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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday February 20 2008 - (813)

Wednesday February 20 2008 edition
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Obama, McCain Win Wisconsin, McCain Also Wins Washington
2008-02-20 03:55:17

Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) decisively defeated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York) in Tuesday's Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary, scoring a ninth consecutive victory over the New York senator and ramping up the pressure on her to break that streak early next month in Ohio and Texas.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain (Arizona) easily beat former governor Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) in Wisconsin and the Washington State primary, two wins that further cement his status as the race's front-runner.

Obama entered the race with considerable momentum and substantial support from liberal Democratic voters centered in Madison. Clinton in recent days made a heavy investment of campaign time and money in Wisconsin, attempting to tap into the state's overwhelmingly white rural and blue-collar vote to close the gap, but her last-minute push fell far short.

"I am grateful to the people of Wisconsin for their friendship, their support and their tremendous sense of civic pride," Obama said in a victory speech in Houston to thousands of cheering supporters. He then turned to the challenges that remained and offered a now-familiar indictment of the status quo in the nation's capital.

"The problem that we face in America is not a lack of good ideas," said Obama. "It's that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die."

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Pakistan Election Victors Want Dialogue With Militants
2008-02-20 03:54:49
The winners of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections said Tuesday that they would take a new approach to fighting Islamic militants by pursuing more dialogue than military confrontation, and that they would undo the crackdown on the media and restore independence to the judiciary.

With nearly complete returns from Monday’s vote giving it the most seats, the party of the assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto,led by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, made clear that a new political order prevailed in Pakistan.

Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said the new Parliament would reverse many of the unpopular policies that fueled the strong protest vote against President Pervez Musharraf and his party.

Bush administration officials said the United States would still like to see Pakistan’s opposition leaders find a way to work with Musharraf, a staunch ally for more than six years, but conceded that the notion appeared increasingly unlikely.

Though Zardari said he wanted a government of national consensus, he ruled out working with anyone from the previous government under Musharraf.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects ACLU Challenge On Warrantless Wiretaps
2008-02-19 18:24:15
The Supreme Court rejected a challenge Tuesday to the Bush administration's domestic spying program.

The justices' decision, issued without comment, is the latest setback to legal efforts to force disclosure of details of the warrantless wiretapping that began after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wanted the court to allow a lawsuit by the group and individuals over the wiretapping program. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, saying the plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been monitored.

The government has refused to turn over information about the closely guarded program that could reveal who has been under surveillance.

ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro has said his group is in a "Catch-22" because the government says the identities of people whose communications have been intercepted is secret. But only people who know they have been wiretapped can sue over the program, Shapiro has said.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Help To Katrina Victims In Flood Insurance Case
2008-02-19 18:23:50
The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to offer help to Hurricane Katrina victims who want their insurance companies to pay for flood damage to their homes and businesses.

The justices rejected appeals from Xavier University and 68 other individuals and businesses seeking to allow their lawsuits against the insurers to go forward.

Xavier asked the court to step in after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the policies did not cover damage from floods, even those that resulted from man-made failures such as the collapsed levees in New Orleans.

Other cases working their way through state courts have so far reached differing conclusions. A Louisiana appeals court has said that language excluding water damage from some insurance policies was ambiguous. The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case on Feb. 26.

Xavier and the other plaintiffs had asked the federal court to allow the state Supreme Court to rule on their suits as well. The 5th Circuit refused and the U.S. high court upheld that ruling on Tuesday.

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OUCH! Crude Oil Closes Above $100 A Barrel For First Time
2008-02-19 17:54:57
Crude oil closed above $100 a barrel for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, vaulting through a longstanding psychological barrier amid persistent concern about whether production can keep up with rising global demand.

The day’s price rise of more than 4 percent capped a week-long run-up that began when Venezuela President Hugo Chavez threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States over a legal struggle with ExxonMobil.

Just as Chavez appeared to back off from his threats, an explosion at a Texas refinery on Monday reminded traders and hedge fund managers of the gasoline shortages and price increases that accompanied similar refinery failures last year. Even though the Alon USA refinery at Big Spring, Texas, was relatively small and American inventories are considered adequate, traders and hedge funds took the explosion as a buying signal.

“With this credit crisis going on, everyone is on edge and the slightest disruption in crude oil or its products takes prices right up,” said Michael Rose, director of the energy trading desk at Angus Jackson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Prices are going to go higher before they go lower.”

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Musharraf's Political Allies Routed - Pakistan's Ruling Party Concedes Defeat
2008-02-19 10:25:01
Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup, suggested that the Pakistani president should listen to the "verdict" of the people in the Monday balloting and step down.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told A.P. Television News that "we accept the results with an open heart" and "will sit on opposition benches" in the new parliament."

"All the King's men, gone!" proclaimed a banner headline in the Daily Times. "Heavyweights knocked out," read the Dawn newspaper.

The results cast doubt on the political future of Musharraf, who was re-elected to a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary ballot.

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Credit Suisse Jolted By $2.8 Billion Write-Down
2008-02-19 10:23:41
Credit Suisse on Tuesday announced new write-downs of $2.8 billion that cut $1 billion from its profit, in a stunning reminder of the difficulty banks face in valuing complicated financial instruments under current market conditions.

The announcement came just a week after Credit Suisse earned praise from analysts for the quality of its risk management - and it jolted investors. In morning trading on the Swiss Stock Exchange, the bank’s shares slid 5.1 Swiss francs, or 9 percent, to 51.65 francs, or $47.12.

In a statement, Credit Suisse said that an internal review had "resulted in the re-pricing of certain asset-backed positions in its structured credit trading business," and that the write-down - related to "significant adverse first-quarter 2008 market developments" - would reduce its net income by about $1.0 billion.

The "fair-value" reductions of the positions are estimated at about $2.85 billion, said the bank. Fair-value pricing means a financial instrument is assigned an estimated price when no market price is readily available. The market for many mortgage-backed derivatives has dried up as the United States housing market deteriorates, leaving banks uncertain about the values of many assets.

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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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Small Donations Add Up For Obama
2008-02-20 03:55:00
A cluster of cramped cubicles, tucked away in a rear corner of Senator Barack Obama's campaign headquarters here, serves as the heart of a fund-raising machine that has reshaped the calculus of the 2008 election.

Obama’s finance director, Julianna Smoot, who has helped him raise more than $150 million so far, does not even have her own office. A Ping-Pong table is the gathering spot for Friday lunches for her team.

The setting, which has the feel of an Internet start-up, is emblematic of how Obama, of Illinois, has been able to raise so much money. On Wednesday, the Obama campaign will report to the Federal Election Commission that it collected $36 million in January - $4 million more than campaign officials had previously estimated - an unprecedented feat for a single month in American politics that was powered overwhelmingly by small online donations. That dwarfed the $13.5 million in January that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, of New York, is expected to report Wednesday and the $12 million Senator John McCain's campaign said he brought in for the month.

Obama’s startling success, however, has also now put him on the spot, tempting him to back away from indications he gave last year that he would agree to accept public financing in the general election if the Republican nominee did the same. The hesitation has given McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee whose advisers concede he would most likely fall far short of Obama’s fund-raising for the general election, fodder for a series of attacks.

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U.S. Defense Contractor Gets 12 Years In Prison For Bribery
2008-02-20 03:54:37
Brent R. Wilkes, a California defense contractor and prominent Republican campaign contributor, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison Tuesday for lavishing a Republican congressman with money, prostitutes and other bribes in exchange for nearly $90 million in work from the Pentagon.

Wilkes, 53, was convicted in November of 13 felony crimes including bribery, conspiracy and fraud for giving the gifts to former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-California), who is serving an eight-year prison term for accepting millions in bribes from Wilkes and others.

The sentence by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in San Diego, California, was far smaller than the 25-year term federal prosecutors had sought or the 60-year term urged by federal probation officers. U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt said nonetheless that Wilkes "has earned every day of the sentence he received" and that the prison term "reflects the egregiousness of the corrupt conduct."

Wilkes has steadfastly maintained his innocence since being charged a year ago, saying his dealings with Cunningham were legitimate and blaming wrongdoing on others. "I am a man who cares deeply for this community, for my family, for my country," Wilkes said in a brief statement to the court, the Associated Press reported.

The judge said he was troubled by Wilkes's failure to accept responsibility for his crimes. "If you were to do the right thing about this, today is the day to own up," the judge told Wilkes, according to the A.P. "You have no sense of contrition. You had this corrupt relationship with the congressman and you profited from it."

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Amtrak To Begin Random Bag Searches
2008-02-19 18:24:05
Amtrak passengers will have to submit to random screening of carry-on bags in a major new security push that will include officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains, the railroad planned to announce Tuesday.

The initiative is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

Amtrak officials insist the new procedures won't hold up the flow of passengers.

"On-time performance is a key element of Amtrak service. We are fully mindful of that. This is not about train delays," said Bill Rooney, the railroad's vice president for security strategy and special operations.

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Website That Posts Leaked Material Ordered To Shut Down
2008-02-19 17:55:10
In a move that legal experts said could present a major test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era, a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday ordered the disabling of a Web site devoted to disclosing confidential information.

The site,, invites people to post leaked materials with the goal of discouraging “unethical behavior” by corporations and governments. It has posted documents concerning the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq, a military manual concerning the operation of prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other evidence of what it has called corporate waste and wrongdoing.

The case in San Francisco was brought by a Cayman Islands bank, Julius Baer Bank and Trust. In court papers, the bank claimed that “a disgruntled ex-employee who has engaged in a harassment and terror campaign” provided stolen documents to Wikileaks in violation of a confidentiality agreement and banking laws. According to Wikileaks, “the documents allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion.”

On Friday, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Federal District Court in San Francisco granted a permanent injunction ordering Dynadot of San Mateo, California, the site’s domain name registrar, to disable the domain name. The order had the effect of locking the front door to the site - a largely ineffectual action that kept back doors to the site, and several copies of it, available to sophisticated Web users who knew where to look.

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OOPSIE! FDA Say It Approved Wrong Drug-Making Plant
2008-02-19 10:25:11
The Chinese facility that supplies the active ingredient of the widely used blood thinner heparin was never inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because the agency confused its name with another just like it, agency officials said Monday.

The FDA said that a team of inspectors is headed now to China to inspect the plant as part of an effort to determine what may have caused a sudden spike in serious problems with the drug, which has been on the market since the 1930s.

More than 350 adverse reactions to the drug have been reported to the FDA since the end of 2007, including a dangerous lowering of blood pressure, breathing difficulties and vomiting. Four patients who took the drug died. One of its two manufacturers, Baxter International, stopped selling its multiple-dose vials of heparin earlier this month, and Monday the FDA advised doctors to prescribe alternatives.

Millions of people each year are given the drug during dialysis or to prevent complications from surgery, but the FDA has never checked the Chinese plant where the active ingredient is made. The agency and Baxter are investigating whether anomalies in the ingredients from China could have caused the dangerous reactions in some patients.

Joseph Famulare, deputy director for compliance at the FDA's center for drug evaluation and research, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters that when the company that makes the active ingredient for heparin applied for FDA approval, the FDA thought the application had come from a different company with a similar name that had already been inspected.

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Fidel Castro Stepping Down As Cuba's President
2008-02-19 10:24:45
Fidel Castro announced early Tuesday morning that he is stepping down as Cuba's president, ending his half-century rule of the island nation.

"I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief," Castro, 81, said in a letter posted on the Web site of the state-run newspaper, Granma. 

The announcement ends the formal reign of a man who, after seizing power in a 1959 revolution, not only outlasted nine U.S. presidents but his communist patrons in the former Soviet Union as well. Prior to the Soviet Union's collapse, support from the Kremlin sustained Cuba as a socialist outpost on the doorstep of the U.S., and placed Castro and his country in the middle of events central to the Cold War, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.

Those longstanding animosities colored Tuesday's announcement and U.S. reaction to it.

Castro said leaving office was a hard step for him given all that his "adversary" - the United States - had done over the years to try to get rid of him, including assassination plots.

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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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