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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday February 27 2008 - (813)

Wednesday February 27 2008 edition
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Clinton, Obama Clash In Ohio Debate
2008-02-27 03:45:47
In their final debate before critical primaries in Ohio and Texas, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton  clashed sharply on familiar ground, arguing Tuesday night over who has the better health-care plan, who has been right about Iraqand who would move most aggressively to rethink trade policy as president.

In contrast to their debate five days ago in Texas, Clinton and Obama butted heads from the opening moments, starting with a clash over whether the senator from Illinois had mischaracterized her plan for universal health care in his campaign mailings, and continuing throughout the 90-minute session.

"We should have a good debate that uses accurate information, not false, misleading and discredited information, especially on something as important as whether or not we will achieve quality, affordable health care for everyone," said Clinton (New York).

Obama pushed back with equal aggressiveness. "Senator Clinton has, in her campaign at least, has constantly sent out negative attacks on us, e-mail, robo-calls [prerecorded telephone messages], fliers, television ads, radio calls, and we haven't whined about it, because I understand that's the nature of this campaign," he said.

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Democrats Propose Initiatives To Solve Mortgage Crisis, Bush Threatens Veto
2008-02-27 03:45:23

Congressional leaders Tuesday gathered support for aggressive changes to bankruptcy laws that would help troubled homeowners, even as the Bush administration threatened to veto the plan and emphasized its opposition to any program that would risk tax dollars.

Democrats are calling for the government to do more than what the administration has done to date. They propose a range of initiatives that include the purchase of troubled mortgage securities by a federal agency and the empowering of bankruptcy judges to change the terms of high-interest loans held by homeowners facing foreclosure.

The Bush Administration said that changing mortgage terms retroactively for a select group of troubled borrowers would only add to lenders' woes and lead to higher mortgage rates for everyone.

The clash highlighted the sharp differences between Democrats and the Bush administration over how to solve the nation's worst mortgage crisis since the Great Depression.

"Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are floating 50 feet from shore, and the Bush administration has thrown them a 30-foot rope," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Illinois), the author of a proposal that would allow bankruptcy judges to change the interest rates on subprime, adjustable and other nontraditional loans for homeowners facing foreclosure.

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Britain Told To Release Blair Cabinet's Minutes On Iraq War
2008-02-27 03:44:52
A British official on Tuesday ordered the government to release minutes from two meetings of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet in March 2003, saying they could shed light on "uncertainties and controversies" surrounding Britain's decision to join the United States in the invasion of Iraq. 

"There is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision," Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said in his ruling on a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.

The case illustrates how sensitive the Iraq war remains five years after the invasion. The war is extremely unpopular in Britain and was a key factor in Blair's departure after a decade in office. Many people in Britain remain skeptical and suspicious about the government's motivations for becoming the Bush administration's chief ally in Iraq.

Thomas rejected government arguments that the minutes should be exempt from public release because they deal with the formulation of public policy and ministerial communications. The Cabinet Office had argued to him that public disclosure of minutes would inhibit free and candid debate about sensitive issues in future cabinet sessions.

Thomas, who was allowed to inspect the minutes as part of his deliberations, said that while he respected the government's position, "arguments for the withholding of the information are outweighed by the public interest in its disclosure."

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Earth Tremor Felt Across England
2008-02-26 21:18:33
People from across large parts of England have reported an earth tremor.

The BBC has received calls from people in Yorkshire, the West Midlands, Manchester, Berkshire, London and Gloucestershire about a "quake".

The tremor could be felt in central Birmingham at about 0100 GMT but it is unclear if it has caused any damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey's website reported a quake of the magnitude of 4.7 and said the epicenter was 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Kingston-upon-Hull.

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New U.S. Data Show Rising Inflation And Slumping Home Values
2008-02-26 14:29:20

Two worrisome trends for the economy - falling house prices and the rising cost of everything else - picked up speed in data reported on Tuesday, putting policy makers in an increasingly tough position.

If they move too aggressively to cut interest rates and stimulate the economy, they might stoke inflation at a time when consumers are already squeezed by higher prices for food, energy, clothing and other goods. But if they chose more austere measures, the economy may weaken substantially faster.

“The Fed is now having to walk a very fine line,” said Jane Caron, chief economic strategist at Dwight Asset Management, an investment firm that specializes in bonds. “We have clearly seen an acceleration in inflation pressure in the last couple of months and the risk is that the markets are going to react negatively to aggressive easing going forward.” Not surprisingly, a measure of consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in nearly five years. But the stock market was up slightly in midday trading after falling modestly at the open.

Energy and technology stocks led the market higher after oil prices surged above $100 again and I.B.M. announced that it would buy back an additional $15 billion of its stock and improved its profit forecast. Treasuries moved slightly higher, indicating that bond investors were not overly fearful of inflation.

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Editorial: A Little Help For His Friends
2008-02-26 14:28:52
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Tuesday, February 26, 2008.

Congress is looking into the decision by the United States attorney for New Jersey, Christopher Christie, to hand former Attorney General John Ashcroft a hugely lucrative job monitoring a wayward company.

The issue, however, is larger than any one appointment. Congress should conduct a broader inquiry into prosecutors’ selection of richly rewarded monitors and require that appointments are made based on merit.

United States attorneys are supposed to be nonpartisan and beyond favoritism. But we have already seen how federal prosecutors appointed by the Bush administration used their offices to help Republicans win elections. Congress needs to ensure that they are not using their positions to throw patronage to friends and political allies.

The Ashcroft appointment came in a “deferred prosecution agreement,” a fast-growing arrangement ripe for abuse. Rather than file criminal charges against corporations, federal prosecutors - looking to dispose of cases efficiently and to avoid damaging companies needlessly - increasingly are striking deals. These agreements are done without court supervision and sometimes in secret.

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'Doomsday' Seed Vault Opens In Arctic
2008-02-26 14:28:13
A "doomsday" seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened Tuesday deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

"The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is our insurance policy," Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told delegates at the opening ceremony. "It is the Noah's Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, of Kenya, were among the dozens of guests who had bundled up for the ceremony inside the vault, about 425 feet deep inside a frozen mountain.

"This is a frozen Garden of Eden," Barroso said, standing in one of the frosty vaults against of backdrop of large discs made of ice.

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Step-up In Drug Alerts Signals FDA Bid For Renewed Trust
2008-02-26 14:27:42

If it seems as though the Food and Drug Administration has been issuing a new drug safety warning almost every week, that's because, for the past three months, it has. Since early November, the agency has sent out 14 advisories, more than it has issued in some entire years.

Wall Street health-care analyst Les Funtleyder recently quipped that the agency should have a color coding system, as the Department of Homeland Securitydoes, so consumers could determine the severity of the risk.

The uptick in advisories doesn't mean that drugs are more dangerous, says Paul Seligman, director of the FDA's Office of Drug Safety; it simply marks the fulfillment of a 2005 promise by Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt to notify the public sooner when the agency learns of adverse reactions to approved drugs.

"We are trying to act in a responsible way," says Seligman.

FDA critics, including Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan), head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, have complained that the agency's responses are too few and too late. As a case in point, they cite the recall of the pain reliever Vioxx four years ago. Some critics said the FDA had long known of concerns about Vioxx and delayed taking any action on the drug, including requesting that the company add information on heart disease risk to the label.

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Sen. Warner Is Hospitalized
2008-02-26 14:26:38
Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, was in a Virginia hospital Tuesday for observation of a heart condition.

Warner, 81, has suffered atrial fibrillation, which can cause an irregular heartbeat, since last fall, his office said. On Monday, he ''consulted with the capitol physician, completed his office appointments and left for a scheduled admission to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he remains for observation,'' the office said in a statement Tuesday.

Warner's heart rate and rhythm have been normal in recent months, the statement said, but he ''recently experienced a return of atrial fibrillation'' and is ''pursuing a re-evaluation and readjustment of medications.'' The treatments ''require regular monitoring and observation'' in a hospital, it said.

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Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal?
2008-02-26 02:52:15
Intellpuke: There are three related items here. The following transcript is from the "60 Minutes" program that aired on CBS on Sunday, February 24, 2008. Below the "60 Minutes" transcript, there are two more articles relating to Siegelman's case.

60 Minutes reports on bribery conviction of Don Siegelman in a case criticized by Democrats and Republicans.

Is Don Siegelman in prison because he's a criminal or because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama? Siegelman is the former governor of Alabama, and he was the most successful Democrat in that Republican state. But while he was governor, the U.S. Justice Department launched multiple investigations that went on year after year until, finally, a jury convicted Siegelman of bribery.

Now, many Democrats and Republicans have become suspicious of the Justice Department's motivations. As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, 52 former state attorneys-general have asked Congress to investigate whether the prosecution of Siegelman was pursued not because of a crime but because of politics.

Ten years ago life was good for Don Siegelman. After he became governor, many believed he was headed to a career in national politics. In 1999, Siegelman's pet project was raising money to improve education, so he started a campaign to ask voters to approve a state lottery. He challenged Republicans to come up with a better idea.

"You tell us how you're going to pay for college scholarships. You tell us how you're going to put state of the art computers inside every school in this state," he said.

But now the applause has long faded. Today, Siegelman is at a federal prison camp in Louisiana. He's doing seven years. The main charge against him was that he took a bribe, giving a position on a state board to businessman Richard Scrushy, who had made a big donation to that lottery campaign. There was a star witness, Nick Bailey, a Siegelman aide who had a vivid story to tell.

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FCC Head Eyes World Wide Web Controls
2008-02-26 02:50:57

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission Monday sharply questioned Internet service providers who control consumers' Web access over their networks, and suggested the agency could intervene against the practice.

Kevin J. Martin made his remarks at an unusual off-site hearing to address complaints that cable provider Comcast  restricts the flow of content - such as video and music clips - through file-sharing service BitTorrent. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts),chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet and a proponent of so-called net neutrality rules barring online traffic controls, offered opening remarks. "While carriers will assert the need to manage networks in their current state of evolution, we need to remember that Internet freedoms are most properly thought of as consumer-centric," he said.

The hearing, held at Harvard University, pit Comcast and DSL provider Verizon against legal scholars and public interest advocates who have pushed for open-Internet rules.

The issue is among the most hotly debated in technology. Comcast and other service-providers say they must be able to control the flow of information over their networks in order to ensure quality service and to protect their multi-billion dollar investments. Proponents of openness rules said Comcast's admission that it controls its own network unfairly restricts what users can do online.

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Gas Prices Soar, Posing A Threat To Family Budget
2008-02-27 03:45:34

Gasoline prices, which for months lagged behind the big run-up in the price of oil, are suddenly rising quickly, with some experts saying they could approach $4 a gallon by spring. Diesel is hitting new records daily, and oil settled at a record high of $100.88 a barrel on Tuesday.

The increases could not come at a worse time for the economy. With growth slowing, energy increases that were once easily absorbed by consumers are now more likely to act as a drag on household budgets, leaving people with less money to spend elsewhere. These costs could worsen the nation’s economic woes, piling a fresh energy shock on top of the turmoil in credit and housing.

“The effect of high oil prices today could be the difference between having a recession and not having a recession,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist.

The depth of the nation’s economic problems became clearer Tuesday with the release of figures showing that prices at the producer level rose 1 percent in January from December, driven in large measure by energy costs. Compared with a year ago, prices were up 7.4 percent, the worst producer price inflation in the United States since 1981.

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Florida Power Outage Affects Millions
2008-02-27 03:45:05
Commuter trains stopped on their elevated tracks, elevators halted between floors, traffic lights went dark, and two nuclear power reactors were shut down Tuesday afternoon as a cascading power outage left millions of Floridians without electricity, according to state officials.

Power was restored to most customers within four hours, but not before the outage had prompted bouts of panic, particularly as the extent of the problems became known.

The state's largest electric company said the disruption was caused by a small malfunction in a transmission substation west of Miami,where a fire erupted. City and federal officials quickly rejected the possibility of a terrorism or criminal link.

Florida Power and Light officials could not readily explain how the minor glitch could cause extensive outages as far away as Tampa and Daytona Beach.Safeguards built into the electrical system, they said, should have contained the trouble.

"That's the part we don't have an answer for yet," said FP&L President Armando Olivera.

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Britain To Push Pills Aside, Train More Therapists To Combat Depression
2008-02-26 21:18:50

The British government Tuesday released details of its £170 million ($340 million) plan to train 3,600 more psychological therapists in the wake of a study showing that antidepressant drugs such as Prozac are no more effective than a placebo.

About 900,000 more people will be treated for depression and anxiety under the plan, according to the Department of Health, which predicts that 450,000 of them will be completely cured. The department also believes that 25,000 fewer people will claim sick pay and benefits because of mental health problems.

"The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies program has already captured the imagination of primary care trusts up and down the country and is transforming the lives of thousands of people with depression and anxiety disorders in the areas that have been involved so far," said Alan Johnson, the health secretary.

A study published in the open access journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine on Tuesday revealed that Prozac, Seroxat and other antidepressants of the same class had performed no better than dummy pills in the earliest trials in the 1980s. No such analysis has been done before because of the reluctance of the pharmaceutical companies to hand over the full trial results.

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How Britain's Tesco Avoided Paying $2 Billion In Taxes
2008-02-26 21:17:28

U.K. supermarket chain Tesco has created an elaborate corporate structure involving offshore tax havens which enables it to avoid paying what could be up to £1 billion ($2 billion) of tax on profits from the sale of its U.K.  properties.

The complex new structures uncovered by a six-month Guardian investigation include a string of Cayman Island companies, each named after a different color, from aqua to violet. These are being used by the supermarket giant as it proceeds with its announced program to sell and lease back £6 billion worth of its U.K. stores.

The stores are being sold to external investors providing Tesco with a big one-off gain which, ordinarily, would be liable to tax, while allowing it to remain in the stores and pay rent to the new owners.

The first two deals, worth £445 million ($890 million) and £650 million ($1.3 billion), have already used the companies set up in the Cayman Islands - where the rate of corporation tax is zero - allowing Tesco to avoid tax on about £500 million ($1 billion) profit. Large corporations are increasingly developing strategies to cut tax bills and Tesco is not alone in its tax planning.

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U.S. Wholesale Prices Jumped In January, Feeding Inflation
2008-02-26 14:29:06
Battered by bad economic news, consumer confidence plunged while wholesale food, energy and medicine costs soared, pushing inflation up at the fastest pace in a quarter century.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that wholesale inflation jumped by 1 percent in January, more than double the increase that analysts had been expecting.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Conference Board reported that its confidence index fell to 75.0 in February, down from a revised January reading of 87.3. The drop was far below the 83 reading that analysts had forecast and put the index at its lowest level since February 2003, a period that reflected anxiety in the leadup to the Iraq war.

Consumers have been shaken by a prolonged slump in housing that has pushed the country close to a recession.

A third report Tuesday showed that home prices, measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, dropped by 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the steepest drop in the 20-year history of the index.

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Ashcroft Shifts, Will Now Testify On Oversight Deal
2008-02-26 14:28:40

Former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft agreed Monday night to appear at a House hearing to discuss his lucrative arrangement overseeing a medical equipment company, averting a showdown with committee members who had planned to meet Tuesday to authorize a subpoena.

The move marks an about-face for Ashcroft, who told lawmakers earlier this month that "discussing the details of my legal responsibilities, as requested, in this pending criminal case and related ongoing criminal investigation would violate my ethical obligations."

Ashcroft, who left public service three years ago to start a private consulting firm, won the contract under a settlement the company reached with federal prosecutors in New Jersey. Under a recent government policy, companies facing criminal investigation can accept such outside supervision to avoid indictment.

Ashcroft's consulting firm stands to collect between $28 million and $52 million over 18 months for reviewing the operations of Zimmer Holdings, an Indianacompany that makes replacement hips and knees. Zimmer last year settled government charges over kickbacks it allegedly provided doctors in exchange for using its products.

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Sen. Dodd Endorses Obama For President
2008-02-26 14:27:54
Senator Christopher Dodd, a leading Democrat and an early candidate for the party’s presidential nomination, announced Tuesday that he is endorsing Senator Barack Obama.

Both Obama and his rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, sought Dodd’s support after Dodd dropped out of the race following the Iowa caucuses last month.

The endorsement comes as polls show Obama’s campaign is gaining strength. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, Obama has moved ahead of Clinton nationally, with 54 percent of Democratic voters supporting him compared with 38 percent for Clinton.

“He is ready to be president and I am ready to support him in this campaign,” Dodd said at a news conference in Cleveland, the Associated Press reported.

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Iraq Demands That Turkey Withdraw
2008-02-26 14:27:17

In northern Iraq, fighting continued for a fifth day as Turkish forces attacked P.K.K. rebel bases, while the Iraqi cabinet in Baghdad condemned the incursion and, in a statement, demanded its immediate halt.

"The cabinet expressed its rejection and condemnation for the Turkish military interference, which is considered a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty," the cabinet said in a statement , according to Reuters. "The cabinet stresses that unilateral military action is not acceptable and threatens good relations between the two neighbors."

That was echoed by Falah Mustafa, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations in an interview on Tuesday. “The Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” he said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, an explosion aboard a crowded bus traveling to the Syrian border from Mosul killed at least nine passengers on Tuesday morning, according to Iraqi officials.
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The Three Trillion Dollar War
2008-02-26 02:52:37
The cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have grown to staggering proportions.

The Bush Administration was wrong about the benefits of the war and it was wrong about the costs of the war. The president and his advisers expected a quick, inexpensive conflict. Instead, we have a war that is costing more than anyone could have imagined.

The cost of direct U.S. military operations - not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans - already exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War.

And, even in the best case scenario, these costs are projected to be almost ten times the cost of the first Gulf War, almost a third more than the cost of the Vietnam War, and twice that of the First World War. The only war in our history which cost more was the Second World War, when 16.3 million U.S. troops fought in a campaign lasting four years, at a total cost (in 2007 dollars, after adjusting for inflation) of about $5 trillion. With virtually the entire armed forces committed to fighting the Germans and Japanese, the cost per troop (in today's dollars) was less than $100,000 in 2007 dollars. By contrast, the Iraq war is costing upward of $400,000 per troop.

Most Americans have yet to feel these costs. The price in blood has been paid by our voluntary military and by hired contractors. The price in treasure has, in a sense, been financed entirely by borrowing. Taxes have not been raised to pay for it - in fact, taxes on the rich have actually fallen. Deficit spending gives the illusion that the laws of economics can be repealed, that we can have both guns and butter. But of course the laws are not repealed. The costs of the war are real even if they have been deferred, possibly to another generation.

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EPA May Relax Farm Emission Reporting Rules
2008-02-26 02:51:15

Under pressure from agriculture industry lobbyists and lawmakers from agricultural states, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to drop requirements that factory farms report their emissions of toxic gases, despite findings by the agency's scientists that the gases pose a health threat.

The EPA acknowledges that the emissions can pose a threat to people living and working nearby, but it says local emergency responders don't use the reports, making them unnecessary. But local air-quality agencies, environmental groups and lawmakers who oppose the rule change say the reports are one of the few tools rural communities have for holding large livestock operations accountable for the pollution they produce.

Opponents of the rule change say agriculture lobbyists orchestrated a campaign to convince the EPA that the reports are not useful and misrepresented the effort as reflecting the views of local officials. They say the plan to drop the reporting requirement is emblematic of a broader effort by the Bush-era EPA to roll back federal pollution rules.

"One of the running themes we have seen is they have taken numerous industry-friendly actions that are shot down in the courts, but they buy time for industry" in appeals and reviews that could extend years into the next administration, said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a nonprofit environmental group based in Washington.

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Pfizer To End Lipitor Ads Featuring Jarvik
2008-02-26 02:50:19
Under criticism that its ads are misleading, Pfizer said Monday that it would cancel a long-running advertising campaign using the artificial heart pioneer Robert Jarvik as a spokesman for its cholesterol drug Lipitor.

Pfizer has spent more than $258 million advertising Lipitor since January 2006, most of it on the Jarvik campaign, as the company sought to protect Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug, from competition by cheaper generics.

The campaign had come under scrutiny from a Congressional committee that is examining consumer drug advertising and has asked whether the ads misrepresented Dr. Jarvik and his credentials. Although he has a medical degree, Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to practice medicine.

One television ad depicted Dr. Jarvik as an accomplished rower gliding across a mountain lake, but the ad used a body double for the doctor, who apparently does not row.

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