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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday February 23 2008 - (813)

Saturday February 23 2008 edition
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Paxson Contradicts McCain Campaign
2008-02-23 01:17:56

Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson Friday contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington, D.C., office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters in 1999 to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

Paxson also recalled that his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, likely attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting. "Was Vicki there? Probably," Paxson said in an interview with the Washington Post Friday. "The woman was a professional. She was good. She could get us meetings."

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Clouds Gather As 'Sulky' Musharraf Retreats To His 'Mental Bunker'
2008-02-23 01:17:23

In some ways life has changed little for Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, since Monday's election. The retired general still trots out for afternoon tennis, aides say, and enjoys a game of bridge a few times a week. In the evenings he pulls on a cigar and, although he can't admit it, nurses a glass of whiskey.

Visitors still call to see him at Army House, the marble-floored Rawalpindi residence of Pakistan's military chiefs, even though he retired three months ago. "It has been renamed Presidential Lodge," said spokesman Rashid Qureshi. "The normal routine is functioning."

But outside clouds are gathering. The spectacular rout of his Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party at the polls has shorn the retired commando of his political base, leaving him isolated and exposed.

"He's been sulking," said a senior party official. "He's retreated into a mental bunker, which is not healthy. He thinks everyone is out to get him and only listens to a small circle. It's a dangerous mindset to be in at this point in time. He could decide to hit back."

Musharraf's bad mood stems from the prospect of Nawaz Sharif, the rotund prime minister from Punjab he ousted in a 1999 coup and banished to Saudi Arabia a year later, returning to power. Sharif, who controls the second biggest party in parliament, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) has vowed to oust Musharraf at the earliest opportunity. "The nation has given its verdict. The sooner he accepts it the better," said Sharif.

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U.S. May Evacuate Diplomats In Serbia
2008-02-23 01:16:36

The U.S. ambassador to Serbia has asked the State Department to evacuate some diplomats from the embassy in Belgrade, following an attack on the compound.

The ambassador, Cameron Munter, had asked the department to implement an "ordered departure" for all non-essential personnel and the dependants of all American staff at the embassy, a state department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said. He said the request was being reviewed but that it would "likely be approved". There are between 80 and 100 Americans working at the embassy.

U.S. diplomats around the Balkans are on the alert for more anti-American violence after Serb rioters torched the Belgrade embassy, causing as-yet undetermined damage and drawing fierce condemnation from Washington.

The declaration of independence by the former Serbian province of Kosovo has increased tensions across the region. And new mass demonstrations are expected following recognition of Kosovo by the U.S. and other western countries.

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Arizona's U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi Indicted In Land Deal
2008-02-23 01:15:55
U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Arizona) used his position in Congress to influence a federal land-exchange deal, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs, according to an indictment released Friday.

The 35-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Tucson, Arizona, also accuses Renzi of separately embezzling corporate funds to bankroll his first House campaign.

The indictment makes Renzi the fourth sitting lawmaker to face federal charges since 2005 in the Justice Department's  continuing crackdown on public corruption, and it represents a fresh blow to congressional Republicans struggling with numerous allegations of ethical wrongdoing in their ranks.

Renzi joins as targets of Justice Department prosecution convicted GOP Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (California)  and Robert W. Ney (Ohio), as well as Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson (Louisiana), who is awaiting trial on bribery charges.

Renzi, who was indicted along with two alleged co-conspirators after a federal investigation that took at least 16 months, is accused of conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes.

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2 Moderate Earthquakes Rattle U.S., Mexico Border
2008-02-23 01:13:53
The U.S. Geological Survey says two earthquakes have rattled a desert area straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage on the U.S. side.

The first quake struck Friday morning in an area about 16 miles south of the Mexican border town of Mexicali. Its magnitude was measured at 4.8.

The second quake hit three minutes later about 5 miles farther south. It measured at 4.4.

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Editorial: No Recourse For The Injured
2008-02-22 15:14:32
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Friday, February 22, 2008.

Consumers are already at the mercy of the all-too-fallible Food and Drug Administration. So it is especially disturbing that the Supreme Court ruled this week that patients injured by defective medical devices cannot sue for damages in state courts if the device was approved for marketing by the F.D.A. and made to the agency’s specifications.

That means that any consumer harmed by a faulty device - whether it be an implanted defibrillator, a heart pump or an artificial knee - will have no chance of fair compensation and the manufacturers will have a dangerous sense of impunity. This decision is particularly unsettling at a time when the Bush administration has been working overtime to weaken federal regulations, and regulatory agencies, and to pre-empt the power of states to impose tougher standards.

In this week’s case, a New Yorker was injured when a balloon catheter made by Medtronic burst while being inserted to dilate a coronary artery. The court’s decision hinged on whether the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 - which gave the F.D.A. the prime responsibility for regulating medical devices - pre-empted the right of injured patients to sue for damages in state courts. Two lower federal courts, and now eight of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, have concluded that it does, thus settling that narrow legal issue.

The court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, stressed that intricate medical devices go through a rigorous assessment process in which F.D.A. experts balance their potential risks and benefits while a lay jury simply looks at the possible damage done to a patient by a device and is not concerned with its benefits to other patients.

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IAEA Confronts Iran With Evidence On Nuclear Weapons
2008-02-22 15:13:52
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Friday that it had confronted Iran for the first time with evidence supplied by the United States and other countries that strongly suggested the country had experimented with technology to make a nuclear weapon, but that Iranian officials dismissed the documents obtained from an Iranian scientist as “baseless and fabricated”.

The exchange was contained in an 11-page report in which the agency painted a mixed picture of Iran’s activities, saying Iranian officials had answered a number of long-standing questions about its nuclear activities but continued to defy the United Nations Security Council by refusing to halt the enrichment of uranium. Still, the amount of uranium that the agency reported that the country has produced so far was small - roughly a tenth of the amount that would be required to produce enough fuel for a single nuclear bomb.

The agency’s report was published at a moment that the Bush Administration’s efforts to greatly increase the pressure on the country is in disarray.

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) published in early December concluded, to the surprise of many in the White House, that Iran had suspended its work on a weapons design in late 2003, apparently in response to growing international pressure. That report immediately undercut President Bush’s effort, in his last year in office, to rally other nations to impose harsh financial sanctions on Iran for continuing to produce uranium fuel. Russia and China, both of which have deep commercial relationships with Iran, have made clear they would not go along with severe sanctions, and a watered-down set of new sanctions is now headed back to the Security Council.

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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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U.S. Justice Department Inquiry Focused On Waterboarding
2008-02-23 01:17:36
The U.S. Justice Department revealed Friday that its internal ethics office was investigating the department’s legal approval for waterbpardomg of al-Qaeda suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency and was likely to make public an unclassified version of its report.

The disclosure by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, was the first official acknowledgment of an internal review of the legal memorandums the department has issued since 2002 that authorized waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods.

Jarrett’s report could become the first public accounting for legal advice that endorsed methods widely denounced as torture by human rights groups and legal authorities. His office can refer matters for criminal prosecution; legal experts said the most likely outcome was a public critique of the legal opinions on interrogation, noting that Jarrett had the power to reprimand or to seek the disbarment of current or former Justice Department lawyers.

The cloak of secrecy that long concealed the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program and its legal underpinnings has gradually broken down.

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European Union Wants Personal Details Of Every Traveler
2008-02-23 01:16:47

Passengers traveling between European Union countries or taking domestic flights would have to hand over a mass of personal information, including their mobile phone numbers and credit card details, as part of a new package of security measures being demanded by the British government. The data would be stored for 13 years and used to "profile" suspects.

Brussels officials are already considering controversial anti-terror plans that would collect up to 19 pieces of information on every air passenger entering or leaving the E.U. Under a controversial agreement reached last summer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the E.U. already supplies the same information [19 pieces] to Washington for all passengers flying between Europe and the U.S.

Britain wants the system extended to sea and rail travel, to be applied to domestic flights and those between E.U.  countries. According to a questionnaire circulated to all E.U. capitals by the European commission, the U.K. is the only country of 27 E.U. member states that wants the system used for "more general public policy purposes" besides fighting terrorism and organized crime.

The so-called passenger name record system, proposed by the commission and supported by most E.U. governments, has been denounced by civil libertarians and data protection officials as draconian and probably ineffective.

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Airlines Switching To E-Tickets Only On June 1
2008-02-23 01:16:13

Mark your calendars: In 100 days, airlines around the world plan to stop issuing paper tickets.

The International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing 240 airlines, announced Friday that starting June 1, its members will use only electronic tickets. The airlines, which include the big U.S. carriers, account for 94 percent of international air traffic.

Exceptions will be made for small airlines that can't afford new computer systems, but they'll have to pay for the privilege.

"It's about simplifying the business," said Steve Lott, the association's spokesman. The change will make it easier and cheaper for airlines to issue tickets, he said.

Once, travelers purchased airline tickets through travel agents, and paper tickets were mailed to their homes. If you lost your paper ticket or if it was stolen, you could lose your flight.

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Chavez Is Riveted On His 19th Century Idol - Simon Bolivar
2008-02-23 01:14:34
President Hugo Chavez begins his 10th year in office with inflation in Venezuela the highest in Latin Ameica, food shortages prompting rioting, crime growing and the populist leader's own popularity sliding.

Among Chavez's new priorities is proving that Simon Bolivar, the 19th-century hero who is the inspiration for his movement, was slain by corrupt oligarchs and did not succumb to tuberculosis. Historians from Caracas to London  agree that the great liberator died in his bed in Santa Marta, Colombia, fevered, sick and broken, on Dec. 17, 1830.

Now, as Venezuela's official Gazette recorded on Jan. 28, Chavez has convened a high commission, led by his vice president and composed of nine cabinet ministers and the attorney general. Their job is to exhume Bolivar's remains, which lie in a sarcophagus at the National Pantheon in downtown Caracas, and carry out the necessary scientific tests to confirm Chavez's contention - that treacherous assassins murdered Bolivar.

"This commission has been created because the executive considers it to be of great historical and cultural value to clarify important doubts regarding the death of the Liberator," said Venezuela's official Gazette.

The president's latest focus on Bolívar, the Caracas-born aristocrat whose rebel armies freed from Spanish rule what would become six Latin American countries, is understandable. Bolivar is so revered by Chavez that he calls his transformation of Venezuela a Bolivarian Revolution, has renamed the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and has reportedly left a chair empty at meetings to honor "the Liberator."

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Clinton Vows To Fight On Beyond Texas And Ohio
2008-02-22 15:14:43
With the mood of her campaign darkened by the death of a motorcycle officer escorting her motorcade Friday, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed to carry her campaign beyond the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, despite the lengthening odds of her capturing the Democratic presidential nomination.

In television interviews and at two voter rallies here in Texas, Clinton returned to the theme of her surprisingly reflective closing remarks at the debate with Senator Barack Obama on Thursday night.

In those remarks, which some took as a valedictory to her long campaign for the nomination, she said that, “whatever happens” in the election contest, she and Obama would prosper.

Aides insisted the remark was not an admission that she believed she would lose the race but rather an attempt to refocus the campaign from the drama of the two compelling and historic candidates battling for the nomination to the struggles of ordinary voters.

“You know I made it very clear that this election is about all of you,” she said at a morning rally on a chilly street corner in Dallas Friday morning. “It’s about your futures, your families, your jobs.”

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European Diplomats Warn Serbia Over Embassy Attacks
2008-02-22 15:14:17
European diplomats demanded Friday that Serbia provide better protection for Western embassies, warning that further talks on ties between Belgrade and the European Union cannot take place unless violence subsides.

One person died and more than 150 people were injured in unrest in central Belgrade on Thursday night in which opponents of Kosovo's independence set fire to the United States Embassy and attacked those belonging to Britain, Germany, Croatia, Belgium and Turkey.

The United States ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Munter, asked the State Department on Friday to evacuate an unspecified number of nonessential diplomats.

In the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, long a flashpoint for violence between Albanians and Serbs, 5,000 Serb demonstrators confronted United Nations police officers guarding a bridge leading to the Albanian side of the town on Friday. The police said no one was injured.

The Serbian demonstrators waved flags, threw stones, glass bottles and firecrackers and chanted “Kosovo is ours” in the fifth day of demonstrations since Kosovo declared independence. Earlier in the week a group of Serbs, some wearing ski masks, burned two United Nations border posts in northern Kosovo in what appeared to be an attempt to undermine the United Nations administration and try to force partition of the territory.

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Northeast U.S. Hit By Major Winter Storm
2008-02-22 15:13:26
A major winter storm struck the northeast Friday, with snowfall causing massive delays at airports, closing schools and snarling traffic on streets and highways in the region.

Snow started falling earlier than expected, before daybreak, with four inches measured at mid-morning in Manhattan’s Central Park. A total of six to nine inches was expected before the snow is to change to sleet and rain in the afternoon

It was the heaviest snowfall in the region in two years. Nevertheless, residents and visitors alike found ways to cope.

Debbie Endres and Emily Klement, both of Muenster, Texas, stood at the corner of 47th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan Friday waiting for a tour bus and avoiding the slush puddles at the curbs. “I haven’t seen snow in six years,” said Ms. Endres. “All we wore were these light, little shoes.”

The women were part of a group of visiting to celebrate a 50th birthday. “We won’t tell you which one of us it is,” said Ms. Endres.

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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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