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Friday, April 04, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday April 4 2008 - (813)

Friday April 4 2008 edition
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Poll: 81% Of Americans Say Nation Headed On Wrong Track
2008-04-04 03:10:21

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.

In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002.

Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.

A majority of nearly every demographic and political group - Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school - say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.

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Rising Grain Prices Panic The Developing World
2008-04-04 03:09:41
A spike in the price of rice and other food staples is triggering consumer panic, including food riots in Yemen and Morocco, and hoarding in Hong Kong.

Governments around the world have taken radical measures in recent weeks to control their countries' supplies of rice. Egypt last week said it would ban all rice exports for six months. Cambodia has stopped all private-sector exports of rice, and India and Vietnam also have imposed restrictions.

The price of grains - corn, wheat, and rice - has been rising since 2005 under pressure from farmers who would rather plant crops for biofuels than for food, the lack of technological breakthroughs in crop yields, and drought and disease. The sharpest increase has been this year, with the price of Thai rice, a world benchmark, nearly doubling since January, to $760 per metric ton. Some analysts expect that price to reach $1,000 in the next three months.

Tang Min, a former chief economist for the Asian Development Bank, said the price increase is the inevitable consequence of supply and demand. "The world population is increasing, but the increase in the planting of rice has not been as fast," he said.

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Actor Kirk Douglas Gets The Vote Out
2008-04-04 03:08:48
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said, there are no second acts in American life, but Kirk Doublas, at age 91, has not only found a second act but now is writing a third in, of all places, cyberspace.

Douglas, once a matinee idol to millions, has found an entirely new public as one of the older members of MySpace, where he blogs and chats online with people young enough to be his great-grandchildren. They are drawn by encounters with his many classic films and the chance to put questions to a cinematic legend, but they stay to read and discuss his opinions on a range of social and political issues.

Douglas is a staunch supporter of the state of Israel, and these days he has found an important cause in the movement to draft a formal apology to African Americans for slavery. In fact, he has asked each of the presidential candidates to take on the issue. Their responses have largely been noncommittal, but Douglas is taking the long view. He thinks there is something greater at work in his efforts.

"Someone once told me, 'Be ashamed to die before doing something for humanity'," said Douglas, relaxing on one of the plush couches in his Beverly Hills home, with its gardens and courtyards, colorful paintings by Marc Chagall - a personal friend - and two beloved large dogs wandering in and out. "As you get older, you must think more of other people. You must strive to help other people. Who needs the most help but the young?

"What kind of world are we leaving them?"
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Every Click You Make - Tracking Your Online Behavior
2008-04-04 03:08:18

The online behavior of a small but growing number of computer users in the United States is monitored by their Internet service providers, who have access to every click and keystroke that comes down the line.

The companies harvest the stream of data for clues to a person's interests, making money from advertisers who use the information to target their online pitches.

The practice represents a significant expansion in the ability to track a household's Web use because it taps into Internet connections, and critics liken it to a phone company listening in on conversations, but the companies involved say customers' privacy is protected because no personally identifying details are released.

The extent of the practice is difficult to gauge because some service providers involved have declined to discuss their practices. Many Web surfers, moreover, probably have little idea they are being monitored.

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Commentary: The Road From Kyoto
2008-04-04 03:07:24
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Gwyn Prins, a professor at the London School of Economics & Political Science, and appeared in the Guardian edition for Friday, April 4, 2008. In her commentary, Prof. Prins writes: "The strategy has failed. The world must follow Japan in a radical rethink of climate change policy." Her commentary follows:

A spring gale is lashing orthodox climate policy. This week, an article was published in Nature that should shake the certainty of anyone who assumes that the Kyoto protocol approach is the sensible way to go, and that signing the accord is a responsible step for the United States to take.

Three climate experts offer some inconvenient truths. Roger Pielke, Tom Wigley and Christopher Green are far from being climate change skeptics, but they are vigorous heretics about some of the orthodoxy of the debate. They show it is even more urgent than we thought to abandon the failed Kyoto strategy and move quickly to policies which might actually reduce carbon emissions. Any workable strategy has to include India and China: Kyoto did not. As they rapidly industrialize and reduce poverty, their CO2 emissions will rise steeply - by as much as 13% a year for the period from 2000 to 2010, in the case of China.

The Nature piece is titled "Dangerous assumptions". The most dangerous assumption is how all the scenarios that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published have a built-in assumption that misleads us about the magnitude of the emissions challenge. It shows that the technological challenge is at least twice as big as people believe. So this is where the rubber hits the road.

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Al-Qaeda Deputy Goes Online To Justify Attacks
2008-04-04 03:06:17

Al-Qaeda has pulled off a propaganda coup by answering questions put to it by hundreds of people invited to take part in an online "open meeting" with Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In the internet Q&A Zawahiri insisted that his organization does not kill innocent people and justified attacks against "Crusaders", Jews, and their agents and allies in Arab lands. Al-Qaeda's chief ideologue also predicted that "jihadi influence" will spread "to Jerusalem" after the Americans leave Iraq and attacked the United Nations as "the enemy of Islam", defending the bombing of its offices in Iraq and Algeria. Bin Laden, he claimed, is "healthy and well".

Zawahiri, thought to be in hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan, regularly appears in video or audio clips, but this is the first time he has responded to questions posted on online Islamist forums. The exercise was announced last December by al-Qaeda's media arm, al-Sahab, with media outlets invited to take part.

The 90-minute audio tape was released on to subscriber-only Arabic-language websites with hundreds of links on free file-sharing sites allowing users to download the material. It was accompanied by an English transcript.

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Aztec Math Code Finally Cracked
2008-04-04 03:05:21
A three-decade study "cracks the code" of symbols in registries indicating a complex land survey system.

It has long been a mystery of Aztec arithmetic: What is three arms plus five bones?

Now researchers know: five hearts.

The odd symbols had been noted for centuries - thousands of them appear in Aztec property registries that were created around 1540, but no one knew the value of the symbols or how they were used to represent the size of land plots for tax assessment and other purposes.

After three decades of work, geographer Barbara Williams and mathematician Maria del Carmen Jorge y Jorge have found a solution that reveals a complex surveying system with a rudimentary ability to calculate the area of irregular shapes and manipulate fractional amounts.
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NATO Endorses U.S. Missile Defense Plan
2008-04-03 16:27:34
President Bush won support from NATO on Thursday for his plans to build a limited missile defense system in Eastern Europe and finalized a separate agreement to station part of it in the Czech Republic.

The twin developments represent significant advances for Bush's plans to establish a sophisticated new radar facility in the Czech Republic and station 10 interceptor missiles in Poland as a hedge against potential threats from Iran or other Middle East nations. They came just as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has strongly fought the system, was arriving here to meet with NATO leaders.

A NATO statement to be released later in the day will acknowledge the threat of ballistic missiles targeting Europe and recognize the value of Bush's plan, said U.S. officials. The statement is expected to explore the possibility of linking the system with European defensive efforts to make sure the entire continent is covered. It also will encourage Russia to drop its opposition and instead join the missile defense program, a move that Bush and Putin plan to discuss in a meeting this weekend at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"NATO is united in embracing missile defense as a strategic concept, embracing NATO's role and endorsing the U.S. system ... as part of a comprehensive U.S.-NATO system possibly, possibly - if the Russians agree - involving them," a senior Bush administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "Not only is that progress, but that's a turnabout from 14 months ago."

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Scientists Find Oldest Human Samples In The Americas
2008-04-03 16:27:03
Discovery raises questions about theory of how land mass was populated.

Scientists have found and dated the oldest human remains ever uncovered in the Americas - a discovery that places people genetically similar to Native Americans in Oregon more than 14,000 years ago.

Working with radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, an international team concluded that fossilized feces found five feet below the surface of a arid cave are almost 1,000 years older than any previous human remains unearthed in the Americas.

The samples were discovered close to a crude dart or spear tip chiseled from obsidian, as well as bones of horses and camels that were then common in the region. The researchers described their finding as a "smoking gun" in the long-running debate over when and where humans first inhabited the New World.

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Editorial: Fear Of Regulating
2008-04-03 16:26:25
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, April 3, 2008.

To understand the White House’s blueprint for regulating the financial markets, start with what the Bush administration did not do. It did not offer America a plan to respond to the ongoing credit crisis or to the Federal Reserve’s dramatic intervention to prevent the collapse of Bear Stearns. It certainly did not provide a road map for avoiding this sort of meltdown in the future.

The Fed’s role in the Bear debacle has put taxpayers at risk of having to shoulder big losses, but the administration’s so-called regulatory reform does not address what the Bear mess made obvious: if something goes badly wrong in under-regulated or unregulated corners of the financial markets, it could topple the whole system.

In fact, the blueprint was mostly developed before the current financial crisis and accordingly comes across as outdated. The message of the administration’s proposals is that the markets will - and should - return to where they were before the near-collapse of Bear Stearns. It’s doubtful whether many of its suggested policies would have been apt even in that earlier context. It’s indisputable that they are inapt now.

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Fed Reserve Officials Defend Rescue Of Bear Stearns
2008-04-03 16:25:42
A top Federal Reserve official told a Senate committee on Thursday that Washington must increase its regulation of Wall Street in order to prevent other banks from needing rescues similar to the one at Bear Stearns.

The official, Timothy F. Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, called for a simpler, more stringent supervision over financial institutions and urged banks to put in place more fail-safes to prevent the liquidity problems that claimed Bear Stearns last month.

The recommendations were vague and came at the close of an often-gripping testimony from Geithner, who recounted the week-long process by which the Fed mediated the fire sale of Bear Stearns to its Wall Street rival, JPMorgan Chase.

Geithner testified Thursday morning before the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing called to examine the collapse of Bear Stearns and its implications for taxpayers, regulators and future financial crises. The hearing comes as Washington begins to consider how to modernize a hodgepodge of banking regulations. Some critics have said poor regulatory oversight was at least partly to blame for the subprime mortgage problems.

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U.S. Defense Contracts For Body Armor Filled Without Initial Tests
2008-04-03 02:18:34

Government auditors said Wednesday that nearly half of 28 contracts to manufacture body armor for Army soldiers were completed without the gear ever going through an initial test.

Nearly $3 billion worth of body armor did not go through early inspections known as "first article testing," or FAT, that are performed before major production to ensure that a company can meet the contract's requirements and to catch any defects, according to a report by the Defense Department's inspector general. Contracting officials say the initial testing is done to save time and money.

"Army contracting officials did not require or perform FAT for 13 of the 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed," the report said. As a result, the Defense Department "has no assurance" that the equipment produced under the 13 contracts "met the required standards," the report said.

Officials with the inspector general's office said its auditors did not test the armor or look for flaws after it was made and put into use. The Army manager who oversees the body armor program told Defense Department officials that "the Army has no evidence of deaths that can be attributed to defective body armor."

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Commentary: Belatedly, The Bad-News Bearer
2008-04-03 02:18:03
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank and appeared in the Post's edition for Thursday, April 3, 2008.

It's (semi) official: We're in a recession.

The Federal Reserve chairman didn't come right out and say it in his appearance before the Joint Economic Committee Wednesday, but in his carefully hedged, deliberate mumbo jumbo, Ben Bernanke delivered a message as stark as bread lines and shantytowns.

"It now appears likely that real gross domestic product will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008, and could even contract slightly," he testified.

It didn't take an economics Ph.D. to crack Bernanke's code: Two quarters of economic contraction is the common definition of a recession. "Am I correct in understanding that you now believe a recession is possible?" asked the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York). 

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In Economic Drama, Bush Is Largely Offstage
2008-04-03 02:17:33
The first hint that President Bush might be detached from the nation’s economic woes was in February, when he conceded that he had not heard about predictions of $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Then Bush went to Wall Street to warn against “massive government intervention in the housing markets,” two days before his administration helped broker the takeover of the investment bank Bear Stearns.

Now Bush is in Eastern Europe, one of eight foreign trips he is taking this year. As he delivered his farewell address to NATO on Wednesday, Senate Democrats and Republicans were holed up in the Capitol, scrambling to produce a bill to help struggling homeowners, the kind of government intervention Bush had cautioned against.

For a man who came into office as the nation’s first M.B.A. president, Bush has sometimes seemed invisible during the housing and credit crunch. As the economy eclipses Iraq as the top issue on voters’ minds, even some Republican allies of the president say Bush is being eclipsed and is in danger of looking out of touch.

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Editorial: There Were Orders To Follow
2008-04-04 03:10:04
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, April 4, 2008.

You can often tell if someone understands how wrong their actions are by the lengths to which they go to rationalize them. It took 81 pages of twisted legal reasoning to justify President Bush’s decision to ignore federal law and international treaties and authorize the abuse and torture of prisoners.

Eighty-one spine-crawling pages in a memo that might have been unearthed from the dusty archives of some authoritarian regime and has no place in the annals of the United States. It is must reading for anyone who still doubts whether the abuse of prisoners were rogue acts rather than calculated policy.

The March 14, 2003, memo was written by John C. Yoo, then a Pentagon lawyer. He earlier helped draft a memo that redefined torture to justify repugnant, clearly illegal acts against al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

The purpose of the March 14 memo was equally insidious: to make sure that the policy makers who authorized those acts, or the subordinates who carried out the orders, were not convicted of any crime. The list of laws that Mr. Yoo’s memo sought to circumvent is long: federal laws against assault, maiming, interstate stalking, war crimes and torture; international laws against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the Geneva Conventions.

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Obama Cuts Into Clinton's Superdelegate Lead
2008-04-04 03:09:18
Nearly three weeks remain before the next Democratic primary, but the results are rolling in from another part of the presidential contest - and they signify trouble for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Democratic Party officials and insiders known as superdelegates are jumping to Barack Obama's camp or signaling that's where they are headed, including such prominent figures as former President Jimmy Carter. Some superdelegates who back Clinton have begun laying out scenarios under which they would abandon her for Obama.

"My children and their spouses are pro-Obama. My grandchildren are also pro-Obama," Carter told a Nigerian newspaper during a visit to Africa. "As a superdelegate, I would not disclose who I am rooting for, but I leave you to make that guess."

Clinton trails Obama in fundraising and in the total number of delegates awarded in state primaries and caucuses. One bright spot for her campaign had been the quest for superdelegates - the nearly 800 elected officials and Democratic activists who are not bound by election results and are free to vote at the party's nominating convention for the candidate of their choice.

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More Than 1,000 In Iraq's Forces Quit Basra Fight
2008-04-04 03:08:32
More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle.

The desertions in the heat of a major battle cast fresh doubt on the effectiveness of the American-trained Iraqi security forces. The White House has conditioned further withdrawals of American troops on the readiness of the Iraqi military and police.

The crisis created by the desertions and other problems with the Basra operation was serious enough that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malikihastily began funneling some 10,000 recruits from local Shiite tribes into his armed forces. That move has already generated anger among Sunni tribesmen whom Maliki has been much less eager to recruit despite their cooperation with the government in its fight against Sunni insurgents and criminal gangs.

A British military official said that Maliki had brought 6,600 reinforcements to Basra to join the 30,000 security personnel already stationed there, and a senior American military official said that he understood that 1,000 to 1,500 Iraqi forces had deserted or underperformed. That would represent a little over 4 percent of the total.

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Panel Investigating Links Between Chemical Industry And EPA's Review Panels
2008-04-04 03:07:48

A congressional committee is investigating ties between the chemical industry and expert review panels hired by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  to help it determine safe levels for a variety of chemical compounds.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Michigan), chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, have demanded documents from the EPA and the American Chemistry Council to probe the roles of nine scientists who are serving on EPA panels or have done so in the past.

The lawmakers sent a letter to the chemical industry Wednesday, expanding a probe that began earlier this month.

"Americans count on sound science to ensure that consumer products are safe," Dingell said through a spokesman Thursday. "If industry has undue influence over this science, then the public's health is endangered."

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Mugabe: I Will Quit, As Long As I Do Not Face Prosecution
2008-04-04 03:06:58

Robert Mugabe's aides have told Zimbabwe's opposition leaders that he is prepared to give up power in return for guarantees, including immunity from prosecution for past crimes.

The aides have warned that if the Movement for Democratic Change does not agree then Mugabe is threatening to declare emergency rule and force another presidential election in 90 days, according to senior opposition sources.

The opposition said the MDC leadership is in direct talks with the highest levels of the army but it is treating the approach with caution because they are distrustful of the individuals involved and calling for direct contact with the president, fearing delaying tactics.

Those fears were reinforced last night when at one point Zimbabwe's election commission abruptly halted the release of official results from the Saturday's election for "logistical reasons" and the police raided opposition offices.

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Tornado Sweeps Through Little Rock, Arkansas
2008-04-04 03:05:55
A tornado hit parts of Little Rock and its suburbs Thursday, injuring an unknown number of people while damaging businesses and downing trees and power lines.

The National Weather Service, which said a tornado passed directly over its North Little Rock office, reported injuries at a Benton trailer park. An elderly woman was treated by paramedics outside her Cammack Village home.

Meanwhile, at the North Little Rock airport, the storm destroyed a hangar and left several single-engine planes flipped over onto their wings while others were destroyed.

Gregory Greene, 39, said he was outside a restaurant when the tornado hit.

''I saw debris flying around in a circle when I was about to go in and pick up my girlfriend from work,'' said Greene. ''Stuff was going around in circles.

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Whistle Blowers: Ties Between FAA Bosses, Southwest Airlines Too Cozy
2008-04-03 16:27:50
Airline had chronic safety lapses; flew passengers on jets in need of key checks.

Federal aviation safety inspectors testified before Congress Thursday that lax oversight by their bosses and other regulators allowed Southwest Airlines last year to fly thousands of passengers on potentially unsafe jets in need of key safety checks.

The inspectors, who sought protection as whistle blowers from Congress and federal investigators, said managers did little to correct problems with how Southwest and their own colleagues were handling the carrier's safety lapses.

"I am here today because I am concerned for the safety of the flying public," said Charalambe Boutris, an inspector who is credited with exposing the problems.

Boutris and the other inspectors testified before the House Transportation Committee, which has been investigating Southwest's maintenance practices and allegations of weak FAA oversight of the carrier and potentially others. Since the investigation became public last month, four major airlines have been forced to ground hundreds of planes to conduct needed safety checks or make repairs to comply with safety directives.

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Unsolved Deaths Rattle University Of Wisconsin-Madison
2008-04-03 16:27:20
Three unsolved killings in less than a year share at least one thread: They've spread fear among college students and downtown residents in Wisconsin's normally laid-back capital.

A college student vanished in June after a night of barhopping; her body was found in the woods days later. In January, a 31-year-old man was stabbed to death with a paring knife in his home near the University of Wisconsin-Madison in what police called an apparently random act.

And a few blocks away, police on Wednesday found the body of UW-Madison junior Brittany Sue Zimmermann in the apartment she shared with a boyfriend. Police aren't saying how she died, only that she was the victim of a homicide.

They say it's too early to tell whether the three cases are linked. That's little comfort to wary residents.

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Chinese Rights Activist Is Jailed
2008-04-03 16:26:44
A Chinese court sentenced an outspoken human rights advocate on Thursday to three and a half years in prison after ruling that his critical essays and comments about Communist Party rule amounted to inciting subversion, said his lawyer.

The conviction of the advocate, Hu Jia, 34, one of the most prominent human rights proponents in China, has quickly drawn outside criticism of China at a time when its government is already facing international concern over its handling of the Tibetan crisis.

Hu’s case has been followed closely, especially in Europe, and critics say his conviction is part of a government crackdown to silence dissidents before Beijing plays host to the Olympic Games in August.

In Bucharest, Romania, where President Bush was attending the NATO meetings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized the sentence and said that the United States would continue to raise the issue of human rights with Chinese leaders in the months leading up to the Olympics in Beijing.

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U.S. Rep. Barton Seeks Investigation In Theft Of NIH Computer
2008-04-03 16:26:13

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking minority member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee,  revealed Wednesday that he is among the approximately 3,000 heart patients whose medical information was potentially exposed to public scrutiny when an unencrypted government laptop was stolen in February from the car of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) researcher.

In a letter to be released Thursday, Barton asks the Health and Human Services Department's (HHS) inspector general to investigate the Feb. 23 theft and the agency's handling of the affair, noting that, "in the interest of full disclosure," he is personally affected.

Among the questions raised in the letter is whether the NIH has an adequate system for contacting patients affected by such events. Barton and others were not notified of the breach until last week because of agency record-keeping problems. At least one patient said he found out only after contacting the NIH.

Michael Cronin, 42, of Fairfax, Virginia, said he learned of the problem from a news report and e-mailed four NIH officials before finally gleaning from the agency on March 27 that his records had been on the laptop. He said he was told the agency could not contact him because it had his address wrong.

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Police Raid Zimbabwe Opposition Offices
2008-04-03 16:25:19
A top opposition party official says police raided its offices in what he called the start of a crackdown.

Opposition party secretary-general Tendai Biti told the Associated Press that police raided and ransacked several rooms used by the party at a downtown hotel. No one was arrested.

Paramilitary police in riot gear also raided a hotel used by foreign journalists in Harare and took away three or four reporters, according to a man who answered the phone there.

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Environment: The Green Scare
2008-04-03 02:18:20
When a luxury housing development in Washington state was torched, it seemed an open and shut case. The Earth Liberation Front was to blame. But was it? Does it even exist? And why is the Bush government intent on casting "eco-terrorists" as public enemy number one?

Early last month five large half-built houses on the "Street of Dreams", an opulent development in the quiet Washington state suburb of Woodinville near Seattle, caught fire. Three buildings were gutted and two were seriously smoke-damaged to the tune of about $7 million. The fire brigades took six hours to put the fires out, but no one was hurt.

These were no ordinary houses. Set in an expensive U.K. green belt-style "rural cluster development" area (RCD), they were locally unpopular $2 million, 4,500 square-foot buildings, dubbed "McMonsters". Moreover, they were billed as "green", built to tick every box of the well-heeled ethically conscious families they were aimed at: formaldehyde-free materials, energy-efficient appliances, pervious pavements, extra insulation, recycled wood for windows and doors.

It did not need a great detective to tell that this was arson. A large spray-painted bedsheet left at the scene read: "Built green? Nope black. McMansions in RCDs r not green." It was signed "Elf" - the Earth Liberation Front.

So whodunnit? The Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force, working with the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said this week that they were indeed working on the theory that it was "eco-terrorism", carried out by a cell of environmentalists using the catch-all title of the Earth Liberation Front.

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The Question: When Is Doomsday?
2008-04-03 02:17:46

It is difficult to say.

Even the 28-strong cult who have spent the past six months hunkered down in a cave in Penza, southeast Russia, waiting for the world to end don't have an exact date in mind. Pavel Kuznetsov, the group's leader, didn't want to be tied to one particular day, and his followers seemed content with his nebulous "April or May" prediction.

Until this week, that is, when 17 of them emerged from their subterranean hiding place. They claimed their recently collapsed roof was God's way of telling them to return to the surface, but a more likely explanation is that they simply tired of hanging around waiting for the Big Day, with, we are told, little more than pickled mushrooms for sustenance.

Few Doomsday cults are willing to name an exact date for our demise. In 1982, Osho, an Indian mystic who encouraged his followers to poison salad bars, predicted that "something totally unpredictable" would "begin sometime between 1993 and 1999". He died in 1990, avoiding the need to eat humble pie.

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NATO Rebuffs Bush On Ukraine, Georgia, But Welcomes Croatia And Albania
2008-04-03 02:17:07
NATO's political leaders agreed Wednesday night to admit Croatia and Albania into the military alliance, but after a vigorous debate they effectively rejected President Bush's bid to put two former Soviet republics on the path to membership.

The invitations to Croatia and Albania will bring NATO membership to 28 countries, the organization's first expansion in six years as it renews its push to integrate Europe under a common security umbrella. The alliance will not, however, accept a third Balkan state, Macedona, because Greece decided to veto its application because of a long-standing dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name.

The opening of a NATO summit here exposed a major fissure over the future of the alliance as a reinvigorated Russia increasingly flexes its muscles 17 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The leaders and their foreign ministers engaged in what a senior U.S. official called "spirited discussion" behind closed doors of Bush's proposal to offer road maps to membership to Ukraine and Georgia, two countries at odds with their former masters in Moscow since democratic revolutions within the past five years.

Russia has firmly opposed membership for the two countries, saying it would target them with nuclear missiles in response. The NATO leaders insisted Russian objections should play no role, but they made clear Wednesday night that there was no consensus for Ukraine and Georgia to move forward at present.

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