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Friday, February 29, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday February 29 2008 - (813)

Friday February 29 2008 edition
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Bush Administration's Embrace Of Musharraf Irks Pakistanis
2008-02-29 03:55:28
The Bush administration’s continued backing of President Pervez Musharraf, despite the overwhelming rejection of his party by voters this month, is fueling a new level of frustration in Pakistan with the United States.

That support has rankled the public, politicians and journalists here, inciting deep anger at what is perceived as American meddling and the refusal of Washington to embrace the new, democratically elected government. John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, said Thursday during a Senate panel hearing that the United States would maintain its close ties to Musharraf.

Pakistanis say the Bush administration is grossly misjudging the political mood in Pakistan and squandering an opportunity to win support from the Pakistani public for its fight against terrorism. The opposition parties that won the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections say they are moderate and pro-American. By working with them, analysts say, Washington could gain a vital, new ally.

The American insistence that Musharraf play a significant role, they say, will only draw out a power struggle with the president and distract the new government from pushing ahead with alternatives to Musharraf’s policies on the economy and terrorism, which are widely viewed here as having failed.

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Turkey Says No Timetable For Iraq Pullout
2008-02-29 03:54:57
Turkey said on Wednesday it had "no timetable" to withdraw troops fighting Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, resisting pressure from the United States and other allies to end the offensive quickly.

Thousands of Turkish troops crossed the border last Thursday to root out PKK fighters. The PKK has used remote mountainous northern Iraq as a base in their armed campaign for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

"Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until ... those terrorist bases are eliminated," Turkish envoy Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after talks in Baghdad with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Davutoglu, chief foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, was sent to Baghdad to explain Ankara's position on the offensive. He also met top U.S. officials in Iraq, including military commander General David Petraeus.

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Outspoken Scientists Dismissed From EPA Panel On Chemical Safety
2008-02-28 21:47:40
Deborah Rice, an award-winning toxicologist, was removed from a group of experts researching a widely-used flame retardant after industry lobbyists complained that she was biased.

Under pressure from the chemical industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed an outspoken scientist who chaired a federal panel responsible for helping the agency determine the dangers of a flame retardant widely used in electronic equipment.

Toxicologist Deborah Rice was appointed chair of an EPA scientific panel reviewing the chemical a year ago. Federal records show she was removed from the panel in August after the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, complained to a top-ranking EPA official that she was biased.

The chemical, a brominated compound known as deca, is used in high volumes worldwide, largely in the plastic housings of television sets.
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U.S. House Speaker Pelosi Wants Bush Aides Investigated
2008-02-28 21:47:07
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the Justice Department on Thursday to open a grand jury investigation into whether President Bush's chief of staff and former counsel should be prosecuted for contempt of Congress.

Pelosi, D-California, demanded that the department pursue misdemeanor charges against former White House counsel Harriet Miers for refusing to testify to Congress about the firings of federal prosecutors in 2006 and against chief of staff Josh Bolten for failing to turn over White House documents related to the dismissals.

She gave Attorney General Michael Mukasey one week to respond and said refusal to take the matter to a grand jury will result in the House's filing a civil lawsuit against the Bush administration.

The White House branded the request as "truly contemptible." The Justice Department said it had received Pelosi's request and anticipated providing further guidance after Mukasey's review. It noted "long-standing department precedent" in such cases against letting a U.S. attorney refer a congressional contempt citation to a grand jury or prosecute an executive branch. The top House Republican called it "a partisan political stunt" and "a complete waste of time," according to a spokesman.
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City Of Vallejo, California, May File For Bankruptcy
2008-02-28 21:46:16
Vallejo, California, the one-time shipyard city turned Bay Area commuter village is considering a move that is rare both in California and across the nation - declaring bankruptcy.

A somber City Council prepared to vote Thursday evening after putting the bankruptcy issue on the table earlier in the week during an emotional hearing that drew hundreds of concerned residents.

City Manager Joseph Tanner has recommended the council file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, allowing the city to renegotiate its debt, but also substantially reduce services for years to come.

For residents, the prospects are grim. Potholes left unfixed. Trees not trimmed. Longer waits for police.

Civic leaders blame the city's current money woes - a looming $9.2-million shortfall - on a downturn in the housing market and the high cost of providing public safety.

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Newsblog: Sprint Nextel Loses $29.5 Billion
2008-02-28 21:45:11

The depth of the challenge facing new Sprint Nextel chief executive Dan Hesse was laid bare Thursday when the wireless carrier announced a $29.5 billion loss for the fourth quarter of 2007 and warned of ongoing troubles.

Sprint eliminated its dividend and wrote down the full value of Nextel Communications on its balance sheet. Sprint merged with Nextel in 2005 in a $70 billion deal, but the marriage has been a difficult one. Sprint also announced it had borrowed $2.5 billion to sustain business operations.

Sprint said 1.2 million wireless subscribers are expected to drop their service by the end of March. In the whole of 2007, that many subscribers abandoned Sprint. Meanwhile, chief rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T gained subscribers.

The loss of $29.5 billion ($10.36 per share) compared to a profit of $261 million (9 cents per share) in the fourth quarter 2006. The loss for all of 2007 was $29.6 billion ($10.31) compared to $995 million (34 cents) in 2006. Overall revenues for 2007 decline slightly from 2006.

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U.S. Intelligence Chief: Afghanistan Mission Close To Failing
2008-02-28 20:28:16

After six years of U.S.-led military support and billions of dollars in aid, security in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and President Hamid Karzai's government controls less than a third of the country, America's top intelligence official  admitted Thursday.

Mike McConnell testified in Washington, D.C., that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control.

The Afghan government angrily denied the U.S. director of national intelligence's assessment Thursday, insisting it controlled "over 360" of the country's 365 districts. "This is far from the facts and we completely deny it," said the defense ministry.

McConnell's gloomy comments were echoed in even more strongly worded recent reports by thinktanks, including one headed by the former NATO commander General James Jones, which concluded that "urgent changes" were required now to "prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state".

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Scientists Warn Of New Jellyfish Plague
2008-02-28 20:27:49

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, scientists in Spain are warning that the plagues of jellyfish that have been the scourge of Mediterranean swimmers in recent years will return this summer.

In November, scientists at the Barcelona-based Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM) began studying the life cycles of jellyfish off the Costa Brava, and were alarmed to detect large numbers of the Pelagia noctiluca, commonly known as the "mauve stinger", growing in the winter, ready for an assault on Spain's beaches.

The study revealed that jellyfish proliferate throughout the year, not just in the summer. Between November and January, scientists discovered 30 colonies, or blooms, ranging in size from four to 10 jellyfish per cubic meter of water, all along the Catalan coast.

According to Josep-Maria Gili, research professor at the ICM, these groups were born last autumn, and the summer tides will carry them inland from deeper waters, causing the plagues that have seen millions of jellyfish wash up on Spain's beaches in recent years. "The problem seen on the beaches is not the main concern for scientists," said Professor Gili, "For us the major worry is the global disequilibrium in the sea caused by over-fishing."

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Tax Whistleblower Sold Data To The U.S.
2008-02-28 03:50:21
The shadowy informant who blew the whistle on German tax cheats also sold data to U.S. authorities, Germany's news magazine Spiegel reported. The man, who was paid almost 5 million euros for DVDs full of information, has now been given a new identity by German intelligence.

He was once kidnapped, the man told the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, to whom he was trying to sell several DVDs containing secret tax data.

It was in 1997, in Argentina, he told the agents. The kidnappers, he said, locked him up for 10 days and mistreated him, sometimes by burning him with lit cigarettes; he still had the scars to prove it. He told the BND that he had had to come up with the ransom money himself, and that all of his and the Liechtenstein authorities' efforts to retrieve the money have failed.

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Sunni Forces Losing Patience With U.S., Cite Lack Of Support
2008-02-28 03:49:25
U.S.-backed Sunni volunteer forces, which have played a vital role in reducing violence in Iraq, are increasingly frustrated with the American military and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their growing political clout and insufficient U.S. support.

Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province's Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.

Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq's army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.

The predominantly Sunni Awakening forces, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq or Concerned Local Citizens, are made up mostly of former insurgents who have turned against extremists because of their harsh tactics and interpretation of Islam. The U.S. military pays many fighters roughly $10 a day to guard and patrol their areas. Thousands more unpaid volunteers have joined out of tribal and regional fealties.

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German State-Owned Bank Concealing Total Extent Of Subprime Losses
2008-02-28 03:47:06
German state-owned bank BayernLB is concealing the true extent of its losses incurred as a result of the subprime crisis in the United States. Now the Bavarian savings banks are threatening to give up their 50-percent stake in the bank.

Erwin Huber's banishment lasted exactly nine years. When the Bavarian state cabinet was formed in 1998, Huber, a 61-year-old veteran Bavarian politician from the town of Reisbach, was forced to leave his beloved Bavarian Finance Ministry and switch first to the state Chancellery and later to the state Economics Ministry.

Huber, who is an expert on tax issues, suffered in silence. He has a cool head for figures, so much so that he could probably rattle off the individual items from the state's budget plan off the top of his head.

Huber was only allowed to return from exile last October. He was elected chairman of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. What may have actually been more important for him was the fact that he also regained the position of finance minister of the prosperous state of Bavaria.

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Blood Thinner Might Be Linked To More Deaths
2008-02-29 03:55:15
Amid indications that more people may have died or been harmed after being given a brand of the blood thinner heparin, federal drug regulators said Thursday that they had found “potential deficiencies” at a Chinese plant that supplied much of the active ingredient for the drug.

Baxter International, which makes the brand of heparin associated with the problems, and buys supplies from the Chinese plant, announced that it was expanding a recall to include virtually all its heparin products. Though Baxter produces much of the heparin used in the United States, regulators said the other major supplier would be able to meet the demand.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the number of deaths possibly associated with the drug, made from pig intestines, had risen to 21 from 4, but it cautioned that many of those patients were already seriously ill and that the drug might not have caused their deaths.

The F.D.A. emphasized that it had yet to identify the root cause of the problem, and that it had not concluded that the Chinese plant was responsible. The agency also said it was investigating two Chinese wholesalers - also called consolidators - that supplied crude heparin to the Chinese plant, Changzhou SPL, as well as those that sold raw ingredients to the consolidators.

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Iraq Approves 'Chemical Ali' Execution
2008-02-29 03:54:45
Iraq's presidency endorsed the execution of Saddam Hussein's cousin known as "Chemical Ali," who was sentenced to death for his role in the 1980s scorched-earth campaign against Kurds, a government adviser said Friday.

The backing by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and two vice presidents is the final step for the approval of Ali Hassan al-Majid's death sentence, which must be carried out within 30 days of the decision.

Al-Majid was one of three former Saddam officials sentenced to hang in June after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their part in the Operation Anfal crackdown that killed nearly 200,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas. An appeals court upheld the verdict in September.
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More Than 1 In Every 100 Americans In Jail Or Prison
2008-02-28 21:47:23
More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released Thursday.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been hit particularly hard: One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.

While studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect is influenced by changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents, and the share of young people in the population.

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Democrats Raise $80 Million, With Obama In The Lead
2008-02-28 21:46:43
Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton both had a record-breaking month of fundraising in February, bringing in more than $80 million combined, but with Obama again raising significantly more than his opponent.

Obama’s campaign did not release an official estimate of its February fundraising on Thursday, but several major donors estimated it is about $50 million based on their calculations and knowledge of tallies during the month, when on many days the campaign took in as much as $2 million.

The unprecedented sum is sure to make it that much harder for Obama to agree to accept public financing for the general election and abide by the spending limits that come with it, something he indicated last year he would do if the Republican nominee also signed up for the campaign finance program. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has recently hammered Obama for wavering on the issue.

Obama campaign officials said they are still tabulating their final numbers and would only say that their total was “considerably more” than the $35 million that Senator Clinton’s campaign announced Thursday it had raised in February.

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Gun Rules May Be Eased In U.S. National Parks
2008-02-28 21:45:37

Visitors to some U.S. national parks would be able to start packing heat along with their tents and picnic baskets under a proposal being considered by the Interior Department  that would ease restrictions on loaded firearms in the parks.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said last week that officials would review long-standing regulations that require firearms in most national parks to be unloaded and inoperable - through the use of trigger locks, for example, or storage in a car trunk or a special case. The department intends to propose new rules by April 30.

The review pits the National Rifle Association and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers against park rangers and advocates who decry the move as election-year posturing that could make the parks more dangerous.

Kempthorne's action comes in response to two recent letters from 51 senators - 44 Republicans and seven Democrats - requesting that the National Park Service align its gun rules with state laws. If a state permits citizens to carry concealed weapons, the national parks in that state should, too, they argued.

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Israel Kills 20 Palestinians In Gaza
2008-02-28 21:44:37
A bloody spike in Israel-Hamas fighting put the Israeli city of Ashkelon and its 110,000 residents at the center of an intensifying militant rocket barrage Thursday - and Israel's defense minister warned he would invade Gaza, if necessary, to halt the attacks.

Israel launched nearly a dozen airstrikes, killing 20 Palestinians, said Gaza hospital officials. The attacks included a not-so-veiled warning to Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh - a missile strike on a guard post outside his home. Hamas leaders have been in hiding in recent weeks, though Israel has so far only targeted militants, not Hamas politicians.

The dead Thursday included members of rocket squads, as well as five children, ranging in age from 8 to 12, who their relatives said were playing soccer when they were killed in a missile strike.

Israel has been reluctant to invade Gaza, amid concerns of getting bogged down there, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak told his security chiefs Thursday that an offensive is a definite option. "The major ground operation is real and tangible. We are not afraid of it," said Barak, according to a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the top-level session was held in secrecy.

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Prince Harry: 'I Think This Is As Normal As I'm Ever Going To Get'
2008-02-28 20:28:06
For the past 10 weeks, Britain's Prince Harry has been in Afghanistan directing airstrikes on the Taliban. The quotes in this article came from a pooled interview carried out by a reporter from the U.K.'s Press Association who was given access to Harry during his deployment.

Widow Six Seven had just given them the signal over the radio: "Cleared hot." Seconds later, a roaring could be heard as the U.S. F15 fighter jets dropped two 500-pound bombs on their targets. As one dropped a third bomb on a Taliban bunker, men could be seen on the ground scrambling out from their cover.

To the American pilots, the English public school voice responding to their "in hot" request and guiding their missile fire gave no clue that the army officer with whom they were communicating was a member of the British royal family.

The soldier they knew as call sign Widow Six Seven was Prince Harry, working in Afghanistan as a forward air controller [FAC] identifying Taliban forces on the ground, verifying coordinates and clearing them as targets for attack.

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Former Military Prosecutor To Testify For Detainee
2008-02-28 03:50:34

Until four months ago, Col. Morris D. Davis was the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay and the most colorful champion of the Bush administration’s military commission system. He once said sympathy for detainees was nauseating and compared putting them on trial to dragging “Dracula out into the sunlight.”

Then in October he had a dispute with his boss, a general. Ever since, he has been one of those critics who will not go away: a former top insider, with broad shoulders and a well-pressed uniform, willing to turn on the system he helped run.

Still in the military, he has irritated the administration, saying in articles and interviews that Pentagon officials interfered with prosecutors, exerted political pressure and approved the use of evidence obtained by torture.

Now, Colonel Davis has taken his most provocative step, completing his transformation from Guantanamo’s chief prosecutor to its new chief critic. He has agreed to testify at Guantanamo on behalf of one of the detainees, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden. 

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In Leadville, Mine Water Poses Danger Of A Toxic Gusher
2008-02-28 03:49:40
In a snowswept trailer park, Emily Medina wakes each morning wondering whether she will be washed away by toxic water that local officials fear could burst from a decaying mine tunnel near her home.

Like many of the 2,800 people in the old mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where wealthy prospectors and infamous gunslingers once flocked, Ms. Medina, a housekeeper at a hotel in Vail, is afraid of losing her property, or worse.

“They should get us out of here,” she said. “They need to do something before it’s too late.”

This month, Lake County commissioners declared a state of emergency over concerns that rising levels of contaminated water could burst from the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel and flood the town.

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Commentary: Russia's Dangerous Double Act
2008-02-28 03:49:00
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Christian Neef and was posted on the German news magazine Der Spiegel's online edition for Wednesday, February 27, 2008. Mr. Neef's commentary follows:

After Sunday's elections in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are expected to form a governing duo. But why assume that a czar duo can ensure stability? Shared leadership has never worked in Russia.

On Sunday, roughly 109 million Russians will vote on who they want to see in the Kremlin as the country's next president in May. Of course, if voting means selecting, then voting isn't exactly what Russian citizens will be doing. Russia has no televised debates, Clinton tears or Obama hype. And while Europeans may find the American election circus amusing, it unquestionably reflects a fundamentally democratic system. What we are experiencing in Russia, on the other hand, is a one-man play. The outcome of the vote has been clear ever since President Vladimir Putin anointed his confidant Dmitry Medvedev to be his successor. And it has only one function: to legitimize the Kremlin leader's decision. In other words, only one Russian will be voting on March 2: Vladimir Putin.

Muscovites are calling it a historic vote. "Medvedev - this is the most stable, quietest and least surprising option" to succeed the president, says Mikhail Leontyev, a journalist closely aligned with the Kremlin. According to Leontyev, Russia's future duo of leaders - Medvedev as president and Putin as prime minister - represents an "absolutely organic" solution. The historic aspect of what Putin aims to achieve with this procedure, writes Leontyev, is the attempt to break out of a vicious circle: namely to finally settle the power issue without triggering some sort of violence, and without allowing Russia to descend into a new era of confusion.

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