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Friday, February 22, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday February 22 2008 - (813)

Friday February 22 2008 edition
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German State-Owned Banks On Verge Of Collapse
2008-02-22 03:39:27
The German government has had to bail out state-owned banks with taxpayers' money after their managements recklessly gambled away billions on subprime investments. But if a state-owned bank were to go under, the consequences could be disastrous for the whole economy.

Ingrid Matthaus-Maier, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the CEO of the state-owned KfW banking group, is undoubtedly in one of Germany's highest earnings brackets. Although her annual salary of €418,000 ($614,000) is substantially lower than that of her counterpart at Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, who earns a tidy €13 million a year, she does earn more than twice the salary of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has to make do with a mere €200,000.

That's nice for Matthaus-Maier. A lawyer by profession who was a financial expert for the SPD for many years, she would not have been able to get on the board of a private bank in 1999, the year she joined the board of KfW - she lacked the banking experience required by law. But KfW is not subject to the same regulations as other banks, which explains why Matthaus-Maier doesn't owe government auditors an explanation - not even now, in the wake of recent public accusations that she botched the IKB crisis.

As the head of KfW, Matthaus-Maier is a major shareholder in IKB, the Dusseldorf-based bank that is on the brink of bankruptcy and is only being kept afloat by a series of government bailouts running into the billions. Last week was marked by one crisis meeting after the next, but the headstrong government banker had more than the future of IKB on her mind. Indeed, she seemed more concerned about her employment contract and whether it would be extended. Her demands triggered an irritated reaction from the head of the KfW supervisory board, Economics Minister Michael Glos, as well as from others present at the meetings.

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Iran Could Have Enough Uranium For A Bomb By Year's End
2008-02-22 03:38:44
New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year.

Could Iran be building an atomic bomb? When the U.S. released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) late last year, it seemed as though the danger of a mullah-bomb had passed. The report claimed to have information indicating that Tehran mothballed its nuclear weapons program as early as autumn 2003. The paper also said that it was "very unlikely" that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium - the primary ingredient in atomic bombs - by 2009 to produce such a weapon. Rather, the NIE indicated "Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough (highly enriched uranium) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe."

It didn't take long for experts to question the report's conclusion that Tehran was no longer interested in building the bomb. And now, a new computer simulation undertaken by European Union experts indicates that the NIE's time estimates might be dangerously inaccurate as well - and that Iran might have enough fuel for a bomb much earlier than was previously thought.

As part of a project to improve control of nuclear materials, the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC) in Ispra, Italy set up a detailed simulation of the centrifuges currently used by Iran in the Natanz nuclear facility to enrich uranium. The results look nothing like those reached by the U.S. intelligence community.

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Poll: Clinton, Obama Tied In Texas, Close In Ohio
2008-02-21 23:05:30
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, facing a pair of big Democratic primary tests on March 4 that could determine the fate of her presidential candidacy, is deadlocked with Sen. Barack Obama here in Texas and holds a slender lead over him in Ohio, according to two new Washington Post-ABC News polls.

The closeness of the races in Texas and Ohio underscores the challenges facing Clinton over the next 12 days of campaigning as she seeks to end Obama's double-digit winning streak in their battle for the Democratic nomination. Those victories have given Obama a lead in delegates to the national convention and have put Clinton's candidacy at risk unless she can rack up a string of big victories of her own.

In Ohio, Clinton leads Obama in the new poll by 50 percent to 43 percent, a significant but tenuous advantage given the shifts that have taken place in advance of previous primaries as candidates intensified their campaigns. In Texas, the race is about even, with Clinton at 48 percent and Obama at 47 percent.

In recent contests in Virginia and Wisconsin, Obama cut into Clinton's coalition, a potentially significant change in the Democratic race. At this point in Ohio and Texas, Clinton is doing better than she did in those states among her more reliable voters, but she has yet to make deep inroads into Obama's core supporters.

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U.S. Fueled Rendition Flights On British Soil
2008-02-21 23:05:06
U.S. and British officials disclosed Thursday that two U.S. "extraordinary rendition" flights carrying terror suspects refueled on U.K. territory in the Indian Ocean in 2002, despite repeated denials by both governments that clandestine CIA flights had ever used British airspace or territory.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed "disappointment" that the United States notified the British government of the flights just last week and called it a "very serious issue." Officials from both governments said the flights came to light after a recent review of records by U.S. officials.

British officials have long denied any involvement in the CIA's rendition program, in which terror suspects have been secretly flown for interrogation to countries where torture is often used by government security services.

Although Britain has been a close ally of the United States in Iraq and in the wider "war on terror," Brown and his predecessor, Tony Blair, have distanced themselves from a CIA program that has been broadly criticized in Europe.

Foreign Minister David Miliband first disclosed the flights in Parliament on Thursday, saying he was "very sorry indeed" to have to correct previous denials by Blair and other top British officials.

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Moroccan Authorities Roundup Terrorist Group
2008-02-21 23:04:35

Moroccan authorities have rounded up a terrorist group accused of planning al-Qaeda-type attacks in the North African country - and have banned a small Islamist political party allegedly linked to it.

The Beliraj group was said to have been plotting to assassinate ministers, army officers and members of Morocco's small Jewish community, according to the official MAP news agency.

The interior minister, Shakib Benmousa, claimed that the group had been in contact with the Algerian GPSC, which announced last year that it had changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Members had undergone training with Hezbollah in Lebanon and a correspondent for Hezbollah's al-Manar TV station was among 32 people arrested.

Benmusa was quoted as saying he had banned al-Badil al-Hadari (The Civilized Alternative) because of the "proven links" of party members to the terror network, which a statement from the office of prime minister Abbas al-Fassi described as "jihadist".

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Rioters Break Into Belgrade's U.S. Embassy
2008-02-21 16:24:49
Serb rioters set fire to an office inside the U.S. Embassy Thursday and police clashed with protesters outside other embassy buildings after a large demonstration against Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Masked attackers broke into the U.S. compound, which has been closed this week, and tried to throw furniture from an office. They set fire to the office and flames shot up the side of the building. Fire trucks arrived after the rioters had fled and swiftly put out the fire.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic, on an official visit to Romania, appealed for calm and urged the protesters to stop the attacks and move away from the streets. Tadic said that violence was "damaging" Serbia's efforts to defend Kosovo, which declared its independence from Belgrade on Sunday.

More than a dozen nations have recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany, but the declaration by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership has been rejected by Serbia's government and the ethnic Serbians who populate northern Kosovo.

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Oil Prices Fall To $98.23 A Barrel As Crude Supply Rises
2008-02-21 16:24:23
Oil prices fell Thursday after a government report showed that the nation's crude oil supplies rose more than expected last week. At the pump, meanwhile, gas prices rose more than 3 cents overnight, a jump that could be a prelude to a much bigger price spike this spring.

The inventory report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration was mixed. While crude oil inventories rose by 4.2 million barrels last week, more than the 2.9 million barrel increase analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected, supplies of distillates, which include heating oil, fell by 4.5 million barrels, much more than the 1.5 million barrel forecast.

Traders chose to focus on the crude number. Many analysts believe rising supplies and the falling demand noted in a number of recent reports means oil prices will eventually fall.

They've been wrong before. Indeed, prices have spiked in recent days on buying fueled in part by investors attracted to the oil market by the falling dollar. Crude futures offer a hedge against a falling dollar, and oil futures bought and sold in dollars are more attractive to foreign investors when the greenback is falling.

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6.0 Earthquake Shakes Northeast Nevada
2008-02-21 16:22:46
A strong earthquake shook rural northeastern Nevada Thursday, damaging a town's historic district but sparing residents from any serious injuries.

The magnitude of the quake, initially estimated at 6.3, was later revised to 6.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

The quake, which struck at 6:16 a.m., was centered in a sparsely populated area 11 miles southeast of Wells near the Nevada-Utah line.

It was felt across much of the West, from northern Idaho and Utah to Southern California, officials said. At least five less severe aftershocks were reported.

"Definitely a lot of people felt this, and if they were sleeping, they were awoken," said USGS geophysicist Carrieann Bedwell.

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Missile Hits Wayward U.S. Satellite
2008-02-21 16:22:01

Military officials have a "high degree of confidence" that they were able to hit and destroy the tank of potentially dangerous fuel aboard a wayward spy satellite orbiting Earth last night, but they said they must still monitor the debris to be certain it does not pose further risk of reentering the atmosphere in coming days.

Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon this morning that there are several indications that the missile intercept 150 miles over the Pacific Ocean was successful, including video evidence of a fireball erupting, a vapor cloud forming around the satellite and spectral imaging of what appears to be the fuel, hydrazine, venting into space.

"The intercept occurred, and we're very confident we hit the satellite," said Cartwright, displaying video clips that show an SM-3 missile launching into space from a Navy cruiser and then impacting the National Reconnaissance Office satellite in a flash of light and debris at about 10:26 p.m. Eastern time. "We also have a high degree of confidence we hit the tank."

SM-3s are part of the Navy's sea-based missile defense system and carry a kinetic warhead, meaning that they are designed to impact a target at great speed in order to obliterate it without explosives. In this case, the missile was aimed at a satellite about the size of a bus and traveling at more than 17,000 mph, with the goal of hitting a fuel tank that carried about 1,000 pounds of frozen hydrazine fuel.

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Gang Member Mayhem Closes Blocks In Northeast Los Angeles
2008-02-22 03:38:59
Thousands stranded, schools locked down as notorious group battles the Los Anegles Police Department after a drive-by killing.

A drive-by attack followed by a wild shootout between gang members and police shut down dozens of blocks of Northeast Los Angeles for nearly six hours Thursday afternoon, stranding thousands of residents, keeping students locked in their classrooms and leaving two people dead.

Veteran L.A. Police Department officials described the bizarre midday shootings - and the widespread disruption they caused - as highly unusual even in an area known for gang activity. It left the neighborhood littered with shell casings and its residents fearful.

Police blamed the incident on the notorious Avenues gang, which has cast a wide shadow over districts north of downtown L.A. for decades and continues to be active despite several high-profile attempts by authorities to shut it down.
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Possible Druid Grave Enchants Archaeologists
2008-02-22 03:38:22

Druids belong to the realm of myth - archaeologists have never been able to prove their existence. But now researchers in England have uncovered the grave of a powerful, ancient healer. Was he a druid?

There's a joke among archaeologists: Two of their kind, in the future, find a present-day public toilet. "We've discovered a holy site!" cries one. "Look, it has two separate entrances," says the other. "This here," he says, pointing to the door with a pictogram of a woman, "was for priests. This is evident by the figure wearing a long garment."

The joke rests on a perennial sore point for archaeologists: There are things they simply can't prove. The list includes love, hate, fear, desire and, well, faith. Which hasn't stopped many reports from being written about who loved or hated whom in ancient cultures - who was threatened by what, who tried to win something else.

Philip Crummy is an archaeologist who tries not to pass off ancient toilets for holy sites but, lately, the director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust has been pulling a number of artifacts from the ground near the site of an ancient city, Camulodunum, that would tempt any archaeologist to speculate, at least a little. Crummy has stumbled upon a small cemetery about 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) southwest of present-day Colchester. The dead were all buried between the years 40 and 60 A.D. For a cemetery that's a short lifespan; but in Britain it's an important period, because in the year 43 A.D. the island became a Roman colony.

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U.S. Rushes To Get Slice Of $45 Billion Indian Arms Pie
2008-02-21 23:05:18

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrives in the Indian capital, New Delhi, next week to promote a $10 billion jet fighter contract, underlining the country's emergence as one of the world's biggest military markets. To update its Soviet-era arsenal India says it will need to spend $45 billion in the next five years, and it has been courted by western states that are barred by arms embargoes from selling to China, the other expanding Asian military power.

U.S. officials admit in private that arms sales to India also cement strategic ties as a hedge against Beijing's growing clout in Asia. Gates' visit, due next Tuesday, comes just before a March deadline for bids on the contract for 126 new fighters.

K Subramanyam, a defense analyst, said: "With the Americans you purchase not just weapons but a security relationship. The Saudis build it into their calculations. No surprise if we do, too."

The U.S. will be competing with Russian and European rivals to sell the Indian air force a new "strike capability". The Eurofighter Typhoon, which has been developed by Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany, is also being considered by Delhi.

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Plane Carrying 46 Missing In Venezuela
2008-02-21 23:04:48

A commercial airliner carrying 46 people was reported missing Thursday night in western Venezuela.

The aircraft, a twin-engine turbo-prop, disappeared from radar at 5.30 pm, half an hour after taking off from the Merida airport in western Venezuela en route to Simon Bolivar airport outside of Caracas, a journey which should have taken an hour and 20 minutes, said Noel Marquez, director of Venezuela's emergency management agency in Merida. It took off before dusk but soon lost contact with air traffic controllers, said an airport official.

The plane is believed to be carrying 43 passengers as well as its three crew, and belongs to Santa Barbara airlines, a Venezuelan carrier covering domestic routes.

It had been forced to change its route due to bad weather but later failed to contact two control towers. "It did not make contact with the control towers," Marquez confirmed.

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Zimbabwe Inflation Passes100,000%
2008-02-21 23:04:16

The official rate of annual inflation in Zimbabwe has rocketed past the 100,000% barrier, by far the highest in the world, the state central statistical office said Thursday. Second-placed Iraq has inflation of 60%, according to international estimates.

In a brief statement, the statistics office said inflation rose to 100,580% in January, up from 66,212% in December.

The new official figure was still well below the rate calculated by independent analysts. They estimate the real inflation is closer to 150,000%, citing supermarket receipts showing that the price of chicken rose more than 236,000% to 15 million Zimbabwe dollars a kilogram between January 2007 and January 2008. Slower increases in prices of sugar, tea and other basics bring down the average to around 150,000%.

Zimbabwe, a former regional breadbasket, is facing acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and most basic goods in an economic meltdown blamed on disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000, accompanied by political violence and turmoil.

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McCain Denies Romantic Or Improper Relationship With Lobbyist
2008-02-21 16:24:38
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) Thursday denied allegations that he had a romantic or improper relationship with a female lobbyist, telling reporters at an early morning news conference that a New York Times story alleging both was "not true."

The story, first circulated by blogger Matt Drudge last December, shook the McCain campaign last night when the newspaper released a story on its website alleging that an unnamed former aide to McCain had warned the telecommunications lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, to stay away from him during his presidential campaign in 2000. His campaign dismissed the story as "gutter politics."

McCain, who is on the verge of clinching the GOP nomination for president, denied categorically that he had ever had a romantic relationship with Iseman or that he had ever done anything that would "betray the public trust" or give undue favor to lobbyists. He also said his staffers never told him they were concerned with the relationship.

"I'm very disappointed in the article; it's not true," he said in a calm, deliberate voice.

Calling Iseman a friend, McCain said he had dozens of friendships with lobbyists - who seek influence on behalf of firefighters, police officers, senior citizens and other interests - and had made hundreds of decisions after receiving what he called their "constitutional" input. He acknowledged flying on corporate jets - a common practice in Congress that has since been banned - and writing a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He said the letter did not tell the FCC what decision to make, just urged the agency to make one.
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Editorial: The Biggest Beef Recall Ever
2008-02-21 16:23:03
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Thursday, February 21, 2008.

A nauseating video of cows stumbling on their way to a California slaughterhouse has finally prompted action: the largest recall of meat in American history. Westland/Hallmark Meat Company has issued a full recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef produced over the last two years, including 37 million pounds that went to school-lunch programs.

A lot of that beef has already been eaten, and so far, thankfully, there have been no reports of illness. But the question Congress needs to ask is how many people need to get sick or die before it starts repairing and modernizing the nation’s food safety system?

Instead of strengthening the government’s regulatory systems, the Bush administration has spent years cutting budgets and filling top jobs with industry favorites. The evidence of their failures keep mounting: contaminated spinach, poisoned pet food, tainted fish.

At Westland/Hallmark, the latest horrors were secretly videotaped by the Humane Society of the United States, which said it had chosen the plant at random. The video showed workers kicking and using forklifts to force so-called “downer” cows to walk. The government has banned the sale of meat from most of these cows.

Officials have been busy assuring consumers that this massive recall is an “aberration.” “Whistling in the dark” - that is how Caroline Smith DeWaal, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, describes such assurances. “The fact that they have failed here so miserably makes you start to question what else is going on that we don’t know about.”

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Strokes Among Middle Aged Women In U.S. Have Tripled
2008-02-21 16:22:29
Strokes have tripled in recent years among middle-aged women in the U.S., an alarming trend doctors blame on the obesity epidemic. Nearly 2 percent of women ages 35 to 54 reported suffering a stroke in the most recent federal health survey, from 1999 to 2004. Only about half a percent did in the previous survey, from 1988 to 1994.

The percentage is small because most strokes occur in older people, but the sudden spike in middle age and the reasons behind it are ominous, doctors said in research presented Wednesday at a medical conference.

It happened even though more women in the recent survey were on medicines to control their cholesterol and blood pressure - steps that lower the risk of stroke.

Women's waistlines are nearly two inches bigger than they were a decade earlier, and that bulge corresponds with the increase in strokes, researchers said.

In addition, women's average body mass index, a commonly used measure of obesity, rose from 27 in the earlier survey to 29. They also had higher blood sugar levels.

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Tit For Tat - China Criticizes U.S. Missile Strike On Satellite
2008-02-21 16:21:48
The Chinese government objected Thursday to the American missile strike against a dying United States spy satellite over the Pacific Ocean, warning that the United States Navy’s action could threaten security in outer space.

Liu Jianchao, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference in Beijing that the United States should also promptly share data about the passage of the remaining pieces of the satellite, which are expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and mostly burn up in the next two days.

American defense officials said the missile, launched from an Aegis-class cruiser, had hit the satellite and were optimistic about the likelihood that the impact had destroyed the satellite’s fuel tank.

The fuel tank held 1,000 pounds of toxic rocket fuel that the satellite never used because it malfunctioned soon after reaching orbit in December 2006.

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