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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Sunday March 30 2008 - (813)

Sunday March 30 2008 edition
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Dollar Chilled By Rise Of Euro
2008-03-30 03:31:50
The once-unchallenged world hegemony of the U.S. currency is under threat as its value plummets and investors desert it.

Lurking behind the headline-grabbing stories about the credit crunch, the U.S. housing crash and the near-death experiences of Northern Rock and Bear Stearns, is the bigger one about the slump in the value of the American dollar.

So steeply has the greenback fallen in value against its main rivals - the euro and the Japanese yen - that economists are talking about the dollar losing its status as the world's reserve currency, a position it has held since 1945.

Commentators have written the dollar's obituary on countless occasions over the past 40 years, principally in the late 1970s and early 1990s, when America's economic performance compared badly with that of Japan or Germany.

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Commentary: Those Who Control Oil And Water Will Control The World
2008-03-30 03:30:43
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by by John Gray and appeared in The Observer edition for Sunday, March 30, 2008. Mr. Gray is author of "Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia", published by Allen Lane. His commentary follows:

History may not repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain observed, it can sometimes rhyme. The crises and conflicts of the past recur, recognizably similar even when altered by new conditions. At present, a race for the world's resources is underway that resembles the Great Game that was played in the decades leading up to the First World War. Now, as then, the most coveted prize is oil and the risk is that as the contest heats up it will not always be peaceful. But this is no simple rerun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, there are powerful new players and it is not only oil that is at stake.

It was Rudyard Kipling who brought the idea of the Great Game into the public mind in Kim, his cloak-and-dagger novel of espionage and imperial geopolitics in the time of the Raj. Then, the main players were Britain and Russia and the object of the game was control of central Asia's oil. Now, Britain hardly matters and India and China, which were subjugated countries during the last round of the game, have emerged as key players. The struggle is no longer focused mainly on central Asian oil. It stretches from the Persian Gulf to Africa, Latin America, even the polar caps, and it is also a struggle for water and depleting supplies of vital minerals. Above all, global warming is increasing the scarcity of natural resources. The Great Game that is afoot today is more intractable and more dangerous than the last.

The biggest new player in the game is China and it is there that the emerging pattern is clearest. China's rulers have staked everything on economic growth. Without improving living standards, there would be large-scale unrest, which could pose a threat to their power. Moreover, China is in the middle of the largest and fastest move from the countryside to the city in history, a process that cannot be stopped.

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Acid Bacteria Are Threat To Park Beauty
2008-03-30 03:29:51

Many areas of Britain's Peak District are being destroyed by acid excreted by metal-eating bacteria, a legacy of the industrial revolution. Large sections of hillside have been left badly eroded and acid build-up in streams now threatens to poison reservoirs.

In addition, blanket bogs in the Peaks - which are home to rare plants, such as bog rosemary and wild orchids, as well golden plovers and mountain hares - are also threatened by acid build-up.

Details are to be presented to delegates at the Society for General Microbiology's annual meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday. Dr. Patricia Linton, of Manchester Metropolitan University, who with co-workers carried out the study, said the discovery is now "extremely worrying".

"This is a legacy of the pollution that has poured from factories and mines in the area," she said. "Much of that pollution stopped 50 years ago, with the introduction of clean air legislation. However, there has been no improvement to the Peak District's ecology. The damage is still getting worse."

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Zimbabwe Opposition Claims Huge Election Win
2008-03-30 03:28:10

Zimbabwe's opposition party claimed an overwhelming victory against President Robert Mugabe in Saturday's presidential election, saying that the flow of results showed its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, had "massacred" the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) defied a government ban on pre-empting the official announcement of the election results and released the count from polling stations that showed Tsvangirai beating the man who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years, even in the president's home territory of Mashonaland.

"We've won this election," said Tendai Biti, the MDC's secretary-general. "The results coming in show that in our traditional strongholds we are massacring them. In Mugabe's traditional strongholds they are doing very badly. There is no way Mugabe can claim victory unless it is through fraud. He has lost this election."

The government's electoral commission has yet to release the counts formally, but the MDC said that declarations posted at polling stations across Zimbabwe last night, and gathered from its agents observing the counts, showed Tsvangirai ahead of Mugabe in every province where results were available. The most dramatic gap was in Mashonaland West, where the MDC candidate had 88 per cent of the vote to the president's 12 per cent.

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High Cost Of Rice Is Creating Fears Of Unrest In Asia
2008-03-29 17:01:24
Rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world’s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export.

The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world’s population, has almost doubled on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest.

Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days - meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs - drove prices on the world market even higher this week.

This has fed the insecurity of rice-importing nations, already increasingly desperate to secure supplies. On Tuesday, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, afraid of increasing rice scarcity, ordered government investigators to track down hoarders.

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Bush Finalizing Mortgage Aid Plan
2008-03-29 02:50:33

The Bush administration is finalizing details of a plan to rescue thousands of homeowners at risk of foreclosure by helping them refinance into more affordable mortgages backed by public funds, said government officials.

The proposal is aimed at assisting borrowers who owe their banks more than their homes are worth because of plummeting prices, an issue at the heart of the nation's housing crisis. Under the plan, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) would encourage lenders to forgive a portion of those loans and issue new, smaller mortgages in exchange for the financial backing of the federal government.

The plan is similar to elements in legislation proposed two weeks ago by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said officials. Administration officials said they believe they can accomplish some of the same goals through regulatory changes, though important details have yet to be nailed down.

If enacted, the plan would mark the first time the White House has committed federal dollars to help the most hard-pressed borrowers, people struggling to repay loans that are huge relative to their incomes and the diminished value of their homes. That may offer encouragement to the banking industry and help silence Democrats, who have accused the White House of rescuing Wall Street investment banks while ignoring distressed homeowners, but it could agitate conservatives, who are likely to view the FHA plan as yet another government bailout.

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We're Fighting For Survival, Says Mahdi Army Commander
2008-03-29 02:49:50

A senior commander in the Mahdi army said Friday the militia is fighting a battle for survival in Basra against a rival Shia faction seeking to obliterate it ahead of September elections.

Fighting broke out in Basra on Tuesday when Iraqi government forces launched an offensive against Shia militia in the city. Overnight, U.S. jets carried out air strikes in support of Iraqi forces in at least two locations.

Shiek Ali al-Sauidi, a prominent member of the Moqtada al-Sadr-led movement in Basra, said his men were being targeted not by the Iraqi government but by government militias loyal to the rival Supreme Islamic Council faction.

"They are a executing a very well drawn plan. They are trying to exterminate the Sadrists and cut and isolate the movement before the September local elections," he said in a telephone interview with the Guardian.

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White House Staffer Resigns Amid Investigations
2008-03-29 02:49:09

A mid-level White House staff member has resigned after informing officials of allegations that he misused federal grant money for personal gain before he joined the government, a White House official said yesterday.

Felipe Sixto quit as special assistant to President Bush on March 20 after learning that the nonprofit Center for a Free Cuba planned to take legal action against him, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. Sixto was chief of staff at the Washington, D.C.,-based group for about three years before joining the White House's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs last July.

The matter has been referred to the Justice Department, and the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the source of the grant funds, was investigating as well, said Stanzel.

"The president was notified about this," said Stanzel. "He thought the proper actions were being taken and the matter should be appropriately investigated."

Sixto, 28, did not return two telephone messages left Friday at his home in Frederick, Maryland.

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Europe-wide Radio Network Could Pick Up Alien Broadcast
2008-03-30 03:31:31

Scientists are finalizing plans to link radio wave detectors in five countries and create a device sensitive enough to pick up signals from worlds the other side of the galaxy.

By connecting banks of detectors in fields across Britain, France, Holland, Sweden and Germany, astronomers aim to create a radio telescope that will have the accuracy of a machine the size of Europe. They believe it could solve some of the universe's most important secrets - including the discovery of radio broadcasts from intelligent extraterrestrials.

"This system works by collecting radio waves over a range of frequencies," said cosmologist Robert Nichol, of Portsmouth University. "These can then be analyzed using arrays of computers which can identify patterns from the data streaming from our detectors.

"Some of these signals will reveal information about the early universe, for example. However, broadcasts by alien intelligences would also be revealed by our computers because we will, primarily, be collecting radio signals. Signals that have regular patterns will give themselves away as the possible handiwork of extraterrestrials. Such work is a bonus, however. The main work of the system is basic research," added Nichol.

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Environment: Times Runs Out For Islanders On Global Warming's Front Line
2008-03-30 03:30:16
Rising sea levels threaten to flood many of the islands in the fertile Ganges Delta, leading to an environmental disaster and a refugee crisis for India and Bangladesh.

Dependra Das stretches out his arms to show his flaky skin, covered in raw saltwater sores. His fingers submerged in soft black clay for up to six hours a day, he spends his time frantically shoring up a crude sea dyke surrounding his remote island home in the Sundarbans, the world's largest delta.

Alongside him, across the beach in long lines, the villagers of Ghoramara island, the women dressed in purple, orange and green saris, do the same, trying to hold back the tide.

For the islanders, each day begins and ends the same way. As dusk descends, the people file back to their thatched huts. By morning the dyke will be breached and work will begin again. Here in the vast, low-lying Sundarbans, the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet, Das, 70, is preparing to lose his third home to the sea in as many years; here global warming is a reality, not a prediction.

Over the course of a three-day boat trip through the Sundarbans, The Observer found Das' plight to be far from unique. Across the delta, homes have been swept away, fields ravaged by worsening monsoons, livelihoods destroyed. It confirms what experts are already warning: that the effects of global warming will be most severe on those who did the least to contribute to it but can least afford measures to adapt or save themselves. For these islanders, building clay walls is their only option.

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British Army Joins Battle To Control Basra
2008-03-30 03:28:44

British troops became involved in the intense fighting in Basra Saturday night as clashes continued between Iraqi government forces and Shia militia. The army launched artillery shells at a mortar position of the Shia Mahdi Army, led by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in the al-Klalaf area in the north of the city that had been firing on Iraqi troops.

Military sources admitted that the militia had consolidated a number of "criminal strongpoints" in the city. The involvement of the British is the first time U.K. forces have engaged militias since the Iraqi army operation, personally supervised by the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, began in the city last Tuesday morning.

British army spokesman in Basra, Major Tom Holloway, told the BBC the engagement had been successful: "This is something we were always prepared to do. There are still a number of militia criminal strongpoints in the city, and we know where they are. Elsewhere they are consolidating their positions and gains."

British aircraft have been patrolling above the city during the course of the operation, but have not so far been used to attack militia positions.

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Plea To Save Homes Puts Republican Lawmakers In Bind
2008-03-29 17:01:41
In Los Portales, a pink and terra cotta condominium complex in Hialeah, Florida, full of hard-striving Hispanic immigrants and often harder luck, many of Juan Carpio’s neighbors are losing their homes.

To the right of his ground-floor unit, two apartments are in the early stages of foreclosure. Across the street, a three-bedroom unit has been seized by a bank. To the left, another one is up for auction.

“The government should help,” said Carpio, 57, a former truck driver whose wife is a security guard. “Somebody ought to do something.”

In Carpio’s view, that somebody could be Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, an eight-term Republican who represents Hialeah and whose district slices through Miami-Dade into Broward, two counties in the top 10 of foreclosures nationwide.

Yet, as Congress returns from a two-week recess on Monday for a furious debate over whether to help homeowners on the brink of default, Diaz-Balart is caught in a crunch of his own.

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Iraqi, U.S. Assault On Basra Militias Stalls
2008-03-29 17:01:08
Shiite militias in Basra openly controlled wide swaths of the city on Saturday and staged increasingly bold raids on Iraqi government forces sent in five days ago to wrest control from the gunmen, witnesses said, as Iraqi political leaders grew increasingly critical of the stalled assault.

Witnesses in Basra said that members of the most powerful militia in the city, the Mahdi Army, were setting up checkpoints and controlling traffic in many places ringing the central district controlled by some of the 30,000 Iraqi Army and police forces involved in the assault. Fighters were regularly attacking the government forces, then quickly retreating.

Senior members of several political parties said Saturday that the operation, ordered by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, had been poorly planned. The growing discontent adds a new level of complication to the American-led effort to demonstrate that the Iraqi government had made strides toward being able to operate a functioning country and keep the peace without thousands of American troops.

Since the Basra assault began Tuesday, violence has spread to Shiite districts of Baghdad and other places in Iraq  where Shiite militiamen hold sway, raising fears that security gains often attributed to a yearlong American troop buildup could be at risk. Any widespread breakdown of a cease-fire called by Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who founded the Mahdi Army, could bring the country right back to the sectarian violence that racked it in 2006 and 2007.

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Asking A Judge To Save The World, And Maybe A Whole Lot More
2008-03-29 02:50:05
Two men are pursuing a lawsuit to stop scientists from using a giant particle accelerator, claiming it could create a black hole that may eat up the Earth.

More fighting in Iraq. Somalia in chaos. People in this country can’t afford their mortgages and in some places now they can’t even afford rice.

None of this nor the rest of the grimness on the front page today will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole that will spell the end of the Earth - and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely - though they have done some checking just to make sure.

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Treasury Dept. Plan Would Widen Fed Reserve's Power
2008-03-29 02:49:29
Plan that would give the Federal Reserve broad authority to oversee financial market stability could expose Wall Street to new scrutiny, but it avoids a call for tighter regulation.

The Treasury Department will propose on Monday that Congress give the Federal Reserve broad new authority to oversee financial market stability, in effect allowing it to send SWAT teams into any corner of the industry or any institution that might pose a risk to the overall system.

The proposal is part of a sweeping blueprint to overhaul the nation’s hodgepodge of financial regulatory agencies, which many experts say failed to recognize rampant excesses in mortgage lending until after they set off what is now the worst financial calamity in decades.

Democratic lawmakers are all but certain to say the proposal does not go far enough in restricting the kinds of practices that caused the financial crisis. Many of the proposals, like those that would consolidate regulatory agencies, have nothing to do with the turmoil in financial markets. And some of the proposals could actually reduce regulation.

According to a summary provided by the administration, the plan would consolidate an alphabet soup of banking and securities regulators into a powerful trio of overseers responsible for everything from banks and brokerage firms to hedge funds and private equity firms.

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Indians Pressure Dow On Bhopal Cleanup
2008-03-29 02:48:52
Twenty-three years after a Union Carbide chemical plant in India spewed poisonous gas in what remains the world's worst industrial disaster, survivors are demanding a cleanup of toxic chemicals at the abandoned factory site that have contaminated their groundwater.

On Friday, about 70 protesters arrived in New Delhi after marching 500 miles from Bhopal, the city whose name has become synonymous with the catastrophe. Organizers of the march said about 50 more people will arrive by train every day until their demands are met.

The marchers say Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., which acquired Union Carbide Corp. in 2001, is responsible for cleaning up the site and paying the medical bills incurred after their exposure to the toxic water. They have also asked Dow to produce representatives of Union Carbide who have been charged with culpable homicide in the disaster.

"After 23 years, the neighborhood around the factory still shows a high rate of birth defects, cancer and other disabilities," said Nafisa Khan, 40, who marched from her home near the factory site to New Delhi. "The toxic chemicals buried in and around the factory have entered groundwater, and we use the contaminated water for drinking, cooking and bathing. First we were hit by the poisonous gas and then by this bad water that gives us skin diseases, chest pain and loss of appetite."

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