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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday February 2 2008 - (813)

Saturday February 2 2008 edition
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CIA Makes Changes To Is Inspector General's Oversight
2008-02-02 02:12:14
The CIA's inspector general has agreed to tighter controls over its investigative procedures, agency officials revealed yesterday, in what appeared to be an attempt to soften resentments among agency officials over the watchdog's aggressive probes into the legality and effectiveness of the CIA's counterterrorism efforts and detention programs.

The revisions, which include the appointment of a special ombudsman to oversee the I.G.'s work, were disclosed by CIA Director Michael V. Hayden in an e-mail sent to employees, announcing the end of an unusual inquiry into the performance of Inspector General John L. Helgerson,a 36-year CIA veteran and the man chiefly responsible for the spy agency's internal oversight.

The inquiry, begun last year, had raised concern among lawmakers who worried that the CIA was seeking to undermine the independence of Helgerson and his staff of auditors and inspectors. Helgerson angered top officials at the agency after leading aggressive investigations into the CIA's performance before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as its use of secret prisons and harsh interrogation methods against suspected terrorists.

Hayden, in the note to employees, praised Helgerson and his staff as being "committed to performing investigations . . . of the highest quality, integrity and timeliness," but said the inspector general had agreed on the need for changes.
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Commentary: Why I'm Backing Obama
2008-02-02 02:11:39
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Susan Eisenhower and appears in the edition for Saturday, February 2, 2008. Ms. Eisenhower is the granddaughter of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Her commentary follows:

Forty-seven years ago, my grandfather Dwight D. Eisenhower bid farewell to a nation he had served for more than five decades. In his televised address, Ike famously coined the term "military-industrial complex," and he offered advice that is still relevant today. "As we peer into society's future," he said, we "must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

Today we are engaged in a debate about these very issues. Deep in America's heart, I believe, is the nagging fear that our best years as a nation may be over. We are disliked overseas and feel insecure at home. We watch as our federal budget hemorrhages red ink and our civil liberties are eroded. Crises in energy, health care and education threaten our way of life and our ability to compete internationally. There are also the issues of a costly, unpopular war; a long-neglected infrastructure; and an aging and increasingly needy population.

I am not alone in worrying that my generation will fail to do what my grandfather's did so well: Leave America a better, stronger place than the one it found.

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Cassandra Smythe Turns One Year Old
2008-02-01 20:16:10
We at Free Internet Press are celebrating Cassandra Smythe's first birthday!

As some of you will remember, Cassandra Smythe was born 1 year ago today.  Over the coming years, we'll be continuing her story. 

As of today, she is 21 pounds, and stands 28.5 inches tall.  She is constantly smiling, talking, and laughing.  Over the last couple months, she's mastered standing, and is almost walking.  She dances, as long as there is music, and she is holding on to something.   She already speaks several discernible words, including "ma" (mom), "da" (dad), "na" (her brother), "ca" (cat), "botl" (bottle), and "dat" (not yet translated, possibly "that").

Happy birthday Cassandra!  The world will see you here again next year!

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Commentary: Regarding FISA And The Telecoms
2008-02-01 16:36:00
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's "Countdown" program and was aired on the program Thursday, January 31, 2009. Mr. Olbermann's commentary follows:

And finally, as promised, a Special Comment - of FISA and the telecoms.

In a presidency of hypocrisy - an administration of exploitation - a labyrinth of leadership - in which every vital fact is a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma hidden under a claim of executive privilege supervised by an idiot - this one… is surprisingly easy.

President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws… ahead of protecting you from the terrorists.

He has demanded an extension of the FISA law - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.

Congress has given him, and he has today signed a fifteen-day extension which simply kicks the time bomb down the field, and has changed nothing of his insipid rhetoric, in which he portrays the Democrats as 'soft on terror' and getting in the way of his superhuman efforts to protect the nation… when, in fact, and with bitter irony, if anybody is 'soft on terror' here… it is Mr. Bush.

In the State of the Union Address, sir, you told Congress, "if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger."

Yet you are willing to weaken that ability!

You will subject us, your citizens, to that greater danger.

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U.S. Payrolls Drop For First Time Since 2003
2008-02-01 16:35:09

The nation shed jobs in January, the government reported Friday, the first monthly loss since 2003, offering fresh evidence that the labor market is softening and raising the likelihood of a recession this year.

Economists have been counting on steady job growth to keep American households afloat even as their homes become less valuable and the stock market slumps. The loss of 17,000 net jobs in January undermines that expectation. Economists had forecast a gain of 70,000 jobs.

Friday's Labor Department report also contained some good news: The jobless rate edged down to 4.9 percent, from 5 percent, and December job growth was stronger than previously reported. Some economists expect the January job growth number to be revised upward when the department has more complete data. But the labor market has clearly gotten weaker. Average weekly earnings for non-managerial workers fell 0.1 percent in January.

"There's no question the job market is slowing," said Roy G. Krause, chief executive of Spherion, one of the country's largest recruiting firms, although he said conditions remain fine for those with advanced skills.

In his State of the Union address Monday, President Bush noted proudly that the nation has added jobs for more than four straight years - a streak that now appears to be over.

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Sweeping Changes Recommended For U.S. National Guard
2008-02-01 16:33:44

Active and reserve service members would have to wait until age 57 or longer before drawing retired pay under a controversial recommendation from a congressionally chartered commission.

The proposal would spell the end of the current active-duty plan that provides non-disability retirement immediately after completing a minimum of 20 years of service.

The plan comes from the final report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve, which went beyond its original charter to review the structure and management of the reserve components by also recommending an overhaul of personnel policies for active members.

Under current retirement rules, an active-duty member is eligible for retired pay immediately after completing a minimum of 20 years of service, which can be as young as 37 for someone who enlisted at age 17. Reservists, however, must wait until age 60 to draw retired pay, although a law signed Jan. 28 by President Bush allows reservists to draw retired pay 90 days earlier than age 60 for every 90 days of mobilization in support of a contingency operation.

Under the commission’s plan, a revamped retired system would grant limited retirement benefits beginning after only 10 years of service, although actual retirement pay would not begin until age 62. Those who serve at least 20 years could receive retirement pay at age 60, and those who serve 30 years at age 57.

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Microsoft Bids $44.6 Billion For Yahoo
2008-02-01 16:31:36
Microsoft Corp. has offered to buy struggling Internet search provider Yahoo for $44.6 billion, a merger that would combine two of the technology world's most well-known names into a potentially potent competitor for Google in the lucrative Web search and advertising market.

Yahoo, which rebuffed earlier merger and business alliance offers from Microsoft, issued a terse statement saying that the "unsolicited proposal" would be "evaluated carefully and promptly in the context of Yahoo's strategic plans."

"We see this announcement as the next major milestone in Microsoft's company-wide transformation to embrace online services overall and invest very successfully in search advertising," Microsoft chief executive Steven A. Ballmer said in a conference call this morning with analysts.

Ballmer called Yahoo chief executive co-founder Jerry Yang last night to discuss the proposal. Ballmer was reluctant to discuss the conversation in detail. "I said we're making a good offer. He said he would consider it," said Ballmer.

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Dozens Killed In Iraq Markets Suicide Attacks
2008-02-01 16:30:33
Within the span of 10 minutes, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in crowded Baghdad markets on Friday, killing dozens of people in the deadliest day in the Iraqi capital in months, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The first bomber targeted the beleaguered Souq al-Ghazil market, the largest and most famous animal market in Baghdad, which has been attacked at least four times in the past two years. The 10:40 a.m. blast ripped through the throng of shoppers perusing cages of puppies and crates of squawking birds, on the one day of the week when the market is open. The second bombing, at 10:45 a.m., struck a market five miles away in the New Baghdad neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad.

There were conflicting reports about the scale of the carnage. Iraqi police said 58 people were killed and 172 others were wounded, while the U.S. military reported 27 killed and more than 50 injured. The bombings took place in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods. Both women bombers were wearing suicide vests, a tactic usually associated with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. 

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Fears Of Global Fallout From Subprime Debacle
2008-02-01 00:50:29
For a time, the snow-dusted forests ringing the picturesque mill town of Mackenzie, British Columbia, Canada, might as well have been made of gold.

Eager U.S. construction companies scooped up Canadian lumber in record volume during the great American housing boom of the middle of the decade. As prices spiked, sawmills cashed in, spending millions to increase production. They upgraded factories and enticed laborers with salaries upward of $80,000 a year, adding third shifts to pump out wood for McMansions in Miami, Florida, and instant subdivisions in Phoenix, Arizona, 24 hours a day.

The lumber bubble brought to this sleepy town of 4,500 people about 600 miles north of Vancouber a rush of wealth, still easily visible in the freshly minted Ski-Doo snowmobiles and $60,000 pickup trucks, now idle in driveways. "Everybody went out and bought new toys," said Mackenzie's no-nonsense mayor, Stephanie Killam. "Nobody thought it would ever end. They were wrong."

As the ripple effect of the U.S. subprime-mortgage collapse spreads around the world, the boom times for Mackenzie and dozens of other towns built on the legacy of the Canadian lumberjack have come crashing down as fast as you can say "timber". It underscores fears of a broader global fallout from the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble as tens of billions of dollars in losses hit economic interests as diverse as Swiss bankers and Mexican villagers.

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Decline In Western U.S. Snowpack Blamed On Global Warming
2008-02-01 00:49:22
Water suppies in west affected.

The persistent and dramatic decline in the snowpack of many mountains in the West is caused primarily by human-induced global warming and is not the result of natural variability in weather patterns, researchers reported Thursday.

Using data collected over the past 50 years, the scientists confirmed that the mountains are getting more rain and less snow, that the snowpack is breaking up faster and that more rivers are running dry by summer.

The study, published online Thursday by the journal Science, looked at possible causes of the changes - including natural variability in temperatures and precipitation, volcanic activity around the globe and climate change driven by the release of greenhouse gases. The researchers' computer models showed that climate change is clearly the explanation that best fit the data.

"We've known for decades that the hydrology of the West is changing, but for much of that time people said it was because of Mother Nature and that she would return to the old patterns in the future," said lead author Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. "But we have found very clearly that global warming has done it, that it is the mechanism that explains the change and that things will be getting worse."
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China's Inflation Resulting In Higher Prices In U.S.
2008-02-01 00:48:06
China’s latest export is inflation. After falling for years, prices of Chinese goods sold in the United States have risen for the last eight months.

Soaring energy and raw material costs, a falling dollar and new business rules here are forcing Chinese factories to increase the prices of their exports, according to analysts and Western companies doing business in China.

The rise was a modest 2.4 percent over the last year, but even that small amount, combined with higher energy and food costs that also reflect China’s growing demands on global resources, contributed to a rise in inflation in the United States. Inflation in the United States was 4.1 percent in 2007, up from 2.5 percent in 2006.

Because of new cost pressures here, American consumers could see prices increase by as much as 10 percent this year on specific products - including toys, clothing, footwear and other consumer goods - just as the United States faces a possible recession.

In the longer term, higher costs in China could spell the end of an era of ultra-cheap goods, as well as the beginning of China’s rise from the lowest rungs of global manufacturing.

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Moqtada al-Sadr Threatens To End Militia Freeze Unless Attacks On Mahdi Militia Stop
2008-02-01 00:46:02
Senior aides to the powerful Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr Thursday warned the U.S. and the Iraqi government that a six-month freeze on the activities of their militia may not be extended unless the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, takes steps to halt attacks on Sadr's followers.

Sadr's order to his Jaish al-Mahdi militia is regarded as a vital component of the nationwide downturn in violence during the past half year. Fighters loyal to Sadr had been blamed for fueling the sectarian violence that gripped Baghdad and religiously mixed areas to the north and south of the capital. A renewal of their activities could undo much of the recent progress in security on the ground and stir up tensions among Iraq's Shia Muslims.

Speaking to the Guardian from his base in the holy city of Najaf, Sadr's senior spokesman, Salah al-Obeidi, said that gangs of thugs linked to Sadr's Shia political rivals had infiltrated Iraqi security forces and were using the surge as a cover to attack "civilian followers" of the radical cleric.

He said Sadr's supporters and their families in the southern cities of Diwaniya, Kerbala and Samawa had been subject to "the worst kind of human rights abuses, including killings and beatings". "More than 1,000 families have been displaced," said Obeidi.

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Britain's Defense Ministry Face Tough Choices On Weapons Cuts
2008-02-01 00:44:19
Ministers and officials in Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) are drawing up plans for sweeping cuts and delays in most of country's big weapons projects as they face the biggest crisis in the defense budget since the end of the cold war, according to government and independent sources.

Huge orders for aircraft carriers, ships, fighter jets, and hi-tech vehicles are accumulating at a time when operating costs are rocketing because of grueling military operations and large increases in the cost of fuel, they say. Defense officials say ministers will be confronted with "painful options" next month.

While army chiefs have been fighting for - and belatedly getting - better armored vehicles and helicopters to protect and support their troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more pay for their soldiers, the Royal Navy and RAF insist that past promises for multibillion pound platforms such as new carriers and more Eurofighters must be kept.

The army and marines are so stretched that exercises and what defense sources call "non-essential training" are being scrapped. However, the Ministry of Defense Thursday denied a report that combat training for new recruits bound for Afghanistan is being cut by half.

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Editorial: Secrets and Rights
2008-02-02 02:11:51
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Saturday, February 2, 2008.

President Bush’s excesses in the name of fighting terrorism are legion. To avoid accountability, his administration has repeatedly sought early dismissal of lawsuits that might finally expose government misconduct, brandishing flimsy claims that going forward would put national security secrets at risk.

The courts have been far too willing to go along. In cases involving serious allegations of kidnapping, torture and unlawful domestic eavesdropping, judges have blocked plaintiffs from pursuing their claims without taking a hard look at the government’s basis for invoking the so-called state secrets privilege: its insistence that revealing certain documents or other evidence would endanger the nation’s security.

As a result, victims of serious abuse have been denied justice, fundamental rights have been violated and the constitutional system of checks and balances has been grievously undermined.

Congress - which has allowed itself to be bullied on national security issues for far too long - may now be ready to push back. The House and Senate are developing legislation that would give victims fair access to the courts and make it harder for the government to hide illegal or embarrassing conduct behind such unsupported claims.

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U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Powers Diminished
2008-02-02 02:10:51

When the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission returns to work on Monday, it will not have the authority to adopt safety rules, order mandatory recalls of dangerous products, or impose civil penalties on companies that do not report product hazards immediately.

The agency, which polices more than 15,000 types of products, will lose those powers tomorrow when its temporary quorum expires for the second time in little more than a year.

Normally, the CPSC needs all three members for a quorum, but it has had a vacancy since Chairman Harold D. Stratton, Jr., left in July 2006, leaving Nancy A. Nord, who has been acting chairman, and Thomas Hill Moore on the commission. The agency was able to operate with two members for six months. The temporary quorum lapsed in January 2007, and Congress granted an extension in August.

Congress has not passed another one, and the Bush administration has not nominated a new chairman who could restore quorum since its last pick, industry lobbyist Michael E. Baroody, withdrew his name in May after protest by Senate Democrats and consumer groups.

Congress is considering extending the quorum as part of legislation to improve the nation's product-safety system. That legislation is tied up in the Senate.

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Exxon Mobil Profit Of $40.6 Billion Sets New Record
2008-02-01 16:36:24
Exxon Mobil delivered its strongest performance ever last year, earning a record $40.6 billion in net income because of soaring oil prices, the company said Friday.

The figure, a 3 percent increase from the previous year, exceeded the company’s own record for profits at an American corporation, set in 2006, and is nearly twice what it earned in 2003.

Exxon said its fourth-quarter net income rose 14 percent, to $11.7 billion, or $2.13 a share. That also made it the company’s most profitable quarter ever.

The top Western oil companies are having a tougher time finding reserves and expanding their production as access to resources has tightened in recent years in places like Russia and Venezuela and conventional sources of oil dries up in the North Sea. The industry is also being pressured by rising costs and shortages of workers, rigs and engineering capacity.

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Commentary: How Oil Burst The American Bubble
2008-02-01 16:35:34
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Michael T. Klare and appeared on the website edition for Thursday, January 31, 2008. Mr. Klare, author of "Resource Wars" and "Blood and Oil", is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. Mr. Klare's commentary follows:

The economic bubble that lifted the stock market to dizzying heights was sustained as much by cheap oil as by cheap (often fraudulent) mortgages. Likewise, the collapse of the bubble was caused as much by costly (often imported) oil as by record defaults on those improvident mortgages. Oil, in fact, has played a critical, if little commented upon, role in America's current economic enfeeblement - and it will continue to drain the economy of wealth and vigor for years to come.

The great economic mega-bubble arose in the late 1990s, when oil was cheap, times were good, and millions of middle-class families aspired to realize the "American dream" by buying a three (or more) bedroom house on a decent piece of property in a nice, safe suburb with good schools and various other amenities. The hitch: Few such affordable homes were available for sale - or being built - within easy commuting range of major metropolitan areas or near public transportation. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example, the median sale price of existing homes rose from $290,000 in 2002 to $446,400 in 2004; similar increases were posted in other major cities and in their older, more desirable suburbs.

This left home buyers with two unappealing choices: Take out larger mortgages than they could readily afford, often borrowing from unscrupulous lenders who overlooked their overstretched finances (that is, their "subprime" qualifications); or buy cheaper homes far from their places of work, which ensured long commutes, while hoping that the price of gasoline remained relatively low. Many first-time home buyers wound up doing both - signing up for crushing mortgages on homes far from their places of work.

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Commentary: America's Middle Classes Are No Longer Coping
2008-02-01 16:34:33
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and appeared in the Financial Times edition for Tuesday, January 29, 2008. Mr. Reich is now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His commentary follows:

It is an election year and the US economy is in peril of falling into recession or worse. Not surprisingly, Washington is abuzz with plans to prevent it. President George W. Bush has proposed a $150 billion stimulus package and all the main presidential candidates are offering similar measures, including middle-class tax cuts and increased spending on infrastructure.

Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve have reduced interest rates another three-quarters of a point. But none of these fixes will help much because they do not deal with the underlying anxieties now gripping American voters. The problem lies deeper than the current slowdown and transcends the business cycle.

The fact is, middle-class families have exhausted the coping mechanisms they have used for more than three decades to get by on median wages that are barely higher than they were in 1970, adjusted for inflation. Male wages today are in fact lower than they were then: the income of a young man in his 30s is now 12 per cent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Yet for years now, America's middle class has lived beyond its pay check. Middle-class lifestyles have flourished even though median wages have barely budged. That is ending and Americans are beginning to feel the consequences.

The first coping mechanism was moving more women into paid work. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970 - from 38 per cent to close to 70 per cent. Some parents are now even doing 24-hour shifts, one on child duty while the other works. These families are known as Dins: double income, no sex.

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Editorial: A Broken Verdict
2008-02-01 16:32:56
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Friday, February 1, 2008.

The case of the mismanaged American Indian trust funds is Dickensian both in length - now 11 years before the courts  - and inequity. On Wednesday, Judge James Robertson of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Interior Department had “unreasonably delayed” its accounting for billions of dollars owed to American Indian landholders and that the agency “cannot remedy the breach.”

There is, of course, no full remedy - not for the historical wrongs or the cynical and shabby accounting or the years of frustration. And as Judge Robertson and others before him have noted, a meticulously accurate tally of what the American Indians are owed is almost certainly impossible. Yet that does not mean that a reasonable compromise cannot be reached or that the government should abandon efforts to find one. A study group set up by Gale Norton, the former interior secretary, in early 2001 was scrapped after less than two years. Simple justice requires a more sustained effort.

In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a Blackfoot Indian, filed a lawsuit claiming that the government had mismanaged billions of dollars in oil, timber and other royalties held in trust for some half-million Indians. The Indians were given land allotments between the end of the 19th century and 1934, a time when it was government policy to try to do away with tribal entities and reservations. The government held title to the land, and these accounts were meant to collect and disburse the revenues.

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Commentary: Afghanistan - The Next Disaster
2008-02-01 16:31:15
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Saul Landau and appears in the Progreso Weekly edition for January 31 - February 5, 2008. Mr. Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow and author of "A Bush And Botox World". His new film, "We Don't Play Golf Here", is available on DVD. Mr. Landau's commentary follows:

After six plus years, the war in Afghanistan drags on. The media occasionally cites casualties, but if it doesn't involve National Football League veteran Pat Tillman's execution by his own comrades, Afghanistan gets sparse attention. A few stories feature the growing number of Afghan and Iraq War vets on American streets. But the aspiring candidates ignore such "blowback." Instead, they demonstrate verbal aggression, a characteristic thought necessary for victory. "We've got to get the job done there [Afghanistan]," Barack Obama asserted without specifying what the "job" is. (A.P., Aug 14, 2007)

Obama called for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and sending them to "the right battlefield," Afghanistan and Pakistan. To pressure Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to act against terrorist training camps, Obama would use military force - if he became President - against those "terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans." (Bloomberg, Aug 1, 2007)

In mid January, Bush dispatched 3,200 additional marines to Afghanistan. Curiously, the uncurious media didn't ask why U.S. and NATO forces continue to fight there. Nation Building? With little or no budget for reconstructing the country?

Junior partners, the British leaders, haven't learned lessons any better than their Yankee counterparts. Defense Minister Des Browne predicted British troops could stay there for "decades." Did he not learn that from 1839 to 1842 British troops fought in Afghanistan so they could take that sphere away from Russia? Now, NATO makes war there, says Browne, to insure that it would not again "become a training ground for terrorists threatening Great Britain."

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Third Undersea Internet Cable Cut In Middle East
2008-02-01 16:30:09
An undersea cable carrying Internet traffic was cut off the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, officials said Friday, the third loss of a line carrying Internet and telephone traffic in three days.

Ships have been dispatched to repair two undersea cables damaged on Wednesday off Egypt.

FLAG Telecom, which owns one of the cables, said repairs are expected to be completed by February 12. France Telecom, part owner of the other cable, said it was uncertain when it would be repaired.

Stephan Beckert, an analyst with TeleGeography, a research company that consults on global Internet issues, said the cables off Egypt were likely damaged by ships' anchors.

The loss of the two Mediterranean cables - FLAG Telecom's FLAG Europe-Asia cable and SeaMeWe-4, a cable owned by a consortium of more than a dozen telecommunications companies - has snarled Internet and phone traffic from Egypt to India.

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U.S. Homeowner Credit Evaporates
2008-02-01 00:49:57
Countrywide and others tell thousands of homeowners that they can no longer borrow against their credit lines as the companies tighten standards.

Tens of thousands of homeowners with home equity lines of credit are getting a rude surprise: They've been told by their lender that they can no longer take money out on their credit lines because sinking home prices have put them "upside down" on their mortgages.

Countrywide Financial Corp. sent letters to 122,000 customers last week telling them they could no longer borrow against their credit lines because the total debt on the home exceeded the market value of the property. The lender says it is using computer modeling to determine which of its customers would have their cash spigot shut off.

The move by Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage company, is part of a pullback by lenders nationwide on home equity loans, which are often used to finance home improvements and consumer spending. Such loans, also known as second mortgages, were widely available until six months ago, when delinquencies and foreclosures began to soar. Now, with new evidence of sinking home values, many lenders are requiring that homeowners maintain a much larger percentage of equity in their homes as a cushion against financial problems.
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One-On-One, Clinton, Obama Take Aim At Republicans
2008-02-01 00:49:01
Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met for debate Thursday, sitting side by side in Los Angeles and sharing a night of smiles, friendly eye-catching and gentle banter. Cordial as the encounter was, the candidates’ did not mask their own divisions, even as they previewed the attacks one of them will ultimately make against a Republican rival.

It was almost as if the battle was to see which of them could out-nice the other.

At the end of the nearly two-hour encounter, as the audience of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities rose to its feet at the Kodak Theater, Obama held Clinton’s chair as she rose. The two rivals, almost hugging, held each others’ elbows and whispered in one another’s ear, offering a striking image that captured the tenor of the debate.

“When we started off we had eight candidates on this stage, we are now down to two,” said Obama. “I think one of us two will end up being the next president of the United States.”

Gone were the sharp and sometimes personal attacks that have characterized a year’s worth of debates, particularly a combative session last week in South Carolina, which both sides conceded had tarnished their images.

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Mexican Farmers Protest U.S. Trade Pact
2008-02-01 00:46:45
Led by a column of tractors, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Mexico City on Thursday to protest recent trade openings that removed the last tariff protections for ancestral Mexican crops like corn and beans.

Chanting "Without corn, the country doesn't exist!" farmers and farm activists from across the nation demanded the Mexican government renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to reinstate protection for basic crops.

Farmers here say the can't compete with bigger U.S. farms which receive more government support. Under the terms of NAFTA, Mexico got a 15-year protection period to improve its farms, but that phase-in period ended Jan. 1, and Mexican farms - mostly tiny plots of 12 acres or less - still lag behind.

"The truth is, we can't compete, that is why we're demonstrating ... because we're really getting hit hard," said Telespor Andrade, 44, a weather-beaten farmer from central Mexico who grows corn and beans on about 7 acres of land.

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Ferry Rescue As Storms Sweep Across Britain
2008-02-01 00:45:32
Helicopters and lifeboats were involved in a sea rescue Thursday night after 19 people were stranded on a ferry adrift in "horrendous" weather on the Irish Sea, as forcasters warned that high winds and blizzards will spread across the country Friday.

Three helicopters - two from the RAF and one from the coastguard - were scrambled after the Riverdance, a roll-on-roll-off ferry, was struck by a freak wave eight miles west of Fleetwood.

The stricken vessel was listing at 60 degrees after its cargo shifted amid heavy seas and high winds. Emergency workers feared that the ship, carrying a cargo of transport vehicles, was likely to capsize, but rescue efforts were hampered by "appalling" weather conditions.

Two all-weather rescue boats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) were assisting with the operation, providing lighting for the airlift and standing by in case further assistance was required.

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