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Friday, June 13, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday June 13 2008 - (813)

Friday June 13 2008 edition
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Iowa Mourns The Deaths Of 4 Boy Scouts
2008-06-13 01:00:53

Iowa struggled with large-scale flooding for the sixth day yesterday, even as state officials and residents mourned the death of four Boy Scouts killed by a tornado Wednesday night at a scout camp in western Iowa.

The state has been ravaged by one weather disaster after another since a May 25 tornado that killed seven and injured 50 in northeastern Parkersburg. Wednesday's twister, which also injured several dozen, brings to 14 the number of dead in Iowa tornadoes in the past three weeks.

Eighty-nine scouts survived the tragedy, some cowering in shelters as debris and bricks flew around them; others, who were on a hike, were out in the open. Survivors told of using their scout training to provide emergency first aid to those who were injured.

The tornado destroyed the 1,800-acre camp's four cabins and ripped up tents. Many parents gathering in a community center and local hospitals could not locate their sons until six hours after the disaster.

One of the dead, Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, was an only child who liked playing flute and sewing and hoped to become an Eagle Scout. Three boys from Omaha also were killed: 13-year-olds Josh Fennen and Sam Thomsen; and Ben Petrzilka, 14.

The tornado that hit the Little Sioux Scout Camp was one of 57 twisters reported Wednesday in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, according to the federal Storm Prediction Center.

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Medical Fraud A Growing Problem For Medicare
2008-06-13 01:00:25
All it took to bilk the federal government out of $105 million was a laptop computer.

From her Mediterranean-style townhouse, a high school dropout named Rita Campos Ramirez orchestrated what prosecutors call the largest health-care fraud by one person. Over nearly four years, she electronically submitted more than 140,000 Medicare claims for unnecessary equipment and services. She used the proceeds to finance big-ticket purchases, including two condominiums and a Mercedes-Benz.

Health-care experts say the simplicity of Campos Ramirez's scheme underscores the scope of the growing fraud problem and the need to devote more resources to theft prevention. Law enforcement authorities estimate that health-care fraud costs taxpayers more than $60 billion each year.

A critical aspect of the problem is that Medicare, the health program for the elderly and the disabled, automatically pays the vast majority of the bills it receives from companies that possess federally issued supplier numbers. Computer and audit systems now in place to detect problems generally focus on over billing and unorthodox medical treatment rather than fraud, scholars say.

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Satellite Images Show Glaciers, Lakes And Forests Disappearing From Africa At Alarming Rate
2008-06-13 00:59:36

The changing face of the continent was brought home to African ministers Wednesday when they were presented with an atlas charting the speed of environmental destruction.

The loss of ice on Mount Kilimanjaro and the vanishing waters of Lake Chad were among the best-known problems, but deforestation, urbanization and the spread of agriculture have all taken a heavy toll.

Other major damage includes tree loss and land degradation caused by refugees in the Sudan, the virtual disappearance of Lake Ngami in Botswana, the expansion of the city of Bujumbura in Burundi, and the loss of Cameroon's rainforest to rubber and palm plantations. Hundreds of before-and-after satellite images offered a sobering assessment of the enormous damage done in less than four decades.

The images form part of "Africa - Atlas of Our Changing Environment", launched Wednesday after a two-year project by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

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Exxon Mobil Plans To Sell 2,220 Gas Stations
2008-06-13 00:59:01
Exxon Mobil said on Thursday that it is withdrawing from the retail gas business in the United States, citing the “very challenging” business conditions for its service stations.

Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, said it would sell the roughly 2,220 service stations it owned across the United States, including about 820 that it also operated.

The company will maintain the Exxon and Mobil brands, said an Exxon spokeswoman, Prem Nair.

Of the 12,000 or so Exxon Mobil-branded stations in the United States, about 75 percent are already owned by others.

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Zimbabwe Detains Opposition Leaders
2008-06-13 00:58:24
The standard-bearer for Zimbabwe's opposition was twice detained by the police on Thursday, and one of his most important deputies was arrested to face treason charges. The events underscored the daunting obstacles to campaigning against President Robert Mugabe in the two weeks before a presidential runoff.

The opposition presidential candidate, Morgan Tzvangirai, who was detained twice last week, was held up by the police twice more on Thursday in what was supposed to have been a day of rallies and campaigning, said his party.

The arrest of the deputy, Tendai Biti, was even more chilling for the party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Biti, the party’s secretary general, was swiftly apprehended at Harare’s airport on Thursday as he returned from South Africa after a self-imposed absence of two months. He will be charged with treason, said a police spokesman.

Even before his passport could be stamped, “10 men in plain clothes whisked him away,” said his party. “His whereabouts are unknown.”

Senior officials in Mugabe’s governing party, in power for 28 years, have accused Biti, a lawyer who is often the opposition’s public face, of violating the law by announcing the outcome of the initial round of voting in March before the official results were released.

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Report: Iraq, Perceived Hypocrisy Fuel Record Anti-Americanism
2008-06-12 20:39:59
Anti-Americanism is at record levels thanks to U.S. policies such as the war in Iraq, and Washington's perceived hypocrisy in abiding by its own democratic values, U.S. lawmakers said Wednesday.

A House of Representatives committee report based on expert testimony and polling data reveals US approval ratings have fallen to record lows across the world since 2002, particularly in Muslim countries and Latin America.

It says the problem arises not from a rejection of U.S. culture, values and power but primarily from its policies, such as backing authoritarian regimes while promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

"Our physical strength has come to be seen not as a solace but as a threat, not as a guarantee of stability and order but as a source of intimidation, violence and torture," said Bill Delahunt, chairman of the subcommittee on international organizations, human rights and oversight.

"We have dangerously depleted what (former president Ulysses S.) Grant... identified as our greatest source of international power - our reputation for what he called conscience. I would substitute the phrase 'moral authority'," added Delahunt.

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Editorial: Interrogation For Profit
2008-06-12 20:39:15
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, June 12, 2008.

Congress is finally moving to ban one of the Bush administration’s most blatant evasions of accountability in Iraq - the outsourcing of war detainees’ interrogation to mercenary private contractors.

Operating free of the restraints of military rule and ethics, some of these corporate thugs turned up in the torture scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison and walked away with impunity. Others are now believed to be in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency at secret prisons that remain outside the rule of law, exempted even from the weak 2006 rules on interrogating prisoners.

Civilian interrogators are part of the broader pool of hired guns that the administration has deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other spots around the world. Their actions regularly enrage Iraqis, most notably last September, when a phalanx of trigger-happy contractors assigned to protect American diplomats sprayed a crowd and killed 17 civilians

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Palm Tree Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seed
2008-06-12 20:37:59

An ancient seed that germinated after being recovered from the rubble of King Herod's pleasure palace has been dated as 2,000 years old, smashing the record for the oldest seed ever grown.

The seed was among three recovered during excavations at Masada, an imposing 2,044-year-old clifftop fortress on the edge of the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

Researchers planted the seed three years ago after treating it with hormone-laced fertilizers. To their surprise, it germinated and began to grow. The plant, dubbed the "Methuselah tree" after the oldest character in the Bible, now stands 1.5 meters tall.

Dates were such an important export from ancient Judea they were depicted on coins and came to symbolize the region. According to the historian Josephus, miles and miles of hand-cultivated date forests stretched from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.

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Obscenity Trial Suspended After Judge Posts Sexual Images On Website
2008-06-12 14:24:07
A closely watched obscenity trial in Los Angeles federal court was suspended Wednesday after the judge acknowledged maintaining his own publicly accessible website featuring sexually explicit photos and videos.

Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, granted a 48-hour stay in the obscenity trial of a Hollywood adult filmmaker after the prosecutor requested time to explore "a potential conflict of interest concerning the court having a ... sexually explicit website with similar material to what is on trial here."

In an interview Tuesday with the Los Angeles Times, Kozinski acknowledged posting sexual content on his website. Among the images on the site were a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. He defended some of the adult content as "funny" but conceded that other postings were inappropriate.

Kozinski, 57, said that he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public, although he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends. After the interview Tuesday evening, he blocked public access to the site.

Kozinski is one of the nation's highest-ranking judges and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. He was named chief judge of the 9th Circuit last year and is considered a judicial conservative on most issues. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1985.
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Hundreds Flee Northern California Wildfires
2008-06-12 14:23:21
Firefighters struggled to gain control of a series of wind-driven wildfires burning across Northern California, including a raging forest fire that forced hundreds to flee their homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The fast-moving blaze in the Bonny Doon area, about 10 miles northwest of Santa Cruz, grew to 700 acres after it broke around 3 p.m. Wednesday, and it was only 5 percent contained this morning. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for 500 residents in the heavily forested hills. Voluntary evacuations were in place for another 1,000 residents.

The fire threatened hundreds of homes and could spread to as many as 1,500 acres before being brought under control, Battalion Chief Paul Van Gerwen said. Nearly 800 firefighters were at the scene this morning.

The Santa Cruz fire flared just two weeks after another blaze two miles away scorched about 61/2 square miles and destroyed at least three dozen homes.
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Poll: Many In World Look To U.S. Election For Change
2008-06-13 01:00:40
People around the globe widely expect the next American president to improve the country's policies toward the rest of the world, especially if Barack Obama is elected, yet they retain a persistently poor image of the U.S., according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey of two dozen countries, conducted this spring by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, also found a growing despondency over the international economy, with majorities in 18 nations calling domestic economic conditions poor. In more bad news for the U.S., people shared a widespread sense the American economy was hurting their countries, including large majorities in U.S. allies Britain, Germany, Australia, Turkey, France and Japan.

Even six in 10 Americans agreed the U.S. economy was having a negative impact abroad.

Views of the U.S. improved or stayed the same as last year in 18 nations, the first positive signs the poll has found for the U.S. image worldwide this decade. Even so, many improvements were modest and the U.S. remains less popular in most countries than it was before it invaded Iraq in 2003, with majorities in only eight expressing favorable opinions.

Substantial numbers in most countries said they are closely following the U.S. presidential election, including 83 percent in Japan - about the same proportion who said so in the U.S. Of those following the campaign, optimism that the new president will reshape American foreign policy for the better is substantial, with the largest segment of people in 14 countries - including the U.S. - saying so.

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Western Democracy Loses Ground To Autocrats
2008-06-13 01:00:06
It's the best of all bad forms of government, but for many it's no longer good enough. Today democracy leaves lots of people cold, and in Asia and Africa, many prefer autocratic systems. Damaged by bush, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, few are interested in the model of democracy exported by the United States.

Once upon a time, there was a king who was called the "Precious Ruler of the Dragon People." The monarch loved his people and his people loved him in return. One day he announced that he was going to descend from the throne and voluntarily give up his position of absolute power. He said the time had come for his people to govern themselves and that this would make the country's people better able to realize their philosophy of "Gross National Happiness."

The people were unsure. They thought everything in their little kingdom had been just fine the way it was. On the other hand, they didn't want to go against the trend of the times or against the wishes of their king. So they went ahead and founded political parties. Despite their continued skepticism with regard to democracy, they obediently went to the polling stations to cast their ballots. Voter turnout was around 80 percent. An overwhelming majority of the electorate voted for the Peace and Prosperity Party. You see, it can be done, the king observed, delighted with the results. He said he was looking forward to his own disempowerment and to taking part in parliamentary debates.

This may sound like a fairy tale or a story based on a figure in ancient history, but it actually happened, and not all that long ago. On March 24, Bhutan - a small country high in the Himalayas, nestled between India, China, and Tibet - was transformed by order of its king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, from an absolute monarchy into a democratically legitimated constitutional monarchy. Nine years ago television was legalized in this remote kingdom with its majestic mountain peaks, Buddhist monasteries and population of 680,000. Now democracy has been introduced through what has been a carefully planned, top-down procedure - like almost everything here in the "Land of the Thunder Dragon," perched atop the world's tallest mountain range.

Chalk one up for Democracy. At Freedom House, a Washington-based organization that compiles and regularly updates surveys on the status of freedom in the world, staff members pinned a green flag indicating "free" to a map of the world. It was high time there was something positive to report.

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Unemployment Aid Extension Easily Passes U.S. House
2008-06-13 00:59:24
The U.S. House of Representatives took another step on Thursday in a running political fight over unemployment insurance by ignoring a veto threat from President Bush and easily approving an extension of benefits for idle workers whose aid is running out.

Less than a day after coming up just short in a vote on the same measure, the House approved granting an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits nationwide beyond the standard 26 weeks; the vote was 274 to 137, the minimum margin needed to override a veto.

Republicans said the result was misleading because a number of lawmakers were absent. They expressed confidence they could sustain a veto of the bill by Bush if it were to get to the White House.

In an illustration of the election-year unease among Republicans about the unemployment issue, 49 of them again broke with their party leadership and joined 225 Democrats in backing the proposal, which would also extend benefits even longer in states with unemployment above 6 percent. In those states, benefits would be extended for a total of 26 weeks.

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Thornburg Mortgage Posts $3.31 Billion 1st Quarter Loss
2008-06-13 00:58:52
Thornburg Mortgage said Thursday that it swung to a $3.31 billion loss in the first quarter and that it expected loan delinquencies would continue to increase for the rest of the year.

Before paying preferred dividends, Thornburg lost $3.31 billion, or $20.64 a share, in contrast to a profit of $75 million, or 62 cents a share, a year earlier.

Thornburg specializes in larger mortgages, known as jumbo loans, which total more than $417,000. The company said the value of securities it owns dropped sharply during the quarter amid a slowing economy and continued housing slump, forcing it to take market-value losses of $1.54 billion.

Thornburg also recorded $949.1 million worth of charges related to financing.

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Researchers Excavate Petrified Rainforest In German City
2008-06-13 00:58:07
Researchers in the decidedly un-tropical German city of Chemnitz are uncovering spectacular remains of a petrified rainforest. The forest was preserved under a thick layer of ash after a volcanic eruption 290 million years ago.

An unusual excavation is underway in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, one which conjures up hard-to-believe images of the time when the area was covered by tropical rainforest.

A team led by researchers from Chemnitz's Museum for Natural History has been excavating a 290-million-year-old petrified prehistoric forest in the city's Hilbersdorf district since April. Now they have found the first preserved trees. "We have found four vertically standing and two prone gymnosperm trunks to date," said excavation leader Ralph Kretzschmar in a statement released by the museum Tuesday. Gymnosperms are a group of plants whose seeds are not enclosed within plant tissue, such as modern-day conifers or cycads.

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Commodity Prices Climb Again
2008-06-12 20:39:50
Commodity prices continued to rise on Thursday, with the price of corn remaining above $7 a bushel. Soybeans also moved higher.

Wheat, which rose on Wednesday, fell on Thursday.

Corn prices, which have been hitting new highs for a week, are reacting to six weeks of heavy rains and cool weather in the Midwest. That prevented planting in some areas, leading some farmers to abandon the crop in the last few days. It is still raining.

The bad weather comes as supplies of corn, wheat and other staples are already tight thanks to soaring global demand.

The higher commodity prices are likely to add to a worldwide inflationary picture that seems to worsen by the day. Prices of many grocery items in the United States have been rising briskly, with some goods like eggs and milk -  produced from animals fed with corn - up by 13 to 30 percent in the past year.

“You know those complaints you’ve been hearing about high food prices? They’ve just begun,” said Jason Ward, an analyst with Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Cuba To Abandon Wage Caps
2008-06-12 20:39:04

Cuba is to abandon egalitarian salaries after decades of government control in a bid to improve the nation's productivity, a senior government official has revealed.

It is thought that an end to the capped wages set up by Fidel Castro in 1959 could spark the beginnings of a new middle class in Cuba.

In an interview published in Granma, the Communist party's daily newspaper the minister for labor and social security, Carlos Mateu, said the current system gave employees little incentive to excel because everyone earned the same regardless of how much work they put in.

Many government-run companies had already stopped caps on salaries and the rest must do so by August, Mateu said.

"This salary system should be seen as a tool to help obtain better results in output and services," said Mateu.

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Tornado Hits Boy Scout Camp In Iowa, Killing 4, Injuring Over 40
2008-06-12 14:24:23

A tornado killed four Boy Scouts, aged 13 and 14, in western Iowa Wednesday as it tore through a wilderness camp where nearly 120 people had gathered for a leadership program.

Dozens of others were injured, some seriously, when the twister struck at around 6:35 p.m.. Quoting Iowa's public safety commissioner, the Associated Press reported that 42 people remained hospitalized Thursday with injuries that ranged from cuts and bruises to major head trauma.

State officials released the names of the dead at news conference this morning. According to the Des Moines Register, they are Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa; Josh Fennen, 13, of Omaha; Sam Thomsen, 13, of Omaha; and Ben Petrzilka, 14, of Omaha.

"This truly is one of the most difficult times in the history of the Boy Scouts," Dan Neary, chairman of the scouts' Mid-America Council, covering Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa, told the newspaper.

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For 3rd Time, U.S. Supreme Court Rules Guantanamo Prisoners Should Have Rights
2008-06-12 14:23:52
The Supreme Court, for the third time, rejected President Bush's policy for holding and trying foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and ruled Thursday these men have a right to seek their freedom in a hearing before a federal judge.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court struck down as unconstitutional an administration-backed law that barred the detainees from going to court. The right to habeas corpus is fundamental to American law and cannot be suspended except in times of national emergency, said the majority.

"The framers [of the Constitution] viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and they understood the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom," said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court.

He said the prisoners at Guantanamo are far removed from the battlefield and have been held for as long as six years "with no definitive judicial determination as to the legality of their detention."

About 270 prisoners are now being held at Guantanamo. A small number of them, perhaps as many as 40, are likely to face trial, but Thursday's decision concerned only detention, not the rules for trial.
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Report: Vinyl Shower Curtains Give Off Toxic Chemicals
2008-06-12 14:22:36
Vinyl shower curtains sold at major retailers across the country contain toxic chemicals that may cause serious health problems, according to a report released Thursday by a national environmental organization.

The curtains, sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart, among other major retailers, contained high concentrations of chemicals that may be released into the air and are linked to liver damage as well as damage to the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, said researchers for the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment & Justice.

The organization commissioned the study about two years ago to determine, among other reasons, what caused that "new shower curtain smell."

"This smell can make you feel sick, give you a headache, make you feel nauseous, or other health effects," said Michael Schade, a co-author of the report.

In the study, five unopened polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic shower curtains were purchased from Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart and tested for their chemical composition. One of these curtains was then tested to determine the chemicals it released into the air.
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