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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Saturday July 5 2008 - (813)

Saturday July 5 2008 edition
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Closed-Door Deal Could Open Montana U.S. Forest Service Land To Subdivisions
2008-07-05 02:30:40
The Bush administration is preparing to ease the way for the nation's largest private landowner to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.

The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., a former logging company turned real estate investment trust that is building homes. Plum Creek owns more than 8 million acres nationwide, including 1.2 million acres in the mountains of western Montana, where local officials were stunned and outraged at the deal.

"We have 40 years of Forest Service history that has been reversed in the last three months," said Pat O'Herren, an official in Missoula County,which is threatening to sue the Forest Service for forgoing environmental assessments and other procedures that would have given the public a voice in the matter.

The deal, which Rey said he expects to formalize next month, threatens to dramatically accelerate trends already transforming the region. Plum Creek's shift from logging to real estate reflects a broader shift in the Western economy, from one long grounded in the industrial-scale extraction of natural resources to one based on accommodating the new residents who have made the region the fastest-growing in the nation.

Environmentalists, to their surprise, found that timber and mining were easier on the countryside.

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Two Wildfires Rage Along California's Central Coast
2008-07-05 02:30:16
A pair of out-of-control wildfires roared along California's central coast Friday, chewing through opposite ends of a parched forest and threatening a total of more than 4,500 homes.

While flames from the stubborn fire in the northern flank of the Los Padres National Forest inched closer to Big Sur's historic vacation retreats, firefighters farther south braced for the return of evening winds that a day earlier caused a wildfire in Santa Barbara County to double in size and race dangerously close to hundreds of homes.

Residents of more than 1,700 homes in and around the city of Goleta were ordered to evacuate, joining an equal number of people who were told to leave Big Sur days earlier.

Driven by wind gusts as high as 40 mph, the Santa Barbara County fire was so fierce early Friday that firefighters at one point took shelter in about 70 homes they were trying to defend, said Capt. Eli Iskow of the county fire department.

"Hundreds of firefighters were in place around hundreds of structures," said Iskow. "I think we saved every one of those structures in that area."

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Director Tries To Repair CIA As Scrutiny By Congress Grows
2008-07-05 02:28:24

Soon after accepting the post of CIA director two years ago, Michael V. Hayden set an unusual goal for his scandal-beset agency: virtual invisibility.

"CIA needs to get out of the news as source or subject," he said in an internal memo to his staff in 2006.

Two years later, that goal is far from met, as Hayden has tacitly acknowledged. In a retirement ceremony last month marking the end of his military career, the Air Force general stressed the need for the agency to "stay in the shadows" while ignoring what he called the "sometimes shrill and uninformed voices of criticism."

The comment reflected the difficulties that Hayden's CIA faces in trying to turn the corner on six years of controversy at the same time that it attempts sweeping internal changes. While the agency's leadership has sought a return to normal and has launched initiatives intended to improve ties with lawmakers and foreign allies, it finds itself in the cross hairs of a Congress determined to force a reckoning over the agency's past intelligence failures and its conduct in the fight against terrorism.

In recent weeks, both the House and the Senate have intensified their scrutiny of the CIA's treatment of detainees, with Senate investigators launching new inquiries into whether agency lawyers influenced the U.S. Defense Department's decision to use harsh interrogation techniques in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both Congress and the U.S. Justice Department are examining whether top CIA officers broke the law in ordering the destruction of videotapes that recorded the waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects.

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Secret Film Reveals How Mugabe Stole Zimbabwe Election
2008-07-05 02:27:30

A film that graphically shows how Robert Mugabe's supporters rigged Zimbabwe's election has been smuggled out of the country by a prison officer. It is believed to be the first footage of actual ballot-rigging and comes as Zimbabwe's president faces growing international pressure.

Shepherd Yuda, 36, fled the country this week with his wife and children. He said that he hoped the film, which was made for the Guardian, would help draw further attention to the violence and corruption in Zimbabwe.

Much of the footage was shot inside the country's notorious jail system. Yuda, who has worked in the prison service for 13 years, was motivated by the intensifying violence directed towards the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the murder, two months ago, of his uncle, a MDC activist.

Initially he intended to chronicle secretly what life was like inside Zimbabwe's jails but he found himself present when a war veteran and Mugabe supporter organised the vote-rigging by getting prison officers to fill in their postal ballots in his presence.

Using a hidden camera, Yuda filmed for six days prior to last Friday's run-off election in which Mugabe claimed victory with 90% of the vote. Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, had earlier said his party would not be participating in the run-off because of intimidation.

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Merrill Lynch In Talks To Share Its Stake In Bloomberg
2008-07-05 02:26:28
Merrill Lynch is in negotiations to sell its 20 percent stake in Bloomberg L.P., the financial data and news company founded by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, as Merrill Lynch seeks to raise still more capital, people involved in the talks said Friday.

The discussions remained in the early stages and the talks could fall apart, these people warned.

No agreement has been reached over the valuation of Merrill’s stake, which it acquired in the mid-1980s as one of Bloomberg’s original customers. Under the terms of its shareholder agreement, Bloomberg has the right of first refusal to buy the stake, said these people.

A sale of Merrill’s stake would also give an official value to Bloomberg, which has jealously guarded information about its profitability, and to the wealth of the man who founded the company and who remains its principal owner. Bloomberg is a fixture on listings of the wealthiest people in the world, but much of his wealth is tied to his 72 percent stake in the company.

Analysts have speculated that Bloomberg, which is privately held, could be worth $20 billion or more. News reports have estimated the company’s annual operating profit at about $1.5 billion.

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Deputy London Mayor Resigns Amid Allegations Of Financial Misconduct
2008-07-05 02:25:59

When Boris Johnson unveiled his first appointment in the afterglow of his victory over Ken Livingstone, the arrival of Ray Lewis on London's political scene was widely acclaimed as a shrewd and farsighted move.

The youth worker, who advocated tough love and strict discipline for the capital's wayward teenagers, seemed the perfect foil for the Etonian desperate to improve his reputation among London's ethnic minority communities.

When Lewis resigned last night amid allegations of financial misconduct and inappropriate behavior following a Guardian investigation, the heady days of early May were a distant memory.

It was the culmination of a series of exchanges that began on Wednesday when the Guardian approached the mayor's office with a list of questions about Lewis' past.On Thursday, Johnson declared he had "every confidence" in his "tremendous deputy".

Twenty-four hours later, following a day of frantic talks between Tory central office and City Hall, Johnson changed his mind, accepting Lewis's resignation "with regret".

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Australia's Quality Of Life At Risk Without Urgent Action On Global Warming
2008-07-04 15:54:13

Australia was urged Friday to "think big" on climate change and to adopt without delay a broad-based greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in as many industries as possible, including the energy and transport sectors.

Professor Ross Garnaut, the Australian government's chief climate change adviser, said that climate change was already having a huge impact in one of the hottest and driest countries in the world.

The veteran economist acknowledged that any proposal to put tough limits on greenhouse gas emissions would have a major impact on Australia's economy. He suggested tax cuts and welfare payments should be offered to help compensate families and businesses.

At the launch in Canberra of his long-awaited report, ordered by the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, to help shape policy, Garnaut warned Australia could not afford to avoid taking hard decisions.

Without strong and early action, he commented, Australia's "prosperity and enjoyment of life" would be affected. He said that if no action were taken, climate change would cut 4.8% of gross domestic product, more than $400 billion (Australian dollars or $388 billion U.S. dollars), by the end of the century. He also warned that some of Australia's most celebrated tourist destinations, environmental jewels such as the Great Barrier Reef and the wetlands of Kakadu in the Northern Territory, might be lost.

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Editorial: New And Not Improved
2008-07-04 15:53:38
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Friday, July 4, 2008.

Senator Barack Obama stirred his legions of supporters, and raised our hopes, promising to change the old order of things. He spoke with passion about breaking out of the partisan mold of bickering and catering to special pleaders, promised to end President Bush’s abuses of power and subverting of the Constitution and disowned the big-money power brokers who have corrupted Washington politics.

Now there seems to be a new Barack Obama on the hustings. First, he broke his promise to try to keep both major parties within public-financing limits for the general election. His team explained that, saying he had a grass-roots-based model and that while he was forgoing public money, he also was eschewing gold-plated fund-raisers. These days he’s on a high-roller hunt.

Even his own chief money collector, Penny Pritzker, suggests that the magic of $20 donations from the Web was less a matter of principle than of scheduling. “We have not been able to have much of the senator’s time during the primaries, so we have had to rely more on the Internet,” she explained as she and her team busily scheduled more than a dozen big-ticket events over the next few weeks at which the target price for quality time with the candidate is more than $30,000 per person.

The new Barack Obama has abandoned his vow to filibuster an electronic wiretapping bill if it includes an immunity clause for telecommunications companies that amounts to a sanctioned cover-up of Mr. Bush’s unlawful eavesdropping after 9/11.

In January, when he was battling for Super Tuesday votes, Mr. Obama said that the 1978 law requiring warrants for wiretapping, and the special court it created, worked. “We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend,” he declared.

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Debate Over Guantanamo's Fate
2008-07-04 15:52:57

The Bush administration is developing a long-range plan to empty the Guantanamo Bay military prison that could include asking Congress to spell out procedures for scores of suspected terrorists whom the government does not plan to bring to trial, administration officials and others familiar with high-level White House discussions on the issue said Thursday.

Under one scenario being considered by President Bush's Cabinet, about 80 detainees would remain at the facility in Cuba to be tried by military commissions, and about 65 others would be turned over to their native countries, according to several sources familiar with the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The focus of the intensifying debate is what to do with about 120 remaining prisoners, who are viewed by the administration as too dangerous to release but who are unlikely to be brought before military commissions because of a lack of evidence. Officials are considering whether to propose legislation in coming days that would establish legal procedures for such prisoners, who could be transferred to military or civilian prisons on the U.S. mainland, said sources.

The debate follows a Supreme Court ruling last month that gave Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment in U.S. civilian courts. Senior administration officials have been scrambling to formulate a response, including holding Cabinet-level meetings on the topic the past two days, said officials.

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Private Equity Buyers Salvage $52 Billion Deal For Bell Canada
2008-07-04 15:51:57
Private equity buyers apparently salvaged a record $52 billion deal for Bell Canada on Friday by postponing its closing date until later this year and canceling dividend payments.

The consortium of banks that had agreed to provide about $34 billion in financing for the acquisition were demanding changes to lending terms made a year ago before the current credit market crunch.

The deal was originally scheduled to close on Monday, but that deadline was extended because of the talks with the banks, as well as a legal issue.

Because the deal is structured under a unique Canadian court process, repricing the agreement to alleviate the lenders’ concerns would have been difficult and time consuming.

The new agreement, however, effectively reduces the purchase price by about $2 a share by moving the closing date to December 11 and halting dividend payments to holders of common shares.

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Litvinenko Associate Granted Asylum In Britain
2008-07-04 15:51:25

A Russian dissident who met the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in a cafe two days before he was poisoned in London has been granted political asylum by Britain.

Andrei Sidelnikov, 32, fled to the U.K. in December. The Russian secret service had prevented him from flying out of Moscow, but he eventually reached Gatwick after slipping out of Russia via Belarus and Ukraine.

Sidelnikov is the leader of a small Russian opposition movement, Pora. He is the latest high-profile opponent of the Kremlin to receive asylum in Britain, and had told officials his life would be in danger if he remained in Russia.

"I'm feeling very good. This means that the British government understands that there are no freedoms and rights in Russia," Sidelnikov told the Guardian today. "I'm very grateful. A lot of people in Russia are in danger," he said.

The home office's decision to grant him asylum is likely to irritate the Kremlin, and comes ahead of the first bilateral meeting between Gordon Brown and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's new president, at next week's G8 summit in Japan.

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U.S. Elderly Face Cuts In Aid As Fuel Prices Soar
2008-07-05 02:30:29
Early last month, Jeanne Fair, 62, got her first hot meals delivered to her home South Haven, Michigan, a lake town in the sparsely populated southwestern part of the state. Then after two deliveries the meals stopped because gas prices had made the delivery too expensive.

“They called and said I was outside of the delivery area,” said Mrs. Fair, who is homebound and has not been able to use her left arm since a stroke in 1997.

Faced with soaring gasoline prices, agencies around the country that provide services to the elderly say they are having to cut back on programs like Meals on Wheels, transportation assistance and home care, especially in rural areas that depend on volunteers who provide their own gas. In a recent survey by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, more than half said they had already cut back on programs because of gas costs, and 90 percent said they expected to make cuts in the 2009 fiscal year.

“I’ve never seen the increase in need at this level,” said Robert McFalls, chief executive of the Area Agency on Aging in Palm Beach, Florida, whose office has a waiting list of 1,500 people. Volunteers who deliver meals or drive the elderly to medical appointments have cut back their miles, said McFalls.

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Critics: Accounting Plan's Use Of Foreign Rules Would Make Corruption Easier
2008-07-05 02:30:01
Federal officials say they are preparing to propose a series of regulatory changes to enhance American competitiveness overseas, attract foreign investment and give American investors a broader selection of foreign stocks.

Yet critics say the changes appear to be a last-ditch push by appointees of President Bush to dilute securities rules passed after the collapse of Enron and other large companies - measures that were meant to forestall accounting gimmicks and corrupt practices that led to those corporate failures.

Legal experts, some regulators and Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the changes would put American investors at the mercy of overseas regulators who enforce weaker rules and may treat investment losses as a low priority.

Foreign regulators are beyond the reach of Congress, which oversees American securities regulation through confirmation proceedings, enforcement hearings and approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s budget.

The commission is preparing a timetable that will permit American companies to shift to the international rules, which are set by a foreign organization and give companies greater latitude in reporting earnings. Companies that have used both domestic and overseas rules have, on average, been able to report revenues and earnings that were 6 percent to 8 percent higher under the international standards, according to accounting experts.

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Commentary: Big Oil's Iraq Deals Are The Greatest Stick-Up In History
2008-07-05 02:27:54
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Naomi Klein and appeared in the Guardian edition for Friday, July 4, 2008. Ms. Klein is the award-winning author of the international bestseller, "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies". She writes an internationally syndicated column for The Nation magazine and the Guardian newspaper. Her articles have appeared in Harper's Magazine, The Globe and Mail, and the New York Times. In her commentary, she writes: "The country's invaders should be paying billions in reparations not using the war as a reason to pillage its richest resource." Ms. Klein's commentary follows:

Once oil passed $140 a barrel, even the most rabidly rightwing media hosts had to prove their populist credibility by devoting a portion of every show to bashing Big Oil. Some have gone so far as to invite me on for a friendly chat about an insidious new phenomenon: "disaster capitalism." It usually goes well - until it doesn't.

For instance, "independent conservative" radio host Jerry Doyle and I were having a perfectly amiable conversation about sleazy insurance companies and inept politicians when this happened: "I think I have a quick way to bring the prices down," Doyle announced. "We've invested $650bn to liberate a nation of 25 million people, shouldn't we just demand that they give us oil? There should be tankers after tankers backed up like a traffic jam getting into the Lincoln Tunnel, the stinkin' Lincoln, at rush-hour with thank-you notes from the Iraqi government ... Why don't we just take the oil? We've invested it liberating a country. I can have the problem solved of gas prices coming down in 10 days, not 10 years."

There were a couple of problems with Doyle's plan, of course. The first was that he was describing the biggest stick-up in world history. The second that he was too late. "We" are already heisting Iraq's oil, or at least are on the brink of doing so.

It started with no-bid service contracts announced for Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total (they have yet to be signed but are still on course). Paying multinationals for their technical expertise is not unusual in itself. What is odd is that such contracts almost invariably go to oil service companies - not to the oil majors, whose work is exploring, producing and owning carbon wealth. The contracts only make sense in the context of reports that the oil majors have insisted on the right of first refusal on subsequent contracts handed out to manage and produce Iraq's oilfields. In other words, other companies will be free to bid on those future contracts, but these companies will win.
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Britain's Prime Minister: West Must Not Give Up On Aid, Global Warming
2008-07-05 02:27:09

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown Saturday warned Britain's G8 partners against a retreat into isolationism, and insisted that the looming threat to the global economy instead required a speeding up of the fight to tackle climate change and poverty.

Amid fears the credit crunch will cause the G8 to backpedal on pledges to cut carbon emissions and increase aid to poor countries by $50 billion a year, the prime minister used an interview with the Guardian ahead of the G8 summit to stress the need for united action in the west to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and boost food production in developing countries.

"The world is suffering a triple challenge: of higher fuel prices, higher food prices and a credit crunch. My message to the G8 will be that instead of sidelining climate change and the development agenda, the present economic crisis means that instead of relaxing our efforts we have got to accelerate them.

"This agenda is not just the key to the environment and reducing poverty, but the key to our economic future as well," said Brown.

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Commentary: A Familiar Face Atop McCain's Campaign
2008-07-05 02:26:14
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Guardian American editor Michael Tomasky, and appeared in the Guardian edition for Thursday, July 3, 2008.

You're running for president. Your opponent's main line of attack against you is to try to link you to a deeply unpopular incumbent. So what do you do?

You hire a man with close ties to that incumbent!

I don't know Steve Schmidt, and maybe he's the most brilliant political adviser since Rasputin. But honestly, are his ties to Dick Cheney and Karl Rove really what John McCain needs? For Cheney, Schmidt served as a spokesman - the easiest job in Washington in the past eight years, since the only thing Cheney's office ever said about anything was "no comment". As the Washington journalist Robert Dreyfuss explained here a year ago, Cheney's office wouldn't even answer basic questions about who worked in the office of the vice-president - all of them, of course, employees of the American people, whose salaries are paid by our taxes.

As for being a Rove insider, that hasn't looked like a brilliant thing to be at least since election day 2006, when the Republicans got trounced in spite of Rove's sanguine prediction to the contrary. This year, Rove has been spouting increasingly peculiar opinions, sounding less like a political analyst than a Mad Men character (conjuring Barack Obama as some Dick van Dyke-era country club rake). He has also been accused (yet again, yawn) of lying through his teeth about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilsonby Scott McClellan and he continues to waltz through life ignoring a congressional subpoena. Lovely guy.

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U.S. Workforce Shrinks For Sixth Straight Month
2008-07-04 15:54:26
Employers cut 62,000 jobs in June, marking the sixth consecutive month that the nation has shed jobs, according to a government report released Thursday, deepening concern that the struggling U.S. economy could turn worse before it gets better.

The collapse in the real estate and mortgage industries, coupled with the specter of inflation fueled by the rising price of oil and other commodities, has crimped employers and left top policymakers and private analysts convinced that the economy is in for a prolonged period of sluggishness.

"We're not in a traditional recession dynamic where jobs get cut aggressively," said Bruce Kasman, chief economist for J.P. Morgan Chase.He said, "things may be starting to get worse, not better."

Of immediate concern to many economists is how the nation will emerge from the economic slowdown even as it faces inflationary pressures brought on by record-high oil and commodity prices. The price of a barrel of oil pushed near $146 before falling back yesterday, and it has increased about 50 percent since the start of the year.

Wrapping up a European tour, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., said high oil prices "are a strong headwind, and at this level, they have got a high risk that they are going to prolong the slowdown."

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Wildlife Extinction Rates 'Seriously Underestimated'
2008-07-04 15:54:01

Endangered species may become extinct 100 times faster than previously thought, scientists warned Wednesday, in a bleak re-assessment of the threat to global biodiversity.

Writing in the journal Nature, leading ecologists claim that methods used to predict when species will die out are seriously flawed, and dramatically underestimate the speed at which some plants and animals will be wiped out.

The findings suggest that animals such as the western gorilla, the Sumatran tiger and the Malayan sun bear, the smallest of the bear family, may become extinct much sooner than conservationists feared.

Ecologists Brett Melbourne at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Alan Hastings at the University of California, Davis, said conservation organizations should use updated extinction models to urgently re-evaluate the risks to wildlife.

"Some species could have months instead of years left, while other species that haven't even been identified as under threat yet should be listed as endangered," said Melbourne.

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Obama's Remarks Spark Iraq Pullout Debate
2008-07-04 15:53:27

Senator Barack Obama said Thursday that he might “refine” his policies for Iraq after meeting with military commanders there later this summer, but hours later he held a second news conference to emphasize his commitment to the withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

His two statements in Fargo, North Dakota, reflected how the changing dynamics in Iraq have posed a challenge for Mr. Obama, who is trying to retain flexibility as violence declines there without abandoning a central promise of his campaign: that if elected, he would end the war.

His remarks came as Republicans - including his all-but-certain opponent this fall, Senator John McCain, of Arizona -  have been arguing that Obama would most likely change his position on the phased withdrawal. They suggest that with violence dropping in Iraq, bringing the troops home would risk erasing the fragile gains that have been made.

Obama said at his first news conference on Thursday that he planned a “thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy when he visited that country this summer.

“I’ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability,” he said. “That assessment has not changed. And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.”

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Poland Rejects U.S. Missile Shield Offer
2008-07-04 15:52:22
Poland spurned as insufficient on Friday a U.S. offer to boost its air defenses in return for basing anti-missile interceptors on its soil but said it remained open to talks with Washington.

The decision by Poland, a staunch NATO ally, is a setback for the Bush administration drive to counter perceived threats from what Washington calls "rogue states," particularly Iran.

"We have not reached a satisfactory result on the issue of increasing the level of Polish security," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference after studying the latest U.S. proposal.

"The aim of the negotiations, in my view, is to enhance the security of our country. We still agree that it is fundamental for us to maintain our alignment with the United States, which has been, is and will continue to be our strategic ally."

In Washington, the State Department said it was studying Tusk's remarks closely.

"Poland remains a close and important ally of the United States," Sean McCormack, a department spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. "We remain in negotiations with Poland and do not plan to comment publicly on the details."

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Influential White House Staff Member Quits Job
2008-07-04 15:51:39

Joe Hagin, the little known but influential White House staffer who supervised the renovation of the Situation Room and planned President Bush's secret trips to Iraq, surprised colleagues Thursday with his resignation.

"It's time to move on," Hagin told colleagues Thursday in an e-mail informing them he had accepted a corporate job that will involve spending time in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Illinois.

Hagin is one of the few staffers who had senior posts in the White House under both Bush and his father, President George H.W. Bush,for whom Hagin first worked as a personal aide when the 41st chief executive was vice president.

Hagin served the current president as deputy chief of staff, with responsibility for the management and administrative functions of the White House. That perch put him in charge of a major upgrade of White House infrastructure during the administration, including the press briefing room and the Situation Room, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the two planes used as Air Force One.

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Britain's Top Spy Seriously Ill
2008-07-04 15:50:55

The U.K.'s top spy has collapsed and is seriously ill in hospital, the cabinet office said Friday, but police have ruled out the possibility of "foul play".

Alex Allan, 57, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), fell ill at his home on Monday and was taken to a hospital in London. He is believed to be in a coma.

Government sources said the cause of the top intelligence adviser's collapse is unknown.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: "We were made aware of a man in his late 50s who was taken to a London hospital after being taken ill at his home address.

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