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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday July 3 2008 - (813)

Thursday July 3 2008 edition
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Bush Officials Condoned Regional Iraqi Oil Deal - Contract Contradicted State Dept.'s Public Stance
2008-07-03 03:40:12

Bush administration officials told Hunt Oil last summer that they did not object to its efforts to reach an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, even while the State Department was publicly expressing concern that such contracts could undermine a national Iraqi petroleum law, according to documents obtained by a House committee.

Last fall, after the deal was announced, the State Department said that it had tried to dissuade Hunt Oil from signing the contract with Kurdish regional authorities but that the company had proceeded "regardless of our advice." Although Hunt Oil's chief executive has been a major fundraiser for President Bush, the president said he knew nothing about the deal.

Wednesday, however, Henry A. Waxman (D-California), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released documents and e-mails showing that for nearly four months, State and Commerce department officials knew about Hunt Oil's negotiations and had told company officials that there were no objections. In one note, a Commerce Department official even wished them "a fruitful visit to Kurdistan" and invited them to contact him "in case you need any support."

That guidance contradicted the administration's public posture. The Bush administration made an Iraqi national petroleum law, which has still not been adopted, a top priority last year in the hope it would more tightly bind the country's regions together and open the way for international oil companies to invest in much larger oil fields south of Iraq's Kurdish region. The State Department said, and continues to assert, that it opposes any contract with a regional Iraqi authority in the absence of a national petroleum law.

The Hunt Oil deal was seen by Kurdish officials as a key victory because the company's chief executive, Ray L. Hunt, was not only a major backer of Bush but also a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. After the deal was completed, a dozen other foreign firms signed oil contracts with Kurdish authorities.

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Commentary: Not So Quiet On The Third (i.e. Iran) Front
2008-07-03 03:39:50
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, writing from Washington, D.C. It appeared in the Post's edition for Thursday, July 3, 2008.

At this rate, the October Surprise won't be very surprising.

The threats, counterthreats, and counter-counterthreats between Israel, Iran and the United States have reached new levels of hysteria in recent days. Israel openly threatens to attack Iran's nuclear program, Iran threatens to shut down oil-shipping lanes, and the commander of the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, says this would be an "act of war" requiring an American military response.

That was the backdrop Wednesday as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced the cameras in the Pentagon briefing room. Mullen, just back from a trip to Israel that further raised speculation about an Israeli attack, was asked whether Cosgriff's saber rattling would raise tensions with Iran.

"Actually," the chairman replied, "I think Admiral Cosgriff, who made that statement, is making an accurate statement."

Or, as John McCain might sing, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran."

The doldrums of the Fourth of July recess have been enlivened by fresh talk of another war. Is it a diplomatic bluff or a serious possibility? Perhaps some of each: Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the Associated Press Wednesday that the possibility of an attack is "craziness" - but, just in case, he also made sure in the same interview to speak about progress in negotiations with the West.

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Federal Judge Rejects Bush's Justification For Wiretaps
2008-07-03 03:39:11
A federal judge in California said Wednesday that the wiretapping law established by Congress was the “exclusive” means for the president to eavesdrop on Americans, and he rejected the government’s claim that the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief trumped that law.

The judge, Vaughan R. Walker, the chief judge for the Northern District of California, made his findings in a ruling on a lawsuit brought by an Oregon charity. The group says it has evidence of an illegal wiretap used against it by the National Security Agency (N.S.A.) under the secret surveillance program established by President Bush after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Justice Department has tried for more than two years to kill the lawsuit, saying any surveillance of the charity or other entities was a “state secret” and citing the president’s constitutional power as commander in chief to order wiretaps without a warrant from a court under the agency’s program.

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Fund Manager Who Faked His Suicide Surrenders
2008-07-03 03:38:04
Samuel Israel III, tricked his investors, lied to his lawyers and misled the police but, in the end, he listened to his mother.

The fugitive former manager of the Bayou Group hedge fund, whose faked suicide on a Hudson River bridge and subsequent disappearance last month set off an international manhunt, turned himself in Wednesday morning in Southwick, Massachusetts, just after speaking to his mother by phone.

Unlike some other notable fugitives, Israel, did not make it very far. He apparently spent the last four weeks living in a recreational vehicle at a Massachusetts campground, picking up supplies at the camp’s small store.

Shortly before he walked into the Southwick police station at 9:15 a.m., Ann R. Israel informed United States marshals that her 48-year-old son planned to surrender. A spokesman for the marshals, Dave Turner, said “it appears Mrs. Israel and other family members played an important role in Mr. Israel’s decision to face justice.”

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More Than 900 Cases Alleging Fraud By Government Contractors, Drugmakers Getting Nowhere
2008-07-02 03:09:34

More than 900 cases alleging that government contractors and drugmakers have defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars are languishing in a backlog that has built up over the past decade because the Justice Department cannot keep pace with the surge in charges brought by whistle-blowers, according to lawyers involved in the disputes.

The issue is drawing renewed interest among lawmakers and nonprofit groups because many of the cases involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising health-care payouts, and privatization of government functions - all of which offer rich new opportunities to swindle taxpayers.

Since 2001, 300 to 400 civil cases have been filed each year by employees charging that their companies defrauded the government. But under the cumbersome process that governs these cases, Justice Department lawyers must review them under seal, and whistle-blowers routinely wait 14 months or longer just to learn whether the department will get involved. The government rejects about three-quarters of the cases it receives, saying that the vast majority have little merit.

Disputes can stay buried for years more while the government investigates the allegations.

"Even if no new cases are filed, it might take 10 years for the Department of Justice to clear its desk. Cases in the backlog represent a lot of money being left on the table," said Patrick Burns, a spokesman for Taxpayers Against Fraud, which advocates for Justice to receive more funding to support cases by whistle-blowers and their attorneys.

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Deepening Cycle Of U.S. Job Losses Could Last Into 2009
2008-07-02 03:09:12

As automakers dropped their latest batch of awful sales numbers on the market on Tuesday, reinforcing the gloom spreading across the economy, the troubles confronting American workers seemed to intensify.

Plummeting home prices have in recent months eliminated jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, from bankers and real estate agents to construction workers and furniture manufacturers. Tighter lending standards imposed by banks in the wake of huge mortgage losses have made it hard for many Americans to secure credit - the lifeblood of expansion in recent years - crimping the appetite of consumers, whose spending amounts to 70 percent of the economy.

Joblessness has accelerated, and employers have slashed working hours even for those on their payrolls, shrinking the size of paychecks just as workers need them the most.

Now, add to that unsavory mix the word from automakers that sales plunged in June - by 28 percent for Ford, 21 percent for Toyota and 18 percent for General Motors - a sharp sign that consumers are pulling back, making manufacturers more likely to cut production and impose more layoffs. Until recently, the weak labor market has been marked more by the reluctance of employers to create new jobs than by mass layoffs.

Among economists, the sense is broadening that the troubles dogging the economy will be stubborn, leaving in place an uncomfortable combination of tight credit and scant job opportunities perhaps well into next year.

“It’s a slow-motion recession,” said Ethan Harris, chief United States economist for Lehman Brothers. “In a normal recession, things kind of collapse and get so weak that you have nowhere to go but up. But we’re not getting the classic two or three negative quarters. Instead, we’re expecting two years of sub-par growth. Growth that’s not enough to generate jobs. It’s kind of a chronic rather than an acute pain.”

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U.S. Supreme Court's Weighing Of Death Penalty In Child Rape Case Contained Factual Error
2008-07-02 03:08:25
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional, the majority noted that a child rapist could face the ultimate penalty in only six states - not in any of the 30 other states that have the death penalty, and not under the jurisdiction of the federal government either.

This inventory of jurisdictions was a central part of the court’s analysis, the foundation for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's  conclusion in his majority opinion that capital punishment for child rape was contrary to the “evolving standards of decency” by which the court judges how the death penalty is applied.

It turns out that Justice Kennedy’s confident assertion about the absence of federal law was wrong.

A military law blog pointed out over the weekend that Congress, in fact, revised the sex crimes section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 2006 to add child rape to the military death penalty. The revisions were in the National Defense Authorization Act that year. President Bush signed that bill into law and then, last September, carried the changes forward by issuing Executive Order 13447, which put the provisions into the 2008 edition of the Manual for Courts-Martial.

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Aussie Charity Used 'Terror' Group To Distribute Aid In Gaza
2008-07-02 03:06:52
A Sydney charity has admitted channeling into the Palestinian Territories through an Islamic organization banned by Australia and the U.S. for its alleged links to terrorism.

Muslim Aid Australia (MAA) has used Interpal - an organization proscribed by former Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer and declared a "specially designated global terrorist" organization by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2003 - to distribute medical aid in Gaza.

Interpal is a British-based humanitarian group also known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund. It has been cleared of terror links by the British Charity Commission but failed three years ago to have its proscribed listing revoked in Australia, when lawyers for the group unsuccessfully petitioned Downer.

When informed of MAA's relationship with Interpal, the Department of Foreign Affairs indicated it might refer the case for investigation. The Australian Federal Police Monday night refused to confirm or deny whether inquiries were already under way.

It is a criminal offense under the Charter of the United Nations Act for Australian individuals or organizations to deal with groups identified by DFAT's Consolidated List, which names banned groups and people. Breaching the act can result in a maximum 10-year prison sentence and fines of more than $275,000 for individuals and more than $1.1 million for organizations, DFAT says.

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Entire Town Of Big Sur, California, Evacuated For Fire
2008-07-03 03:39:59
Authorities ordered the remaining residents of the scenic coastal community of Big Sur to leave Wednesday because an out-of-control wildfire, one of hundreds in California, had jumped a fire line and was threatening more homes.

Flames raged in the hills above and ash fell from orange skies as evacuees in packed cars streamed north along Highway 1, the only major road out of Big Sur. Sheriff's deputies told residents they needed to leave the area by late afternoon.

"The fire is just a big raging animal right now," said Darby Marshall, spokesman for the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services.

The blaze near Big Sur is one of more than 1,100 wildfires, mostly ignited by lightning, that have scorched 680 square miles and destroyed 60 homes and buildings across northern and central California since June 20, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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McCain Taps New Top Strategist - His Third
2008-07-03 03:39:36

Facing growing dissatisfaction both inside and outside his campaign, Sen. John McCain ordered a shake-up of his team yesterday, reducing the role of campaign manager Rick Davis and vesting political adviser Steve Schmidt with "full operational control" of his bid for the presidency.

Schmidt becomes the third political operative in the past year to take on the task of attempting to guide McCain to the  White House. A veteran of President Bush's political operation, Schmidt will be in charge of finding a more effective message in the Arizona Republican's race against Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who leads in most polls.

In a telephone interview, Schmidt said that McCain faces a difficult challenge, given the overall mood of the country, but that he is encouraged by the race remaining relatively tight.

"There are 125 days left until the American people will decide the next president," he said. "Senator McCain is the underdog in the race. We suspect he is behind nationally five to eight points but well within striking distance. I will help run an organization that exists for the purpose of delivering John McCain's message to the American people." Schmidt is also expected to abandon Davis's plan to put roughly a dozen regional campaign managers in place around the country.

The abrupt shift in leadership, announced to McCain's staff yesterday morning, came after weeks of complaints from Republicans outside the campaign and growing concerns within it about the lack of a clear message, the cumbersome decision-making process, the sloppy staging of events, and a schedule driven largely by fundraising priorities rather than political necessity.

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Editorial: A Supreme Court On The Brink
2008-07-03 03:38:36
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, July 3, 2008.

In some ways, the U.S. Supreme Court term that just ended seems muddled: disturbing, highly conservative rulings on subjects like voting rights and gun control, along with important defenses of basic liberties in other areas, including the rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The key to understanding the term lies in the fragility of the court’s center. Some of the most important decisions came on 5-to-4 votes - a stark reminder that the court is just one justice away from solidifying a far-right majority that would do great damage to the Constitution and the rights of ordinary Americans.

The Supreme Court abandoned its special role in protecting voting rights when it rejected a challenge to Indiana’s harshly anti-democratic voter I.D. law. Critics warned that the law, which bars anyone without a government-issued photo I.D.  from voting, would disenfranchise poor people, minorities and the elderly, all of whom disproportionately lack drivers’ licenses. The critics were right. In the Indiana presidential primary, shortly after the ruling, about 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s were turned away at the polls for not having acceptable I.D.

In another sharp break with its traditions, the court struck down parts of the District of Columbia’s gun-control law. After seven decades of holding that the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is tied to raising a militia, the court reversed itself and ruled that it confers on individuals the right to keep guns in their homes for personal use. The decision will no doubt add significantly to the number of Americans killed by gun violence.

Corporations fared especially well in this term. The court reduced the punitive-damages award against Exxon Mobil for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill from $2.5 billion to about $500 million, a pittance for the energy company. In the process, the court declared that in maritime cases, punitive damages should not exceed the actual damages in a case. It is a rule that foils the purposes of punitive damages: to punish and to deter bad conduct.

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More Firms Pull Asian IPOs As Market Slides
2008-07-03 03:37:41
Two more firms shelved plans for initial public offerings (IPOs) in Asia, adding further gloom to a market which recently showed signs of a revival after a dismal start to the year.

On Thursday, Hong Kong-based bulk cargo shipping firm Maritime Capital Shipping withdrew a Singapore listing worth up to $300 million and Chinese sportswear retailer Xdlong International Co Ltd scrapped a $127 million Hong Kong IPO.

The withdrawals come amid a severe downturn in global equities, with MSCI's index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan falling 13 percent since the end of May.

The index has fallen 21 percent so far this year.

"Asian IPOs have almost reached a standstill," said Leslie Phang, the Singapore-based head of investments at private client unit of Schroders, which manages $260 billion globally.

"Issuers are unwilling to launch at lowered valuations and investors are more focused on reducing their equity positions."

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U.S. Air Force Finds Lack Security At Nuclear Weapons Storage Sites
2008-07-02 03:09:22

Most overseas storage sites for U.S. nuclear weapons, particularly in Europe, need substantial improvements in physical security measures and the personnel who guard the weapons, according to a newly available Air Force report.

"Most sites require significant additional resources to meet DoD (Department of Defense) security requirements," according to the final report of the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures, completed in February.

The report was made public last week by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists,who obtained it under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report said upgrades are needed in "support buildings, fencing, lighting and security systems" at several European sites. It also cited conscripts who serve only nine months and "unionized security personnel" whom some host countries provide as guards.

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Immigrant Killed In Afghanistan Granted Posthumous U.S. Citizenship
2008-07-02 03:08:38

Dawid Pietrek, a Polish immigrant, couldn't vote, run for public office or obtain a U.S. passport; but he signed up to serve a country that wasn't yet his, and last month he gave his life for that country.

Pfc. Pietrek, 24, of Bensenville, Illinois, was one of four Marines killed by a roadside bomb June 14 in Afghanistan's Farah province. Tuesday, more than 90 mourners gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate Pietrek's life and honor his sacrifice. He was the 489th member of the military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to be buried at Arlington.

Pietrek's grave was surrounded by a half-dozen wreaths and floral arrangements and a pair of flags, one American and the other a Marine Corps flag. Mourners dressed in dark suits and dresses stood in contrast to Marines in crisp white hats lined up at the rear of the group.

In an e-mail to family, friends and the Daily Herald of Illinois, Pietrek's mother, Dorota, asked that her son's sacrifice be remembered.

"Thank you for keeping him in your hearts and your minds," she wrote in Polish, according to the Daily Herald.

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Google-Yahoo Ad Deal Is Under Anti-Trust Investigation
2008-07-02 03:08:01

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a formal antitrust investigation into a deal struck last month that would allow Internet titan Google to provide some search advertising for Yahoo, according to sources familiar with the inquiry.

Investigators are planning to demand documents not only from Google and Yahoo, but also from other large companies in the Internet and media industries, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Google and Yahoo officials have said since the deal's announcement that they would delay its implementation for a voluntary Justice Department review; but a formal investigation signals that the department may have found some cause for concern.

"There is nothing unexpected in the review of this arrangement as structured by the parties and Department of Justice officials," Yahoo said in a statement, expressing confidence that the deal would be good for competition. Officials with Google and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Lawyers familiar with similar investigations said that the kind of legal requests being issued by the Justice Department in this case - "civil investigative demands" - are not used for routine matters.

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