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Friday, March 07, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday March 7 2008 - (813)

Friday March 7 2008 edition
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Republican Campaign Arm Is Missing Cash
2008-03-07 03:47:07
FBI investigating treasurer fired over lack of auditing.

Authorities investigating possible fraud by a longtime Republican operative have determined that the House Republican  campaign committee has lost a substantial sum of money, and several Republican lawmakers believe funds were pilfered from their campaign accounts as well, law enforcement and Capitol Hill sources said Thursday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the U.S. House Republicans' campaign arm, lost a "significant amount of money," said a law enforcement official who also confirmed that the FBI has begun investigating the committee's longtime treasurer, Christopher J. Ward.

An official close to the NRCC said preliminary reviews of its bank statements and reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)demonstrate clear discrepancies between "what [money] we have and what we should have."

"We don't know if it's a big number or a small number," said the official. "It looks like something was stolen. But we don't have an accurate number. We don't know."

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Carlyle-Managed Fund In Default To Lenders
2008-03-07 03:46:38
Carlyle Capital, a publicly traded financial fund managed by the Carlyle Group, failed to meet lenders' minimum requirements on its $21.7 billion portfolio Thursday, sending ripples through markets.

Carlyle Capital, listed on the Euronext in Amsterdam, said it received notices from banks that it was in default on its loans, which were used to buy AAA-rated home-mortgage-backed bonds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

Banks essentially issued what are known as margin calls. A lender issues a margin call to require a borrower to add money to an account when a stock's or bond's value drops below a certain level.

The margin calls also reflect the spreading turmoil in the capital markets, which is infecting even the highest-rated securities.

Carlyle Capital is run by Carlyle Group, the Washington, D.C.-based private-equity firm that has earned outsize returns for its investors over the past two decades.

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Aversion To Risk Deepens U.S. Credit Woes
2008-03-07 03:45:58
The credit markets came under renewed stress Thursday as investors sought absolute safety and even moved away from debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage lending enterprises.

The intensifying credit crisis came as one regulator, Timothy F. Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York,said that some banks had moved from being too willing to take on risks to being reluctant to take any chance of losing money, a move that was making the crisis worse.

“The rational actions taken by even the strongest financial institutions to reduce exposure to future losses have caused significant collateral damage to market functioning,” Geithner said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. â€œThis, in turn, has intensified the liquidity problems for a wide range of bank and nonbank financial institutions.”

Those liquidity problems intensified Thursday as a new increase in the number of mortgage foreclosures was reported and two financial companies that had relied on borrowed money said they were unable to raise the cash demanded by their lenders.

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German Authorities Report Problems With Blood Thinner Heperin
2008-03-07 03:44:06
Concerns about the safety of the blood thinner heparin spread to Germany on Thursday after drug authorities there received reports of patients being sickened after taking the drug.

Meanwhile, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials announced that they were asking all companies in the United States that produce heparin to test it with two new procedures.

The complex tests, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and capillary electrophoresis, are the only ones that can uncover whether the drug contains a possibly counterfeit ingredient.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, deputy F.D.A. commissioner, said that the agency would post instructions online for the tests.

Food and Drug officials said Wednesday that a possibly counterfeit ingredient had been found in certain batches of heparin linked to at least 19 deaths in the United States and more than 700 severe allergic reactions. 

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Britain Selling Off Nuclear Assets To Pay $144 Billion Clean-Up Bill
2008-03-06 20:04:57

The most wide-ranging sell-off of British nuclear assets got under way Thursday night, with the private sector being offered everything from stockpiled uranium to atomic fuel manufacturing plants and land at 18 sites.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is nursing a £300 million ($600 million) budget overrun for 2006-07 alone, is attempting to raise cash to help pay for a £72 billion ($144 billion) clean-up bill.

It looks set to win bids from E.on of Germany and other power companies that are keen to build nuclear generating plants next to some of the NDA's key locations, such as Sellafield in Cumbria and Wylfa on Anglesey.

The government's clean-up agency confirmed Thursday that controversial fuel reprocessing plants such as Thorp and the Sellafield Mox Plant - as well as the fuel manufacturing facility at Springfields in Lancashire - could all be included in any sale. This is despite operating problems at the first two which are held largely responsible for the latest budget overrun.

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U.S. Senate Back Overhaul Of Product Safety Commission
2008-03-06 19:35:05
The vote could mean a major boost in funding for the product safety commission and harsher penalties for companies that make hazardous products. A less expansive House bill, which had industry support, passed in December.

Moving to reverse decades of limited federal oversight, the Senate voted Thursday to make sweeping changes to the government's system of regulating toys, appliances and thousands of other household products.

The 79-13 vote could lead to a major expansion of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and stiffer penalties for companies that manufacture and distribute hazardous products. And it may mean broad new public access to information about potentially dangerous products before they are recalled.

"This bill is the most significant product safety reform measure in recent history," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America. "Americans have been waiting for this solution to our broken product safety system."
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8 Killed In Jerusalem Seminary, 10 Others Wounded
2008-03-06 19:34:39
A man concealing an automatic weapon in a cardboard box slipped into a Jewish seminary here and opened fire in the library Thursday night, killing at least eight people in Israel's worst terrorist attack in nearly two years.

Jerusalem Police Chief Aharon Franco said the attack lasted more than 10 minutes before an Israeli army officer killed the assailant.

Rescue workers said at least 10 people were wounded. Most of the victims were men in their 20s. The bodies of the dead and wounded were strewn around the library and an adjacent stairwell.

In the Gaza Strip, the ruling Hamas movement praised the attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility. Thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets of Gaza to celebrate, firing rifles into the air.
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U.S. Home Foreclosures Hit Record High
2008-03-06 14:48:39

Foreclosures reached an all-time high during the fourth quarter of last year as the mortgage crisis worsened, according to Mortgage Bankers Association data released today.

During the quarter, 2.04 percent of all outstanding mortgages were in foreclosure, and .83 percent of loans entered the foreclosure process, according to the report. A year earlier, just 1.19 percent of loans were in foreclosure.

The spike was driven by declining home prices and was most pronounced in California and Florida, which accounted for 30 percent of the foreclosures started during that period, Doug Duncan, the association's chief economist, said in a conference call with reporters. It will take time to work through the overbuilding in those states, Duncan said.

"The reasons and magnitude of the declines differ from state to state," he said.

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Russian Arms Dealer Arrested In Thailand
2008-03-06 14:48:11
The long hunt for the world's most notorious arms dealer climaxed Thursday in Bangkok, where Thai authorities arrested Russian businessman Viktor Bout on charges of supplying Colombian rebels with weapons and explosives, federal officials confirmed.

Bout, whose global air transport empire armed rebels in Africa and the Taliban in Afghanistan and later aided U.S. military supply efforts in Iraq, was captured as part of an eight-month U.S.-led sting operation.

Officials said Bout was in the final stages of a deal with a group of men he believed were working for the agents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist paramilitary organization known as the FARC that has fought against the Colombian government and has been linked to the cocaine trade.

Bout's partners in the deal turned out to be agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Bout was arrested with another man in the sting, officials said. Justice Department officials were expected to provide more details about the operation later Thursday.

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U.S.Agencies Form National Intelligence Network
2008-03-06 03:25:09
Fledgling Justice Department system enables authorities to examine enormous caches of digital records and raises civil liberties concerns.

Several thousand law enforcement agencies are creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information to fight crime and root out terror plots.

As federal authorities struggled to meet information-sharing mandates after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police agencies from Alaska and California to the Washington, D.C., region poured millions of criminal and investigative records into shared digital repositories called data warehouses, giving investigators and analysts new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues.

Those network efforts will begin expanding further this month, as some local and state agencies connect to a fledgling Justice Department system called the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx. Federal authorities hope N-DEx will become what one called a "one-stop shop" enabling federal law enforcement, counterterrorism and intelligence analysts to automatically examine the enormous caches of local and state records for the first time.

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FDA Finds Contaminant In Blood Thinner Heparin
2008-03-06 03:24:32
U.S. federal drug regulators have discovered that a critical blood thinner that has been linked to at least 19 deaths and whose raw components are produced in China contained a possibly counterfeit ingredient that mimicked the real drug.

Routine tests failed to distinguish the contaminant from the drug, heparin. Only sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging tests uncovered that as much as 20 percent of the product’s active ingredient was a heparin mimic blended in with the real thing.

“At this point, we do not know whether the introduction was accidental or whether it was deliberate,” said Deputy Commissioner Janet Woodcock of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Heparin is made from pig intestines. Scientific Protein Laboratories, based in Waunakee, Wisconsin, bought raw heparin produced in some cases in small, unregulated family workshops in China and processed it in plants in Wisconsin and China, according to heparin traders and producers in China. Baxter International purchased the active ingredient from Scientific Protein and sold the finished drug.

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NASA Wary Of Relying On Russia
2008-03-07 03:46:54
Moscow soon to be lone carrier of astronauts to space station.

Friday night, a European spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from French Guiana on its maiden voyage to the international space station (ISS), giving NASA and the world a new way to reach the orbiting laboratory.

For NASA, however, the launch of the Jule Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) also highlights a stark reality: In 2 1/2 years, just as the station gets fully assembled, the United States will no longer have any spacecraft of its own capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to the station, in which roughly $100 billion is being invested. The three space shuttles will be retired by then, because of their high cost and questionable safety, and NASA will have nothing ready to replace them until 2015 at the earliest.

For five years or more, the United States will be dependent on the technology of others to reach the station, which American taxpayers largely paid for. To complicate things further, the only nation now capable of flying humans to the station is Russia, giving it a strong bargaining position to decide what it wants to charge for the flights at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are becoming increasingly testy.

In addition, some fear the price will be paid not only in billions of dollars but also in lost American prestige and lost leverage on the Russians when it comes to issues such as aiding Iran with its nuclear program.

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Shares Tumble As Credit Worries Worsen
2008-03-07 03:46:21

The decline in the market that started Thursday morning in Europe and accelerated in New York hit the Asian markets hard in early trading Friday.

Tokyo was down 3.30 percent at noon, reaching a six-week low, while markets in Hong Kong and Sydney were trading down more than 3 percent, setting the stage for what was shaping up to be a difficult day across Asia. Other markets, including Taiwan and Shanghai, were all opening lower.

The declines came amid renewed anxiety about the availability of bank loans - and fears that the Federal Reserve in Washington may be unable to curb the credit slump.

In New York trading, the broad Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 2.2 percent, or 29.36 points, reaching its lowest close since September 2006. The index, which closed at 1,304.34, is off more than 16 percent from its peak last fall.

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GAO Seeks Authority Review Of U.S. Spy Agencies
2008-03-07 03:44:29
As he leaves his post as the nation's top auditor, David M. Walker is again asking Congress to give the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the power to review the finances of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Walker, whose 10-year term as comptroller general concludes Wednesday, is supporting legislation that would give the GAO access to the last major area of the federal government not subject to its audits and investigations.

With some support on Capitol Hill, Walker said he is fighting powerful legislative patrons of intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, who have resisted examinations of how taxpayer dollars are spent.

"Everybody's for accountability in Washington until they're the ones subjected to it," Walker said in an interview. "There are a lot of forces that are vested in the status quo."

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U.S. Iraq Envoy To Leave Soon After Top General
2008-03-07 03:43:51

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker plans to leave Baghdad as early as January, leaving the most critical U.S. diplomatic post not long after the top military commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is expected to rotate out of Iraq. 

Crocker, 58, plans to retire from the foreign service. He has been telling colleagues that he wants to leave by mid-January, before a new administration comes in, after almost 22 months in Iraq.

"I am prepared to remain in Baghdad until early 2009, when I intend to retire," Crocker said in an e-mail to the Washington Post. "That will make two years in Iraq and 37 years in the Foreign Service - it's enough!"

Iraq experts are concerned about the near-simultaneous departure of two men who have made the most progress during the checkered five-year U.S. presence in Iraq. "To have changes all occur at the same time is not healthy, especially when dealing with a place like Iraq," said Edward S. Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs under whom Crocker served.

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Britain's Chief Scientist: Food Crisis Will Hit Before Climate Change
2008-03-06 20:04:42

Food security and the rapid rise in food prices make up the "elephant in the room" that politicians must face up to quickly, according to the British government's new chief scientific adviser.

In his first major speech since taking over, Professor John Beddington said the global rush to grow biofuels was compounding the problem, and cutting down rainforest to produce biofuel crops was "profoundly stupid".

He told the Govnet Sustainable Development U.K. Conference in Westminster: "There is progress on climate change. But out there is another major problem. It is very hard to imagine how we can see a world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous increase in the demand for food which is quite properly going to happen as we alleviate poverty."

He predicted that price rises in staples such as rice, maize and wheat would continue because of increased demand caused by population growth and increasing wealth in developing nations. He also said that climate change would lead to pressure on food supplies because of decreased rainfall in many areas and crop failures related to climate. "The agriculture industry needs to double its food production, using less water than today," he said. The food crisis would bite more quickly than climate change, he added.

He reserved some of his most scathing comments for the biofuel industry, which he said had delivered a "major shock" to world food prices. "In terms of biofuels there has been, quite properly, a reaction against it," he said. "There are real problems with unsustainability."

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At Least 55 Killed, 131 Injured In Twin Baghdad Bombings
2008-03-06 19:34:53
A pair of bombs rocked a busy shopping district in the Iraqi capital today, killing at least 55 civilians and security officials and injuring 131 in a devastating attack on a neighborhood that had begun to emerge from the doldrums of war.

One of the blasts was caused by a suicide bomber wearing an explosives packed belt, said an official at the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.

The explosions erupted just before 7 p.m. as shoppers and pedestrians walked along the streets of the busy and well-lit Karada district on a Thursday night, which is the equivalent of Friday night in the West.

The attack appeared to have been designed to inflict maximum casualties. The first explosion went off in a dumpster near an outdoor produce market, killing three and injuring a dozen.

The disruption attracted onlookers, rescuers and security officials. The suicide bomber was among the crowd. He set his belt off about five minutes after the first explosion, said security officials.
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Pipe Bombs Found At University Of California, Davis - Student Arrested
2008-03-06 14:48:50
A University of California, Davis freshman from Torrance, California, was arrested Thursday morning after investigators reported finding partially assembled pipe bombs in his dorm room, the university said.

Mark Christopher Woods, 19, was arrested on suspicion of possessing chemicals to make explosives and possessing explosive materials on school grounds, both felonies, said university spokeswoman Lisa Lapin.

Campus police went to Woods' room on the third floor of Tercero Residence Halls about 9 p.m. Wednesday after a neighboring student reported that there might be explosives inside, said Lapin. After investigators found the makings of at least two pipe bombs, she said, they took Woods into custody and evacuated 455 students from the dorm and six surrounding buildings on the west side of the main campus, near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Highway 113.

Overnight, investigators - regional bomb squads and agents of the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - descended on the dorm room. This morning, federal investigators said explosives could be removed from the room, and students were expected to be allowed back into the dorm later Thursday, saod Lapin.  Most have been staying at a nearby dining hall, she said.
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U.S. Homeowners' Equity Is Lowest Since 1945
2008-03-06 14:48:29
Americans' percentage of equity in their homes fell below 50 percent for the first time on record since 1945, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

Homeowners' portion of equity slipped to downwardly revised 49.6 percent in the second quarter of 2007, the central bank reported in its quarterly U.S. Flow of Funds Accounts, and declined further to 47.9 percent in the fourth quarter - the third straight quarter it was under 50 percent.

That marks the first time homeowners' debt on their houses exceeds their equity since the Fed started tracking the data in 1945.

The total value of equity also fell for the third straight quarter to $9.65 trillion from a downwardly revised $9.93 trillion in the third quarter.

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Study: Grand Canyon At Least 11 Million Years Older Than Thought
2008-03-06 14:47:51

Coming upon the Grand Canyon long ago, an old prospector is supposed to have said in amazement, “Something awful happened here.”

The something appears to have started happening some 17 million years ago, geologists concluded in a study reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science. If correct, that is at least 11 million years earlier than previous estimates.

By dating mineral deposits inside caves up and down the canyon walls, the geologists said they determined the water levels over time, as erosion carved out the mile-deep canyon as it is known today. They concluded that the canyon started from the west, then another formed from the east, and the two broke through and met as a single majestic rent in the earth some six million years ago.

Previous theories had posited six million years as the earliest age for the beginning of the entire Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

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Bush Administration: No Need For Lawmakers' Of Iraq Pact
2008-03-06 03:24:49
The Bush administration Wednesday advanced a new argument for why it does not require congressional approval to strike a long-term security agreement with Iraq, stating that Congress had already endorsed such an initiative through its 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. 

The 2002 measure, along with the congressional resolution passed one week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks authorizing military action "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States," permits indefinite combat operations in Iraq, according to a statement by the State Department's Bureau of Legislative Affairs.

The statement came in response to lawmakers' demands that the administration submit to Congress for approval any agreement with Iraq. U.S. officials are traveling to Baghdad this week with drafts of two documents - a status-of-forces agreement and a separate "strategic framework" - that they expect to sign with the Iraqi government by the end of July. It is to go into effect when the current U.N. mandate expires Dec. 31.

Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-New York), whose questions at a House hearing Tuesday elicited the administration statement, described it as an "open-ended, never-ending authority for the administration to be at war in Iraq forever with no limitations." The conditions of 2002 no longer exist, he said.
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Homeland Security Mandates, Goals Remain Unmet
2008-03-06 03:24:15
"Virtual fence" is latest agency effort deemed ineffective, incomplete or too costly to sustain.

Stumping for President Bush's ill-fated immigration overhaul in 2006, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff  vowed that his department would wrest "operational control" of the nation's borders away from human and drug traffickers within five years.

That projection was based on the prospect of tough new enforcement measures as well as a temporary-worker program meant to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants, including the most ambitious use of surveillance technology ever tried on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Two years later, the legislative overhaul has been shelved, development of the "virtual fence" has been delayed, and its designers are going back to the drawing board. Completion of its first phase has been put off until as late as 2011, congressional investigators say. The possibility of this outcome was flagged early on by internal and external watchdogs, who warned of unrealistically tight deadlines, vague direction to contractors, harsh operating conditions and tough requirements of Border Patrol end-users.

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