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Monday, July 28, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday July 28 2008 - (813)

Monday July 28 2008 edition
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UPDATE: 2 Killed In Gunman's Attack On Tennessee Church
2008-07-28 03:33:24
A gunman opened fire at a church youth performance Sunday and killed two people, including a man who witnesses called a hero for shielding others from a shotgun blast.

Seven adults were also injured but no children were harmed at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Church members said they dove under pews or ran from the building when the shooting started.

The gunman was tackled by congregants and eventually taken into police custody.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was charged with first-degree murder and was being held on $1 million bail, according to city spokesman Randy Kenner, who did not know if the suspect had retained an attorney. Authorities were searching Adkisson's home in the Knoxville bedroom community of Powell, said Kenner.

The man slain was identified as Greg McKendry, 60, a longtime church member and usher. Church member Barbara Kemper told the Associated Press that McKendry "stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us."

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U.S. Contractor Paid $142 Million For Iraq Projects Never Built Or Finished
2008-07-28 03:33:00

The U.S. government paid a California contractor $142 million to build prisons, fire stations and police facilities in Iraq  that it never built or finished, according to audits by a watchdog office.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said Parsons of Pasadena, California, received the money, part of a total of $333 million but only completed about one-third of the projects, which also included courthouses and border control stations. The inspector general's office is expected to release two detailed audits today, evaluating Parsons's work on the contract, which is worth up to $900 million.

"Far less was accomplished under this contract than originally planned," the inspector general wrote. "Millions of dollars in waste are likely associated with incomplete, terminated and abandoned projects under this contract." Auditors did not give a dollar figure of how much had potentially been wasted, but they said Parsons got about 10 percent - or $11.3 million -- of the $108 million of award fees it could have received.

Parsons said in a written statement Sunday that it had "some serious reservations about the conclusions" in the audits, saying the company was hindered by the violent and unstable security situation in Iraq. One of Parsons's subcontractors was shot and killed at close range while in his office, said the company.

Parsons' work is emblematic of other troubles in the $50 billion U.S. reconstruction effort, in which there have been widespread problems of contractors doing poor work, being late and overspending on projects. Those issues combined with bad record-keeping, lack of oversight by overworked government managers, and high personnel turnover for both the government and contractors in an unstable war zone have created millions of dollars in waste, according to the Iraq inspector general. SIGIR conceded that Parsons's "failure to complete some of the work was understandable because of its complex nature and unstable security environment."

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Global Pressures Have Converged To Drive Up Oil Prices
2008-07-27 15:18:32
The two events, half a world apart, went largely unheralded.

Early this month, Valero Energy, in Texas, got the unwelcome news that Mexico would be cutting supplies to one of the company's Gulf Coast refineries by up to 15 percent. Mexico's state-owned oil enterprise is one of Valero's main sources of crude, but oil output from Mexican fields, including the giant Cantarell field, is drying up. Mexican sales of crude oil to the United States have plunged to their lowest level in more than a dozen years.

The same week, India's Tata Motors announced it was expanding its plans to begin producing a new $2,500 "people's car" called the Nano in the fall. The company hopes that by making automobiles affordable for people in India and elsewhere, it could eventually sell 1 million of them a year.

Although neither development made headlines, together they were emblematic of the larger forces of supply and demand that have sent world oil prices bursting through one record level after another. And while the cost of crude has surged before, this oil shock is different. There is little prospect that drivers will ever again see gas prices retreat to the levels they enjoyed for much of the last generation.

Unlike the two short, sharp oil jolts of the 1970s, the latest run-up has been accelerating over several years as ample supplies of crude oil have proven elusive and the thirst for petroleum products has grown. The average price of a barrel of oil produced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries doubled from 2001 to 2005, doubled again by March this year and jumped as much as 40 percent more after that.

For American motorists, a full tank of gas costs nearly twice what it did at the start of last year, racing past the $4-a-gallon mark, and has begun cutting into other household spending.

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If Greenland's Ice Sheet Melts, Sea Levels Could Rise 23 Feet Worldwide
2008-07-27 15:17:52
Greenland's ice sheet represents one of global warming's most disturbing threats. The vast expanses of glaciers -  massed, on average, 1.6 miles deep - contain enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by 23 feet. Should they melt or otherwise slip into the ocean, they would flood coastal capitals, submerge tropical islands and generally redraw the world’s atlases. The infusion of fresh water could slow or shut down the ocean’s currents, plunging Europe into bitter winter.

Yet for the residents of the frozen island, the early stages of climate change promise more good, in at least one important sense, than bad. A Danish protectorate since 1721, Greenland has long sought to cut its ties with its colonizer. But while proponents of complete independence face little opposition at home or in Copenhagen, they haven’t been able to overcome one crucial calculation: the country depends on Danish assistance for more than 40 percent of its gross domestic product. “The independence wish has always been there,” says Aleqa Hammond, Greenland’s minister for finance and foreign affairs. “The reason we have never realized it is because of the economics.”

Climate change has the power to unsettle boundaries and shake up geopolitics, usually for the worse. In June, the tiny South Pacific nation of Kiribati announced that rising sea levels were making its lands uninhabitable and asked for help in evacuating its population. Bangladesh, low-lying, crowded and desperately impoverished, is watching the waves as well; a one-yard rise would flood a seventh of its territory. But while most of the world sees only peril in the island’s meltwater, Greenland’s independence movement has explicitly tied its fortunes to the warming of the globe.

The island’s ice cover has already begun to disappear. “Changes in the ocean eat the ice sheet from underneath,” says Sarah Das, a glaciologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “Warmer water causes the glaciers to calve and melt back more quickly.” Hunters who use the frozen surface of the winter ocean for hunting and travel have found themselves idle when the ice fails to form. The whales, seals and birds they hunt have begun to shift their migratory patterns. “The traditional culture will be hard hit,” says Jesper Madsen, director of the department of Arctic environment at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. “But from an overall perspective, it will have a positive effect.” Greenland’s fishermen are applauding the return of warm-water cod. Shops in the island’s capital have suddenly begun to offer locally produced potatoes and broccoli - crops unimaginable a few years earlier.

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The Agency Name That Dare Not Be Spoken
2008-07-27 15:17:09
The name of the Central Intelligence Agency cannot be spoken in the war crimes trial here at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

No records of the agency's interrogations of Salim Ahmed Hamdan can be subpoenaed, and no agent can be called to testify about what he or she learned from Osama bin Laden's former driver.

When defense attorney Harry H. Schneider, Jr., attempted to demonstrate how many interrogations Hamdan had undergone in the months after his November 2001 arrest - at least 40 - he couldn't list the CIA along with more than a dozen other agencies including the Secret Service and what was then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The prohibition against naming the CIA came in a "protective order" issued by the court at the government's request. The tribunal's deputy chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bruce A. Pagel, couldn't say which agency sought the shield or what arguments were made to justify it.

"It's a bit absurd to go through an entire trial pretending that the CIA doesn't exist," said Matt Pollard, a legal adviser for Amnesty International here to  monitor the proceedings.
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In Cambodia, Land Seizures Push Thousands Of The Poor Into Homelessness
2008-07-27 15:16:09
When the monsoon rain pours through Mao Sein’s torn thatch roof, she pulls a straw sleeping mat over herself and her three small children and waits until it stops.

She and her children sit on a low table as floodwater rises, bringing with it the sewage that runs along the mud paths outside their shack.

Ms. Mao Sein, 34, was resettled by the government here in an empty field two years ago, when the police raided the squatters’ colony where she lived in Phnom Penh, the capital, 12 miles away.

She is a widow and a scavenger. The area where she lives has no clean water or electricity, no paved roads or permanent buildings; but there is land to live on, and that has drawn scores of new homeless families to settle here, squatting among the squatters.

With its shacks and its sewage, Andong looks very much like the refugee camps that were home to those who were forced from their homes by the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

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Fire Still Threatens Thousands Of Homes Near Yosemite National Park
2008-07-27 15:15:25
A fast-spreading wildfire raged out of control Sunday near an entrance to Yosemite National Park after forcing residents to evacuate 170 homes and leading authorities to cut power to the park.

The blaze had charred about 25 square miles, or 16,000 acres, since Friday as wooded slopes ignited amid hot, dry conditions that have plagued California for months. The steep terrain west of the park is overgrown with dense brush that was fueling the flames, said fire officials.

"There's no fire history in the past 100 years. That's one of the reasons this fire's been able to burn so erratically," Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Sunday.

Officials ordered the evacuations of 170 homes under immediate threat. About 2,000 homes faced at least some danger from the fast-spreading flames, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

About 900 firefighters were battling the fire and hundreds more were headed to the scene along the Merced River west of Yosemite, one of the nation's most visited national parks. Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, located along Highway 140, about 12 miles from the park.

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China's Cars Accelerating Global Demand For Fuel
2008-07-28 03:33:14
Nodding his head to the disco music blaring out of his car's nine speakers, Zhang Linsen swings the shiny, black Hummer H2 out of his company's gates and on to the spacious four-lane road.

Running a hand over his closely shaved head, Zhang scans the expanse of high-end suburban offices and villas that a decade ago was just another patch of farmland outside of Shanghai. To his left is a royal blue sedan with a couple and a baby, in front of him a lone young woman being chauffeured in a van.

"In China, size matters," says Zhang, the 44-year-old founder of a media and graphic design company. "People want to have a car that shows off their status in society. No one wants to buy small."

Zhang grasps the wheels of his Hummer, called "hanma" or "fierce horse" in Chinese, and hits the accelerator.

Car ownership in China is exploding, and it's not only cars but also sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks and other gas-guzzling rides. Elsewhere in the world, the popularity of these vehicles has tumbled as the cost of oil has soared. But in China, the number of SUVs sold rose 43 percent in May compared with the previous year, and full-size sedans were up 15 percent. Indeed, China's demand for gas is much of the reason for the dramatic run-up in global oil prices.

China alone accounts for about 40 percent of the world's recent increase in demand for oil, burning through twice as much now as it did a decade ago. Fifteen years ago, there were almost no private cars in the country. By the end of last year, the number had reached 15.2 million.

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Economists: U.S. Housing Bill Won't 'Perform Miracles'
2008-07-27 15:18:42

Even as a huge bipartisan majority in the Senate voted Saturday to send a sprawling housing bill to the White House,  economists, consumer advocates and other analysts said the package of programs for struggling homeowners and shaken mortgage lenders is unlikely to relieve the foreclosure crisis that is driving the nation toward recession.

"This is not the end of the housing crunch," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute.  "Housing prices have already fallen 15 percent and they need to fall 10 percent more. This bill isn't going to change that equation."

The Senate voted 72 to 13 to approve the bill, which seeks to halt the steepest slide in house prices in a generation, rescue hundreds of thousands of families from foreclosure and restore confidence in the nation's largest mortgage-finance firms. White House officials said President Bush is likely to sign it by midweek, despite his opposition to nearly $4 billion in aid to local communities.

During Senate debate, Christopher J. Dodd (D-Connecticut), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and one of the bill's lead sponsors, cited a litany of grim statistics about the mortgage crisis, including that an estimated 8,500 families a day are falling into foreclosure and that one in every eight homes is projected to enter foreclosure over the next five years.

"This legislation will not perform miracles. I want the American people to have realistic expectations about what we're about to do," Dodd said. "But as others have said, it is a step, and an important step, towards putting our nation on the road to economic recovery."

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U.S. War On Terrorism Loses Ground In Pakistan
2008-07-27 15:18:13
Although the "war on terrorism" remains a consuming focus of the U.S. government, the Bush administration appears poised to leave behind a situation not unlike the one it inherited nearly eight years ago: a resurgent al-Qaeda ensconced in South Asia, training new recruits, plotting attacks against the West, and seemingly beyond the United States' reach.

In dozens of interviews, senior U.S. national security, intelligence and military officials described a counter-terrorism campaign in Pakistan that has lost momentum and is beset by frustration.

CIA officers pursuing al-Qaeda fighters are confined largely to a collection of crumbling bases in northwestern Pakistan. Most are on remote Pakistani military outposts, where they are kept on a short leash under an awkward arrangement with their hosts - rarely allowed to leave and often left with little to do but plead with their Pakistani counterparts to act.

"Everyone who serves in Pakistan comes back frustrated," said a former CIA case officer. The case officer, like many other officials, spoke on condition of anonymity when describing U.S. counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan because the efforts are highly sensitive and the officials in many cases are not authorized to speak publicly.

Two troubled options define the U.S. approach. One is the present policy of counting on a politically evolving Pakistan to address the problem, which could allow al-Qaeda to operate relatively unmolested for years. The other, unilateral U.S. military action, even counter-terrorism hard-liners acknowledge, might only compound the militant threat.
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After Iowa Raid, Immigrants Fuel Labor Inquiries
2008-07-27 15:17:30
When federal immigration agents raided the kosher meatpacking plant here in Postville, Iowa, in May and rounded up 389 illegal immigrants, they found more than 20 under-age workers, some as young as 13.

Now those young immigrants have begun to tell investigators about their jobs. Some said they worked shifts of 12 hours or more, wielding razor-edged knives and saws to slice freshly killed beef. Some worked through the night, sometimes six nights a week.

One, a Guatemalan named Elmer L. who said he was 16 when he started working on the plant’s killing floors, said he worked 17-hour shifts, six days a week. In an affidavit, he said he was constantly tired and did not have time to do anything but work and sleep. “I was very sad,” he said, “and I felt like I was a slave.”

At first, labor officials said the raid had disrupted federal and state investigations already under way at Agriprocessors Inc., the nation’s largest kosher plant. The raid has drawn criticism for what some see as harsh tactics against the immigrants, with little action taken against their employers.

In the aftermath of the arrests, however, labor investigators have reaped a bounty of new evidence from the testimony of illegal immigrants, teenagers and adults, who were caught in the raid. In formal declarations, immigrants have described pervasive labor violations at the plant, testimony that could result in criminal charges for Agriprocessors executives, said labor law experts.

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Gunman Wounds 7 People In Tennessee Church
2008-07-27 15:16:52
A gunman has opened fire during a church service in Knoxville, Tennessee, and seven people have been taken to a hospital.

A church member told the Associated Press that the gunmen came in Sunday with a shotgun and fired three shots. The church member, Steve Drevick, says that several people had head injuries.

WBIR-TV and WATE-TV in Knoxville report Sunday that the gunman is in custody.

A spokeswoman for the University of Tennessee Medical Center says the patients are ''in various stages of treatment.'' Spokeswoman Becky Thompson would not release their conditions.

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At Least 45 Killed In Explosions In India
2008-07-27 15:15:41
For the second time in two days, small explosions rocked an Indian city, this time in Ahmedabad on Saturday evening, killing at least 45 people. The Indian government said cities across the country had been put on alert for similar attacks.

At least 16 explosions went off shortly after 6:30 p.m. in several crowded neighborhoods in the western city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat State, the chief minister, Narendra Modi, told reporters late Saturday. According to the latest details available Sunday, another 110 people were wounded, the Associated Press reported.

One of the targets was a public bus, which appeared to be badly damaged, according to televised reports.

As crowded as those neighborhoods appeared, the casualties would have been far greater had more powerful explosives been used.

Law enforcement authorities did not immediately say who might have been responsible.

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