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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Tuesday March 25 2008 - (813)

Tuesday March 25 2008 edition
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U.S. Cargo Ship Fires On Egyptian Craft, Killing 1, Wounding 2
2008-03-25 03:51:48
A U.S.-flagged cargo ship contracted by the Pentagon to ferry military equipment fired on a motorboat while preparing to enter the Suez Canal on Monday night, U.S. Navy officials said. Egyptian officials said one Egyptian man was killed and two wounded in the incident.

According to a statement issued by the commander of the Navy's 5th Fleet, the cargo ship used its radio and other measures to warn several small boats that had approached to turn away. But one motorboat, which Egyptian officials said carried local merchandise to sell to crew members of larger ships, continued toward the cargo ship and was fired on.

The statement, by the Bahrain-based command that oversees American naval vessels in the Middle East, described the gunfire as "warning shots." But news service accounts, citing Egyptian navy and security sources, reported that shots hit men in the small boat. The Associated Press identified the Egyptian who was killed as Mohammed Fouad.

Both the U.S. Navy statement and the Egyptian sources, who were not identified by the news services, said the cargo ship was about to enter the Suez Canal, traveling northward toward the Mediterranean Sea, when it was approached by the motorboat. Neither Egyptian nor American officials gave details on the cargo aboard the U.S.-flagged ship, which the Egyptians identified as the Global Patriot. But a recent report in the defense trade publication Inside the Navy said that the Navy's sealift command had recently contracted the Global Patriot for a three-month stint delivering heavily armored troop transporters from manufacturers in South Africa to the Persian Gulf.
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Environment: Bats Perish, And No One Knows Why
2008-03-25 03:51:23

Al Hicks was standing outside an old mine in the Adirondack Mountains, the largest bat hibernaculum, or winter resting place, in New York State.

It was broad daylight in the middle of winter, and bats flew out of the mine about one a minute. Some had fallen to the ground where they flailed around on the snow like tiny wind-broken umbrellas, using the thumbs at the top joint of their wings to gain their balance.

All would be dead by nightfall. Mr. Hicks, a mammal specialist with the state’s Environmental Conservation Department, said: “Bats don’t fly in the daytime, and bats don’t fly in the winter. Every bat you see out here is a ‘dead bat flying,’ so to speak.”

They have plenty of company. In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.

Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control.

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Blasts Hit Comoros Island After Invasion Threat
2008-03-25 03:50:47
Explosions and gunfire resounded in the Indian Ocean nation of Comoros Tuesday as the government announced it was invading Anjouan to oust a renegade colonel who seized the key island last May.

Blasts and bursts of machine gun fire began around dawn and grew louder as the morning wore on, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene.

"Four hundred to 450 troops have landed in Anjouan," Defense Chief of Staff Mohamed Dosara said on the main island of Grand Comore. "They have taken the airport" with a small amount of resistance. He said there was no word yet on casualties.

Some of the troops seized control of the island's main seaport. At least 80 African Union troops from Tanzania were among the landing force, buy only a handful of government soldiers were spotted by reporters. The troops apparently arrived aboard two ships that cruised earlier in the day along the coast toward the island's airport and seaport.

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Top Scientists Warn Against Rush To Biofuel
2008-03-24 22:34:38
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is preparing for a battle with the European Union over biofuels after one of the British government's leading scientists warned they could exacerbate climate change rather than combat it.

In an outspoken attack on a policy which comes into force next week, Professor Bob Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said it would be wrong to introduce compulsory quotas for the use of biofuels in petrol and diesel before their effects had been properly assessed.

"If one started to use biofuels ... and in reality that policy led to an increase in greenhouse gases rather than a decrease, that would obviously be insane," said Watson. "It would certainly be a perverse outcome."

Under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, all petrol and diesel must contain 2.5% of biofuels starting April 1. This is designed to ensure that Britain complies with a 2003 European Union directive that 5.75% of petrol and diesel come from renewable sources by 2010.

Yet scientists have increasingly questioned the sustainability of biofuels, warning that by increasing deforestation the energy source may be contributing to global warming.

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Commentary: Firefox, Safari, Or Neither?
2008-03-24 22:33:52
Intellpuke: This commentary is written by PC World writer Neil McAllister and appeared in the Washington Post edition for Monday, March 24, 2008.

Browsers were all the buzz over the weekend, beginning with the news that the developers of Mozilla Firefox feel  their latest build is ready for widespread general use,despite technically being still only a beta. I'm not ready to make the leap full-time yet myself, but I'll definitely be looking at Firefox's new features in the coming weeks.

Firefox has long been my browser of choice; and judging from my own, completely unscientific study, I'm not alone. Access logs for my own sites show some 33 percent of visitors now use the open source browser - an impressive market share for any software.

Apple's Safari browser, on the other hand, accounts for less than 5 percent of the hits. Apple appears determined to up this statistic, but the tactics it has chosen really get my goat - and here again I'm not alone.

Mozilla CEO John Lilly was the first to point out that Apple has now begun offering Safari as an optional download whenever you receive an update to its Quicktime or iTunes software on Windows. It's "optional" in the sense that you don't have to install it, but the installer assumes that you do want it, by default. If you don't want to download and install 50MB of Safari, you need to uncheck the box manually.

This really bugs me. I'm perfectly happy with Firefox, and I see no reason why I should have Apple twisting my arm to load up my system with another browser every time it issues a security update to Quicktime.
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Germany's Energy Execs Want More Nuclear Power Plants
2008-03-24 22:33:17

Senior German energy executives warned yesterday that Europe's biggest economy faces growing blackouts unless it follows the Franco-British lead in promoting new nuclear power stations.

They seized on a weekend report in the Guardian that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French president Nicolas Sarkozy will unveil an alliance to build nuclear plants and export the modern technology worldwide at their "Arsenal" summit at the Emirates Stadium this week to press the case for Germany to pursue its own new nuclear renaissance.

As commentators said Germany risked being left behind, Wulf Bernotat, E.ON chief executive, said the country could face an electricity shortage of 12 to 21 gigawatts (GW), according to official estimates from the German energy agency (Dena).

"The conclusion arises: we still need nuclear power and we need modern gas- and coal-fired power stations that emit significantly less CO2," he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

His comments echo similar warnings from Jurgen Grossmann, his opposite number at RWE, Germany's second-biggest energy group. Grossmann said that blackouts could occur as early as this summer because of problems with wind power and cooling difficulties in other power plants. RWE estimates Germany could face a 30GW power gap by 2015.

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U.S. Patriot Act Haunts Google Service
2008-03-24 16:27:13
Google Inc. is a year into its ground-shifting strategy to change the way people communicate and work, but the initiative to reinvent the way that people use software is running headlong into another new phenomenon of the information technology age: the unprecedented powers of security officials in the United States to conduct surveillance on communications.

Eighteen months ago, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, had an outdated computer system that was crashing daily and in desperate need of an overhaul. A new installation would have cost more than $1-million and taken months to implement. Google's service, however, took just 30 days to set up, didn't cost the university a penny and gave nearly 8,000 students and faculty leading-edge software, said Michael Pawlowski, Lakehead's vice-president of administration and finance.

U.S.-based Google spotlighted the university as one of the first to adopt its software model of the future, and today Pawlowski boasts the move was the right thing for Lakehead, saving it hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual operating costs. But he notes one trade-off: The faculty was told not to transmit any private data over the system, including student marks.

The U.S. Patriot Act, passed in the weeks after the September, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, gives authorities the means to secretly view personal data held by U.S. organizations. It is at odds with Canada's privacy laws, which require organizations to protect private information and inform individuals when their data has been shared.

At Lakehead, the deal with Google sparked a backlash. "The [university] did this on the cheap. By getting this free from Google, they gave away our rights," said Tom Puk, past president of Lakehead's faculty association, which filed a grievance against Lakehead administration that's still in arbitration.

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In Speech, Clinton Calls For Action On Housing Crisis
2008-03-24 16:26:32
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to one of her major campaign themes Monday - the economic impact of the home mortgage crisis - and called on Congress to provide $30 billion to help states and communities minimize the number of foreclosures.

In a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, Clinton proposed several other moves regarding foreclosures, such as tapping two former chairmen of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker, and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, to lead a “high-level emergency working group” to recommend ways to overhaul at-risk mortgages.

As much as she focused on policy ideas, Senator Clinton also dwelled on what she called “a crisis of confidence in our country,” and portrayed herself as the candidate best able to address the economic problems of middle-income and economically struggling families.

“We need a president who can restore our confidence,” said Clinton. “We need a president who is ready on day one to be commander in chief of our economy.”

Her speech comes as the mortgage crisis continues to ripple across the nation’s economy, threatening the homes of millions of Americans and endangering some of the nation’s leading financial institutions that helped finance these mortgages.

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Canada's Biovail Settles SEC Fraud Charge
2008-03-24 16:23:38

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Biovail Corp., its founder Eugene Melnyk, and three other current and former executives with accounting fraud.

The regulator said that the company has settled its case, and will pay a $10-million (U.S.) fine, but the charges against Melnyk, former chief financial officer Brian Crombie, current controller John Miszuk, and current chief financial officer Kenneth Howling remain outstanding.

None of the allegations has been proved in court or in regulatory proceedings.

The SEC alleges that the executives, “obsessed with meeting quarterly and annual earnings guidance, repeatedly overstated earnings and hid losses in order to deceive investors and create the appearance of achieving earnings goals.” When it became impossible to continue concealing Biovail's inability to meet its own earnings guidance, the company “actively misled investors and analysts about the reasons for the company's poor performance,” said the SEC.

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Rising U.S. Health Costs Cut Into U.S. Workers' Wages
2008-03-24 03:06:39

Recent history has not been kind to working-class Americans, who were down on the economy long before the word recession was uttered.

The main reason: spiraling health-care costs have been whacking away at their wages. Even though workers are producing more, inflation-adjusted median family income has dipped 2.6 percent - or nearly $1,000 annually since 2000.

Employees and employers are getting squeezed by the price of health care. The struggle to control health costs is viewed as crucial to improving wages and living standards for working Americans. Employers are paying more for health care and other benefits, leaving less money for pay increases. Benefits now devour 30.2 percent of employers' compensation costs, with the remaining money going to wages, the Labor Department reported this month. That is up from 27.4 percent in 2000.

"The way health-care costs have soared is unbelievable," said Katherine Taylor, a vice president for Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union."There are people out here making decisions about whether to keep their lights on or buy a prescription."

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Editorial: U.S. Parks In Peril
2008-03-24 03:06:00
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Monday, March 24, 2008.

The country’s treasured open spaces are no more immune to air pollution from coal-fired power plants than are its big cities. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain and kills trees. Mercury emissions poison streams. Nitrogen oxides and sulfates create smog and haze.

For all these reasons, Congress in 1977 amended the Clean Air Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to make a special effort to clean the air in national parks, wildlife refuges and other places of “scenic” and “historical” value it hoped to leave in somewhat better shape for future generations.

No administration since, Democratic or Republican, has paid any attention to this mandate, and despite high hopes, the Bush administration seems likely to fail as well. Two weeks ago, the anti-regulatory brigade in the Office of Management and Budget killed ozone standards that would have offered stronger protections for plants, trees, crops and wildlife. And the Environmental Protection Agency, ignoring protests from its own regional offices and the National Park Service, is nearing approval of regulations that would make it easier to build coal-fired plants near parks and wilderness areas without installing pollution controls.

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Mother Fights U.S. Army Over Son's Death
2008-03-24 03:05:07
Joan McDonald believes her son was a casualty of the war in Iraq, but the Army says that while he did suffer a severe head wound in a bomb blast, the cause of his death is undetermined, keeping him off the casualty list.

She and her family are demanding more answers in the death of Sgt. James W. McDonald.

"I don't want it to be an undetermined cause of death," said Joan McDonald. "That is ridiculous."

McDonald, 26, was injured in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq last May. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Hood, Texas. After treatment in Germany, McDonald returned to Fort Hood and underwent extensive facial surgery in August.

His body was found in his barracks apartment Nov. 12, a Monday. He was last seen alive the previous Friday.

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2 Divergent McCain Moments Rarely Mentioned
2008-03-24 03:04:11
Senator John McCain never fails to call himself a conservative Republican as he campaigns as his party’s presumptive presidential nominee. He often adds that he was a “foot soldier” in the Reagan revolution and that he believes in the bedrock conservative principles of small government, low taxes and the rights of the unborn.

What McCain almost never mentions are two extraordinary moments in his political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present: His discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.

There are wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or McCain and his advisers are telling the story. The Democrats, including Kerry, say that not only did McCain express interest but that it was his camp that initially reached out to them. McCain and his aides counter that in both cases the Democrats were the suitors and McCain the unwilling bride.

Either way, the episodes shed light on a bitter period in McCain’s life after the 2000 presidential election, when he was, at least in policy terms, drifting away from his own party. They also offer a glimpse into his psychological makeup and the difficulties in putting a label on his political ideology over many years in the Senate.

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Passport Backlog Put More Personal Data In The Hands Of Contractors
2008-03-25 03:51:36

The contract employees who snooped into the passport files of two presidential candidates this year were part of a private workforce that has increasingly assumed responsibility for processing the sensitive documents, State Department and industry officials said Monday.

The department began farming out the work to private firms nearly two decades ago, but the ratio of contractors to government employees exploded in the past year when passport applications suddenly began to overwhelm the State Department.

From 2001 to 2007, 40 to 45 percent of the workers handling passports were contractors, but now 60 percent of the 4,400 passport employees work for private firms, State Department officials said yesterday.

Three of those contract workers were discovered last week to have peeked at the private passport files of Sens. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and John McCain (R-Arizona).A State Department trainee last summer also looked at the file of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York). The workers are a small part of an army of contractors that has helped keep the official federal workforce flat at about 1.9 million workers for years. The number topped 7.6 million in 2005 - the most recent year for which figures are available - an increase of 2.4 million over 2002, according to Paul C. Light, of New York University, who compiles the most authoritative survey of government contract employees.

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Fox Refuses To Pay FCC Indecency Fine
2008-03-25 03:51:05
In an unusually aggressive step, Fox Broadcasting Monday refused to pay a $91,000 indecency fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission for an episode of a long-canceled reality television show, even as the network fights two other indecency fines in the Supreme Court.

The FCC proposed fining all 169 Fox-owned and affiliate stations a total of $1.2 million in 2004 for airing a 2003 episode of "Married by America," which featured digitally obscured nudity and whipped-cream-covered strippers.

Fox appealed immediately after the FCC ruling. Last month - four years later - the FCC changed its mind, saying it would fine only the 13 Fox stations located in cities that generated viewer complaints about the program. That reduced the fine to $91,000.

Despite the sharp reduction, Fox said it would not pay the fine on principle, calling it "arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent, and patently unconstitutional" in a statement released Monday.
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Wall Street Rallies After New J.P. Morgan Bid For Bear Stearns
2008-03-24 22:34:54
J.P. Morgan Chase Monday increased its offer for the investment banking giant Bear Stearns by about $2 billion, putting down a shareholder revolt and all but guaranteeing that the wounded Wall Street firm would be sold before its troubles spread to the rest of the financial system.

The deal had been threatened by Bear Stearns shareholders, who saw their fortunes nearly wiped out last week when the firm agreed to be acquired for a paltry $2 per share in a deal engineered by the Federal Reserve. The hastily arranged transaction was designed to prevent a bankruptcy that could have led to a string of other investment bank collapses.

Stocks surged Monday after investors learned that J.P. Morgan had boosted its offer to $10 a share. The Dow Jones industrial averagejumped 1.5 percent Monday and is up 3.7 percent in the last two days of trading. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, a broader measure, also rose 1.5 percent, and Bear Stearns stock zoomed ahead 89 percent.

A report showing an unexpected increase in home sales added to the cheer on Wall Street.

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Commentary: Just Like America, China Is Building A Multi-Ethinic Empire In The West
2008-03-24 22:34:14
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Parag Khanna and appeared in the Guardian edition for Tuesday, March 25, 2008. This commentary is an edited extract from Parag Khanna's book "The Second World: Empires and Influences in the New Global Order", which will be published in the U.K. next week.

It is difficult to find a westerner who does not intuitively support the idea of a free Tibet. But would Americans ever let go of Texas or California? For China, the Anglo-Russian great game for control of central Asia was neither inconclusive nor fruitless, something that cannot be said for Russia or Britain. Indeed, China was the big winner.

Boundary agreements in 1895 and 1907 gave Russia the Pamir mountains and established the Wakhan Corridor - the slender eastern tongue of Afghanistan that borders China - as a buffer to Britain. But rather than cede East Turkestan (Uighurstan) to the Russians, the British financed China's recapture of the territory, which it organized into Xinjiang (which means "New Dominions"). While West Turkestan was splintered into the hermetic Soviet Stans, China reasserted its traditional dominance over Xinjiang and Tibet, today its largest - and least stable - provinces. (Beijing has now accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with Muslim Uighur separatists in Xinjiang.) But without them, the country would be like America without all territory west of the Rockies: denied its continental majesty and status.

Every backpacker who has visited Tibet and Xinjiang in the past decade knows that the Chinese empire is painfully real: the western region's going concern is undoubtedly Chinese Manifest Destiny. With the end of the civil war in 1949, China endeavoured immediately to overcome the "tyranny of terrain" and tame the interminable mountain and desert landscapes with the aim of exploiting vast natural assets, establishing penal colonies and military bases, and expand the Lebensraum for its exploding population.

Both Tibet and Xinjiang have the misfortune of possessing resources China wants and of being situated on the path to resources China needs: Tibet has vast amounts of timber, uranium and gold, and the two territories constitute China's geographic gateway for trade flow outward - and energy flow inward - with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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U.K. Small Boat Commercial Fishermen Fear Ruin As E.U. Quota Limits Bite
2008-03-24 22:33:35

Skippers of fishing boats at some of England's most famous ports are facing ruin over strict European Union quotas, the Guardian newspaper reported. Three-quarters of the fleet is chasing just 3% of the allowed catch of the most valuable species of fish, such as cod, hake and monkfish and, last week, WWF U.K. called for five areas of the North Sea to be permanently closed, insisting that current quotas are dangerously generous.

The smallest boats are most at risk, and across the country fishermen are raising the prospect of blockading ports in protest at their plight or taking legal action to force the British government to find them more quota.

Westminster is trying to head off the rebellion among the English small boat fleet - the 2,500 vessels up to 10 meters (30 feet) long - partly by paying the skippers of the most prolific small boats to stop fishing, leaving more for the rest.

Britain's fisheries minister, Jonathan Shaw, said: "There are no easy answers. There is not enough quota to go around."

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U.S. Justice Dept. Approves XM-Sirius Merger
2008-03-24 22:32:58
The Justice Department on Monday approved Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.'s proposed $5 billion buyout of rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc.,saying the deal was unlikely to hurt competition or consumers.

The transaction was approved without conditions, despite opposition from consumer groups and an intense lobbying campaign by the land-based radio industry.

The combination still requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission, which prohibited a merger when it first granted satellite radio operating licenses in 1997.

The Justice Department, in a statement explaining its decision, said the combination of the companies won't hurt competition because the companies are not competing today. Customers must buy equipment that is exclusive to either XM or Sirius, and subscribers rarely switch providers.

"People just don't do that," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnett said in a conference call with reporters.

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Pakistan's New Prime Minister Frees Judges Under House Arrest
2008-03-24 16:26:59
A top loyalist of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was elected as Pakistan's prime minister Monday and immediately ordered the release from house arrest of judges detained last year by President Pervez Musharraf.

The action by Yousaf Raza Gillani, a senior official in Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, set up a challenge to Musharraf within hours after the Pakistani National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to make Gillani the nation's prime minister.

Hundreds of jubilant Pakistanis then converged on the Islamabad home of the detained former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, as police began removing barricades and barbed wire fences.

The crowd chanted "long live Benazir Bhutto!" and slogans demanding Musharraf's departure as hundreds of lawyers clad in the black coats worn in Pakistani courtrooms shouted triumphantly on the front lawn of Chaudhry's house.

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Commentary: It's High Time To Re-Regulate Banking
2008-03-24 16:24:01
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Wolfgang Kaden and appeared in the Spiegel Online edition for March 20, 2008.

The shocking and reckless practices of banks behind the recent plunge in global markets illustrates just how far they have veered from reality. Stricter, more effective supervision is necessary, and the banks' perverse bonus systems must be radically revamped.

Frenchman Jerome Kerviel offered a particularly enlightening commentary on the steadily worsening crisis in the financial markets. Just as a reminder, Kerviel is one of the young traders whose unauthorized trades resulted in the stunning loss of €4.9 billion ($7.66 billion) for his employer, French bank Societe Generale. When questioned by prosecutors, Kerviel offered this logical explanation for his actions: "Working in this profession, you lose your sense for sums." Then he added: "You get a little carried away."

The sad and, for many contemporaries, extremely costly truth is that the entire financial sector has apparently lost its sense for sums in recent years. We are all in the hands of tens of thousands of men and women like Kerviel, who pursue their business deals in banks around the globe.

Billions (yes, billions, not paltry millions) have been at play for months. No part of the money business seems truly clean today. After the debacles of investment banks like Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns, problems are beginning to pop up among hedge funds, and there are already rumors of difficulties at credit card companies in the United States.
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Cantaloupe Recalled After Salmonella Outbreak
2008-03-24 16:23:15
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed Honduran grown cantaloupes are being voluntarily recalled after a continent-wide salmonella outbreak.

The recall followed a warning earlier Saturday from the U.S Food and Drug Administration about the outbreak, which CFIA said has sickened nine people in five provinces and 50 people in 16 U.S. states.

“We've been investigating this for a while now,” agency spokesman Garfield Balsom told the Canadian Press Saturday night.

“There's been some co-operation between United States officials and Canadian officials in trying to identify any commonalities regarding this salmonella. But unfortunately up until yesterday with regard to the traceback, there's been nothing identified.”

The affected melons (from Agropecuaria Montelibano) were distributed in Canada by Federated Co-Op in all western provinces, the three territories and northwestern Ontario, and Canada Safeway stores in British Columbia  only.

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Stolen National Institutes of Health Laptop Held 7 Years Of Clinical Trial, Patients' Data
2008-03-24 03:06:23

A government laptop computer containing sensitive medical information on 2,500 patients enrolled in a National Institutes of Health(NIH) study was stolen in February, potentially exposing seven years' worth of clinical trial data, including names, medical diagnoses and details of the patients' heart scans. The information was not encrypted, in violation of the government's data-security policy.

NIH officials made no public comment about the theft and did not send letters notifying the affected patients of the breach until last Thursday - almost a month later. They said they hesitated because of concerns that they would provoke undue alarm.

The handling of the incident is reminiscent of a 2006 theft from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  employee of a laptop with personal information about veterans and active-duty service members. In that case, VA officials waited 19 days before announcing the theft.

"The shocking part here is we now have personally identifiable information - name and age - linked to clinical data," said Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Technology. "If somebody does not want to share the fact that they're in a clinical trial or the fact they've got a heart disease, this is very, very serious. The risk of identity theft and of revealing highly personal information about your health are closely linked here."

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Al-Zawahri, Al-Qaeda's No. 2, Urges Attacks On U.S., Israel
2008-03-24 03:05:38
Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims in a new audiotape released Monday to strike Jewish and American targets in revenge for Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this month.

The al-Zawahri tape came on the heels of a message from Osama bin Laden, who called for a holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories - a new push by the terror network's leadership to use widespread anger over the Gaza violence to whip up support.

The authenticity of the 4 minute, 44-second audiotape could not be independently confirmed, but the voice on it resembled that of al-Zawahri on previous audio and videotapes confirmed to be his. It was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaeda usually releases its statements, and a banner advertising the tape had the logo of al-Qaeda's media arm, Al-Sahab.

''Muslims, today is your day. Strike the interests of the Jews, the Americans, and all those who participated in the attack on Muslims,'' said al-Zawahri. ''Monitor the targets, collect money, prepare the equipment, plan with precision, and then - while relying on God - assault, seeking martyrdom and paradise.''

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An 'Astounding Time' For Discovering Planets
2008-03-24 03:04:31

It used to be that planets were familiar places such as Mars and Saturn that orbited our sun and were well known to all schoolchildren.

Since astronomers identified the first planet outside our solar system 13 years ago, however, that idea has become downright quaint. Because now, according to the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, there are 277 confirmed "extrasolar" planets, and quite a few more on the list of those suspected but not yet confirmed.

This explosion in planetary discoveries is taking place at such warp speed that even those most intimately involved are often amazed - especially because their ultimate goal is nothing less than finding life elsewhere in the universe.

"This is an absolutely astounding time for this field," said Mark Swain of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who last week reported finding the first "exoplanet" to have organic methane in its atmosphere.

"We're not only finding them rapidly and in great variety, but we're starting to characterize them - their mass and orbits, the properties of their atmospheres, measurements of day and night, dynamics of their winds," he said after the methane discovery was released last week.

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U.S. Death Toll In Iraq Hits 4,000
2008-03-24 03:03:41
A roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, the military said, pushing the overall American death toll in the five-year war to at least 4,000. The grim milestone came on a day when at least 61 people were killed across the country.

Rockets and mortars pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone, underscoring the fragile security situation and the resilience of both Sunni and Shiite extremist groups despite an overall lull in violence.

The attacks on the Green Zone probably stemmed from rising tensions between rival Shiite groups and were the most sustained assault in months against the nerve center of the U.S. mission.

The soldiers with Multi-National Division - Baghdad were on a patrol when their vehicle was struck at about 10 p.m. in southern Baghdad, said the military. Another soldier was wounded in the attack - less than a week after the fifth anniversary of the conflict

Identities of those killed were withheld pending notification of relatives.

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