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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Wednesday March 26 2008 - (813)

Wednesday March 26 2008 edition
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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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20,000 Wall Street Jobs At Risk
2008-03-25 22:45:30

More than 20,000 people are forecast to lose their jobs on Wall Street as the credit crunch bites into business at financial institutions over the next two years.

New York's Independent Budget Office, a non-partisan agency which scrutinizes the city's finances, estimates that profits on Wall Street fell by 80% during 2007 to $3.2 billion - the lowest level since 1994.

In a report published this week, the office predicted that 12,600 job cuts this year, followed by 7,600 in 2009.

"The economic situation is particularly precarious," said Ronny Lowenstein, director of the publicly funded agency. "If the problems affecting Wall Street and housing worsen, the recession will be deeper and the fiscal pressures on the city will quickly mount."

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Pakistan's New Leaders Tell U.S. Officials There's 'A New Sheriff In Town'
2008-03-25 22:44:57
The top State Department officials responsible for the alliance with Pakistan met leaders of the new government on Tuesday, and received what amounted to a public dressing-down from one of them, as well as the first direct indication that the United States' relationship with Pakistan would have to change.

On the day that the new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, was sworn in, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Richard A. Boucher, also met with the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf,whom they had embraced as their partner in the campaign against terrorism over the past seven years but whose power is quickly ebbing.

The leader of the second biggest party in the new Parliament, Nawaz Sharif, said after meeting the two American diplomats that it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a “killing field.”

“If America wants to see itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed,” he said at a news conference in Islamabad. Sharif, a former prime minister, added he was unable to give Negroponte “a commitment” on fighting terrorism.

The statements by Sharif, and the cool body language in the televised portions of his encounter with Negroponte, were just part of the sea change in Pakistan’s domestic politics that is likely to impose new limits on how Washington fights militants within Pakistan’s borders.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justices Rebuff Bush And World Court
2008-03-25 22:43:54
The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday issued a broad ruling limiting presidential power and the reach of international treaties, saying neither President Bush nor the World Court has the authority to order a Texas court to reopen a death penalty case involving a foreign national.

The justices held 6 to 3 that judgments of the International Court of Justice, as the court is formally known, are not binding on U.S. courts and that Bush's 2005 executive order that courts in Texas comply anyway does not change that.

The decision, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was a rebuke to the government in a case that involved the powers of all three branches of government, the intricacies of treaties and the international debate over the death penalty.

It placed the president on the side of Ernesto Medellin, a brutal murderer, and the rulings of the World Court, and against the authority of his home state's courts.

Texas' high court had rejected the World Court's judgment that it "review and reconsider" Medellin's conviction because he is a Mexican national and was not advised after his arrest that he could meet with a consular from his country, as the Vienna Convention requires.

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U.S. Housing Prices Continue To Decline, Consumer Confidence Hits 5-Year Low
2008-03-25 15:35:16
Home prices across the country continued to fall in January at record rates while one measure of consumer confidence reached a five-year low.

The value of single-family homes plummeted 10.7 percent in January compared with a year earlier, as measured by the Case-Shiller index, a closely watched survey of 20 major metropolitan regions.

It was the steepest year-over-year decline since the index began eight years ago, and economists said the slump was probably worse than at the height of the last housing recession in the early 1990s.

The reports sent stocks lower in morning trading, though by late Tuesday, the major indexes were trading higher. The Dow Jones industrial average was up about 12 points, while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the Nasdaq composite were also showing modest gains.

The housing price decline may help to lure buyers back into the beleaguered market, where sellers are struggling under a wave of foreclosures and a tight credit market that has made it more difficult for many Americans to take out mortgages. Inventories have ballooned as purchases have dried up, as buyers hold out for prices to fall even further.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules For Texas, Against Bush
2008-03-25 15:15:06
The Supreme Court Tuesday said President Bush does not have to power to order state courts to reopen a death penalty case involving a foreign national because of a judgment of the World Court.

The court held 6-3 that judgments of the international court are not binding on U.S. courts and President Bush's order that courts in Texas comply anyway does not change that.

The court's decision, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was a rebuke to the government in a case that involved the powers of all three branches of government, the intricacies of treaties and the international debate over the death penalty.

The case involved the Vienna Convention, but Roberts wrote that pact not only does not give the president to "unilaterally make treaty obligations binding on domestic courts," but it also "implicitly prohibits him from doing so."

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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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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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U.S. Social Security, Medicare Facing 'Enormous Challenges'
2008-03-25 22:45:42
Trustees for the government's two biggest benefit programs warned that Social Security and Medicare are facing "enormous challenges" with the threat to Medicare's solvency far more severe.

The trustees, issuing their once-a-year analysis, said the resources in the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2041. The reserves in the Medicare trust fund that pays hospital benefits were projected to be wiped out by 2019.

Both those dates were the same as in last year's report, but the trustees warned that financial pressures will begin much sooner when the programs begin paying out more in benefits each year than they collect in payroll taxes. For Medicare, that threshold is projected to be reached this year and for Social Security it is projected to occur in 2017.

Both programs are expected to come under increasing pressure as 78 million baby boomers start retiring and drawing benefits.

"The financial difficulties facing Social Security and Medicare pose enormous challenges," the trustees said in their report. "The sooner these challenges are addressed, the more varied and less disruptive their solutions can be."

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Global Warming Causes Collapse Of Antarctic Ice Seven Times The Size Of Manhattan
2008-03-25 22:45:13

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even larger portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said Tuesday.

Satellite images show a runaway 160-square-mile chunk of ice that broke off the Wilkins Ice Shelf in western Antarctica. The chunk started breaking off on Feb. 28. It had been there for perhaps 1,500 years.

The event is a result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.

Although icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses such as this are unusual. They have been happening more frequently, however, in recent decades, said Vaughan. The collapse is similar to what happens to glass when it is smashed with a hammer, he said.

The rest of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995.

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Sadr Urges 'Civil Revolt' As Shia Factions Battle Iraqi, U.S. Forces
2008-03-25 22:44:35

A ceasefire crucial to recent security improvements in Iraq was under severe strain Tuesday after Moqtada al-Sadr called for "civil revolt" following a crackdown on Shia factions in Basra.

Iraqi security forces in the southern Iraqi city encountered heavy resistance as battles broke out with gunmen from Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

Officials in Basra said 22 people were killed in the clashes, with a further 58 wounded.

Following the clashes, Sadr appeared to threaten to end the ceasefire, which was declared last August.

"We call upon all Iraqis to stage sit-ins all over Iraq as a first step," he said in a statement. "And if the people's demands are not respected by the Iraqi government, the second step will be to declare civil revolt in Baghdad and all other provinces."

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Oops! U.S. Air Force Accidentally Ships Missile Parts To Taiwan
2008-03-25 15:35:27

The U.S. Air Force mistakenly shipped fuses that are used in nuclear weapons to Taiwan in 2006, believing the crates contained helicopter batteries, officials at the Pentagon announced this morning.

The error - undetected by the United States until last week, despite repeated inquiries by Taiwan - raises questions about how carefully the Pentagon safeguards its weapons systems. It also exposes the United States to criticism from China, a staunch opponent of a militarized Taiwan.

Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has launched a full investigation. The devices - which, when attached to a missile, help launch the detonating process - have been returned to the United States, and President Bush has been briefed.

"There are multiple players; there are multiple parties involved," said Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense policy. "We'll do a thorough investigation, and those who are found responsible will be held accountable."

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Iraqi, U.S. Forces Battle Shiite Militias
2008-03-25 15:34:59
Heavy fighting broke out Tuesday in Basra and Baghdad, after Iraqi ground forces and helicopters mounted a major operation in Basra against Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army, whose months-long cease-fire is credited with reducing the level of violence during the troop surge. There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla.

In Basra, Iraq's most important oil-exporting center, thousands of Iraqi government soldiers and police moved into the city around 5 a.m. and engaged in pitched battles with Shiite militia members that have taken over big swathes of that city.

What appeared to be American or British jets also soared through the skies, witnesses said, providing air support. The operation, which senior Iraqi officials had been signaling for weeks, is considered so important by the Iraqi government that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who went to Basra on Monday, intended to personally direct the fighting, said several Iraqi officials.

“The prime minister is keen to be on the ground near the operation, dealing closely with the issue rather than dealing with it through reports,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, the prime minister’s political adviser.

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Study: Antibiotics Don't Relieve Most Infections
2008-03-25 15:14:51

If you're one of the 20 million Americans who get a sinus infection each year, experts agree: You're being prescribed antibiotics too often. Now some are saying you shouldn't get them at all.

Antibiotics should never be prescribed for otherwise healthy adults with sinusitis, an analysis of a collection of studies concludes in The Lancet. Belgian and Swiss researchers who reviewed data from nine clinical trials involving more than 2,500 people with sinus infections found that the vast majority who received antibiotics didn't need them. That's because while 80 percent of patients diagnosed with an acute sinus infection are prescribed antibiotics, only 5 to 10 percent of such infections are bacterial and respond to the drugs. But doctors often have a hard time distinguishing between viral and bacterial strains.

Over-prescription of antibiotics for a host of medical conditions has led to widespread antibiotic resistance - meaning doctors have fewer drugs effective against many bacterial infections.

But the Lancet study's conclusions conflict with sinus infection guidelines published last fall by the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Those guidelines recommend antibiotics (usually amoxicillin) if symptoms last more than 10 days. And some experts are calling the study's advice too extreme.

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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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