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Monday, July 21, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday July 21 2008 - (813)

Monday July 21 2008 edition
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Top Economist: Hundreds Of Thousands Face Job Loss In U.K.
2008-07-21 03:45:46

Britain's economy is tipping headlong into a recession that could last more than a year and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, warns Professor David Blanchflower, a member of the Bank of England's interest rate committee, in an interview with the Guardian Monday.

Blanchflower says the Bank must cut interest rates rapidly to prevent the downturn being too painful, and thinks the U.K.  could be in for a worse time than even the United States, where interest rates have already been slashed and taxes cut to stimulate the economy.

The economist said the recent rises in unemployment are "the tip of the iceberg". The number of people out of work and claiming benefit is 840,000 but the broader measure of unemployment is 1.6 million, 5.2% of the workforce. Blanchflower said it could climb to more than 7% - a figure that would mean several hundred thousand people losing their jobs.

His warning comes days after the chancellor acknowledged that the slowdown could be "profound" and hinted he would change the Treasury's fiscal rules as the slowing economy looks set to bust them.

Today a leading thinktank, the Ernst & Young Item Club, says the economic outlook for Britain is like a "horror movie" as a result of the credit crunch and tumbling house prices.

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Following Leaks, France To Test Groundwater At All Nuclear Plants
2008-07-21 03:43:42
In response to calls by activist groups and the discovery that leaks found last week might have happened years ago, France has agreed to examine the groundwater near all of its nuclear plants. Though the anti-nuclear groups see this as a positive step, they say it still doesn't go far enough.

After tests following a uranium leak in France revealed that the radiation came from another earlier source, France's environment minister has ordered tests of the groundwater in areas surrounding all of France's nuclear power plants.

The leak was first reported last Tuesday at the Tricastin plant in southwestern France. A tank containing a solution with traces of non-enriched uranium was reportedly being cleaned the evening of July 7, and the reservoir collecting it overflowed, allowing 30,000 liters (7,925 gallons) of solution to seep into the ground and two nearby rivers. Local authorities immediately banned using ground or river water for drinking or irrigation as well as swimming or fishing in the waters.

At the time, France's nuclear safety agency (ASN) claimed that the "risk was slight." On Friday, however, while conducting tests on the extent of radioactive exposure resulting from the leak, the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) - which is responsible for safety inspections of France's nuclear facilities - announced that it had discovered traces of uranium in the water that pre-dated the recent leak.

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For 'Surge' Troops Leaving Iraq, Pride Mingles With Doubt
2008-07-21 03:41:49
This time last year, Capt. Wes Wilhite's men were getting ready to move into an abandoned house in western Baghdad wedged between cells of Sunni insurgents to the south and strongholds of Shiite militias to the north.

Violence in the Iraqi capital seemed unstoppable. U.S. military vehicles were getting attacked with armor-piercing roadside bombs almost daily, and a raging sectarian war was Balkanizing once-mixed neighborhoods.

"A slaughterhouse," is how Steve Murrani, an interpreter working with Wilhite's men, described it.

The soldiers, who came to Iraq as part of President Bush's troop increase, began returning home last week. They leave with sunburned faces, calloused hands, tattered boots. On their wrists they wear black metal bracelets inscribed with the names of five soldiers killed on a clear afternoon in March, just as progress was starting to seem irreversible.

They leave buoyed by a sense of pride over dramatic security improvements they helped bring about. Violence in Iraq is at its lowest level in years, the rate of U.S. casualties has dropped since the United States began implementing a new counterinsurgency strategy last year, and Iraqi politicians have made some strides in bringing about political reconciliation. Yet the departing soldiers are also burdened by their losses, still unable to determine whether history will call their tour a turning point or a waste of time.

"Could this all fall apart?" Wilhite, 28, a tall, lean redhead from Milwaukee, asked in an interview in early July. He sighed. "Possibly."

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Spiegel Interview With Iraqi Leader Nouri Al-Maliki
2008-07-21 03:41:01
'The Tenure Of Coalition Troops In Iraq Should Be Limited'

The situation in Iraq seems to be improving, Spiegel spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki about his approval of Brack Obama's withdrawal plans and what he hope from U.S. President George Bush in his last months in office.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the war and its consequences have cost more than 100,000 lives and caused great suffering in your country. Saddam Hussein and his regime are now part of the past. Was all of this worth the price?

Maliki: The casualties have been and continue to be enormous. But anyone who was familiar with the dictator's nature and his intentions knows what could have been in store for us instead of this war. Saddam waged wars against Iran and Kuwait, and against Iraqis in the north and south of his own country, wars in which hundreds of thousands died. And he was capable of instigating even more wars. Yes, the casualties are great, but I see our struggle as an enormous effort to avoid other such wars in the future.

SPIEGEL: Germany was opposed to the war. German Economics Minister Michael Glos was in Baghdad the week before last, Daimler AG plans to build trucks in Iraq, and you will travel to Berlin this week. Has everything been smoothed out between Germany and Iraq?

Maliki: We want closer relations, and it is my impression that the Germans - the government, the people and German companies - want the same thing. Our task is to rebuild a country, and the Germans are famous for effective and efficient work. We have great confidence in them and want to involve them in the development of our country.

SPIEGEL: And there is truly no resentment against a country that opposed the war in 2003?

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Real Estate Crisis Threatens Spain's Economy
2008-07-21 03:39:57
Spain's economy is in trouble. Rising property values earlier this decade lured many Spaniards in the market. Now that the bubble has burst, the crisis is quickly spreading through the country's economy.

"I'll give you a good price," the man, who introduces himself on the phone as Jose, promises potential buyers. Jose has a flat in Sesena, a small town of 12,000 around 40 minutes by car from Madrid. Now, he wants to get rid of it -  regardless of the financial hit he might take. The real estate agent who sold him the property insisted it was a safe investment for the future. But those promises dissolved into thin air not long after Jose had signed the contract.

In total, 13,500 flats were supposed to be built in the new housing development where Jose's apartment is located -  homes for 50,000 people. Yet, only halfway through the building project, the plug was pulled. Several unfinished apartment blocks now blight the landscape. In the end, only 5,000 apartments were completed and a mere 750 people moved in.

And those who did move here now want to leave - Jose's isn't the only balcony boasting a "For Sale" sign. He had hoped to be able to rent out the apartment to pay of his mortgage. Despite advertising his apartment for months in various publications, no one showed any interest.

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League Of Conservation Voters To Endorse Obama
2008-07-21 03:37:21
In an election all about change, environmental groups are doing the usual - endorsing the Democratic presidential candidate.

The League of Conservation Voters will become the latest green group to back Democrat Barack Obama in five separate events across the country Monday. Its pick shouldn't be a surprise. Its scorecard of votes on environmental issues for the first session of the current Congress gave Obama a score of 67 and Republican John McCain a zero. The Arizona senator did not show up for any of the votes the group scored.

"When you look specifically at the twin challenges of cutting global warming pollution and moving toward a clean energy future, on those issues Barack Obama has the most comprehensive plan we have ever seen for a presidential nominee,"  said league president Gene Karpinsky. The league has endorsed presidential candidates since the early 1980s, but not once has it selected a Republican.

Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club announced their support for Obama earlier this year, citing McCain's support for more offshore drilling, expanding nuclear power and a gas tax holiday. Neither group has ever backed a Republican presidential candidate, although in 1988 Sierra Club made no choice because both Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis would have been good stewards of the environment, said spokesman Josh Dorner.

Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which has yet to announce its endorsement, said McCain's renegade image as a Republican crusader on global warming doesn't square with his record.

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Women Hard Hit By Food Crisis
2008-07-20 03:42:42

After she woke in the dark to sweep city streets, after she walked an hour to buy less than $2 worth of food, after she cooked for two hours in the searing noon heat, Fanta Lingani served her family's only meal of the day.

First she set out a bowl of corn mush, seasoned with tree leaves, dried fish and wood ashes, for the 11 smallest children, who tore into it with bare hands.

Then she set out a bowl for her husband. Then two bowls for a dozen older children. Then finally, after everyone else had finished, a bowl for herself. She always eats last.

A year ago, before food prices nearly doubled, Lingani would have had three meals a day of meat, rice and vegetables. Now two mouthfuls of bland mush would have to do her until tomorrow.

Rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, chewing lightly on a twig she picked off the ground, Lingani gave the last of her food to the children.

"I'm not hungry," she said.

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Search For Alien Life Gains New Impetus
2008-07-20 03:42:07

When Paul Butler began hunting for planets beyond our solar system, few people took him seriously, and some, he says, questioned his credentials as a scientist.

That was a decade ago, before Butler helped find some of the first extra-solar planets, and before he and his team identified about half of the 300 discovered since.

Biogeologist Lisa M. Pratt, of Indiana University, had a similar experience with her early research on "extremophiles," bizarre microbes found in very harsh Earth environments. She and colleagues explored the depths of South African gold mines and, to their great surprise, found bacteria sustained only by the radioactive decay of nearby rocks.

"Until several years ago, absolutely nobody thought this kind of life was possible - it hadn't even made it into science fiction," she said. "Now it's quite possible to imagine a microbe like that living deep beneath the surface of Mars."

The experiences of these two researchers reflect the scientific explosion taking place in astrobiology, the multi-disciplined search for extreme forms of life on Earth and for possibly similar, or more advanced, life elsewhere in the solar system and in distant galaxies.

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Mideast Facing Choice Between Crops And Water
2008-07-21 03:45:37
Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.

For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom, but those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.

Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.

The population of the region has more than quadrupled since 1950, to 364 million, and is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2050. By that time, the amount of fresh water available for each person, already scarce, will be cut in half, and declining resources could inflame political tensions further.

“The countries of the region are caught between the hammer of rising food prices and the anvil of steadily declining water availability per capita,” Alan R. Richards, a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via e-mail. “There is no simple solution.”

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U.N. Warns 5 Million Face Threat Of Mass Starvation In Zimbabwe
2008-07-21 03:43:26

Millions of Zimbabweans are threatened with starvation after the widespread failure of the latest harvest brought on by the government's disastrous mishandling of land redistribution, and food shortages in the shops caused by hyperinflation.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people require food aid immediately because they have harvested little or nothing in recent weeks. It has warned that up to 5 million will need assistance in the coming months. A third of the population is chronically malnourished.

Yet attempts to assist them are blocked by a ban on foreign aid agencies working in rural areas after President Robert Mugabe said they were fronts for "regime change" by Britain and the U.S.

Aid workers say the first signs of looming famine are evident, with significant population movements and children arriving at hospitals suffering from kwashiorkor (a form of malnutrition). Many families are reduced to one meal a day, with some living on fruit berries.

The U.N. says that it has seen a significant rise in the number of entire families fleeing to South Africa.

Food availability has also been hit by hyperinflation, which economists say runs above 10 million%. The central bank is issuing a $100 billion note Monday, the highest denomination to date but worth less than 10 pounds ($20).

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Iraqi Leader's Support For Obama's Troop Withdrawal Plan Stirs Up U.S. Campaign
2008-07-21 03:41:21
Intellpuke: This commentary appeared on the Spiegel Online Web site edition for Sunday, July, 20, 2008.

Obama is pleased, but McCain certainly is not. In an interview with German news magazine Spiegel, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki expressed support for Obama's troop withdrawal plans. Despite a half-hearted retraction, the comments have stirred up the U.S. presidential campaign. Spiegel stands by its version of the conversation.

Comments made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in an interview with Spiegel (Intellpuke: You can read the Spiegel interview with al-Maliki elsewhere on today's Free Internet Press mainpage.) published on Saturday have stirred up the campaign teams of both Barack Obama and John McCain this weekend. And late on Saturday, Maliki tried to distance himself from the statements, saying his comments were misunderstood.

In the interview, Maliki expressed support of Obama's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months. "That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of changes."

Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." He then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."

A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that Spiegel had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any U.S. presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the U.S.-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

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Obama: War On Taliban 'Urgent And Precarious'
2008-07-21 03:40:33

Barack Obama flew out of Afghanistan Sunday at the end of a two-day visit with a warning that the country's position in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda was "precarious" and "urgent".

Obama has promised that, if elected president in November, he will send 10,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 36,000 already there and intends to press European countries to become more engaged in the fighting.

The trip to Afghanistan marked the start of a week-long tour that takes in Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Europe.

Amid tighter than usual security, especially for a politician only seeking office, he was scheduled to arrive in Baghdad from Kabul last night.

The whole trip is critical to his chances of being elected. Any gaffes would be amplified by the huge media interest while a successful trip could help counter criticism from his Republican rival, John McCain, that he lacks foreign policy experience.

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Another British Defense Ministry Laptop Stolen - That Makes 659 Stolen In Past 4 Years
2008-07-21 03:38:20

Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) Sunday night confirmed another laptop with "sensitive information" on it has been stolen while one of their officials checked out of a hotel.

An MoD spokesman said the theft from the Britannia Adelphi hotel in Liverpool city center on Thursday brought the total of laptops stolen to 659. On Friday the MoD admitted that 658 of its laptops had been stolen over the past four years - nearly double the figure previously claimed.

The department also said 26 portable memory sticks containing classified information had been either stolen or misplaced since January.

However, the MoD insisted its policies were "generally fit for purpose", and said all data losses were fully investigated.

The embarrassing new details were disclosed by ministers in response to questions tabled in parliament.

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Obama Gets First Look At War Zone In Afghanistan
2008-07-20 03:42:56
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama got his first look at deteriorating conditions in war-torn Afghanistan on Saturday, meeting with U.S. military commanders and local officials and touring part of the country by helicopter on the first day of a highly anticipated visit abroad that drew a fresh rebuke from Republican rival John McCain.

Obama, traveling as part of an official congressional delegation, landed in the Afghan capital on Saturday morning under tight security amid a surge of Taliban activity in recent weeks. After a briefing at Bagram air base, he flew by helicopter to the northeastern city of Jalalabad in Nangahar province, where he met with U.S. soldiers and local leaders. From there, according to a U.S.-based aide, Obama set out by helicopter for a look at parts of eastern Afghanistan before returning to Kabul for a dinner with senior Afghan officials.

The presumptive Democratic nominee shied away from public comments as his trip began, belying the intense interest in the trip and its political ramifications. McCain used his new weekly radio address on Saturday to attack Obama's foreign policy credentials and judgment. But as McCain sparred with his rival, the Illinois senator received an unexpected boost from Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, who told the German magazine Der Spiegel that he looked favorably on Obama's call for a 16-month timetable for withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq.

Maliki's interview was published a day after White House officials announced that President Bush and the Iraqi leader had reached agreement on the need to set a "time horizon" for withdrawing U.S. troops, a significant shift in position by a president who long had resisted applying any semblance of a timeline on U.S. military involvement.

Iraq is expected to be part of the itinerary of Obama's trip, which also includes stops in Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain. The long-planned journey is designed to enhance Obama's foreign policy credentials and allay the concerns of some voters that he lacks the experience to serve as commander in chief while the country is engaged in two wars and a global campaign against terrorism.

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Iran Given Two-Week Deadline To End Nuclear Impasse
2008-07-20 03:42:28

Iran was given a fortnight (two weeks) to agree to freeze its uranium enrichment program Saturday or face further international isolation.

After a day of inconclusive talks in Geneva, Switzerland, a six-nation negotiating team warned the Iranian delegation that it had run out of patience and demanded a "yes or no" answer to a proposal it put forward five weeks ago.

Under that offer, sponsored jointly by the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, Iran would not expand its uranium enrichment program, while the international community refrained from imposing further sanctions. This phase would last six weeks, possibly paving the way for suspension of enrichment and more comprehensive talks.

The failure to reach agreement appeared likely to trigger new European and U.N. sanctions and to raise tensions in the Gulf. An Iranian rejection would also represent a rebuff to conciliatory moves from Washington, including the dispatch of a senior diplomat to Geneva to attend high-level talks with the Iranians for the first time in nearly three decades. The diplomat, William Burns, left Geneva without making any public comments.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief leading the international negotiating team, said the talks were "constructive", but admitted: "We didn't get the answer we were hoping for. I hope very much we will get an answer to our question presented five weeks ago and we hope we will get it in two weeks."

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Most California Wildfires Contained; Stubborn Blazes Left
2008-07-20 03:41:48
Cooler weather has allowed fire crews to corral most of the wildfires across California, but a handful of stubborn, hard-to-reach mountain blazes Saturday were still keeping residents from their homes.

Firefighters were trying to stop a fire in the Shasta Trinity National Forest from spreading to the rural town of Junction City, where an evacuation order was issued for some residents on Friday.

"Overall we're seeing the conditions stabilize," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jason Kirchner. "The only problem with that in Northern California is, it's stabilized into hot, dry conditions."

Mandatory evacuations remained Saturday for areas of Junction City because of a wildfire that has charred nearly 82 square miles in the far northern part of the state. The blaze was 45 percent contained.

All but 38 of the more than 2,000 fires sparked after a lighting storm on June 20 have been extinguished around the state, leaving nearly 1,413 square miles of destruction in what officials say is the largest fire event in California history.

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