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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday April 12 2008 - (813)

Saturday April 12 2008 edition
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Major Businesses Fight Overhaul Of Financial Regulations
2008-04-11 22:36:56

Several major business organizations are banding together to fight the Treasury Department's plan to overhaul the nation's patchwork of financial regulation, less than two weeks after the proposal was unveiled.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., offered a blueprint for a sweeping consolidation of federal oversight of financial institutions and markets March 31. Since then, lobby groups that represent small banks, insurance agents and credit unions, among others, have been making plans to work together to defeat the proposal. Some have dispatched their members to Capitol Hill to protest.

The groups are coalescing around the argument that the plan would help big Wall Street firms and harm smaller companies that cater primarily to Main Street, or local communities.

"The winner was Wall Street, and the loser was Main Street," said Camden R. Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America about the blueprint. "We are talking to a number of financial services trade organizations about coordinating efforts and, surely, we'll have a lot of partners."

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West Texas Polygamist Sect Encouraged Fear
2008-04-11 22:36:23

All their lives, the girls in the polygamist sect in the West Texas desert were told that the outside world was hostile and immoral, and that venturing beyond the brilliant white limestone walls of their compound would consign them to eternal damnation.

Now, if the state gets its way, hundreds of the girls could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling.

"What they are up against is having to deprogram an entire community," said Margaret Cooke, who left the sect with seven of her eight children near the end of 1994. The children "are so naive and they have been sheltered to the point that they don't even trust their own judgment."

Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for the state Children's Protective Services, said the agency is working with mental health and other experts to make the children's transition as easy as possible.

Meanwhile, in court papers unsealed Friday, authorities said they found a "cyanide poisoning document" in their search of the compound in the town of Eldorado, but the 80-page list of items seized gave no further explanation.

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Wheat Price Strains Egypt's Economy
2008-04-11 22:35:36
Fear of unrest grows as soaring wheat prices strain Egypt's creaking economy.

It is an overcast morning in the Bulaq neighborhood of Cairo, three hours after the muezzin's call to prayer. The streets are choked with honking cars, while goats - and a few ragged-looking people - pick at piles of stinking rubbish overflowing from metal wheelie bins.

Tempers flare outside a government bakery as the smell of hot baladi (country) bread wafts out from the ovens. There is pushing and shoving as a worker appears at the window to hand out plastic bags of the rough, round flat loaves - each weighing a standard 160 grams (5.5oz)- to customers.

"I've been here since before six and this is what I get," grumbles Umm Islam, her face contorted in fury. "My husband is retired and I have five children and it's not enough."

Others complain of their pitifully small incomes and shortages. In the last two months 11 people have died in bread queues, either from exhaustion, heart attacks, brawls or accidents.

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Curfew Imposed After Gunmen Kill Sadr Aide
2008-04-11 22:34:07
A senior aide to the radical anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr was assassinated in Najaf as he returned home from Friday Prayer, raising the likelihood that tensions would climb still higher between Sadr’s loyalists and the Iraqi government forces they have been battling.

The police declared a curfew in Najaf, the holiest Shiite city in Iraq, and deployed reinforcements on the streets, fearing a backlash after the murder of the aide, Riyadh al-Nuri.

Security officials there said Nuri, who was related to Sadr’s family by marriage, was ambushed by unknown gunmen outside his house in the Najaf neighborhood of al-Adala after leaving prayers in the nearby town of Kufa.

Iraqi security forces carried out a major offensive in Basra last month, but it was widely criticized as poorly planned and the government failed in its attempt to disarm Shiite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army founded by Sadr. In recent days, the two sides have been fighting heavily in Sadr’s eastern Baghdad stronghold, Sadr City.

Within hours of Nuri’s killing, Sadr’s office in Najaf issued a statement laying blame at “the hands of the occupiers and their tails,” meaning the United States and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government.

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Mugabe's Government Intensifies Crackdown In Zimbabwe
2008-04-11 22:33:24
A day before southern Africa’s leaders hold an emergency session on Zimbabwe's disputed election, the government of the beleaguered nation appeared to tighten its control on Friday, banning political rallies, continuing its crackdown on the opposition and arresting the lawyer of its chief rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Movement for Democratic Change, Tsvangirai’s party, said Friday that more than 1,000 of its supporters had been attacked or arrested since the voting took place on March 29, fueling a growing chorus of international criticism of President Robert Mugabe's handling of the elections.

Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, called upon the Mugabe government “to cease using the tactics and violence and intimidation against those citizens who only want to peacefully exercise their political rights.”

In an interview, Tsvangirai, who independent monitors say may have won an outright majority in the election, reiterated his party’s decision to boycott a runoff against Mugabe.

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World Finance Ministers Meet Amid Multiple Crises
2008-04-11 03:24:25

Financial markets are tumbling. The world economy is starting to sputter. Food prices have shot up so far, so fast, that there are riots in the streets of many poor nations.

It's a hard time to be one of the masters of the global economy.

Those leaders - finance ministers from all over the world - are gathering in Washington, D.C., this weekend to sort out their reactions to the most profound global economic crises in at least a decade. The situation could reveal the limitations that international economic institutions face in dealing with the risks inherent to global capitalism.

"There's got to be something coming out of the weekend, a way to visibly assume public responsibility for trying to limit the damage that financial markets can do to our society," said Colin Bradford, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "The pressure is on politicians this weekend to come up with an answer. .. What is the power structure going to do about this?"

The Group of Seven finance ministers of major industrialized countries meet today, and the governing boards of the International Monetary Fund and World Bankwill meet Saturday and Sunday. Their agendas: in the case of the G-7 and IMF, countering the breakdown in financial markets; in the case of the World Bank, food inflation that threatens to drive more of the world's poorest people into starvation.

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Oil Prices Defy Gravity
2008-04-11 03:23:23

Is there a fair price for oil?

It doesn't seem that way. Over the past year, the price of crude oil has nearly doubled even though oil inventories are ample, there has been no disruption in supplies, and petroleum demand in the United States, the world's biggest consumer, has leveled off in recent weeks as the economy has slowed.

"There may be [a fair price] but it would be difficult to get consumers and producers to ever agree on it," said Guy F. Caruso, administrator of the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA). "Ideally, if there was a more competitive market, we might find out. But it's not the world we're living in today."

That's been evident this week. On the eve of the summer driving season, crude prices defy gravity, hovering around $110 a barrel, keeping gasoline prices at record levels and sapping money from cash-strapped consumers. Thursday, the AAA auto club said prices at the pump set records of $3.357 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline and $4.045 for diesel, even though U.S. gasoline consumption fell 0.6 percent in the first quarter.

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Children Removed From Polygamist Sect Tell Of Girls Forced Into Sex With Older Men
2008-04-11 03:22:20

Interviews with hundreds of children removed from a polygamist sect in Texas have revealed that several underage girls were forced into "spiritual marriage" with much older men as soon as they reached puberty and were then made pregnant, according to investigators.

A total of 416 children, mainly girls, have now been taken into state custody after five days of raids on the Yearn for Zion compound in Eldorado, west Texas. Court documents reveal the children were removed for fear they were at risk of "emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse".

A further 139 women left the ranch voluntarily to accompany the girls, and are being held with them. A local court has granted state custody of all the children until a hearing later this month.

The 1,700-acre ranch is the retreat of a group from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a 10,000-strong splinter sect that broke with the main Mormon church when it denounced polygamy in the 1890s. The compound was built in 2004 in a remote location in the prairies by Warren Jeffs, the then "prophet" of the sect who is currently in jail in Arizona awaiting trial over charges relating to the arranged marriages of three teenage girls. He has already been sentenced to 10 years to life imprisonment in the state of Utah.

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China Outraged By U.S.-Tibet Resolution
2008-04-11 03:21:10
China expressed indignation Friday over a U.S. Congressional resolution calling on Beijing to stop cracking down on Tibetan dissent and talk to the Dalai Lama.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu labeled the resolution anti-Chinese, saying it "twisted Tibet's history and modern reality .. seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese people".

"The Chinese side expresses its strong indignation and resolute opposition toward this," Jiang said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.

The resolution sponsored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Beijing to "end its crackdown on nonviolent Tibetan protesters," along with cultural, religious, economic linguistic "repression".

While noting reports of deadly rioting in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas, the resolution called China's response "disproportionate and extreme". It said hundreds of Tibetans had been killed and thousands detained, but did not cite the source of its information.

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FBI Arrests Suspect In Slaying Of Pregnant U.S. Marine
2008-04-11 03:20:10
A Marine wanted in the brutal slaying of a pregnant colleague who had accused him of rape was arrested Thursday night in Mexico after a three-month international manhunt, said authorities.

FBI agents and Mexican authorities arrested Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean around 7 p.m. EDT. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, whose burned remains were found in January in the backyard of his home near Camp Lejeune.

"You know my name. You know who I am," Laurean told the Associated Press while being held at the Michoacan state Attorney General's Office in Morelia, the state capital.

Asked if he wanted to say anything, Laurean simply said, "Proof," but wouldn't explain.

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Storms Pound U.S. Midwest With Rain, Snow
2008-04-11 03:18:07
A line of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and even snow pounded the nation's heartland on Thursday, flooding nearly 200 roads in Missouri, closing schools in Arkansas and ripping the roofs of dozens of houses in Texas.

The band of storms stretched from Colorado and Nebraska, which was expected to get up to 10 inches of snow, to Texas, where high winds and driving rain at one point quarter of a million people were left without power.

In Missouri, 3-4 inches of rain fell in just a few hours, unleashing flash floods that swamped parts of 180 roads across the state.

Rescuers using ropes and life jackets pulled nine people from the offices of the Monett Times newspaper after the Kelly Creek burst its banks and surrounded the building. Police said the creek also threatened other businesses in downtown Monett and forced the evacuation of a nearby trailer park with about 10 to 12 homes.

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G7 Finance Chiefs Offer Gloomier View Of Global Economy
2008-04-11 22:36:39
Finance chiefs from rich nations offered a gloomier assessment of the global economy on Friday and vowed to act swiftly on wide-ranging reforms aimed at moving beyond a credit crisis that threatens world growth.

The finance ministers and central bankers also expressed concern about sharp fluctuations in currency markets since the Group of Seven last met in Tokyo in February, suggesting unease with how far markets have pushed down the U.S. dollar.

With fresh signs of economic distress in the United States, where a report showed consumer confidence hit its lowest level since 1982, the G7 officials said risks to the economic outlook were tilted to the downside. They pointed to the weak U.S. housing market, stressed financial markets and rising inflation as hurdles that still must be overcome.

"There may be more bumps in the road," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said after the officials concluded a meeting. "As we work through this period, our highest priority is limiting its impact on the real economy."

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Stocks Fall Sharply Following GE Results
2008-04-11 22:36:03
Wall Street stumbled Friday after a disappointing first-quarter report from General Electric Co. surprised the market and stoked concern about the health of both corporate profits and the wider economy. The major indexes fell more than 2 percent, with the Dow Jones industrials giving up more than 250 points.

A weaker-than-expected reading showing consumer confidence at a 26-year low subdued any positive sentiment.

GE, which is regarded as a bellwether of big business, said its financial-services divisions have been challenged by the slowing U.S. economy and difficult capital markets. The company, whose orbit extends into entertainment, consumer and industrial manufacturing, finance and health care, also lowered its projections for the entire year.

The conglomerate is one of the early companies to post first-quarter results and its shortfall stirred worries that others still to report will paint a similarly dreary picture. The smaller-than-expected profits from GE injected anxiety into a market that earlier this week saw disappointing results from aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. and a warning from chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. 

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Britain's Prime Minister, Tory Party Block Corruption Investigation Into BAE
2008-04-11 22:34:35
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown Friday won backing from the conservative Tory Party for a move that would allow the government to block future criminal investigations such as the corruption case against the arms company BAE Systems.

Despite scathing criticism by Britain's high court on Thursday, the Tories have chosen to support Downing Street in facing down critics who are keen for the BAE investigation to be reopened.

Brown is said by Downing Street to have been totally behind Tony Blair in pressing Robert Wardle, the director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), to drop the investigation into secret payments by the arms company to Saudi Arabia. In Thursday's judgment, the high court rejected claims that the inquiry had had to be closed down for security reasons because "lives were at risk" if Britain no longer received intelligence on national security from Saudi Arabia.

Officially Downing Street said the initial response to the court judgment would be a matter for the Serious Fraud Office, but a No. 10 (Brown's office) spokesman said Friday that it would still be a "hands-on" operation, implying that the prime minister might well block any move for a further investigation.

Such a decision would reignite criticism from some Labor Party backbenchers and the Liberal Democrats who have been keen for the full investigation. And it would fly in the face of the stinging rebuke from Lord Justice Moses, who with Lord Justice Sullivan attacked the government's interference as unlawful.

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Raul Castro's Cuba Tweaks Housing Policy, Wage Rules
2008-04-11 22:33:49
Thousands of Cubans will be able to get title to state-owned homes under regulations published Friday - a step that might lay the groundwork for broader housing reform.

The measure was the first legal decree formally published since Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as president in February. It comes a day after state television said the government also will do away with wage limits, allowing state employees to earn as much they can as an incentive to productivity.

Together, housing and wage restrictions have been among the things that bother Cubans the most about their socialist system.

The housing decree spells out rules to let Cubans renting from their state employers keep their apartment or house after leaving their posts. They could gain title and even pass it on to their children or relatives.

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Colombia Court Suspends Warlord's Extradition To U.S.
2008-04-11 22:33:09

A Colombia court has temporarily blocked the extradition of one of Colombia's most feared warlords to the U.S. while it decides whether he should first finish a sentence here, a lawyer said Friday.

Carlos Mario Jimenez, better known by the alias "Macaco," is wanted by the United States on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and financing terrorist groups. His extradition was approved April 2.

Alirio Uribe, a lawyer who represents victims of the paramilitaries, said a court granted his request to stay the extradition late Thursday.

The Colombian government last year stripped Jimenez of the benefits of a peace process - including protection from extradition - saying he was continuing to run drug trafficking and paramilitary operations from behind bars.

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British Ministers Under Pressure To Reopen BAE Corruption Probe
2008-04-11 03:24:06
Landmark high court ruling says decision to drop inquiry unlawful.

Pressure was mounting last night on the government to allow the reopening of the criminal investigation into secret payments by arms company BAE to Saudi Arabia following a high court judgment that made clear the inquiry should never have been dropped.

Government ministers have to decide in the next two weeks over what to do about the ruling from Lord Justice Moses, who with Lord Justice Sullivan, delivered a damning verdict on the behavior of the former prime minister, Tony Blair, and his government in forcing a halt to the long-running investigation.

The judges rejected claims that the inquiry had to be closed down for security reasons because "lives were at risk", and said the success of Saudi blackmail attempts had been unlawful. The judgment named Saudi Prince Bandar as the man behind what they characterized as an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

The judges said: "We fear for the reputation of the administration of justice if it can be perverted by a threat ... No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice. The rule of law is nothing if it fails to constrain overweening power."

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Commentary: Losing The War For Reality
2008-04-11 03:22:45
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by journalist and author Robert Parry; it appeared on the Consortium News website edition for Tuesday, April 8, 2008. Mr. Parry's commentary follows:

When future historians look back at the sharp decline of the United States in the early 21st Century, they might identify the Achilles heel of this seemingly omnipotent nation as its lost ability to recognize reality and to fashion policies to face the real world.

Like the legendary Greek warrior - whose sea-nymph mother dipped him in protective waters except for his heel - the United States was blessed with institutional safeguards devised by wise Founders who translated lessons from the Age of Reason into a brilliant constitutional framework of checks and balances.

What the Founders did not anticipate, however, was how fragile truth could become in a modern age of excessive government secrecy, hired-gun public relations and big-money media. Sophisticated manipulation of information is what would do the Republic in.

That is the crucial lesson for understanding the arc of U.S. history over the past three decades. It is a central theme of a new book by former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman, "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA".

As a senior Kremlinologist in the CIA's office of Soviet analysis, Goodman was on the front lines of the information war in the early 1980s when ideological right-wingers took control of the U.S. government under Ronald Reagan and began to gut the key institutions for assessing reality.

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March U.S. Retail Sales Figures Decline
2008-04-11 03:21:59

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., said Thursday that the U.S. economy has "turned down sharply" and may weaken further.

His gloomy comments were reflected in new retail sales figures that were released at nearly the same time as a speech he delivered in Washington. March sales at stores open at least a year were down half a percentage point from the comparable period last year for about 40 chain retailers reporting results yesterday, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. It was the biggest drop in March since 1995.

Department stores were particularly hard hit. Dillard's, J.C. Penney and Kohl's all posted double-digit declines. Upscale retailers were not immune: Nordstrom fell by 9 percent, and Saks dipped nearly 3 percent.

"The reality is that shoppers are stepping up their plans to cut back spending," said Frank Badillo, senior economist at consulting firm TNS Retail Forward. "So we'll likely see more of these weak retail numbers in the coming months."

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Conservative Bias Alleged In High School Text Book
2008-04-11 03:20:45
Talk about a civics lesson: A high-school senior has raised questions about political bias in a popular textbook on U.S. government, and legal scholars and top scientists say the teen's criticism is well-founded.

They say "American Government" by conservatives James Wilson and John Dilulio presents a skewed view of topics from global warming to separation of church and state. The publisher now says it will review the book, as will the College Board, which oversees college-level Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses used in high schools.

Matthew LaClair, of Kearny, New Jersey, recently brought his concerns to the attention of the Center for Inquiry, an Amherst, New York, think tank that promotes science and has issued a scathing report about the textbook.

"I just realized from my own knowledge that some of this stuff in the book is just plain wrong," said LaClair, who is using the book as part of an A.P. government class at Kearny High School.
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Westinghouse Wins First U.S. Nuclear Plant Contract In 30 Years
2008-04-11 03:18:39
Toshiba-owned firm will build two reactors.

Westinghouse Electric, the nuclear design and build firm sold by the British government two years ago, has won its first contracts in America for 30 years.

The move underlines the worldwide renaissance of atomic power generation as a source of low-carbon energy. The Pittsburgh-based group, which has sought approval for its reactor design to be accepted in Britain, has won a deal from Georgia Power to build two AP1000 nuclear reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Georgia, for an estimated $13 billion (£7 billion).

Westinghouse, which won the contract with its partner, the Shaw Group, said the project moves the country's nuclear revival "beyond the planning stage" and into a new era.

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54 Burmese Migrants Suffocate In Packed Truck
2008-04-11 03:17:03

Fifty-four illegal Burmese migrants being smuggled by traffickers in southern Thailand suffocated in the sweltering confines of a tiny seafood container truck Thursday after the air-conditioning system failed.

Some of the 67 survivors told how they were 30 minutes into the journey to the resort island of Phuket, where they hoped to find work, when conditions became unbearably stifling.

The driver warned those trying to alert him by banging on the container's walls and calling on mobile phones to be quiet for fear of tipping off police as they passed through checkpoints along the route. He turned on the air-conditioning, but it failed after a few minutes. When the driver finally stopped on a quiet road running along the Andaman Sea 90 minutes later many, mostly women, had already collapsed. After discovering the horrific scene, he fled.

"I thought everyone was going to die," said a survivor, Saw Win, 30. "I thought I was going to die. If the truck had driven for 30 minutes more, I would have died for sure."

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