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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday February 19 2008 - (813)

Tuesday February 19 2008 edition
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Castro Stepping Down As Cuba's Leader
2008-02-19 03:44:28
Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said Tuesday that he will not return to lead the country as president, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution.

Castro, 81, said in a statement to the country that he would not seek a new presidential term when the National Assembly meets on Feb. 24.

"To my dear compatriots, who gave me the immense honor in recent days of electing me a member of parliament ... I communicate to you that I will not aspire to or accept - I repeat not aspire to or accept - the positions of President of Council of State and Commander in Chief," Castro said in the statement published on the Web site of the Communist Party's Granma newspaper.

The National Assembly or legislature is expected to nominate his brother and designated successor Raul Castro as president in place of Castro, who has not appeared in public for almost 19 months after being stricken by an undisclosed illness.

His retirement drew the curtain on a political career that spanned the Cold War and survived U.S. enmity, CIA assassination attempts and the demise of Soviet Communism.

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U.S., France, Britain Recognize Kosovo As Independent State
2008-02-18 14:57:21
The United States formally joined France and Britain in recognizing the independence of Kosovo on Monday, a day after the breakaway province declared itself independent of Serbia.

In a statement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States “has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion.”

Earlier, France and Britain had led European nations in recognizing Kosovo.

In a television interview, President Bush called the people of Kosovo “independent,” although he stopped short of formal recognition. Bush is due to make a formal, televised statement from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he is on a tour of African states, early on Tuesday morning, or 11:15 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.

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Explosion Rocks West Texas Oil Refinery
2008-02-18 14:56:51

An explosion rocked an oil refinery in Big Spring, Texas, Monday in a violent blast that shook buildings miles away and injured at least four people, said officials.

All workers were accounted for about an hour after the explosion, said Blake Lewis, spokesman for refinery owner Dallas, Texas-based Alon USA.

Lewis said one worker was injured, but Big Spring Mayor Russ McEwen, speaking at a news conference later, said four were hurt. McEwen said one of the workers was sent to a burn unit.

The fire sparked by the blast was under control Monday morning, said Lewis. The Dallas-based company does not know what caused the explosion, he said.

The blast sent black smoke billowing into the sky, closed schools, shut down an interstate and left residents rattled.

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140 Afghans Killed In 2 Days Of Militant Bombings
2008-02-18 14:56:09
A suicide car bomber killed 38 Afghans at a crowded market Monday, pushing the death toll from two days of militant bombings to about 140.

The marketplace blast, which targeted a Canadian army convoy, came a day after the country's deadliest insurgent attack since a U.S. invasion defeated the Taliban regime in late 2001. The toll from that bombing in a crowd watching a dog fight rose to more than 100.

The back-to-back blasts in the southern province of Kandahar could be a sign insurgents are now willing to risk high civilian casualties while attacking security forces. Though their attacks occasionally have killed dozens, militants in Afghanistan have generally sought to avoid targeting civilians, unlike insurgents in Iraq's war.

"The attacks show that the enemies of Afghanistan are changing their tactics. Now they are not thinking about civilians at all," said Nasrullah Stanikzai, a professor of political science at Kabul University.

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CIA's Ambitious Post-9/11 Spy Plan Crumbles
2008-02-18 03:23:36
The agency spent millions setting up front companies overseas to snag terrorists. Officials now say the bogus firms were ill-conceived and not close enough to Muslim enclaves.

The CIA set up a network of front companies in Europe and elsewhere after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a constellation of "black stations" for a new generation of spies, according to current and former agency officials.

Yet, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars setting up as many as 12 of the companies, the agency shut down all but two after concluding they were ill-conceived and poorly positioned for gathering intelligence on the CIA's principal targets: terrorist groups and unconventional weapons proliferation networks.

The closures were a blow to two of the CIA's most pressing priorities after the 2001 terrorist attacks: expanding its overseas presence and changing the way it deploys spies.
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USDA Orders Largest Meat Recall - 143 Million Lbs. - In U.S. History
2008-02-18 03:23:01

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has ordered the largest meat recall in its history - 143 million pounds of beef, a Californiameatpacker's entire production for the past two years - because the company did not prevent ailing animals from entering the U.S. food supply, officials said Sunday.

Despite the breadth of the sanction, USDA officials underscored their belief that the meat, distributed by Westland Meat, poses little or no hazard to consumers, and that most of it was eaten long ago.

The recall comes less than three weeks after the release of a videotape showing what the USDA later called "egregious violations" of federal animal care regulations by employees of a Westland partner, Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, California.

Hallmark did not consistently bring in federal veterinarians to examine cattle headed for slaughter that were too sick or weak to stand on their own, said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. "Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, [the USDA] has determined them to be unfit for human food, and the company is conducting a recall," he said in a statement. 

About 37 million pounds of the meat - cuts, ground beef and prepared products such as meatballs and burrito filling -  went to school lunch and other public nutrition programs, and "almost all of this product is likely to have been consumed," said Ron Vogel, a USDA administrator.

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Obama Meets Secretly With Edwards
2008-02-18 03:22:20
Barack Obama quietly traveled to North Carolina Sunday and met with former rival John Edwards, who has yet to make an endorsement in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Officials at North Carolina television station WTVD said they have video taken from a helicopter of Obama leaving Edwards' home in Chapel Hill. A producer said the station was "tipped off" about the meeting, but said the source was confidential.

The Obama campaign confirmed the meeting. Although reporters normally travel everywhere with Obama, he left them behind to fly down in secret from his hometown.

"Senator Obama visited this morning with John and Elizabeth Edwards at their home in Chapel Hill to discuss the state of the campaign and the pressing issues facing American families," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. He wouldn't comment on the possibility of an endorsement.
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Asian Stocks Drift Lower On U.S. Spending Worry
2008-02-18 03:20:59
Asian stocks drifted lower on Monday as weak U.S. consumer data sparked fresh concerns over the spending power of the American shopper, while oil traded above $95 a barrel and other commodities tested, and in some cases, broke, record highs.

The dollar was steady against the yen and the euro, with all eyes on a raft of U.S. economic indicators this week for further clues on the health of the world's top economy as the credit market turmoil plays out. The Aussie dollar hit a three-month high on its hefty yield advantage.

After an optimistic start, Japan's Nikkei average gave away early gains to close just 0.1 percent higher. MSCI's measure of Asian stocks outside Japan fell 0.3 percent by 1 a.m. EST.

"It seems perhaps as if the downside's firming up and the Nikkei now may slowly rise," said Takeshi Osawa, senior fund manager at Norinchukin Zenkyoren Asset Management.

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Kosovo Declares Its Independence From Serbia
2008-02-18 03:19:51
A new state emerged from the long and bloody unraveling of Yugoslavia when the Serbian province of Kosovo  declared independence on Sunday. Its ethnic Albanian leaders promised to embrace Kosovo's embittered Serb minority and forge a multi-ethnic, democratic nation.

"From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in an address to parliament.

The move was immediately condemned by Servia and its ally Russia, but the United States is expected to quickly recognize the new state, as is most of the European Union, in return for an agreement by Kosovo's leaders to submit to European Union supervision.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his country, which regards Kosovo as the cradle of its civilization and home to some of its most treasured Orthodox churches and monasteries, would never recognize the unilateral declaration.

"For as long as the Serbian nation exists, Kosovo will remain Serbia," Kostunica said in a nationally televised address from Belgrade, Serbia's capital. "We do not recognize the forced creation of a state within our territory."

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Follow-up: Venezuela's Chavez Won't Halt U.S. Oil Sales
2008-02-18 03:19:02
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent a soothing message to American motorists on Sunday, saying Venezuela is not preparing to cut off oil shipments to the United States.

The socialist leader rattled oil markets last Sunday when he threatened to halt shipments to the United States in retaliation for Exxon Mobil's success in persuading U.S. and European courts to freeze Venezuelan assets.

"We don't have plans to stop sending oil to the United States," Chavez said Sunday during a visit to heavy-oil projects in Venezuela's petroleum-rich Orinoco River basin that were nationalized last year; but he added that Venezuela could cut off supplies to the United States if Washington "attacks Venezuela or tries to harm us".

Chavez has repeatedly warned against a possible U.S. invasion he says Washington would use to seize control of Venezuela's oil reserves.

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Pakistani Voters Deal A Blow To Musharraf
2008-02-19 03:44:16
Opposition parties head for big victory in parliamentary elections.

Voters in Pakistan appeared to deliver a sharp rebuke to President Pervez Musharraf on Monday, handing significant victories to the country's two leading opposition parties in parliamentary elections, according to early returns and Pakistani politicians.

Official vote tallies were not expected to be released for several days, but by early Tuesday morning, there were indications that the party of Musharraf, a top U.S. ally, had fallen far out of favor with voters. The country's opposition groups were outpacing other parties by wide margins in several key provinces, including Punjab, home to more than half of this country's 80 million eligible voters.

The president of Musharraf's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, along with several other prominent party leaders, lost their seats in parliament, according to Pakistan's Dawn News, an English-language television station.

In a televised address early Monday, Musharraf, who had promised to hold "free, fair and transparent" elections, pledged to abide by the results.

"This is the voice of the nation," he said on state-run Pakistan Television. "Everyone should accept the results. That includes myself."

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Commentary: The Dumbing Of America
2008-02-18 14:57:03
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by author Susan Jacoby and appeared in the Washington Post edition for Sunday, February 17, 2008. Ms. Jacoby's latest book is "The Age of American Unreason". In her commentary, she writes: "Call me a snob, but really, we're a nation of dunces." Ms. Jacoby's commentary follows:

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble - in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist", one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

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North Texas Home Foreclosures Jump 27 Percent
2008-02-18 14:56:30
North Texas home foreclosures surged 27 percent for March. The jump was enough to make first quarter 2008 a record for foreclosure postings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

More than 4,100 Dallas-Fort Worth homes are scheduled for next month's foreclosure sale, Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service said Thursday.

For the quarter, more than 13,000 residential properties were posted by lenders - up 21 percent from the same period in 2007.

Housing analysts don't see a turnaround in the foreclosure market.

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Winners Uncertain As Violence Mars Pakistan Elections
2008-02-18 14:55:58
Fearful of violence and deterred by confusion at polling stations, Pakistanis voted Monday in parliamentary elections that may fail to produce clear winners and could result in protracted post-election political skirmishing.

A number of clashes among polling officials and voters resulted in 10 people killed and 70 wounded, according to Pakistani television channels.

Voter turnout was low; in the North-West Frontier Province, which abuts the lawless tribal areas, turnout was only 20 percent, according to election officials. In Peshawar, the provincial capital, Islamic militants prevented many women from voting. Election officials estimated that only 523 of 6,431 women who were registered to vote at six polling stations had cast ballots.

In Lahore, the political capital of Punjab Province, lines were thin, and many voters complained they could not find their names on the voting lists.

As the polls closed at 5 p.m. local time, election officials said that nationwide voting had been relatively calm compared with past elections.

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Great Lakes Report On Health Hazards From Industrial Pollution Is Delayed
2008-02-18 03:23:20
Delay of report is blamed on politics.

The lead author and peer reviewers of a government report raising the possibility of public health threats from industrial contamination throughout the Great Lakes region are charging that the report is being suppressed because of the questions it raises. The author also alleges that he was demoted because of the report.

Chris De Rosa, former director of the division of toxicology and environmental medicine at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), charges that the report he wrote was a significant factor in his reassignment to a non-supervisory "special assistant" position last year.

The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology is investigating De Rosa's reassignment, in light of allegations that it was related to the Great Lakes report and his push to publicize the possibility of a cancer risk from formaldehyde fumes in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers housing victims of Hurricane Katrina.

De Rosa said his agency cited the Great Lakes report being below expectations as one of the reasons for his removal from the post he had held since 1992. The ATSDR is housed within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC spokesman Glen Nowak said he could not discuss personnel issues.

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Obama Targets Two Pillars Of Clinton Support
2008-02-18 03:22:40
With the Democratic presidential race about to enter another crucial phase of voting, Barack Obama has launched a newly aggressive strategy to undermine two pillars of support for rival Hillary Rodham Clinton: Latinos and working-class white voters.

Each is an important constituency in major March 4 primaries - Latinos in Texas and blue-collar workers in Ohio - which many believe Clinton must win to keep her White House hopes alive.

In Ohio, Obama backers are courting local union leaders and members with promises that the Illinois senator will change U.S. trade policies enacted by Clinton's husband, and which the unions blame for severe job losses.

In Texas, Obama has launched a new effort to introduce himself to Latino voters as someone who understands their challenges, thanks to his background of attending college on a scholarship and working with churches as a community organizer.
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Short Maternity Leaves, Long Deployments For U.S. Women Soldiers
2008-02-18 03:21:36

"Little man, I love you! Mommy misses you," Spec. Amy Shaw spoke softly as she looked into the video camera in her Baghdad barracks, surrounded by photographs of tiny Connor James, the infant son she left behind in Wisconsin.  "Mommy'll be home soon."

Connor was three months old when Shaw and her husband, Brad, a sergeant with the military police, began a 15-month deployment to Iraq, their second tour in the combat zone. Like thousands of other new military mothers, the 22-year-old Army medic faced a stark choice: Give birth and quickly leave the baby behind, or lose her job.

Many female soldiers hoping to start families face the prospect of missing most of their child's first year. The Army grants six weeks of maternity leave before a new mother must return to her job or training, and four months until she can be sent to a war zone. The Marine Corps and Navy allow from six months to a year before a new mother must deploy.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe strains on the Army, including longer deployments in which soldiers serve 15 months in the war zone, followed by 12 months at home. Under that system, a woman who wishes to have a child and remain with her unit must conceive soon after returning home so she can give birth, recover and prepare for her next overseas tour.

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British Government To Control Struggling Northern Rock Bank
2008-02-18 03:20:39
The British government announced on Sunday that it would bring Northern Rock, the struggling mortgage lender, under its control. It was the first nationalization of a bank in more than a decade and a huge blow for the administration of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. 

The government rejected two takeover proposals for the lender, which ran into trouble last year because of a money shortage that followed a subprime mortgage crisis in the United States. The government was forced to shore up the company with about £55 billion, or $107 billion, in loans and guarantees.

“The government has completed its review of the two detailed proposals received,” Alistair M. Darling, chancellor of the Exchequer, said at a news conference in London on Sunday. “But in current market conditions, we do not believe that they deliver sufficient value for money for the taxpayer. The government has therefore decided to bring forward legislation to take Northern Rock into a period of temporary public ownership.”

The Virgin Group under Richard Branson and the current management of Northern Rock had both submitted takeover proposals to the government’s adviser, Goldman Sachs, before a deadline earlier this year. Both suggested repaying the loans partly by issuing new shares. Darling said on Sunday that neither proposal had met all of the government’s objectives of securing financial stability, depositors’ money and taxpayers’ funds.

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At Least 80 Killed In Kandahar Suicide Bombing
2008-02-18 03:19:33
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a large crowd gathered at a dogfighting event just outside this city in southern Afghanistan, killing about 80 people and wounding more than 90 others in the country’s worst single bombing since 2001.

According to witnesses and officials, the bomber killed a local police chief, Abdul Hakim Jan, a number of his guards and scores of villagers attending the event in the Argandab district, just north of the city of Kandahar.

The governor of Kandahar Province, Asadullah Khaled, said 80 people had died and more than 90 had been wounded. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Kabul, Dr. Abdullah Fahim, said the Kandahar hospital had received 67 bodies. But some families had taken bodies straight home for burial from the scene of the blast, he said.

“This is the action of the enemies of our country,” said Khaled. “They do not let Afghans enjoy their lives and have a peaceful life.”

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Woman Sets Off Suicide Bomb In Shiite Area Of Baghdad
2008-02-18 03:18:43
A suicide bomber detonated her explosives in a commercial area in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad on Sunday morning, the latest in a string of attacks by female bombers in Iraq. 

Police said the bomber killed three people and injured five, but the U.S. military said only the bomber was killed and two people were injured. The military said Iraqi soldiers noticed that the woman, who appeared to be a beggar, appeared bulky around her midsection. The soldiers ordered her to raise her hands, and as she raised one, they noticed an object with wires attached in her other hand, the military said in a statement.

Sensing the potential danger, the soldiers fired three rounds. The woman staggered back to a nearby shop, where the blast occurred, said the military. It is unclear why the two death tolls differed.

The U.S. military also reported that two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday by small-arms fire north of Baghdad in restive Diyala province,where the Sunni insurgency remains potent.

In the northern city of Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have mounted an offensive against insurgents, a car bomb killed a policeman and wounded two others as well as two civilians, said police.

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