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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday March 23 2008 - (813)

Sunday March 23 2008 edition
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U.S. Congress, Bush Split Over Regulation Of Wall Street
2008-03-23 01:20:17
As Congress and the Bush administration struggle to contain the housing and credit crises - and prevent more Wall Street firms from collapsing as Bear Stearns did - a split is forming over how to strengthen oversight of financial institutions after decades of deregulation.

The administration and Democratic lawmakers in Congress agree that the meltdown in credit markets exposed weaknesses in the nation’s tangled web of federal and state regulators, which failed to anticipate the effect of so many new players in the industry.

In Congress, Democrats are drafting bills that would create a powerful new regulator - or simply confer new powers on the Federal Reserve - to oversee practices across the entire array of commercial banks, Wall Street firms, hedge funds and non-bank financial companies.

The Treasury Department is rushing to complete its own blueprint for overhauling what is now an alphabet soup of federal and state regulators that often compete against each other and protect their particular slices of the industry as if they were constituents.

The two sides strongly disagree about whether, after decades of a freewheeling encouragement of exotic new services and new players like hedge funds, the pendulum should swing back to tighter control.

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Editorial: The Supreme Court And Indecency
2008-03-23 01:19:45
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Sunday, March 23, 2008.

The Supreme Court is throwing itself back into the debate over indecency on television, and that may not be a good thing. It agreed last week to review the Federal Communications Commission’s policy of punishing broadcasters for airing “fleeting expletives” - a few isolated bad words. A federal appeals court wisely struck down the F.C.C.’s harsh rules, which have done serious damage to free speech. We hope the Supreme Court does not authorize the F.C.C. to return to its censorial policies.

For decades, the commission took a tolerant attitude toward fleeting expletives. As long as they were not used in a deliberate and offensive way, it would not punish broadcasters for airing them. The commission suddenly changed course in a case involving the 2003 Golden Globes Awards show, which included the singer Bono’s uttering a single expletive as he accepted an award. Reversing its long-held precedents, the F.C.C. decided that Bono’s lighthearted slip made the broadcast indecent.

The F.C.C. also ruled that two Billboard Music Awards programs were indecent because of brief comments by the entertainers Cher and Nicole Richie. It put networks and television stations on notice that in the future, broadcasting “fleeting expletives” could lead to sizable fines.

Broadcasters challenged the commission’s new rules, and last June the New York-based United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck them down. Federal agencies like the F.C.C., which interpret Congressional laws, have to make reasoned decisions, and the court ruled that the fleeting expletive policy was not properly reasoned. It carefully dissected the F.C.C.’s analysis, which it rightly found to be “divorced from reality.” The court also noted that the commission’s rules most likely violated the First Amendment.

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Pentagon Rules Out Adm. Fallon Testimony Before Congress
2008-03-23 01:18:44
The Pentagon on Friday ruled out including Adm. William Fallon as a witness before Congress when the top U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Baghdad testify next month on the way ahead in Iraq.

Fallon's abrupt announcement March 11 that he was resigning, effective March 31, as chief of U.S. Central Command overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan triggered accusations by Democrats in Congress that he was being forced out for publicly opposing launching a war against Iran.

In declaring that Fallon would not join Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker as witnesses before Congress next month, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the decision had nothing to do with Fallon's views on Iran or the reasons for his unexpected resignation and retirement.

''I know there have been requests, in fact, from members of Congress to have Adm. Fallon testify with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and I can tell you that Adm. Fallon will not be testifying'' with them, Morrell told a Pentagon news conference.

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Environment: Krill Fishing Threatens Antarctic
2008-03-23 01:17:52

The Antarctic, one of the planet's last unspoiled ecosystems, is under threat from mankind's insatiable appetite for harvesting the seas.

The population of krill, a tiny crustacean, is in danger from the growing demand for health supplements and food for fish farms. Global warming has already been blamed for a dramatic fall in numbers because the ice that is home to the algae and plankton they feed on is melting. Now "suction" harvesting which gathers up vast quantities has been introduced to meet the increased demand. It threatens not just krill, but the entire ecosystem that depends on them, say environmental campaigners. Krill are also believed to be important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water to escape predators.

"Whales, penguins, seals, albatrosses and petrels - all those creatures we think are absolute icons of Antarctica - depend on krill," said Richard Page, a marine reserves expert with Greenpeace International. "It's part of the global commons, and one of the most pristine environments on Earth. That's why we should treat it with the greatest of respect."

However, scientists say they are monitoring the fishing but so far the total catch is a small proportion of the population.

"We're aware of this fishing effort gearing up and we're not particularly concerned at the moment," said Dr. Geraint Tarling, head of ecosystem dynamics at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "When people get close to the allowable catches we'd be concerned, but at the moment it's nowhere near."

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Energy Stocks Haven't Caught Up With Oil Prices
2008-03-23 01:17:01

Energy companies have recorded whopping profits as the price of oil has surged over the past year. But while shares of those firms have traditionally tracked oil prices, they haven't kept pace this time around.

The cost of one barrel of oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange, for example, has doubled in a little over a year, rising from $50 in January 2007 to $101.84 last week. Yet the S&P Energy Index, which tracks the stocks of major energy companies, has risen only about 26 percent over the same period.

The reason, analysts said, is that oil prices have been driven to record highs by more than just demand for the product.

The decline of the dollar, in which commodities are priced, has helped make oil more expensive. At the same time, large institutional investors seeking shelter from the recent volatility of the stock market have rushed into commodities, driving up the price of oil and other goods on speculation, analysts said.

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Pelosi Urges World To Condemn China Over Tibet Crackdown
2008-03-22 02:41:27

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Friday called on the international community to condemn China for its crushing of protests in Tibet, saying the crisis was a challenge to the "conscience of the world".

Nancy Pelosi, who leads the Democratic party in the U.S. House, was the first foreign politician to meet the Dalai Lama since the bloody unrest spread across the roof of the world. Her appearance alongside the Tibetan spiritual leader at his home in the north Indian town of Dharamshala was condemned by Beijing, which accused her of meddling in China's internal affairs.

Pelosi's visit and strong language are the most serious breach in a western consensus that China's economic and strategic strength renders impossible any protest beyond verbal expressions of unease.

She did not call for an Olympic boycott, which the Dalai Lama has also opposed, but appeared to open the door to one if China maintained its crackdown in Tibet. She said the "world is watching" events there, and called for an international investigation into the violence, and access to the region for journalists and international human rights monitors.

Pelosi said it was incumbent on "freedom-loving people throughout the world" to speak out against China's "oppression". If they did not, "we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world".

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Buildings Crack Up As Black Forest Town Sinks Into The Ground
2008-03-22 02:40:47

In the last six months mysterious cracks have appeared in buildings in a picturesque Black Forest town. As the cracks have grown, so have residents' concerns. The problem is the town is slowly sinking into the ground. A geothermal project is apparently to blame.

People living in the small town of Staufen could be forgiven for having that sinking feeling. The citizens of Staufen, a picturesque town on the edge of the Black Forest in southern Germany, have good reason to feel worried: parts of their historic town center are slowly sinking into the ground.

As the earth beneath the town has given way, large cracks have appeared in the town hall, a church, two schools and over 50 homes. The first of the mysterious cracks, which have got bigger and bigger, was spotted two weeks after the town council embarked on an innovative geothermal project.

But what happened next took the forward-thinking town council by surprise. By trying to do its bit for the environment, the council appears to have upset a delicate balance. A couple of weeks after carrying out the work, the first cracks in the facade of buildings started to appear. So far, Staufen Mayor Michael Benitz told Spiegel Online, the damage has been primarily cosmetic. "No buildings are in danger of collapsing," he said.

The problems began when, as part of the refurbishment of the town hall - built in 1546 - the council decided to heat the building with geothermal power from deep below the earth's surface. In September last year an Austrian company sunk seven geothermal probes 140 meters into the ground.

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Wi-Fi Woes: Hopes For Wireless Cities Fade As Internet Providers Pull Out
2008-03-22 02:39:48
It was hailed as Internet for the masses when Philadelphia officials announced plans in 2005 to erect the largest municipal Wi-Fi grid in the country, stretching wireless access over 135 square miles with the hope of bringing free or low-cost service to all residents, especially the poor.

Municipal officials in Chicago, Illinois, Houston, Texas, San Francisco, California, and 10 other major cities, as well as dozens of smaller towns, quickly said they would match Philadelphia’s plans.

But the excited momentum has sputtered to a standstill, tripped up by unrealistic ambitions and technological glitches. The conclusion that such ventures would not be profitable led to sudden withdrawals by service providers like EarthLink, the Internet company that had effectively cornered the market on the efforts by the larger cities.

Now, community organizations worry about their prospects for helping poor neighborhoods get online.

In Tempe, Arizona, and Portland, Oregon, for example, hundreds of subscribers have found themselves suddenly without service as providers have cut their losses and either abandoned their networks or stopped expanding capacity.

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Sanctions Against Iran Are Failing, Say Analysts
2008-03-22 02:38:35

The conservative consolidation of power in Iran's parliamentary elections has shown that international sanctions are backfiring, according to liberal analysts in Tehran.

Religious conservatives have won 70% of the seats decided so far and are likely to maintain their grip after an imminent run-off vote for about 90 undecided seats.

The election has strengthened the hand of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a militantly conservative force with growing control over the economy. At least 120 of the 290 members of the new parliament will be former guardsmen like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Reformists, barred from standing across the country, have only won 40 seats. They expected to do well in Tehran, where they were allowed to compete, but are yet to win a seat there, and demanded a recount.

The election results are a blow to advocates of sanctions as a means to pressure Tehran into suspending uranium enrichment, which the country's critics allege is a cover for a secret arms program. Iran insists it is for energy generation.

A year ago U.S. and British diplomats were pointing to criticism of Ahmadinejad's combative style on the world stage as evidence that economic pressure was working. "It's hard to see that now," a western diplomat in Tehran admitted.

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Scenes Of Horror Described By Witnesses To Tibet Violence
2008-03-22 02:37:47
On a cloudless day near the top of the world, Swiss tourist Claude Balsiger had just finished a late-morning cup of tea and stepped out onto the streets of Tibet's capital. Buddhist monks had been marching against Chinese rule all week, but today seemed calmer.

Suddenly, Tibetan youths started hurling paving stones at police, who tried to protect themselves with their riot shields.

Over the next few hours, the odor of tear gas and fires replaced the scent of incense wafting from backpacker cafes. The intense Himalayan light was blacked out by smoke. And in the days that followed, violence would spread beyond Lhasa to ethnic Tibetan villages deep inside China and to Chinese embassies worldwide.

China has barred Western journalists from entering Tibet and ethnic Tibetan areas. But interviews with foreign witnesses and Chinese residents, as well as blog postings by Tibetans too frightened to be interviewed, show that during three crucial hours on March 14, woefully unprepared police fled, allowing rioters to burn and smash much of Lhasa's commercial center.

Tibetans randomly beat and killed Chinese solely on the basis of their ethnicity: a young motorcyclist bludgeoned in the head with paving stones and probably killed; a teenage boy in school uniform being dragged by a mob. When authorities did regroup, paramilitary troops fired live ammunition into the crowds. Witnesses did not see protesters armed with anything other than stones, bottles of gasoline or a few traditional Tibetan knives.
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Stalwart Service For U.S. In Iraq Is Not Enough To Gain Green Card
2008-03-23 01:20:02

During his nearly four years as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq, Saman Kareem Ahmad was known for his bravery and hard work. "Sam put his life on the line with, and for, Coalition Forces on a daily basis," wrote Marine Capt. Trent A. Gibson.

Gibson's letter was part of a thick file of support - including commendations from the secretary of the Navy and from then-Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus - that helped Ahmad migrate to the United States in 2006, among an initial group of 50 Iraqi and Afghan translators admitted under a special visa program.

Last month, however, the U.S. government turned down Ahmad's application for permanent residence, known as a green card. His offense: Ahmad had once been part of the Kurdish Democratic Party, which U.S. immigration officials deemed an "undesignated terrorist organization" for having sought to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. 

Ahmad, a Kurd, once served in the KDP's military force, which is part of the new Iraqi army. A U.S. ally, the KDP is now part of the elected government of the Kurdish region and holds seats in the Iraqi parliament. After consulting public Web sites, however, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined that KDP forces "conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein's regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom."

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White House: Computer Hard Drives Destroyed
2008-03-23 01:18:55
Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court Friday in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005.

The White House revealed new information about how it handles its computers in an effort to persuade a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed.

"When workstations are at the end of their lifecycle and retired ... the hard drives are generally sent offsite to another government entity for physical destruction," the White House said in a sworn declaration filed with U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola.

It has been the goal of a White House Office of Administration "refresh program" to replace one-third of its workstations every year in the Executive Office of the President, according to the declaration.

Some, but not necessarily all, of the data on old hard drives is moved to new computer hard drives, the declaration added.

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Bush Policies Make It More Difficult To Put Animals, Plants On Endangered Species List
2008-03-23 01:18:10

With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Controversies have occasionally flared over Interior Department officials who regularly overruled rank-and-file agency scientists' recommendations to list new species, but internal documents also suggest that pervasive bureaucratic obstacles were erected to limit the number of species protected under one of the nation's best-known environmental laws.

The documents show that personnel were barred from using information in agency files that might support new listings, and that senior officials repeatedly dismissed the views of scientific advisers as President Bush's appointees either rejected putting imperiled plants and animals on the list or sought to remove this federal protection.

Officials also changed the way species are evaluated under the 35-year-old law - by considering only where they live now, as opposed to where they used to exist - and put decisions on other species in limbo by blocking citizen petitions that create legal deadlines.

As a result, listings plummeted. During Bush's more than seven years as president, his administration has placed 59 domestic species on the endangered list, almost the exact number that his father listed during each of his four years in office. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has not declared a single native species as threatened or endangered since he was appointed nearly two years ago.

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Addiction To Internet Is An Illness?
2008-03-23 01:17:22

Tense? Angry? Can't get online? Internet addiction is now a serious public health issue that should be officially recognized as a clinical disorder, according to a leading psychiatrist.

Excessive gaming, viewing online pornography, emailing and text messaging have been identified as causes of a compulsive-impulsive disorder by Dr. Jerald Block, author of an editorial for the respected American Journal of Psychiatry. Block argues that the disorder is now so common that it merits inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the profession's primary resource to categorize and diagnose mental illnesses. He says internet addiction has four main components:

-- Excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives.

-- Withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.

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NYPD In Turf War With FBI In Battle Against Terrorism
2008-03-22 02:41:45
Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, as New York City began to build a counterterrorism effort to rival those of most nations, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly decided to put an end to the department's reliance on the FBI for classified data coming in from Washington, D.C.

Kelly, who was working to protect the city against another attack, wanted his own access to the stream of threat reporting concerning New York. The solution was to install a classified-information vault, like the FBI's, at the headquarters of the New York City Police Department. 

Kelly made the request in the spring of 2002 and waited six years for an answer. After questions from the Washington Post for this story, the FBI said it has decided to approve the vault, a specially designed, guarded room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.

No other police department in the United States has responded to the threats of terrorism in quite the same way as the NYPD - or clashed as sharply with the nation's primary counterterrorism agency, the FBI.

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S&P Lowers Its Credit Outlook For Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers
2008-03-22 02:41:07
Goldman Sachs Group, the biggest U.S. securities firm, and rival Lehman Brothers Holdings had their credit-rating outlooks cut to negative by Standard & Poor's, which said Wall Streetbanks' profits may fall as much as 30 percent in the coming year.

"Our current expectation is that net revenue could decline" by at least 20 percent at independent securities firms, S&P said in a statement yesterday. It affirmed its long-term credit rating of AA- for Goldman and A+ for Lehman. A+ is slightly lower than AA-.

The Federal Reserve's decision last week to open a lending facility for brokers and provide financial support for J.P. Morgan Chase's emergency takeover of Bear Stearns "mitigates liquidity concerns," S&P said. "Nonetheless, we see some possibility, were there to be persisting capital markets turmoil and sharply weakening economic conditions, that financial performance could deteriorate significantly."

J.P. Morgan, the third-largest U.S. commercial bank by assets, agreed March 16 to buy Bear Stearns in an all-stock deal that values the securities firm at $366 million, based on yesterday's closing price. The collapse of Bear Stearns ranks along with Drexel Burnham Lambert as the biggest in Wall Street history.

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Doctors Are New Focus Of Inquiry Into Bribes
2008-03-22 02:40:15

A long-running federal investigation into the orthopedic device industry’s suspected kickback payments to hip and knee surgeons now has the doctors in the spotlight.

Having reached settlements with the five leading makers of artificial joints last year over the payments, the government has been focusing on the many doctors who receive money as the companies’ paid consultants.

“We are going to be looking at those soliciting kickbacks,” Lewis Morris, the chief counsel in the federal office that pursues civil complaints of Medicare fraud, told an audience of hundreds of doctors, company representatives and investors this month in San Francisco, California, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

The same message has gone out to health care lawyers attending legal education seminars in recent months and, directly from Christopher J. Christie, Jr., the United States attorney in Newark, New Jersey, who is overseeing the investigation. Executives say Christie has addressed sales meetings of the five companies, which reached a settlement last fall to avoid prosecution on charges they had routinely paid illegal kickbacks to surgeons.

Christie said: “ ‘I’ve dealt with the supply issue, now I need to deal with the demand issue’,” recalled Edward B. Lipes, the executive vice president in charge of surgeon relationships at the device maker Stryker Corporation, the first of the companies to cooperate in the investigation, which began in 2005.

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Russian TV Journalist Hanged, Stabbed To Death
2008-03-22 02:38:56
A television journalist was found dead in a Moscow apartment Friday with a belt around his neck and numerous stab wounds - a grisly murder that reinforces Russia's image as one of the most dangerous countries for reporters.

Hours after the body of Ilyas Shurpayev was discovered, an executive in charge of the provincial state TV station in his home region of Dagestan was shot to death by unidentified men, and police were looking for links between the two killings.

More than a dozen journalists have been killed since 2000. Many appear to have been targeted because of their attempts to dig into allegations of corruption.

Charges have rarely been filed, including in the 2006 slaying in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who won acclaim for her reporting of atrocities against civilians in war-scarred Chechnya.

Shurpayev worked for Channel One, a station controlled by the Kremlin.

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Pakistan's New Leaders To Talk With Militants
2008-03-22 02:38:21
Faced with a sharp escalation of suicide bombings in urban areas, the leaders of Pakistan’s new coalition government say they will negotiate with the militants believed to be orchestrating the attacks, and will use military force only as a last resort.

That talk has alarmed American officials, who fear it reflects a softening stance toward the militants just as President Pervez Musharrafhas given the Bush administration a freer hand to strike at militants using pilotless Predator drones.

Many Pakistanis, however, are convinced that the surge in suicide bombings - 17 in the first 10 weeks of 2008 - is retaliation for three Predator strikes since the beginning of the year. The spike in attacks, combined with the crushing defeat of Musharraf’s party in February parliamentary elections, has brought demands for change in his American-backed policies.

Speaking in separate interviews, the leaders of Pakistan’s new government coalition - Asif Ali Zardari, of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N - tried to strike a more independent stance from Washington and repackage the conflict in a more palatable way for Pakistanis.

They said they were determined to set a different course from that of President Musharraf, who has received generous military financial help of more than $10 billion from Washington for his support.

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