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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday February 12 2008 - (813)

Tuesday February 12 2008 edition
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U.S. Credit Crisis Spreads Beyond Subprime Loans
2008-02-12 03:15:08

The credit crisis is no longer just a subprime mortgage problem.

As home prices fall and banks tighten lending standards, people with good, or prime, credit histories are falling behind on their payments for home loans, auto loans and credit cards at a quickening pace, according to industry data and economists.

The rise in prime delinquencies, while less severe than the one in the subprime market, nonetheless poses a threat to the battered housing market and weakening economy, which some specialists say is in a recession or headed for one.

Until recently, people with good credit, who tend to pay their bills on time and manage their finances well, were viewed as a bulwark against the economic strains posed by rising defaults among borrowers with blemished, or subprime, credit.

“This collapse in housing value is sucking in all borrowers,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's 

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Commentary: Iraq's Tidal Wave Of Misery: The First History Of The Planet's Worst Refugee Crisis
2008-02-12 03:14:16
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Michael Schwartz and appeared on the web site edition for Sunday, February 10, 2008. Mr. Schwartz, professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency. The following report on the Iraqi refugee crisis is from his forthcoming TomDispatch book, "War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context" (Haymarket Books, June 2007). His work on Iraq has appeared on numerous Internet sites, including TomDispatch, Asia Times, Mother Jones and ZNET. His commentary follows:

A tidal wave of misery is engulfing Iraq - and it isn't the usual violence that Americans are accustomed to hearing about and tuning out. To be sure, it's rooted in that violence, but this tsunami of misery is social and economic in nature. It dislodges people from their jobs, sweeps them from their homes, tears them from their material possessions, and carries them off from families and communities. It leaves them stranded in hostile towns or foreign countries, with no anchor to resist the moment when the next wave of displacement sweeps over them.

The victims of this human tsunami are called refugees if they wash ashore outside the country or IDPs ("internally displaced persons") if their landing place is within Iraq's borders. Either way, they are normally left with no permanent housing, no reliable livelihood, no community support, and no government aid. All the normal social props that support human lives are removed, replaced with nothing.

Overlapping Waves of the Dispossessed

In its first four years, the Iraq war created three overlapping waves of refugees and IDPs.

It all began with the Coalition Provisional Authority, which the Bush administration set up inside Baghdad's Green Zone and, in May 2003, placed under the control of L. Paul Bremer III. The CPA immediately began dismantling Iraq's state apparatus. Thousands of Baathist Party bureaucrats were purged from the government; tens of thousands of workers were laid off from shuttered, state-owned industries; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi military personnel were dismissed from Saddam's dismantled military. Their numbers soon multiplied as the ripple effect of their lost buying power rolled through the economy. Many of the displaced found other (less remunerative) jobs; some hunkered down to wait out bad times; still others left their homes and sought work elsewhere, with the most marketable going to nearby countries where their skills were still in demand. They were the leading edge of the first wave of Iraqi refugees.

As the post-war chaos continued, kidnapping became the country's growth industry, targeting any prosperous family with the means to pay ransom. This only accelerated the rate of departure, particularly among those who had already had their careers disrupted. A flood of professional, technical, and managerial workers fled their homes and Iraq in search of personal and job security.

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Editorial: Gates, Truth And Afghanistan
2008-02-12 03:13:04
Intellpuke: The following editorial appears in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, February 12, 2008.

By the Bush administration’s standards, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was remarkably candid last week: acknowledging that popular opposition in Europe to the Iraq war was making it harder to persuade European governments to send more troops or take more risks to salvage Afghanistan.

Nearly everything about President Bush’s botched war of choice in Iraq has made it much harder to win Afghanistan’s war of necessity. The fact that Mr. Gates is permitted such truth-telling is a measure of how bad things have gotten in Afghanistan and how much the United States needs more outside help.

To help beat back a resurgent Taliban, countries like Germany, France, Spain and Italy must agree to send more combat troops and lift restrictions on where and how their forces would operate - including bars on deployments to the south where the fighting is heaviest. The United States and Europe also need to come up with more cash and a better nation-building strategy. All these problems need to be addressed before the spring when a new Taliban offensive is likely.

A NATO failure would obviously be devastating for Afghanistan’s people, but it also would be dangerous for Europe, which relies on the alliance as its principal means of deterrence and defense. The intra-NATO resentments have gotten so bitter that Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, has said that he will withdraw his 2,500 troops - the Canadians have suffered heavy losses - as scheduled next year, unless other members ante up another 1,000 troops.

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CBS News Journalist, Iraqi Translator Abducted In Basra
2008-02-12 03:12:07
A Western journalist and his Iraqi interpreter working for CBS News were missing Monday after being abducted outside their hotel in the southern city of Basra, said Iraqi police.

According to an Iraqi police report, the two had been missing since Sunday evening. It said eight SUVs arrived at their hotel earlier in the day and their occupants asked to see the guest list. Later, when the journalists left the hotel, two SUVs were waiting for them and took them away, said the police report.

In a statement issued Monday in New York, CBS said two journalists working for the network in Basra were missing. It did not give their names.

"All efforts are underway to find them, and until we learn more details, CBS News requests that others do not speculate on the identities of those involved," it said, adding that the journalists' families had been notified.

Violence has subsided in Iraq in the last year, but abductions for financial gain or political purposes are common.
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Boston Police Search For Guns In Homes
2008-02-11 15:50:12

As Boston police prepare to go into some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods, knock on doors of private houses, and ask if they can search for illegal guns without a warrant, officials are trying to pitch the idea of the plan as friendly cooperation to residents who still see it as a threatening intrusion.

A friendly looking logo - a drawing of a house surrounded by the sun - adorns the brochure police have drafted to explain and promote the initiative, "Safe Homes." Photos of officers playing baseball with children and chatting with teenagers dot the pamphlet. Twice, police have taken calls from listeners on a black radio station in Roxbury.

By the time they start going door to door next month, police hope they will have reassured clergy, neighborhood leaders, and parents who still see the program as a way to violate the privacy of residents in neighborhoods with a large population of minority-group members and immigrants.

"There is a big trust issue," said Deputy Superintendent Gary French, who will oversee the Safe Homes program. "I think a lot of people think there's going to be some kind of behind-the-scenes hook to this, and there really isn't. The reality of it is it's strictly a program aimed at getting guns out of the hands of juveniles."

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Newsblog: Bush's Speech Conflicts With Afghanistan Report
2008-02-11 15:49:41

President Bush famously doesn't like long memos. So if retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones hoped to get Bush's attention with the report he produced on Afghanistan, he was clever enough to be blunt from the start. "Make no mistake," the report says in its first line. "NATO is not winning in Afghanistan."

If Bush read that far into the report, he evidently disagrees. During his speech Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference,the president offered a far rosier view of the situation in Afghanistan than even his own top military and civilian advisers hold. "The Taliban, al-Qaeda and their allies are on the run," Bush declared to the audience of supporters.

Lest he be accused of making a "last throes" type of statement, much as Vice President Cheney once declared of the insurgents in Iraq, Bush went on to note that "Afghanistan has a long road ahead." But that was the end of the pessimism for him. The rest of his assessment was upbeat. Democracy is on the march, he reported. Roads and bridges are being built. Girls are going to school. No mention of his decision to send 3,200 more Marines because of spiking violence.

Military officials reported that 2007 saw more U.S. casualties than any year since the 2001 operation to push the Taliban out of power. Today, according to most assessments, the Taliban and its allies do not control territory but operate with impunity from bases in Pakistan. U.S. forces beat the Taliban in any direct engagement but have been unable to defeat them strategically. Reconstruction remains spotty and opium production a growing problem.

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Defense Secretary Gates Backs Delay In Reducing Troops In Iraq
2008-02-11 15:49:08
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that it "probably does make sense" to pause troop withdrawals from Iraq late this summer after the last of the forces sent in as part of an offensive surge have gone home.

Gates told reporters traveling with him in Baghdad that he was leaning toward recommending "a brief period of consolidation and evaluation" before further reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, according to a Defense Department release.

He spoke a day after a series of bombings targeting Iraqi security forces and U.S.-backed Sunni guards killed as many as 37 people in northern Iraq. The violence continued Monday, with two suicide car bombs detonating outside the compound of a top Sunni tribal leader, Ali Hatam al-Suleiman, killing at least eight people and wounding 23.

Suleiman said he was lightly wounded when one explosive-laden car rammed into his headquarters, in the Karrada neighborhood of the capital. Another car blew up four minutes later, near a gas station a few hundred yards away. Suleiman, whose title is "prince" of the Dulaimis, one of the largest tribes in Iraq, blamed the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq for the explosions.

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U.S. Military Prosecutors Will Seek Death For 9/11 Suspects
2008-02-11 15:45:39
The Pentagon announced today that it has charged six detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison with conspiring to carry out the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and that military prosecutors will seek the death penalty for each.

In a news conference, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, a Defense Department legal adviser, said the six, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, are charged with conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and terrorism, among other offenses. He said a charge sheet details 169 overt acts alleged to have been committed by the defendants and uncharged co-conspirators in furtherance of the Sept. 11 plot.

The charges come nearly six-and-a-half years after 19 hijackers belonging to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network seized four U.S. airliners and used them to attack the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. Two airliners hit the trade center's twin towers, one slammed into the Pentagon and the fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers assaulted the hijackers in an attempt to gain control of the aircraft.

Hartmann said Mohammed is accused of being "the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks," which he allegedly proposed to bin Laden as early as 1996. According to the charges, he obtained the funding for the plot and oversaw the entire operation, including the training of the hijackers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Bush Orders Clampdown On Flights To U.S.
2008-02-11 01:07:48
European Union officials furious as Bush administration says it wants extra data on all air passengers.

The Bush administration is pressing the 27 governments of the European Union to sign up for a range of new security measures for transatlantic travel, including allowing armed guards on all flights from Europe to America by U.S. airlines.

The demand to put armed air marshals on to the flights is part of a travel clampdown by the U.S. that officials in Brussels described as "blackmail" and "troublesome", and could see west Europeans and Britons required to have U.S. visas if their governments balk at Washington's requirements.

According to a U.S. document being circulated for signature in European capitals, E.U. states would also need to supply personal data on all air passengers overflying but not landing in the U.S. in order to gain or retain visa-free travel to America, said senior E.U. officials.

And within months the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is to impose a new permit system for Europeans flying to the U.S., compelling all travellers to apply online for permission to enter the country before booking or buying a ticket, a procedure that will take several days.

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Blasts Kill Dozens In Northern Iraq, Gates Arrives In Baghdad
2008-02-11 01:06:59
A series of bombings targeting Iraqi security forces and U.S.-backed Sunni guards killed as many as 37 people in northern Iraq on Sunday, according to Iraqi officials.

The deadliest attack targeted an outdoor market in the predominantly Sunni village of Yathrib, where residents have recently battled the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Witnesses said the U.S.-backed guards were monitoring the market, which is less than 10 miles east of the city of Balad, when a suicide car bomber attacked in their vicinity.

The late-afternoon explosion was followed by a second car bombing nearby, said Iraqi police. 

Hospital officials in Balad said 33 people were killed and 41 wounded in the explosions. U.S. military officials put the death toll at 23.

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Backed By Vatican, Exorcism Has A Revival
2008-02-11 01:06:19
The wind-swept village of Poczernin, Poland, is bracing for an invasion of demons, thanks to a priest who believes he can defeat Satan.

The Rev. Andrzej Trojanowski, a soft-spoken Pole, plans to build a "spiritual oasis" that will serve as Europe's only center dedicated to performing exorcisms. With the blessing of the local Catholic archbishop and theological support from the Vatican, the center will aid a growing number of Poles possessed by evil forces or the devil himself, he said.

"This is my task, this is my purpose - I want to help these people," said Trojanowski, who has worked as an exorcist for four years. "There is a group of people who cannot get relief through any other practices and who need peace."

Exorcism - the church rite of expelling evil spirits from tortured souls - is making a comeback in Catholic regions of Europe. Last July, more than 300 practitioners gathered in the Polish city of Czestochowa for the fourth International Congress of Exorcists.

About 70 priests serve as trained exorcists in Poland, about double the number of five years ago. An estimated 300 exorcists are active in Italy. Foremost among them: the Rev. Gabriele Amorth, 82, who performs exorcisms daily in Rome and is dean of Europe's corps of demon-battling priests.

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Actor Roy Scheider, 75, Dies In Arkansas
2008-02-11 01:03:39
Roy Scheider, the actor best known for his role as a police chief in the blockbuster movie "Jaws," has died. He was 75.

Scheider died Sunday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital in Little Rock, said hospital spokesman David Robinson. The hospital did not release his cause of death.

However, hospital spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said Scheider had been treated for multiple myeloma at the hospital's Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy for the past two years.

Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss starred in the 1975 movie, "Jaws," which was widely hailed as the film that launched the era of the Hollywood blockbuster. It was the first film to earn $100 million at the box office.
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Soldier, After Bipolar Treatment And Suicide Attempts, Sent Back To War Zone
2008-02-12 03:14:40
A Fort Carson, Colorado, soldier who says he was in treatment at Cedar Springs Hospital for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse was released early and ordered to deploy to the Middle East with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

The 28-year-old specialist spent 31 days in Kuwait and was returned to Fort Carson on Dec. 31 after health care professionals in Kuwait concurred that his symptoms met criteria for bipolar disorder and "some paranoia and possible homicidal tendencies," according to e-mails obtained by a Denver, Colorado, newspaper.

The soldier, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and because he will seek employment when he leaves the Army, said he checked himself into Cedar Springs on Nov. 9 or Nov. 10 after he attempted suicide while under the influence of alcohol. He said his treatment was supposed to end Dec. 10, but his commanding officers showed up at the hospital Nov. 29 and ordered him to leave.

"I was pulled out to deploy," said the soldier, who has three years in the Army and has served a tour in Iraq.

Soldiers from Fort Carson and across the country have complained they were sent to combat zones despite medical conditions that should have prevented their deployment.

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Clinton's Presidential Bid Hinges On Texas, Ohio
2008-02-12 03:13:35

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers increasingly believe that, after a series of losses, she has been boxed into a must-win position in the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and she has begun reassuring anxious donors and superdelegates that the nomination is not slipping away from her, aides said on Monday.

Clinton held a buck-up-the-troops conference call on Monday with donors, superdelegates and other supporters; several said afterward that she had sounded tired and a little down, but determined about Ohio and Texas.

They also said that they had not been especially soothed, and that they believed she might be on a losing streak that could jeopardize her competitiveness in those states.

“She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably, or she’s out,” said one superdelegate who has endorsed Clinton, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment. “The campaign is starting to come to terms with that.” Campaign advisers, also speaking privately in order to speak plainly, confirmed this view.

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On Pakistan's Campaign Trail, The President's Allies Avoid The M-Word
2008-02-12 03:12:46

Traveling in private jets, helicopters and bulletproof limousines Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, a staunch supporter of President Pervez Musharraf, is hard on the campaign trail for Monday's Pakistani general election. Yet at his lavishly funded, tightly guarded rallies there is a striking absence: any mention of Musharraf.

An opinion poll released Monday suggests why. Musharraf's support has collapsed according to the survey by the International Republic Institute. Just 15% of Pakistanis support their president, an all-time low, and some 75% want him to resign immediately. An earlier, smaller poll by Gallup International found 81% wanted him to quit.

Technically the election is not about Musharraf, who was re-elected for five years in a legally dubious procedure in November but, as Pakistan limps from crisis to crisis - suicide bombings, soaring food prices and public anger in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination - the vote has become central to the retired general's future and, many believe, the stability of the nuclear-armed country.

The task of shoring up Musharraf's political base falls to the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party he cobbled together six years ago to legitimize his "managed" democracy. Yet even for loyal lieutenants such as Elahi, the "M-word" is quietly avoided.

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In U.S., Credit Card Rates Keep Rising
2008-02-11 15:50:25
The U.S. Federal Reserve's dramatic rate cuts were expected to make it cheaper for consumers to use credit cards,  but credit card interest rates remain high and in many cases have even climbed.

Bruised by a rise in foreclosures, banks have been reluctant to lower rates for cardholders who have missed payments or had their credit scores slip, analysts and industry watchdogs said. Yet even some cardholders who pay on time have not benefited from the Federal Reserve's recent actions, as banks raise rates and fees to make up for losses in their mortgage departments, analysts said.

"Not everyone is going to get a rate decrease," said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization. "People presume that because the Fed lowers rates, the banks will."

The increases have perplexed customers such as Richard Davis, an insurance agent who lives in Fairfax County who said the annual percentage rate on his Chase Business Visa card went from 8 percent to 24 percent in December, three months after the Fed's first rate cut. "That just floored me," he said.

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Ambiguities Arise In Spain's Terror Plot
2008-02-11 15:49:59
The alert came from an informant who warned of impending suicide attacks on the Barcelona subway.

Because the suspected bombers thought the spy was ready to die with them, officials say, he urged authorities to act fast.The paramilitary Guardia Civil raided mosques and apartments in port neighborhoods housing one of mainland Europe's largest Pakistani communities. A judge jailed 10 suspects. Spain warned that bombers had been dispatched for follow-up attacks in Paris, London, Lisbon and Frankfurt.

More than two weeks later, however, the story seems ambiguous. Investigators found only a trace of explosives. No plot was detected in France, and no arrests have been made in any of the other countries. Leaders of the Pakistani community in Barcelona say they were unfairly targeted.

Some Western investigators believe the alleged plot was one of the most serious threats in Spain since the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004. Others, including some Spanish anti-terrorism officials, doubt that an attack was imminent.
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FBI Arrests Four In China Spying Case
2008-02-11 15:49:23

Federal agents Monday arrested four people on espionage charges, including a Defense Department employee from Alexandria, Virginia, and accused them of passing classified information to China that included details about the Space Shuttle and U.S. military sales to Taiwan.

The Defense Department employee, Gregg William Bergersen, 51, was charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with conspiracy to disclose national defense information. He is a weapons policy analyst at the Arlington-based Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Also charged in federal court in Alexandria were Tai Shen Kuo, 58, and Yu Xin Kang, 33, both of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Court documents said that Kuo obtained classified documents from Bergersen, often in exchange for cash, at a series of meetings across Northern Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina and Las Vegas. Much of the information was about U.S. military sales to Taiwan, the court documents said. Kuo and Kang face up to life in prison if convicted. Bergersen, of Alexandria, faces up to 10 years in prison.

In a separate case also linked to China, a former Boeing Co. engineer was arrested on charges that he stole Boeing trade secrets related to the Space Shuttle and other programs, including the C-17 military transport aircraft and the Delta IV rocket. Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 72, of Orange, Calif., faces charges of economic espionage, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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Robbers Steal $163 Million In Paintings From Zurich Art Museum
2008-02-11 15:48:03
Three armed men in ski masks stole four paintings by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet worth $163.2 million from a Zurich museum in one of Europe's largest ever art heists, police said Monday.

The robbers, who were still at large, stole the paintings Sunday from the E.G. Buehrle Collection, one of Europe's finest private museums for Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, said police.

It was the largest art robbery in Switzerland's history and one of the biggest ever in Europe, said Marco Cortesi, spokesman for the Zurich police. He compared it to the theft in 2004 of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "Madonna" from the Munch Museum in Norway.

The three masked men wearing dark clothing entered the museum a half-hour before closing Sunday, said police. While one of the men used a pistol to force museum personnel to the floor, the two others went into the exhibition hall and collected the four paintings.

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U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos Dies At Age 80
2008-02-11 15:44:41

Rep. Tom Lantos, 80, a California Democrat whose experience as the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress shaped his concern for human rights and his staunch view in favor of U.S. military intervention abroad, died today at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He had esophageal cancer.

Lantos, born in Budapest to Hungarian Jews, served 14 terms in the House of Representatives. He is the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress. His district included southwest San Francisco and much of San Mateo County, where he was known for supporting the socially liberal agenda of his constituents. Last year, he announced he would not seek reelection because of his cancer treatment.

President Bush issued a statement praising Lantos as "a man of character and a champion of human rights. ... As the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), said Lantos "used his chairmanship of the [House] Foreign Affairs Committee to empower the powerless and give voice to the voiceless throughout the world. " She said his death "is a profound loss for the Congress and for the nation and a terrible loss for me personally."

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U.S. Army Buried Study Faulting Planning For Iraq War
2008-02-11 01:07:29
The U.S. Army is accustomed to protecting classified information, but when it comes to the planning for the Iraq war, even an unclassified assessment can acquire the status of a state secret. That is what happened to a detailed study of the planning for postwar Iraq prepared for the Army by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed center that conducts research for the military.

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

The study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key.

A review of the lengthy report - a draft of which was obtained by the New York Times - shows that it identified problems with nearly every organization that had a role in planning the war. That assessment parallels the verdicts of numerous former officials and independent analysts.

The study chided President Bush - and by implication Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser when the war was planned - as having failed to resolve differences among rival agencies. “Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,” it said.

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Venezuela's Chavez, In Feud With Exxon Mobil, Threatens To End Oil Exports To U.S.
2008-02-11 01:06:41
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened Sunday to halt oil exports to the United States if the oil giant Exxon Mobil succeeds in freezing billions of dollars of foreign petroleum assets controlled by Venezuela.

The warning ratchets up a fierce legal dispute between Venezuela and Exxon after Chavez’s move to exert greater state control over the nation’s oil industry last year. Rather than submitting to Venezuela’s terms, Exxon withdrew from a major production venture, intensifying the feud.

“The bandits of Exxon Mobil will never rob us again,” Chavez said in comments broadcast Sunday on his weekly television program. He accused Exxon, one of the largest publicly traded oil companies, and the United States of mounting a conspiracy to destabilize Venezuela.

“I speak to the American empire, because that’s the master,” said Chavez. “Continue, and you will see that we won’t send one drop of oil to the empire of the United States.” Referring to Exxon, he said, “They are imperialist bandits, white-collar criminals, corruptors of governments, overthrowers of governments.”

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Torrential Rains Wash Away Much Of Australia's Drought
2008-02-11 01:05:59
Torrential rain across eastern Australia as well as in the west has delivered large parts of the country from drought.

While the rewards are yet to flow into farmers' pockets, some are experiencing their best season in decades.

New South Wales (NSW) Premier Morris Iemma said Sunday that January's drenching rains would have the two-pronged benefit of easing pressure on farmers and stabilizing grocery prices.

Iemma said "only" 46.1 per cent of NSW was now officially drought declared. The figure is down from 52.6 per cent in December.

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East Timor's President Undergoes Surgery After Shooting
2008-02-11 01:03:24

The president of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, was shot in the stomach after rebel soldiers opened fire on his official residence in an attack early Monday morning. The Nobel peace prize laureate underwent surgery at the Australian military base after the pre-dawn attack, but the seriousness of his condition is not known.

A rebel soldier, Major Alfred Reinado, was killed in the attack that claimed the life of one of the president's bodyguards, who returned fire when the renegade troops struck.

In a separate attack, renegade troops also fired shots at the home of the prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, said  Timorese television, though there were no reports of any injuries and details were sketchy.

During the attack two cars were reported to have driven past the president's house on the outskirts of the capital Dili at about 4:30 a.m. and began shooting.

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