said they were scaling back the more optimistic forecasts they had issued in November.

Ethan S. Harris, chief United States economist for Lehman Brothers, said that both policy makers had “come clean” about the economy’s problems but that investors were not impressed.

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War Torn: When Strains On Military Families Turn Deadly
2008-02-15 03:51:35

A few months after Sgt. William Edwards and his wife, Sgt. Erin Edwards, returned to a Texas Army base from separate missions in Iraq, he assaulted her mercilessly. He struck her, choked her, dragged her over a fence and slammed her into the sidewalk.

As far as Erin Edwards was concerned, that would be the last time he beat her.

Unlike many military wives, she knew how to work the system to protect herself. She was an insider, even more so than her husband, since she served as an aide to a brigadier general at Fort Hood.

With the general’s help, she quickly arranged for a future transfer to a base in New York. She pressed charges against her husband and secured an order of protection. She sent her two children to stay with her mother. And she received assurance from her husband’s commanders that he would be barred from leaving the base unless accompanied by an officer.

Yet, on the morning of July 22, 2004, William Edwards easily slipped off base, skipping his anger-management class, and drove to his wife’s house in the Texas town of Killeen. He waited for her to step outside and then, after a struggle, shot her point-blank in the head before turning the gun on himself.

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In U.S., Trade Hits Stiff Headwind
2008-02-15 03:49:25

As the Bush administration races to push free-trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea through Congress before leaving office next year, it is meeting a level of resistance observers call high even by the normally contentious standards of such debates.

It happens as the administration is confronting the most hostile domestic environment toward free trade in years. Recent polls suggest more Americans than ever view globalization as negative, blaming free trade for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs that have moved overseas. As the economy falters, populist pundits of the Lou Dobbsian school are blaming reckless trade deals. In a hotly contested election year, Democratic candidates are jockeying for the labor vote, questioning the wisdom of such accords as the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Anti-globalization sentiments at home are nothing new. Think back to Ross Perot's "great sucking sound," or the rock-throwing protesters at the World Trade Organization's 1999 meeting in Seattle, Washington,  but observers say the stalled Colombia, Panama and South Korea deals are raising a fundamental question for the United States. At a time when faith in free trade is seriously failing in various corners of the world, particularly Latin America, is Washington itself still a true believer?

Since World War II, free trade emerged as America's economic mantra, Uncle Sam's recipe for developing nations seeking to fight poverty and integrate globally. But even as economists grumble about resurgent resistance to open markets by emerging economies including India and Brazil, perhaps the most notable shift is happening in the United States.

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China Defends Its Role In Sudan Following Spielberg's Resignation
2008-02-15 03:48:24
Chinese officials defended the country's human rights record regarding the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur on Thursday in the first official reaction to Steven Spielberg's abrupt resignation as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympic Games.

In withdrawing Tuesday, the American movie director said China "should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering" in Darfur, where fighting between rebellious African tribes and government-backed Arab militias has led to the deaths of as many as 450,000 people and displaced 2.5 million others.

China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and sells weapons to the Sudanese government. Spielberg's departure from the board advising the Chinese government on how to stage the Games' opening and closing ceremonies in August undermined China's efforts to present itself as a modern and advanced nation.

As Chinese officials returning from the Lunar New Year holiday scrambled to respond to Spielberg's widely publicized resignation, many Chinese seemed to rally around the government against the foreign criticism.

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UPDATE: Man Wounds At Least 17 At Northern Illinois University, Then Shoots Self
2008-02-14 19:03:07
A man opened fire with a shotgun and a handgun Thursday afternoon in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, wounding at least 17 people before apparently killing himself, said authorities.

Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting local authorities at the scene, said spokesman Thomas Ahern.

Ahern said the gunman was dead, but he did not know if the shooter was a student or what his motive might have been.

"We will be urgently tracing the firearms and learning the history of the weapons," said Ahern. He said agents will run the weapons through a national tracing center to "learn where they came from and how the shooter came to possess them."

According to a statement posted on the university's Web site, "the immediate danger has passed" as of 4:15 p.m. "The gunman is no longer a threat," the statement read. "The DeKalb campus is closed tomorrow (Friday). Students can go to any residence hall for counseling."
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Astronomers Find Solar System Like Earth's
2008-02-14 17:24:28

Astronomers say they have found a miniature version of our own solar system 5,000 light years across the galaxy - the first planetary system that really looks like our own, with outer giant planets and room for smaller inner planets.

The discovery, they said, means that our solar system might be more typical of planetary systems across the universe than had been thought.

“It looks like a scale model of our solar system,” said Scott Gaudi, of Ohio State University. He led an international team of 69 professional and amateur astronomers, who announced the discovery in a news conference with reporters on Wednesday. Their results are being published Friday in the journal Science.

In the newly discovered system, a planet about two-thirds of the mass of Jupiter and another about 90 percent of the mass of Saturn are orbiting a reddish star about half the mass of the Sun, at about half the distances that Jupiter and Saturn circle our own Sun.

Neither of the two giant planets is a likely abode for life as we know it, but, as Dr. Gaudi pointed out, warm, rocky planets - suitable for life - could exist undetected in the inner parts of the system. “This could be a true solar system analogue,” he said.

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U.S. House Votes To Hold 2 Former Bush Aides In Contempt
2008-02-14 15:27:22
The House voted Thursday to hold two of President Bush's confidants in contempt for failing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether a purge of federal prosecutors was politically motivated.

Angry Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walkout.

The vote was 223-32 Thursday to hold presidential chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt. The citations charge Miers with failing to testify and accuse her and Bolten of refusing Congress' demands for documents related to the 2006-2007 firings.

Republicans said Democrats should instead be working on extending a law - set to expire Saturday - allowing the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails in the United States in cases of suspected terrorist activity.

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Bush Tells Military To Shoot Down Broken Spy Satellite
2008-02-14 15:26:30
President Bush, acting on the advice of his national security advisers, has decided to attempt to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite that is expected to crash to Earth early next month, a spokesman for the National Security Council said Thursday.

NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the president made the decision within the past week and asked the military to come up with plans to destroy the satellite.

Johndroe said that decision, which will be explained at a Pentagon news conference this afternoon, was based on the fact that the satellite is carrying substantial amounts of a hazardous and corrosive rocket fuel, hydrazine.

The satellite was launched in December 2006 but soon lost contact with ground control. Information about the spacecraft is classified, but experts believe it is the first of a new generation of smaller and more precise spy satellites.

Johndroe said the satellite would be destroyed "as it comes to Earth," which is expected to occur in several weeks.
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Putin Expects To Wield Substantial Power After Presidency
2008-02-14 15:25:56
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, in the final weeks of an eight-year administration that secured his place as the country’s most popular politician, said Thursday that he intended to wield substantial and long-running power in the Kremlin after leaving office next month and becoming Russia's prime minister.

In a confident and forceful public performance in which he described many of Russia’s continuing policy choices, Putin spoke bitingly of his international critics and defied intensive criticism from Washington by refusing to back down from threats to aim strategic missiles at the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine.

He accused NATO of further encroaching on Russia’s borders by courting Ukraine, and accused the United States of developing a missile shield for deployment in Europe. Those two actions would force the Kremlin to assume a reinvigorated nuclear defense, he said.

“We will have to retarget our missiles on the objects that we think threaten our national security,” he said. “I have to speak about this directly and honestly, so that there would be no attempts to shift the responsibility for such developments on those who should not be blamed.”

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U.S. Passes Ban On Waterboarding, Other Interrogation Techniques
2008-02-14 00:56:12
The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to ban waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA,  matching a previous House vote and putting Congress on a collision course with the White House over a pivotal national security issue.

In a 51 to 45 vote, the Senate approved an intelligence bill that limits the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive interrogation tactics outlined in a U.S. Army Field Manual. The measure would effectively ban the use of simulated drowning, temperature extremes and other harsh tactics that the CIA used on al-Qaeda prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation, which the House approved in December, and Congress does not appear to have enough votes to override a veto.

House lawmakers, meanwhile, bickered Wednesday over a Senate bill approved Tuesday that would permanently expand the government's ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects without warrants and would protect telecommunication firms from lawsuits for helping conduct such wiretaps. A temporary law that does not include the immunity provision is due to expire Saturday.

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Editorial: Time To Vote Contempt
2008-02-14 00:55:38
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Thursday, February 14, 2008.

Alberto Gonzales may be out, but the country is still waiting for a full accounting of how he and his White House patrons cynically politicized the Justice Department. Congress is rightly asking questions about the actions of yet another United States attorney: New Jersey’s Christopher J. Christie. The House also needs to stop procrastinating and vote to hold witnesses in contempt for refusing to testify in the wider scandal.

Federal prosecutors must be scrupulously nonpartisan. Mr. Christie, a Republican activist who got his job despite a lack of trial and criminal-law experience, has gone up to the line of acceptable behavior - and possibly crossed it.

He began an investigation of Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, late in a hard-fought election campaign. The charges now appear baseless, but at the time the news provided a big boost to Mr. Menendez’s Republican opponent. Mr. Christie went against a long Justice Department presumption against opening investigations or bringing indictments right before an election, to avoid affecting the outcome.

There are also questions about Mr. Christie’s decision to award, without competitive bidding, a lucrative contract to monitor a company accused of consumer fraud. The winner? Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, an influential Republican who was once Mr. Christie’s boss. Senate and House leaders have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate.

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Number Of Wild Tigers In India Dwindles To 1,400
2008-02-14 00:55:08

The number of wild tigers in India has dwindled to little more than 1,400, less than half the previous estimate, in an alarming decline blamed by wildlife experts on poaching and urbanization.

The last major survey, in 2002, recorded 3,642 tigers. Until this census, India was thought to be home to 40% of the world's tigers, with 23 tiger reserves in 17 states.

Rajesh Gopal, of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, said: "The tiger has suffered due to direct poaching, loss of quality habitat, and loss of its prey."

The government authority said its monitoring methods had changed; it now relied on cameras rather than pugmark (footprint) counts, but it is clear that tiger numbers have dropped. Some reserves, such as Sariska in Rajasthan, have been cleared by poachers. Others, such as Bandhavgarh in Madya Pradesh, have seen sharp drops due to encroachment on the forest. The only exception has been Tamil Nadu, where the numbers have risen to 76 from 60 five years ago.

A century ago India had a population of more than 40,000 tigers.

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Earthquake Swarm Rattles Residents Of California, Mexico Border Towns
2008-02-14 00:54:28
Residents of California's Imperial Valley are living on shaky ground these days.

Since Friday, cities such as Calexico and El Centro, as well as Mexicali across the border, have been rocked by hundreds of earthquakes, from tiny to teeth-rattling - three have registered a magnitude of 5.0 or more.

The onslaught of temblors is known as a swarm, in which quakes of varying sizes can strike every few minutes, said Kate Hutton, a staff seismologist at the California Institute of Technology. The Imperial Valley and Baja are prone to the swarms, she said; they can last a few days to a week.

Though the quakes aren't breaking any geologic records, they've caused several sleepless nights for Calexico resident Barbara Lopez.

"It's been scary," said Lopez, a 27-year-old apartment leasing agent, of what she describes as nonstop quakes. "You're like constantly thinking: 'Is the big one going to hit? Are we prepared?' Of course we're not."
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Bombing Kills Senior Hezbollah Leader Imad Mughniyeh In Syria
2008-02-14 00:52:36
Imad Mughniyeh, a senior but shadowy Hezbollah commander accused by the United States and Israel of masterminding suicide bombings, hijackings and hostage-takings that spanned 25 years, was killed by a car bomb in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Shiite Muslim group and other officials said Wednesday.

Hezbollah accused Israel of carrying out the attack on Mughniyeh, a charge that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office denied. In the past, Israeli officials have rarely confirmed or denied their involvement in assassinations abroad.

A State Department spokesman welcomed the news of Mughniyeh's death, but said he did not know who was responsible for it.

"The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a cold-blooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "One way or another, he was brought to justice."

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Japan's Anger Focused On U.S. In Rape Arrest Of U.S. Marine
2008-02-14 00:51:59
Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda voiced anger on Tuesday over accusations that a United States Marine had raped a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa, calling the episode “unforgivable.”

“Even though this has occurred several times in the past, it has happened again,” said Fukuda. “I take this very seriously.”

The marine, Staff Sgt. Tyrone Luther Hadnott, 38, from Camp Courtney in Okinawa, was arrested after being accused of attacking the girl in his car on Sunday night. Sergeant Hadnott, who has denied raping the girl, has not yet been formally charged.

The case roused anger in Okinawa. Dozens of people protested outside an American base there. The regional assembly passed a resolution of protest against the United States and Tokyo.

After being summoned by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Joseph R. Donovan, the deputy chief of mission at the United States Embassy in Japan, told reporters that this “is an extremely regrettable case and that we take this very, very seriously.”

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