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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday March 27 2008 - (813)

Thursday March 27 2008 edition
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U.S. Increases Unilateral Strikes In Pakistan's Tribal Areas
2008-03-27 03:44:50

The United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that Pakistan's new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations in that country, according to U.S. officials.

Washington is worried that pro-Western President Pervez Musharraf, who has generally supported the U.S. strikes, will almost certainly have reduced powers in the months ahead, and so it wants to inflict as much damage as it can to al-Qaeda's network now, said the officials.

Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives. The moves followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban, said the officials.

About 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters have been killed in the attacks, all near the Afghan border, said U.S. and Pakistani officials. The goal was partly to jar loose information on senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, by forcing them to move in ways that U.S. intelligence analysts can detect. Local sources are providing better information to guide the strikes, said the officials.

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Shuttle Endeavour Ends 16-Day Mission With Night Landing
2008-03-26 23:05:06
The space shuttle Endeavour returned safely to earth on Wednesday evening, completing a record-breaking 16-day mission to the International Space Station.

The shuttle landed at 8:39 p.m., roughly an hour after the shuttle’s commander, Capt. Dominic L. Gorie, fired twin braking rockets that brought the spacecraft out of orbit.

Mission managers canceled the day’s first landing opportunity, which would have brought the Endeavour to the runway at 7:05 p.m.; clouds threatened to obscure the site. After consulting with weather officers and Captain Gorie, however, the managers determined that conditions were improving by the time the second opportunity of the day came around and ordered Captain Gorie to bring the shuttle out of orbit and bring it and its crew of seven astronauts down to the 15,000-foot landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center.

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Update: Huge Blast Kills L.A. Firefighter, Injures Another
2008-03-26 23:04:33
An explosion rocked the Westchester area Wednesday, killing a Los Angeles firefighter and critically injuring another.

The firefighters were called to Sepulveda and La Tijera boulevards at 1:57 p.m. after a report of smoke from a possible fire. After they arrived, there was a larger explosion that sent several manhole covers flying, said Ron Myers, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. Firefighters called in a rescue helicopter to transport the injured individuals to a nearby hospital, said Myers.

The names of the firefighters have not been released, said Myers.

A source close to the investigation told the Los Angeles Times that the blast was so powerful it sent one of the firefighters through a wall and into a parking lot. The investigation into the bast is focusing on a possible electrical malfunction, said the source.
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Small U.S. Stations Sue Over Digital TV Plan
2008-03-26 21:02:13
The low-power television industry is facing a "death sentence" because of a flaw in the government's plan to force broadcasters to shift to digital broadcasting and have asked a federal judge for a reprieve.

The Community Broadcasters Association, which represents owners of small television stations, wants the Federal Communications Commission to ban all digital set top converter boxes that are not equipped to receive an analog signal, a request that has the potential to derail the biggest broadcasting transition since color television.

As of Feb. 18, 2009, all full-power television stations in the U.S. are required to stop broadcasting an analog signal. Anyone who gets programming through an antenna and does not have a newer-model digital TV set will need to buy a box that converts the digital signal to analog. The government is providing two $40 coupons per household that can be used to buy these boxes.

The problem facing the 2,600 low-power television stations represented by the association is that they are not subject to the deadline. Most of the converter boxes now on sale will actually block the low-power analog signal from those stations, while the full-power digital signal will display normally.

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Report Assails KPMG Auditor For Work At New Century Financial
2008-03-26 20:41:37
In a sweeping accusation against one of the country’s largest accounting firms, an investigator released a report on Wednesday that said “improper and imprudent practices” by a once high-flying mortgage company were condoned and enabled by its auditors.

KPMG, one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, endorsed a move by New Century Financial, a failed mortgage company, to change its accounting practices in a way that allowed the lender to report a profit, rather than a loss, at the height of the housing boom, an independent report commissioned by a division of the Justice Department concluded.

The result of a five-month investigation, the report is the most comprehensive and damning document that has been released about the failings of a mortgage business. Some accusations echoed claims that surfaced about the accounting firm Arthur Andersen during the collapse of Enron, the energy giant, more than six years ago.

The 580-page report documents how New Century lowered its reserves for loans that investors were forcing it to buy back even as such repurchases were surging. Had it not changed its accounting, the company would have reported a loss rather a profit in the second half of 2006. The company first acknowledged that its accounting was wrong in February 2007 and sought bankruptcy protection less than two months later as its lenders stopped doing business with it.

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Saddam Paid For Congressmen's 2002 Trip To Iraq
2008-03-26 20:41:07
Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

An indictment unsealed in Detroit, Michigan, accuses Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a member of a Michigan nonprofit group, of arranging for three members of Congress to travel to Iraq in October 2002 at the behest of Saddam's regime. Prosecutors say Iraqi intelligence officials paid for the trip through an intermediary.

At the time, the Bush administration was trying to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Iraq.

The lawmakers are not named in the indictment but the dates correspond to a trip by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott, of Washington, David Bonior, of Michigan, and Mike Thompson, of California. None was charged and Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said investigators ''have no information whatsoever'' any of them knew the trip was underwritten by Saddam.

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Iraq: Maliki Gives Shiite Militias 72 Hours To Halt Fighting
2008-03-26 15:05:21
A day after launching a huge operation that ignited heavy fighting in two of Iraq's largest cities, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki gave the Shiite militias controlling the southern oil city of Basra an ultimatum on Wednesday: lay down their weapons within 72 hours or face more severe consequences.

As the fighting in Basra and Baghdad intensified on Wednesday, the American military command, speaking for the first time about the crackdown, characterized it as an Iraqi-led operation in which American-led forces were playing only an advisory role. An Iraqi hospital official said that the battle in Basra between Iraqi forces and Shiite militias led by Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, had so far claimed the lives of 40 people and wounded at least 200, figures that include militia members as well as Iraqi officers.

The fighting threatens to destabilize a long-term truce that had helped reduce the level of violence in the five-year-old Iraq war. Maliki, who considered the operation so important that he traveled to the city to direct the fighting himself, issued his ultimatum on Iraqi state television.

“Those who were deceived into carrying weapons must deliver themselves and make a written pledge to promise they will not repeat such action within 72 hours,” he said. “Otherwise, they will face the most severe penalties.”

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India's Tata Motors To Buy Jaguar, Land Rover For $2.3 Billion
2008-03-26 15:04:25
India's Tata Motors Ltd. on Wednesday announced a $2.3 billion deal to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Co. in a transaction that gives the emerging Indian automaker a model line-up ranging from ultra-cheap to high-end luxury.

For Tata, which plans to launch the ultra-cheap $2,500 Nano or "People's Car," the addition of the profitable Land Rover brand provides an edge against its Indian rival, Mahindra & Mahindra, which had also pursued a deal with Ford.

Ford, for its part, gets to shed the money-losing Jaguar brand and gains a cash infusion at a time when the U.S. market is slumping and it is attempting to bounce back from combined losses of more than $15 billion over the past two years.

The sale price is roughly 40 percent of what Ford paid for the two brands. Ford acquired Jaguar for $2.5 billion in 1989 but failed to turn the storied British nameplate into a higher-volume brand as losses mounted. Ford paid $2.75 billion for Land Rover in 2000.

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American Airlines Cancels 200 Flights
2008-03-26 15:03:19
American Airlines canceled about 200 flights on Wednesday so its crews can inspect some wire bundles aboard its MD-80 aircraft.

The cancelled flights represent less than 10 percent of the nation's biggest airline's scheduled service for the day.

The need for the new inspections became known during an audit of American by a joint team of inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Fort Worth-based airline, according to a statement from American.

''We are reinspecting the MD-80s to make sure the wiring is installed and secured exactly according to the directive,'' American spokesman Tim Wagner said in the statement, which did not describe the function of the wiring.

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Cigarette Company Paid For Lung Cancer Study
2008-03-26 03:20:23

In October 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College jolted the cancer world with a study saying that 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans.

Small print at the end of the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, noted that it had been financed in part by a little-known charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment. A review of tax records by The New York Times shows that the foundation was underwritten almost entirely by $3.6 million in grants from the parent company of the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands.

The foundation got four grants from the Vector Group, Liggett’s parent, from 2000 to 2003.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, editor in chief of the medical journal, said he was surprised. “In the seven years that I’ve been here, we have never knowingly published anything supported by” a cigarette maker, said Dr. Drazen.

An increasing number of universities do not accept grants from cigarette makers, and a growing awareness of the influence that companies can have over research outcomes, even when donations are at arm’s length, has led nearly all medical journals and associations to demand that researchers accurately disclose financing sources.

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German Spy Chief Warns Of Al-Qaeda's Growing Strength In North Africa
2008-03-26 03:19:49
Intellpuke: Spiegel, Germany's news magazine, recently interviewed Ernst Uhrlau, the president of Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, about the risk of attack by Islamist terrorists in Germany, how German Muslims are training in camps in Afghanistan and the risk from al-Qaeda in North Africa. The interview follows:

The fight against Islamist terrorism is becoming increasingly globalized as intelligence agencies around the world cooperate and share information. One of the major nodes in that network is Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which is based in Pullach in Bavaria.

Together with Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the BND keeps an eye on the activities of Muslim extremists in Germany and abroad. Although there has never been a major Islamist terror attack in Germany, a number of Islamist plots have been hatched in the country - the most famous of which being the 9/11 attacks, which were partly planned by a terror cell in Hamburg.

In recent years, there have been two major plots to carry out attacks in Germany, both of which failed for different reasons. In 2006, two Lebanese men - popularly known as the "suitcase bombers" - tried to detonate bombs on trains in Germany. The plan failed when the bombs failed to explode, due to flaws in their construction.

Then in 2007, German authorities foiled a plot by a three-strong terror cell in the Sauerland region. The men, two of whom were German converts to Islam, had planned to target U.S. Army bases and airports in Germany. The conspiracy, which was uncovered after a months-long surveillance operation by the German authorities, sparked fears that the kind of "home-grown" terrorism seen in the United Kingdom had spread to Germany.

Spiegel talked to Ernst Uhrlau, head of the BND, about the fight against Islamist terror, the dangers posed by converts to Islam and how marginalization of Muslims can lead to radicalization.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Uhrlau, last September three Islamists were arrested in the village of Oberschledorn in the Sauerland region. They were in the process of storing explosives for use in a number of potentially devastating attacks. Six years after Sep. 11, 2001, are terrorists now taking aim at Germany?

Uhrlau: We are part of a broad European danger zone. Militant Islamists have already planned attacks seven times. According to information obtained by Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, we must now assume that it is highly likely that further attacks are planned. We are worried that in the future we will not be able to prevent all the operations.

SPIEGEL: What role does Germany play in the terrorists' strategy?

Uhrlau: On the one hand, we are a target for attack by Islamist terrorists. One example is the Cologne suitcase bombers -- two Lebanese men who deposited homemade explosive devices in German regional trains in the summer of 2006. The fact that the device didn't explode was apparently due to mistakes the men had made in assembling the bombs. On the other hand, we are also a place where terrorists prepare attacks they intend to carry out in other countries. For example, the so-called Meliani Group used Frankfurt as a base in 2000 when it planned an attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France.

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Commentary: Banks In Question
2008-03-26 03:18:50
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Jean-Pierre Balligand, a Socialist Party member in the French Parliament representing Aisne, and appeared in France's Le Monde newspaper's edition for Wednesday, March 19, 2008. M. Balligand's commentary follows:

Virtually each week we see central banks - with the American Federal Reserve in the lead - injecting hundreds of millions of dollars to increase the liquidity of financial markets threatened by the crisis. Despite some people's reassuring projections, that they should be brought in this way to play fireman - on a grand scale and with great urgency - shows that this crisis and the risks it brings to bear on the global economy are far from extinguished.

The central banks' interventions amount to helping out the actors - that is, the banks - that to differing degrees are the cause of the present crisis. From that perspective, and although the means they use are very different, one may compare the U.S. initiative to the British Treasury's temporary nationalization of the Northern Rock bank. Both sets of decisions were based on the old "too big to fail" principle, which maintains that when the consequences that certain banks' failure could provoke are too significant, it's necessary to socialize their losses.

This necessity to alleviate banks' problems with the public's money may understandably surprise when we compare it to the customary litany of profits the major banks realize. To take French examples only: BNP, the Credit mutuel, Societe generale, Dexia and the Banque populaire, Caisse d'epargne and Credit agricole groups posted cumulative net profits from 2004 to 2006 of close to $75 billion.

Privatization of the profits when all goes well and socialization of the losses when all goes badly raises four questions. First of all, are banks businesses like any other? Some are rediscovering that banks are not businesses like any other: unlike businesses, they are the object of special regulation and must respect specific rules with respect to their capitalization.

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U.S. Initially Unconcerned About Missile Parts To Taiwan
2008-03-27 03:44:39

After Taiwanese officials reported in early 2007 that four packages they had received from the U.S. military did not contain the helicopter batteries they had expected, U.S. officials suggested that Taiwan simply dispose of the incorrect items - which turned out to be parts for U.S. nuclear missiles.

In e-mail correspondence over several months between U.S. defense officials and Taiwan, the U.S. officials assumed that the erroneous shipment simply contained the wrong type of batteries, not that Taiwan had received four classified nuclear-related items that never should have left U.S. soil.

U.S. government officials familiar with the communications said yesterday that at some point between August 2006 and last week, Taiwan opened the drum-shaped packages and noticed that the items inside were labeled "secret" and that they included Mark 12 nose cones, which are used with U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Since early 2007, Taiwan had been asking U.S. officials to either reimburse it for the missing batteries or replace them, as part of billions of dollars in U.S. military sales to Taiwan over the past decade, but after the situation was resolved and U.S. authorities told the Taiwanese to get rid of the items they had received - missing warning signs of a serious breach - the Taiwanese double-checked the packages because of worries that discarding them could be dangerous.

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Environment: Virus Kills Chile's Salmon
2008-03-26 23:04:49
Looking out over the low green mountains jutting through miles of placid waterways here in southern Chile, it is hard to imagine that anything could be amiss. But beneath the rows of neatly laid netting around the fish farms just off the shore, the salmon are dying.

A virus called infectious salmon anemia, or I.S.A., is killing millions of salmon destined for export to Japan, Europe and the United States. The spreading plague has sent shivers through Chile’s third-largest export industry, which has left local people embittered by laying off more than 1,000 workers.

It has also opened the companies to fresh charges from biologists and environmentalists who say that the breeding of salmon in crowded underwater pens is contaminating once-pristine waters and producing potentially unhealthy fish.

Some say the industry is raising its fish in ways that court disaster, and producers are coming under new pressure to change their methods to preserve southern Chile’s cobalt blue waters for tourists and other marine life.

“All these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls,” said Dr. Felipe C. Cabello, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College in Valhalla that has studied Chile’s fishing industry. “Parasitic infections, viral infections, fungal infections are all disseminated when the fish are stressed and the centers are too close together.”

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Update: Giant Antarctic Ice Shelf Breaks Into The Sea
2008-03-26 21:02:26

A vast hunk of floating ice has broken away from the Antarctic peninsula, threatening the collapse of a much larger ice shelf behind it, in a development that has shocked climate scientists.

Satellite images show that about 160 square miles of the Wilkins ice shelf has been lost since the end of February, leaving the ice interior now "hanging by a thread".

The collapsing shelf suggests that climate change could be forcing change much more quickly than scientists had predicted.

"The ice shelf is hanging by a thread," said Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "We'll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be."

The Wilkins shelf covers an area of 5,600 square miles (14,500 square kilometers). It is now protected by just a thin thread of ice between two islands.

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Eli Lilly Settles Alaska Suit Over Zyprexa
2008-03-26 20:41:47
Eli Lilly has agreed to pay $15 million to the state of Alaska to settle a lawsuit claiming that the company’s schizophrenia drug Zyprexa caused patients to develop diabetes, Lilly and the state said Wednesday morning.

The settlement is something of a surprise, coming three weeks into a trial over the state’s claims in Anchorage. The state sued to recoup medical bills it said were generated by Medicaid patients who developed diabetes while taking Zyprexa. The case had not yet reached the jury, although closing arguments were expected this week.

Because Alaska is such a small state, with only 670,000 residents, the $15 million figure is a relatively large payment by Lilly. Many other states have sued Lilly with similar claims or are participating in settlement talks led by federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania.

There is no way of knowing whether the $15 million payment to Alaska will represent a benchmark for the broader talks, but if it does, Lilly might need to pay billions of dollars to resolve the bigger cases. Lilly and the prosecutors have already discussed an overall settlement of the state and federal investigations and suits that would require Lilly to pay $1 billion to $2 billion in fines and restitution, according to people who have been briefed on the talks.

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Explosion Sends Manhole Covers Flying, 1 L.A. Firefighter Killed, Another Critically Injured
2008-03-26 20:41:21
A Los Angeles firefighter was killed and another critically injured Wednesday afternoon after they were apparently hit by exploding manhole covers while responding to a call in Westchester, said a department spokesman.

The firefighters were called to Sepulveda and La Tijera boulevards at 1:57 p.m. after a report of smoke from a possible fire. Once they arrived, there was a larger explosion, and they were hit by the manhole covers, said Ron Myers, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. Firefighters called in a rescue helicopter to fly the injured individuals to a nearby hospital, Myers said. Just before the blast, officials noticed smoke coming from two manhole covers.

The names of the firefighters have not been released, he said.

The blast also did significant damage to a bank building on Sepulveda Boulevard. TV footage showed the front of the building sheared off.

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson Wants Investment Firms Regulated
2008-03-26 15:05:38
The crash of Wall Street's once mighty Bear Stearns underscores the need to bring investment houses under the kind of federal oversight that has long been given to commercial banks, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Wednesday.

In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Paulson said the Bush administration will soon release just such a blueprint in an effort to promote a smoother functioning of financial markets.

For months the financial markets 0 rocked by the double blows of a housing and credit crises - have been suffering through extreme turmoil, threatening to plunge the U.S. economy into a deep recession. The modern U.S. financial system is a complex web of financial players - institutions and individuals and practices that are subject to different rules and regulations. Commercial banks, long a financial bedrock, are subject to regulations and supervision.

"This latest episode has highlighted that the world has changed as has the role of other non-bank financial institutions and the interconnectedness among all financial institutions," Paulson said. "These changes require us all to think more broadly about the regulatory and supervisory framework that is consistent with the promotion and maintenance of financial stability," he added.

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Arrests In Tibet Protests In The Hundreds
2008-03-26 15:04:43
China said Wednesday that 660 people implicated in Tibetan protests and riots in western China over the past two weeks had surrendered to the authorities.

The announcement was part of the government’s effort to quell continuing unrest in the area, which includes Tibet and adjoining provinces with large Tibetan populations. It is the worst outbreak of anti-Chinese violence in 20 years.

It was unclear from the announcement how many of the 660 had surrendered voluntarily and how many would be formally charged with criminal offenses. Nor was it clear whether all were ethnic Tibetans.

The unrest, which began with a March 14 riot in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, has already cast a pall over preparations for the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer and energized human rights advocates and others who contend that China’s rule over the area has been harsh and that Tibet should be independent.

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Remains Of Human Ancestors Found In Spain
2008-03-26 15:03:51

Excavations in a cave in the mountains of northern Spain have uncovered the oldest known remains of human ancestors in Western Europe, scientists reported Wednesday.

The fossils of a lower jaw and teeth, more than 1.1 million years old, were found in sediments along with stone tools and animal bones that appeared to have been butchered. The remains have been attributed to the previously known species Homo antecessor, a possible ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.

The discovery is described in the current issue of the journal Nature by a team of Spanish and American scientists led by Eudald Carbonell of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleontology and Social Evolution at Tarragona, Spain.

The scientists, noting that the earliest presence of human ancestors in Europe is “one of the most debated topics in paleoanthropology,” said the site of Sima del Elefante in the Atapuerca Mountains held the “oldest, most accurately dated record” of both fossils and artifacts of human occupation in Western Europe.

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Actor Richard Widmark Dies At 93
2008-03-26 15:02:50

Richard Widmark, who created a villain in his first movie role who was so repellent and frightening that the actor became a star overnight, died Monday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He was 93.

His death was announced Wednesday morning by his wife, Susan Blanchard. She said that Mr. Widmark had fractured a vertebra in recent months and that his conditioned had worsened.

As Tommy Udo, a giggling, psychopathic killer in the 1947 gangster film “Kiss of Death,” Mr. Widmark tied up an old woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred Dunnock) with a cord ripped from a lamp and shoved her down a flight of stairs to her death.

“The sadism of that character, the fearful laugh, the skull showing through drawn skin, and the surely conscious evocation of a concentration-camp degenerate established Widmark as the most frightening person on the screen,” the critic David Thomson wrote in “The Biographical Dictionary of Film.”

The performance won Mr. Widmark his sole Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor.

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U.S. Credit Losses Will Hit $1.2 Trillion
2008-03-26 03:20:07
Goldman Sachs forecasts that worldwide credit losses from the ongoing market turmoil will reach $1.2 trillion, and that Wall Street will account for nearly 40 per cent of the losses.

U.S. leveraged institutions, which include banks, broker-dealers, hedge funds and government-sponsored enterprises, will suffer roughly $460 billion in credit losses after loan loss provisions, Goldman Sachs economists wrote in a research note.

Losses from this group of players are crucial because they have led to a dramatic pullback in credit availability, as they cut back lending to shore up their capital and preserve capital requirements, said the Goldman note.

Goldman estimated that $120 billion in write-offs have been reported by these leveraged institutions since the credit crunch began last northern summer.
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Chevron Reportedly In Talks To Tap Iraq's Oil
2008-03-26 03:19:18

Chevron Corp. and other international oil companies are negotiating with the Iraq Ministry of Oil to begin tapping into some of the country's largest oil fields, according to published reports.

Specifically, the companies are negotiating for two-year contracts that would help Iraq boost production at existing oil fields.

For years, the companies have had their eyes on long-term contracts to find and develop new oil fields in Iraq, which is believed to hold the world's third-largest oil reserves. The contracts under discussion are far more limited than that, but they represent an important step in opening Iraq's oil industry to foreign involvement after years of state control.

San Ramon's Chevron already has held discussions with the Iraqi Oil Ministry about one of the short-term contracts, according to reports in the Associated Press, Dow Jones, Reuters and United Press International news services. BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total also are pursuing the contracts.

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